By M Aamer Sarfraz
February 4, 2019
We live in an age of Muslim-bashing. This is understandable in the context of how the West dealt with 9/11, and how the mind-set which could have been behind that tragedy, reacted to it. Unfortunately, this situation has inspired some Western academics to start questioning the origins of Islam and its Prophet. I have waited over a decade to see how Muslim academia responds, but not much has emerged. It seems we have nothing better to do than protesting against Prophet’s caricatures by burning effigies and our own properties.
There are two icons behind this intellectual strike. The first is Robert Spencer; a writer, and activist behind “Counter Jihad” and “Stop Islamisation of America” movements. His books have been included among the New York Times bestsellers, but are banned in some countries including Pakistan. The second is Sven Kalisch; a German convert to Islam from Christianity at the age of 15. He did a PhD in Islamic Theology, and then held the chair of Islamic Theology at Munster University. In 2008, he proclaimed that Prophet Muhammad never existed. This resulted in charges of apostasy from Muslim groups and his stepping down from the Chair, and the Boards of Muslim organisations. He renounced Islam in 2010.
The thrust of the challenge comes from extending the historical works from similar academics, which had raised questions about the authenticity of Prophet Muhammad’s life and mission. Linked to that are the attacks on the Qur’an that it is not based on revelations but constructed from an existing material, which belongs to the Jewish and Christian traditions. It is also claimed that there is hardly any original Islamic source referring to Prophet Muhammad from the first two centuries of Islam, and that even if there is a source, it is meaningless (because it could have been manipulated)unless it corroborates with the reliable third century sources. A further issue thrown in is the absent account of heretics and Gnostics of that era in the reliable sources.
It is also being proposed that no Islamic conquest took place as mentioned in Islamic sources, but a peaceful transfer of power between the Byzantine Empire and its friendly Arab allies took place. No papyri evidence is available either from the Sufnayid period which mentions a messenger of God. Since Moses is often mentioned in the Quran, the story of Prophet Muhammad’s Hija was designed to emulate him. His liking to Jesus is also highlighted in Islamic folklore through his daughter Fatima, who is equated with Maria. Therefore, the myth of Mohammad is a product of Gnosis where a new character is similar to the old heroes (Moses, Jesus) while maintaining analogous theology. Similarly, the teachings of Islamic mysticism are identical to those found universally in diverse traditions.
Another prong of this critique highlights the absence of Islamic inscriptions from coins and monuments dating from the first two centuries. On artefacts, Prophet Mohammed only appears approximately fifty years after his death. The inscriptions on Arab-Sasanian coins invoke Allah not his messenger; and on the Arab-Byzantine coins, where Muhammad appears as Rasul Allah (dated Sufyanid period), cannot be linked with the Marwanids. The two pre-Marwanid tombstones also fail to mention the Prophet. Since coins and inscriptions are incompatible with the Islamic recording of history, Kalisch concludes similar to Nevo and Koren, that the Abbasids adopted the doctrine of Abd al-Malik who was the inventor of this religion. Hence, the first complete biography of Muhammad (SAW) appeared 125 years after his traditional date of death.
The above provocations are like picking old wounds, which have been dressed many times over. Islam is rooted in history and Prophet Muhammad lived and preached what God revealed to him. Legendary historians like Renan (1823-1895), Watt (1953), and Hart (1978) validate how he inspired his followers to establish an Empire, and how his bequest as a Prophet claims more than a billion believers. Fragments of the Quran discovered in San’a (1972) and at the University of Birmingham (2017) confirm through carbon-dating that they are contemporaneous with the period when Prophet Muhammad lived. Allama Parwez wrote a biography of the Prophet entirely based on the Quran.
Further evidence comes from: A Byzantine Greek Text (634 CE), Syrian manuscripts (634 & 636 CE), Thomas the Presbyter (640 CE), the Quran (mentions Muhammadby name four times), Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis (660s CE), A Chronicler of Khuzistan (660s CE), etc.
Islam is a practical and forward-looking religion which does not dwell on the past. Despite neglect and destruction, there are enough artefacts scattered around the world that could provide an answer to the criticism. We need to request Saudi Arabia to examine their policy of rescinding the relics including those that belong to Prophet Muhammad’s time.
And Turkey must use technology such as DNA testing and carbon-dating to validate their precious collection of artefacts. There is an urgent need for a global project to save Islamic artefacts, otherwise, my fear is that evidence for Islam as a physical reality will disappear and in the next century antagonists would actually be able to confirm what are only theories at the moment.
M Aamer Sarfraz is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor