Disclaimer: This essay is no a derogatory attack on Islam as is so often seen on the internet. Rather it is a genuine attempt to find the true roots of the religion using contextual clues and insights gleaned from the writings of leading academics. The ideas presented are the product of careful consideration by people who have great insight into the religion of Islam, people from whom I have merely gleaned.
The secular examination of the Christian story is 250 years old and counting. The secular examination of Islam’s story is just beginning. Until now Western academics have largely accepted Islam’s self-generated traditional history at face value. That is now giving way to a much more rigorous and independent investigation of the roots of this global religion. The results of this academic shift will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of Islam as a credible worldview.
The writing of the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad is supposed to have occurred between 570 and 632AD. However, we have traditionally relied on only two types of sources for this timeline, both of which exist deep inside Islamic orthodoxy, and therefore not subject to internal questioning. Islam’s story is in desperate need of objective external evidence for verification.
Islam’s first type of internal source material comprises biographies. These include the prophet’s biography called Al Sira by Ibn Hisham (d. 824AD), which says it is taken from a now missing earlier biography by Ibn Is-Haq (d. 768AD). There is also a military history by al-Waqidi (d. 822AD), a book called Classes or Generations by Ibn Sa’d (d. 845AD) and a book called Annals by al-Tabari (d. 922AD).
The second type of source Islamic material comprises the six canonical collections of hadiths that seek to explain the Qur’an and its doctrines. By default this means Muhammads teachings. They date from 850 to 915AD and were written and collected by the following editors: Al-Bukari (d. 870AD), Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875AD), Abu Dawood (d. 888AD), Al Tirmidhi (d. 892AD), Al-Nasar’I (d. 915AD), and Ibn Maja (d. 887AD). The author/editor of the most authoritative hadith, Al-Bukari, admitted having to cull well over 90% of all exegetical material in existence at the time in order to get to what he thought was the kernel of truth about what was by then already the distant past.
In addition to these sources, it was only in the 9th Century that the claim was first made that the oral teachings of Muhammad were brought together into the canonised text of the Qur’an by Caliph Uthman back around 650AD, who then destroyed all variant manuscripts in a purge of competing claims to divine authenticity.
As can be seen from the above historical timelines, all sources of Islamic information on its own origins were only compiled 200-300 years after the life of Muhammad. This huge historical gap castes a deep shadow over the origins of Islam, especially events before 700AD involving the life and times of the prophet and the origins of the Qur’an. Why didn’t such a large Arab Islamic Empire leave behind much more primary evidence from the time of its origins, as all other empires and religions have done throughout history? Islam’s claims are confined to literature.
The purpose of this essay is to provide objective evidence as to the true theological and cultural roots of Islam by using historical manuscripts, inscriptions, coins, linguistics, local religious theology of the era, Middle Eastern church and imperial records, archaeology and any other primary source that we have from late antiquity. My prime source for the evidence presented in this essay is the 2010 book, The Hidden Origins of Islam, a series of academic essays edited by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd R. Puin. Both writers are part of a dedicated team of academics operating out of the University of Saarland, Germany. Gerd Puin was the lead academic called in by the Yemeni government to examine the now famous Sa’ana manuscripts, the oldest known Qur’an’s in existence. He speaks with the voice of great authority and objectivity on Islam’s origins. Many excellent German books on the true origins of Islam are currently being translated into English. This is one of them
The primary historical evidence provided via these recent English publications points very clearly to a widening theological schism between an Persian-Syrian-Arabian-Egyptian blend of Monarchian-Nestorian-Arian-Ebionite-Monophysite Christian theologies practiced in the Middle East, and the Hellenistic-Roman-Catholic-Trinitarian version of Christianity enforced in the realm of the Byzantine Empire and practiced in Europe and Asia Minor. This political-religious-cultural divide provided the intellectual justification for a new Arabian Empire that began between 622AD and 630AD when the Sassanid Persian Empire collapsed and the Byzantine Empire was forced to withdraw from the Middle East. This new Christian Arab Empire eventually morphed into the Islam we know today between the 8th and 9th Centuries when its leadership base moved from the former Byzantine stronghold of what we now call Syria and Israel, to the former Persian stronghold of Iraq. In late antiquity Syria was defined as most of the Fertile Crescent, and spoken of as East and West Syria on account of the culturally similar languages of the region, namely Aramaic and its daughter language, Syriac.
The Arab Empire was not born in the depths of Saudi Arabia, but in the constantly disputed borderlands of two great empires. With no natural boundary, these uneasy borderlands stretched from Nabataea and Petra in the south-west through to the Caucuses Mountains in the north-east. This is why all early rulers of the Arab Empire come from these lands and ruled from Damascus, Jerusalem and Baghdad. None came from Mecca or Medina in Saudi Arabia. None!. This is why Mecca is not mentioned in the Qur’an (there is a single mention of a mysterious Bakkah, but not Mecca) and why we have no objective historical evidence of Mecca’s existence in any Greek, Roman, Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic or other literature until 741AD. This is also why all mosques built up till 708AD faced Petra in Jordan. This is why the Qur’an adopts so many Old Testament people as its own and why 7% of it is a plagiarised version of Old Testament events. This is why Moses is mentioned 136 times, Jesus 24 times, but the word Muhammad is used only 4 times. This is why the Qur’an has also plagiarised so many early Jewish and Christian apocryphal/mythical writings from the 2nd to the 4th Centuries. This is why the new Arab religious movement first appealed to both Christians and Jews for spiritual legitimacy. This is why the Qur’an is not seen anywhere as a single document for about hundred years after the birth of the Arab Empire. This is why the inscription inside the Dome of the Rock Mosque elevates Jesus as Allah’s servant and messenger twice (more on that later). This is why so many clues in the Qur’an, such as references to nearby Roman battles and thriving agriculture, point to its authors living a great distance from the infertile deserts of Saudi Arabia which was outside Roman jurisdiction. This is why the Qur’an covers two distinct time periods; the theological and peaceful “Meccan” years, and the harsh imperial “Medinan” years. This is why early mosques such as the Dome of the Rock Mosque resemble churches of that era and region.
BIRTH OF THE ARAB EMPIRE
The Byzantine-Sassanian war of 602-628AD stands above all others in the history of the Middle East in late antiquity. Unless you understand this great war you cannot understand the rise of the Arabian Christian Empire which eventually morphed into the Arab Islamic Empire. This war was the final chapter in a 600 year conflict that pitted Rome, and then Constantinople, against the power of the Sassanian Persian Empire. Finally, in 628AD, the Byzantine forces utterly destroyed the Persian army, resulting in the cataclysmic collapse of the once mighty Persian Empire. This paved the way for Persia’s Arab subjects to seize control of its former masters territory. Simultaneously, the Arab vassal kings of the Byzantine Empire were able seize control of the borderlands in and around modern day Syria and Israel. Together they became the early Arabian Empire. Below is a brief summary of how it all unfolded.
Between 591 and 628AD the Persian Empire was ruled by Khrosrow II, who retook the throne with the help of the Byzantines on the guarantee of peace between the two empires. The national religion of the Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism and the emperor was its protector. However, Khosrow II was privately very close to the widely popular Nestorian version of Christianity. Nestorianism emphasised a twin nature for Jesus and it had been rejected by the Byzantine Empire at the Council of Chalcedon in 461AD because it was too close to the concept of adoptionism, the idea that Jesus started off as a man and became God. Nestorianism also rejected any elevated emphasis on Mary, much to the ire of Constantinople. Once outlawed, it moved east, grew and matured in the borderlands and especially within the Persian Empire. Khrosrow’s wife was a Nestorian Christian, Khrosrow donated great wealth to the church, and coins minted in Egypt between 617 and 628AD show him as a Christian ruler.
In the borderlands between Sassanid Persia and the Byzantine Empire, two Arab Vassal states ruled on behalf of their two Imperial overlords. The Arab Lakhmids ruled under the Persians from the Nestorian Christian city of Hira in modern day Iraq. They were under Persian rule but were delegated the task of keeping order in Arabia on the Persian’s Behalf. They had migrated up from Arabia three centuries before. Their ancestral leader’s 328AD tomb bears the first recorded use of the word Arab. The Lakhmids remained staunchly pagan even though surrounded by Nestorian Christians in Hira. With the return of Khrosrow II to the Persian throne, the last king of the Lakhmids, No’man, was the first Arab vassal king to be baptised into the Nestorian faith. The Lakhmids were in continual contact with most of Arabia right through to the Hejaz on the Red Sea and Yathrib (now Medina) collecting tribute for the Persians. Unfortunately, in 602AD the Persians abolished the Lakhmid vassal state, and this opened the way for Arab tribal leaders to gain influence in Persia’s southern borderlands.
Opposing them for centuries were the Arab Ghassanids who ruled Western Syria under the Byzantines. They had migrated up from Arabia and Yemen some centuries before and become rich as traders. Providing troops for mercenary skirmishes and goods for the Byzantine war machine, they quickly became rich and indispensible for Byzantine control of its restless and ever-moving border with Persia.
Unlike their Hellenised, Trinitarian, Catholic Byzantine overlords, many of the Ghassanids of Syria fiercely followed the Christian Monophysite, Ebionite, Monarchian and/or Arian confessions that effectively denied the trinity and divinity of Christ. They emphasised the singular unity and nature of God, called Allah in the local Aramaic language. Their contact with the Old Testament was deep and therefore closer to the Jewish beginnings of Christianity. Their theology was far more influenced by Jewish culture than Hellenic Christianity, in which the ideas and thought patterns of a completely pagan Greek culture were appropriated and made Christianity’s own. These Christian theologies emphasised the task of earning your righteousness and believed that this is what Christ had done, inheriting the Logos, or the Holy Spirit, in the process. Unsurprisingly, these theologies were condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325AD, which banished Arius of Alexandria from the Byzantine Empire to its borderlands in Syria. It was in these borderlands that Gnosticism also took off, many of whose ideas also find their way into the Qur’an.
The leadership of both these Arab vassal states became part of the aristocracy of their respective empires. Even though they were both Arab, shared a culture, language and to some extent religion, they were political enemies. In time those political differences would melt away and would be replaced with a unity in opposition to the implacable orthodoxy of the Byzantines. But that’s further along in this story.
Over in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was busy downsizing his imperial ambitions after his predecessor, Mauricius, emptied the empire’s treasury in attacks on outlying provinces to the west and south. This included the Avars, Slavs and any other group not toeing the Imperial line. In 581AD direct Byzantine control of the Ghassanid buffer state was loosened out of necessity, turning the region over to its Christian Arab rulers who were to then to pay tribute to Constantinople. From this time on much, though not all, of the West Syrian church leadership began to express anti-Byzantine theology. Only the ecclesiastical leadership around Jerusalem remained loyal to the Orthodox Byzantine theology.
Documents from the era illustrate the shifting of power through the changing language of legal documents from Greek to Arabic. It must be noted that during the first century of the slowly emerging Syrian arm of the Arab Empire in the 7th Century, Arabic was still a hybrid language, and was only the language of the elite. Most people in their homes spoke Arabic’s parent languages of either Syriac or Syriac’s own parent language, Aramaic. In school they would have learnt Greek, and in the military it was back to Arabic. If they were traders they probably spoke Hebrew as well. The Aramaic language and alphabet is ancestral to Hebrew, Syriac, Nabataean and Arabic. If you knew one you could easily pick up the others.
Two decades after the Byzantine withdrawal from the province of Syria, Khrosrow II finally took advantage of political upheaval to his west after his Byzantine benefactor, Maurice, was executed in a mutiny by the general Phocas, who then took the throne. Khrosrow invaded Mesopotamia and in 604AD. He replaced all remaining Byzantine Catholic Church hierarchy and filled all Syrian church positions with leaders who were theologically opposed to the Byzantine Catholic church, which proved a very popular move. This also served to unify the Lakhmid and the newly marginalised Ghassanids and other Arabs under one empire and similar theology for a brief period of time. In 611AD Byzantine’s new emperor, Heraclius, quickly retook Anatolia, however in 613AD he launched a major offensive into Syria which was a disaster. In a counter-attack the next year Persian and Jewish troops captured Jerusalem and destroyed all Byzantine church property in the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most sacred shrine in the Byzantine world. This struck Byzantine pride hard as the empire had seen itself as the spiritual protector of holy sites, and none was more important than this one. It is probable that this defeat is the one retrospectively mentioned in Surah 30:1-4. By 617AD Persia had taken Egypt and Rhodes, threatening Byzantine grain supplies. Persian troops were also pushing west through Anatolia again.
After watching its fortunes slide for nearly a decade, Heraclius was forced into all-out action or face the existential collapse of his empire. After raiding the imperial church treasuries and seriously reorganising the army, he set out in 622AD to revenge his losses in what was billed as a holy crusade. He immediately achieved a stunning victory over a large Persian force led by Arabs in Anatolia. Pushing on he won four consecutive victories over the Persians using novel military tactics. The Persians, with the help of the Avars and Slavs, counter-attacked with a naval siege of Constantinople, which eventually failed. During the siege the Persians suffered another devastating defeat from a Byzantine army led by Heraclius’ brother Theodore. Now master of the chess board, Heraclius was then able to move his forces deep into Persia, sacking the Zoroastrian mother temple and finally marching on the Persian capital city Ctesiphon in 628AD. Khosrow II was dead within days and the Imperil line of succession imploded within a few years, but not before several weak leaders desperately tried to resurrect their “divine” connection with Zoroastrianism. At the end of the war Sassanian Persia was consigned to history, and Byzantine Rome was utterly exhausted, reclaiming all its Middle Eastern lands in name only.
The Ghassanids and the newly influential Arab tribes to their east, with their similar language and culture quickly filled the political vacuum created by this upheaval. However, there were distinct differences between the Ghassanids and the Arab tribal leaders. The Ghassanids were deeply Christian and proud of their Monarchian-Arian roots. They saw themselves as the gatekeepers for true Christianity against the heretical Byzantines. The Arab tribal leaders over to their east were far less Christian. Beneath them was a superstructure of Nestorian Christianity, but they themselves were far more connected to the pagan rituals and rites that emanated up from the Arabian Peninsula. These Arab tribes were the only source of power and authority capable of taking the place of the Persians.
The Ghassanids were the only religious, military and political centre of gravity capable of keeping Byzantine forces out of what was now in effect their side of the Middle East. By 642AD the era of Byzantine domination of, and even bargaining with the new Christian Arab hegemony in the Middle East was over. The departure of Middle Eastern Christianity from European Christianity, a process that had begun hundreds of years earlier at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, was now complete. The departure of the Arabs from Christianity was still to come.
Arab Monarchian and Arian practices were now free of Catholic Byzantine persecution. Monarchianism taught the unity and monarchy of God, as opposed to the Trinitarian view of God with its associated elevation of Mary and saints (Surah 5:116-7). Arian/Monarchian theology also taught the subservience of Christ as an inferior being (Surah 3:51, 5:75, 16:2). These points were central to Syrian church doctrines and were first taught by Ignatius of Antioch (d. 117AD) and later crystallised by Paul of Samosata, a later bishop of Antioch (d. 272AD). He, and the teacher Arius, taught that Christ was only perfect because he was a perfectly obedient human, so becoming the Logos and worthy of a special place with God. The title Son of God was a position of human honour, not divine nature. The Middle Eastern church, believing itself to be closer to the original theology and thrust of Christianity, a Christianity that came from their own back yard no less, did not see Jesus as the Catholic incarnation of God, but a special messenger, a great prophet of God.
In common with Jewish communities and their all-encompassing Torah, Arab Christianity accepted the dominance of religious contractual obligations in many spheres of life, Works and lifestyle were emphasised over mere Greek-inspired philosophical assent as found in Byzantine churches. In this part of the world orthopraxy trumped orthodoxy. Strict obedience was as important as belief. The Arab Syrian church also used the Diatessaron in preference to the four gospels. This was a composite gospel written by Titian the Syrian, who also had an aversion to alcohol so advocated the use of water in communion instead of wine (Surah 2:219, 5:91).
Non-Byzantine liturgical practices also prevailed in the Syrian churches, some of which survive today in Coptic, Ethiopian and other Middle Eastern traditions. Theophilus of Antioch, although the first to use the world trinity, actually taught that salvation came by proving oneself worthy to God instead of receiving grace through Christ, just as Christ the Logos proved himself worthy by living an exemplary life. The Syrian Arabs also had distinct relationships between men and women, unique social structures, a love of war, and belief in spirit beings called Jinn, from where we get the word genie. In the first six centuries of Christianity these unique Middle Eastern traditions and theologies had already spread to India, Central Asia, and even to China via Syrian Orthodox missionaries. When in Kerala, India, in 2009 I saw a still functioning 1,500 year old Syrian Orthodox church in the famous Kerala Backwaters.
Many syncretic beliefs such as Gnosticism Arianism, Donatism, Ebionism and Marcionism, Nestorianism and Montanism, as well as Greek philosophy, Roman gods and pagan practices that had seeped into Christianity from previous cultural belief systems were the cause of the great differences between the two branches of Christianity. The Byzantines, with their worship of Mary, saints and icons, were guilty of the same crime against New Testament Christianity as the Syrian church that denied the saving grace of Christs death, his divinity and taught a salvation based on effort. Christianity had indeed drifted far from the teachings and example of its founder (Matthew 15:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 2:15, Colossians 2:1-5, Acts 8:9-13, Mark 7:9).
The many pre-Nicaean Syrian confessions and practices formed the basis of significant early Islamic doctrines concerning the nature of God and Christ that are now preserved in the Dome of the Rock Mosque and the Meccan portions of the Qur’an. These statements were the hallmarks of the Monarchian/Arian confession and therefore Arab Christianity. They all later became part of the Muslim faith.
After their military victories, the rulers of the newly minted Arab Empire sought to correct what they saw as terrible Byzantine theological heresies that had been violently forced on them over hundreds of years. They now saw themselves as the custodians of Christian truth and were on a mission to correct the error of others. These teachings and attitudes would quickly morph into a full scale religious war on the heretical and saint-worshipping, idol-worshipping, Mary-worshipping Byzantine Imperial outposts all around the Mediterranean coast.
Consider the following timelines and parallels between traditional Islamic history and actual events: Muhammad’s revelations started in 610 AD, the same year of Heraclius’s capture of the throne in Constantinople. The date of the prophet’s flight to Medina in 622 AD is the same year the Byzantines swept down through Anatolia and Syria, putting the Arab-led Persian army to flight after the battle of Issus (and minting their own victory coins in Damascus that same year). The siege of Medina at the Battle of the Trench in 627AD synchronises with the Byzantine Emperor’s 627AD siege of the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. The 628AD peace treaty between Mecca and Medina matches the peace treaty between the Victorious Byzantines and the defeated Persians. In addition to these uncanny coincidences, in traditional Islamic history Muhammad’s father is called Abd-Allah, meaning servant of God. This term was actually in widespread use in coins at this time as a reference to Jesus, as we will shortly see. Finally, the Persian multi-ethnic Arab-Christian city of Al-Hira is recycled as Hira, the cave where Muhammad received his instructions to form a religious community that transcended cultural boundaries.
FROM 628AD TO 661AD
As was mentioned at the beginning of this essay, all sources of information on early Islam come to us from records made hundreds of years after the events were supposed to have taken place, and by scholars who were writing a history that backed their new religion. Much more detail on the suspicious nature of these early records will be explained in the final section of this essay. Accordingly I will avoid discussing the alleged lives and events of the period from 628AD to the point when we do have verified independent historical records of leaders and the events that surround them.
Instead, I will provide you with several observations from the world’s leading secular scholars of Islam on the hadiths, commentaries used to explain the sayings of Muhammad and the Qur’an. But first let’s begin with Al-Bukari himself, the greatest of the hadith editors. Of the 600,000 traditions ascribed to Muhammad by the time he came to editing the prophets sayings, he could only find 4,000 that even he believed to be authentic. Of these, modern scholarship has rejected almost all. This cancels out the entire body of Islamic scholarship that has been used to construct the life of Muhammad as it is projected to the world today. Professor M J Kister, co-founder of the Arabic departments of Israel’s two major universities, found that there was “meager and scanty” real information on the life of Muhammad to be found in any hadith. French Islamologist Henri Lammens, concluded that large parts of the hadiths were invented to account for the obscurities found in the Qur’an, with the theory of abrogation aiding the commentators for the contradictory passages. Hadiths that were written hundreds of years after the events for such a perplexing piece of literature had a slim chance of making sense of the true origins of Islam.
Therefore only the Qur’an itself, being far older, can be studied to find the kernels of truth needed to unlock the riddle of Islam. Palestinian professor, Dr Sulimon Bashear, spent a lifetime studying the Qur’an. In doing so he found that the interpretation of various Qur’anic passages evolved slowly from anti-Byzantine to pro-Meccan sentiment, and that the story of Muhammad evolved rapidly into legend. John Wansbrough’s ground-breaking research, now being confirmed by many researchers, suggests the Arab Empire had to hurriedly rework its origins, its theological books and even its geography to give itself legitimacy in the eyes of neighbouring civilizations. Ibin Warraq’s studies demonstrate that there was no evidence that the Qur’an had authority in the early Arabic Empire. Semitic language specialist Gunter Luling asserts that up to a third of the Qur’an may in fact predate the Islamic timeline and Arabic language, being material used in Syrian church liturgy. This, he says, is why the hadiths struggle to make sense of much of the Qur’an. Cristoph Luxenberg confirms his conclusions. Andrew Rippin concludes that “in no sense can the Qur’an be assumed to be a primary document in constructing the life of Muhammad”. Gerald Hawting points out that “One often feels that meaning and context supplied for a particular verse or passage of the Qur’an is not based on any historical memory.” Even Fred Donner concedes that the language of the hadiths and the Qur’an are different, pointing to a lapse in time between the two. And we haven’t even touched on the works of Patricia Crone, Robert Hoyland, Yehuda Nevo, Gerd Piun and Tom Holland, all of which have contributed greatly to our current understanding of the true origins of Islam.
So with all that in mind, let’s briefly regress to the official Islamic tradition. The line of distinctly Islamic leadership and divine succession supposedly flowed from Muhammad to Abu Bakr then to Umar, then on to Uthman who allegedly collated the Qur’an. Then there followed a five year civil war between Muhammad’s Kufa-based nephew Ali and the Syrian governor Muawiya. With Ali’s assassination came the great Islamic successional divide between Shiites and Sunnis. With the rise of Muawiya came the first great Arab imperial dynasty, the Umayyad “Caliphate”. I will now examine two of its rulers, Muawiya and Abd Al-Malik, in detail to demonstrate the true history of their rule and personal religious persuasion.
THE RULE OF MUAWIYA (661-680AD)
According to objective historical records outside the Islamic tradition, Muawiya was not a Muslim but actually a Syrian Monarchian Christian. A short examination of inscriptions and coins will highlight this point, and therefore call into question the traditional Islamic history of his predecessors.
Let’s start with an inscription found on the baths of Gadara, in northern Jordan. It reads thus:
In the days of Maauia (Mauwiya) the servant of God, the leader of the protectors, the hot baths were preserved and renovated by the emir Abdallah, son of Abuasemos, on the fifth of December, on the second day of the week, in the sixth year of the indication, in the year 726 from the founding of the city, in the year 42 following the Arabs, for the healing of the sick, under the supervision of Johannes, the magistrate of Gadara.
Please note the following points:
First, as you can see if you click on the web link above, the entire inscription begins with the sign of the Christian cross. Lower Jordan was still a Christian part of the world, not the Islamic world. If it was Islamic there would have been reference to Muhammad, not Christ via the cross on this inscription.
Second, the inscription is in Greek, not Arabic. Arabic was not considered important enough at this point in history (year 42 of the Arab era, or 662-663AD) that others had to learn it.
Third, Muawiya is not described as the Caliph, but simply as a servant of God and protector. This is a Christian title and common to the early Arab leadership.
Fourth, the year of the city is noted first, then the Byzantine year, then finally the era of Arab rule. This shows the relative insignificance of the beginning of the new era to the people and leadership of that time period. It was not the cataclysmic Islamic event as we are taught today.
Fifth, the new era was simply called the era of the Arabs which began in 622AD when Arab leaders had to flee from the Byzantines at the battle of Issus. There is no Islamic reference at all on the inscription.
Sixth, the person responsible for the construction is called Abdallah, a common name for Christians then, and today, in that part of the world.
Muawiya was therefore definitely not your typical Muslim Caliph as portrayed in traditional Islamic literature. Nowhere on his coins, on any stone inscription, or on any surviving documents is there any mention of a prophet called Muhammad during his reign! Nor are there any Qur’ans, or fragments of any Qur’ans datable to this time period. In fact, Muawiya is known to have traveled from his capital in Damascus down to Jerusalem and followed the footsteps of Christ around the city, finally praying at Golgotha. This was supposedly many years after Muhammad had declared in the Qur’an that the crucifixion was a fraud. In addition, Muawiya made it his spiritual duty to protect the Church and tomb of John the Baptist in Damascus. Protecting holy places gave great status to rulers of this era, not to mention money from a steady flow of pilgrims.
Muawiya’s coins tell their own story. He inscribed them with a large capital M. Many coins from his era depict him as a Christian Arab ruler holding a cross, Christ as the Lamb of God is also depicted near him. At other times John the Baptist will be close by. Byzantine eagles and monograms are also common. The location of the mint is often in Arabic, other words in Greek.
Silver coins minted in 685AD by Salm b. Ziyad of the city of Merv in Persia just after Muawiya’s death continue to display Christian symbols. This time mixed with a crescent moon. This suggests a strong and dominant Nestorian Christian leadership in that region, not an Islamic one. In fact even the names of the Arabian mint lords of that region give no indication of a heritage from the Arabian Peninsula; rather they are all local names.
Only coins minted in the era after Muawiya, the era of Abd al-Malik, begin to use the word Muhammad, which simply means praised. However they were always minted without reference to any ancestry, contrary to the custom of the time. This suggests that the word Muhammad began as a title meaning chosen or praised rather than a specific person’s name. They also appear with the words Abd-Allah, meaning Servant of God. These were common titles used, in both the Aramaic language and the early church fathers such as Clement and Polycarp, for Jesus. The term Muhammad Abd-Allah, or praised be the servant of God, is still used today among Syrian Orthodox Christians. As already explained, in the Syrian Arian/Monarchian theology of late antiquity, Jesus was seen as the perfect servant of God, not the co-equal of God. The rectangular Cedar Coin, published by Alec Kirkbrige in 1947, has the word Muhammad on one side and a ruler holding a cross on the other.
TRHE RULE OF ABD AL-MALIK (680-705AD
Muawiya’s successor, Abd Al-Malik was also no Orthodox Muslim in the modern sense of the word. However, he was busy laying the philosophical foundations for the full flowering of Islam that would come later. It was he who built the great religious structure in Jerusalem that is now known as the Dome of the Rock Mosque. It was he who re-branded Syrian Theology by adopting traditions from further South in Nabataea and the Arabian Peninsula. It was he who deepened the division between Syrian Christianity and the Byzantines. It was he who began the transition from Jerusalem to Mecca as the chief holy site of the Arabian Empire. Abd al-Malik’s name stands head and shoulders above others in the evolution of the Arab Empire as the emerging cultural and theological antithesis of the Byzantine Empire.
Rather than wage a war of territorial expansion with the Byzantines as Muawiya did, Abd al-Malik cleverly consolidated his religious and temporal power within his growing empire. Yet he still saw himself as a defender of Christianity, not Islam. In 688AD, at the beginning of his reign, Abd al-Malik had coins specifically minted that read In the name of God, the apostle of God is chosen/praised. Who is this apostle?
The answer comes when you look at Abd al-Malik’s masterpiece, the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, third most holy site in modern Islam. In it we read, on the inner façade of the octagon, a grand theological statement about the status and role of Jesus that is unique to Arian/Monarchian/Syrian Christian theology. The inscription is so important to this discussion that I have here reproduced it in full. Remember this as you read: At that time in history the word Muhammad simply meant praised, Islam simply meant submission and Allah, meant the god, a term that came from the Aramaic Christian word for god, Elah:
In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no associate. Unto Him belongeth sovereignity and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He has Power over all things. Muḥammad is the servant of God and His Messenger. Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. The blessing of God be on him and peace be on him, and may God have mercy. O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease! (it is) better for you! – God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is sufficient as Defender. The Messiah will never scorn to be a servant unto God, nor will the favoured angels. Whoso scorneth His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him. Oh God, bless Your Messenger and Your servant Jesus son of Mary. Peace be on him the day he was born, and the day he dies, and the day he shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary, (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) God that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. Lo! God is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. God (Himself) is witness that there is no God save Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him, the Almighty, the Wise. Lo! religion with God (is) Islam. Those who (formerly) received the Book differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso disbelieveth the revelations of God (will find that) Lo! God is swift at reckoning!
Note the clear definition and blessing of the Muhammad, the messenger and servant, is later irrefutably explained as Jesus, not once but twice in case the audience doesn’t get it! The Qur’an later incorporates this message in Surah 19:30 where it says that the baby Jesus spoke and declared I am the servant of God. The servant of God is also mentioned in Surah 72:18-20 as being raised up and then worshipped by a compacted mass. To this day Islamic commentators have not been able to make sense of this passage as they assume it is talking about an Islamic prophet called Muhammad, not Jesus. By the way, contrary to modern Islamic teaching that denies the resurrection, Christ’s resurrection is mentioned in Surahs 3:55, 4:158-9, 5:117 and 19:33.
Note also that there is no reference to the Qur’an in the entire Dome of The Rock inscription, but many references to the Bible, therein called the book. This strongly suggests that the word Islam means submission to Biblical scripture, not the Qur’an. This is because there was no definitive Qur’an as such at that time.
Note also that this inscription was written in what is now called Garshuni script, which was the Syriac alphabet of the time. Modern Arabic did not evolve fully for another hundred years. The mixing of religious ideas in the inscription was accompanied by the mixing of languages. Finally, there were many false legends circulating at the time that said the place of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection was the destroyed Temple Mount, on which the Dome of the Rock Mosque was built.
These bold inscriptions of Monarchian/Syrian theology were Abd al-Malik’s Arabic response to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius’ grand declaration of Trinitarian Christology (Ekthesis) displayed on the walls of the monumental Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and sent to the far corners of Christendom in 638AD. The Dome of the Rock motto was probably intended to rally disparate Middle Eastern Christians of the various theological persuasions behind a common banner of the “true” function of Jesus, in opposition to their great enemy, the Trinitarian, Catholic, saint, idol, Mary worshipping Byzantines (the Mushrikun of the Qur’an). After replacing Mauwiya’s John The Baptist pilgrimage site in Damascus with his church to Christ in Jerusalem, Abd al-Malik’s great domed church would remain the centre of his increasingly divergent version of the Christian religion until a new Islamic pilgrimage site was created deep in the heart of Arabia in the next century.
In building the Dome of the Rock church, Abd al-Malik built a different type of church at Jerusalem to what the Byzantines had built in that city. It was domed and modelled after Syrian architectural church norms and shrine norms of the era. Ethiopian churches often still follow this pattern today. The inner sanctuary was supported by four pillars, copied from domed Armenian Church architecture, which held similarities to Zoroastrian temple architecture and the great Hagia Sophia itself. We still see this dome form in Russian Orthodox architecture today. Between the four load-bearing pillars we find twelve supporting pillars. These represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. It was a form of ideological armament and theological separation from the Byzantines and their nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was rectangular and therefore modelled after Roman and Greek temples. Abd al-Malik was the first Arabian to have the nerve to challenge Byzantine theological hegemony head on and call on all Christians to submit fully to the will of God as he saw it, under his banner of truth. The Arabic word inscribed on the Dome of the Rock mosque for this submission is called Islam.
In coinage Abd al-Malik also replaced the cross with a pile of stones accompanied with the Aramaic (not Arabic) term Yegar Sahaduta. This is the Aramaic equivalent to the Hebrew Beth-El, meaning “house of God” and refers to a Hebrew covenant stone. This was a return to Old Testament covenantal symbolism from Genesis 28-15-19. The Christians of the Middle East were Semitic and had deep roots in the Old Testament, with the roots of the Arab Christians going right back to Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. That deep sense of relationship with the Old Testament is lost on most modern Western secular scholars. Under Abd al-Malik it now came to the foreground as a point of differentiation with the upstart Greeko-Roman apostates.
In 693-4AD Abd al-Malik minted gold coins with the words There is no God but Allah, him alone, and the apostle of God is to be praised…Monarchian theology through and through. Once again the coins have the symbol of the pillar of stones, the Yegar Sahaduta. On the reverse they have the depiction of Christ as Pantocrator, ruler of the universe. Abd al-Malik also had copper coins minted with a depiction of the seven-pronged candle stick of the ancient Jewish temple. There is no mention of Muhammad on these coins. In time, his coins displayed a five-pronged candle stick, differentiating Arab faith from Jewish faith. Abd al-Malik even called his son Sulayman (Solomon). He was clearly fashioning a ‘New Zion” as a new type of unified identity for all Arab Christians.
Traditional Islamic history says that most of North Africa was conquered by a distincly Islamic army well before Abd al-Malik’s reign. However, in 691AD we see Abd al-Malik’s own brother, the Emir of Egypt, giving no honour or even reference to Muhammad or Islam in his inscriptions. Further to the west, in modern day Libya, copper coins during Abd al-Malik’s reign did not display any Arabic writing, Latin still reigned supreme on coins at that time. Nor are there any references to the word Muhammad. Coins from Carthage during this era still even used the Byzantine dating system until the year 716AD and never mention the word Muhammad. The coins tell you the true speed of the spreading of the concept of the Muhammad. It was only Abd al-Malik’s son, Sulayman who Arabised the coins of North Africa.
THE ABBASIDS…AND THE RISE OF ISLAM
Abd al-Malik’s three heirs kept the systems put in place by their father until 743AD. His son Sulayman led a protracted and near-victorious siege of Constantinople in 716-717AD. Its failure delayed the advancement of the Arab Empire into South-East Europe by 700 years. Another son, Yazid II ordered the destruction of all iconography from churches within the Arab Empire. Umayyad rule continued to expand in other regions, especially in Spain and France. However, a series of defeats in Morocco, India, France, and Uzbekistan weakened Umayyad authority.
During this time the Umayyad’s Arab tribal allies and subjects in the former Persian Imperial centres of Ctesiphon, Hira and Kufa, known as the Abbasids, became increasingly hostile to Syrian Umayyad rule and began to challenge for leadership of the Arab Empire. In 750AD they succeeded in defeating the last of the Umayyad rulers, Marwan II, but not before he had scrubbed out Abd al-Malik’s name from the Dome of the Rock Mosque and inserted his own.
It is only after the successful revolt by the Abbasid forces that we see for the first time on coins the statement: The arch Muslim, the emir of the family group of Muhammad. This is the first verifiable use of the word Muslim, and identification of Muhammad as a man. The Abbasids moved the capital of the empire from Jerusalem to Baghdad, very close to the old Persian/Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon. As can be seen from the introduction to this essay, from this time on there is a significant increase in literature such as military histories, biographies, legal decrees and theological commentaries that helped to set the tone for the emerging separate religion of Islam. This literature tells us more about the times it came from and how the Abbasid’s saw themselves in the world than the topics and history they were trying to explain. The de-Christianisation of the Arab empire dates from their rule. Islam as we know it was emerging.
From this era, and the seemingly eternal struggle between the political and religious wings of the Arab Empire, there emerged a well scripted divinely ordained origin, a sacred text that was anonymous, exceedingly vague, chronologically disorganised, full of contradictions, with two completely different parts, and grammatically difficult. There was also a sacred language, a great prophet, embedded rituals, systems of authority and established theology.
This completed the evolution of Islam from a branch of Christianity, to a completely new and violently anti-Byzantine Islamic religion. This is reinforced by the fact that much of the material in the Qur’an is a an attack on what it perceives as shirk; the sin of practicing idolatry and associating others with God, with over 15 references in the Qur’an, and the Mushrikun; the people who practice shirk, with over 40 references. The modern Islamic assertion that these references refer to primitive polytheists living in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula at Mecca in 600-630AD is a later reworked version of this origin, as are the many assertions of Abrahamic legitimacy through his chosen son, Ishmael. The vagueness of the early “Meccan” Qur’an gives way to the vitriol, contempt and hatred of the latter “Medinian” Qur’an and the hadiths under Abbasid rule. The evidence presented below will confirm these claims.
The Influence of Zoroastrianism
During the time of the Abbasids, a radical reinterpretation of the word/title Muhammad took place. Abd-Allah, a reference to Gods special messenger, morphed into a real person, Muhammad’s father no less. The city of Hira becomes the cave where Muhammad first received his visions.
It is also significant to note that the constructed life of Muhammad has a suspiciously large number of exact parallels with the life of the founder of the Persian Zoroastrian religion. Zoroaster grew up a polytheist. At the age of 30 he received visions from an angel about the one true, unknowable God and began to preach about this monotheistic God. He was rejected, fled to a nearby city, won its favour and led a holy army against his home town. There were many visions over many years that revealed the true law of his diety. Why does every one of these elements turns up in the official life of Muhammad?
Like Islam, Zoroastrian theology taught a belief in a single god, heaven and hell, and judgement after death. It divided the world up into truth and lies, black and white. Mankind was either with the true religion or against it, with no ground in between. Zoroaster is even said to have journeyed to heaven one night. Suspiciously Muhammad is said to have also miraculously journeyed to Jerusalem and back in a single night from Mecca. Zoroaster authorised prayers to be said five times a day. Islam practices also five prayers a day, even when the Qur’an decrees only three. Zoroaster decreed these prayers to be only said in the most holiest of languages, Avestan. Islam elevates Arabic to the same status. Zoroaster’s oral sayings were memorised at first and handed down, then written down many years later. As were Muhammad’s we are told.
Digging deeper, there are other signs of this Zoroastrian infiltration. The Islamic practice of washing three times before saying ones prayers five times a day perfectly reflects the Zoroastrian tradition, even when the Qur’an specifically teaches otherwise! The Islamic teaching that all people go to hell after death to have their deeds weighed on a bridge the size of a human hair is also plagiarised from Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians always washed their dead before burial, and washed their hands before prayer. Muslims copy this tradition today. To finish off on a not so minor point, Zoroastrianism also taught that righteous men will be rewarded with eternal prostitutes (paari) in paradise. In the Qur’an the name is for these prostitutes is houris (Q 55:45-78).
The Cult of Sin
There were other, more ancient religions and beliefs also in Persia that infiltrated the emerging religion of Islam. The cult of the god called Sin, sometimes called Nanna, was the worship of the moon, the lord of wisdom. Because Sin could regenerate himself, he was also the god of fertility. This cult of moon worship was very widespread in ancient Mesopotamia at the time of Hammurabi (circa 1750BC) and managed to survive the onslaught of Zoroastrianism in the upper Mesopotamian cities of Harran and Ur. Sin’s symbol was a crescent shaped moon. Examples of crescent moon worship from the city of Ur, not far from Harran, are on display in the British Museum today. Ur also happens to be the birth place of Abraham, who was called to leave a city filled with Zoroastrianism and this older religion.
In the 1950’s a major temple to the Moon-god was excavated at Hazer in Palestine, close to the Nabataean capital of Petra. So the practice travelled far and wide. The moon-god’s name Sin is a part the modern word Sinai. Sin was also extensively worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia. Two of the three chief gods worshipped in South Arabia were the moon gods Sin and Amm. We can be confident that at least some symbolism of moon worship still exists inside Islam by the curious and unexplained use of a crescent moon in nearly all their emblems. And just in case you thought this is odd, just remember that the first working day of the Western working week is also dedicated to the moon!
Greek Influences on Arianism and Then Islam
Plato’s theory of forms taught that ultimate reality and the origin of all things was a concept called the good. It was the origin of everything, but it was impersonal. Christianity identified with Plato in saying ultimate reality is indeed good, but in Christian theology the creator was good, personal and knowable. Neo-Platonism extended and weaponised Plato’s teachings as a defence against the rise of Christianity in Greece. It taught that this creator was categorically beyond knowing, utterly incomprehensible, an absolute unity rather than a trinity, and impenetrable to humans. This philosophy is actually the foundation of Monarchianism and Arianism described previously, and is now at the very core of Islamic theology.
Whoever wrote the Qur’an adopted the ideas of the Neo-Platonists wholeheartedly via the dusty philosophical road of Arianism and Monarchianism. In time Islam came to teach that Allah was so great it/he was beyond knowing, beyond consciousness, unable to be described with human attributes and without personality traits, in short, the epitome of the Neo-Platonian concept of god. In claiming to be the fulfilment of Christianity and Judaism, Islam destroyed both their understandings of God, replacing it with impersonal Greek philosophical concepts.
Adopting this belief system gave Abbasid theologians several advantages. It enabled them to counter New Testament teachings about the trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, salvation by grace, and the purpose of human life. It also allowed Islam to dismiss the relational covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of the Old Testament. It allowed them to construct doctrines of unquestioning obedience instead of reasoned relationship. This evolution of thought can be seen chronological unfolding of the Qur’an, where surahs morph from a cosy acceptance of surrounding faiths to one of absolute intolerance and hatred for surrounding religions.
The Influence of Judaism
There was Jewish influence on the emerging religion too. And why wouldn’t there be. It is no accident that the first major centre of Qur’anic interpretation and legal jurisprudence emerged in Kufa, Iraq, just 45 kilometres from the great Jewish centre of theology and jurisprudence at Sura. It was in Sura that much of the Talmud was codified centuries before. It was next door in Kufa that the Islamic equivalent, the hadiths, with their rules and regulations began to emerge. This is a highly suspicious coincidence. Being the Muslim equivalent to a university, the major Islamic law schools became truly defined in the period of the Abbasid ruler, Al-Ma’mun. It was also during this time that Sunnism, as a religion of great legalism was defined in minute detail.
The new Islamic religion was drawing from the ancient Jewish legal system for inspiration. Virtually all the Qur’anic records which are reliant on Jewish sources, and there are many, can be traced either to the Bible, the Talmud, the Midrash, Targum or Mishnah. Examples include surah 5:31-2 which comes from the 2nd Century Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, surah 27:16-42 from the 4th Century II Targum of Esther, and surah 21:51-71 which comes from the 4th-6th Century Midrash of Genesis.
Moses also turns up 136 times in the Qur’an, Muhammad only appears four times. Frequency of appearance tells its own story. By the time Muhammad’s biography was written, his story had not only been moulded into the image of Zoroaster, but also that of Moses. After all, wasn’t Muhammad a man like Moses living deep in the desert speaking face to face with God, bringing a set of divine holy laws from heaven to earth, decrying local polytheism, espousing the true path back to God, leading his people into a promised land by declaring holy war against the polytheists, wiping them out and taking possession of the land for the one true God? The parallels are uncanny.
The Islamic transfer of the Abrahamic covenant blessings from Isaac to Ishmael and therefore the Arabs instead of the Jews was also a masterstroke in media spin, and once again, totally unbacked by all historical records.
The Influence of Nabataea and Petra
As mentioned at the start of this essay, all Arab places of worship in the early phase of the empire faced Petra in Modern day lower Jordan, all the way through to 708AD. It was not until 822AD that all newly completed mosques finally faced Mecca, some 1,300km south-south east of Petra. The period between those dates was a time of great confusion with 12% of mosques pointing to Petra, 50% to Mecca and 38% pointing in a parallel direction between the two cities. The evidence can still be seen in the orientation of ancient mosques on Google maps. It is obvious that Mecca only made it into Arab consciousness as a pilgrim site in the first decades of the 8th Century, a hundred years after the birth of the Arab era.
The Qur’an does indeed discuss a change in direction for prayer and mosques. However the single reference is very vague (Q 2:143-4) with no place names or timeframe given. The official Abbasid narrative says this event occurred in Muhammad’s lifetime, around 624AD and involved a change from Jerusalem to Mecca. That the hadiths claim this as fact is the only evidence we have. Whoever wrote this hadith and propagated this early date is telling a lie, the archaeological evidence emphatically says otherwise. Islam, and its book, were clearly re-invented in the image of the emerging Abbasid empire between 725 and 822AD.
Nabataea is also the cradle of the Arabic language which came from older Semitic languages, namely Syriac, Aramaic and Hebrew, but predominantly Syriac. Concerning religion, the Nabataeans had an affinity for worshipping sacred places carved into standing stones, often indented or standing cubes called a Ka’aba. They also considered meteorites as objects of worship. Both of these practices are now embedded in Muslim worship practices in Mecca with the famous black cube containing a sacred meteorite, and the subject of devout worship. Petra, unlike Mecca, was a place where irrigated agriculture actually flourished due to sophisticated irrigation systems, as mentioned in surah 80:27-31. An annual Hajj was also undertaken to the nearby famous worship centre of Mamre, near modern-day Hebron, the site of Abraham’s life and burial. Sozomen’s Historia Ecclesiastica chapter 4 gives an excellent description of this important pagan Arab religious event. In addition, 54 of the 65 geographical references in the Qur’an refer to the people of Ad (23 references), the people of Thamud (24 references) and the Midianites (7 references). All of these tribes lived near Petra, not Mecca, and all of them were eventually “theologically” moved deep into the Arabian Peninsula as Islam took shape. The sheer lack of concrete geographical references in the Qur’an compared to other ancient religious books such as the Bible raises much suspicion concerning its origin.
The Absence of Mecca
Traditional Islamic history places the life and events of Muhammad and proto-Islam in and around Mecca, a wealthy centre of trade and pilgrimage deep in the heart of Arabia that supported the mercantilist activities of Muhammad’s clan (Surah 106). However, these assertions are once again entirely dependent on late Islamic commentaries from the time of the Abbasids some 200 years after the facts. When we look at independent sources of information, Mecca is missing from this time period. This is not to say it did not exist, but it was totally irrelevant to trade and influence to the point where it is missing from all documents. The heyday of Arabian spice trade was during the Greek and early Roman eras around the time of Christ, not 600 years later.
Patricia Crone, Professor of Islamic history at Princeton University, in her book Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, states that Mecca had no timber, no ships, no port, no water, and no agriculture. It was on no trade crossroads and appeared on no maps of trade routes or in any classical references to trade routes. It is 83 kilometres inland from a major global sea trade route at a time when sea transport up and down the Red Sea was ten times cheaper than land transport, and far faster. By the 1st Century shipping and navigation rather than land transport had developed to the point where it dominated all trade between Rome and India, via the Red Sea. This is why the apostle Thomas was able to go to India.
So what luxury goods did Meccans trade that could compensate for their cost and geographic disadvantage? As it turns out, nothing. The most exotic spices and aromatics, frankincense and myrrh, had long dropped off in trade due to the Christianising of Europe and stiff completion from North Africa, especially Ethiopia, which militarily took control of South Arabia in 525AD. The only products coming out of the Southern Arabia peninsula in the 7th Century were leather, silver and pepper. Silver was the only land transported commodity as it had to go to Persia, not to the Mediterranean. Mecca was definitely no trading “mecca”, and therefore the thesis that it could have constituted the source of the Muhammad’s family wealth and additionally funded the vast armies required to conquer the world so dramatically within such a short space of time is highly suspicious.
When the Qur’an talks about events, people, power struggles and trade, this must have been happening much further away. Two known centres of trade are the probable locations for said dramas. Either in the north-east at Al-Hira in Persia, or north-west around Petra, Nabataea, Palestine and Syria. Historical records abundantly verify such activity for the latter option, especially from the Red Sea to Petra in Nabataea and up to Syria. In fact the records richly verify the trading activities and prosperity of the Arab traders in the region of Syria who are even said to have constituted Muhammad’s tribe.
According to the thoroughly researched book, In the Shadow of the Sword, by the historian Tom Holland, Mecca only slowly became a centre of pilgrimage from the time of Abd al-Malik’s 691AD military expedition into the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula to deal with the opposition to his rule coming from Ibn al-Zubayr, a rival to his leadership. Zubayr’s final stand was in a place called the House of God, which was destroyed along with its defenders. Given that all Arab houses of worship faced Petra up until this point in time it is logical this house of God was in that vicinity. To secure his authority in the restive Hejaz region, Abd al-Malik undertook a pilgrimage in 693AD down into that same region, While there he visited Medina and Ta’if, the birthplace of his father. From there he apparently visited the tiny settlement of Mecca, anointing it as the new House of God, and moving the sacred Nabataean Ka’ba and its sacred black stone meteorite 1,300km south to its present site. From this point in history Arab houses of worship slowly started turning south, from Petra to Mecca, a city that absolutely does not fit the description of it provided by the Qur’an. Sixty years later Kharijite sermons would still be damning Abd al-Malik for destroying the old House of God.
The Creation of the Qur’an
The Abbasid proto-Islamic Empire was being legitimised step by step with the reinventing of Muhammad as the superstar prophet greater than Zoroaster, Moses and Jesus. For a perfect prophet and religion there had to be a perfect book justifying his religion. Into this book went Christian and Jewish fairy-tales, warped and twisted Biblical narratives from both the Old and New Testaments, pagan Arab rituals and beliefs, Justification of holy war on those who will not accept the new Abbasid religion, and large numbers of historical, theological and scientific contradictions. The abundant contradictions found in the Qur’an were conveniently brushed aside as abrogations, where new revelations superseded older revelations. Apparently Allah was changing his mind as they simply shouldn’t be there (Surah 4:82)!
The word Qur’an is originally derived from the older Christian Syriac word Qeryana, meaning the reading or scripture lesson. Could elements of the Qur’an have started life as a Syriac Christian scripture lesson? Significantly, the word Qur’an is not found on any early Arabic Imperial inscriptions, including the inscription on the Dome of the Rock Mosque which only refers to Christian literature. The word Qur’an first appears in 757AD. Previous to this date we see Kitab Allah on inscriptions. Early Christian critics of Arab imperialism did refer to scattered sermons about The woman, The Cow or God’s She Camel, which are in today’s Qur’an, but not the Qur’an as a coherent book. Clearly the teachings of the Arabs before Abd al-Malik were not yet contained in a single volume. This began to change when Abd al-Malik and his loyal governor Al-Hajjaj began collating and editing a new Arab holy book, one to rival the Byzantine Christian scriptures. This holy book was drawn from existing literature and fashioned on Deuteronomy’s covenantal polemic against idolatry. It was a first draft.
This is why the Qur’an is a text soaked in monotheistic thinking, filled with stories and references to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jesus. Yet official Islamic history insists that Muhammad, an illiterate camel merchant, received the revelation in Mecca, a remote, sparsely populated part of Arabia, far from the centres of monotheistic thought, in an environment of idol-worshiping Arab Bedouins. Which makes it seem all that more miraculous. Which is also odd, as the Qur’an over and over again calls wayward Christians and others who are the people of the book back to something they should already know, or else invite the judgement of God for their sin of shirk, which is associating others with God. Could these others be Mary and the saints being worshipped in Constantimnople? As already mentioned, the word Allah is actually derived from al-ilāh, which means the god, and is related to El and Elah, the Hebrew and Aramaic words for God.
Gerd-R Puin, from Saarland University in Germany, led a team of linguistic experts in examining the earliest known copies of the Qur’an, Yemen’s Sana’a manuscripts, dated between 705 and 715AD. Fragments from nearly 15,000 different sheets were uncovered and found to be written in a kind of primitive Arab shorthand with no vowel markings or distinguishing dots. This means individual words in the manuscripts could have had up to 30 different meanings. It was thus impossible for the text to have been passed down word for word. What’s more, earlier texts had been washed off and overwritten, revealing changed words, whole verses and chapters rearranged. Puin concludes:
My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants. The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or ‘clear,’ but if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims, and Orientalists, will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible, if it can’t even be understood in Arabic, then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not, as even speakers of Arabic will tell you, there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.
Christoph Luxenberg, an expert in ancient Semitic languages, has also found that ancient Qur’ans were written without vowels and diacritical dots, and that a fifth of the Qur’an is unintelligible as it is rhyming prose. Thinking outside the box, he found that some of this confusion disappears if you use an ancient Syriac word instead of a confusing Arabic word. Syriac was the main cultural and trade language of the western half of the Arabian Empire, Arabic was in its infancy in late antiquity. Vowel diacritics were only added to Arabic around the turn of the 8th Century on orders of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, governor of Iraq between 694-714AD. The Sa’ana manuscripts confirm this. At this time Arabic was an evolving language, slowly exiting its Hebrew/Syriac/Aramaic roots. The Quran was therefore written in different languages, which utterly confused the later Abbasid writers of the Hadiths who thought only in Arabic. Just to confuse readers a little more, the authors of the Qur’an dragged in many foreign words and deliberately gave them new meanings. The influential Qur’anic scholar, Al Tabari (839–923 AD), himself acknowledged there were Abyssinian, Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Latin, Greek words in the Qur’an.
With many Syriac substitute words making sense of passages that were until now confusing there comes completely new meanings. This doesn’t challenge the central teachings of the existence of God or the after-life, but challenges both the infallibility of the Qur’an and its message. As one example among many, Luxenberg convincingly shows that the wide eyed houris, the virgins waiting for warriors in paradise, to be better read as bunches of grapes, which was an existing and familiar motif for Syriac and Nestorian Christians of the era and region (see Matthew 26:29 and John 15:1). This opens up the possibility that much of the Qur’an comes from older Christian liturgies and lectionaries including the Qeryana, the Syriac book of liturgical readings. No wonder Luxenberg’s book was banned in some Islamic countries!
Creating the Caliphate
The Islamic tradition tells us that the Caliphate is the natural and original system of religious and political authority in the Islamic world. It is claimed to be a universal system of leadership organised under a successor to Muhammad, the very first Caliph. Sunnis believe each Caliph should be chosen from the most capable, while Shia’s believe they should be a biological descendant of the prophet. What both sides forget is that the term Khalifa was not used at all in inscriptions or coins relating to any of the Arab leaders until it briefly appears at the time of Abd Al-Malik (685-705AD). Even then, after his death Umayyad dynastic successors did not follow his lead and dropped the term. They preferred to be called Abd Allah meaning servant of God, and their function was Amir al-mu’minin, meaning protector of the people. This title has no religious significance at all. Apart from this one aberration by Abd Al Malik, the purported early use of the term Khalifa is not supported by the testimony of early inscriptions or coinage.
The term only reappears permanently in 817AD as Khalifat Allah, meaning speaker for God, under the seventh Baghdad-based Abbasid ruler al-Ma’mun. Seven years earlier he had also taken on the title of Imam, meaning an Islamic religious leader. It was he, more than any other who transitioned the Arab religious movement from its roots to the Islam we see today: an Arab and Hijazi-centric ideology that was adamantly opposed to Christianity and European culture in any form whatsoever.
Islam is hiding many secrets, but slowly they are being revealed thanks to the persistent efforts of a small army of dedicated scholars who are mostly German. Their works are only slowly being translated into English. It is my hope that their insights will continue to ripple out into academia and then to a wider audience. After hearing from an Israeli academic in early 2018 that the understanding gained by these German academics is now taught in mainstream in Israel’s universities, I was inspired to pen these words you have just read to add my weight to the debate.
I have been studying Islam for over a year now, but always with the nagging feeling I was not getting to the root of truth underneath the cover story of Islam. With this essay I believe I am now getting close. Of all the articles I have written so far for my website, this has been one of the most important, difficult and insightful. As I said previously, it was only after reading The Hidden Origins of Islam several times over that the very primitive beginnings of the religion of Islam began to make sense. I highly recommend that book.
Thanks for reading to the end!
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