About Mohammed I: A Biopic

February 3, 2021 Category: Religion

Our most cherished lore tends to reflect a hankering for some kind of heroic figure–a protagonist that instills wonder.  We crave someone who inspires us, who helps us make sense of the world, who enables us to deal with life’s daunting challenges.  Mohammed of Mecca (MoM) has traditionally served that role for Muslims–which makes who the HISTORICAL MoM was a rather moot point.  This is a familiar routine–as similar things have been done with a myriad of other (glorified) historical figures.  For commentary on this topic, notable is the work done by Joseph Campbell, especially “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”.

One of the first thinkers to recognize the human penchant for confabulating fantastical histories–then proceeding AS IF they were literal histories–was the Sicilian (Greek) philosopher, Euhemerus of Messene (late 4th / early 3rd century B.C.)  Euhemerus was intrigued by the emergence of strategically-crafted myths that were treated as non-fiction by certain communities.  He noted that myth is “natural history plus human history, disguised by time and distorted by form.”

Euhemerus’ crucial insight was that myriad (mythological) tales can come to be based on (actual) historical figures / events–and that any given account tends to become embellished / modified over time, as the incentive to do so arises.  This phenomenon was demonstrated by such famed chroniclers as Xenophenes of Colophon and Herodotus of Halicarnassus / Caria.*  Predictably, this “Euhemerusian” effect is exacerbated whenever staunch vested interests are involved.  Euhemerus’ key point is that ALL myth somehow reflects historical events in some way.  The key, then, is transitioning from the world of facts into what Joseph Campbell called “the realm of dream and vision”.  The “catch” is that, upon making such a transition, people sometimes forget that there WAS A TRANSITION.

The timing here was apropos, as Alexander the Great had just recently conquered half the known world, and there was (most likely) already a plethora of apocrypha circulating about HIM by the time Euhemerus wrote.  Presumably, the great Sicilian philosopher noticed this.

The stories that we tell ourselves–especially about things that concern ourselves–generally reflect what we want to have been the case far more than what really was the case.  This is especially so when what really was the case does not serve our purposes.  Elision is just as much a part of romanticization as embellishment.  (Inconvenient facts typically become OBFUSCATED facts; longed-for facts typically become INCONTROVERTIBLE facts.)  This tendency is amplified when it comes to sacred histories about our tribal identity.

Here, we’ll look at Mohammed of Mecca.  To those who protest that the following account of MoM’s life is uncharitable, the only response is: So what?  History is about accuracy, not charity.  For those who claim this biopic is insufficiently sympathetic, it might be noted that coerced sympathy–as with drummed-up antipathy–is the hallmark of partiality.

I aim for impartiality at all costs–even if it means refraining from the narrative emoluments with which legend is often bedecked.  Though delectable, artificially flavored hogwash is still hogwash.

De-romanticizing a hyper-romanticized hagiography will appear to some (those most smitten with conventional Mohammedan folklore) to be a project of disparagement rather than what it really is: bringing the account back into alignment with historical reality.  Setting the record straight is rarely well-received by those with a vested interest in the favored account. {1}  Nobody enjoys their claims of Providence being exposed as nothing but smoke and mirrors.

The present endeavor is to show what MoM looks like outside the echo-chamber of Mohammedan apologetics.  The end here is not diplomacy; it is historical fidelity.  The Truth, we should remind ourselves, is hardly ever diplomatic.  How ingratiating an account happens to be is a poor measure of credence.

We should keep in mind that the point of being frank is no more to ruffle feathers than to avoid ruffling feathers.  (Antagonizing others is never a good idea; yet creating discomfiture should never dissuade someone from telling it like it is.)  Touting consoling fables for the sake of placating an audience is intellectually dishonest; and morally irresponsible.  Muslims are adults; so it is demeaning to treat them as splenetic adolescents incapable of handling straight-talk.

For generations after MoM’s alleged death, there is NOTHING in the historical record that mentions a particular prophet named “Mohammed”…or a book entitled the “Qur’an”…or even a religion called “Islam”.  (For more on this, see my essays “Mecca And Its Cube” and “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.)

From his inauspicious beginnings as an orphan near Mecca to his ignominious death at the hands of a disgruntled Jewess in Khaybar, there is almost nothing SPECIFIC that can be said with certainly…other than the fact that, like so many other folkloric figures from Jesus of Nazareth to Mani of Ctesiphon, the historical person on which THIS folkloric figure came to be based ended up having a profound impact on world history. {2}

The first occurrence of any mention of MoM was in an Armenian document (penned by a historian named Sebeos) c. 660.  The missive obliquely mentioned a “Mu-H-M-D” (as “Mahmet”) in passing–a general Semitic term for a “person who is praised”.  It referenced a panjandrum who was the leader of a band of Saracens (the sons of Hagar).  More specifically, it referred to a man who urged his fellow Arabs to recognize the Abrahamic deity.  It mentions that this figure–whoever he might have been–was familiar with Mosaic law.  That’s it.  The comment occurred almost three decades after the death of MoM.

A couple other oblique references to a “Mu-H-M-D” exist in Syriac sources.  They pertain to Mohammedan raids–where the antagonists are variously referred to as Arabians (based on their place of origin), Saracens, sons of Hagar, and Ishmaelites (based on their Abrahamic lineage).  Later, they referred to themselves as “Mu-hajirun” [“emigres”].

The “Didaskalia Iakobou” [Teaching / Doctrine of Jacob] is a piece of anti-Semitic agit-prop supposedly composed between 635 and 640, which dismissively refers to Arab interlopers.

The next reference occurs on coinage issued during the Umayyad caliphate.  The coins were likely made pursuant to the dispute (over succession) between the Qays faction (who supported Ibn al-Zubayr as caliph) and the Quda’a faction (who supported Marwan as caliph) when Abd al-Malik (Marwan’s son) was eventually anointed caliph.  The inscription was written in Kufic (an offshoot of Syriac that was the precursor to Classical Arabic).  This was over a half-century after MoM’s death; and was around the same time the inscription was made on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (see my essay: “The Syriac Basis For Koranic Text”.)

In these two cases, there was nothing much said ABOUT this “Mu-H-M-D” (praised one); only that there was a person of prominence referred to in this way. For an in-depth discussion of this point, see Appendix 3 of my essay: “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.

Subsequently (generations after the fact), certain story-tellers “took it and ran with it”.  So goes the treatment with folkloric figures ANYWHERE in the world at ANY time in human history.

What might have been the incentive for the development of the tall tales surrounding MoM qua “Seal of the Prophets”?  It is quite possible that the Mohammedan movement began as an Arab re-branding of Abrahamic lore–in a gambit to confer a legacy created BY Arabs FOR Arabs.  After all, when it came to the extant Judeo-Christian tradition, the Arab world may have felt–as it were–left out.

“Why do THEY get all the prophets?  We want a prophet too!”  Hebrews had prophets; Roman Catholics (Western Romans) had prophets; the Byzantines (Eastern Romans) had prophets; even those pesky Sassanids (the Persians) had prophets!  (ALL of it monotheistic.)  It seemed only fair that the Arabs should get in on the action, and have one–at least ONE–for themselves.  So it was only a matter of time before the Arab world would designate a prophet of their own.  During the last decade of the 7th century, Caliph Malik delivered.  He championed an Abrahamic prophet with a proudly Ishmaelite pedigree, thereby bringing Arabs into the divine fold.

Bear in mind that the seed for this idea had already been planted by the Hebrews (in the Torah).  The conventional Abrahamic lineage proceeded from Abraham via Sarah through their son, Isaac.  But what about via Abraham’s (heartlessly banished) Gentile lover, Hagar–through their son, Ishmael?  This was a loose end that was waiting to be tied.  And one can’t blame anyone for wanting to tie it.  Indeed, it is difficult for any decent person to hear the tragic Judaic tale and not feel sympathy for Hagar and Ishmael, whose “crime” was not being pure-bread Hebrew.  They were mutts, and so were banished for it.  (Sound familiar?)

Consequently, the authors of the Koran simply swapped sacrificial sons–thereby rendering Ishmael rather than Isaac the pivotal character in the story about god’s test of Abraham’s unconditional Faith (37:101-112).  Presto!  The anointed lineage is instantly rendered Arab instead of Hebrew.  Sweet restitution for Hagar’s tears!

Granted, Saul of Tarsus sought to bring Gentiles into the fold; but what he did NOT do was make any Gentiles (let alone non-Westerners) full-fledged prophets.  Ergo the notion of a latent Ishmaelite lineage was pregnant with possibility.

In this sense, a charismatic Qurayshi merchant was just what the doctor ordered.  And the region was primed for a revivalist Abrahamic movement.

Fabrication or not, most Muslims today are apt to lend credence to a garishly stylized, ostentatious product of historicity (read: a fictional character that may have been based on an actual historical figure).  This would have resonated for the sole reason that such a caricature comports with preconceived notions of divine election.  Insofar as they had a dogmatic bent, amanuenses’ vetting process was based almost entirely on appealability, not on credibility.

It seems that–in ancient times–members of each “race” wanted to believe that the Creator of the Universe chose THEM to be special.  Per this protocol, it doesn’t matter if a source is not ACTUALLY veritable; so long as it is telling you what you want to hear, it will be deemed “authentic” and thereby accorded unimpeachable credence.  Ergo the success of well-funded mountebanks TODAY like say, Martin Lings (as well as the gaggle of academic frauds like Karen Armstrong and David Levering Lewis; not to mention the legions of charlatans polemicizing on the internet like Nouman Ali Khan and Zakir Naik).

Martin Lings fancied himself a “scholar” and–until his death in 2005–was considered the go-to-guy by tens of millions of Occidental Muslims whenever the topic of “the Prophet” came up.  He indulged in highly dubious historiography to the glee of his target audience, who eagerly ate up every word he dished.  Lings spent his career telling credulous listeners exactly what they wanted to hear, and they thanked him for his validation by giving him validation in return.  (Tellingly, Lings is not held in such high esteem by died-in-the-wool Salafis / Wahhabis.  For he over-compensated in his caricature, portraying MoM as a little bit TOO peaceable.)  For an example of Lings’ unscrupulous commentary, see Appendix 2.

Hence the quagmire of misinformation through which most of us are forced to wade (should we undertake the task of trying to figure out who MoM REALLY may have been).

In considering sources, the first step in the vetting process must be disqualification due to (glaring) conflicts of interest.  Bear in mind that ideology-racketeers are generally at the forefront of rigged historiographies.  The explanation for the flagrant biases of such inveiglers can often be found by simply following the money.  To wit: They say what they are PAID to say.  As Upton Sinclair once put it: We cannot expect someone to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

Case in point: John Esposito of Georgetown University’s Islamic Studies department.  As eminence grise of Islamic apologia, Esposito’s paymasters hail from the House of Saud.  Suffice to say, once a man makes his money from Wahhabi monarchs, all bets are off.  Such a person has forfeited his right to be taken seriously.  One may as well deign to learn about the history of Christianity from the faculty at Liberty University.

And so it goes: We must constantly contend with outlandish claims that MoM was somehow a man who was forbearing and wise (contentions that are based on no evidence whatsoever).  Consequently, we have entered the theater of the absurd…and words lose all meaning.  So it is imperative that we are judicious in how accounts in the historical record are weighed.

When it comes to narrative boondoggles, one of the most risible cases is Karen Armstrong, who is one of the more flagrantly unscrupulous commentators; and does not hesitate to congratulate herself for playing this role.  Bafflingly, she has called MoM a “spiritual genius”, yet has never stipulated a single thing MoM did / said that would qualify him as anything even remotely resembling “spiritual”…or, for that matter, anything within lightyears of erudite.  (This is for the simple reason that such a thing could not be stipulated…by anyone.  For no such thing exists in the historical record.  “He prayed a lot” doesn’t cut it.)  Such claims disregard the fact that MoM is not supposed to have been coming up with original ideas (figuring things out on his own); as he was always merely relaying information he was being given by the Creator Of The Universe…via revelation.

Alas.  This did not prevent Imam Abdallah Sirjuddin al-Husayni from publishing “Our Master, Muhammad” subtitled, “His Sublime Character & Exalted Attributes”.  (One wonders if the author understood what the word “sublime” means.)  The insufferable Armstrong revels in such maudlin hokum.  Of course, people like this are not interested in elucidating Truth; they are in the business of procuring emotionally satisfying “truths” (that is: manufacturing, marketing, then selling a product).  Supply meets demand.

People don’t mind being bamboozled if they find it validating–or otherwise gratifying.

For a truly astounding case of white-washed hagiography, consider Haroon Moghul of Columbia University’s ISPU.  Haroon’s method is to deny, deny, deny; then just make stuff up as the occasion warrants.  He claims cache because he is HIMSELF Muslim–a bizarre basis for credibility if there ever was one.

Once, when asked if non-Muslims could ever procure an understanding of the true origins of Islam, Seyyed Hossain Nasr (professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University) replied with a decisive, “No.”

Reasonable people should find such a position jaw-dropping (especially when coming from a faculty member at respected American university).  Suffice to say, pompous hyper-dogmatists like Nasr are not only UN-qualified to be a professor; due to their flagrant prejudices, they must be DIS-qualified from ever teaching anything having to do with Islam (at least, in any serious academic institution).

According to Nasr’s contorted logic, vested interests make one MORE impartial, and thus MORE qualified, not less.  Thus conflicts of interest IN FAVOR OF X make one uniquely positioned to expound upon X.  For him, it’s as if objectivity were based on augmented bias (in a favorable direction).  Per this logic, Revisionist Zionists are best qualified to comment on the history of “Israel” (as opposed to being DIS-qualified from doing so).  Presumably, Nasr would consult hard-line Scientologists should he deign to learn about L. Ron Hubbard. {61}

Conflicts of interest should disqualify ANYONE from being taken seriously on a matter–irrespective of the ideology being peddled.  And so we should not take, say, Henry Kissinger (or anyone who has the least bit of respect for him) seriously on matters of U.S. foreign policy.

It seems Nasr is afflicted with the upside-down conception of impartiality typical of most religious apologia.  The “insider view” is, indeed, extremely useful; but it is only useful insofar as it provides data ABOUT the phenomenon-in-question.  It serves no purpose in critically analyzing said data.  The “view from within” is invariably self-validating.  A dogmatic system seems eminently credible when apprehended from within.  Indeed, such felicitous self-appraisal is what it MEANS TO BE within a dogmatic system.  A Muslim’s comments about MoM and the Koran and the history of Islam are valuable as MATERIAL TO STUDY; but he can’t get outside of himself to study it. {62}

Nasr confuses data that PERTAINS TO a religion (something he and his fellow apparatchiks can supply in ample amounts) with the EVALUATION OF that data (something even a thousand years of testifying cannot begin to do).  Those who design to assess the credence of something they themselves have already staked their claim are engaging in a self-serving enterprise; and must be seen as seen as such. {63}

Generally-speaking: A religionist is valuable as a source of information about his religion (including the perceptions of its sacred texts, its hallowed figures, its legacy, etc.); yet the religionist is in no position to proffer an objective evaluation OF that information.  For a religion is driven entirely be perception.  True Believers are incapable of impartiality; as their testimonial is nothing more than a report of that impressions that undergird their ideological commitments: “This is why I happen to believe what I believe.”

No one doubts that one cannot procure a full comprehension of a religion without seeing how it works from the inside.  It is, after all, what confessors BELIEVE that makes a religion what it is.  This furnishes inquirers with a POINT OF DEPARTURE, not with a conclusion.

Testimonials from a supplicant do not themselves explain what makes the supplicant tick.  At best, they indicate how things seem to be from his point of view…which, in turn, helps the rest of us figure out what REALLY DOES make him tick.

People who belong to the religion in question are the primary people we should consult in the information-gathering stage, as anthropologists would do field work.  Thus they are the SUBJECT OF analysis, NOT the analyst.  They are, then, THE BEST people to convey what the beliefs ARE; and–by the same token–they are THE WORST people to consult regarding an EVALUATION of those beliefs.  A critical analysis that is anything but impartial is not critical analysis; it is apologetics.  In other words, it turns into a rationalization for the very things under scrutiny.

True Believers are constitutionally incapable of providing an assessment of their own creed; but their accounts–magnificently accurate in their own eyes–elucidate the effect the creed has on them.  That effect tells us much of what we’d want to know about the creed and those who are beholden to it.  For it shows us how the dogmatic system works–something that can’t possibly be explained by the dogmatists themselves.

And so it goes: The likes of Nasr can–and, indeed, DO–tell us volumes about what Muslims believe about Islam; yet are the least qualified to subject those beliefs to a frank critical analysis.  Indeed, one of the most basic principles of critical inquiry is impartiality.  It is no secret that when one is too close to something, it is very difficult to see it for what it is (that it: see it independently of how one is personally inclined to see it).  Consequently, when vetting jurors, we are careful to control for maximal impartiality.  This is done by DIS-qualifying anyone with conflicts of interest.  Were Nasr to be selecting a jury, it seems that he would ONLY select people with a conflict of interest (i.e. whatever predisposes someone to deliver the verdict he wants).  Gadzooks!

Note that when even the most highly-esteemed judge must consider presiding over a case, he is expected to recuse himself if there EVEN SEEMS TO BE any conflict of interest afoot.  Nasr has both a personal and professional stake in the verdicts of certain questions; and so doesn’t want anyone meddling who does not have the same vested interests that HE has.  He is not merely biased, he is flagrantly and unabashedly biased.  Absurdly, he insists on anyone being disqualified who does not share his biases.

To be clear, most Muslim academics are not as dismayingly obtuse as Nasr.  Indeed, it is Nasr himself–not his Faith–that disqualifies him from ever being taken seriously.  Such is the nature of religious apologetics.  Nasr illustrates how apologia is the antithesis of scholarship.  His daffy proclamation should make scholars in ANY field recoil.

Alas, Nasr’s obnoxious view on the matter is shared by many prominent political leaders throughout the Muslim world.  For example, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina once announced that those who are secular “have no right to write or speak against any religion.”  These are the words of a religious fanatic; and are extremely dangerous.  Imagine a world where those MOST qualified to study religion are prohibited from saying anything about religion.  (We might assume that Thomas Paine is not on Hasina’s nightstand.)  Presumably, Hasina means that one must subscribe to SOME brand of cult activity in order to comment on ANY brand of cult activity.  Such brazen fatuity is enough to make one wince.  As a zealous member of a religion, one’s mind is–by definition–already made up.

This harebrained approach to disquisition entails sanctions about who is even permitted to discuss the matter.  Shall we suppose that only Jehovahs Witnesses should be allowed to talk about the Watchtower Society…and only Haredim about Judaism…and only witches about Wicca?  In such a world, nobody would ever learn anything.  For once un-sanctioned perspectives are out of bounds, we wind up living in a world of echo-chambers. {61}

In sum: Testimonies of the True Believer can only ever give us the outlines of the belief in question; they contribute nothing to an AUDIT OF those beliefs.  Investment in X precludes one from being able to assess X objectively.  It should go without saying that insights about indoctrination (of any kind) could never possibly be proffered by the indoctrinated.  What the indoctrinated CAN provide, though, is their own testimony, which itself DESCRIBES the effects of (their own) indoctrination.  The rest is for impartial observers to sort out. {62}

I explore the role of delusive thinking in ideological commitment (spec. how hidebound ideologues engage in self-deception) in Appendix 3.

Before the recounting of fantastical tales about MoM, one should always assume the prelude, “As legend has it…”  The moment a PIA begins an anecdote with, “One time, the prophet…” we know that we are about to be treated to another apocryphal tale.

One time, we are told, MoM cut the fabric around a slumbering feline before removing the garment on which it lay (so as to not interrupt its nap).  One must wonder: Would ruining a garment so as not to awaken a cat be a mark of grace or of idiocy?  When we hear such silly tales, we can be certain of one thing: hagiographers are grasping at straws.  (We might call this the “He may have done all those malicious things; but at least he doesn’t disturb sleeping kitties!” defense.)

For the MoM fetishist, such pithy tales are incontrovertible evidence for MoM’s munificence.

The apological rigamarole goes on and on.  One time, we’re told, there was a dispute between a Jew and a Muslim in which the Jew was clearly in the right.  So, the story goes, MoM found in favor of the Jew.  Gosh-golly.  What, pray tell, is the conclusion to be drawn from this episode?  For most of us, the tale is rather inane.  But Mohammedan hagiographers opine: “You see there!  Was the prophet not the quintessence of fair-minded-ness?”  (We might call this the “He wasn’t ALWAYS unjust to non-Muslims” defense.  Heck, one time he even found in favor of a wronged Jew!)

Thus: In spite of his slaughter of entire Jewish tribes FOR BEING JEWISH, we hear: “You see!  He wasn’t anti-Semitic after all!”

That MoM fetishists resort to such pablum to rationalize their hyper-romanticized caricature reveals all we need to know about what’s really going on.  (Such apologues are of the “George Washington cut down a cherry tree” variety.  We’d all love to believe Washington never lied, so this tale fits in splendidly with the varnished American mythology.)

And so it goes with Mohammedan lore.  There is a gargantuan buffet of these apocryphal tales, each one of which is brought up any time a MoM-fetishist deigns to uphold the uber-burnished image of his hero in response to any portrayal he finds unpalatable.  (We might call this the “But one time he helped an old lady across the street!” defense.)  Once tales of small gestures (quotidian acts of kindness) are deemed irrefutable proof that MoM was the greatest person who has ever lived, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole.  Yet such grasping at straws is all that MoM-fetishists have recourse to.

An example of MoM’s pedestrian “wisdom” being blown way out of proportion: Prior to his ministry, the leaders of four Meccan tribes were quibbling over who would get to carry the black stone back to the Kaaba (after it had been removed during the shrine’s renovations).  As the story goes, MoM suggested that the rock be placed on a cloth so that the four leaders could transport it in unison, by each holding a corner of the fabric.  Thus, they could ALL carry it.  This purported stroke of genius is upheld as a testament to, well, MoM’s unfathomable genius.  What it ACTUALLY does is illustrate the degree to which Mohammedan apologia is just grasping at straws.  (According to this standard, the average kindergarten teacher could qualify as a prophet of god…almost any day of the week.  “Remember, kids: SHARE.”  Brilliant.)  When this nifty idea is treated as incontrovertible proof of unassailable brilliance, all perspective has been abandoned.

Alas, there is an endless supply of such saccharine anecdotes, as one is invited to scavenge the THOUSANDS of pages of Hadith to extract whatever passage strikes one’s fancy…all in a desperate attempt to document the rectitudinous nature of the designated folkloric hero.  Embarrassingly, only a trivial amount of useful material has been culled from the volumes upon volumes of Hadith available.

And so it goes: After all the gem-mining expeditions, even well-meaning Islamic apologists have surprisingly little to show for it.  If one takes away the catalogue of pithy apocrypha to which MoM fetishists routinely resort, they have almost nothing left to say.  Deprived of flattering anecdotes excavated from ahadith, their mining project becomes fruitless.  Facts, it turns out, are their biggest enemy.  Why bother with Reality when one is determined to assert anything MoM is said to have said / done as terrifically astute BECAUSE MoM is said to have said / done it?  Don’t like the historical record?  No problem; simply ignore it and concoct enticing apologues as the occasion warrants.  

When it comes to many Muslims’ treatment of MoM, there is a tendency to add prodigious amounts of artificial sweetener to a roiling cauldron of odious deeds.  This is done for obvious reasons.  The bedazzling smorgasbord of laudatory apocrypha is an attempt to reconcile Muslims’ devotion to “The Seal of the Prophets” (an idea) with the person of MoM (a historical figure).  Alas, even a thousand saccharine anecdotes can’t make up for the slew of historical events that undermine the most vociferous attempts to glorify their hero.

But this doesn’t prevent votaries from trying.

Such hagiographic shenanigans isn’t just a matter of confabulation; it is a matter of full-blown Reality-inversion (sometimes deliberate; oftentimes unwitting).  Most MoM fetishists mean well.  Thus, it is more pusillanimity than mendacity that accounts for the persistence of such outlandish illusions.  For supplicants and non-supplicants alike, this is often a matter of obligatory genuflection.  So the charade persists–unabated by critical scrutiny.  This is enabled by mental laziness and good, ol’ fashion unscrupulousness–amounting to what is essentially hyper-recension.  Again, much of it is unwitting.  The 9th-century writer Ibn Qutayba quoted one of MoM’s companions (Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman) as acknowledging: “We are Arabians.  When we report, we predate and postdate, we add and we subtract at will; but we do not mean to lie.”

Professional academics who have a stake in this or that conclusion must recuse themselves from the discussion.  (That means you too, Seyyed Hossain Nasr.)  For impartiality is imperative on such matters; a condition that vested interests vitiate.  Genuine impartiality is difficult to emulate; but it is something we must all make a concerted effort to do.  (I do not pretend that perfect objectivity is possible for ANYONE; but it doesn’t follow that we can’t try to be as objective as possible.)

As we’ll see forthwith, the beneficent Bedouin luminary with which so many Islamic apologists are enamored is pleasant to contemplate; but he is a fabrication that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the historical figure that is MoM.  Granted, there is something noble in extolling a thoughtful, kind-hearted person…even if that person is a figment of the imagination.  The danger comes when one ceases to recognize that one is dealing with a fiction when one is, indeed, dealing with a fiction.  The infatuation of the genteel Hijazi prophet of Mohammedan lore is all fine and dandy…so long as it doesn’t preclude us from recognizing its misalignment with actual history.

As we’ll also see, like any other cockalorum, while neurotic, MoM was extremely shrewd.  That is: he was able to more-than-compensate for his abiding paranoia with formidable canniness.  Yet, ultimately, he was was too deluded and self-absorbed to realize that hiring a woman who’s kin he’d slaughtered to serve him food may not be a very good idea.

Indeed, there is a proliferation of candy-coated material oriented around Islam’s exalted “prophet” (and thus the origins of Islam itself).  It’s the equivalent of Marzipan.

It is for this reason that MoM is one of the most mis-understood figures in human history–both by his most ardent acolytes AND by his detractors.  For BOTH those hell-bent on glorifying AND demonizing MoM end up clinging to an idée fixe (bronzed and gilded) so as to maintain whatever caricature sustains their conceit.

And so rampant mis-characterization can be attributed either to sycophancy OR to bigotry.  In either case, romanticization or slander, the resulting caricature can’t help but be born of SOME kind of conflict of interest.  Rarely are disinterested accounts of MoM proffered by anyone with vested interests; for rarely do those without ulterior motives have much incentive to pursue the matter in a scientific manner (follow the evidence, WHEREVER it might lead).  Etiological myths therefore proliferate with impunity to this day…even when we should know better.

From the more casuistic expositors like Martin Lings, John Esposito, Barnaby Rogerson, Timothy Winter (a.k.a. “Abdal Hakim Murad”), Mark Hansen (a.k.a. “Hamza Yusuf”), Ahmed Deedat, Reza Aslan, and Tariq Ramadan…to charlatans like Deepak Chopra, Karen Armstrong, and Leslie Hazelton, white-washing MoM (the man, as well as his life and teachings) has become a lucrative vocation.

The world in which we find ourselves seems to be a riddle in need of unraveling; and the life we find ourselves living seems to be a mystery waiting to be solved.  An imagined past helps us make sense of who we are and what we do…in a way that serves our purposes (and comports with our sensibilities).  In this sense, heritage is self-validating.  To wit: One’s heritage INSISTS that one’s heritage is legitimate.  By contrast, the ACTUAL past helps explain what we’ve become and what is STILL POSSIBLE.

Reality does not care about legacy.  By contrast, those afflicted with collective narcissism ONLY care about legacy; hence the tendency to eschew Reality in favor of strategically-crafted historiography.

In the process of white-washing one’s subject, one only ends up vandalizing Truth.

It is often difficult to discern whether the dissemination of artificially-sweetened elixir stems more from perfidy or from idiocy; but it is odious in either case.  The ensuing intoxication is taken as verification of its indubitable credence.  One might be tempted to say that the biggest culprits in candy-coating bios of MoM are ostensibly “liberal” apologists; though fundamentalists are also complicit.  If one really wants to go down the rabbit hole, reference “Muhsin-i Insaniyat” [Benefactor of Humanity] by the Pakistani writer, Naeem Siddiqui (founder of the Salafi “Tehreek-i Islami” movement).

Some of the things that such bad-faith actors say about Islam’s “Prophet” are mind-boggling to hear.  MoM-fetishists regularly make statements about MoM that are not merely patently false; but utterly ridiculous (he sought to put an end to all suffering; he sought to bring all humanity together; he sought to end slavery; etc.)  Such claims are not only baseless, but demonstrably wrong.  To believe such bunkum, one is required to be completely ignorant of anything and everything we actually know about MoM–especially from the most esteemed Islamic sources.  Evidently, such charlatans bank on their audience being completely oblivious.  This is an attitude that should offend all those who’s time they have wasted.

We can observe the appalling degree of unabashed mendacity when media commentator, Qasim Rashid wrote that “Islam gave women equal rights in 610.”  (610?  It seems that Rashid isn’t even aware of the year that MoM started preaching.)  Leaving aside the fact that “Islam” qua religion did not yet exist in 610, and that Islam PER SE has never done ANYTHING (because RELIGIONS don’t do things; people do), we should ask: What does Rashid cite for this preposterous contention?  After all, to make such a brazen pronouncement, he must have oodles of scripture to back him up, right?

Rashid’s answer: 33:36.

That’s it.  A line from a book.  As is plain to see (if one has five seconds to spare), this single verse basically states that BOTH men and women must submit, and that BOTH may then be rewarded for said submission.  Ergo–according to Rashid–the Koran deems them EQUAL. Q.E.D. (?!)  This is grasping at straws in its most craven (and comedic) form.

It is very telling that this single verse was the best (read: the ONLY) Koranic verse that Rashid could cite in his rather pitiable attempt to validate his grandiose point.  Perhaps Rashid’s next project is to convince the world that Genghis Kahn was a celibate pacifist–based on the clear record of his raping and pillaging sprees.  (Behold the pristine logic: “Aside from the rampant fornication and plunder, Genghis was chaste and peaceful!”)  When we read passages like 8:12 and 3:151 (wherein god promises to strike terror into the hearts of non-believers), the context becomes strikingly clear once we refer to the most vaunted hadith (that of Bukhari) wherein MoM declared: “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meaning: I have been made victorious with terror” (4/52/220).

Rashid is an example of Progressively-inclined Muslims trying their darndest to “clear the name” of their Faith in ham-fisted ways…and so failing to act in good faith.  Other whoppers from Qasim include: “The Koran only permits fighting in self-defense” [a blatant falsehood addressed at length in the preceding monograph] and MoM was committed to “universal religious freedom” / “equal human rights for all people regardless of faith”.  These aren’t honest mistakes; they are absurdities. {55}

Qasim Rashid is either a liar or an ignoramus.  Either way, his incompetence did not prevent Harvard University from making him a teaching Fellow. (!)  One cringes at what Rashid deigns to tell his students when he has a captive audience.  (We can only pray all those who find themselves in his classroom vet everything he spouts.)  With a better-informed (and more honest) demos, apologists like Rashid would be laughed at, not given Fellowships at Ivy League universities.

I suspect that Qasim knows full well that he’s full of horse-pucky.  The consolation is that his horse-pucky is WELL-INTENTIONED horse-pucky (which, tragically, is sufficient to keep him in the good graces of decision-makers at even the most prestigious educational institutions).  The fact remains, though: Good intentions are not enough if we’re seeking global STRUCTURAL change. {56}

Unfortunately, such flagrant casuistry is what forthright Reformers are currently up against.  Well-intentioned as he might be, Rashid’s absurd statements about “Islam” and MoM and the Koran only fetter Reform efforts…while providing easy fodder for anti-Muslim bigots (who are looking for dishonest portrayals in order to rationalize their litany of derisive–often trumped-up–indictments).  Each time someone like Rashid lies, he is fueling anti-Muslim bigotry; as he makes it seem that Muslims have to be dishonest with the world in order to legitimize their Faith.

Memo to Rashid (and his unscrupulous ilk): You don’t need to lie about MoM–or about the Koran, or about Islam–to be a Progressive Muslim.  More to the point: dishonesty (nay, delusion) is incompatible with a robust, sustainable Reform movement.

To reiterate: Islamic apologists only shoot their cause in the foot by disseminating poppycock.  Unfortunately, Rashid is merely one of many who are taken with the notion that we NEED MoM to have been a wonderful man (and the Koran to be a wonderful book) in order for Progressive Islam to be a viable option.  A Reformed approach would vanquish this severely debilitating misconception.  Only with a paradigm shift is genuine reform tenable. {57}

The point here isn’t to single out Qasim Rashid; it’s merely to offer a case-study in the fetishization of MoM.  I do this to illustrate the casuistry indicative of popular Mohammedan hagiography.

Other well-meaning yet white-washed accounts of Islam’s “Nabi” include:

  • Richard W. Bulliet’s “The View From the Edge”
  • Marshall Hodgson’s “The Venture of Islam”
  • William Montgomery Watt’s “Mohammad: Prophet and Statesman”
  • Jonathan A.C. Brown’s ironically-entitled, “Misquoting Muhammad” (in which he proceeds to relentlessly misquote MoM)

While not as gushing–and utterly spurious–as the maudlin tales provided by the likes of Karen Armstrong and Deepak Chopra, these contrived historiographies proceed more from affectation than from solid documentation.  For some, the fanciful trumps the actual.  Hard facts are a moot point when one is crafting a narrative to fit forgone conclusions.

Other craven academics in the pockets of the House of Saud include Georgetown’s Jonathan A.C. Brown–an unscrupulous man who’s “Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World” is nothing more than an exercise in white-washing.  (Brown submits that slavery was once justified; as the condemnation of the practice is merely a modern social construct; and that the Sunnah was a good thing because it “revolutionized” slavery.)  Brown is part of a long line of deluded converts to Islam, joining the likes of Mark Hansen (a.k.a. “Hamza Yusuf”) and Timothy Winter (a.k.a. “Abdal Hakim Murad”) in defending the indefensible.  Their target audience is limited to uneducated Muslims who are credulous enough to view them as founts of erudition, and their fatuous asseverations as sage commentary.

In 2018, another hack, Juan Cole, came out with the utterly preposterous “Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires”.  What sort of conflict of interest could possibly account for such a risible publication.  Lo and behold: Cole is funded by Iran’s Ayatollahs via the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  Tragically, he is a professor of history at the University of Michigan.

Intellectual capture by Wahhabi elements is becoming ever-more widespread; as FUNDING invariably influences–and in some cases, DICTATES–curricula.  Saudi cash has made it into Northwestern University, UCLA, Texas A&M, Johns Hopkins, George Mason University, George Washington University, and the University of Toronto under various auspices.  Faculty in such Islamic studies departments are highly suspects–as many are effectively bought and paid for by Wahhabi ideologues (who hold further funds over the departments’ heads as leverage).  Even such esteemed institutions as Harvard and Oxford have accepted tens of millions in cash…EACH.  We should find this tremendously disturbing. {58}

None of what follows rests on mere rumors…or, for that matter, proceeds from a whitewashing campaign.  Indeed, the majority of popular tid-bits about MoM are laughably ridiculous.  (Celebrity charlatan, Karen Armstrong informs us that MoM was very good-looking and had a nice smile.  Thanks, Karen.)  Such fatuous attempts to paint MoM in a flattering light–often done in smug desperation–belie the credence of the hyper-romanticized portrayal that they aim to promulgate.

What follows is a judiciously abridged bio of MoM.  As an impartial compiler of data (i.e. someone with no vested interests in the subject, one way or the other), I limit comments to salient highlights of MoM’s life–annotated, as needed, with tempered inferences.  I do this using material based on plausible documentation–then adducing things based on my own (fallible) powers of deduction.

As it turns out, the available facts are far more limited than most hagiographers would like to admit.  I simply work with what is available.  I do this so we can see what happens when an overview of MoM’s life is done when no conflicts of interest are involved (a situation that–it should be noted–is rarely the case).  The summery is no longer than it is simply due to the fact that it is all we can say about MoM with any degree of certainty.  It neither adds nor detracts salient details.

Needless to say, I refrain from including any of the plethora of saccharine anecdotes that abound in the Ummah.  Such ingratiating accounts are typically presented in the form, “One time, the prophet did / said X” (where X is something nice).  Ask any Islamic apologist why he thinks MoM was such a swell guy, and one will invariably be treated to a litany of these delectable narrative morsels.

Tragically, many Muslims have been programmed to recite this or that piece of apocrypha on queue.  They are brought up on tales of a gentle, wise, holy man who was viciously persecuted before he rose to prominence, a divinely-ordained ascension as the Seal of all Abrahamic prophets, a paragon of virtue, who spread nothing but good will.  (What’s not to admire?!)  There can be little argument that such a fabulous fictional character is worthy of reverence.

As a matter of course, parts of the Mohammedan narrative that are problematic are simply overlooked by most commentators.  For example, take the widely-recognized fact that MoM’s foster parent (his uncle, Abu Talib; i.e. the man who raised him and–until adulthood–was most devoted to his care) did not believe MoM when the latter put forth his grandiose claims of revelation.  In other words: The man who best knew MoM was convinced that he was, as it were, full of shit.  One can’t help but wonder: How could that be?  If what MoM said was true, is it not rather odd that the person closest to him was completely unpersuaded?  We know that Abu Talib was unwaveringly devoted to MoM’s well-being until his dying breath, so we can’t attribute his lack of credulity to antipathy.

Though he was likely the most important person in MoM’s life until the aspiring prophet married Khadijah (at about 25 years old), Abu Talib is not featured in a prominent role in Mohammedan hagiography.  Imagine why.  (When he is mentioned, he is summarily vilified.  Wherefore?  For his inexcusable intransigence!)

The cherry-picking expedition begins the moment Islamic apologists deign to give an account of their prime subject.  ANYTHING that is does not comport with the desired narrative (that is: put the “Last Prophet” in a flattering light) is dismissed as a “forgery” or “fabrication” by nefarious interlopers who sabotaged the “isnad” process…EVEN IF such blotches occur in the exact same work as other bits that those same apologists insist must be taken seriously.  This is even done in the most vaunted Hadith, that of Bukhari (in which countless highly problematic passages can be found, and are blithely dismissed with the same rational).

Such inconsistency, glaring as it is to anyone who’s paying attention, is typically passed without notice.  This is simply because most people aren’t really paying attention to such pesky details.  Who has the time?

Ask a dogmatic Muslim why he thinks MoM was such a great person, and one will be treated to a smug litany of vague character descriptors: he was humble, he was kind, he was honest, he was forgiving, etc.  The problem is that there is no evidence to support any of this.  At every point in his life, MoM strove to advance his own interests; and did so using draconian means.  He seemed to always have ulterior motives in all of his dealings–even the one’s where he was “trustworthy”.  (It might be said that he epitomized Machiavellian-ism a millennium before Machiavelli penned “The Prince”.)  Bear in mind that almost any charismatic leader is successful in accruing a cult following precisely because his acolytes would swear on their lives that he is “trustworthy” and his intentions nothing by noble.

So it comes as little surprise that a smorgasbord of apocrypha about MoM continue to proliferate: He wore simple clothing and ate simple food and treated animals nicely and never lied.  And, in any case, he adopted a slave-boy to be his foster son (therefore he MUST be one of the most amazing humans that’s ever walked the face of the Earth.)  That most of us can name several acquaintances that meet the exact same qualifications doesn’t seem to attenuate the poignancy of such rationalizations.

Silly as it is, this is the rhetorical strategy regularly employed by high-profile expositors.  Some of the most notable cases of hyper-romanticization are based on spurious conjectures and groundless–often outlandish–claims.  Here are ten:

  • Tariq Ramadan’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet”
  • The vehemently anti-science, young-Earth creationist, Martin Lings’ “Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources” (in which he proceeds to AVOID basing his bio on the earliest sources)
  • Georgetown pseudo-scholar, Jonathan Brown’s “Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction”
  • Daniel C. Peterson’s “Muhammed: Prophet Of God”
  • David Levering Lewis’ “God’s Crucible”
  • (Shiite) Ayatollah, Sayed Muhammad al-Shirazi’s absurdly titled, “The Prophet Muhammad: A Mercy to the World”
  • Chapter 2 of Tamim Ansary’s “Destiny Interrupted”
  • Deepak Chopra’s entirely farcical, comically-overwrought “Muhammad: A Story Of God’s Messenger”
  • Karen Armstrong’s risible “Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time”
  • Lesley Hazleton’s “The First Muslim” (a cloying hagiography in which she fails to recognize that Muslims do not, in fact, see MoM as the first Muslim) {64}

Many of these books are examples of intellectual capture–the most flagrant of which border on mendacity.  They are all instances of Islamic apologia run amok.  Each is preposterous in its own way.

Such Islamic apologia is often directed at children–as with Fine Media Group’s “Muhammad: The Last Prophet” and Barajoun Entertainment’s “Bilal: A New Breed of Hero”.  Such animated features–mawkish and puerile–are nothing more than propaganda for kids. {65}

Though some of the most popular modern biopics of MoM, the aforementioned books are authored by men with nil credibility.  In each case, the exposition is written more as ingratiating farce than as an honest summary of historical documentation.  (The last three books don’t even pretend to be a works of scholarship.)  Yet those who don’t know any better treat such books as primary sources when seeking to learn about the HISTORICAL MoM.

Let’s be clear.  Such publications are little more than exercises in whitewashing–replete with extensive embellishment and hefty dose of narrative flare.  Each “bio” highlights palatable tid-bits from the ACTUAL historical record while ignoring everything else.  That is to say: Such expositors are highly selective in what they opt to mention…and then put a spin on whatever they can.  Much of the time, they just make things up as they go (concocting narrative “filler” as it suits their purposes).

Many Islamic apologists have become so enraptured by their own half-baked narratives, blatantly spurious portrayals often pass as bona fide “history” for those who don’t know any better.  Unscrupulous actors like Deepak Chopra, Karen Armstrong, and Leslie Hazelton (who cash in on the lucrative MoM-fetishization industry) aren’t helping the matter.  The sooner we start ignoring such unscrupulous expositors, the better. {48}

It is the refusal to abide the propagation of farce that grounds the following bio.  The brief overview here is based on facts that can be found in the “sahih” Hadith–primarily, in the most vaunted of them all: that of Bukhari from c. 870.  (That is: It was compiled about 240 years after MoM’s death.)  

Note, especially, the earliest biography of all: Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”.  This was composed via a recension that was cobbled together by Ibn Hisham of Basra c. 833, who had (purportedly) redacted a version done by ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, who in turn had (purportedly) redacted a version done by Al-Bakka’i, a student of Ibn Ishaq.  And Al-Bakka’i had HIMSELF redacted Ishaq’s–now lost–accounts, which themselves were from over 130 years after MoM’s death.  Ergo the version we have NOW (Ibn Hisham’s) is from over two centuries after MoM’s death; and is hyper-derivative in nature.  The earliest Hadith (that of the Persian writer from Bukhara now known as “Bukhari”) is from almost four decades after THAT.

Ibn Hisham is surprisingly forthcoming about the liberties he took regarding redaction–unabashedly declaiming that he omitted “things which it is disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people.”

Suffice to say, two intervening centuries is ample time for prodigious embellishment to have crept into the folklore–both witting and un-.  This is especially so when the authors were strongly incentivized to tweak things as the occasion arose. {49}  We should bear in mind that embellishment has a ratcheting effect: once it is introduced, and widely embraced, it is virtually impossible to rescind.

The other three highly-touted bios from the Middle Ages are:

  • “Kitab al-Maghazi” by Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Omar ibn Waqid al-Aslami of Medina [a.k.a. “Al-Waqidi”] (from the early 9th century)
  • “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kubra” by the hagiographer, Muhammad ibn Sa’d ibn Mani al-Hashimi of Basra (from the early 9th century)
  • “Ta’rikh al-Rusul-wa al-Muluk” [Histories of the Messenger and the Kings] by Persian historiographer, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir of Tabaristan [a.k.a. “Al-Tabari”] (dating from shortly after c. 915, perhaps in the early 920’s) 

The last was almost exclusively based on Ibn Hisham’s (highly edited) version of Ibn Ishaq’s bio; so it is rather redundant.  In any case, it was composed almost three centuries after MoM’s ministry. Since then, accounts have been–to put it mildly–FURTHER embellished–as with, say, the bio of the (Mamluk) Syrian commentator, Ismail ibn Kathir (a protege of Ibn Taymiyyah) from the 14th century.  Today, no honest scholar would pretend otherwise. {50}

Another noteworthy chronicle is Malik ibn Anas’ “Muwatta” (a compilation of the alleged accounts of caliph Uthman’s son, Abban ibn Uthman ibn Affan).  Note that Malik ibn Anas was a contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, and was opposed to the latter’s testimony.  He eschewed Ibn Ishaq’s controversial “qadariyah” sympathies (the belief in free will) due to the Koran’s clear explication of pre-destination. {66}  Moreover, Malik ibn Anas disapproved of Ibn Ishaq’s emphasis on MoM’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib–the 4th of the four so-called “Rashidun” (rightly-guided) caliphs…and the first legitimate “imam” according to Shia tradition.  This antipathy accounts for Malik’s less predominant role in Shi’ism.  In the Ali’d (Shiite) version, the first three caliphs are seen as illegitimate (while Ali is accorded pre-eminence).  Such disputes are indicative of the extensive quibbling that characterized the germination of Mohammedan lore.

The derivative nature of hagiographies continued on through the centuries. The “Siyer-i Nebi” was a hagiography written by Mustafa ibn Yusuf of Erzurum in the 1380’s.  It was based on the “Sirah” by the Andalusian writer, Al-Bakri from the 11th-century…which was itself based on the “Kitab al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi” [“Book Of History & Campaigns”] by Al-Waqidi from the early 9th century.

Bottom line: ALL these sources are ENTIRELY based on hearsay.  They make no secret of being highly-selective accounts of their protagonist.  Anything beyond the few early accounts listed here is–invariably–based on hearsay of hearsay of hearsay…  It’s not ideal; but THAT is all we now have to work with.

When it comes to MoM, three examples of relatively honest scholarship would be:

  • Michael Cook’s 1996 book from Oxford University Press, “Muhammad”
  • Nevo and Koren’s 2003 book, “Crossroads to Islam”
  • Kecia Ali’s 2014 book from Harvard University Press, “The Lives of Muhammad”

These scholars are honest not so much about what they know, but about what they DON’T know.  They realize what they do NOT know simply because NOBODY can possibly know it. Note that I enumerate my own primary sources in the Appendix to part 2 of this series.

Other bios that are only marginally whitewashed are:

  • Maxime Rodinson’s “Muhammad:Prophet of Islam”
  • David Margoliouth’s “Muhammad And The Rise Of Islam”
  • Aloys Sprenger’s “The Life Of Muhammad From Original Sources”
  • William Muir’s “The Life Of Mahomet”
  • Francis Edward Peters’ “Muhammad And The Origins of Islam”
  • John Glubb’s (now out-of-print) “The Life And Times Of Muhammad”

Meanwhile, much of what Islamic documentation reveals is infelicitous, or even downright embarassing. Those who have the gall to point this out are often accused by MoM-fetishists of slandering the prophet of Islam.  Such an indictment is, of course, an inversion of reality.  ABSENCE OF a caricature is not itself a kind of caricature.  Alas, many expositors get swept up in their subject, and succumb to MoM-fetishism.  So, as far as they can see, anyone who strays from the program simply MUST be guilty of casuistry.  It’s a classic case of projection.

For historical revisionists, then, the mission is to manufacture “the past” so as to gild Dar al-Islam’s heritage.  The process is a racket–orchestrated by a MoM-fetishization industry.  It is a project undertaken by careerists who really, really, really don’t want to be put out of business; so they protect their turf from unwelcome incursions; and are quickly incensed the moment anyone has the gall to bring their perfidy to light.

And so it goes: The difference between unscrupulous hagiographers and honest historians is glaring–but often neglected.  It boils down to vested interest vs. lack thereof.

MoM-fetishists demand that only the narrative tid-bits they find appealing should be acknowledged; and that the world should disregard (or strategically “re-interpret”) everything else.  That is, of course, not how genuine scholarship–of history or of anything else–works.  But, then again, apologia is never about an honest attempt to elucidate Reality.  (If one wants to befuddle a bio-chemist, ask her about her own “interpretation” of the Krebs Cycle. One would elicit the same reaction from a physicist were one to ask about her own “personal take” on the first law of thermodynamics.)

For most hagiographers engaged in this rigamarole, the sine qua non is eminently straight-forward: sustaining a delusion that has been crafted to serve certain purposes (among them, to keep such hagiographers in business).  This is far more than merely some good-faith effort to sanitize the past; it is a program of calculatedly transforming it.  The endeavor to whitewash MoM amounts to an effort to insist a particular person said / did what one NEEDS for him to have said / done in order for one’s worldview to continue to seem to hold water.

The routine here is familiar to any of us who’ve dealt with dishonest people (i.e. those with a staunch vested interest in certain things being certain ways when those things are clearly NOT the way they desperately want them to be).  In a coy slight-of-hand, “the way we would PREFER things to have happened” transplants “the way things ACTUALLY happened”.  The trick is to pass the former off as the latter–in a ploy to, as it were, seamlessly interweave Reality with fantasy…thereby yielding a well-varnished taffeta.

When it comes to heroic figures, weaving a such a yarn is surprisingly easy.  It might be called “historiography-by-needlepoint”.  The hyper-romanticized bio of MoM with which most Muslims are familiar was woven–in large part–from whole-cloth.  Creative amanuenses–and subsequent scriveners–added pithy anecdotes to extant material, giving their provocative accounts some tantalizing luster.  (Narrative flair is what entices the audience in the beginning, and then makes the material memorable thereafter.  Per epidemiology, the pneumonic strategy is quite clear: “catchiness” and “stickiness” are features of any successful contagion (in this case: memes).

So how shall we treat the AVAILABLE accounts of MoM?  An instructive case is the recounting of the 13th-century Dalmatian explorer, Marco Polo.  Polo’s famed memoirs–essentially, a travelogue of his exploits in the Far East–were not FROM HIM.  They were primarily the work of a novelist named Rustichello of Pisa (with whom Polo shared a prison cell after being captured by the Genoese in 1296).  Though Polo (allegedly) dictated the tales of his escapades to his cell-mate, it was Rustichello who ultimately wrote the book (“Livre des Merveilles du Monde” / “Devisement du Monde”) in a language with which Polo was likely unfamiliar (Old French).  Polo likely spoke Venetian Italian (and–of course–Mongolian).

The original codex of this travelogue no longer exists; and there are significant variances in later manuscripts.  (This is partly due to intermediaries like Giovanni Battista Ramusio, a 16th-century writer from Treviso had taken liberties, and added his own touches to the manuscripts.)  Exactly HOW MUCH of the final product (commonly entitled, “Il Milione” in Italian) is narrative adornment, nobody will ever know for sure.

The “real story” probably died along with the original amanuensis (Rustichello) and–of course–with Polo himself.  Alas, none of this prevents many avid “fans” from reading “The Travels of Marco Polo” as unadulterated non-fiction.  Where accurate documentation ends and embellishment begins is difficult to discern; and can now only be a matter of speculation. {51}

The same issues arise with the 13th-century Scottish folk hero, William Wallace of Elderslie.  What is our primary source for Wallace’s exploits?  “The Acts & Deeds of Sir William Wallace” written by Blind Harry, a musical poet (minstrel) in the late 15th century.  Blind Harry compiled his narrative from two centuries of oral tradition; and obviously took many liberties with his re-telling.  So even with the most celebrated Scotsman in history, we don’t know nearly as much as we might think we know. {52}

Such high-wattage revisionism is STANDARD in hagiographies–especially when it pertains to a (lionized) folkloric figure around whom cult activity has coalesced.

American folklore is no different.  We might ask: Who was the real Daniel Boone?  John Filson concocted romantic accounts of the frontiersman in his “The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boone” (1784).  Later, Timothy Flint composed his own embellishment in the best-seller, “Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone: The First Settler of Kentucky” a half-century later (1833).  The myth and the historical figure soon became blurred…as the myth took on a life of its own.  (Contrary to conventional portrayals, Boone never wore a coon-skin hat.)  Of course, that is what TYPICALLY happens with tales of extraordinary people.  (As for the hard facts about the fabled pioneer, we may never know.)  High-wattage revisionism trumps dry, turgid historical documentation in virtually every case–from King Arthur to Robin Hood.  This effect is amplified when it comes to CULTIC figures–as with, Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth.

The tale of MoM in Islamic lore is the king of all hagiographic splurges–arguably surpassing even the fantastical mythos surrounding the avuncular Hebrew carpenter from Galilee in Christian lore.  The point here is not merely to “set the record straight”; it is to show what happens when one looks STRAIGHT AT the available record; and unabashedly reports what one finds.  The record ITSELF isn’t our biggest problem; it is the dishonest TREATMENT OF the record that leads to an abiding temptation to countenance fantastical balderdash.

Here’s a helpful hint to those evaluating the melange of Mohammedan hagiographies that proliferate: Honest historians do not emphasize only the parts of the story that they happen to like (while glossing over anything they find unpalatable).  Alas, fraudulent “scholars” of MoM adamantly insist that any accounts that don’t comport with their desired portrayal of “the Prophet” are to be deemed null and void.  Why?  Because such unpalatable material is “offensive” and “unsettling”.  In other words: It throws a wrench into the works they’ve dedicated their careers to maintaining.  And so we witness the same ol’ song and dance the moment the topic of “Islam’s Prophet” is broached.

The Hadith collections provide enough narrative filigree to dazzle listeners.  In the end, the aim was–from the start–to resonate with an audience that was hankering for a scintillating tale.  And so the yarn that was woven needed to be brocaded.

As with any captivating narrative that is used for ideological propulsion, the key is to FLATTER the audience; and tantalize it as well.  Why settle for regular old fabric when one can be regaled by satin damask?  Ishmaelites were in need of a compelling narrative vehicle for their new-fangled creed; and Mohammedan hagiography delivered with flying colors.

The fetishization of MoM renders many incapable of even considering the possibility that their impression of MoM might be based on farce.  (The indoctrinated don’t see their own indoctrination as, well, indoctrination.)  Yet, as Mark Twain aptly pointed out, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  When we pretend to know things we don’t really know, we wind up sabotaging our aptitude for ratiocination; and forestall any prospect of objectivity indefinitely.

Confirmation bias renders an account invalid for the simple reason that the account is based on a disingenuous (often, unscrupulous) reading of the available evidence.  Such is what we find with readings of the Hadith.  As it turns out, many of the claims encountered in Mohammedan lore simply reflect Arabian superstitions at the time:

  • Tales of 30-meter-tall prehistoric men (likely taken from chapter 7 of the Book of Enoch, which describes the giant “Nephilim” as being 3,000 “ells” in height)
  • Tales of a rock stealing Moses’ clothes (while he was swimming) and then fleeing (with a naked Moses in pursuit).
  • Claims of a fly carrying the cure for a disease on one wing while carrying the disease itself on the other wing.
  • The notion of a flat Earth, with mountains (as stakes) holding it in place; and the heavens as a magically-suspended dome.  (Yes, the authors of the Koran thought the world was flat.)

Mohammedan lore appropriated much of what was already circulating in the Hijaz at the time (see my essay on “Syriac Source-Material For Islam’s Holy Book”).  For example, the “talking baby Jesus” story of 19:29-34 is probably from the Syriac Infancy Gospel, which held sway in the region during MoM’s lifetime.

The point is this: The authors of the Koran / Hadith were often simply repeating accounts that we now know to be obvious fabrications (or just plain-old mistakes), then passing them off as “revelations” and “teachings” conveyed by an exalted figure named “Mu-H-M-D” [“praised one”].  When one has been shown to have done such a thing ONCE, one has–as it were–been caught red-handed.  When one has been shown to have done such a thing over and over again, one has clearly been revealed as a fraud.

It is, of course, not a SURPRISE that MoM (or, as the case may be, the authors of the Koran / Hadith) perpetuated claims (thereby repeating mistakes) found in, say, the Syriac Infancy Gospel.  It is merely a testament to the fact that such claims were fashionable dogmas.  They merely parroting certain things that people happened to believe in the Hijaz at the time; then insisting that god informed them of it.  They did not count on people in the future learning about the ACTUAL source of the material.

By approaching such lore with a new frame of mind, such tall-tales are rendered unproblematic.  That is to say: There is no reason for Muslims to be embarrassed by the presence of such zany tales in the Islamic canon…any more than liberal Christians are embarrassed by the derangement of the Book of Revelation…or Reform Jews are embarrassed by the ridiculous-ness of the Pentateuch.

After MoM’s death, NEW tales began to proliferate.  A couple of the more notable gems:

  • MoM had an evil spell cast upon him–by a conniving Jew–via a follicle procured from a pilfered hair-brush.
  • MoM rode a winged horse (“al-Buraq”) to Jerusalem; then to the seven heavens to hold court with the pantheon of fabled Abrahamic prophets. {59}

No kidding.  This is the caliber of “documentation” with which we must work when we sift through the reams upon reams of available material.  Suffice to say, much of it is OBVIOUSLY hokum.  Yet to hear many Islamic apologists, all of it must be treated as if it were solid documentation–a collection of hard facts, each of which is beyond dispute.

The delusive thinking at work is staggering to behold.  From the most deluded MoM-fetishists, we hear statements made about MoM with a kind of apodictic certainty that is indistinguishable from fanaticism.  As with any other form of fetishism, the abiding embrace of these tales amounts to dogmatism-on-steroids.  In order to sustain the intoxicating delusions about MoM, the highly dubious must be treated as utterly incontrovertible.  Some things must be invented out of thin air while other things must be obfuscated.  For MoM-fetishists, this is done as a matter of course.  Islamic apologists demand that the rest of us just sit back, keep our mouths shut, nod and smile as this charade continues apace.

Much of what we hear about “the Prophet Mohammed” comes from people pretending to know things that there is no way they–or ANYONE, for that matter–could possibly know.  It can’t be emphasized enough: There is no way for me–or anyone else–to be certain about ANY of the things found in the summary of MoM’s life presented forthwith.  All I–or anyone else–can do is look at the available evidence and see where it points.  Anyone paying attention to the largely-contrived accounts of MoM that are found in the earliest sources will see that it all–quite plainly–points to certain things (and plainly does NOT point to certain other things).  The following bio simply summarizes what can be tentatively surmised by a sober perusal of the available material.

The limited amount we can adduce about MoM is hopelessly intertwined with legend.  It is snippets of quasi-historical account festooned with apocrypha.  But not just ANY apocrypha; it was only the apocrypha the transmitters wanted to be told.

Other than the earliest biographies and the “sahih” Hadith, what ELSE do we have to work with?  The TOTAL catalogue of biographies of MoM is astoundingly voluminous.  Roughly five dozen major bios had been written by 1800; and roughly six dozen major bios have been published since then.  (Countless minor accounts haver surely circulated in the meantime.)  The corpus of hyper-romanticized material is gargantuan.  (One of the more popular is the 20th-century “Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum” [“The Seal of Nectar”] by the Indian “alim”, Safiur Rahman Mubarak-puri; which glorifies MoM by touting his military conquests.)

Barring very few exceptions, reading any one of these works is a complete waste of time.  For all of it is derivative; and virtually all of it serves a singular purpose: To propagate an IDEA OF “the prophet Mohammed” rather than try to document the ACTUAL MoM.  That is to say: The focus is on a fictional character rather than on a historical figure–even as the former is passed off as the latter.

The following bio of MoM is offered not merely because it REALLY IS the most likely account anyone might manage given the available documentation; it is also offered–and should be accepted–simply because it TOTALLY MAKES SENSE.  That is, almost nothing in MoM’s life DOESN’T make sense.  Everything he did, everything that happened, makes perfect sense once we understand how and why it happened.  Surprisingly, literally NOTHING comes as a surprise.

As I hope will be evident, almost everything that we know about MoM MAKES PERFECT SENSE.  There is nothing “mysterious” that happened during MoM’s life.  All can be explained through basic deduction from what were, in turns out, normal circumstances during the Dark Ages.  To resent the fact that MoM comes out looking less than fabulous is effectively to express resentment for the elucidation of who he actually was.

The grievance that MoM is thereby cast in an “unflattering light” doesn’t make sense here, as what follows is merely a matter of CASTING LIGHT.  Blaming the illumination for how MoM “looks” is a peculiar course.  For it is not the light itself that is unflattering.  So I am not “casting” MoM in a “bad light”; I am merely shedding light, and he ends up looking however he looks.  As far as honest inquirers are concerned, the more light the better.

The inordinate brevity of the following bio attests to how little we actually know about MoM qua historical figure–in spite of the THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of pages of ahadith available about Islam’s “Khatam an-Nabiyyin”.  When people indulge in flights of fancy, they rarely admit to themselves–let alone to others–that that is what they’re doing.  They’d just assume call it “fact”, and pass it off as such.

The point, then, is to see what happens when we UN-DO the “just so stories” at the center of Mohammedan hagiography.  The following is what remains when ad hoc emendations are rescinded from prevailing Islamic lore.  What we are left with is something extremely important to those of us who are ultimately concerned with Truth: what most likely ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  What I strive to do here, then, is simply “front only the essential facts,” as Thoreau once put it.  In other words: This is what an unvarnished account of MoM looks like.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his letter to King George III (declaring the American colonies’ independence from the British Kingdom): “Let facts be submitted to a candid world.”  I second that motion.  Anything beyond what is written here is most likely farce.

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