Westerners should study the origins of Islam

Tue, 03/21/2006 - 6:10pm
By: The Citizen

By Marvin J. Folkertsma, Ph.D.

“This is a book written by infidels for infidels,” proclaimed Patricia Crone and Michael Cook in the introduction to their stunning investigation of Islamic origins, entitled “Hagarism: the Making of the Islamic World.” Though published almost 30 years ago, Hagarism, like similar investigations into Christianity over the past two centuries, is unlikely ever to lose its capacity to shock.

The audience for their work was other academics, who were quite taken aback by its innovative approach, its startling conclusions: Muslims were outraged and indignant; and the general population was completely unaware.

After all, who would want to expend valuable brain cells on an abstruse work confined to a handful of specialists whose main delight in life is poring over nearly incomprehensible documents written in dead languages? Such a reaction seems sensible today as well, what with European cities buzzing with Muslims screaming about how infidels are insulting their religion. Who cares what happened fourteen hundred years ago?

The answer is that all those concerned about preserving Western civilization should care. Indeed, those in the West should care as though their survival depended on it. Which it does. To see why, it is important to distinguish Islamic claims versus historical realities, and to this task, Crone and Cook devote themselves admirably.

Islamic scholars usually begin their analyses with a review of the religion’s basic narrative, which runs something like this:

The Qur’an is God’s final revelation to humanity, based on a book preserved in heaven for eternity and narrated by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in a series of installments, apparently as need arose, over a period of about two decades.

Thus, the Muslim holy book is considered quite literally the Word of God, transcribed faithfully by a person who could neither read nor write.

Further, the Prophet’s activities were recorded in extraordinary detail, from the moment he arose to the time he retired for the day, and consisted of the minutiae of his personal life: how he spoke, ate, walked, slept, and related to others: friends, relatives, acquaintances, adversaries, and blood enemies. The only thing missing from this account is a packet of Matthew Brady photographs catching The Prophet in every pose, mood, and situation imaginable.

For centuries, such extraordinary detail convinced non-Muslims that the faith was born “in the full light of history,” according to the words of nineteenth century French thinker, Ernst Renan.

The story gets even more dramatic when Muhammad’s conquests are reviewed, especially his dramatic departure from Mecca to Yathrib (since renamed Medina) in 622, in a journey referred to as the Hijra.

There he implemented his ideals for a perfect Muslim society, while fending off enemies, gaining new allies, slaughtering those who refused to embrace his thought, and ultimately creating a new civilization.

In the following fourteen hundred years, the Qur’an became the equivalent of a best seller from the sands of Morocco to the jungles of Indonesia. And Allah’s armies continue to advance today, though now more by infiltration and demography than by the blood of the sword.

A pretty dramatic story; powerful; on the face of it, convincing; certainly familiar to believers and infidels alike, and generally acknowledged by civilizations that have had to deal with Islamic expansion.

There is only one thing wrong with it, according to Crone, Cook, and no doubt a majority of other secular scholars: the account of Muhammad’s revelations, family life, and rise to power is almost certainly a complete fabrication.

It is, in short, “propheteering,” and represents the results of fevered imaginations creating whole cloth stories about the Prophet, under the pressures of political and religious exigencies during the centuries after Muhammad’s death in 632.

Which means what? Simply the following: the historical record to corroborate such an account either has been lost or never existed at all, not in Islamic documents written during the seventh century or during much of the eighth; nor does one find much in contemporaneous reports from surrounding regions.

Diligent scholars have had to piece things together from what little evidence that survived those tumultuous times, essentially doing history, archeology, and linguistic analysis by bank shots.

But bank shots can still strike their targets, even when what is known is dwarfed by historical silence.

The earliest biography of Muhammad appeared about 150 years after The Prophet was born, and no original copy survives; a redaction of it is found in the work another biographer who died in 833, about two centuries after Muhammad’s death.

Indeed, there is no evidence about the existence of the Qur’an until the last decade of the seventh century. In short, looking for historical evidence for Islam’s extravagant claims? Sorry, folks, it just isn’t there.

Further, based upon their examination of non-Islamic sources, Crone and Cook suggest that Muhammad was the leader of a military expedition to conquer Jerusalem, and that the original Hijra actually referred to the journey from northern Arabia to that city.

The necessity of establishing a religious identity distinct from Judaism and Christianity compelled adoption of an Abrahamic lineage (hence, Hagarism), the creation of a holy book comparable to the Torah (the Qur’an), and the fashioning a founder like Moses (Muhammad). The assigning of a sacred city (Medina) adjacent to a mountain (think of Moses again) completed the picture.

Indeed, John Wansbrough, a giant in the field of Islamic studies, asserted that the whole point of Qur’anic exegesis was to convince believers of the Hijazi origins of their faith (the Hijaz is that region that hugs the western shoreline of the Arabian Peninsula).

That required some convincing, especially considering the utter paucity of information about Mecca and Medina during the time that Muhammad supposedly was rampaging through the land. Again, the historical silence is deafening. If Mecca and Medina were as important as Muslims have been taught they are, then without question, someone, somewhere else in the region would have known that.

In Crone’s words, “of Quraysh (the dominant tribe) and their trading center there is no mention at all, be it in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, or other literature composed outside of Arabia before the conquests.”

In short, efforts to elevate these sites to a status required for sacred history was based on religious and political necessity during the two to three centuries following The Prophet’s death, not on the documentary record.

These points constitute scholarly hors d’oeuvres; the main course is sumptuous, fascinating, and growing every year. The question is: what does it all mean?

Hannah Arendt once described totalitarianism as fanatic commitment to a fictitious world, and considering that hundreds of millions of Muslims live in the sort of tyrannical, closed polities she described in the “Origins of Totalitarianism,” it is inconceivable that any new scholarship will ever reach them.

Plus, everything we know about the psychology of religious commitments demonstrates that they are largely immune to the sort of arguments that specialists find compelling.

The real target of such scholarship should be those populations that have to cope with fascist-type Islamic movements currently in their midst, especially when ordinary citizens are harangued by their leaders to respect and tolerate others’ religious beliefs, virtually at all costs.

And these costs will be high, no question about it. Europeans learned long ago that faith untempered by mature reflection and serious examination hardly deserves the name. Mindless allegiance to dogma is the compliment paid by the passage of time to historical fictions.

The result in the past generation has been a monstrously inflated and frequently murderous arrogance possessed by Islamic militants whose ignorance of their religious roots is so appalling, and whose mental processes so utterly infantile, as to challenge observers to fashion descriptions about them sufficient to the task.

Thus, it is Western Civilization that is at stake, not the world of the mullahs. It is the West that needs to be educated more than those helpless schoolchildren dutifully marched to Madrassas by their unfathomably uninformed masters; eventually, their time will come.

Citizens of Western countries need to read books “written by infidels for infidels” in order to gain an understanding of their ideological, and increasingly, their military adversaries, as well as better to counter the insidious and deadly threat that continues to grow in their midst.

Certainly it is true that the last few years have seen an outpouring of works devoted to educating the publics in Western countries about the Clear and Present dangers presented by Islamic demands.

But the shelf life of such books is short; the advantage of serious, though less accessible works like those of Crane, Cook, Wansbrough, and many others, is that they impart a far more profound understanding of Muslim beliefs, their sources, their fundamental lack of historical legitimacy.

Which means that defenders of Western civilization must do more than simply quash Muslim threats to the civil order with no apologies, no compromises.

And the “toleration” of agnostic indifference to Muslim claims simply won’t cut it any more, either. Defenders of Western values must also challenge the absurdities and barbarisms of many Islamic beliefs and practices, their many precious but dubious “certainties.”

Indeed, if there were ever a time for a Great Awakening to rekindle appreciation of Western values, along with an understanding of the West’s enemies, now is that time.

The alternative to such an awakening is unthinkable. When the last great opponent of Western civilization collapsed (the Soviet Union), many experts in the NATO countries, after examining their adversary’s amazing weaknesses, exclaimed breathlessly: You mean, for the past half century, we felt threatened by that?

The West was fortunate in that case. It may not be so in the future, however. When the last church in Europe is either boarded up, or converted to a mosque, most likely it will be too late for those aware of Islam’s questionable origins then to exclaim: You mean, we surrendered to that?

The next lesson will not be one of the West’s choosing: Propheteering 101.

Marvin Folkertsma, Ph.D., is a professor of political science and Fellow for American Studies with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City (Penn.) College. He is the author of several books. His latest release is a high-energy novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”

login to post comments