About Mohammed I: A Biopic

February 3, 2021 Category: Religion

APPENDIX 1: Khadijah

The first wife of Mohammed of Mecca (MoM) is conventionally identified as Khadijah bint Khuwaylid ibn Asad ibn Abd-al-Uzza ibn Qusai ibn Kilab ibn Murrah ibn Ka’b ibn Lu’ay ibn Ghalib ibn Fihr ibn Malik.  She was from the prestigious Asad clan, which was purportedly founded by her paternal grandfather.

The above genealogy is almost certainly apocryphal.  That is to say: It propounds a lineage constructed to render MoM’s first wife a descendent of “Malik” (eleven generations removed); who–in turn–is held to be a descendent of Abraham (via Ishmael).  Malik’s son, Fihr, is held to be the progenitor of the Quraysh.  This would place “Malik” c. 200 A.D.  (Note that this lineage would make Qusai both Kadijah’s AND MoM’s patrilineal ancestor.)

Khadijah, who owned her own business, met MoM by employing him as a courier for her goods.  Due to her thriving caravan / trading enterprise, she was known in Mecca as “Ameerat-Quraysh” [Princess of the Quraysh].

The tale of their first encounter–and the subsequent germination of their relationship–is relatively straight-forward.  MoM ingratiated himself with the wealthy widow by carrying out important business out of town–reputedly surpassing her expectations.  As the story goes: In 595, Khadijah sought a trustworthy agent for an important transaction that would take place far to the north, in Syria.  A familial confidant (commonly identified as Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib) suggested she hire her distant cousin, Mohammed, for the job–as the young man had earned a reputation around town for being a dependable employee.  So she hired him for the task; and he carried it out with aplomb.  (Note this was only possible because the Syrians spoke the same language that MoM would have spoken: Syriac.)  MoM was undoubtedly up for the challenge, and eager to please.

After witnessing the charismatic bachelor’s aptitude in conducting business, the lonely widow surely would have seen reason to offer marriage.

When the financially-well-off Khadijah (then 40+) offered the struggling MoM (then 24 or 25) her hand c. 595, the soon-to-be-aspiring prophet jumped at the chance.  Aside from the fact that his efforts to court other women had been in vain, the betrothal was a huge opportunity to bolster his socio-economic standing.  This boost in clout would prove pivotal, augmenting his gravitas once he started proselytizing to the town-folk.  In other words: Khadijah offered not only financial means, but social leverage.

Meanwhile, from the point of view of a middle-aged business-woman, this would have been somewhat of a boon.  Indeed, the aging widow would suddenly have a young, loyal companion–who had proven himself savvy–to assist her in all her affairs.  (Her previous two husbands had passed away.)  She would have a dependable cohort to carry out dealings–dealings that her age was probably rendering increasingly difficult for her to handle herself.

In sum: The union made perfect sense for both parties.

The stature of Khadijah shows that, in pre-Mohammedan Arabia, women could manage their own businesses; and enjoyed control over ALL of their property.  There is a rather perverse irony here.  Within the dominion of the Muslim world, someone like Khadijah would no longer be able to rise to a position of such prominence.  For sharia would deprive women of the rights that had enabled MoM’s first wife to become who she was…and thereby HELP the soon-to-be-aspiring-prophet in his endeavors.

In my series on Female Empowerment, I show that, pursuant to the establishment of the Mohammedan order, women would not be afforded the kind of opportunity–nor accorded the kinds of esteem–that had been the norm around much of the world for centuries.  The number of female business owners (with male employees) in the entire Muslim world for the next millennium is close to zero.

Khadijah and MoM had six children over the course of a monogamous marriage that lasted 24+ years (595-619).  Oddly, there is not much documentation of any of these children in the Islamic record.  (As it turned out, the children by Khadijah ended up being MoM’s only offspring–as every other pregnancy in subsequent marriages ended in the child’s death.)  Two of the six children sired via Khadijah were boys–both of which died in early childhood.  Only limited details can be found about the four daughters (Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatima)–primarily from quasi-apocryphal tales.  This paucity of documentation is rather peculiar; as these are the four surviving children of (supposedly) the most important man to ever live.

Here are the highlights:

Zaynab–the eldest daughter–married her maternal cousin (Khadijah’s nephew), Abu al-Aas ibn al-Rabee.  She subsequently had a falling out with her father due to her husband’s refusal to become a Mohammedan; and she died only a few years after the Hijra.  (Supposedly, Abu al-Aas later agreed to become a follower of MoM; a development that is rather unlikely, though remotely possible.)

[Note: This exigency was very telling, as MoM’s two closest blood-relatives (his uncle–his foster parent–and his first daughter) both had anti-Mohammedan sympathies.]

Ruqayyah also had a husband that refused to become a Mohammedan (Utbah /Utaybah ibn Abu Lahab).  MoM eventually forced her to divorce him and marry a man of his choosing–someone loyal to the Mohammedan cause: the son of MoM’s companion, Uthman ibn Affan.

Umm Kuthum ALSO married a man who refused to become a Mohammedan.  As with Ruqayyah, MoM eventually forced his daughter to divorce her husband and marry a loyal follower.  As it so happened, this was Uthman ibn Affan, her older sister’s husband (after Ruqayyah died). (Eeesh!)

Suffice to say: A woman having a choice in her nuptials was not part of the plan.  A new precedent had been set.

Fatima passed away the same year as her father (632); only a couple months later, in fact.  This is also interesting, as she was enemies with MoM’s closest friend and most loyal confidant, Abu Bakr.  One can’t help but wonder: How could that enmity possibly be if Abu Bakr was the man beyond reproach that Mohammedan lore makes him out to be?

It is documented that the two had heated disputes, disagreeing on major points of doctrine–both before and after MoM’s ignominious death.  One of the disputes involved her right to inheritance after her father’s passing.  This dispute promptly ended when Fatima wound up dead (again, within a couple months of MoM’s death); and Abu Bakr prevailed.

And so it went: It is quite likely that MoM’s closest confidant (and most loyal acolyte) killed his daughter once MoM was no longer in the picture.  The motives are obvious.

There were also two quasi-foster children involved in MoM’s marriage with Kadijah: Mohammed’s younger cousin (Ali ibn Abi Talib) and a boy from the Udhra tribe who had been kidnapped by Mohammedan brigands and become one of Kadijah’s slaves (Zayd ibn Harithah).  MoM eventually adopted Zayd as a foster son, yet later issued a special revelation prohibiting adoption (thereby annulling Zayd’s status as a step-child) so that he could marry Zayd’s attractive young wife (whom the self-proclaimed Prophet fancied).

Khadijah enthusiastically supported MoM’s bid for prophethood in its early years.  As the story goes, it was she who encouraged him to claim the herald of god’s messenger (and enthusiastically supported him in pursuing the enterprise).  She was a very savvy businesswoman, so she likely saw the potential that the bold gambit held in store.  Indeed, with Khadijah’s great wealth, her connections, and her clout, MoM was provided with a robust “launching pad” from which to undertake his ministry.

According to Muslim sources, she effectively viewed MoM’s ministry as a business venture; backing it with her wealth.  It is telling that after Khadijah died and the spigots were cut off; many Meccans who had gone along with the program dissociated.

Alas, Khadijah would die only seven years into MoM’s ministry, and thus was only present for the earliest (pre-Hijra; Meccan) phase of her young husband’s campaign for prophethood.  MoM was remarried by the end of the year–to two women.  One (Sawda bint Zam’a) he married only a few days after Kadijah’s passing.  

The other was his child-bride, Aisha–daughter of his best friend, Abu Bakr.  (This latter betrothal was done in order to “strengthen” his friendship with Abu Bakr; so the story goes.  Aisha was only 6.)  Though rather embarrassing for Mohammed-fetishists to now admit, this fact is incontrovertible.  It is attested in Bukhari’s Hadith 5/58/234-236; as well as 7/62/64-65 and 7/62/88.  Also ref. Muslim’s Hadith vol. 8, no. 3309-11; as well as Sunan Abu Dawood vol. 2, no. 2116 and vol. 41 no. 4195 & 4916-19.  The account is corroborated in vol. 9 of Tarikh al-Tabiri’s biography of MoM.  (As far as the Sunnah goes, these are the most esteemed sources.)

Unsurprisingly, immediately after Khadijah’s passing, Mohammed was anxious to have a younger woman (probably for the first time in his life).  Accounts vary as to exactly how long MoM waited until the nuptials with Sawda; but it was certainly the same month as Khadijah’s death (April / May of 620).  By some reports, upon Khadijah’s death, he did not even wait until the week was out.  Sawda was the daughter of Zama’a ibn Qays–a man from the Amir ibn Luayy clan in Mecca.  More interesting, though, was her mother–who hailed from the Khazraj clan in Yathrib; and so likely had connections there.  This may have been the first piece in MoM’s eventual motivation to relocate to Yathrib after his luck ran dry in Mecca.  All we know about Sawda is that she was a large woman; and that she had recently been widowed.  It is said that she eventually gave her [weekly] night of sex with Mohammed to Aisha, since Aisha was younger and more attractive.  (Mohammed married Aisha when she was only 6 years old, and started raping her a couple years later.)

Suffice to say, if this was a family the activities of which the Creator of the Universe was overseeing (and a family held in the highest favor of an omniscient super-being), he had a very strange way of showing it.

As with the Koran, the only incredible thing about MoM’s family life was that there is virtually nothing incredible about it.  That is to say: given everything else we know about Mohammed, all of the accounts mentioned here are eminently plausible.  It is this plausibility that we should find most disturbing.

Appendix 2: The Rape of Safiya

As it turns out, the “earliest sources” in the title of Lings’ book are hagiographies that were composed by ardent followers over two centuries after MoM’s death…based on whatever (orally-transmitted) lore was available at the time.  (Predictably, Lings does not go out of his way to bring this to his readers’ attention.) 

One of today’s doyens of hyper-romanticized Mohammedan hagiographies, Martin Lings, contends–for reasons that are hard to fathom–that, pursuant to the Battle of Khaybar, MoM “freed” his soon-to-be-wife, Safiya bint Huyayy (ibn Akhtab), from her people (a Jewish tribe near Yathrib: the Banu Nadir).  He states this as if MoM RESCUED her instead of ENSLAVING her.  Lings cites no evidence for this spurious claim.  Why not?  Because there is none.  Indeed, people like Lings don’t expect their readers to actually check the historical record for themselves.

So let’s check.

According to Ibn Ishaq (the earliest source on the matter; and the earliest source that exists on MoM’s life in general), after slaughtering her family, MoM “gave orders that Safiya was to be put behind him and threw his mantle over her, so that the Muslims knew that he had claimed her for himself.”  According to Bukhari’s “Sahih” Hadith (2/14/68), “God’s apostle vanquished [the Jewish tribe] by force; and their warriors were killed.  The children and women were taken as captives.  Safiya was taken by Dihya al-Kalbi; and later she belonged to god’s apostle, who married her.  Her dowry [“mahr”] was the condition for her exoneration.”  In other words, “marry me or die” was the deal she was given…that is, after MoM “freed” her from her own family by slaughtering them.

Got it?

One imagines a rapist claiming that he was just “liberating” his victim from her chastity–as if the assault was a favor.  (No kidding: Islamic Hagiographers routinely couch MoM’s forced marriage to Safiya as a FAVOR TO her.)  Note also that Safiya needed to be “exonerated”; a condition that reveals all we need to know about the situation.  Exonerated from WHAT, exactly?  From the crime of not being a Mohammedan (i.e. for being Jewish).  And what was the ransom for said exoneration?  We are told explicitly: Mom got to take her as his own–treating rights to Safiya herself as her dowry.

Such appropriation of humans, according to Lings’ contorted logic, is a way of LIBERATING humans.  (Emancipation via subordination!)

So what really happened?  The answer is quite clear.  MoM took Safiya as his sex slave (“ma malakat aymanukum”; i.e. as his PROPERTY) after he had her father and husband (as well as all the other male members of her Jewish tribe, the Banu Nadir) tortured and killed.  He then forced her to don a face-veil so that she could be considered a wife rather than just his concubine.  Brilliant.  (But hey, don’t fret.  One time, we’re told, MoM helped her to mount his camel.  Even slavers can be chivalrous.)

The degree of cruelty in this particular case was especially egregious.  Safiya’s husband, Kenana ibn al-Rabi, was the tribe’s treasurer.  So MoM set him afire (after branding his chest) in order to extract information about the hiding-place for the tribe’s (suspected) cache.  When the man did not divulge the location of the (suspected) treasure, like any ruthless pirate, MoM had him killed…for his impudence.  (MoM wanted his loot, and to hell with anyone who stood in his way.  Cooperate or die.)  Another account has MoM beheading the treasurer for failing to cough up the (suspected) treasure’s location.

Apparently, no such treasure was ever found.

MoM promptly seized the man’s wife (Safiya), took her to his tent, and bedded her before the day was out.  (Yes.  After slaughtering her family, he took her THAT VERY NIGHT.)  Try to imagine the degree of cruelty involved here; and then note that the biographical accounts BRAG about this event.

To conclude from this, “Wow, what a swell fellow” is rather bizarre.  Indeed, as we read in the earliest account (that of Ibn Ishaq), on that fateful night, one of MoM’s loyal servants (Abu Ayyub) found the need to remain next to MoM’s tent for the duration of the night.  Why?  As the servant explained to MoM the next morning (I paraphrase): “You had just killed her husband and her father and her people; so naturally–with you in the tent alone with her–I feared for your life.”  No shit. *

But you’d never know ANY of this by reading Martin Ling’s outlandish re-telling.  It seems not to occur to Lings that a girl might not be eager to sleep with–let alone wed–a man who’d just murdered her father and husband…THAT DAY.  To hear Lings tell it, this was an estimable marriage.  Indeed, it was yet another illustration of MoM’s breathtaking magnanimity.

Such glaring casuistry is at the same time jaw-dropping and cringe-inducing; yet it is standard operating procedure for the majority of Mohammedan hagiographers.  Predictably, this is what happens when someone who fetishizes X deigns to write a book about X.

The rest of us are left to, as it were, “take it or leave it”.  One can only endure so many large grains of salt–while swallowing the intoxicating elixir being proffered–before all one is doing is pouring salt down one’s own throat.

Lings is not an unfortunate anomaly; he is–tragically–emblematic of a widespread phenomenon.  Unfortunately, people regularly learn about MoM from such highly dubious sources.  It is no wonder, then, that so much of Dar al-Islam takes a revanchist position regarding any effort to set the record straight vis a vis their uber-glamorized prophet.

Setting the record straight requires rejecting the sumptuous cornucopia of apocrypha of which most Mohammedan hagiographies are largely comprised–leaving only a basic skeleton of quasi-credible accounts remaining.  (Ergo the brevity of the bio that I did on Mohammed of Mecca.)  It should be noted that even the earliest accounts are based on biased sources that are far-removed from the events they purport to describe.

{*  As it turned out, MoM was actually quite safe.  As is usually the case with rape, the victim’s capacity to retaliate against her assailant was rather limited.  One can only speculate that Safiya was likely paralyzed by terror; and too traumatized to pose any threat as the self-proclaimed prophet had his way with her.}


Vested Interest As Disqualification

Though the present task (outlining the bio of MoM) is one of illumination rather than of obfuscation; many would prefer that certain things just be–shall we say–left alone.  Broaching contentious subjects (e.g. the dubious credence of the cherished hagiography of a folk-hero) induces what might be called “narrative transition anxiety” (NTA).  Indeed, feeling as though one is being pressured into disassociating oneself from a coveted Grand Narrative can be rather disquieting–nay: quite aggravating.  This is especially so if it’s the only Grand Narrative one has ever known.  Few enjoy being cajoled out of their comfort zone; and nobody likes to feel as though they are being coerced into relinquishing something into which copious amounts of time / energy / emotion have been invested.  Consequently, anyone considering such a transmutation will probably experience NTA.  And anyone seeking to instigate such a transmutation in others will surely be confronted with an epidemic of NTA–and thus a prodigious amount of push-back.  I have sympathy for this condition…up to a point.  Indeed, pulling the proverbial rug out from beneath another’s feet can be construed as an untoward gesture: gratuitous or even mean-spirited.  Religionists of ANY stripe will surely feel existentially marooned (or even lost at sea, in turbulent waters) should they be deprived of a worldview on which they’ve come to depend for existential ballast.  We should have sympathy for THEM; but not for their delusions.

As Robert Trivers put it in his “Folly Of Fools”: “A very disturbing feature of overconfidence is that it often appears to be poorly associated with knowledge.  That is, the more ignorant the individual, the more confident he or she may be” (p. 14).  Thus confidence is generally proportional to the severity of the delusion–as Socrates tried to demonstrate 24 centuries ago.  The worst kind of ignorance, he noted, was ignorance of one’s own ignorance.

Alas.  Confidence–nay, stridency of conviction–is often inversely proportional to in-touch-ness with Reality.  This “Dunning-Kruger Effect” exists because false certainty is one of the hallmark symptoms of ignorance (being as how obliviousness to one’s nescience is–in effect–tied into one’s out-of-touch-ness with Reality).  Here, conviction is proportional to delusion.  Confidence is inversely proportional to the warrant for that confidence.  When people are throughly-enough wed to an idea, they INVARIABLY convince themselves that they are certain.  After all, false certainty is a corollary of ideological commitment.  The question becomes: How do we handle ignorance when those who are most ignorant believe themselves to be (uniquely) “in the know”?

Those without wisdom lack the wisdom necessary to recognize their own lack of wisdom.  Their ignorant state entails seeing that state as erudite: an integral part of ignorance is ignorance of one’s own ignorance.  Senescence often construes itself as sapience–like the faulty diagnostics system that diagnosis itself as operating splendidly.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is exacerbated in cases where a tribalistic mindset is involved (as tribal honor needs to be upheld).  And it is especially pronounced when the conviction is doctrinal (when that which is sacrosanct needs to be protected).  After all, to be doctrinaire is to be blinded by own’s own ideological commitment.  Hence the Dunning-Kruger effect is most severe when it is undergirded by cult activity.

In his disquisition on “The True Believer”, Eric Hoffer noted that the zealot is “mentally cocky, and hence barren of new beginnings.  At the root of his cockiness is the conviction that life and the universe conform to a simple formula–his formula [i.e. the formula he espouses].  He is thus without the fruitful intervals of groping.”  Critical reflection is anathema to the ideologue.  This is a necessary prohibition for sustaining the false certainty he so covets.

Once committed to an idea X with sufficient ardor, one will be strongly inclined to stick to one’s guns–no matter how erroneous X is shown to be.  Confirmation bias goes into overdrive; and objectivity goes out the window.  With enough vested interest, obduracy turns into defiance; and the more countervailing one encounters, the more one digs in one’s heels.

It is no secret that strong personal bias translates into selectively-adumbrated memory in conjunction with wishful thinking (see my essay, “The Island”).  It’s a blissful crucible of delusiveness. *

Staunch, vested interest explains why the remedial (consoling) tales of MoM came to be as they have; but we still must ask: How did they come to be in the first place?  

In “Folly Of Fools”, Trivers noted: “Once information [about the outside world] arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds [according to our sensibilities / interests].  We deny the truth to ourselves.  We project onto others [unpalatable] traits that are in fact true of ourselves–and then attack them.  We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behavior, act repeatedly to boost positive self-opinion, and show a suite of ego-defense mechanisms.”

Thus, our minds “bias information, from initial avoidance, to false encoding, memory, and logic, to incorrect statements [made] to others–from one end [of the process] to the other.  Key mechanisms [for doing this] include denial, projection, and perpetual efforts to reduce cognitive dissonance” (p. 2). **

On cognitive dissonance, Trivers points out that “the more a person commits to a position, the more he or she needs to rationalize the commitment; and great rationalization apparently produces greater positive effects” (p. 72).  This is the psychological mechanism at work when one makes an imprudent purchase (of a consumer product that one can’t return).  Pursuant to such sunk costs, every rationalization will be concocted to make oneself feel justified in the commitment…even when all evidence is to the contrary.

Similar psychological mechanisms are operative when it comes to anyone who has invested a prodigious amount of time / energy / emotion into a certain system of dogmas.  While economists refer to it as “sunk costs” (and the ensuing syndrome as “post-purchase bias”), it actually involves a psychical process known as “irrational escalation of commitment” (a.k.a. “commitment bias”).

Hidebound ideologues thus “create an artificial world and then choose to live in it” (p. 109).  Trivers further explains: “Self-deception is intimately tied to false historical narratives”, which are essentially “lies we tell ourselves about our past, usually in the service of self-forgiveness and aggrandizement” (p. 6).  On this matter, Atran’s “In Gods We Trust” is also worth reading.  Akerlof and Shiller’s “Phishing For Phools” has some fascinating things to say about mass-manipulation; as does Robert Cialdini’s “Influence”.

Trivers reminds us that deception “always takes the lead in life while detection of deception plays catch-up.  As has been said regarding rumors, the lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on.  When a new deception shows up in nature, it starts in a world that often lacks a proper defense” (p. 7).  Regarding the transmission of information (i.e. the propagation of memes): “At every single stage–from its biased arrival, to its biased encoding, to organizing it around false logic, to misremembering and then misrepresenting it to others, the mind continually acts to distort information flow in favor of the [espoused narrative]” (p. 139).  

This tendency becomes even more salient when it comes to orality.  Most of us are completely unaware of the biasing that takes place during hearing, information processing (a.k.a. encoding), and then in re-telling.  All of it is susceptible to self-deception and projection;  any part of it may involve cognitive dissonance.  “However much we champion freedom of thought, we actually spend much of our time censoring input” and thereby allowing our memory to be distorted in order to suit our own purposes (p. 140).

How does this work?  A “quick-biasing procedure is available to us when the information is preferred because it boosts our self-esteem…  There are few more powerful forces in the service of self-deception than personal fantasies; so when these are aroused, selective attention is expected to be especially intense” (p. 142).  Thus, “many processes of memory can be biased to produce welcome results” while keeping unwelcome results at bay (p. 143).

Urging the thoroughly-indoctrinated to disabuse themselves of these faulty impressions is like asking a fundamentalist Christian to consider that JoN may not have been resurrected.

When we hear someone like Reza Aslan glibly aver that the first thing MoM did when he came to power was ban slavery, we can only recoil and slap our foreheads.  That MoM clearly MANDATED slavery seems not to bother Aslan; so his casuistic asseveration persists, unabated.  That the Koran ADAMANTLY enjoins slavery (ref. all passages regarding “those whom your right hands possesses”) poses no problem for Aslan either.  By making such patently absurd statements, we can be quite sure that ostensibly liberal Islamic apologists like Aslan have gone through the looking glass in their avid pursuit of a palatable narrative.  Such rampant perfidy does not bode well for reform.  In fact, it positively inhibits reformation at every turn.

If one is seeking an orgy of charlatanry, the bountiful material on MoM is one of the best places to look.  Indeed, what one encounters when one embarks on a quest to uncover information about Islam’s “seal of the prophets” is a raucous jamboree of casuistry.  One is thereby forced to sift through reams upon reams of material (fabricated for mass-consumption and maximum impact)…all of it churned out by expositors with glaring partialities–and incessantly promulgated by the cadre of theological plenipotentiaries known as the “Ulema”.  Eager supplicants become infatuated with the rosy portrayals, never bothering to vet any of the claims they’re fed.

Infatuation often leads to addiction.  Dependency leads to obstinacy.

Ironically, it is ostensibly “liberal” Islamic apologists who indulge in THE MOST Reality-denial.  They fail to see that insofar as they revise history, it deprives their audience of the opportunity to learn the right lessons from it.  (History does us little good if we can’t learn lessons from it.  Step one is acknowledging what REALLY HAPPENED.)  Here, we must bear in mind the difference between actuality and potentiality.  

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.

Impartial inquirers who hope to ferret out a grain of verity in a churning sea of fables are often left dismayed by the alluvion of warmed-over pablum that passes for “scholarship”.  So what do honest inquirers discover?  That we really do not know much about MoM simply because we CAN’T know much (though, from the volumes of mesmerizing twaddle that litter bookshelves, one would tend not to get this impression).

On this point, Trivers put it well: “False historical narratives widely shared within a population can easily be exploited to arouse sentiments in favor of [enmity regarding THE OTHER].  At the same time, political success often may turn on the ability of leaders to arouse the belief in people that something is in their self-interest when it is not” (p. 67).

In the event that a threshold is passed by which one becomes emotionally vested in X to a sufficiently high degree, one may well defend it to the death–even in the face of overwhelming countervailing evidence.  It is with that obduracy that one must contend when brazen enough to question the official narrative about a hallowed religious figure.

And so it goes with Mohammedan lore.  Removing the “history” label from sacrosanct historiography is no easy task; as one is tampering with the sacred…thereby offending those who bank on things not being tampered with.

But tamper we must.

{*  PERSONAL memory is, by definition, subjective.  This does not preclude the possibility of objectivity in a collective project, where subjectivities (i.e. biases and errors) can be, as it were, cancelled out.  The individual is always subject to the vagaries of personal (and thus personalized) memory.  As Proust aptly put it, “The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object…which we do not suspect.  As for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”  This is a rather bleak way of looking at it; but this plaintive observation holds an element of truth–that is, as far as it goes.  (The problem is that it only goes so far.)  On our own, all we can do is make ourselves receptive to (what turns out to be) the “truth of the matter”.  In a sincere effort to get past our own biases, we can only hope that we are discerning enough to recognize it when we find it.  The “catch” is that, when engaged in a shared enterprise, we can all check each other; thereby correcting for errors.  This only works if everyone is honest.  Perspicacity is no friend of dogmatism; whereas confirmation bias is just about all the dogmatist has at his disposal.}

{**  Islamic apologists tend to accuse anyone making a sincere attempt to elucidate Reality (based on the available evidence) of “revisionism”.  This is, of course, a textbook case of projection.  What (honest) scholars do is (attempt to) COUNTERACT any revisionism they encounter.  Anti-revisionism is not itself a kind of revisionism…any more than correcting an errant record is itself its own form of errancy.  The traditional “legend” of MoM is revisionist through and through.  (That’s what makes it a LEGEND.)  It is the result of amanuenses modifying “the record” to suit one’s own purposes, over the course of centuries.  It may be unseemly to debunk the skein of revisionist rigamarole with which we are now familiar; but it is imperative.  Note that this is the opposite of how we use the term when we say we “revise” something; which means that mistakes are corrected, defects are rectified, and shortcomings are addressed.  In that sense, a sober view of MoM is, indeed, a REVISED view.  But this is, of course, not what reactionary critics of scholarship mean when they deride “revisionism”–which, for them, is a pejorative for “straying from the conventional view.”  Dismissing iconoclasm as “revisionism” is no better than simply scoffing, “How dare you?” with an ornery harrumph when others refuse to play along with the game one insists the entire world must play.  The sort of “revisionism” that they accuse others of doing is, of course, the basis of their own sacred lore.}

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