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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very stimulating work
There are some obvious problems with this study from an academic point of view. It seems that the author doesn't read Arabic, so all the references are to secondary sources; but even so, the arguments are well controlled and well organised. It deals with a very important subject and provides a fresh, interesting perspective; and apart from the polemical content, it...
Published 5 months ago by Christopher Lord

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3.0 out of 5 stars We need more books on religions' origins.
I'm looking for evidence of these principal characters, like Muhammad, Jesus, Moses et al and nothing's surfaced to convince me either existed or merits their religions being respected, applauded, privileged in a caring society that seeks peace. That's why I bought this book and will continue to invest in others. The work of people like Spencer and others mentioned herein...
Published 1 month ago by Rich Wiltshir


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very stimulating work, 31 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins (Hardcover)
There are some obvious problems with this study from an academic point of view. It seems that the author doesn't read Arabic, so all the references are to secondary sources; but even so, the arguments are well controlled and well organised. It deals with a very important subject and provides a fresh, interesting perspective; and apart from the polemical content, it presents a lot of facts about the history of Islam. It might be argued that it is all filtered through a biased original position: but compare that with the vast pile of works biased in the other direction, written by Muslims or Muslim apologists, and one can forgive this evident bias, as the author has taken care to justify his positions and offer evidence. As he is not really an Arabist, some of these positions will be open to reasonable criticism, but that is a good thing, and I hope there will be some kind of debate. Few of the hostile reviews I have read really address the points made; but also it must be said that most of the friendly reviews are from people who just like the general idea of the book without considering that there are arguments to the contrary. The ideal thing would be for Muslims to read it and answer its arguments: but to be fair, this would almost mean that they would have to stop being Muslims, as the book clearly suggests that some of their core beliefs are false.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Essential reading to those who really want to understand islam as an historical phenomenon., 10 Mar 2014
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I would recommend reading this along with Tom Hollands brilliant "In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World " and "What the Modern Martyr Should Know: Seventy-Two Grapes and Not a Single Virgin: The New Picture of Islam by Norbert G. Pressburg (this is based on "Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran by Christopher Luxenberg" which like most such "Incendiary" academic textual analysis is eye wateringly expensive.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing, 4 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins (Hardcover)
This is one thought provoking book. Exceptionally we'll researched and equally we'll reasoned. You will, having read this book, really question whether the Islamic traditions ( ahadith) contain any element of truth at all! A revealing and informative read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars We need more books on religions' origins., 28 July 2014
I'm looking for evidence of these principal characters, like Muhammad, Jesus, Moses et al and nothing's surfaced to convince me either existed or merits their religions being respected, applauded, privileged in a caring society that seeks peace. That's why I bought this book and will continue to invest in others. The work of people like Spencer and others mentioned herein is important: it's somewhat disappointing that followers of these religions / sects / denominations / cults don't realise that honest endeavour to expose data and argument will certainly reveal any substance that is foundational to their belief. Or maybe psychology drives overreaction?

What would you expect of a barely literate culture that was host to a man-cum-conduit? I'd anticipate his fame and repute to be wide, that non-compliants and impersonators would be punished with vigour and publicity, that Muhammed (or any similarly "chosen one") would be equipped with an incorruptible means of replicating the message to be shared. But, if ...
To me - though I've not researched this history - it seems that a much abused, frequently belittled community found a huge and unlikely victory over the embers of once great empires: a victory so wide and long-lasting that the conquered peoples' culture was redrawn just as were the laws and borders.

Why would I, an antitheist, seek evidence of these figures in history?

At times, this book has a vague sense of being a contest between two progeny of Abrahamic religion. Spencer, irrespective of anyone's view of his motives, delivers a clear catalogue of today's claims of Islam measured against its footprints in history. Clearly, if his and other authors' data or analysis is in error, the perfect response would be evidence and argument (not 11 or 28 page rants, not baseless and silly accusations of bigotry). I've not found, but will continue to seek for, evidence that Muhammed was a real guy (unsavoury as my assessment of his character may be).
But there's an absense in all such pursuits for religions' validation: no line of footprints or reason from observing "the cosmic all" to any proposed deity being our species' architect - no chain of links missing or otherwise. So it's hardly surprising that investigating Muhammed or Jesus leads the enquirer to an Bronze or Dark Age arena of power-hungry and blood-soaked leaders seeking sponsorship of a religious heirarchy to complete the a-frame of their rightful place with god's protection from discontented subordinates and slaves.

Robert Spencer does a fine and underappreciated job in sharing his appraisal of Islam's character and intent from its origins to the present day and the threat it represents for the morrow.
However, methinks that were he to apply John Loftus' "outsider test for faith" (I recommend you read some of his collaborative works available on kindle and elswhere), Spencer's works would have less compassion for christianity's footprint, too.

Yes, please entertain and inform yourself with this book. Sorry if I've gone on a rant, but Spencer's contribution impresses me and should be both supported and emulated.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book, 9 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins (Hardcover)
A very well written, but easily raedable, account of the early years of Islam, using the same scholarly techniques that are regularly used to make a critical study into the origins of Christianity, Buddhism and all other religions, but which Islam has been fanatical in condemning when applied to itself.
The reasons become abundantly clear; contradictory, historically incorrect and, in many cases, entirely incoherant statements made about the early stages of Islam, by Islam itself, and very little evidence, if any, that Muhammed existed, let alone spoke with god.
This book conclusively destroys the claims made by Islam to be uniqu amongst religions in that it can show a direct link to god (any god) or a unique religious ethos. In fact, the evidence suggests, very strongly, that Islam began as a rather peculiar and heretical Christian sect, closely linked to the Nestorian heresy, which only later adopted a figure-head of Muhammed and wrote its own Koran, mainly to unite a disparate and warring Arab Empire.
Highly recommended for any with an interest in history, religion, Arabic studies or honesty!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 22 July 2013
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This review is from: Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins (Hardcover)
This book challenges the accepted account of Muhammad's life, and in doing so challenges traditional views regarding the origins of Islam.
This exercise is unlikely to enhance Mr Spencer's popularity in some quarters.
However, it seems reasonable to question the accepted account in which:
1. There is a single deity [Allah].
2. In paradise, there exists a perfect book [Quran].
3. This book is written in Arabic.
4. In the early 7th century, Allah sent the Archangel Gabriel to reveal the Quran to an Arab called Muhammad.
5. Thus, Muhammad became the final prophet of the true faith [Islam].
People who believe all this are - by definition - Muslims.
But, if you're not a Muslim, then presumably you reject one or more of the points listed above.
It's certainly odd that non-Muslims find themselves able to reject these central assertions made by Muslims, but fail to question more trivial aspects of the received biography of Muhammed.
To put this another way:
If Muslims are mistaken in believing that the Archangel Gabriel visited Muhammed, might they not also be mistaken about some of the other things they believe that Muhammed said and did?
Having considered the arguments in Mr Spencer's book, it seems to me that he asks and then answers an irrelevant question. Muhammed may have 'existed' - in the sense that Muslim scriptures may describe events in the life of a historical person or persons. But, if one believes that these accounts are wrong in their most important assertions, they may also be wrong in any number of other details.
If there was a religious leader in 7th century Arabia, but he did not receive the Quran via divine revalation, and if some of the stories about him are false, is this person Muhammed? And does it matter?
Nevertheless, Mr Spencer has produced a good read. Whatever his motives, his case is reasonably and respectfully argued.
This volume sits on my bookshelf, and I'm sure I will be accused one day of Islamophobia for posessing it; to which my answer will be: read it!
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37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About time, 30 April 2012
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This is a book that will be viewed by many as controversial. In fact Mr Spencer trawls through purely islamic sources to make his case. Is it persuasive? It certainly is. Is it "islamicphbic"(whatever that means) there again the answer is no. All statements and references are fully backed up with facts. If somebody is so insecure in their faith that they cannot handle books like this then I would suggest they should move on.
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39 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking for trouble, 4 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins (Hardcover)
Since Robert Spencer is a toxic political operative, let me begin by saying that I don't support his agendas, and know very well why he *really* wrote this book. (Clue: Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.)

That being said, "Did Muhammad Exist" is, admittedly, a good introduction to the revisionist view of Muslim origins and early Muslim history. For rather obvious reasons, it doesn't "solve" the issue, but it could be read with some profit by those who simply want a quick overview of it.

Virtually everyone regards Muhammad as a real historical character. The canonical Muslim stories about him certainly seem to have a historical kernel. They portray Muhammad as a persecuted preacher of monotheism in a hostile pagan environment, who after a series of armed confrontations with his adversaries at Mecca and Medina became a political ruler in the period immediately before the Arab conquests of Persia, Syria and Egypt. There is a certain compelling historical logic to this picture. Somebody must have invented Islam and united the Arabs before their successful military-political exploits. The Muslim sources also talk about factional struggles within Muhammad's community after his death, including a budding Sunni-Shia split. This, too, sounds logical. Thus, very few people have questioned the veracity of the Muslim narratives. There doesn't seem to be any particular need to do so. Stripped from their miraculous elements, such as Muhammad's meeting with Gabriel, the stories about his life and times sound like a straightforward historical chronicle.

Of course, the revisionists beg to differ. They point out that the first real biography of Muhammad wasn't composed until 125 years after his death, and is known only from an even later work which quotes it profusely. No contemporary sources mention Muhammad. The earliest Christian accounts of the Arab conquest don't mention Islam, the Koran or Muhammad. They refer to the Arabs as pagans, Ishmaelites, Saracens, Muhajirun or Hagarians, but never call them Muslims. Only the term "Muhajirun" sounds Muslim. (It refers to Muhammad's earliest companions who left Mecca for Medina together with the Prophet. Some of them became caliphs after Muhammad's death, and led the Arab conquests. At least according to the standard, non-revisionist view.) One revisionist, Patricia Crone, even claims that Mecca wasn't a centre of trade and pilgrimage during Muhammad's time. The town was actually a small backwater, yet the story of Muhammad's life claims that he was persecuted by the rich and powerful clans in Mecca due to his criticism of their wealth and pagan practices.

The revisionists also point out that Arab coins and inscriptions don't mention Islam or the Koran during the first six decades of the Arab conquests. The earliest Umayyad caliphs minted coins showing crosses. One coin shows a figure named "Muhammad" wearing a cross! When the caliph Muawiyah demanded the conversion of the Byzantine emperor Constantine the Bearded to the new religion, he didn't mention Islam, the Koran or Muhammad. He simply talked about the God of Abraham.

Finally, the revisionist school also takes apart the Koran itself. It's well known that the Koran is written in a very strange, cryptic and elliptic language, quite unlike any known Arab dialect. (Some modern translations have attempted to mimic this peculiar style, making them extremely difficult to understand.) To Muslims, the strangeness of the Koranic language is simply another proof of its divine origins. However, other interpretations are possible. Apparently, the text of the Koran originally lacked diacritical marks. Since many Arabic letters are identical without them, this would have made the Koran almost impossible to understand, except to a tiny handful of initiates. The scholar Christoph Luxenberg believes that the Koran becomes more understandable if quite different diacritical marks are added to the Arabic letters. Sensationally, Luxenberg claims that parts of the Koran sound like a Syriac-Aramaic Christian lectionary! If true, this would mean that Islam was originally a Christian heresy, a claim also made by some early Christian polemicists, who claimed that Muhammad had been instructed by an Arian monk.

Spencer believes that Islam as we know it today was pretty much invented by the caliph Abd al-Malik and his governor Hajjaj ibn Yusuf during the 690's (about sixty years after Muhammad's death in 632) to serve as the state religion of the rapidly expanding Arab empire. Simultaneously, the Arab language was introduced in place of Aramaic, the earlier lingua franca of the Umayyad caliphate (which was based in Damascus). Even Muslim sources claim that Hajjaj ibn Yusuf collected all extant copies of the Koran, standardized the text and then burned all deviant copies. (A similar procedure is also attributed to the earlier caliph Uthman.) Clearly, something was going on. When the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown by the Abbasids in 750, a new period of orthodox invention began, with the publication of the first biography of Muhammad and voluminous collections of hadiths (stories about the Prophet's words and deeds). To Spencer, this too was a political manoeuvre, to portray the Abbasids as pious and the overthrown Umayyads as heretics.

And no, I haven't checked any of the claims of "Did Muhammad exist". Yet!

One problem with the book is that Spencer can't make up his mind about what actually happened before Abd al-Malik's supposed invention of Islam. Sometimes, he suggests that early Islam was really a form of Arian Christianity originally based in Syria. At other times, he claims that the Arab conquerors were outright pagans. A third option is that they were a kind of monotheists in general, and had been so for a considerable time before the invasions began. Perhaps it's uncharitable to accuse a short, popularized overview of containing too many loose ends, but "Did Muhammad exist" *does* contain too many of those...

Personally, I veer towards the traditional scenario. The Umayyads saw Islam as an exclusive, elitist religion for the Arab conquerors. Instead of converting the Christians, they simply superimposed their own rule on top of remaining Byzantine structures. Many people at Muawiyah's court in Damascus were Christians, so the usage of the Aramaic language rather than Arabic would have been natural. The crosses at "Muslim" coins were probably a form of clever statecraft, since most Umayyad subjects were still Christians. In a similar manner, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (who was a Christian) originally appeased the pagans by promoting the sun cult alongside Christianity. A more trivial possibility is that the Arab rulers simply reused Byzantine coins! To us, who are used to fanatical Wahhabis, this sounds unbelievable, but it's neither more nor less strange than, say, Peter and Paul worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem, something later generations of Gentile Christians may have found pretty weird indeed. That the early Umayyads had different religious sensibilities than later Umayyads, Abbasids or Wahhabis doesn't necessarily disprove that they were Muslims. As for Christian writers not mentioning Islam, perhaps they simply weren't interested in the details of the religion of their conquerors. Besides, the Christian accounts of the alien creed certainly sound compatible with Islam: they mention the Muhajirun, a prophet with a sword, polygamy, the important role played by Hagar and Ishmael, etc. What's the problem, really?

Spencer implies that Aisha, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali were fictitious personages, just like Muhammad, but what on earth would be the point of inventing them? Who would invent Aisha, who came close to being a female ruler in an intensely patriarchal culture? Muawiyah became caliph immediately after Ali, yet Spencer seems to be suggesting that Ali was an invented figure. Nobody denies that Muawiyah existed. Is it really likely that the dividing line between fiction and historical fact is this neat?

That being said, I don't doubt that Islam has changed its character several times during its history. All religions do, and there is no reason to believe that Islam was any different. As already mentioned, Muslim tradition says that Uthman burned alternative versions of the Koran. This would have been only a few decades after Muhammad's death. Apparently, a similar feat is attributed to Hajjaj ibn Yusuf at a somewhat later point. This suggests that Islam split in different groups early on, much like Christianity, Mormonism, Theosophy or any other religious group we're familiar with. Burning the works of "heretics" is standard practice, when the "heretics" themselves aren't available. Christians did the same thing.

Indeed, even the Koran itself suggests early changes in Muslim beliefs and practices. Originally, Muhammad and his supporters prayed facing Jerusalem, kept the Sabbath and wore Jewish dress! Later, they began to face Mecca, had their main prayers on Fridays, and changed their manner of dress. Interestingly, Muhammad wanted the Jews to accept him as a prophet in the Old Testament tradition, but rejected their legacy after violent conflicts with Jewish tribes in Medina. This suggests that Islam was originally a Jewish or Judaizing sect, which adopted a more distinctive Arabic style only after Muhammad's elevation to Arab "national" ruler.

Another strange anomaly in Islam is the role of Jesus. According to Muslim tradition, Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles and ascended to Heaven á la Elijah and Enoch. On Judgment Day, Jesus will return and set up a kind of millennial kingdom in Jerusalem. Note the weird discrepancy between Jesus and Muhammad, who had a natural birth, wasn't a miracle-worker, died a natural death and promoted worship of God in Mecca, not Jerusalem. (Jerusalem is number three in the Muslim hierarchy, after Mecca and Medina.) Yet, Muslims claim that Muhammad rather than Jesus is the Seal of the Prophets! At least to an outsider like myself, this makes no sense, unless we are dealing with two different views of Jesus' importance harmonized at a later date. Perhaps Islam was originally a Jewish Christian sect? Or perhaps it was originally a Jewish sect, which was Christianized later, when the Arabs came in touch with Syriac, Egyptian and Byzantine Christians after their conquests? But note that none of this means that Muhammad didn't exist, or that there was *no* continuity at all between his ideas and those of later Muslims.

While I don't believe that "Did Muhammad exist" has managed to conclusively prove its point, I nevertheless recommend this book for those interested in the vagaries of this particular historical debate.

And yes, Robert Spencer is looking for serious trouble. But then, that doesn't come as much of a surprise, does it? ;-)
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written, coherent thesis, 16 May 2012
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John Callaghan "Honest John" (Lancashire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I read this in one longish sitting - so well-written and engaging is it. Spencer's thesis, that Islam evolved as an essentially political construct to hold together an empire that had initially so quickly arisen during the Arab conquests, is presented in a coherent and plausible way. There's about as much scholarly detail as the intelligent non-specialist can be expected to handle (for the especially curious, there are many links to footnotes at the end of the main text).

The Byzantine empire had likewise required religious glue to hold it together and justify itself, which was derived from and built upon Christianity, but in that case, the politics followed on from the initial spiritual impulse and could not really be reconciled with it. Put another way, the evils perpetrated in the name of Christianity could not be justified by the actual content of the Gospels, regardless of whether or not those Gospels were an accurate representation of Jesus' teachings.

On the other hand, Spencer intimates, Islam needed to be moulded over time to fit in with a militarily expansionist drive that had existed from the beginning. The hadiths (traditions) create a pretty story of conquest being spurred on by religion, based on a Quran that purportedly existed, in the form we find it today, soon after Mohammed's death.

In fact, there is evidence that the Quran didn't come into being in anything like a recognisable form until at least sixty years afterwards, and that it may have continued to evolve after that. Moreover, the traditions proliferated 150-250 years afterwards, and show much evidence of being fabricated to further the agendas of those individuals and groups with particular axes to grind.

In and of itself, the Quran makes little sense, which is why the traditions were needed to have any hope of providing some kind of context. Its sources, Spencer suggests, were of Christian and Jewish origins, often mangled and misunderstood.

"Mohammed" is rarely mentioned in the Quran, and when it is, for the most part it could be taken as an honorific title of a "praiseworthy one", not of someone who literally existed; it could even refer to Jesus. Much more frequent are the mentions of Moses and Jesus. Indeed, the person of Mohammed and the term "Muslim" is signally lacking from both the Muslim and non-Muslim historical sources for decades after his death. This is something one would hardly expect. I can only hint at the evidence Spencer provides - you will need to read the book and evaluate it yourself; there are many intriguing revelations.

Maybe there was someone named Mohammed who was some kind of preacher or teacher; maybe he was a genuinely spiritual person with some special relationship with God. If so, he seems lost in the mists of time; he seems very hard to find in the Quran or traditions. The only place he might be, I often think, is in the hearts of the great Sufis like Ibn Arabi, Rumi or Rabia of Basra, who have taught me quite a lot about the inner meaning of Christianity.

Modern Muslims think that the Quran emerged pristine from the mouth of God into the mind of Mohammed, and that not one jot or tittle has changed. Spencer pretty convincingly gainsays that; in essence, he opines, Muslims are looking at an Islam that didn't exist until centuries after the putative death of Mohammed, but, thanks to the traditions, has been projected backwards in time. They're the victims of a successful attempt to manipulate the masses in the interests of initially political, and eventually religious, elites.

Reflecting on this, it occurs to me that at least when realpolitik dominated, there was scope in the Muslim empire for significant global cultural influences such as arose in Andalusia and Baghdad. However, once the clergy gained a significant foothold and "slammed shut the gates of Ijtihad", thereby throttling independent and free thought, the influence of Islamic culture declined. Most Muslim nations became economic basket cases. Their peoples became backward and repressed, largely incapable of evolving into modernity, let alone contributing to it. Muslims seem presently to be frequently at odds with the rest of humanity, and that quite often includes themselves. How sad.

Can Muslims be rescued? If so, only they can do it. If and when they can with equanimity read books like this, which critique their religion just as Christianity has been critiqued, I suppose it's a possibility--though I'm not holding my breath.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lifting the lid on this fraud, 20 Jun 2012
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Mr. A. Robertson (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Robert Spencer has done the world a favour by shining a light on this so-called religion. This is a well written and scholarly book that should be required reading for every politician in every democracy in the world. Thoroughly recommended.
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Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins by Robert Spencer (Hardcover - 15 April 2012)
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