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Can the extant non islamic sources tell us about what really happened? the answer is no and John of Nikiu

Reader comment on item: Uncovering Early Islam
in response to reader comment: "The detestable doctrine of the beast, this is, Mohammed " - John of Nikiu , a 7th century Coptic author

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Jun 20, 2012 at 12:48

Ianus wrote

Hi, dhimmi no more!

Hi ianus

There is no reason for you to believe what we are being told by the Islamic historical tradition but the extant non Muslim sources are just as unreliable as they are discrete reports by hostile observers of a phenomenon that was not understood at the time and these reports just cannot reconstruct what really happened in distant al-Hijaz from the birth of Muhammad some 90 years before Sebeos who wrote his history around 660-670CE, and in the case of John of Nikui who wrote his book some 120 years after the birth of Muhmmad and some 60 years after his death in a very different time and a very different place and it would be like let us say you sitting today in distant Poland and writing the history of the American great depression with no extant literary sources and about an alien place and an alien culture that you have no clue about

Let me make a short comment on one point you made. It concerns denying early mentions of Mahomet and Islam.

Yes and more so in the early extant Isamic literary sources before 72CE

And even the word Islam does not appear until 72CE and why is that? and it appears for the first time in the inscriptions of al-Majid al-Aqsa and even the word islam is really a confusing word and it is regarded now as a proper name for what was to become the religion of Islam and the difficulty is we are told by the masorites that Islam really means surrendering to Allah but the word surrender in Arabic is really Istislam and not Islam so why is it called islam and not Istislam?

Now what Luxenberg is suggesting is that the word Islam is really from Syriac Shalmota which in Arabic would be al-itifaq or agreeing and the agreeing here is in the interpretation of scripture which in Syriac would be the word Deena and in Arabic is the word deen which is read now as religion and I do believe that he is correct so to read the word islam in these inscriptions as the religion of Islam means that you are missing the point that what was to become islam was still evolving big time

And more interesting is that the word muslimeen or Muslims does not appear in the extant literary sources until 767CE or about 150 years after the death of Muhammad and why is that? and we do not hear about it from the extant Christian sources until 775CE

Oh the name Muhammad? the funny thing is the word MHMD as we find it in al-masjad al-aqsa can be very well read as MHMD ABD ALLH or Muhammada(n) (read this as the praiseworthy) the servant of Allah and in Syro-Arabic Christianity it was Jesus

Oh the word MHMD? If by the word Muhammad, as we are told by the masorites, that it means the praiseworthy then we have a problem as the word praiseworthy in Arabic really means Mahmoud and not Muhammad! Oh Muhammad? in Syriac the word praiseworthy means MHMD! So why would the prophet of islam has a Syriac name? It makes you wonder and this name does not apear in the literary sources until 72CE and why is that?

"What he is saying is that Sebeous is interesting but he is just as unreliable as the Islamic sources themselves to tell us about what really happened"

Sebeos is a 7th century fairly reliable source

No he is interesting but not a reliable source to tell us about what really happened in al-Hijaz

The only reliable source would be a cave full of papyri, ostraca and various extant inscriptions that we can find in al-hijaz

But the chances of finding such cave is zero not because the Wahhabis destroyed such evidence but because it never existed

on the great Byzantine-Persian war and the reign of Heraclius and the affairs of his homeland Armenia at that time and before. He has got many vivid and realistic details. So I wonder why he should have distorted what he knew or heard about Mahomet and the movement he initiated that thoroughly ravaged and finally imposed its tyrannical yoke on Armenia around 661? Every Armenian must have been very interested in knowing exactly who the enemy of their fatherland was, I presume. So i would not reject his testimony so light-heartedly.

You have to be careful but I will return to Sebeos after I get John of Nikiu out of the way and indeed the Armenian chronicles are really great but he is very much an unreliable witness to tell us about what really happened in al-Hijaz and I will go back to him and to the other Armenian historian Lewond

But leaving this early eyewitness aside, there is another 7th century author whose important work contains a fragment that explicitly speaks both of the new doctrine and its inventor. John of Nikiu was a late 7th century Coptic bishop of Nikiu or Pashati in the Nile Delta. In 696 he was appointed general administrator of the monasteries of Upper Egypt. His "Chronicle" which is a fundamental source on the history of the Arab conquest of Egypt , was written originally in Greek with possible Coptic passages inserted. It has had as sad and tortuous fate as the author's own country. The original was lost but it survived in an Arabic translation which was then further translated into Ethiopian Ge'ez and in this form it has survived until now with large and important portions of its nevertheless lost.

There are serious problems with John of Nikiu or Yuhanna of Pishati and he was a Coptic priest from the town of Nikiu (Pishati in Coptic) which was located just north of al-Fustat and the ancient city of Masr and there are plenty of problems with his writings and they are the following

1. It is really poor and mediocre writing

2. He more likely than not wrote it in 690CE which is some 60 years after the Arab invasion of Egypt (some parts might have been composed in 650CE)

3. He tells us that those invaders were Muslims which is far from the truth as even the invaders themselves called themselves al-muhajiruun not Arabs or Muslims and I suspect that he would have used the Greek words to describe them and it is moagaritoi or saracens or even arabas but not Muslims and no Islam

4. The book we have now is an Ethiopic translation from an Arabic translation which is the translation from the original Coptic and I also suspect that part of his writings would have been in Greek so along the way the text was indeed corrupted from the original so al-muhajiruun and now they are called Muslims which even the invading Arabs did not call themselves

5. In extant Christian texts Arabs are not called Muslims until 775CE so how come he knew something that later Christian writers did not know until 775CE unless this is a corrupted text

6. In the words of Hoyland the following expressions are very questionable: "the king of Hijaz" (the truth is even al-Hijaz as the place where Islam came from is a very late construct and does not pre-date the sira), "the religion of Muslims" (Islam did not exist this early) and "the faith of the beast" (you can see this as a late construct by who ever did translate this text)

Oh was he a first hand wintness to the events (Sebeos was not) in 642CE? He more likely than not was a first hand wintness as Nikiu/Pishati is not very far form Hisn Bablyoon where Cyrus the Melkite Patriarch surrendered Egypt to Amr ibn Al-As and where some of the major confrontations between the invading Arabs and the Byzantine army in Egypt took place and indeed he provides the reader with very interesting insights in what really happened which the likes of al-Tabari missed

But can his book tell us about Muhammad or early islam or the religion of Islam? Not really and that is the point

John of Nikiu constantly calls the invaders under Amr Moslems

I hope I explained it and even if he did which he did not he still does not tell us about what really happened in al-Hijaz starting in 610CE and ending in 632CE with the death of Muhammad

beside calling them with the standard term "Ishmaelites". But what is more important for me he explicitly mentions both Mahomet and Islam. In Chapter CXXI of the "Chronicle" we read :" 10. And now many of the Egyptians who had been false Christians denied the holy orthodox faith and lifegiving baptism, and embraced the religion of the Moslem, the enemies of God, and accepted the detestable doctrine of the beast, this is, Mohammed, and they erred together with those idolaters, and took arms in their hands and fought against the Christians. 11. And one of them, named John, the Chalcedonian of the Convent of Sinai, embraced the faith of Islam, and quitting his monk's habit he took up the sword, and persecuted the Christians who were faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ."

You need to understand that one needs to know about the source behind the source and the reality here is John of Nikiu is juts like Sebeos, interesting and mediocre at the same time but does not answer the question "what really happened in al-Hijaz between 610CE (when a certain Muhammad recieved revelations from Allah) until 632CE when we are told that he died

In the next post I will get back to Sebeos, Hagarism the book and van Ess' review of it and more so what can we understand from the source of an observation and in this case the non Muslim and discrete extant literary sources the likes of Seboes and John of Nikiu, and I will also review Hoyland view of these sources as well as revisit Wansbrough's review of Hagarism

I hope I'm making sense


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