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Robert Spencer: Did Muhammad Exist?

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Barry Nussbaum: Hello and welcome to ATP Report. I'm Barry Nussbaum. Before I introduce our very special esteemed guest who we are thrilled to have today, I want to remind viewers out there in ATP land, if you haven't done so already, please take out your cell phones now and text the word truth, T-R-U-T-H and send it to the number 88202. You'll be automatically subscribed to our text message alert system. It's absolutely free, and you'll get all of our shows like this one you're about to see in the palm of your hand for absolutely no charge.

Okay, let me bring out our very special guest Robert Spencer he is the Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and he's the founder and boss of Jihad Watch. He has a new book out. We're going to talk today about Mohammed, and he is the scholar on Islam in America. Welcome back, Mr. Spencer.

Robert Spencer: Always good to talk to you, Barry. Thank you. Thanks for having me on again.

Barry Nussbaum: Of course, everybody wants more of Robert. We're thrilled to have you. So, let's jump right in. We're going to talk about your book, which I would just like you to give a quick summary of what you did and why. And then I've got a bunch of questions from that book for you. So really quick, what did you write and why did you do it?

Robert Spencer: Well, I happen to have one right here. This is, Did Mohammed Exist? An inquiry into Islam’s obscure origins. And it is, as the cover says there, a revised and expanded edition. I actually wrote this book first about ten years ago, but there have been considerable discoveries in this field since then and including some that people thought had actually refuted everything I was saying.

And so, I got more and more interested in doing an updated version. This has twenty-five percent all-new material and considerable editions throughout. It's a study that came out of my writing a biography of Mohammed. Another book called, The Truth about Mohammed way back in 2006.

I wanted to write a biography of Mohammed as Muslims saw him that is from the earliest available Islamic sources. And when I got into those sources, I was kind of surprised to see that there weren't any that were closer to the life of Mohammed than about 200 years.

So, you're talking about a two-hundred-year gap between when the man is supposed to have lived and when people start writing down anything about him. That's a whole lot of space for legendary elaboration. And the more I looked into it, the more I saw that legendary elaboration is actually all we have.

We can't know anything about Mohammed. Including, we can't even be sure from a historical standpoint that there was a Mohammed.

Barry Nussbaum: Well, let's get into it. You pointed out, you've made an extremely important point that maybe people don't realize two hundred years, fifteen hundred years ago was five or six generations. So, you can imagine that's like going back to the Revolutionary War, practically.

Where America would be telling the story of the revolution, handing down the stories orally. That makes the story a lot more suspect. So, in particular, you make a comment that Islam could not have originated the way it's described in the standard texts in the Islamic accounts.

And it's more likely that the Mohammed of the tradition of the religion is probably more myth and legend than historical fact, explain that.

Robert Spencer: Well, you know, Barry, you touched on it right there when you said that these things circulated orally for two hundred years. Not only is that required, if we're going to think that we can trust this material about Mohammed, because it all starts to get published in the 800s, and he's supposed to have died in 632.

So not only do we have to go for the idea that people transmitted it flawlessly without writing it down, and this is actually theoretically possible. Because you take, for example, Homer's Iliad or Odyssey or things of that kind in that time and place, people have prodigious memories, and they were able to pull off feats of memorization that we would be in awe of today.

And so maybe something like that did happen in this case. But there's a big problem. When you've got oral tradition, usually somebody mentions that it exists. This is what I mean. For example, you take the New Testament. Whatever you think of the historicity of Jesus, that's not really the issue here; I just wanted to point out one thing.

There are four gospels that give us the sayings and actions of Jesus in the New Testament. And then there are the acts of the Apostles, which is just that, the acts of the Apostles. In the Acts of the Apostles in the course of things, there's a quote from Jesus that somebody gives that is not in the four gospels, and that doesn't bother Christians at all because they say we see these things were circulating early and that didn't make it into the Gospels, but it was recorded in the acts.

Somebody remembered it. Somebody mentioned it. Now, when you go to Islam and Mohammed, nobody mentions it. Nobody gives any hint that any of this existed, and this is really extraordinary because, at the time that Islam was born, the standard canonical story of the birth of Islam is that Muhammad died in 632 and because he had called for warfare against unbelievers and put it in his holy book, The Quran, his followers were energized to go out and conquer half the known world at that time.

The Middle East and North Africa, Iran, parts of India going into Spain by one hundred years later. Massive conquests and people wrote about people, talked about people, thought about the conquests, both the victors and the losers. The people who were conquered, and we have their writings from those days, 7th-century material.

Nobody ever says we're doing this because we have a new prophet, a new religion, a new holy book. Nobody ever says, ‘You know, as Mohammed said,’ which you'd think they would if they had all this oral tradition in their minds. Why don't they ever, ever say ‘Mohammed said we should fight the unbelievers.’ Mohammed said that we should subjugate the unbelievers.’ Nothing. They don't say anything.

Barry Nussbaum: Let me interrupt on that point because I looked up a series of quotes attributed to a late scholar named Patricia Crone, who is apparently the expert who proves that there is a contemporaneous accounting of Muhammad's life. I was very eager to read it because it seemed to refute your book.

But when you look at what she wrote, she says there's no doubt there was a Mohammed in the years quoted because somebody in Syria wrote down that a false prophet has appeared. That's all they say, no name, no discretion, no philosophy, and certainly no religion, and she bases her entire thesis that there was a Mohammed because there were these armies fighting under an unnamed false prophet. Is she really a scholar, or is she just trying to sell Islam?

Robert Spencer: Actually, Barry, it's kind of a strange case. Patricia Crone is actually a great scholar, was a great scholar. She died in 2015, and she was actually one of the pioneering scholars of this field. She and Michael Cook, another Islamic scholar, wrote a book in the 70s when nobody was thinking about this called Hagarism, which drastically reinvasion the origins of Islam and showed just how shaky the historical foundations of Islam really were.

And she also wrote other books like Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. All these books I have got back on my shelf behind me, and the Meccan trade and the Rise of Islam show that from historical records, there's no indication that Mecca was a great trading center in the 7th century.

And yet, the Hadith depends upon Mecca being a great trading center. The stories of Muhammad's life are all about Mecca and people coming to Mecca to trade and talking to Mohammed and so on. None of that could have happened because Mecca was not actually this busy trading center that it is portrayed as being. Patricia Crone is the one who highlighted all that and much more but later in her life, for reasons unknown, although there's been a lot of speculation she started to retreat from those positions, and as you've noted.

She wrote this article in 2008 that said that there's no doubt that Mohammed existed, but it's very strange and people have even speculated maybe she was threatened. She doesn't have to have even been threatened with her life, although that could have happened easily. I mean, I've certainly gotten many, many death threats myself.

But also, she could have been threatened professionally. My friend Jay Smith, who is a great scholar of the origins of Islam, and he and I have discussed this. He actually wrote the foreword- to the new edition of Did Muhammad Exist? He was, actually, he studied under Patricia Crone, and he was telling me that she said that she couldn't come out and talk about these things openly.

It would hurt her professionally because she was a professor at the university. She was an academic. And, of course, we all know how far left the academy is and how biased they are. And so, she just couldn't say these things and that may be why she retreated. But in any case, yes, in the year 634 or thereabouts, right around then there was a document written called The Doctrine of Jacobi, which refers to a prophet, a false prophet arising among the Taiga.

Which, actually I'm not sure it says that, but it uses some of the words. It doesn't even say Arabs. It certainly doesn't say Muslims. The Saracen's, maybe. And in any case, he is fighting against the Syrians north of Arabia. Well, Mohammed is supposed to have died before the Arabs invaded Syria. That's one problem.

As you noted, the prophet in the account is never named. Also, it says that he's preaching the messiah who is to come. Which doesn't sound like Islam at all, which doesn't preach a messiah who is to come.

Barry Nussbaum: Not only that, but it was the Saracen's. And here's my follow-up question. Sorry to interrupt. You mention in the book that the original I'm sorry, the current Quran in its textual form that supposedly was entirely written once by Muhammad and has never been changed and cannot be changed under penalty of death, as I understand the laws of the religion, has been changed a number of times?

Robert Spencer: Yeah, absolutely.

Barry Nussbaum: If it's the original writing of Mohammed and it can never be changed because that would be a violation of Sharia, how is it possible that it was changed, Robert?

Robert Spencer: Well, you know, it's a funny thing. There's a strange story in Islamic tradition about Mohammed being given the Quran in seven different Arabian dialects. Arabic dialects, and people reciting them in these different dialects. And Muslim scholars throughout history have downplayed this in its importance.

But what it really is talking about is different textual traditions that have differences of wording in many places in the Quran to the degree that you can't point to any particular Quran and say this is the original. This is the primary text. The Quran that is common around the world today was compiled in 1924.

No earlier than in Cairo, and, has been distributed around the world as if it's the standard text of the Quran. But there are still numerous manuscript variants all around the world. I discuss many of them in the book and what they show. And so, another problem with saying that Mohammed got the Quran is that you can't really even identify which Quran he got.

Barry Nussbaum: Well, let's talk about the stories about his life. You point out that some of these stories literally are impossible to have taken place the way they're written down.

Robert Spencer: Yes. Well, you know, there are some strange stories in the Hadith, which are the reports, the traditions of Muhammad's words and deeds. They are the basis that in the Sirah, the biography of Muhammad, they're the basis for what we think we know about Muhammad today.

But they all date from the 9th century. And so, you have, for example, some clearly legendary stories that are all mixed in with the earliest Islamic accounts of Muhammad even though the Quran says the messenger has no miracles. The Quran itself is the miracle.

In the Hadith, he's doing miracles left and right. And all these miraculous things happen to him all the time. Like he's walking along in Mecca, and the trees stop and say, ‘Oh, hello, pious prophet.’ Well, you know, aside from the talking trees, you've got another problem with that. Mecca is in the desert. There weren't any trees.

There are some trees now there because they have artificial irrigation and so on, but there's no archeological evidence of trees being in Mecca in the 7th century when Mohammed is supposed to have been walking around. So, who talked to him?

There are also very many details that are given about what Mecca is like in the Hadith that don't correspond to the Mecca that exists today. All that and much more suggests that if any of this happened, it didn't happen where it is assumed that it happened.

Barry Nussbaum: Thanks, Robert. How can people get the book first and learn more about you?

Robert Spencer: It's at Amazon. It's at Barnes & Noble. It's at any self-respecting bookstore. And if you still have the brick-and-mortar bookstore in your area and they don't have it, ask them to order it. Tell them to have some courage and order it.

You can also find places to order it on Jihad Watch.org, my own website. Which you can also find jihad activity. Which also provides jihad activity in the United States and around the world every day. And I'm @JihadwatchRS on Twitter, for now.

Barry Nussbaum: I want everybody to follow and read. You are the scholar on this subject. We're so thankful you came on today. I want to remind everybody again. Please subscribe if you haven't. It's so simple. Just send the word TRUTH to the number 88202 from your phone, and you will be signed up for ATP. Thanks for joining us. I'm Barry Nussbaum.

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