69 million page views

The earliest Dhimmi writings on Islam! "When Christians First Met Muslims"

Reader comment on item: Uncovering Early Islam

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Jan 22, 2018 at 12:04

Dr Pipes

This is a review of Michael Philip Pen's book "When Christians First Met Muslims"


Many western scholars of the history of early Islam have great doubts about the veracity of the early Islamic literary sources This was the reason why Patricia Crone examined the extant literary sources written by non Muslims and what the authors wrote about what was to become Islam.

However, things went wrong when Crone tried to reconstruct what really happened and how did Islam emerge based on reading these non Muslim literary sources

John Wansbrough wrote as part of his review of Hagarism: "that several attempts to elucidate the origin of Islam have drawn almost exclusively upon these traditional literary types is well known and it seems to me that here is a serious literary types is well known and it seems to me that here a serious methodological problem is often ignored. As succinctly as possible: can a vocabulary of motives by freely extrapolated from a discrete collection of literary stereotypes composed by alien and mostly hostile observers employed to describe even interpret not merely the overt behavior but also the intellectual and spiritual development of helpless and mostly of innocent actors." (SM page 116-117)

To make it simple: Don't try to reconstruct the history of Islam from sources external to Islam as well as from Islamic literary sources

In response to Wansbrough, Fred Donner wrote: "the practical implications of modern historians are that they cannot use the Islamic sources to reconstruct Islamic origins and should look elsewhere for our evidence or quit trying altogether." and even looking elsewhere as in reading literary sources written by non Muslims is futile

Penn is very careful in not falling in the trap of reconstructing the Islamic origins from these non Muslim literary sources

So who were these first Christians that met Muslims? These were the Syriac speaking Christians in al-Sham and Mesopotamia They belonged to all sects of Christianity in the Middle East in the 7th century. They wrote their texts in Syriac the most important literary language in the Middle East at the time of the Arab invasions starting in 633CE

The author examines 28 texts written in the period between 630'sCE and 750CE (The Abbasid revolution) He examines these texts in a chronological order He provides an introduction to the author of the text, then he dates the text and information about the manuscript and editions. He also makes it clear that these are his translations from Syriac to English He also states that he is editing these texts to make them clear in English and avoiding long convoluted Syriac sentences and eliminating the likes of Syriac wa (or and which is another feature of the Arabic language)

However, the author does not provide the texts in their original Syriac

And where are really the highlights of this book:

1. There are "No surviving Syriac sources written prior to the death of Muhammad (632CE)"

2. Two surviving Syriac texts (ad 637 and ad ad 640) mention the name of Muhammad (Notice that the author does not provide the Syriac texts) And it seems that the dating of the ad 640 could be in the early 7th century or it should be ad 724.

3. Those invading Arabs are not called Tayyaye (Syriac word for Arabs but not limited to followers of a certain religion) They are also called Arabaya and Tayyaya (Arabian), Mhaggraya (Hagarene), Ishmaelaya (Ishmaelites), Sarqaya (Saracens), bar Hagar (son of Hagar) and bar Ishmael (the son of Ishmael)

4. Arabs were also called Hanpa (compare with Quranic hanif!) or pagan! They authors do not identify a certain religion that these Arabs were following

5. Notice that no where in this texts the Arabs are called Muslims and no mention of a religion called Islam and not until 750CE that the word Islam emerges

6. Non of these texts describe what we now call the Islamic conquests as being driven by a religious ideology and "there was nothing explicitly Islamic about them."

7 The Chronicle of ad 724 provides a list of early leaders of what was to become Islam but it is very odd that the name of Ali is missing and the claim that Muhammad: "three months before Muhammad came and Muhammad lived 10 ("more" added by the author) years." Very odd indeed Also the author of the text transliterated the Arabic words Rasul and Finta to Syriac instead of using Syriac words that correspond to these 2 Arabic words And this could be a case that there was an Arabic text which is not extant and it was the source of this list

7. The most interesting texts are: Disputation of John and the Emir and Disputation of Bet Hale or "dialogue devant le prince" where Christians were presenting the case for Christianity and more evidence of the "Sectarian Milieu" of what was to become Islam

8. This is no mention in any of these texts of the word Muslimeen or Muslims or Islam either (the word Muslimeen in mentioned for the first time in a letter from Egypt dated 767CE as per P Crone)

Very interesting book indeed and I would give it 4 stars (I would give it a 5 if the original Syriac texts would have been included in the book)


Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2024 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)