Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Did Muhammad Exist? By Robert Spencer

Mandatory reading for all students of Islam, believers or not

Brethren, Peace and Good to all of you.

Mr. Robert SpencerBack in 2006, I spoke about the Textual criticism and the Koran's New Testament antecedents in which I discussed Christoph Luxenberg’s work Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ānsprache (The Syro-Aramaic Reading Of The Koran: a contribution to the decoding of the language of the Qur'an) in which I welcomed said study as an important milestone in the study of the Koran, the holy scripture of Islam. In the same commentary, I also spoke of a couple of antecedents to Luxenberg’s opus and throughout the years I pined for more of this research becoming publicly accessible. My expectation has borne fruit.

Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, is the author of Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins, a ground-breaking book bringing into one cover not only Luxenberg’s higher literary criticism; but also the textual, form, and documentary criticism contained in unimpeachable Islamic sources such as the hadith (Islamic tradition) and the writings of various classical Sunni Muslim scholars. In other words, even Islamic sources acknowledge an heterogeneous origin of the Koran and the arbitrary way in which some suras (chapters) were included or left out from the now standard text.

After examining the age in which Muslims claim the Koran was written against the historical and geographical context, paleography, and available archeology; and then exploring why “every fifth sentence in the Koran is nonsense” even to Arabic readers, Mr. Spencer goes to the crux of his argument: the Koran was written using a Syriac Christian lectionary as a template. By this means, obscure words acquire their actual meanings when compared with available Syriac lectionaries and some of these meanings (e.g. “raisins” instead of “virgins” as rewards for all male believers in paradise) challenge prevailing Islamic orthodoxy. As Mr. Spencer explains in depth and with numerous sources,o ther nonsensical koranic statements also reacquire more rational meanings when their Syriac matrix is uncovered.

This book is not anti-Muslim, but it definitely challenges the Islamic self-understanding at its core and about time. Interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians cannot continue if Muslim scholars refuse to apply the same higher criticism they apply to the Bible as “proof” that Jews and Christians changed their Scriptures to substantiate their own religion and obliterate from them supposed references to Muhammad.

As for the answer to the question “Did Muhammad Exist”? the answer will also shock Muslim believers: he might have, but if he did, to paraphrase higher critics of Christianity, “the historical Muhammad and the Muhammad of faith are not one at the same.” The prophet Muhammad is forever lost to history, surviving only in the hadith and in the minds of all his followers down the ages.