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The islamic historical tradition and what really happened v. salvation history

Reader comment on item: Uncovering Early Islam
in response to reader comment: Too many negative things are contained in the traditional early history of Islam to reject it all as a fiction.

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Jun 8, 2012 at 16:39

Hi Ianus,

Hi, dhimmi no more ! I fully share the view that what Moslems call "the Quran" and the theological literature around it (the never ending tedious and barren "Quranic interpretation" industry) is a later forgery and compilation designed to serve a definite political and ideological end. But to my mind it doesn't necessarily imply negation of traditional early Moslem history.

Sure but the problem here is you can indeed poke big holes in the Islamic historical tradition in general and the sira in particular and the whole things falls apart

The account of that history is consistent enough and explains a general line of development of the Near East from around the time of Mahomet's death through the tragic downfall of the Sassanid Empire and disasters and losses of the Byzantine Empire. When we deny this account on literary grounds what we get is a historical Black Hole (of how many years?)

I do believe that Islam did not exit in the way we know it now until the early Abbassids

So what was it like early on?

I urge you to read one more time the extant inscriptions of al-masjid al-aqsa (692CE) and what we have here is the old Syro-Arabic brand of non Trinitarian Christianity as espoused by Abd al-Malik and the Umayyads and polemics against the imperial Trinitarian Christianity

Oh islam? It did not even exist

with lots and lots of ascertained historical facts as totally inexplicable, illogical and disconnected from historical reality.

That is the problem of reading about early islam and i urge you to read all the extant literary Arabic language literary sources from the death of Muhammad until the year 72AH when Abd al-Malik was building his mosque

It is just amazing that there is no single word about a Muhammad or al-Qur'an or Islam and those invaders where ever they came from call themselves al-muhajiruun (or those that immigrated) and called by the Syrians Mhgraye and by the Greeks Moagaritoi and not Arabs and not Muslims and why is that?

Notice that what i'm saying is that there are indeed strange anomalies in the history of early Islam and yes argument from silence is not a strong or valid argument at times but until we have let us say a cave with books and papyri that can be located in al-Hijaz and can shed light on what really happened then we do have a problem with the history of early Islam as transmitted by the islamic historical tradition

It goes without saying that Arabs and Moslems are notorious liars and great myth-makers so we have to see anything brought up by them with utmost caution.

I agree

But why should we deny facts these myth-makers and boasters admit which show them and their so called "prophet" in such a grim and negative light?

Oh sure and indeed this was an argument by Henri Lammens and why would the tradition provide such ugly picture of Muhammad and as a matter of fact he believed that if the tradition is really bad then it must be true

The trouble here is in the late antique Middle East a 53 year old man marrying a child of 9 was just very normal so we are applying our 21st century to a different time and a different place

So he killed 900 Jews! Did you just check the news coming from Syria and the brutality of these people against their own very people today? as a matter of fact I'm sure many Muslims back then and now still believe that Muhammad killing 900 jews is very great

If they invented the sirah, why didn't they make it a perfect hagiography

Well the sira as was proven by Henri Lammens and more recently by Wansbrough to be unhistorical or just salvation history and that the sira is no more than another form of Quranic exegesis in-order to explain all these opaque revelations that did not make any sense not back then and not now

There is nothing historical as in real history about the sira

-with no crimes,no frauds and no no lies they ascribe to Mahomet?

Did he exist? If you read the Qur'an you will come across his name only 4 times and one time he is called Ahmad and may be one time he is called TAHA and these names are very much attributes and not real names and if you only read the Qur'an you will not be able to reconstruct his biography and why is that?

After all any evil things we learn about him come from later Moslem literature. Why didn't they just delete them all ?

Off course they did. They tell us that they destroyed "copies" of the Qur'an that were not accepted by Uthman and in the very old papyri you can really see the Syriac alphabet underneath the Arabic so called Qur'an

I suspect that Gerd Puin is correct that the Qur'an is really a melange of old texts that we do not have anymore and many of these texts pre-date Muhammad and this is why by the time of his death no one had a clue what this opaque revelation is really saying and I'm sure you are aware that the most interesting two literary puzzles in the Qur'an and they are

1. Variant traditions or what Muslims call al-kalam al-mukarrar or the repeated speech as Allah seems to be in the habit of repeating himself ad nauseum and why is that? Muslims really do not have an answer but Wansbrough believed that what we have here is more than a case of multiple authors and that the ulama that collected the Qur'an stitched these literary sources together et voila we know why Wellhausen's Prolegomena just did not work

2. The literary problem called al-iltifat and the fact that Allah seems to be in the habit of changing the subject and the object in mid-sentence and this is what makes the Qur'an at times a book that does not make any sense and the only possible explanation for such phenomenon is that what we have here is nothing but texts that had literary lacunas and they were all stitched together in the way we have it in the Qur'an now

Why e.g. these recurrent stories of assassinations of critics ,including the most horrifying account of Asma bint Marwan's slaughter ?

Again to us in the west this is indeed barbarity but not to an Arab

If they were just lying, why did they tell us e.g. about the ridda-the great anti-Mahometan uprising among the Arab tribes after the death of Mahomet?

They are not liars these were qissas or stories of fiction but they all were historicized by the ulama in the third centry and no more and there is no way that you can disprove them so they had to believe them and this is indeed what the islamic historical tradition is all about

Didn't they understand that boasting of an Allah-sent prophet and almost a universal rejection of his servile doctrine by the "chosen" people of Allah are hardly to be reconciled?

This is very logical but what you are dealing with here is no more than strories of fiction and as you read the islamic tradition you discover that later ulama knew more about details that earlier one did not even mention

You see it is all fiction and no more

Or as in the case of Siffin why should they have invented the story which incidentally neatly explains the rise of the first schism in Islam, namely the khawarijs?

Sure but you can always find a reason for anything and this might be a case of reversing cause for effect

If we reject the story as fiction, do we still have a better story to account for this schism persistent also in later generations?

Well religions and not just Islam and in the words of Patricia Crone "do not spring fully fledged from the heads of prophets" and that as soon as you have a new religion then you will find the theological splits and the in-fighting

You write also :

>Now let me tell you what he tells us about the so called Battle of Siffin and I quote

"Finally we make tentative suggestion. In Sasanian historical tradition there is a report on a battle which erupted because one of two parties had defaulted on a treaty. During the battle a copy of the treaty was struck on a lance and brought against the offending party. Might there not be a literary between this tradition and the well known motif of the copies of the Qur'an stuck on the lances of Mu'awiya's part at Siffin."

Sounds familiar right?"

It does sound familiar and in my eyes corroborates the otherwise well known fact that the Arab and Moslem mind is essentially barren,unoriginal and incpable of truly inventing anything - least of all their Arab religion which is a giant plagiarism.

And that is what Noth is saying

But secondly and more importantly, finding a precedent and a motif for something is no way proving that this something didn't happen or even couldn't have happened.

And this is why he is being cautious

Quite the contrary! Imitation and mimicrying is as natural and massive -or perhaps even more massive - than inventing things and ideas. Just think of how many Trojan horses have been built since Odyseus' days; how many Cannae-style battles have been fought since Hannibal's victory in Apulia? How many tricks described in Frantinus' "Strategemata" have been applied again and again in the centuries after his death? Maybe in a few centuries when the memory of history is completely lost nobody will believe that General Allenby really captured Jerusalem from the Turk in 1917 basing his actions upon Isaiah 31:5 ?

I agree


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