Islam, the Untold Story

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by Neil Godfrey

Updated about 4 hours after first posting — especially in the opening paragraphs of “The Arab conquests are FOLLOWED by the rise of Islam“.

Historian and novelist Tom Holland raises some fascinating questions about the evidence pertaining to the origins of the Muslim religion. Is it possible that all three “religions of the book” will go down in history as having their foundations exposed as mythic in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries?

I have not yet read Holland’s book In the Shadow of the Sword [link is to Wikipedia article] but yesterday I listened to an extended radio interview with him (see/hear Tom Holland At Adelaide Writer’s Week) and watched UK’s Channel 4 documentary about Holland’s thesis, Islam, the Untold Story, on vimeo. (The audio interview is by far superior to the video documentary: the interview covers more detail and explanation of the thesis in its first 30 minutes than is broached in the entire doco.)

The traditional account

Muhammad is an illiterate merchant in the city of Mecca.

Mecca is a great pagan cult centre — no Jews or Christians there.

When 40 years old Muhammad hears voice of an angel giving directions from God.

Muhammad is last of the prophets. His teaching of monotheism offends the pagans who exile him to Medina.

Muhammad wins over the Arabs and regains Mecca. All Arabia becomes Muslim.

The teachings are all oral. Nothing written at this stage, but the Arabs converted to the Muslim religion as it is known today.

Arabs are inspired by his teaching to spread the word. That God is with them is evident from the miracle that they are able to overthrow both the Roman and then the Persian empires.

Their empire is proof that the Muhammad was the prophet of God.

Holland’s challenge

Holland, however, says that the evidence informs us of Arab conquests, not Muslim conquests, in the seventh century.

The earliest sources for Muhammad’s life are from around 800 CE. — almost 200 years after he existed. There are no lives of the prophet, no histories, no accounts of the conquests written by the Arabs, no commentaries on the Qur’an — then suddenly around 800 there is a great explosion of all of these.

Another “conspiracy of silence” and other problems

How to explain this silence?

The usual answer is that their culture was oral. But the problem with that is that they conquered highly literate societies, so it seems odd that no-one wrote any of this down at all until around 800. In the case of the Roman and Persian invasions we have conquered peoples recording the culture that is overtaking them. But not so in the case of the Arab conquests.

Holland’s answer: Islam before 800 does not exist in the form we would recognize it. The Muslim faith is very complex and sophisticated — it is a “civilization” of “cultural richness” rather than simply a “religion” — and it “beggars belief” that it all was formed by a single man in one life-time and suddenly took over whole peoples and replaced other faiths.

Another problem: it is clear that the Qur’an is heavily influenced by Christianity and Judaism. But the whole point of Muhammad’s biography is to emphasize that he could not have got any of his ideas from Jews or Christians. He is illiterate and lives in the middle of the desert!

The seed bed

Today we speak of clearly defined religious groupings such as Christianity and Judaism. Holland reminds us that such concepts were not so clear-cut before Constantine. It was when Christianity was instituted as the state-backed religion by Constantine that certain church leaders were in a position to draw clearly defined boundaries that determined who was in and who was out. Setting up this barrier produced a like reaction. Judaism likewise, in response, was obliged to define itself more rigidly. (I am reminded here of Daniel Boyarin’s Border Lines, though if memory serves I think he dates this sort of rigid fence-building, and the emergence of what we today recognize as Judaism and Christianity, earlier than Constantine.)

So the question that arises is what happened to all those people in-between? What of the Christians who were also “Judaizers” and of Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah? They were forced into retreat from both sides. (There were other groupings, too, of course.) It is out of these waifs who were forced from the Holy Land into the desert — the heretics of Christianity and Judaism — that Holland believes the Muslim faith was to emerge. And it did so not in Mecca but in the same region where these groups themselves were concentrated — in the Palestine-Jordan-Syria region. More on that later.

Did Muhammad exist?

Did Muhammad exist? Yes, says Tom. We know that because we have seventh century mentions of him by monks, though not as a prophet. He is the lawgiver or general of the Arabs. (Hear the interview for details.) There are some scholars who do doubt the existence of Muhammad. Another interesting document suggests that Muhammed was still alive and leading a conquest of Palestine two years after he is supposed to have died. So the evidence and question is fraught with complexities.

Holland believes that Muhammad was one of many similar Arab prophets of the day. Not all Arabs followed Muhammad.

Arab, not Muslim, conquests

So were the Arab conquests inspired by Muhammad and their zeal to spread the Muslim faith? For that we have no evidence. I don’t mean there is no evidence for the seventh century Arab conquests. They are not doubted. But what is open to question is whether these Arabs were adherents to Islam at that time. Or did the Muslim religion appear subsequent to those conquests?

When the Romans or Persians conquered territories they left indisputable evidence of who they were and what they believed. When the Arabs conquered both Christian and Jewish peoples they left no evidence that at that time they belonged to any particular religion. Apparently some Christians feared they were in league with the Jews because they allowed Jews to return to some of their places of prayer.

Particularly curious is that there is no mention of Muhammad in any of their coins or other records pertaining to this period. Another curious datum from the documentary (not in the interview) is that the earliest known mosque in the Palestine region is not facing Mecca, but east, for prayer.

The first coin with the name Muhammad on it does not appear until around fifty years after the conquests of Palestine.

Origin of the Qur’an

But what of the Qur’an itself? That did not exist in writing in the time of Muhammad but was said to have been orally transmitted for some time before it was set in ink. The Qur’an itself (at least material evidence for its existence), like the name of Muhammad on coins, was a latecomer.

And where did the Qur’an originate? It was supposed to be from Mecca, according to legend. The story goes that Muhammad was in debate with degenerate pagans who knew nothing of monotheism or “godly morality”. But the Qur’an’s arguments are in dialogue with people who know about farming in rich, fertile regions, cattle-raising, vine-dressing, and so on. That’s not the setting of Mecca. Mecca has no water supply. Moreover, the dialogues are with people who clearly already know about Jewish and Christian theology and persons, such as Yahweh and Jesus. Again, this is not the setting of a benighted pagan community.

Bird's-eye view of uncrowded Kaaba, Mecca, Sua...
Bird’s-eye view of uncrowded Kaaba, Mecca, Suadi Arabia in 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So questions arise over the provenance of the Qur’an.

Why Mecca?

So what of Mecca? (Holland compares it with Camelot — a place that “floats around” with various places laying claim to it until it is finally settled . . . .)

Mecca is not mentioned in any texts until 741 (a century after Muhammad) — again another oddity “if it was, indeed, the Dubai of the ancient world” as is so often implied in the Qur’an.

Why did Mecca, when it finally appears, emerge in the desert? Just as Mary had to be a virgin to avoid any possibility that Jesus had a human origin, so the Qur’an had to emerge in the purity of the desert where it could not have been contaminated with any other religious idea. Thus is denied its (probable?) origin from Christian and Jewish heresies.

The Arab conquests are FOLLOWED by the rise of Islam

Tom Holland’s thesis is that when the Arabs embarked on their conquests they did so without any thought to religious motivation. Maybe some of them were followers of a prophet Muhammad, but many others may well not have been. Besides, that prophet Muhammad certainly did not introduce the full religion that was later recognized as Muslim.

The Arabs had earlier been hired as mercenaries in the Persian army, and after catastrophes, in particular the Bubonic Plague, had so weakened both the Roman and Persians empires those Arabs found themselves in a position where they could just walk in and take over huge swathes of those empires. (That plague probably wiped out a quarter to a half of the population — the manpower resources and tax base — and left the Byzantine and Persian empires struggling. A war a generation long followed and depleted the strengths of both empires. The Byzantine/Roman empire reclaimed Palestine at the end of the war but with nothing more than a tiny skeleton force of what had been there before. Arabs had been employed as mercenaries by these Romans and Persians to make up for this drop in manpower within their own borders. So Arab mercenaries were strongly present in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. They were already there in those provinces.

I think ultimately what the Arab conquests are, is a process of these Arabs finding out, ‘Hey, we can just walk in. No one can stop us.’

So when the Arabs realize they are in possession of these vast areas of the former empires, they ask (as was the way of that age) why or how did God allow this to happen? It has to be God’s will.

They did not impose their faith — if they even had a single faith — on their subjects. There is no sign of Christian or Jewish or other religious revolts or records from them about being overwhelmed by an alien religion and culture.

So when did Islam become established as the Arab religion?

Abd al-Malik

The warlord Abd al-Malik, in 685, in order to establish his legitimacy as the new ruler before his Arabs and the Romans to the north, claimed to be chosen as ruler by God. (Compare Constantine attributing his success to Christianity and then using the Church to bolster his power.)

Abd al-Malik is “Constantine and Saint Paul rolled into one”. He establishes Arabic as the language of empire, gets rid of images from the coins, builds the first proto-Muslim building, the Dome of the Rock. Holland sees him as presenting himself as God’s Deputy (= Caliph). Abd al-Malik sets himself on the same level as Muhammad.

After his death there was a diminishing of his absolutist power in the caliphate.

At the same time there is another development. With the vast empire and conquests came an influx of slaves. These were settled in garrison towns such as on the edge of Iraq. The descendants of these slaves, especially those freed, came to read the Qur’an and turned its divine revelations (against arrogance, oppression, and for kindness and humanity, etc) against their Arab overlords.

Many of these slaves were of Christian or Jewish or Zoroastrian background and they introduce their traditions to the religious discussions.

With these influences we can see Islam changing into something that is recognizable today.

Example: In the Qur’an the penalty for adultery is whipping. But some Muslims today practice stoning for adultery. Stoning comes from the Jewish rabbinical tradition, not the Qur’an.

Example: The Qur’an enjoins praying three times a day. But Muslims pray five times a day. Zoroastrians prayed five times a day. Another influence?

So the Muslim religion is originating as creative multi-culturalism into something quite new. But such an origin will not do for a “true religion”, so all of these changes are attributed to the mouth of the Prophet, the sayings, the sunnah, the hadiths.

All this begins to undermine the authority of the Caliph.

What is key about the success of what is Islam, as had been the case with Christianity, is that it gives something both for the rulers (they can say they are the chosen one of God) and for those on the bottom, those who previously had been given no dignity. I think what is remarkable about Islam is that it is in a sense the revenge of the conquered. It’s the most spectacular takeover, of a ruling elite by a conquered body of people that history bears witness to. (Tom Holland)

Tom Holland
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66 thoughts on “Islam, the Untold Story”

  1. I am a muslim who does not have a problem with creative re-interpretations of history—after all everyone does it…..but Hollands re-interpretation is particularly lame because he dismisses the Islamic historical narrative. Because of this….. none of the arguments of the Muslim narrative are broken since he has not engaged with any of the muslim version of events.

    If you want to know the Muslim side, you can see internet videos of Khalid Blankenship (Historian) or if you are only interested in “creative re-interpretations” then I would suggest Fred Donner—he, at least, engages with muslim sources. From a muslim standpoint, Donners arguments are far more solid than Hollands (though I disagree with some of his conclusions)

    1. Can you pinpoint a particular argument of Holland’s that fails, and why? Can you pinpoint a specific argument from the Muslim works that Holland fails to address?

      Just telling others to go to other sites won’t work. I always link to other sites that I wish others would read yet they are very sparsely touched. If you have an argument then present it here. I for one will be most interested.

  2. In a 2012 post, The Lost Half of Christianity, you discussed the book of Philip Jenkins. What stuck out most in my mind about this book was the conclusion that Islam evolved from Eastern Christianity. Jenkins said:

    Across large sections of Africa and Asia, also, Islam and other religions built upon the ruins of older Christian communities, and incorporated many of the older ideas. The Christian impact on Islam was profound, and can be traced at the deepest roots of that faith. Mosques look as they do because their appearance derives from that of Eastern Christian Churches in the early days of Islam. Likewise, most of the religious practices of the believers within these mosques stem from the example of Eastern Christians, including the prostrations that appear so alien to modern Westerners. The severe self-denial of Ramadan was originally based on the Eastern practice of Lent. The Quran itself often shows startling parallels with Eastern Christian scriptures, devotional texts, and hymns, and some scholars have even argued that much of the text originated in Syriac lectionaries, collections of readings for church use.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I will need to read that section again with closer attention and fresh eyes. I fear this is a whole new area of exploration that I will scarcely have time to cover. So I may as well try to start now.

      I see that Jenkins, like Holland, also refers to scholarship that locates the Quran’s provenance in Syria or Mesopotamia where there are strong Christian and Jewish communities.

      1. I think to look for a Middle-Eastern provenance of the Quran reveals more some “ethnocentric” bias rather than actual facts.

        When I say “ethnocentric”, I mean that most of thesis regarding the roots of Islam, provenance of Quran, etc… simply or deliberately ignore obvious clues embedded in the Quranic corpus revealing a rather different background (both historical and cultural): and the main motivation appears to me to be an evident desire to make Islam to be only/simply a kind of judeochristian by-product: here is the “ethnocentric” drive -conscious or not- which can’t imagine that Islam could be either an indigenous creation (after centuries of elaboration, influences, etc..) or to have an origin outside of the Judeo-Greco-Roman + Christian domain (so outside of the Christianism craddle). The main idea being basically that it has to come from “OUR” historical/cultural domain (i.e.: Greco-Roman, Christian> “Indo-European”/”White” origin or influence).

        When in fact, (and I guess most people may agree with this very basic description of Islam) Islam is: a) part of the so-called Abrahamic Monotheist tradition b) Semitic and c) could be loosely presented as a kind of Judeo-Christian hybrid: well all those basic elements can help to better picture the provenance of the Quran/Islam: a) first we can consider as reliable the Islamic narratives and b) if not well there are enough elements to find a more suitable “craddle” than the Byzantine Middle-East considering that the closest religion isn’t any of the Oriental Christian churches but the Ethiopian Church: the only church which could be loosely defined as “Judeo-Christianism” (same applies to earlier forms of Christianism in South Arabia and Yemen).

        So I consider that quite amazing that almost NEVER Ethiopia and Yemen are included as centers or sources of influence regarding Islam’s genesis when obviously those two areas/cultures appear to be more suitable/relevant: a) Ethiopian Church is the closest religion to Islam : even its name (Ethiopian Tewahedo Church) refers to a central concept in Islam: Tawhid (oneness of God), like for Islam the similarities with Judaism are more important than in other churches, b) one of the most used name for Allah is “Al Rahman” which was a title exclusively used by Yemeni Christians (actually on many steles that was the only name used to refer to God by Yemeni) and c) we are in the Semitic heartland so obviously influences between various groups sharing same cultural background and related languages should be greater than with groups from different areas, finally d) Arabia has always been a “playground” for the Ethiopian empire before the birth of Islam, and relations between Arabia, Yemen and Ethiopia date back to the prehistorical times.

        Finally, it’s quite strange that Ethiopia has been spared by the Islamic conquest : that after a supposed Muhammad’s interdiction due to the migration of persecuted Muslims in Ethiopia according to the Islamic narratives: this sole fact points on the very early relations between the new religion and Ethiopia. One may wonder why Muhammad’s successors chose to “spare” Ethiopia, after all it didn’t present a greater challenge than to go fighting Persians or Byzantines.

        So, here my comment was just to (very summarily) show that most of scholars on this matter of Islam genesis deliberately ignore elements which don’t support their thesis: here we have a serious problem of methodology and scientific rigour (circular arguments and conclusion predating demonstration): we can’t ignore : a) Ethiopia and Yemen (Christianised Semitic areas with very early presence of Judaism too so perfect ground for Judeo-Christian syncretism) b) Persian presence in Yemen (so Zoroastrism: for example, most of thesis on the age of Aisha’s mariage tend either to examinate her biography (dates contradicting the age of 9 years old for mariage consumption) or to consider it either true or made-up when in fact, this 9 years old “rule” may have simply been introduced later due to Zoroastrism influence which made 9 years old the legal age for mariage)

        and finally c) an indigenous creation incorporating elements from Judaism and Christianism: many elements in the Quran refers to an unknown Arab “monotheistic” or “proto-monotheistic” tradition/religion with various Arab prophets before Mohammed : most of them have been associated later by Muslim scholars to Biblical prophets but that happened LATER so no reason to consider that the Arab prophets evoked in the Quran weren’t actual Arab prophets, related to a kind of “Ismaelite” -rather than Israelite- tradition/religion, linked to Arabia with common or shared roots with Judaism (after all Judaism also started as an Henotheism: ante-islamic society (except Yemen and North Arabia) seem to have evolved toward a form of Henotheism: Islamic narratives refer to “Hanifism”: a form of Abrahamic monotheism, which predated Muhammad, and some hanifs seem to have influenced him.

        Fact being that all the thesis proposing Northern influences either lack of sound arguments or ignore counter-arguments, historical facts, etc…one can refer to any Christian heresy, or Judeo-Christian movement having developed in Syria or Northern Arabia, until now (from what we know) none of them appears to share enough common concepts and beliefs with Islam to show a direct/manifest influence (for example: Arianism, Nazarenes, Ebionism, etc… may appear to have some similarities from the surface, once comparative theology, one can’t anymore say that Islam could be a by-product or evolution: thus influences or even sources have to be searched elsewhere if one is really motivated by discovering how Islam appeared, developed, etc…

        1. @ Appollonius

          interesting thesis—the BBC should have used you instead of Holland in their documentary….I would be interested if you would like to elaborate further……..

          —I want to highlight a minor point—The Muslims do not consider Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to be the author of the Quran. This is a claim by non-Muslims who situate the Quran in the 7th century—because there is no other candidate to fit the bill.

          As you have pointed out yourself, the “influences” the Quran contains are vast….and finding a suitable candidate as “author” can be difficult….

          yr point c)—the Quran also hints to non-arab/semitic monotheistic traditions/religions—as to “Arab” Prophets–if this is in reference to Mecca (The Muslim position is that Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and his son Ishmael built the Kaba)—the Quran flat out denies any previous Prophet was sent to the Meccan Arabs (decendents of Ishmael).

          1. @ Anon

            Thanks for your reply.

            Well, concerning the “minor point” you highlighted, even I have not yet pronounced the Shahada, I have a pretty good idea about the supposed “author” of the Quran…enough joking…what I mean is that,not being Muslim, I assume that a human being was the author of the Quran.

            Once said, about elaborating further, it would take quite a long time, main reason being that before starting it would needed to set the stage (i.e.: describing Arabia of this time, but also Ancient Arabia and its history in order to get a precise idea of the “Arabian paradigm” of both the ante-Islamic era and Muhammad’s time.

            However, I can point out some elements which allow me to doubt the usual thesis of a Northern influence (Byzantine Middle-Easy, Christian heresies in the Syrian/North Arabian desert, etc…):

            first thing if the main influence would have come from North, one would assume that some clues would appear in the Quran, even more considering that this particular era (i.e.: 6th/7th century) was particularly “messy” and tensed in Middle-East and North Arabia, with Arab groups (Ghassanids and Lakhmids) deeply involved in all the events occurring at that time: from the repression of the Samaritans, the intervention in North Arabia by Ghassanid rulers, the competition between churches affiliated to the Byzantine empire and their opponents (conflicts between Arabs in the Byzantine part and Arabs in the Persian parts), the Persian military (with Arab auxiliaries) offensive in Palestine (and a short Jewish sovereignty/autonomy), etc…Plus very important, the various attempts by both Ghassanids and Lakhmids to acquire sovereignty or larger autonomy: to the point, that both Byzantines and Persians had to literally behead their leaders.

            Oddly none of those events appear in the Quran, the only historical (or legendary) events related to North Arabia in the Quran are related to a distant (legendary) past. Something quite strange if we are to assume that Muhammad or the first Muslims were influenced by some Northern sources: basically, from the Quran and the Hadiths: we can easily say that they didn’t care or at least, the situation up North and what was happening to their Northern Arab kinsmen wasn’t such a big matter for them. Fact is that both Ghassanids and Lakhmids were just the last Arab groups to migrate up North, before them we had the Kindites, the Tanukhides (deeply Christian), etc…however none of it seems to have been important enough to appear in the Quran. Obviously, one can just assume that what was happening North didn’t really influence/bother the first Muslims, thus could hardly have been a source of influence for the genesis of Islam. All to say is that very important events and process happened among North Arab groups, and none of them are evoked in the Quran: which is quite puzzling if we are to assume a Northern provenance or influence. All passages of Quran which could be related to Northern areas are either quite vague or “mundane”: not what we would expect if there was a deep relationship between Muhammad/first Muslims and their “cousins” from the North.

            On the other hand, the few historical events evoked in the Quran are all related to the situation in the South, itself related to Ethiopia’s influence and actions. Two elements allowing to date (or circumscribe) the appearance of “Islam” or Quran evoke a) the called “year of the Elephant” and b) the Najran martyrs: both of those events are related to Yemen, South Arabia and Ethiopia few decades earlier to the supposed Muhammad’s lifetime: both related to a) the creation of a short-lived Jewish kingdom in Yemen/South Arabia with a very violent conversion policy (notably against Christians) and persecution and b) to the consequent intervention of Ethiopia in South Arabia and Yemen (later Persia would take over Ethiopia in those areas).

            Those are the only historical elements which “slipped” into the Quran: thus, we can assume that whoever was Muhammad or were the first Muslims, they were more acquainted with the situation in the South, and when you add other elements, an obvious relation (both cultural and historical) appears.

            As said earlier, there are various (discrete) clues in the Quran and Islam which enable us to consider a strong relation with Ehiopia (and Ethiopian Christianism): I already evoked some, so I will just add few others.

            There is in Islam an interesting and original concept: the “Mother of the Book” concept: basically the existence of a metaphysical matrix for all revelations: well, we find the very same concept in the Ethiopian Canon (from memory, I think it’s in the Book of Enoch, have to check) with real similarities in the way this “metaphysical matrix” is conceived and the way revelations are transmitted to Mankind (basically, it’s “sent down” via angelic messengers) , same applies to the Quranic references to the “Scrolls of Abraham” and “Scrolls of Moise”, which are also evoked in the Ethiopian Canon (as a reminder, the Ethiopian Can is different from other Christian Canons).

            Well, once you start piling up those various elements, one can just wonder why Yemen, Ehtiopia and South Arabia are never evoked when speculating about the roots and genesis of Islam: apart a kind of “cultural” bias (if not racial bias), I see no explanation.

            Considering the Arab prophets, I wasn’t referring to the Meccan Arabs (FYI: Ismael is the legendary ancestor of all Must’ariba (i.e.: Arabized Arabs> Northern Arabs) not only of Meccan Arabs, but to prophets like Idris,Hud, Saleh, Shuayb, Dhul-Kifl, etc… and other “prophetic” figures like Luqman or the three prophets of the People of Ya-Sin: I’m aware that Muhammad is conceived as the only prophet sent to Meccans, but not to Arabs. Regarding the rest of your comment, yes the Islamic view is that many prophets have been sent to the various groups forming Mankind: but that would lead us too far away from the present topic.

            1. your arguments are good and you have researched your material. It was interesting to read.

              Eastern Oriental Church influence (Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian)—As a Muslim, I find Christian Doctrine very difficult to understand, so I apologise for mistakes or misunderstanding…..It is true that Islam is closer to Judaism than to Christianity and one of the characterisitcs of the Oriental Churches is that they do not have “original sin”—this is significant because neither Judaism nor Islam interpret the story of Adam as “original sin”.

              Ethiopian/Yemeni Influence—the Quran revelations begin approx 610 CE, The escape to Ethiopia happens around 613-615 CE and the migration to Medina around 622 CE, and the death of the Prophet (pbuh) at 632 CE. This would leave open a time frame for any Ethiopian/Abysinian influence. If I remember correctly, there was also trade between Yemeni area and various tribes around the area of Mecca (overland spice trade)….?…Which could perhaps open up a better time frame for Yemeni influence than the king Abraha incident (Surah 105–the Elephant) or the Najran Martyrs (Surah 85 verses 1-15).

              However, there is a problem of Christologies—

              (note:–Ethiopian Church was Oriental (non-chalcedonian), and Yemeni Christians were mostly Nestorians…I think…?…)

              The Oriental Churches are trinitarians but they are non-chalcedonian—which means they reject the idea of Christ being 2 natures with 2 wills and instead go for a concept similar to that of one nature, one will. This emphasizes the divinity of Christ far more than the RC or Byzantine Churches. (Although, During the 7th century, the RC church experimented with changing their Christology —Pope Honorius I (625-638 CE) proposed that Christ was one (divine) will but 2 natures—a compromise position—-but he was later considered a heretic by his own Church). All expressions of Trinitarian Christologies do not fit with the nature of God (Tawheed) expressed in the Quran. Any thesis about “Christian” influence comes up against this problem.

              One could say that it is not Christian influence alone but “Judeo-Christian” (the Shema being similar to Tawheed)—but this too creates problems. There are also non-Judeo-Christian influences that must be accounted for (ancient world)—If one attempts to list influences—all of them have to be traced and accounted for otherwise the argument is incomplete.

              ….which is why some (non-muslim) scholars have proposed a “Universal faith” theory—this says that the Prophet(pbuh) was trying to Universalize/Unite various faiths into one…….

              As a Muslim—I have to wonder why alternative theories have to be proposed when the Muslim thesis fits so well….?…..

              Ishmael/Ishmaelites—-Thanks for yr explanation. I was understanding the term from a Muslim perspective and only realized later I had misunderstood.

              1. @Anon

                Thanks for your reply.

                I will first reply to the last part of your comment about “why alternative theories have to be proposed when the Muslim thesis fits so well..” well first it might be for this very reason that it fits “so well”, that may raise some questioning as whether you’re speaking about historical processes or genesis of cultural singularities ( ethnic groups, cultures, religions, etc…) it’s rarely a “straightforward” process: it’s progressive, with both external and local factors acting, etc… secondly because as you said it’s a “Muslim perspective” thus if your paradigm is other than a Muslim one or you want your approach to be objective, you can’t simply consider the “Muslim thesis”‘ the way Muslims do…same applies, if you are a Muslim with a critical approach of Islamic history, Islam origins, etc…basically, it would be neither “scientific” nor objective to take Islamic narratives at face value unless there is evidence of the contrary: that’s where the questioning starts: as said earlier, Arabia at the supposed time of Muhammad is a bit a “terra incognita”, same for Islam’s origins, beginnings in Arabia: you have nothing but the Islamic narratives and currently no real possibility to search in Arabia for archaeological evidence confirming or contradicting them (and in Yemen, the political situation has for decades impeded a thorough continuous work for archaeologists) ..So obviously, apart if you’re Muslim, you can’t simply accept the Islamic narratives which are first a “mythical gesta”, if you are to scientifically study the roots and genesis of Islam.

                Now I will summarily address the “problem of Christologies”: I wrote earlier that only a multidisciplinary approach may lead to significant progress, I referred to Cultural Anthropology and said that to simply use some “comparative theology” approach wouldn’t lead very far. Regarding your comment, evoking the conception of God in Trinitarian Christologies not fitting with the Islamic Tawheed concept : well as you wrote here we are speaking about “doctrines”, “christologies”, basically “dogma”: but those are primarily questions and issues addressed by theologians, scholars, etc… not by the “average Joe”: when I spoke about influence from here or there, I didn’t specifically that those influences were purely “theological” (i.e.: simple transmission of doctrinal views, religious concepts, etc… via “religious” authorities): they could have occurred on a “lower” level: from “average Joes” to other “average Joes” : keep in mind that we are speaking about an area with lot of commercial exchanges, trade, etc… plus many migrations and quite many nomad groups: so, instead of considering a “copy&paste” transmission, better to consider “cultural” influences…transmission of cultural “memes”… And the fact is that we are speaking about the Semitic homeland/heartland where the idea that God can take an human form or to be human (partly or entirely) isn’t really a standard view (at least at the level of the “average Joe” who had no special inclination toward “high theology”) like in Indo-European areas: so whether you’re speaking about North Arabia, Arabia, Yemen or Ethiopia: the fact that Christian churches there would profess one doctrine or another doesn’t mean that the population made of Semitic “average Joe” would conceive or perceive Jesus the same way than priests, theologians, etc… even more if either populations were “superficially” christianized or if Christian populations (like in South Arabia) were living in isolated clusters. And the further one was from influence of the Greco-Roman culture, the more difficult one would assimilate concepts radically opposed to one’s culture/paradigm. For example, in Africa both Islam and Christianism tend to very “heterodox”, Shia Islam has concepts foreign to the Semitic culture but typical from ancient Persia/Zoroastrim (Indo-European background): an obvious example being the differences between Sunni and Shia about human (or any) representation (that’s also a “Semitic” pattern: Baetylus/sacred stone rather than “idols”…) Well, those are “crude examples” to point out that whatever are the views of theologians, at the end any religion will be pressured by the cultural trends/patterns of the “average Joe”, and usually theologians just find “theological” ways to deal with it…which may sometimes lead to some “weird” explanations…

                Thus , any influence should not be only considered from a “theological” perspective but instead try to envisage other ways of transmission : cultural memes can be very superficial and lack the complexity of elaborated theological concepts (usually understood only by people who spent some decades studying them, well may occur that even after some decades they still don’t get it…) which facilitates not only their transmission/integration but also their longevity: in a Semitic context, a Christian influence is possible: “removing” the divine nature of Jesus (according to one Christian doctrine or another) but keeping the figure/concept of Jesus as a “‘special” human divinely chosen isn’t unreasonable to consider: even more if we are speaking about an area with a lot of (and continuous) passage of people and exchange as Arabia (even more trade roads, oasis and seaside) had always been. After all, Islam/Quran calls Jesus “the Messiah” (which appears more like a title/attribute rather than a specific role) when Islam/Quran (in the early stage) didn’t appear particularly “messianic” : messianism in Islam appeared later, and has been more influential in the modern era than during the first centuries of Islam (influence of converts from Judaism/Christianism and Persian background seem to have introduced many “messianic” concepts in Islamic theology/-ies): here we may have a good example of a “cultural meme” transmitted without any theological background at the beginning: simply a “meme”.

                I think the cultural perspective is quite often forgotten when studying genesis of religious movements/religions: I think we should pay more attention about what happens/-ed on the level of the “average Joe”: the true makers of History and Culture.

              2. p.s.: I should add that the main problematic with a strictly “comparative” approach when studying relations between Islam, Judaism and Christianism is that we are dealing with three religions born in Semitic areas; thus, many “cultural memes” predate the apparition of all those religions and later sects/manifestations.

                To detect foreign influences (mainly Indo-Europeans> Greco-Roman, Persian, Hindu or even Sumerian) is “easy” as automatically “antagonistic” concepts will appear and you can see what was the “cultural” then “theological” way to deal with them (i.e. integrate them to a Semitic paradigm), but to detect what concepts, memes, etc… are typical from Semites from here or there, and who came with them first (oral traditions/cultures) that’s another challenge, even more when considering the rather “small” area (compared to Indo-European groups spreading from India to Ireland) and the continuous exchange and mixing between Semitic groups during thousands and thousands of years…plus should I add that the fact that Semitic languages are consonantal just make it more complicate to determine where/when a concept may have appeared: as the first written appearance isn’t enough to locate the actual first appearance of a concept or another (oral and pastoral cultures before being written traditions and sedentary groups), finally the peculiar relation to the representation of living creatures/humans/gods among Semitic groups doesn’t really allow (most often) whats possible with Indo-Europeans: i.e. to compare sculptures, motifs, etc… and see the relations: for example, you can find striking resemblances between representations of the Celtic god Cernunnos and sculptures dating from the earlier Indus civilization: not really possible with abstract representations like the baethylus or sacred stones.

                Well, all to say, a real “big” problem is the difficulty (or even impossibility) to “freely” dig into the Saudi Arabia’s ground…my opinion is that if it happens to be possible, that may solve many questions not only about Islam but also about its two “relatives”, notably Judaism.

              3. @ Appollonius

                Thanks for elaborating further—it was interesting to read.

                small area—perhaps for Judaism and Christianity (?) but trading in the Arab regions perhaps expands the geographic area in terms of influences? (for example–Yemen had sea trading—the spice trade—if I remember correctly, there were some piracy problems and later an overland spice trade route was also made…..so, perhaps a combination of sea and land trade can offer wider geographic possibilities…?…)

                Judaism—from what little I know, some scholars seem to think Judaism developed out of a Canaanite polytheism? They claim (was it E source or P source or some such) that at first it was differentiation—later the YHWH concept of One God became predominant?…..This type of “development” is absent from the Quran. It simply flat out denies polytheism (shirk/mushrikeen). But then, the Quran comes after Judaism…..

                I agree about the Saudi destruction. It is troubling.

  3. Interesting thesis. I haven’t read the book, so I’m going to do a bit of criticism based on the scraps on this site.

    “The Muslim faith is very complex and sophisticated — it is a “civilization” of “cultural richness” rather than simply a “religion” — and it “beggars belief” that it all was formed by a single man in one life-time”

    But this is no argument against the suggestion that it started as a fairly simple relgion formed by one man, and acquired all the other stuff later.

    “and suddenly took over whole peoples and replaced other faiths.”

    According to the standard story, it wasn’t all that sudden. Large numbers of the people in the Arab Empire retained their religion.

    “Another problem: it is clear that the Qu’ran is heavily influenced by Christianity and Judaism.”

    The Muslim position is that this “influence” is no surpirse, because the Qur’an a message from the God who sent the messengers to the Jews.

    “But the whole point of Muhammad’s biography is to emphasize that he could not have got any of his ideas from Jews or Christians. He is illiterate and lives in the middle of the desert!”

    No, he lives in what is reputed to be a major trading centre, where he would certainly meet Jews and Christians. He is supposed to have lived with and dealt with the Jews of Medina as well.

    1. I have yet to read the book, too, and some others that argue a siimilar hypothesis. Till then, I got the idea that Holland does accept that the religion insofar as it was a teaching of Muhammed did begin in a “fairly simple” way and “acquired all the other stuff later”.

      As for the influence of Christianity and Judaism, I think we need to distinguish between what the evidence itself says and what subsequent rationalizations of that evidence have to say.

  4. “The story goes that Muhammad was in debate with degenerate pagans who knew nothing of monotheism or “godly morality”. But the Qu’ran’s arguments are in dialogue with people who know about farming in rich, fertile regions, cattle-raising, vine-dressing, and so on. That’s not the setting of Mecca. Mecca has no water supply. Moreover, the dialogues are with people who clearly already know about Jewish and Christian theology and persons, such as Yahweh and Jesus. Again, this is not the setting of a benighted pagan community.”

    The standard Muslim view is that the Qur’an (hamza after the ra, please)is a message for all humanity, not just the degenerate pagans of Mecca.

    “So questions arise over the provenance of the Qu’ran.”

    And they are much more complicated.

  5. The subject of a historical Muhammed has interested me for quite some time. Through my own research, I have come to conclude that there was an arab prophet who did lead military conquests in the 7th century AD. It is documented that Byzantine Syria heard of him within 2 years of his lifetime, see the doctrina Jacobi (July, 634). Are the details in the hadiths accurate? We will probably never know, but most probably there was a charismatic arab religious military leader during this time.

    As for the Quran and the temples and the holy city,.this is where the real interesting questions lie. The earliest Quranic inscription lies in the Dome of the Rock and is not exactly as stated in the Quran we have today. Most likely, the Quran was not created by Muhammed, and was created over a fairly long time period in differing versions until finally being codified into a single uniform document sometime in the 8th century.

    The early temples do not face toward modern Mecca. Most likely they face towards Jerusalem. Muhammed probably did not come from Mecca, but perhaps Petra? Again, it was much later that Mecca became the holy land and its existence during Muhammeds life is quite appropriately in question.

  6. Several of the survivors of the Atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki speak of their experiences….the blinding light, shockwaves, the fires around them, the burning of their skins, of seeing the blackened skin peeled off so that the bones are visible, of black rain falling afterwards which they tried to drink and it ended up burning their parched mouths and throats…etc…etc The Quran also has similar descriptions such as skins roasted (4:56), drinking of boiling fetid water, of death comming but not dying(14:16-17), of seeing and hearing a furious blazing fire from afar, (25:11-12)

    …should one conclude therefore, that the Quran is in “dialogue” with the Japanese people? It would be foolish to take seriously anyone who proposed such a thesis….obviously such a person has not read the Quran and has no idea about Islamic history.

    There is a lot of imagery in the Quran from raids on the beduin camps in the desert (surah100), to Gardens of Paradise, fires of Hell, imagery of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions (surah 99,101) or those that may seem as if from outer space (surah 91)…etc……Anyone can take Quranic imagery out of context and come up with creative conclusions!!!!.

    The idea that Islam is a static “religion” somehow appearing fully formed in its present state in the middle of the Arabian desert of the 7th century—is not an idea that any muslim can take seriously!. There are many reasons…one is… Islam is a religion of Law (Sharia and its subset, the Fiqh or jurisprudence) The 4 or 5 schools are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali, and Jafari—all of which began after the death of the Prophet (pbuh)—one of the most obvious “developments” in the “religion”—there are also other “developments” such as the Kalam Philosophy of the 8th century (Socratic dialogue type) and the Falsafa (influenced by Plato and Aristotle) and this added much dynamism, depth and richness to islamic thought/philosophy.

    there is the “development” of Sufism sometime around the 9th century (?) I think….not to mention, the Prophet himself was a trader and trading plays a significant role in Islamic history—the silk route and the spice trade made possible the exchange of ideas……

    So what do Muslims actually claim?—We say that the (revealed arabic)Quran “appeared” in approx 23 year period in the Arabian desert of the 7th century and it has remained the same since. The Quran is the foundation and blueprint of Islam but it is understood and interpreted though its historical context, hadith/sunnah —-and all this rolled into one—including personal opinions of the scholar is called the “tafsir”. So, Even though the (revealed arabic) Quran has not changed, Islam itself is a dynamic and relevant “religion”

    Muslims also do not claim the Quran came about in a vacuum—historical context is important to understanding the Quran and it obviously deals with events that were happening to the Prophet(pbuh) and his community over the approx 23 year yr period….such as the Hijra, the Battles of Badr and Uhud, the treaty of hudaibya…etc. One does have to keep in mind that the arabic Quran is a small slim book compared to the Bible. It is not a historical narrative of events—-its primary purpose is to set ethico-moral guidelines for the spirtual wellbeing of human beings. Any information or stories that appear in the Quran are only secondary to the main purpose of guidance—and therefore are usually very brief.

    People claim Jewish and Christian influence in the Quran. The muslims claim that Islam is not only the same message/guidance as the Jewish or Christian message, but that it also corrects where those messages have gone astray—for example—Surah 5 verse 32 speaks of “if someone slew a person/soul it would be as if he slew a whole people” this appears in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud (Balvi and Yersualmi)—The Babylonian Talmud adds “of israel” whereas the Jerusalem Talmud does not. Surah 5 confirms the more universal message of the Jerusalem Talmud over that of the Babylonian one.

    …….this is really tedious….others have done a far better job of pointing out Hollands glaring inadequacies…if you are interested…find them yourself…if you don’t want to make the effort that’s fine with me……

    1. I am interested, and I am “finding them for myself”, thanks. Initial reactions such as yours do not encourage me to think that revisionist theses like Holland’s are vacuous, however. There is a fundamental difference between drawing subjective and metaphorical associations between visual images and conceptual disputes over persons and ideas that are clearly Christian and Jewish in origin.

      I see parallels between the nervous responses to the questioning of the traditional account and the responses of New Testament scholars towards radical questioning of the sources. If there is a difference in heat, it may be attributed to the different status of the Quran among Muslims from the Bible’s status among Christians and Jews. Is the Quran is more than just a holy book. I gathered from the video documentary that Muslims tend to see it in something of the same way many Christians view Jesus himself — as God making his presence among humankind. Is that correct, Is the Quran more comparable to Jesus than it is to the Bible? And of course there have been quite different histories of criticism.

      To radically question the Old Testament history risks attracting charges of anti-semitism; to radically question the Christian myth is to invite accusations of being a psychologically disfigured anti-Christian; to do the same with the Muslim religion can mean being accused of buying in to Islamophobia. To seriously question any of the “religions of the book” in this putative enlightened age is to stir up a nervous and heated reaction.

        1. Interesting video clip. Reinforces aspects of the doco film, especially regarding oral trad, as you note. I’m not sure monotheism by its nature uniquely encourages intolerance. From what I’ve read some Hindus in India have been quite prepared to take the initiative in killing their Muslim brothers over the site of a mosque. And even the peace-loving Buddhists of Sri-Lanka stained their copybook reputation by taking up murderous violence of suicide bombing not many years ago, and Buddhists in western Burma are still murdering Muslims as we read and write here today.

          1. Have you read Hector Avalos’ Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence? Avalos sort of makes that argument, that monotheism due to its nature is more intolerant than other religions. The four things that he lists as things that are “scarce” – sacred space, sacred scriptures, group privilege, and salvation – actually are not inherent to all religion all at once. These four things are specifically related to, and are the logical result of, monotheism (which is what he actually argues in the book). Furthermore, these four things might be present in one form or another in polytheistic religions, but due to the “poly” in polytheism, there is no sense of scarcity. That scarcity is a necessary precursor to division and strife, and ultimately, violence.

            1. Agreed:


              Monotheism, Dr. Avalos argued, is inherently violent by virtue of its tendency to separate people up into those who believe, who are good, and who do not, who are not simply wrong, but wicked. Monotheism creates scarce resources, and so it is pretty well inevitable that these should be fought over. These scarce resources include:

              Inscripturati— the reduction to writing of what is believed to be authoritative information about supernatural forces. This creates pressure of this scripture versus another scripture. (See for example, Deut 18:20; 28:58; 28:59.)

              Sacred space—a space is more valuable from surrounding space for religious reasons, eg. Jerusalem or Ayodyha.

              Group privilege—privileges being distributed on the basis of religion (Deut 7:1). This is often given as the justification for genocide on behalf of God’s people.

              Salvation—a commodity with long-term benefits (John 14:6).

    2. As revisionist histories go, why do I think Fred Donner is better? —because he at least brings evidence from Muslim sources to back up what he is saying/concluding. It is hard to argue with facts—-Holland does not have facts he only has conjecture—nothing wrong with that in itself—except it is not at all convincing. (and I gave the ridiculous example of Hiroshima/Nagasaki to show how unconvincing his arguments are)

      Christian/Jewish origins—Perhaps non muslims might have some peeve about the Quran not being original enough—that is not a problem for Muslims though—and never has been. Muslims have been saying all along that Islam is not a “new” religion—but one that God has sent to all the peoples of the world throughout time and geography since Prophet Adam (pbuh). As an Asian I find a lot of similarity between many Quranic concepts and some ideas/concepts in Taoism and Buddhism…..no big deal for me as a Muslim. However, to conclude from this that the origins of the Quran are in the East, or Far-Eastern religions is ridiculous.

      other influences—The Quran briefly speaks about the stages of human development in the womb, or the healing powers of honey—-some people claim that this is ancient Eqyptian knowledge, then there are brief verses of the earths rotation/orbit…etc which others claim are from ancient Sumeria/Mesapotamia, there are claims of influences from ancient Persians and Greeks……so should one conclude that the origins of the Quran/Islam are actually from ancient Middle-East? that would create another set of problems for historians since not much has survived of ancient history—how did the Quran survive….?….

      The Quran also has brief mentions from Jewish folklore, apocrypha, Torah, Talmud, Rabbinical works as well as Christian Gospels, apocrypha/folklore both from the Eastern and Roman Church……(Tafsir by Yusuf Ali has traced some of this stuff—its not available on the internet—but may be in a public library) What I find interesting as a Muslim is not the similarity—but the differences (or corrections). and Muslim scholars and theologians have analysed and commented on them.

      Prophet Jesus(pbuh) and the Quran—No, they are not at all alike! The Christian Concept of Jesus Christ (pbuh) is that he is God, and is therefore worshipped as God. The Quran is NOT God, is NOT worshipped as God, nor is it any combination of “God-made/man-made”, and it is not “God’s presence among mankind” in the way Christians understand Jesus Christ (pbuh) to be. What it is (as the Quran itself says) is a Guidance/Criteria and a “sign” (ayah = usually translated as “verse” but actually means “sign”) however, the Quran is not the only “sign”—nature, creation, natural laws…etc are all “signs” as well.

      (signs that point to God)

      Criticism—Since the Quran itself condemns “blind Belief”—(it accuses the Pagan Arabs of following blindly in their traditional beliefs without using rationality or intelligence and contrasts this with the story of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) who used his intelligence and rational/logical thinking to arrive at the conclusion of the existence of God—-and the Kalam philosophers used a lot of these types of arguments…) Therefore there is much critical thinking and analysis within the Islamic tradition with regards to the Quran. (I am speaking of the Arabic Quran — translations are not considered “the Quran” )

      To be critical is a good thing—but to be ignorantly critical is foolish. If western scholars want to be taken seriously—they must respect the work already done in this area by Muslim scholars, by dismissing it, they only appear ignorant—-just as any scholar would if he were to completely ignore New Testament criticism by scholars in the field and come up with a creative revisionist history based on conjecture……

      1. What I asked originally was if you could please pinpoint a particular argument of Holland’s that fails, and why. You have not yet provided that but only told us Holland is full of hot air.

        I am quite taken aback at your hostility toward Holland’s arguments, though. You sound as intolerant as the worst of the New Testament scholars I have crossed swords with. Just repeating your analogy of the atomic bomb on Japan does nothing to counter the argument I gave that it was beside the point.

        All you have done is tell us how foolish Holland is and to write about a lot of things that I never knew were even an issue. (What’s all this about the Quran being influenced by Far Eastern religions? Where has that come up here? And no-one has argued that Muslims believe the Quran is God. I did ask a question in good faith about Muslim beliefs but your reply has not been helpful or informative.)

        Can I ask you to be a little more patient and answer with clearly reasoned responses instead of attacking others and other views? Please don’t imitate the McGraths the Caseys the Hoffmanns of biblical studies. Let’s have a clean slate and civil exchange with your religion.

        1. it isn’t hostility—it is frustration. I apologise if my word choices made it appear I was being hostile.

          the frustration comes from Westerners seeing things through their own historical perspective and superimposing their world-view onto a different situation. If they only took the time to look a little deeper….

          The assumption that the Quran is like Jesus Christ(pbuh)—is a Christian one. (I think it was proposed by John Piper ?) That is, they were comparing the Christian idea of Man/God to the Quran. From the Muslim perspective the Quran is like Prophet Jesus (pbuh) in that both brought Guidance from God and are a “sign” (ayah)—However, the Christian and Muslim understanding (of the nature of God, the nature of man ) are very different—for a Muslim to consider either Prophet Jesus(pbuh) or the Quran as God or part God…etc would be wrong…..This type of misunderstanding is common because Islamic concepts are in Arabic—when these concepts are translated into English—they take on Christian-centric meanings that were not intended by the Muslims. For example, Both Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus Christ (pbuh) is the “word” –I don’t know what this may mean to a Christian,–it seems to refer to a God-nature/eternal nature…?… but from a Muslim perspective, this refers to the verse in the Quran that compares Prophet Adam(pbuh) to Prophet Jesus(pbuh) in that both came about not through a biological process but through the word of God—this word being “Be”(as in exist).

          The assumption that the Quran is recycled Judeo-Christianity/Christian heresy— is probably because there were different Christologies in early Christianity.—also the assumption that the Quran is recycled Judeo-Christianity does not adequately explain the differences…..therefore a more thorough anaylses is necessary if one is taking this path of inquiry…..

          If one rejects the idea that the Quran is a revelation—then logically one has to trace back where else the information in the Quran could have come from. However, when one does this “tracing back”—one ends up finding similarities/influences between the Quran and Buddhism, Taoism, the Ancient World…etc (An assumption that the Quran contains ONLY Judeo-Christian ideas/stories is incorrect)

          It is important to make assumptions(hypothesis)—even if they are incorrect—because it leads to a path of inquiry—all I am saying is that before drawing hasty conclusions—it might be better to at least study the subject matter (Quran) and see what others have concluded from the same path of inquiry…..?…..

          What Holland assumes—-

          Muhammad is an illiterate merchant in the city of Mecca.

          —this is a correct assumption—However illiterate does not mean stupid/intellectually-handicapped. The Prophet (pbuh) employed scribes/writers to write down his letters, treaty negotiations…etc… The originals have not survived (One may have been found in a church but not sure if it has been dated yet) however, there are later copies of these documents—linguistic analyses of some of these documents reveal they may be copies of the original written work. (…and Donner uses one such document to support his argument)

          Mecca is a great pagan cult centre — no Jews or Christians there.

          —This is partially correct—-the Quran was revealed in both Mecca and Medina/Yathrib and Medina did have many Jewish tribes around it. There were Christians around Mecca and Medina, because the Muslim account reveals a Christian cousin was consulted when the first revelation happened. (Waraqa Ibn Naufal)

          When 40 years old Muhammad hears voice of an angel giving directions from God.

          —This is correct—except it would be an “ayah” or verse not direction.(what he hears is the first part of Surah 96)

          Muhammad is last of the prophets. His teaching of monotheism offends the pagans who exile him to Medina.

          —This is partially correct—the whole story is more complicated—but nevermind…..

          Muhammad wins over the Arabs and regains Mecca. All Arabia becomes Muslim.

          —-The wording is incorrect—The Prophet(pbuh) is an Arab and a Meccan himself—he defends Medina against the Meccan Army at Badr and Uhud—then negotiates a peace treaty (Treaty of Hudaibiya) with the Meccans—this peace treaty is violated by the Meccans and the Prophet (pbuh) and Medinian/Muslim army goes into Mecca which surrenders.

          (I think there are copies if the treaty of Hudaiibya and the charter of Medina…..?….)

          The teachings are all oral. Nothing written at this stage, but the Arabs converted to the Muslim religion as it is known today.

          —this is incorrect—To be precise “teachings” must be divided into 2 catogories, the hadith (sayings) and the Quran. The Quran was written down at this time but it was not in book form. There were (only) two complete Qurans (not in book form) at this time. The Quran was memorized by muslims because it has a rhythm, like poetry. During the time of Caliph Uthman, what western scholars call the “Uthmani codex” –was made. (approximately 20 years after the death of the Prophet)…copies of these are in museums —dating is about 8th century. Qurans printed today are the same as this “Uthmani codex”. (Khalid Blankenship and Sh. Hamza Yusuf have video lectures on the net of the compilations of the Quran)

          —the statement “the Arabs converted to the Muslim religion as it is known today” is also incorrect.—In the case of Islam (and Judaism) the term “religion” refers to “law” in that Judeo-Islam are both religions of “law” rather than theology (theory of God). Unlike Christianity, Judeo-Islamic theology is extremely simple —There is One God—and that’s it (Shema/Tawheed). In Islam the “development” takes place in its “law” (Sharia). Sharia encompasses religious rituals and rules—some of which have more or less remained static, and Fiqh (jurisprudence) which has been dynamic over time until it fell into disuse.

          —Hadith (sayings) come with a chain of narration/transmission (isnad), degrees of authentication, classification according to type….and various other analyses such as the biographies of the transmittors and their integrity (ilm al rijjal)….etc….

          (Jonathan Brown explains about hadith–video lectures on the net.)

          Arabs are inspired by his teaching to spread the word. That God is with them is evident from the miracle that they are able to overthrow both the Roman and then the Persian empires.

          —-Perhaps—some historians feel this may be a later interpretation of events, Early Caliphs were more concerned with practical matters…..conversion to Islam may have been discouraged, during this time….

          Their empire is proof that the Muhammad was the prophet of God.

          —no comment—-

          1. Thankyou for taking the trouble to explain all this. It is most helpful and a great place to start a dialogue and improved understanding.

            As for the problem of Orientalism — the west invalidly superimposing its interpretation upon the east — it seems we have a dilemma. There is also the problem of a culture (any culture, western cultures too) of failing to see themselves from a distance. Histories and traditions can become statements of contemporary identity and as such are necessarily fixed with certain unquestioned values and beliefs. To question them can sometimes result in serious, even violent, divisions in the community. Look at the rabid responses of otherwise professional intellectuals the questioning of the historicity of person who is widely considered a key foundation of western civilization, Jesus. Outright hatred is sometimes the response towards those who question the fundamental goodness of a nation’s pioneers. History is rightly said to be more about the way people think and act, their values and beliefs — their identity — today, than it is about an objective account of what really happened.

            Moving on to your specific points:

            It never crossed my mind that when Holland used the word “illiterate” of Muhammed that he was suggesting Muhammed was stupid or intellectually handicapped. Quite the contrary, he did speak of him as being a notable prophet and military leader. He was referring to the unlikelihood of the stories that would require him to have been familiar with other literature.

            If “religion” has a different connotation in the Muslim faith from what it does in Christianity, then that’s fine. I don’t think anyone is saying that the Muslim “religion” is anything like Christianity. It doesn’t take too much to explain the differences and you seem to have done that quite well here.

            On the other points, the question in my mind is about sources. How do we know these things? How do we know any parts of what became the Quran were written down before the eighth century? That is not to say none of it was written down before then. But how do we know? How do we know Muhammad lived in Mecca? How do we know the pagans of Mecca exiled him to Medina? How do we know there was an oral tradition before certain things were put in writing?

            (The question on how we know there was an oral tradition may sound impossible to determine, but it is not necessarily impossible. There are ways of studying early writings that help us assess whether they are products of orality or literary borrowing.)

            These are the sorts of radical questions some scholars have asked of Judaism and Christianity. God knows they have to be resilient to withstand sometimes extremely hostile criticism from more conservative peers. In some cases such questions have led to a complete reassessment of the way the evidence is interpreted.

            Is it necessarily a form of Orientalism to ask similar questions of the Muslim religion? If the inquiry can be conducted with Muslim scholars or if it is simply set up as one alternative view for others to investigate, is that necessarily wrong?

            1. illiterate—Holland assumes a vacuum of information—This is an incorrect assumption. While original writings may have not survived—events can be pieced together from information available.

              religion—I think it was the interview (?) where Holland says that Christianity took a long time to develop so one can posit the same for Islam—(or something like that) and while I agree that the development of Christian theology was long and bloody—the same cannot be said of Islamic “theology”. It can be said of Islam in general, in terms of philosophy and “law”. —However, that is not what Holland is saying—he is referring to a long development of the Quran with a view to how Christian theology developed. (He tried to make an analogy between Constantine and Abdal Malik—I think–?—)

              If one is to posit the thesis that information in the Quran comes from Jewish or Christian sources, it is easy to point out the similarities to come to such a conclusion—however, such an excersise is incomplete without also giving evidence of where the differences are coming from. My evidence of differences comes from the Quran—however, for those who are positing a Jewish/Christian “origin” thesis to the Quran, it would be illogical to use the Quran—they need another source. So far, the argument has been that the Prophet(pbuh) misunderstood….however, as I showed in one of my posts with comparing the Talmud and Quran verse—the specificity of the differences makes such an explanation very inadequate. Another problem with the Jewish/Christian origin thesis is that other (non Jewish/Christian) information in the Quran must also be accounted for, and those positing this thesis are usually silent on this matter.

              Situating the Quran in a different time period and/or geography—is another theory that has been proposed–and Holland also goes for this proposition. In Hollands case, he goes for a later origin of the Quran, placing it about 200 years later (I think?) and in a different geographic location—others have put it earlier…and so forth…..the problem with this is the author. The Bible is a collection of books. The Quran is a single book, linguistically/grammatically, it is a single book by a single author/writer. (One could say that even though there was only one writer, they may be a group of people behind him) Either way, a person or group has to have written it. By placing the “origins” later rather than earlier, Holland has made the task more difficult for himself—because the evidence required will be more vigorous than if he had situated the Quran much earlier. At any rate, those who have situated the Quran in a different time period/geography, have not yet posited any suitable candidate for authorship. ( and this seems to be the case for Holland as well)

              Such type of thesis is inadequate because the Muslim account provides for the circumstances of the Quran, situating it in the 7th century, and connecting its verses with events and positing a coherent, logical progression. So either a person comes up with a better(more solid) version of events than what the Muslims are already positing or else (at least) respect the Muslim version for the time being.

              Oral vs literary–Yes you are correct. It has already been determined the Quran is in its “origin” an oral work. (the word itself has a meaning of “recite”) However, it is not poetry—nor is it similar to pre-Islamic poetry of the time. (and yes, scholars have looked at the pre-Islamic period)

              as to your other questions……

              On the other points, the question in my mind is about sources. How do we know these things?

              —there are so many—its a bit of a headache sorting through, but I understand the (muslim) sources are catagorized into degrees of authenticity and integrity. Some western scholars do not understand this system and often put into their works sources that the Muslims consider weak or inauthentic!!!…..(Muslim scholars have preserved both the authentic and inauthentic sources)

              How do we know any parts of what became the Quran were written down before the eighth century?

              —Because we have the Uthmani Codex.

              How do we know Muhammad lived in Mecca?

              —The Prophet(pbuh) was an orphan and pretty ordinary person until he became the Prophet(pbuh), He was from the Quraish tribe—a powerful tribe that had the responsibility(caretaking) for the Kaba which was the holy shrine in Mecca. The tribes kept geneologies to determine who was affiliated with whom. The four Caliphs who came after the Prophet(pbuh) were his companions during his lifetime….etc etc…If you see the video lecture by Hamza Yusuf on the compilation of the Quran—-it explains some of this stuff (its about an hour long)

              How do we know the pagans of Mecca exiled him to Medina?

              —The Quranic version claims he was exiled (forced out), the Muslim version says he escaped—because his life was in danger—there was a plot to assassinate him—-at any rate persecution of him and his followers had been happening for some time–His wife and uncle and young son died.Because of the persecution, a group of muslims escaped to Abysinnia where they were given asylum by the Christian King. (613-615 CE) In 622 CE, the Prophet (pbuh) left for Medina/Yathrib.

              How do we know there was an oral tradition before certain things were put in writing?

              —The pre-Islamic culture in and around Mecca was oral. Poetry contests were held at the Kaba. People did write, but it was predominantly oral culture. Some of this poetry and traditions survives and scholars can piece together what this culture was like. The Quran also gives hints—for example it condemns female infanticide practiced at the time.

              The Quranic revelations happen in the period between 610-632 CE. The Surahs in the Quran are not in chronological order—they are in the order which the Prophet requested. The Meccan verses are the earlier verses the Medinan verses are later revelations—however, some Meccan surahs contain later Medinan verses and some Medinan surahs contain earlier Meccan verses. This is why context of revelation is important. (this is provided by the history–hadith/Sunna) It would be easy to assume that if the Quran is not in chronological order and surahs and verses are “mashed up” together that the Quran might be a chaotic text. However, it has a rhythm that makes it easy to memorize and gives it unity in recitation. There are about 7 versions of recitations. (there are also other reasons why it is considered a unified text)

              Because historical context and the Quran are intertwined—(though the Quran itself does not have much direct historical reference) it is not so easy to take the Quran out of its 7th century historical context and put it elsewhere with any credibility.

              radical questions asked of Judaism and Christianity—-To question is not only good but necessary. However, what westerners think are “radical questions” about the texts of Judaism and Christianity are not that radical to a Muslim—the Quran already claimed the Jewish and Christian texts were corrupted and so, recent western scholarship simply proves what the Quran has been saying all along. However, to any muslim with a modicum of intelligence, if there are claims that sacred books have been corrupted and the Quran is also a sacred book—then there needs to be evidence that it is not corrupted. The only other option is to believe blindly that the Quran is not corrupted—but since the Quran itself condemns blind belief—this would not be an attractive or satisfying option. Therefore, the transmission of the Quran has always been taken extra seriously by Muslims. There are also numerous analyses of the Quran thematically, linguistically, grammatically, literarily—as well as interpretations (tafsir)…etc It is a well scrutinized and analyzed book.

              It is not the asking of questions—rather the assumption that Muslims have NOT asked these questions that is frustrating—not only have muslims asked these questions—they have attempted to answer them and the least that Holland could have done was to look at the body of scholarship already available rather than dismissing it entirely…..

              1. Do you know if Holland has not looked at the scholarship already available? I have not read his book so don’t know.

                On one of your points about influences in the Quran additional to Christian and Jewish ones. I thought Holland was saying that there were many other influences that did come into the Quran — he even used the word “multicultural”.

                I wonder how we can be so confident that the traditions of meticulous care in the preservation of the Quran, and the veracity of its stories, are secure. Jews and Christians have had similar traditions about their holy books. Can we be so confident that the Muslim holy book is not just as fallible or poorly preserved contrary to once “secure” traditions?

              2. One can be confident if there is evidence.

                Jewish tradition of preservation—I only have a passing interest in textual criticism and history of textual preservation, From what little I know, much of the Torah is from 2nd temple period and/or later….?…. I know that the Jews have a careful scribal ritual for the writing and preserving of the Torah—I don’t know how well this has worked out….?…

                (Nevertheless, the Muslim position is that the Torah has been corrupted)

                Christian preservation—is simply laughable—the printing and distribution of the “wicked Bible” in 1631 proves the point that any claims of “preservation” are completely unreliable.

                Quranic preservation—is a very serious matter. You can take any (official)printed Quran today from any part of the globe and compare it to any other printed Quran from another part and they will be the same. You can also take any printed Quran today and compare it to any earlier Qurans —either 100 years earlier or 500 years, thousand years….and they are the same. You can compare a Shia Quran with a Sunni Quran and they are the same. Basically—there are no revisions, editions, volumes etc to the Arabic Quran. Many Muslims still memorize the Quran from cover to cover and they are tested on their accuracy—many more Muslims memorize the Quran partially. Therefore, if there are any mistakes in the print–these are easily pointed out because the rhythm gets screwed (and such Qurans are destroyed before distribution) Likewise any errors in recitation are obvious both to the reciter and the listener.

                Does a “Quran” with an error exist—Yes, there is one Arabic “Quran” preserved in a museum in Italy that has spelling mistake—However this is not an official Quran—it was a printing experiment by non-Arab speakers and was not intended for distribution.

                Are there controversies?—Yes. 1) In Surah 3 verse 7, there is disagreement about punctuation.

                2) Should the words “In the name of God most compassionate, most merciful” be part of the Sura or not (In my Quran they are part of Sura 1)

                —-other points of discussion/speculation—1)the mysterious letters in front of some Surahs, 2)which parts of the Quran are literal(clear) and which parts metaphorical, 3)speculation about unusual words/terms used. 4) numbering of verses.

                Note:- diacritical marks for vocalization were added later for clarity for non-arabic speaking peoples reading the Quran in Arabic. However, this was not particularly significant as most Muslims (including non-arabic speakers) memorized the Arabic Quran. Even today, there are children who memorize the whole of the Quran and there are contests for the best recitations.

                What I am saying is from the perspective of an average muslim—a Scholar would have much more details about the preservation of the Quran and any ongoing discussions pertaining to it. (Some have been touched on by Khaled Blankenship in the net lecture on the compilation of the Quran)

                Veracity of stories from Islamic tradition (including hadith)—-the preservation of these has not been as rigorous as the Quran and they need careful analyses. This has already been done and they have been categorized according to how solid or weak, the evidence behind it is—however, these are open to re-evaluation……Again, a scholar would have more details on the issue—I recommended Jonathan Brown for more details on Hadith in a previous post….as to scholars who deal in the authenticity of stories from Islamic tradition—I don’t know of any on the net…but there are many scholars.

  7. I can understand monotheistic religions spawning intolerance insofar they require adherence to codes and systems that are the product of that God. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, all involve at some level classifying others into the camps of Satan or God. I’m not sure that everyone who is a monotheist is a committed religious believer, though.

    1. I haven’t read it. I would be interested in reading it, but if/when I do so I know that will be the beginning of a whole new project for me. I won’t be able to read it without also reading his critics, his responses, and then more widely on both sides of the arguments to begin to acquire enough knowledge to have some minimal level of confidence and competence to discuss the topic.

      It took me some years doing something like that just to learn about Christian/biblical studies.

  8. well, I think there are some valid counter-arguments against Holland’s thesis: mostly regarding the idea that “Islam before 800 does not exist in the form we would recognize it.” I would say either Holland deliberately ignore some historical testimonies (a bit like Crone&Cook did with their Hagarism’s thesis in the 70ies, deliberately ignoring historical sources contradicting their thesis) or he is not aware of them.

    As a matter of fact, we have a very reliable witness BEFORE 800 CE who provided us with a description of islam, islamic views, Quran corpus and Muhammad which could have been easily written yesterday: I’m speaking of St John of Damascus who extensively wrote about Islam-Muhammad-Quran with enough details to contradict Holland’s thesis. In his opus “Fountain of Wisdom”, in the “Concerning Heresy” part, there is a very long (longer than other heresy’ descriptions) and detailed chapter regarding “the heresy of the Ishmaelites”, this opus has been written around 743 and the provided description of islam is very close to islam as we know it today: thus Holland’s thesis is contradicted by an historical witness who can’t be considered as unreliable. First, he grown up at the Umayyads’ court (so well aware of Islam and Islamic views&beliefs), descending from Caliph’s Christian servants, secondly we can’t say that he was really fond of islam.

    The details he provided don’t contradict the traditional view concerning Islam: Muhammad’s teaching is evoked, some Quran’s suras are mentioned in detail (St John of Damascus calls them “books”, attributing the writing of those “books” to Muhammad), the “Arab” roots of Islam are confirmed, etc… the accusation of shirk (against Christians supposedly associating smth to God) is also mentioned, as well as the Islamic view of Jesus even the “Camel of God” narration (however there are some differences with the Quran narrative), and the Ka’aba ritual for example

    All to say is that the fact in 740 or so, St John of Damascus was able to provide a very detailed description of Islam (beliefs, prophet, suras, …): thus, it forces us to consider that at that time Islam was quite similar to what Islam is today: that doesn’t mean that it didn’t evolve (even regarding Quran’s content) or later became more elaborated: however on the main elements, St John of Damascus’ description of the “Ishamaelites’ heresy” casts some serious doubts on various thesis supporting a long elaboration of Islam (in a similar way than Christianism): at least, with St John of Damascus’ description we know that one century after the supposed birth of Islam: Islam was quite the same than it’s today (well the essentials of Islam).

    It’s very difficult to consider that it needed x centuries for Islam to exist in its traditional/known form, same applies to the Quran. Again changes certainly appeared later and elaboration process existed but some crucial and essential elements were already there since the beginning, this way Islamic narratives should certainly be studied from a critical perspective but shouldn’t be automatically rejected as made-up stories along x centuries.

    However, I agree with Holland on the fact that Islam’s expansion was during (at least) its first century a multi-confessional phenomena : i.e.: including Judaized Arabs, Christian Arabs and Jews: if I’m not wrong, St John of Damascus also evoked differences among various Muslim groups: some following the whole Quran, some only the Al Baqara sura, others using both the Quran, the “Torah” and some Gospel: thus in the 8th century Islam appeared to have been pluriform and not monolithic with one common element the Quran or part of it; from that we can deduce it was this way since the beginning a kind of “pan-monotheistic” movement. Plus, the extension of the Nestorian Church towards West after the Islamic conquests (i.e. : former Byzantine empire’s domain, hostile to Nestorianism ) with building of new churches and monasteries under Islamic rule may support the thesis that the first “Muslims” weren’t only “Muslims”..same can be applied for the Coptic Church which became prominent in Egypt once the Byzantine forces were kicked out. In both cases, various sources, traditions and historical events should force us to envisage a collaboration between “Muslims” and Christians (Copts and Nestorians).

    So I would say, that a) Islam’s expansion started with an already solid/elaborated set of beliefs/concepts, etc… b) most likely those beliefs/concepts/views were developed/detailed in an original “Quran” (sum of x books according to St John of Damascus) and c) at least, in the first century of conquests (so mainly the former Persian and Byzantine domains), most likely those conquests were made by a kind of multi-confessional confederation (actually, I can’t envisage that those conquests in Middle East would have been possible without the help of collaboration to the powerful Ghassanid and Lakhmid Arab tribes (both Christianised) and even some important Jew tribes (notably in Yemen and South Arabia), who were related to various tribes in Arabia: the young&new Hejaz Islamic state would not have been able to ignore those powerful groups: possible to envisage a kind of underlying proto-Panarabism and not pan-Islamism stimulating this expansion and overcoming religious differences between Arab groups (later, a syncretic process may have helped to shape Islam in its “definitive” form).

    I think it’s important to distinguish two main elements regarding this early expansion in Middle-East: one being the “religious” dimension, other one being its political counterpart: so, yes it’s more pertinent to speak first of “Arab conquests” (i.e.: political/military expansion doubled with a religious element> the first impulse being the young Islamic state built around Muhammad’s teaching or whatever Islam was at that time) and then of Islamic expansion : once the religious element became the determining one: that might explain why the religious aspect (i.e.: coins, documents, buildings, etc…) isn’t so evident in the earliest phase of what will become the Islamic civilization. It was first a multi-confessional, maybe mainly a “Panarabic” movement, with an “Islamic impulse” from Arabia and then it became “Islamic: from then, developing and stressing the Islamic character became both politically and religiously important: before it wasn’t so pertinent.

    p.s.: sorry for my English, I’m French…

  9. I welcome the responses here from the Muslim perspective. As might be expected, though, they raise more questions in my mind. There is too much information for me to respond to point by point. I suggest that you break up points with block letters and bolded text to make it easier to follow on computer monitors. To create bolded text in wordpress use: angular bracket – strong – angular bracket. That is, the word “strong” enclosed by angular brackets (and of course use the same at the end of the text with the close-bracket.

    But rather than try to address so many points at once it would be better to focus on one at a time. That way we can become clearer on the methods we are using to arrive at our interpretations of the evidence and build a clearer understanding of where each of us is coming from.

    There is one general point I’d like to make now. Rightly or wrongly I do see in your replies an approach to defending the traditional account that is similar to the way many Christian and Jewish scholars defend their accounts of their faith-origins from outside radical questioning. In each case the scholars are at pains to rationalize their traditional accounts that might otherwise be called “myths” by some. The evidence they use is generally not contemporary with the scenarios they are attempting to explain. There seems to be a predilection to take narratives at face value.

    Now all of these things may have good justifications. I mention these points because they are at the root of many of the questions that come to my mind when I read your arguments. In discussions with some Christian scholars I find it disheartening to find some of them drop all attempt at rational discussion and resort to vicious or sarcastic personal attacks on my motives. They take my questions as being motivated by a personal vendetta against Christianity or God in general. I can assure you — they are not interested in my assurances — that that is very far from the case.

    Yes I am an atheist, but I also respect others holding on to their respective faiths. Naturally I think I am “right” and that religion is “wrong”, or I would not be an atheist. I would like others to think things through and would naturally be happy if they came to similar conclusions as I have. But if I “attack” anything it is any idea that expresses intolerance and causes personal harm. If I write about my personal conclusions about the histories of any of those faiths I do not do so to attack anyone. I do so for the benefit of those who are genuinely interested in such questions and explorations. Some of those who are deeply committed to a Christian faith and who read this blog are offended. This blog is not for them, though some of them are committed to a faith that is indeed psychologically damaging.

    Specifically with respect to the Muslim religion, I have a track record of promoting community dialogue in order to give Muslims an opportunity to explain their faith to non-Muslims and to promote community understanding and respect. (I have done the same with Palestinian voices.) That has involved working with Christian and Muslim leaders. I have also worked with Christian church leaders in social activist campaigns. I mention all this to try to demonstrate that though I have no interest in the faiths of others from a personal belief perspective, I am interested in understanding the histories and origins of ideas that do impact on our society at an intellectual level, as well as in promoting respect and understanding at a social level.

    1. well, I would say one needs to be cautious to not apply the same approach (than for either Christianism or Judaism) when trying to study the roots and genesis of Islam as we are obviously facing radically different challenges:

      A) the frame of time between the supposed birth of Islam and its expansion (with global consequences) is quite shorter than with the two other religions: basically in only few decades, the whole world was changed by this new religion, which leads me to my second point:

      B) the few early non-Muslim historical sources don’t really contradict the essentials of the Islamic narratives (or Islamic “gesta”): we have a religious movement described as having its source in Arabia/among Arabs (Ishmaelites), with a leader called (or considered as being) Muhammad, most of the those early witnesses tend to qualify Islam either as a Christian heresy or a Christian heresy doubled with an alliance with Jews, and later witnesses tend to opt for the “ad hominem” attacks against Muhammad (the early opponents of Christianism tended rather to attack Christian beliefs, behavior, etc… than the supposed founding figure of Jesus) which can lead us to reasonably assume that Muhammad actually existed, then next point:

      C) as said, early critics (and it’s still relevant today) presented Islam as a Christian heresy: the interesting point being that this Christian heresy was perceived quite differently according to the religious leaning of the opponents of Islam were: i.e.: for example, if you were in the Byzantine part, Islam was perceived either as a kind of heretic Judaized Christianism (strong antisemitism in the Byzantine empire at this time due to various Jewish and Samaritan revolts) or a Nestorian offspring, others would consider Muhammad rather as being inspired by an Arian priest, or a forerunner of the Antichrist, etc… so I go to my next point:

      D) if any of the various thesis which try to find a Middle-East provenance or influence for Islam were right: obviously, the contemporary witnesses or opponents of Islam would have easily pointed out this provenance or influence: but that wasn’t the case, as basically the perception of Islam greatly differed according to what kind of Christian you were (i.e.: pro-Byzantine/anti-Byzantine): all those various contemporary conceptions about Islam tend to make reasonable to assume that for the non-Muslims who witnessed the expansion of Islam (directly impacting their life) this new religion or religious movement was completely new or unknown: if it wasn’t the case, the various conceptions would have quickly converged (as any Christian authority would have been able to put a name on what kind of Christian heresy Islam was : any Christian scholar of that time would be able to distinguish between an Arian, a Nestorian, a Judaized Christian, etc… fact being that religious doctrinal controversies were still very prevalent in Christianism, even more in Middle-East): which wasn’t the case and is still not the case

      E) then, there were perfect witnesses at that time to solve this matter: the Christian Arabs: they spoke the language, they were related to their tribal kinsmen still in Arabia, etc… so they had all the elements to contradict the Islamic narratives: oddly, on the main points of the Islamic “gesta” we don’t find any Christian Arab sources contradicting them (i.e.: the existence of Muhammad, a source located in Arabia/Hedjaz, a book called Quran) and we don’t find any Christian Arab sources (or “Arameanized Arab”> Northern/Middle-East Arabs of this era) neither developing alternative narratives nor speaking about a religious movement born among them (i.e. in North Arabia or Middle-East/Syria)

      F) finally, of course Islamic narratives have to be critically approached, as any religion or group, early Arab Muslims and then Muslims built their own “mythology” or what I call “gesta” regarding the founder of their religion, his deeds, etc… nevertheless, many elements are easily detectable :

      1) you can easily get rid of all “supernatural” stuff in those narratives: main difference with Christianism (i.e.: when related to the Jesus figure) once you take them out, it doesn’t greatly affect the overall coherence as Islamic narratives appear rather “factual” (i.e.: no supernatural events, no miracles, etc… could be easily called “Daily Life in Mecca and Hedjaz” ,

      2) the later incorporation of Judeo-Christian elements: some of them already known by Muslim theologians who call them “israi’iliyat” and

      3) there is a “culture of critic” in Islam since the beginning (there is a full list of sweet names, Muslim scholars would call each other: “liar”, “senile”, “unreliable”, “making up stories”,etc…) which help to evaluate the reliability of the various narrative, finally

      4) various clues can help to distinguish when and where some elements might have been incorporated : i.e.: fauna, flora, and anything which couldn’t have been known by 7th “Arabian” Arabs : this last element is the most important when casting doubt on the various thesis establishing an out-of-Arabia origin of Islam: as basically in the Quran and traditional Islamic narratives, there is nothing which really supports those thesis: if the genesis of Islam had occurred in Syria, Mesopotamia, etc… many clues related to flora, fauna and “culture” of those areas would appear in the Quran and early Islamic narratives: it’s not the case. Same applies with the thesis considering a x centuries long elaboration of Islam: if it had been the case, that also would appear “naturally” in Quran and Islamic narratives (simply imagine the “cultural shock” for natives of Arabia when discovering the marvels of the Byzantine cities or Persian empires, as well the different landscapes of Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon, etc…) apart imagining a x long centuries conspiracy with very talented writers: one can reasonably assume that Islam actually appeared in Arabia

      G) now with this being said, OF COURSE, Islam is no exception: as all religions, it has seen a long work of development, elaboration, incorporation of various elements, etc…i.e.: “creative” process: however, there is (until now) no reason to consider that Islam wasn’t born in Arabia, and that when the Islamic expansion started, Islam essentials were already present: as we have no actual reason (i.e.: facts, sources, etc..) to consider that it wasn’t the case, and on the other hand many reasons to assume that whatever creative work has been applied to the Islamic gesta, the essentials can be considered as rather factual( a founder, a book, an Arab origin, a monotheistic religion). * the discovery of the Sana’a manuscripts tend to show that the Quran may have existed in a written form (with some minor variations) earlier than what was thought: the question now being is : did Muhammad or the author of the Quran live earlier than what the Islamic gesta says? : however we are still in Arabia, dealing with an Arab historical movement*

      To conclude, one big problem is the current Saudi/Wahhabi rule in Saudi Arabia: a) all independent historical/archeological research on the beginnings of Islam is nearly impossible and b) many 7th (but not only) historical sites are destroyed and forever lost (those sites including the supposed house of Muhammad, his supposed place of birth, places related to relatives of Muhammad or early Muslims, etc…) so basically anyone can speculate as much as one wants as Arabia is more or less a “restricted area” for research in this field: then, the only means we have to work on those matters remain: the Quran, the Islamic narratives and contemporay non-Muslim sources, and archeological sites/artefacts in Middle-East

      1. Sorry, but much as I welcome your input, I really don’t have time to read so much now. That’s the sort of reading I’d have to set aside for a planned time in the future when I’m investigating the topic in depth. Can you just highlight one or two points you want me to address first? This is just an introductory discussion. I have much to learn, but need to do that in small bits, as with any new topic.

        I don’t know if you really understand what I mean by using the same approaches to the study of the Muslim religion as to other faiths. Of course each is different, but I’m talking about sound methods by which we approach the data in any historical enquiry. Some Christian scholars try to justify their methods by saying they are the same as those used by other historians, but at the same time they admit they are using quite different methods in other contexts. When one looks at those unique methods one quickly sees they are stacked to preserve the traditional myth and protect it from radical inquiry.

        1. @Neil Godfrey

          Thanks for your reply.

          No problem.

          I think I understood what you meant, however I’m neither a Muslim scholar or a Muslim: so I don’t really have a “passionate” perspective, neither do I try to preserve any tradition, myth, etc… I just wanted to point out that we are really facing very different problematic, and thus for a “radical inquiry”, we have to opt for a “radically” different approach.

          Concerning the points I would like you to address first, well it’s your website so I guess it should be normal that you were the one who decides how the discussion can go. As you said, it’s a kind of introductory discussion and well Islamic Studies (or Middle East Studies) are quite a big field (with plenty of sub-fields) so we go as you wish.

          However for example, what did you think about the testimony of St John of Damascus, which obviously contradicts the “no Islam before 800 CE” argument.

          1. Not having read Holland’s book I can only speak from what I have understood from the interview and doco. My understanding is that he does not deny that Islam existed before 800 CE. I don’t know of any argument that says “no Islam before 800 CE”.

            As for any discussion on the nature of various Islamic groups in the earlier period, in particular at the time of St John of Damascus, I would need first to read for myself what St J of D writes. That is a future project. Let me know if there is an online source.

            Will no doubt do another post along these lines as I learn more, and/or come back to here to check or raise points as I go.

            1. well, I should have been more precise: I was referring to this passage of your article: “Holland’s answer: Islam before 800 does not exist in the form we would recognize it.” that’s why I said that Holland’s argument here is obviously contradicted by the detailed description of St John of Damascus which presents us a very recognizable Islam, as basically a) it could have been written today and b) his critics are very close to the contemporary ones (I guess St John of Damascus is of great inspiration for the Islamophobia network: actually, they don’t say very much more, even repeating the Antichrist accusation for some of them…) so obviously around 740 or so, Islam (its essentials) was more or less the same than contemporary Islam.

              Thus, I think that is a significant counter-argument to the thesis developed by Holland: for St John of Damascus to be able to present Islam in such a way that it’s easily recognizable (as said, anyone – with a strong bias toward Islam- could today describe Islam in the same way) obviously means that we are facing here (8th century) an already elaborated religion, with its own holy scriptures, narratives and founding figure (St John of D places Muhammad between his time and Heraclius’ time so quite coherent with Islamic narratives): and not a “religion-in-development-process”

              > thus one can reasonably assume that the thesis proposing a long elaboration (during x centuries) of either Islam or the Quran can be seriously questioned: here, we can just say that a century or so after the supposed birth of Islam: Islam was very much the same than it’s today.

              I will try to find some resources online (in English, as I am more used with French sources) concerning St John of Damascus, but I think the “Concerning Heresy” part with its critic of Islam (or some excerpts) should be easily found online. Well, I will look and keep you update.

              Meanwhile, I welcome debate and discussion and I would like to thank you for offering me an opportunity to do so.

              Au revoir,

              1. on Google Books, you can find an available/online English translation of St John of Damascus “On Heresies” > Writings (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 37): the description of Islam starts at page 153.

                – Saint John of Damascus, Frederic H. Chase, Jr. – 1999 – Preview –

                A votre service!

              2. Have given a quick once over of the translation at http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/stjohn_islam.aspx — Reading a passage like that makes me realize how much more I need to read and know. I’d like to read the introduction of StJ/D’s work to see what he might have to say, if anything, about his sources, audience, etc.

                But from a first glance, these points come to mind:

                1. the books that StJ/D understands came from Mohammed are not in all cases the same as in the Quran we know today, although several appear to be.

                2. StJ/D believes that Mohammed himself received the books literally and physically (not unlike the way Joseph Smith, if I recall correctly, received the golden tablets from the angel Moroni) — the point being that according to StJ/D’s understanding there was no oral tradition as such, but only a written one from the time of Mohammed himself.

                3. There appears to have been in StJ/D’s time an intense, heated, doctrinal debate between Syrian/”orthodox” Christians and Muslims.

                That’s just from a glance. So don’t be too hard on me if I have things wrong. But do show me where I am wrong if need be.

              3. @Neil Godfrey

                Thanks to your reply.

                I answer here to your comment below as I can’t reply under it (no “reply” touch available).


                1. Yes, you are right, however my main point was that at the time of St John of Damascus (according to this testimony) Islam was already in a “recognizable” form. Now concerning the differences with the Quran how we know it today, for sure there are (in one of my comment, I pointed out the “She-Camel of God” story which clearly is different): nevertheless, I stated many times that a “creative work” certainly occurred: however as you noticed important elements appear: the construction of the Quran in x various books (with accurate titles for the ones described), essential concepts of Islam, etc… Now how much has been distorted by St J of D due either to his antagonism toward Islam or lack of complete information: that we will never know, plus it’s a “controversial” text, intended for a Christian audience so there is no real interest to enter into details or to present a strictly “objective” description (basically St J of D did his own selection of what he considered as relevant for his description of this “Ishamelite” heresy : obviously first he conceived Islam as Christian heresy, and secondly Muhammad as the author of “many ridiculous books” we can’t expect an objective or very detailed description, even less considering that wasn’t intended for a controversy/debate with Muslim theologians but for his fellow Christians: so subjective and “caricatural” description. However, I repeat again, with his description we have a good idea of what was Islam during his time :and obviously essential elements were there.

                2. Yes, you are right again but that question of the form of the original Quran is open for debate: obviously here the Islamic gesta has to be questioned (that’s why I referred to the Sana’a manuscripts which force us to consider a very early date for the writing of the Quran, not compatible with Islamic narratives): however the Quran provides some clues concerning this matter:

                a) Muhammad isn’t called “illiterate” but “ummi” which isn’t synonym at all of “iliterate”: a rough translation would mean “commoner” , a more elaborated (taking into account the Arab society of this time, and Judeo-Christian influences in Arabia) would give us a “gentile”, “pagan” (i.e.: similar to the concept of Goy/Goyim actually in Hebrew, we find a common root “Am” to designate a group of people: exemple: Am’Haaretz meaning “unlearned”), furthemore the Quran doesn’t say that Muhammad didn’t know to write but more precisely that he never wrote any RELIGIOUS book, because being a “ummi” > so “unlearned in religious affairs, or a “pagan” : this “pagan” dimension of Muhammad before his prophethood is usually hidden in Islamic narratives, but there are some few traditions which tell about an encounter between the young Muhammad and a Hanif: interesting point being that the encounter happened after Muhammad has sacrificed to one Arab (ante-islamic) god

                b) also, one has to carefully read some passages of the Quran, and the accusations against Muhammad, for example in sura Al Furqan (25:5) Muhammad is accused by his opponents to “write down” old tables, fables of the ancients…

                c) we have now enough archaeological to know that even writing wasn’t as widespread in Arabia as in other areas or among Jewish communities, it wasn’t so uncommon, even less among traders who obviously needed to know how to write for contracts, lists, etc…difficult to imagine a successful trader as Muhammad (according to the Islamic narratives) to not have been able to write

                d) other clues in the Quran show a very different Muhammad, as some of them might indicate that he has some knowledge of the Torah in Hebrew, enough to use word game only understandable by bilingual people (i.e.: Hebrew+Arabic speakers so intended to his Jewish opponents): I refer to the passage in the Quran accusing Jews to change the meaning of passages of holy scriptures, for example saying” we hear and disobey” rather than “we hear and obey” as it’s written in the Torah: this kind of passage is only understandable by bilingual people as it plays on the similarity in sounding between the Arab and Hebrew sentences, with two sentences sounding very close but saying quite the opposite (disobey>obey): so in Hebrew: shama’nu v’asinu (>obey) and Arab sami’na wa’asayna (>disobey). First that indicates us what kind of controversies occurred between Muhammad and his Jewish opponents, secondly that shows us that Muhammad had some understanding of Hebrew passages of the Torah, enough to counter-attack its Hebrew speaking opponents.

                SO, as said the form of the original Quran is an open question and debate, even we may understand what could have been the motivations for early Muslims to build an alternative story.

                3. Yes it was a very “heated” period, however the main “ennemy” of St J of D was the Leo III (iconoclasm controversy) who seem to have sent some hitmen to take care of Saint John of D.

                I hope I wasn’t too hard on you!

                A bientôt,

              4. You are jumping in to argue against your perception of Holland’s thesis from my post and to defend a position I am not addressing. I have not read Holland’s book so I cannot and am not arguing his case. My post was simply outlining my take on some interesting questions he raises.

                Since then, I have said I’m interested in learning more for myself, and in this case I opted to read StJ/D to get some handle on the evidence that comes from that source. (I was asked what I thought of his evidence, but I can’t discuss what he says unless I read what he says first.)

                So I read an English translation of just that one section of StJ/D and I mentioned three points that I took from that initial reading. You are talking quite past me and about things I am not addressing at all when you jump in to arguments about his literacy, etc.

                I don’t know what you mean by being “too hard on me”. I didn’t think you were addressing, for most part, anything I had raised at all. You seemed to say that my three observations were correct, so I don’t know how you were being hard on me.

              5. @ Neil Godfrey

                I’m surprised by the tone of your reply (I might be wrong but I feel it to be quite aggressive or defensive). When I wrote that I hoped I wasn’t too hard to you, it was just (in a joking way) a reference to your comment : you wrote: “don’t be too hard on me”…nothing more, nothing else.

                Then, honestly, I thought that I actually addressed the points you raised in your comment: I may have pushed further but if you think that I was digressing, there are other ways (more polite or relaxed) to reply to me. I honestly don’t understand what’s the problem here…I came and commented on various points raised by your post presenting Holland’s thesis (and nothing else), proposing arguments and counter-arguments, thus I think that I’m respecting the rules and debating seriously and certainly not as you wrote “jumping to argue” (to my dear French eyes/ears that sounds quite a derogatory statement)…Well, I’m quite puzzled, I never commented on your site (but I read it since a long time) but if -for any unknown reason- I’m not welcome here, just let me know.

                Finally, if – as you said – you intend to learn more on those matters, your reaction appears even more strange, considering that whether you consider my arguments as valid or not, at least (I hope) they bring some elements which might have been unknown to you. After all, it led you to read that passage of Saint John of Damascus, no?

                Well, I will concede that it’s true that I tend to “discourse” (“professional deformation/habit) nevertheless I think that I’m always respectful of my interlocutors, even I may sound pedantic sometimes. Now as I said, you can either clarify the issue here or just tell me to find the exit: as said in a previous comment, it’s your website, I’m just a “bystander”…

              6. I didn’t mean to sound aggressive or defensive. Maybe a little frustrated, and hence straightforward and blunt, like someone else earlier in this exchange? 🙂

                I simply wanted to confirm that we were on the same page in seeing the StJ/D passage as indicating that

                1. the books that StJ/D understands came from Mohammed are not in all cases the same as in the Quran we know today, although several appear to be.

                2. StJ/D believes that Mohammed himself received the books literally and physically (not unlike the way Joseph Smith, if I recall correctly, received the golden tablets from the angel Moroni) — the point being that according to StJ/D’s understanding there was no oral tradition as such, but only a written one from the time of Mohammed himself.

                3. There appears to have been in StJ/D’s time an intense, heated, doctrinal debate between Syrian/”orthodox” Christians and Muslims.

                That’s all. I can’t comment on or absorb any of the other points you raise in connection with those three statements since I know nothing of the background to the arguments you are addressing or defending.

                I’m trying to keep it to a simple step by step learning process. I feel you are overwhelming me with information that I cannot absorb, let alone respond to.

              7. @Neil Godfrey

                Ok, thank you for your reply.

                I understand what you mean, it’s really a bad habit I have (that “bulldozer” effect with a pedantic touch)…So I will try to moderate this as there is no interest if we can’t actually debate or discuss (i.e. : we need to be on the same page, thus that “absorption” issue needs to be solved! step by step seems to be the more reasonable). So all my apologies.

                A bientôt,

      2. p.s.: I would like to add another factor which makes the expansion of Islam very different than the Christianism’s one:

        the fact that a) “forced conversion” was rarely the rule in Islam and b) converting non-Muslims seems to not have appeared important to earlier Muslims: once this fact acknowledged, one can understand why non-Muslim sources providing greater details about Islam only appear in the next century (i.e.: 8th century > St John of Damascus for example) basically during the first or two first centuries, Islam was mainly an “Arab” thing: Arabs usually followed the same strategy once a land was conquered: they would either settle aside the non-Muslims or build their own towns (or ribat: fortress): they will act as the ruling elite, perceiving taxes and allowing non-Muslims to follow their own religions (more economically interesting : more taxes for non-Muslims, so it appears that early Muslim leaders tried to limit the number of conversions> less money in their treasury). Once the number of converts (i.e.: non-Arabs) became more important, the first clashes started among the “Umma”: basically early Muslims (Arabs) didn’t know how to deal with this situation.

        Here we have a significant difference with Christianism which since its beginnings was “proselytizing”, thus that can explain why there are no or very few non-Muslim sources (with little details) for the earliest period of Islamic expansion, as well why there are only few archeoloical artefacts: the Muslim ruling elite wasn’t (at that time) religiously motivated but economically, militarily and politically: basically if you weren’t both Arab and Muslim, you could live in a “Muslim” territory with no knowledge at all about Islam: apart obvious details like not eating pork, doing prayers x times per day, worshiping a “one god”, following the teaching of an Arab prophet…

        Thus, it’s really difficult to not rely upon Islamic narratives as basically that’s more or less all we have: as said earlier, a critical approach is needed but for it to be pertinent, many elements have to be considered (Cultural Anthropology, Linguistics, Arabia’s History, etc…) not only using a kind of “comparative theology” approach which only lead to the same and only thing: Islam is related to Judaism and Christianism : which is obviously true but not enough as Islam can hardly be considered as only a Judeo-Christian offspring: the very Islamic view of God is radically different than the Jewish and Christian ones: the Islamic god being a kind of “mathematical” being, strictly transcendent, completely separated from its creation and having nothing similar with it ( both Judaism and Christianism evoke “in the image of God”: Islam postulates that there is nothing in the likeness of Allah)…

        Well, that’s why most of the thesis regarding the roots of Islam appear to me like mere speculations rather than rigorous scientific works…as too many elements aren’t taken into account: only a multidisciplinary approach (free from any cultural bias: i.e. Christiano-centrism either conscious or unconscious) can lead to significant progress on this matter (well for non-Muslims or Muslims having a critical approach of their “mythology” and religion)

        1. @ Appollonius

          Yr knowledge of this period is impressive! I agree with you that a multi-disciplinary approach can lead to new insights. It will be hard work though—but perhaps exciting.

          I again want to bring up a very minor point—-with regards to taxes—It is true that non-muslims were taxed—but muslims were also taxed—the difference was that muslim taxes went into social projects whereas initially, non-muslim taxes primarily went to the army—and since the army was muslim arabs—these taxes were attractive… and yes, you are correct that conversion was not encouraged at this time………… some scholars feel this may be a clue to why ” Islam” spread so rapidly….because it brought stabilty, religious liberty and rule of law……….

          I think another interesting point is that the Prophet(pbuh) is from Mecca and the Meccans were traders. The Quran also lays out ethico-moral principles (laws) regarding economics and commerce—and stability is an important requirement for commerce to flourish…..?…….so perhaps practical concerns were probably uppermost in the minds of everyone of this time….?…..

          1. @Anon

            Thanks for your reply: concerning the jiziya: that would really lead us far away from the main topic. However to summarize, it seems that a) this “tribute” system was already existing in Arabia b) that at the beginning of Islam it wasn’t a “per capita” system and seems to have been a kind of “regressive tax” when applied to Bedouin nomads (that may explains why they converted quickly as this “lower taxes” may have been considering insulting to their pride/honour), c) then basically the jiziya system took inspiration from the Byzantine and Persian tax systems: that may explain why populations recently falling under Muslim rule (notably in the Byzantine part) were considering their situation better under Muslim rulers than Byzantine ones as the lower taxes doubled with religious tolerance could have appeared as a significant progress compared to their earlier condition (notably for all Christian groups persecuted by the Byzantines)

            And yes, the Quran and later a more codified Sharia can be conceived as the first world wide “trade legislation” as in the next centuries that commercial/business code was applied from Spain to China, and used by non-Muslims.

            Finally, my view was always that during those first centuries, practical concerns were more important than religious ones for the Muslim leaders

            > for example: to explain the increase of the Muslim population in some areas -like Egypt: very slow, it took almost 7/8 centuries to reach Muslims to form 50% of the Egyptian population- you can consider the laxity on the polygamy question (quite difficult if you follow the Quran) and the interdiction for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims (Quran being not explicit on this matter) : both of those developments can be envisaged as responding to a very practical concern > induce a demographic increase of the Muslim population, perfectly understandable considering that Arab Muslims weren’t so numerous, and ruling lands with important Non-Muslim/non-Arab populations (example: Egypt) so being more permissive on polygamy (= more Muslim babies) and restricting marriage of Muslim women with non-Muslims (= no demographic loss) were very practical measures…here the interpretation of the Quran was done according to very practical concerns and not theological ones. Later, Islam with the codification of Sharia and emergence of some “fixed” traditions would lose this original “plasticity” which certainly explained its success of the first centuries.

            1. @ Appollonius

              It is a pleasure to converse with you—If Holland had even a third of your knowledge, he wouldn’t make such a fool of himself!…..

              You are correct about taxes—I only brought up that point in case others were also reading these posts—there is sometimes a misunderstanding that only non-muslims were taxed—which was not the case.

              I think the demographic issue may also be a misunderstanding……I know that the Islamophobic position is that “muslims like to procreate like rabbits”—it probably comes from envy that in Islam sex in marriage is not a “sin” but encouraged—(and birth control/family planning is permitted).

              The Quranic stance on polygamy came about out of 2 concerns—-

              1) a way to abolish the practice of slavery—male slaves were freed as charity, but simply freeing a female slave would have caused social problems—instead encouraging marriage ensured the physical and financial safety of women and their children and at the same time giving them freedom.

              2) After the Battle of Uhud, there were many widowed and orphaned women—again, the institution of marriage was used to provide for their safety and comfort.

              —restriction of marriage with non-Muslims—The Quranic perspective springs from concern for 1) religious liberty 2) equality

              The Quran posits that all human beings (including women and men) are inherently equal and Islam/Quran provides rights to women that were not available in other religious practices. (Right to own property/assets, conduct business, inheritance, divorce, stipulate pre-nuptial agreements…etc….this is 1400 yrs ago….later many of these original rights were restricted under the guise of “protection”….Dr Aziza Al-Hibri has video lectures on the development of legislature in this area)

              We were also conversing on another matter—I will reply here on those issues—–

              Alternative theories—I was only joking but thankyou for your reply—I agree with you about the pursuit of knowledge and this includes looking at early Islam with different perspectives.

              We Muslims already have a high quality of scholarship–even from very early period and shoddy work such as Hollands simply cannot pass as “scholarship” to a muslim–there is nothing wrong with alternative theories—but the least he could have done was research his material!!.

              Tawheed/Christologies—Since I myself have a hard time figuring out the Trinity—it seems to me you have a vaild point about the “average joe” Christian being unconcerned about technical details. This would not apply to the “average joe” Muslim with regards to Tawheed—All of the ethico-moral principles in the Quran emanate from the Tawheed and since everyday “law” was derived from this, it was of concern to the “average joe”—in particular the early “average joe’ muslim.

              Pre-Islamic poetry suggests that both the Pagan Arabs and the Arab Christians (of the region around Mecca, at least) understood “Allah” to have offspring—the “Allah” of the Pagan Arabs had daughters and the “Allah” of the Arab Christians had a son…….irrespective of the precise nature of the Trinity as understood by the “average joe” Christian, the Quran denies ideas of “offspring” or “incarnation”. It also denies the Jewish “chosen people” idea—which is the very foundation of Jewish self-understanding. Allah, the creator of all creation, extends his compassion and mercy to all and does not play favourites. (The Quran also denies that God has favourites among his Prophets)……………this principle is linked to Tawheed……..

              —for example, Islam has the idea of “inherent equality”–Tawheed brings about the idea that Only God/Allah (the unique, the uncreated) is superior—all else in equally inferior to God because to have a “hierarchy” by saying xyz is superior/inferior to abc means infringing on the Divine attribute of “Superior” (—sorry–it is difficult to explain in english—-I am from south-east asia.)

              (—-the story of the “fall of Iblis” in the Quran is an interesting illustration of this point—particularly as interpreted by the Muslim philosopher Al-Gazzali)

              —as you mentioned, perhaps a multi-disciplinary approach may provide more insight—but a “Judeo-Christian origins” theory alone is inadequate…..

              Messianism—I agree

              Culture—I agree (but I would like to add—that in the Islamic context “culture”—in terms of law, philosophy, traditions….etc…must be separated from “Quran” —a seperation will provide more interesting insight because their history is different.)

  10. Early stories shared by Christians and Muslims are firstly those used by Luke at the beginning of his gospel and related to the song and story of Hannah in the first book of Samuel, secondly the story of Isa forming birds from mud and making them fly, which is told less charmingly in the Infancy gospel of Thomas. The stories told of Annah and Miriam have many resemblances to those told of Hannah in the Old Testament, though the child that Annah gives to the temple is female.. Unfortunately we do not know where Luke or Thomas got their stories from. Like the Magnificat their main point seems to be that the humble, the poor, the marginalised, and those dishonoured amongst women, will be vindicated and will triumph if they submit themselves to God’s plans.

  11. @Neil

    Hope you are not offended—but you mentioned you were frustrated with the information and I thought perhaps if you had a timeline it might help you situate yourself?—This is the Muslim perspective. (note:—Islam uses lunar calender so dates are approx)

    570 CE— Birth of the Prophet.

    595 CE—Marriage to a Merchant/Trader. (She was 15 years senior to him.)

    610 CE—Start of Quran (Age of 40)

    613-15 CE—Group of Muslims leave for Abysinnia (Ethiopia) seeking asylum from persecution.

    622 CE—Prophet’s escape to Medina (There exist copies of the Charter of Medina) (Islamic calender begins)

    rest of the Muslims also escape to Medina—the Prophet establishes a “mentoring” system where each Medinan family is responsible for a Meccan Family—thus avoiding social chaos with the influx of a large number of penniless immigrants…..

    —there is approx 12 yrs of Quran (Meccan Surahs)

    624 CE—Battle of Badr

    625 CE—Battle of Uhud

    627 CE—Battle of the Trench

    628 CE—Treaty of Hudaibiya (Peace treaty between the Prophet and the Meccans—-it is repeatedly violated by the Meccans)

    630 CE—Mecca surrenders

    632 CE—Death of Prophet.

    Abu Bakr, his companion is elected Caliph (start of the “Rightly Guided Caliph” era)

    First compilation of Quran—2 complete written Quran exist. (Medinan period of Quran is approx 10 yrs)

    634 CE—Umar (Omar) ib Khattab is elected Caliph—He is also companion of the Prophet

    644 CE—Uthman Ibn Affan is elected—also a companion of the Prophet. 2nd Compilitation of Quran—written works from 1st compilation used as well as memorization/recitation. Standardized Quran sent to all territories (Western scholars call this the “Uthmani codex” ) —Notice that we are still in the 7th century……..

    656 CE—Ali Ibn Abu Talib elected. He is both companion and son-in law of the Prophet.

    He and others of his generation have the “Sahifa” written works of sayings and practices of the Prophet—-the later hadith science/Sunna, Biographies and histories will rely on these works as well as oral traditions—geneologies also play an important part in verification of the chain of transmision/evidence.

    661 CE—End of the “Rightly Guided Caliph” era—at this point Muslim territories range from Egypt to Afghanistan and from the Caspian sea to the Arabian sea.

    We are still in the 7th century and the time from the death of the Prophet to the end of this era is approx 29 yrs.

    685 CE—Abdal Malik (5th Ummayad Caliph–Dynastic rule) This is the time that Holland asserts we have coins and other evidence—-time period between death of the Prophet and the start of his reign is approx 53 yrs.

    750 CE—(Approx time) Paper came into Islamic territory and first paper-making factory established in Samarkand—this is middle of 8th century. This caused an explosion of writing from this time onwards…..(before that it was a predominantly oral society/culture)

    approx 750 CE is also the start of what is called the “Golden Age” of Islam. This is around the time of the Abbasid Caliphate.

    Hope this helps a little………….

    1. No offence taken at all.

      Holland, if nothing else, raises interesting questions. What caught my attention listening to the interview with him was that there seemed to be significant aspects of the way he was approaching the subject that I felt were very sound methodologically, and that I have found are strongly opposed by many New Testament scholars when it is suggested the same methods be applied to the evidence we have for Christian origins.

      It’s not time lines I’m after. I can get those anywhere. What I’m interested in is understanding what the earliest evidence is, and how it is interpreted and why it is interpreted in a particular way.

      It’s no good just saying that the earliest tradition was entirely oral. We need to have some sound arguments for establishing this claim.

      Scholars of Christian origins generally say that we should believe an event in a narrative is genuinely historical if it is plausible. I disagree. I think even fiction, including ancient fiction, contains plausible narratives. What’s important is establishing the origin of the documentary evidence, and understanding its purpose and audience, and then putting it to the test of independent verification where possible.

      That’s why I paused to see my take on StJ/D was in sync with what others read in it. That’s just the beginning. Next I need to find out more about this document and its author to get as full an understanding of it as possible and its place in the context of other evidence.

  12. @ Neil

    “Scholars of Christian origins generally say that we should believe an event in a narrative is genuinely historical if it is plausible. … What’s important is establishing the origin of the documentary evidence, and understanding its purpose and audience, and then putting it to the test of independent verification where possible”.

    —–that is exactly my point as well—To assume x happened in Christianity therefore it must/should apply to Islam is WRONG. Historical criticism is a recent endeavor in the West.—-But not for Muslims—this started very early—in fact soon after the death of the Prophet (pbuh)—at the time of the first compilation of the Quran by Caliph Abu bakr. At this time, (Abu Bakr and Uthman )thorough verification was conducted for not just written works but also oral/memorization. Textual integrity of the Quran was a major concern for muslims. (It was not for early Christians).

    —–if you are interested in early evidence—you have to look at what Muslim scholars have.

    —-if one is proposing an alternative theory—then it must (at the very least) match the kind of evidence muslims have for their theory—otherwise an alternative theory without evidence will not work out.

    Our conversation has become repetitive—perhaps we should simply agree to disagree?…….

  13. Glenn Bowersock has a, I must say, vicious critique of this book, and just based on the references of french scholars he mentions, him inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He also has a book out since 2017 I think (Crucible of Islam) that might shed some light into this matter.

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