BOOK REVIEW of Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins, by Robert Spencer

Spencer performs a super detective service for the West in this book.   He examines virtually every aspect of the composition and history of Islam and its purported founder, Mohammad.  Let us begin with one of his summations:

A careful investigation makes at least one thing clear: The details of Muhammad's life that have been handed down as canonical - that he unified Arabs by the force of arms, concluded alliances, married wives, legislated for his community, and did so much else - are a creation of political ferments dating from long after the time he is supposed to have lived. Similarly, the records strongly indicate that the Qur'an did not exist until long after it was supposed to have been delivered to the prophet of Islam. [pp. 214-215]

The Qur'an, the Islamic canon alleges, was the eternal "perfect book," coexisting with Allah, who sent it to earth via the Angel Gabriel to whisper into Mohammad's ear on Mount Hira, and which he, an illiterate, was able to communicate to the world in its entirety, unalterable, unchanged, and untouchable.

Well, because he couldn't write, he had secretaries to whom he dictated the Qur'an. No, wait. Those secretaries began recording the good book after he had died. No, wait

As Spencer demonstrates, it did not come into existence until long after Mohammad's death (presuming he even existed) in 632. (Gabriel was the "Prophet Whisperer.") The Hadith, the companion to the Qur'an purportedly a collection of Mohammad's sayings and doings, did not begin to accumulate until a century after his death. As Spencer shows, the Hadith became a kind of cottage industry for caliphs, Islamic clerics, scholars and anonymous scribes to invent its contents over the centuries for reasons that can partly be explained, and that partly remain conjectural.

Islam, Mohammad, and even Muslims did not begin to enter anyone's consciousness until early in the 8th century following Arab conquests of the Mideast and North Africa. Spencer emphasizes, and demonstrates, that it was Arabs, and not necessarily Muslims, or Moslems, or Mohammadans who waged jihad on that part of the Dark Age world. And those Arabs, while they were monotheists, were not necessarily Muslims.

Spencer demonstrates that possibly it was the biblical and Judaic Abraham who was the "prophet," not the person Mohammad. Surviving commentaries by chroniclers were ambiguous on the point. Moreover, that monotheist creed regarded Christians and Jews in a far more tolerant light of fellowship than would the Islam that finally emerged centuries later. It would explain many of the contradictory verses in the Qur'an, especially the earlier, abrogated ones.

Up until the time the Qur'an was being diligently assembled by a succession of clerics, politicians, and charlatans, no mention is made in the earliest documents that can be linked to Islam of the Qur'an or to Mohammad.  What chroniclers referred to when writing about those events and those Arabs - which include fictive battles that Mohammad fought - were Hagarians, Saracens, or Taiyaye.

The invaders referred to themselves as Muhajirun, "emigrants" - a term that would eventually take on a particular significance within Islam but that at this time preceded any clear mention of Islam as such. Greek-speaking writers would sometimes term the invaders "Magaritai," which appears to be derived from Muhajirun. But conspicuously absent from the stock of terms that invaded and conquered people used to name the conquering Arabians was "Muslims." [p. 33]

"Allah," Spencer points out, was not the exclusive name for God of Muslims in this period, but a common term shared by Christians and Jews. "Muhammad" was not necessarily a proper name, but often an honorific title meaning "praised one," which could be appended to any random "prophet" or religious preacher.

As Spencer shows with meticulous attention to detail, Islam and the iconic Mohammad were too likely a consequence between feuding tribes, „ la the Hatfields and McCoys, in the prophet's alleged home base, Mecca, in this instance, the Quraysh and the Umayyads.

Spencer also points to the dubious role of Mecca itself in the history of Islam, and of the Kaaba, which was originally a shrine for a host of pagan and polytheistic deities, and not the sole spiritual property of Islam as is the common belief. It shared the fate of many churches in lands conquered by the invaders, which were turned into mosques. It was appropriated by Islam. That is, stolen by conquering Arabs of questionable religious color.

The original Qur'an, writes Spencer, had to have been in Syriac, not Arabic, as the Islamic canon asserts it was. Allah commanded it to appear in Arabic, and not in any other language. Spencer bursts that balloon, too. And every fifth verse in the Qur'an is literally incomprehensible, having no intelligible reference to what precedes or follows it.

Spencer devotes important attention to the likelihood that the Qur'an is founded on a substratum of early Christian and Judaic texts. The Qur'an possibly was based on an early Christian lectionary.

My first introduction to Islam was the epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1963. I was in high school when I first saw it on a big theater screen. From a directorial and cinematography standpoint, it is still one of my favorite films. Spencer's book clears up some of the dialogue and scenes in that film. For example, when Lawrence and his Bedouin army are nearing Damascus, an Arab rider offers Lawrence a stem of grapes. Lawrence tastes one and grimaces. "They are not ripe!" laughs the rider.

Spencer discusses the actual meaning of those grapes and their relationship to the seventy-two renewable virgins promised martyrs in Paradise. Citing the researches of Christoph Luxenberg, a contemporary investigator of Islam's origins, he notes:

"A closer philological analysis indicates that the Qur'an does not offer such a promise. After examining the rasm, the other contexts in which hur appears in the Qur'an, and the contemporary usage of the word houris, Luxenberg concludes that the famous passages refer not to virgins but instead to white raisins, or grapes."

Yes, fruit. Strange as that may seem, given all the attention paid to the Qur'an's supposed promises of virgins in Paradise, white raisins were a prized delicacy in that region. As such, Luxenberg suggests, they actually make a more fitting symbol of the reward of Paradise than the promise of sexual favors from virgins.

Luxenberg shows that the Arabic word for "Paradise" can be traced to the Syriac word for "garden," which stands to reason, given the common identification of the garden of Adam and Eve with Paradise. Luxenberg further demonstrates that metaphorical references to bunches of grapes are consonant with Christian homiletics expatiating on the refreshments that greeted the blessed in Heaven.

The fact that the Syriac word Ephraem used for "grapevine" was feminine, Luxenberg explains, "led the Arabic exegetes of the Koran to this fateful assumption" that the Qur'an text referred to sexual playthings in Paradise. [p. 169]

Luxenberg is one of the many pioneer investigators and examiners of Islam's origins to whom Spencer gives ample credit throughout his book. Luxenberg focused on the philological quirks and inconsistencies found in Islam's holy book in his 2000 The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Qur'an.

A chief inconsistency of Islam for me is that the Qur'an is claimed to have been the "perfect book" that coexisted with Allah. Yet, no sooner had Mohammad died than his successors began to fiddle with its contents to conform to the expediency of the moment - surely a punishable offence in Islam. When this is pointed out to the faithful defenders of the Qur'an's inalterability, the pat answer is that Allah planned it that way, that is, implying that Allah had the Angel Gabriel whisper an incomplete and imperfect Qur'an into a delirious Mohammad's ear.

So, it's an either/or conundrum for which Islamists have no credible solution and no rationally comprehensible answer.

The Qur'an especially winds up being a kind of Rube Goldberg-like literary contraption that contains explanations for every unnecessary and obvious contradiction, and its defenders hardly blush.

Islam has swindled its faithful, its communicants, its followers, its believers. All the possible evidence points to the fact that Islam's substance and veracity comprise a theological and historical fraud. The walls of Allah's gold mine of salvation and his blessings were salted with glittering silicate from a shotgun, meant to dazzle and stun the gullible and irrational into buying into what is, at root and in purpose, a totalitarian ideology. Unfortunately, about a billion people are comfortable with being the playthings of that ideology. Which is why Islam is, root and branch, incompatible with America.

Spencer leaves few rocks unturned in his search for the truth about Islam and Mohammad. Beneath them he has found either nothing concrete, or another hand-buzzer of Islamic practical jokers. He posits at the end that Islam was knocked together as a political faith to anchor the Arab empire in the 8th century, and then began to acquire its contemporary character as sheer political circumstances demanded.

In this relatively short book, Spencer adds an invaluable resource to the growing and much needed corpus of literature that exposes, if not the peril posed by Islam, then its maleficent and felonious origins.


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