Islam and the death of multiculturalism
So the question is why this stuff now? One answer comes from a quick perusal of the Sam Harris book, The End of Faith. Harris starts out by excoriating Islamic suicide bombers, and there is much further anti-Islamic material. In France Michel Onfray is said to owe much of his audience to the sense the secularism must become more militant in the face of the Islamic threat.
One of the little known effects of 9/11 is the death of multiculturalism. The rites have not been publicly celebrated, but signs of its demise are all around.
The essence of this popular multiculturalism is the following. While there is something especially meritorious about impoverished third-world societies, all cultures are more or less equal. This being so, we need to adopt the Rodney King precept: "Can’t we all just get along?"
We have tried that approach with Islam, and it is has failed. To be sure, there are still some who claim that it is only "a few Muslim extremists" who are the problem. At its heart, Islam is a religion of peace. Nonsense. Islam has never been a religion of peace. Initially the faith spread by the sword. Almost without exception, Muslims believe that theirs is the final revelation, which must eventually trounce its adversaries—by fair means or foul. There is no compromising with this triumphalism. The problem is that all Islam tends to slide into "extremist Islam."
Peace is not revealed by the "honor killings" of innocent women and the execution of homosexuals in Iran and Iraq.
There is no reason to pretend that this Islamic aggression is not the case. We need to fight back. For one thing, we should say that no more Saudi money will be accepted for building mosques in the West, until they allow the building of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues in Saudi Arabia.
Another issue is the forbidding of any genuine scholarship in Islamic countries regarding the origins of the faith. All too many Western scholars echo the fables that lie at the heart of the conventional wisdom regarding the origins of Islam. The real story is very different from the pious fraud we are offered. I venture to transcribe below the essay ("Historical Facts About the Origins of Islam") by an Islamic scholar, who prefers (for obvious reasons) to remain anonymous. This important summary comes to me by courtesy of the williamapercy.com site, which also features the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. This kind of critique cannot be safely published in any Islamic country. The piece is long, but it contains essential information. In copying I have made some minor cuts and editorial changes.
Pious Muslims trace the origins of Islam to the beginning of the seventh
century – and place an overwhelming emphasis on the events of this century,
including the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad and the city of Mecca. In
addition to the religious value assigned to the events of the seventh century,
Muslim historians (and many complicit western scholars) consider the Islamic
rendition of the century to be undisputable historical fact. As will be
established however, there is no justification or support for this assertion as
the Islamic narrative is wholly dependent on internal, dated, and biased sources
that fail to account for contradictory (external) sources that undermine the
traditional Islamic narrative.
The traditional Muslim account of the seventh century provides us with the following "historical" accounting of the events of that century. Muhammad was born in the year 570 CE close to Mecca, a city in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. At the time, Mecca was a wealthy trading city primarily due to its strategic and pivotal location on an overland trading route – a crucial stop on the route to the Mediterranean trading centers of the world, and it would go on to play a prominent role in the rapid spread of Islam.
Tradition has it that Muhammad was orphaned at an early age, and was raised by
an uncle and other relatives. Furthermore, we are informed that a young Muhammad went to work for a wealthy widow who owned a prosperous international trading company, and that he had the good fortune of ultimately marrying this widow - an event that dramatically bettered his fiscal position and social standing.
Again following the traditional account, in the year 610 CE Muhammad began
to receive messages from God (a transmission that would continue throughout his
life) and through these messages learned that he was God’s Prophet and the
bearer of God’s final word to mankind. Never claiming divinity himself, Muhammad did assert that God was speaking through him and that he was the sole conduit for God’s final and perfect instructions to man.
These initial messages from God were subversive to the interests of Mecca’s ruling and trading elite, and they were summarily rejected. Muhammad was forced to flee from his home in Mecca, so he went to Medina, a locale that was more receptive to his messages from God. At Medina, Muhammad established the original Muslim community, and subsequently returned to Mecca and converted its inhabitants to Islam. By the time of his death in 632 CE Muhammad and his fellow Arabs had conquered the entire Arabian Peninsula which had been previously occupied by illiterate, pagan tribes. By the turn of the eighth century, Muhammad’s followers had conquered and subdued a vast territory from Spain to India, an unprecedented historical feat.
For the pious Muslim, this amazing accomplishment is easy to
understand and explain. The Prophet Muhammad had received and transmitted the final and perfect word of God. Empowered with God’s support and direction,
Muhammad established the Islamic state and spread the word of God as commanded by Him. Today, Muslims continue to assert this accounting of the origins of their religion and to rely on them as the basis of their faith.
The most amazing part of this story however, is that Islamic historians, often with the support of western scholars , contend that this story is not only the basis of
their religion, but that it is also factually supported and properly documented
history as well. Pious Muslims are quick to point out that Muhammad’s many
revelations from God were memorized, recorded, and ultimately canonized in the
body of the Koran during the first few decades following his death in 632.
According to the story, the third caliph Uthman employed the scholar Zaid ibn
Thabit to compile the "true" Koran and to destroy all remaining copies,
rendering the Uthman version the final and perfect word of God as received and
transmitted by the Prophet. According to this account, the final, codified
version of the Koran that we have today was canonized and formalized no later
than 650 CE and is an authentic source of history evidenced by the fact that is
a perfect literary creation and could only have been only produced by God.
Therefore, Muslim historians contend that the Koran itself is a viable and
dependable source of history.
In addition to relying on the Koran as an authentic source, Muslim historians also point to the extensively detailed "early" biographies of the Prophet (Sira) and the traditions known as Hadith.
While Muslim scholars point to a long list of "valid" biographies, the earliest
and most heavily utilized biographies were written by Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Ishan and
al-Tabari; the later two relying heavily on the former.
In addition to Sira, Muslim historians also rely on the Hadith, which are thousands of stories and narratives regarding the deeds and sayings of Muhammad (Sunna). Hadith often serve to clarify and explain both the Sira and the contents of the Koran, which is often difficult to understand without additional commentary provided by
Hadith. According to Muslim scholarship, the Hadith were orally transmitted for
the 150 years following Muhammad’s death, and were formally gathered and
categorized at the beginning of the ninth century, a process that ultimately
resulted in the canonization of those Hadith deemed authentic. Canonical status
of Hadith was first conferred upon the collection compiled by the ninth century
Ninth- and tenth-century Muslims scholars devised an elaborate (ostensibly scientific) system to verify the authenticity of Hadith. In essence, what they did was to follow the chain of transmitters to a particular narrative and to determine whether this chain was a valid. The chain, called Isnad, contains the name of the eyewitness of the event and the person(s) who recorded the event. Muslims agree that some early Hadith were fabricated falsely but that their system of Isnad was an effective tool in detecting and removing the forgeries thereby rendering the remaining Hadith as valid and supportable sources for the authentic words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad.
Today, there are six separate sets of Hadith that have been accepted as the
authentic, authoritative and fairly complete record of the formative events of
the seventh century. According to Muslim scholars, the triad constituted by
the Sira, the canonized Hadith, and the Koran, the "final and absolute word of
Allah," provide us with a rich and detailed "history" of the origins of Islam in
the seventh century. They tell us what Muhammad did and said, when how and why he did the things he did. And again, to the pious Muslim, these are not stories
but facts. …
Despite the confidence of the believing Muslim however, these
sources are simply not adequate to tell us what really happened during the
seventh century. The detailed historical picture put forth by the Muslim
historian is completely dependent on uncorroborated, late and biased sources. In
short, Muslim sources (alone) fail to provide an accurate and authentic picture
of the events of the seventh century, a fact that will be displayed with a
critical analysis of these "sources."
To begin, it must be recognized that the sources utilized by Muslim historians to describe the events of the seventh century are not contemporary. Indeed, the sources are extremely late and date from a minimum of 150 to as many as 300 years following the events that they attempt to describe. For example, before the year 750 CE., there is not a single verifiable document that describes the formative period of the seventh century.
The heavily relied on Sira written by Ibn Ishaq, the primary authority for the
life of Muhammad, was written at least 100 years after Muhammad’s death.
Furthermore, we do not even have an actual manuscript of Ibn Ishaq’s Sira. It
survives only in the work of a number of later scholars – primarily Ibn Hisham,
who relied almost exclusively on his predecessor, and who conceded that he
edited it so as to omit "things which are disgraceful to discuss, matters which
would distress people and such reports as al-Bakkai told me he could not accept
as trustworthy. Hisham lived even later than Ishaq and died in 823 CE. Hence,
his Sira, is even more removed from the facts it attempts to describe. Noted
Islamic scholar Patricia Crone describes this situation accordingly: The
work is late, written not by a grandchild, but a great grandchild of the
Prophet’s generation, it gives us the view for which classical Islam is settled.
And written by a number of the ulama, the scholars who had by then emerged as
the classical bearers of the Islamic tradition, the picture which it offers is
also one sided: how the Umayyad caliphs remembered their Prophet we shall never know. That it is unhistorical is only what one would expect, but it has an
extraordinary capacity to resist internal criticism … characteristic of the
entire Islamic tradition, and most pronounced in the Koran: one can take the
picture presented or one can leave, but one cannot work with it.
As noted by Patricia Crone, the early Sira were not only late, but biased. In the view of the prominent revisionist historian, John Wansbrough all of the early Islamic
documentation, including the Sira , the Hadith and the Koran itself is salvation
history which is not "an historical account of saving events open to the study
of historians, since salvation history did not happen, as it is a literary form
which has its own context." Wansbrough contends that Islam – as we know it today
– did not start to take form until the beginning of the eighth century and was
not a crystallized movement until well after that. He argues that the invading
Arabs had a need to establish a distinctly Arab religion in response to the
diversity encountered with the invasions. Following this logic, the authors who
"created" the story of Islam had an agenda – and this did not include the
recording of accurate facts. These compilers were not historians when they wrote
their works, but individuals who bore witness in that they failed to distinguish
"the duty of reporting from the legitimacy of believing. "Salvation history" a
phrase adopted by Wansbrough to describe the Islamic narrative of the seventth
century was written to point to God’s role in directing the affairs of the
world, particularly during the time of Muhammad’s life.
In addition to the apparent limitations of the Sira as authentic historical documents, the historical value of the vast majority of the Hadiths must be described as
tenuous as well. As discussed, the Islamic rendition informs us that thousands
of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad were orally transmitted from the seventh
century and authenticated by a reliable process developed and utilized in the
eighth and ninth centuries. However, there are many reasons to reject the Hadith
as reliable sources.
To start, as with Sira, the Hadith "sources" are quite late and describe events at least 150 years following their occurrence. For example, the compilation considered most authentic, that prepared by the scholar Al-Bukhari, was not organized, compiled, and ultimately ascribed with canonical status until the early ninth century. Hence, we are completely reliant on the oral tradition for the transmission of seventh century events that must also be subject to Wansbrough’s notion of salvation history.
Furthermore, the system of authentication can not be relied on either. At the turn of the ninth century it is estimated that that there were as many as 600,000 Hadith in circulation, and that many of these were blatantly false and contradictory. Indeed,
al-Bukhari ultimately rejected 98% of the original 600,000. The "chain" of
authority is entirely dependent upon corroboration and veracity – not available
with the Muslim sources. Furthermore, another problem was that the science of
Isnad only started in the tenth century, long after the Isnad had apparently
been compiled. In sum, we simply don’t and can’t know whether the names on the
Isnad list truly passed accurate information that we can use today to recreate
the events of the seventh century. Like Sira, Hadith simply can not be relied
upon as an authentic source for history. Like Sira, this exclusively Muslim
source must also be considered far too late and removed from the subject events
and most likely biased as well.
In addition to being subjected to the scrutiny of Muslim scholars, who have accepted al-Bukhari’s rendition of authenticity, Hadiths have also been increasingly challenged by western historians. At the turn of the twentieth century, a scholar by the name of Ignaz Goldziher completed a vast study of the authenticity of the Hadith and the Muslim system for determining authenticity and determined that the vast majority of them were unsubstantiated forgeries that sorely lacked corroboration.
Goldziher concluded that the Muslim compilers took a vast majority of their
Hadith material from collections compiled around 800 (or later) and not from
documents written in seventh century. Several decades later, additional Hadith
scrutiny was undertaken by Joseph Schacht who explored how early Islamic legal
tradition was transmitted via Hadith. Schacht concluded that early ninth-century
schools of law authenticated their own biased agenda by arguing that their
doctrines came initially from Muhammad and his companions. Hence, according to Schacht, the compilers satisfied their agenda of authenticating laws and
traditions by linking them to the prophet. In this way, Hadith were a valuable
source for exploring legal codes for early Islamic societies, but should not be
relied upon as authentic sources for what really happened. Crone, in later
research on the authenticity of the remaining (canonized) Hadith has similarly
rejected the "grain of truth" argument asserted by many Muslim historians due to
the age of the Muslim sources coupled with the transparent bias of the authors.
Simply put, contrary to Muslim assertions, Hadith can not be relied on as
authentic source material.
Based on this critical review of the exclusively Muslim "sources" deployed to explain the events of the seventh century it is apparent that we must look beyond them. According to Wansbrough, we must examine additional, external sources for the truth. Fortunately, in addition to the Islamic sources relied upon by the traditional Muslim arguments to account for the seventh century, we also have several non-Muslim sources that individually and collectively shed significant light on the origins of Islam in the seventh century. Muslim scholars have often deemed these sources hostile and refused to consider them, however, they have yet to be refuted and add much to the unbiased historical reconstruction of the seventh century. These sources have much to say about the authenticity of the Koran and whether we can rely on it as a source for the history of the seventh century.
To start, we have two contemporary
sources that directly undermine the Koran’s instructions regarding early
relations between Arabs and Jews. According to the Koran, the Arabs and the Jews
(living primarily in Medina) experienced a split between the years 622 and 624
soon after the Hijra to Medina. However, two non-Muslim sources illustrate a
significantly different picture regarding relations between the Jews and the
Arabs. The Doctrina Iacobi, a Greek anti -Jewish tract, was written between 634
and 640 provides the earliest external testimony regarding Muhammad and his
movement in the early 7th century. In sum, this writing warns of a group
comprised of both Jews and Sacarens (what the Arabs were called) and the perils
of falling into the hands of this ethnically mixed dangerous group.
Significantly, the writing refers to the group as containing both Jews and Arabs
– and they were considered one group.
Yet another contemporary source, the
Chronicle written by Sebeos in 660 also describes the relations between Arabs
and Jews during the early years of the seventh century. This non-Muslim source
describes how Muhammad established a community comprised of both Ishmaelites and Jews and argues that that they were united by a common lineage to Abraham
(Ishmael and Isaac), a birthright to the Holy Land and a monotheistic genealogy.
Collectively, these contemporary, unbiased sources paint a starkly different
picture than that presented in the Koran. Instead of a split between the Arabs
and the Jews, the two groups are presented as a harmonious unit working together
towards common goals demonstrating the good relations between Jews and Arabs.
The Koran, the perfect word of God, tells us otherwise.
In addition to the apparent inconsistency between the Koran and other contemporary sources, we also have reason to doubt that the original Hijra was to Mecca and suspect it may
have been towards the city of Jerusalem. Central to the Islamic story is the
event of "Hijra" where according to traditional Muslim sources Muhammad and his followers left Mecca for Medina in 622. This journey is at the heart of the
Islamic religion. However, two Nestorian ecclesiastical documents from 676 CE
and 680 CE respectively tell us that the emigration of the Arabs at the early
part of the seventh century didn’t start at Mecca and end at Medina (as the
Muslim story goes) but was headed to what was deemed the promised land –
Jerusalem! If true, the original Hijra was in fact outside of Mecca and even
Arabia and completely undermines the rendition offered by Muslim historians.
Yet another significant piece of the traditional Islamic narrative is
rendered suspect by recent archaeological research done on ancient mosques in
present day Iraq and Egypt. According to these studies, which examined the
structures and contents of six seventh century structures, the prayer rooms were
built such that the direction of prayer could not possibly have been towards
Mecca,a blatant and transparent inconsistency with Islamic doctrine. Indeed, of
the six ancient mosques examined, not one was constructed so that prayers could
be directed to Mecca as commanded by the Koran. Further corroboration of this
assertion is provided by Jacob of Edessa, a contemporary Christian writer from
705 who wrote a letter (still in existence) noting that the Arabs prayed toward
the east. This evidence completely undermines the Koranic instruction for the
direction of prayer (Qibla) to be towards Mecca that was (according to Muslim
tradition) canonized no later than 624. With this information one must ask
whether Mecca was indeed the place of significance that it has been accorded.
Furthermore, we must re think our position on the validity of the Koran as a
source of history.
Further undermining the traditional Islamic description
of the seventh century derived from the Koran and the Hadith is information
concerning Mecca, a city central to the Islamic narrative. Indeed, Mecca can be
described as the heart of early Islam, as it still is today. In the Islamic
tradition, it is described as a vibrant and wealthy trading center located at
the center of several trading routes. Furthermore, it is the place of Muhammad’s
birth and the location from which the Hijra took place. …
Despite these claims, however, there is not a single piece of (non-Muslim) evidence that points to and corroborates this claim for such prominence during the seventh
century. In fact, the earliest substantiated reference to Mecca is in the
Continuatio Byzantia Arabica. a source from early in the reign of the caliph
Hisham, who ruled between 724 and 743 - 100 years after the life of Muhammad.
When challenged with this absence of evidence, Muslim historians strenuously
point to the second-century Greco-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy and his reference
to a city called "Makoraba." The argument is that Ptolemy intended Makaroba to
be Mecca. However, Ptolemy’s mention was brief and cursory, and, according to
several scholars, may have been intended to describe any number of locations
that were not Mecca. Other than this brief (and early) description, we simply
have no mention of seventh century Mecca independent of Muslim sources.
Surrounded by complex and literate empires, such as the Byzantine Empire, it is
hard to imagine that if Mecca was as influential and significant as claimed,
that there would be such a dearth of evidence regarding its existence. The
educated seventh century Greeks had never heard of a place called Mecca. How
then could it have been so prominent?
Further diminishing the prominence of
Mecca as described by Islamic sources is evidence suggesting that the Muslim
description of Mecca as a city at the center of trading routes in the seventh
century is incorrect. One scholar has noted that seventh-century Mecca was
"tucked away at the very edge of the peninsula and that only by the most
tortured map reading can it be described as a natural crossroads between a
north-south route and an east-west one." Accordingly, a stop at Mecca would have
involved a 100-mile detour from the natural route along the western ridge.
Furthermore, Patricia Crone describes Mecca as a barren place, and argues that
such places do not make natural halts, and "least of all when they are found at
a short distance from famously green environments." Crone asks critically "Why
should caravans have made a steep descent to the barren valley of Mecca when
they could have stopped at Taíf … which had a well, a sanctuary and food
supplies as well?"
Compounding this inquiry, Crone critically asks "what
commodity was available in Arabia that could be transported such a distance,
through such an inhospitable environment, and still be sold at a profit large
enough to support the growth of a city in a peripheral site bereft of natural
resources? According to Crone, it wasn’t spices or incense as Muslim historians
have claimed. No, according to Crone, Arabs engaged in a far more humble trade
consisting of items like leather and clothing - and that such a trade couldn’t
and didn’t support a large commercial empire, such as described by the Muslim
Finally, Crone concludes that there was no international trade
in Arabia – never mind Mecca during the centuries prior to Muhammad’s’s life,
contrary to conclusions reached by both Muslim and prominent western historians.
According to Crone, reliance on later Greek historians – those that were closer
to the events in question – like Cosmas, Procopius and Theodoretus would have
made this picture clear. She notes that the seventh century Greek trade between
India and the Mediterranean was entirely maritime after the 1st century. Why
would traders go across the land when a far cheaper water route was available?
It would have been foolish for the trader’s ship from India to drop off at Aden
and caravan for the rest of the 1200-mile journey when you could complete the
journey by sea all the way up via the Red Sea. Mecca as a vibrant and wealthy
trading center simply doesn’t make sense.
Mecca is at the heart and soul of the Islamic account of the seventh-century origins of Islam. But, as this evidence shows, the Koran and the Islamic tradition did not portray the city even close to accurately. Mecca was not the great trading city as described, nor was it even known by contemporary and civilized Greek sources. This invokes challenging and difficult questions for the "historic" Muslim tradition.
One last category of external, non-Muslim evidence further undermines the
traditional Muslim account of the seventh century. Archaeologist Yehuda Nevo
completed a detailed study where he analyzed numerous rock inscriptions and
coins dated to the 7th century found on rocks that had been discovered primarily
in the Syro-Jordanian desert and the and the Nevo desert. The earliest reference
to Muhammad was found on an Arab-Sassanian coin of Xalid Abdallah dated 690 CE.
Nevo concluded that there was "religious content" on many of the earlier stone
inscriptions recovered and that several of the early 7th century inscriptions
did contain "a message of monotheism related to a body of sectarian literature
with developed Judeo-Christian conceptions." However, he also failed to find a
single inscription with a reference to Muhammad, allegedly the most prominent
religious figure of the century, concluding that "in all the Arab religious
institutions during the Sufyani period (661-684) there is not one reference to
Muhammad. It is hard to imagine that not a single stone inscription attesting to
Muhammad’s influence could be found. Unless, of course, the traditional
description of Muhammad during the seventh century was simply not accurate. How else to explain this absence of reference to one of the (if not the most)
influential and significant characters of the seventh century?
The most prominent rock inscription in the Islamic tradition is one the Dome of the Rock and it provides further (and final) evidence that undermines the Islamic
narration. The Dome was built as an "Islamic" sanctuary by Abd-al-Malik in 691.
According to Muslim tradition, it was built to commemorate the night that
Muhammad traveled to heaven to meet with Moses and Allah regarding the number of prayers required of believers (Mi’raj). Despite this assertion however, the inscriptions on the Rock say nothing of this event at all. Instead, the
inscriptions refer to the messianic status of Jesus, the acceptance of the
prophets, and Muhammad’s revelations. More telling is the fact that the
inscriptions on the Dome - built sixty years after Muhammad’s death - are the
earliest references that we have (outside of Islamic sources) that actually
include the terms "Islam" and "Muslim" If Islam had been such a prominent and
influential seventh- century religious movement that had been formally canonized
40 years before the Dome was constructed, how is it possible that the words
Islam and Muslim are not mentioned before that time? Clearly, we need to take
another, critical look at the seventh century and the origins of Islam.
What to conclude from the exposed failures of the Islamic sources coupled with the telling evidence offered by external sources that significantly undermine the
traditional Muslim narrative of the origins of Islam in the seventh century? To
start, we simply don’t know exactly what happened during the seventh century. We do know that a group of Arab invaders successfully conquered vast territories
within and well beyond the Peninsula, certainly a significant feat. However,
apart from their own sources, appropriately identified as biased "salvation
history," we don’t know how the development of Islam related to these invasions.
My estimate, supported by the conclusions of several revisionist historians,
including Wansbrough and Crone, is that Islam as we know it today did not begin
to truly "crystallize" until the beginning of the eighth century. At that time,
the conquerors realized that they needed a distinctively Arab deity and a system
of law to rule a large and diverse group of recently conquered peoples. Hence,
the literary creation of Islam. What better means for a small numerical minority
to govern a large, diverse, recently conquered territory than with the power of
divine direction? As Crone notes, "Muhammad had to conquer, his followers liked
to conquer, his deity told him to conquer – Do we need any more?" In this
regard, Muhammad was not the conduit of the final word of God but a political
and military leader who unified the Arab tribes and urged them to conquer in the
name of their deity. There is much work to be done towards figuring out the
historical events of the seventh century. The first step is to look beyond the
biased Islamic sources.
[For further reading, see Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism:
The Making of the Islamic World, Cambridge University Press, 1977; and two essay collections edited by Ibn Warraq, The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on
Islam’s Holy Book; and The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, both Prometheus
Books, 1998 and 2000.
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