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 leading globally-recognised 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 official history of Islam is hiding many secrets. The cryptic story told by the Qur’an, which is explained in the Hadiths, does not agree with the objective story told by archaeology, stone inscriptions, trade receipts, biographies, maps, government records and other independent source material that researchers and historians have accumulated over the last 100 years. Unfortunately, Islam asks us to suspend belief in this objective evidence. Instead, it asks us to accept a suspicious looking divinely-ordained story that is a complete break with the pre-Islamic age of ignorance.
But it turns out Islam owes everything to its ignorant past, to its historical era, to dumb luck, to its unique geography, its ethnic and religious neighbours, its racial roots, its past religions and culture, its trading partners, surrounding empires, and especially nearby competing philosophies.
Great religions, and the civilisations they create, do not emerge from vacuums or silence. Nor do they drop out of heaven fully formed as Islam claims for itself. It is only Western gullibility, a very clever Islamic propaganda machine and our utter ignorance of the cataclysmic events of late antiquity that allows Modern Islam to silence its true history and get away with a bogus narrative. Not a single scholar would accept anything from the New Testament or the Book of Morman without proof, yet we are asked by the Islamic community to do just that for the Qur’an and the Hadiths.
But there is now a small army of new scholars challenging the official Islamic narrative. Academics like Ibn Warraq, Henry Wansborough, Professor Gerald Hawting, Professor Patricia Crone, Professor Andrew Rippin, Richard Hoyland, Yehuda Nevo, Professor Fred Donner, and Gerd Piun are revolutionising Islamic studies across the world. Objective evidence is beginning to become a real nuisance to the official story. Award winning British historian, Tom Holland, has now spend six years compiling the combined research from these scholars and has used it to construct his recent work, a true history of Islam called In The Shadow of The Sword, which was made into a BBC documentary a few years ago. It is to that book that I am indebted for the backbone of this seminar you are now reading.
As a teaser, consider the following evidence recently unearthed by leading scholars that disagrees with the official Islamic narrative:
- All mosques for the first hundred years after the death of their mysterious prophet faced Petra in the Negev desert just south of Israel or somewhere near it. They did not face Mecca. It was not until 822AD Century that all new mosques faced Mecca.
- The world Mecca does not appear in any archaeological or written record until 741AD, over a hundred years after the emergence of Islam. It’s as if it simply does not exist.
- The Qur’an says olives and grapes grow at Mecca, which is climatically impossible.
- There is not a single extra-Qur’anic written account of the life of Muhammad from the time he lived until almost a century afterward. Not a letter, inscription, journal or speech. This historical blackout is unique in the history of major world leaders and religions.
- There is no mention of Muhammad’s tribe in any Byzantine or Persian literature from the period when he was supposed to have lived, despite the assertion that they were well known traders.
- The Arabs of the era of Muhammad are never described by others as Muslims, but as Saracens, Hagarites, Magaritai and Ishmaelites
- The objective recorded history of the Middle East for the two centuries before the rise of Islam is rich. This turns into a black hole of silence with the birth of Islam. We have nothing outside the Islamic version of the story with which to verify it.
- The name of Muhammad only appears in the Qur’an 4 times. However the name of Jesus, called Isa in the Qur’an, is mentioned 25 times.
This seminar will take you on a true and accurate tour of the fascinating period from 300AD to 750AD, as political, religious, and demographic events and trends unfolded at the intersection of Europe, the Middle East, the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula. It will shine a bright and clear light on the emergence of Proto-Islam. I trust that for you, just as there was for me, there will be many “ah-ha” moments as you discover where particular Islamic traditions, beliefs, practices and concepts originally come from.
I will explain how Islam rises up from the depths of historical and cultural roots as diverse as imperial Persia and its Zoroastrian religion, Byzantine Europe and its suffocating orthodox Christianity, Israel and its frustrated Judaism, Nabataea and its pantheon of gods, the long forgotten Samaritan religion, the Neo-Platonic philosophy of Greece, the mysterious Persian Cult of Sin, and the Bedouin love of poetry, pilgrimage and war. In the process I will highlight numerous suspicious clues from the Qur’an that suggest a different version of history than what Islamic orthodoxy tells us.
It’s a heady mix and there is a lot to get though so I will try to the impossible, balance brevity and depth! But first, a few words about the danger of taking your subjective, subconscious personal beliefs about truth, history and religion into this era.
THE MINDSET OF ANTIQUITY
First, forget your 21st Century secular western worldview, if you have one. Toss it out. It is useless as a tool to help you understand the times I am going to write about. This was an era, indeed THE era, when monotheism emerged as the pre-eminent philosophical framework for understanding ultimate reality for most of the worlds people. Identity was not being transformed by nationhood, science and religious scepticism, but by belief in a single god, be it Christian, Jewish, Islamic or Zoroastrian. Each of these religions saw themselves as the only true faith for the whole world and that earthly greatness was bestowed upon those that pleased the creator, their way. Religion therefore defined and legitimised power and empire. This was especially true for the two great superpowers that ruled the world leading up to the rise of Islam, Roman Byzantine and Sasanian Persia.
Second, you need to understand the widespread use of covenants in that era. This was not an era where personal identity came from the nation state, fashion trends and popular media, but from extended families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, religions and languages. Authority flowed through bloodlines and covenants, not modern armies, complicated legal systems and professional governments. The Jews believed they were chosen by their god and were a special people, subjected to Yahweh’s covenant which called them to show the world the way back to the creator. Ditto for an emerging orthodox Christianity and a fading imperial Zoroastrianism. The first two of these religions traced their legitimacy ultimately back to an ancient covenant event where they believed the creator chose a man called Abraham, and passed a divine covenant, not to his first-born son Ishmael, but to his second son Isaac. The Arab peoples had always identified themselves as Ishmaelites and were living in the shadow of these beliefs and their associated divine covenants. They hated their status as second-class citizens of the world. They eventually decided to turn the tables and declared theirs was the only true covenant with the creator, through Ishmael, through Islam.
Third, this was the era of vast flux and historical change. Pax Romana, the era of Roman peace, was long gone. Two belligerent superpowers now fought for world domination. There was the little-known Byzantine replacement to Rome that ruled from Constantinople. It was ascendant but brittle. The other, Sasanian Persia, had contemptuously fought both the old and new Rome for six exhausting centuries. Christianity had taken the place of the Roman gods. However, it was formalising and rigidifying, rejecting its New Testament roots for a cosy relationship with imperial power. Israel, once Jewish, was now 85% Christian and controlled by the Byzantines. The few remaining Jews were treated abysmally and dreamed, once again, of their own independence. A suffocating Christian orthodoxy was crushing smaller cultural franchises such as the Samaritans of Northern Palestine, the Nabataeans of the Negev Desert and the Nubians of North Africa. Then, out of nowhere, both the superpowers were decimated by both the strange cooling of the earth and the bubonic plague in the 6th Century, losing a third of their respective populations. Into this political vacuum stepped the Arab empire.
Fourth, all ancient empires legitimised themselves via a coherent worldview, just as today the Western secular world justifies its new social engineering laws in the name of evolutionary materialism. The source of ancient worldviews was religion, not atheism. To justify their rule and legitimise their empire, the Arabs needed a global religion. It was impossible to govern any other way in this era. In the process of creating their religion, they borrowed, consciously and sub-consciously, a tremendous number of ideas, rituals, systems and practices from their surrounding Christian, Jewish, Samaritan, Greek, Persian, Zoroastrian, and Byzantine cultures. These they mixed with their own Nabataean and Bedouin polytheistic beliefs, attitudes and idol worship to create the blueprint for what has come down to us as modern Islam.
The rest of this seminar will now take you through all these borrowed ideas, rituals, practices, beliefs, structures and social systems, beginning with those borrowed from the nearby Nabataeans.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE NABATAEANS
The Nabataeans, of Petra fame, were Arab nomads who had found themselves in the perfect spot to benefit from international trade between empires. They settled down and built their now famous city on the back of this trade during the Greek classical era. By the first century BC they were very wealthy and their vast trading kingdom extended from Damascus to Egypt and Northern Arabia. As trade increased they adopted more and more architectural, religious and cultural ideas from the many empires around them, particularly the Greeks and Romans.
They were not alone in this trend. Just up the road King Herod the Great was doing exactly the same in his domain of Palestine. So it came to be that in the first few centuries after Christ, the Nabataeans became a uniquely hybrid culture, spanning the Arabian and Roman worlds. Although Nabataean civilisation declined in the 4th and 5th Centuries AD, its cultural influence on surrounding areas was still immense until it was abandoned around 700AD. If you want to find the heart of Islam you have to start with Nabataea, and this is why:
First, for the first hundred years of the Arab/Islamic empire, every new mosque faced Petra, or somewhere close by. Indeed, it was not until 822AD that all new mosques finally faced Mecca, 1,300km south-south east of Petra. The directional evidence can still be seen in the structure and orientation of these ancient mosque sites. This raises deep and unsettling questions about the origins of Islam as the Qur’an only vaguely discusses the change in the direction of prayer (Q 2:143-4), with no place names or timeframe given. The official Muslim narrative says this event occurred in Muhammad’s lifetime, around 624AD. Whoever propagated this early date is telling a lie, the archaeological evidence says otherwise. What was it about the Petra area that would create such spiritual allegiance, such blasphemy? Was Islam re-invented in the image of the emerging Arab empire sometime after it actually began?
Second; the Arab language actually originates in the region of Petra. The Nabataean alphabet is descended from the Hebrew Aramaic alphabet and a cursive form of Nabataean developed into the Arabic alphabet from the 4th century. The origin of language is always indicative of the origin of culture. The Quran is not written in pure Arabic. The Syriac Aramaic language seems to have a certain influence on the language of the Quran which was forgotten later. This could be a possible explanation why a fifth of the Quranic text is difficult to understand.
Third; the Nabataeans had an affinity with geometry, and often used a cube, or block of stone as a point of reference for worship and representative of their gods. Their cubes were stylised black stones, often meteorites which fell from the heavens, a gift from the gods no less. In fact the word Ka’aba, the holiest place in the Islamic world in Mecca today, simply and literally means cube, and within it is a black sacred stone, a meteorite! This concept has deep roots in the Nabataean culture.
Fourth; the Qur’an, while almost totally absent in geographical references, quotes a defeat of the Roman Empire in a nearby land (Q 30:1-2). Regardless of the historical accuracy of battles, the fact that this defeat happened close to where the Qur’an was written raises significant questions about where Muhammad lived, and where the Qur’an was written. You see, the Romans never ventured into the Arabian Peninsula. But were very active in Palestine and had already occupied Petra.
Fifth; the Qur’an talks at great length about agricultural practices and the raising of livestock in the vicinity of its writer, who it claims lived in Mecca. These practices did indeed exist at and around Petra due to elaborate irrigation systems. However, Mecca is totally devoid of any agricultural hinterland and associated livestock. Further, the Qur’an talks about grape vines, olives, corn, fruit trees and fresh vegetation growing nearby (Q 80:27-31). It has long been established that olives are impossible to grow in the Meccan climate, with its 110mm rainfall and 40 degree heat. In the northwest corner of Arabia, at Nabataea, agriculture flourished.
Sixth; the Qur’an talks about the old woman who was left behind when Lot and his family escaped the city of Sodom and became a pillar of salt (Q 37:133-38). What is interesting is that the location for this event was universally held to be near the Dead Sea, and the writer of the Qur’an says that his readers pass by these ruins day and night. This places the location of the writer nearer to modern Israel than 1,300km to the south at Mecca.
Seventh; why was Palestine and Syria, but not Arabia, the natural base for all early Arab/Muslim imperial leadership? The first major dynasty of the Arab Empire, the Umayyads, who were supposed to have come from Muhammad’s own Qurayshis tribe, had a history of trading with the Byzantines and had invested profits into real estate in Syria: a history that suggests close contact with the frontiers of an empire, not the depths of an Arabian desert. Others dynasties followed, headquartered in Syria or Iraq. Mecca was not their natural home.
Eighth; Petra had been the hub of several very important trading routes connecting Europe to Asia from east to west, and Europe to Africa/Arabia from north to south. That’s why it was wealthy. That’s why it was influential. Although it had declined in power by the time of Muhammad, it is intriguing to see that all Islamic commentators claim that Muhammad was a trader who frequented the lands of Palestine and Syria. Trade routes were the freeways, railways and internets of their time. For the record, Mecca was not on any trade route, and fascinatingly, it is not mentioned in a single objective historical source until 741AD (P. Crone: Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, 1987 p 134-6). In addition, Mecca does not appear on any maps until 300 years after Muhammad’s lifetime. If traders came from Mecca in this era then there would be records to prove it, but there aren’t. Muhammad came from somewhere else and the logical place is much closer to the known trade routes further north.
Ninth; and most confusing of all, the Qur’an names a special place, called a maqam, by the name of Bakkah, where it claims Abraham is said to have built the world’s first first temple, a beacon and light to the nations, where pilgrimage, called hajj, and worship is expected (Q 3:96-97, Q 2:126). But the Qur’an does not give a location to this temple. Could this be a reference to a place of worship close to Petra? This makes sense because all verifiable historical sources talk about Abraham being present in Palestine and the Negev; none say he went to Arabia. The Qur’an itself never equates Bakkah with Mecca. Commentaries associating it with Mecca only appeared several generations later.
What’s more, Arabs, Jews, Christians and Nabataeans alike had long worshipped and feasted in the name of their Gods and their common ancestor Abraham in Mamre, near modern day Hebron. This is the very place where the Bible says Abraham was visited by three angels under a great tree (Genesis 18:1-2) and near where both Arabs and Jews say Abraham is buried. The combined efforts of Roman Emperors Constantine and Justinian to stamp out pre-Islamic worship here proved fruitless. The Khuzistan Chronicle of the middle 7th Century acknowledges that Arabs who worshipped there in Muhammad’s time did so out of reverence for Abraham, the head of their nation, a statement almost perfectly echoed in Surah 3:96-7. Perhaps the best description of worship at Mamre Comes from Sozomen’s Historia Ecclesiastica chapter 4.
Could it be that Muhammad’s insistence that his was the true religion stems from this very site? That the Nabataean worship of many false gods, the Christian worship of Jesus just up the road, and the insistence by Jews that the covenant came through Isaac, were all a smack in the face to the true calling of Arabs as proud sons of Abraham and Ishmael? And that the change of prayer direction is from this site to the newly built Mecca some generations later?
Tenth; All these discordant geographical, agricultural, trade, Qur’anic and political references would not be a problem if the Qur’an, like the New Testament, was laced with historical and geographical detail from which we could locate it in time and place, but it isn’t. Intriguingly, there are only four references to a man called Muhammad, compared to 96 references to Jesus. The Qur’an positively oozes with references to Old and New Testament people and events, but not Arabian events. There are only nine place names mentioned, just two of which can be located from contemporary secular records; Mt Sinai and Yathrib, which became Medina. Five others appear for the very first time in the Qur’an, including the word Mecca.
Eleventh; The Nabataeans were polytheists, worshipping Du-shara (a high god associated with Zeus), Baal (a high god of the Canaanites), Hubal (a high god of the Arabs, a derivative of Baal and possibly the proper name of Allah), Allat (associated with Athena and daughter of Allah), Manāt (wife of Hubal), Al-Uzza (daughter of Allah and associated with Aphrodite), Baalshamin (associated with Zeus), Qos (associated with Apollo), Manotu (believed to be Manāt, the third of Allah’s daughters), Isis (an Egyptian goddess), Tyche (associated with the zodiac), and several other lesser gods. It was truly a melting pot.
As you can see there is a very close association between the gods of Petra and the gods mentioned in the Qur’an. The Qur’an specifically references several of these gods besides Allah. Al-Uzza, Allat and Manat, all daughters gods, are mentioned in the famous Satanic Verses (Q53:19-21), an incident where Muhammad endorses worship of these gods, only to say later that Satan tricked him with this particular revelation. This raises serious questions about both Muhammad, the source of his revelations, his beliefs and his claims to speak for Allah.
In addition, Islamic tradition actually says that Muhammad’s tribe, supposedly called the Quraysh, were previously worshippers of Hubal, the high god of their Ka’aba. Indeed the Quraysh controlled the worship of this god, and the Ka’aba itself. Muhammad’s grandfather was said to be involved in a significant incident in which he appealed to Hubal for help in not sacrificing his son Abdullah, who was Muhammad’s father. This name, Abdullah, is derived from the word Allah, a contraction of the words al-illah which only means the god. It is not a name, but a title similar in fashion to Christians calling their deity God, when his name is actually Yahweh. Other Arabian gods were also given the honorific title of Allah. So, Hubal was the name of the god and Allah was its respectful title as the high god above all others. The late Princeton Professor Patricia Crone, in her book Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, says that no Arabian Ka’aba housed two male gods. If the Ka’aba represented Allah, it also represented the same god by a different name, Hubal (p192-193). Tellingly, in all of the Qur’an there is no condemnation of Hubal to be found anywhere. If my thesis is correct and Allah, the god, is actually Hubal, then the Qur’an condemns in the most violent terms any person who does not worship the Arabic pagan diety called Hubal.
In conclusion, if Islam was such a clean break with its polytheistic past and a move to the one true universal creator of the universe, then why did they choose a local high god from the Nabataean pantheon, with all the elaborate worship rituals of polytheistic Nabataea that went with it? Why do the eleven lines of evidence above point a very fat finger toward Petra, lower Palestine and Nabataea? Why did early Muslim worshippers consider it logical and appropriate to build houses of worship that faced Petra? Why does the Qur’an fabricate the story of the change of prayer in Muhammad’s lifetime? Is it all a residue of the great hajj to Mamre that had taken place since time immemorial?
These questions only make sense if we assume no clean break with the past, but the maturity and expansion of a form of religion long familiar and known to outsiders. A religion and culture which, with the collapse of both the Byzantine and Persian empires concurrently, decided to go regional, challenging both Judaism and Christianity for top-dog status in the shared constituency of Palestine and Syria. Perhaps, knowing this awkward origin, was incentive enough for later Islamic converts and scholars to rewrite the Qur’an and Islam into their own mould, a global mould. After all, a global empire must have a global prophet, a global book and a global mandate, it cannot be the product of a minor regional deity. A lot of editing was needed to achieve this new imperial status.
Exactly how much editing occurred in the two centuries after the Arab invasion of the Fertile Crescent will now be explored, first by reference to Persia and its Zoroastrian religion.
THE INFLUENCE OF ZOROASTRIANISM
Let’s get straight to the point. There are far too many uncanny and suspicious parallels between the life of Muhammad and the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster to be a coincidence. The outline of the life of Zoroaster that follows is enough to raise serious questions about Islamic myth-building.
It is believed Zoroaster lived between 1,500 and 600BC in Iran. No one knows for sure, but he started one of the oldest religions in the world, and, if the older date is correct, it emerged concurrently with Hinduism and the Judaism. Zoroaster was an influential priest in a polytheistic culture, but at the age of 30 years he rebelled against polytheistic practices after an angelic vision from heaven telling him there is only one true diety, the god Ahura Mazda, who was beyond human knowledge, human ability to comprehend and relate to. Over succeeding years there were many more visions. Zoroaster became the perfect intermediary for this new truth; he was indeed a divinely appointed prophet. In response to these visions he began to teach monotheism, but was strongly opposed by those in authority where he lived so left for another city. He then won many converts in his new home city. Idol worshippers tried to violently crush his religion. He legitimised holy war against them and so new the religion triumphed in his old city and right across Persia.
Like Islam, Zoroastrianism taught a belief in a single god, and heaven, hell, and judgement after death. It divided the world up into truth and lies, black and white, you are either with us or against us, with no ground in between. Zoroaster is even said to have journeyed to heaven one night, and guess what, Muhammad also journeyed to Jerusalem and back in a single night! Zoroaster authorised prayers to be said five times a day, but only ever in the most holiest of languages, Avestan, a language closely related to ancient Sanskrit. Zoroaster’s oral sayings were memorised and handed down, then written down many hundreds of years later.
Why is every fact in the last two paragraphs perfectly mirrored in the supposed true life of Muhammad? Did Zoroastrianism infiltrate Islam and change the story into its own image, or did Islamic scholars simply replicate the template they deemed most politically expedient?
Zoroastrianism was once one of the great religions of the ancient world. Zoroastrian priests were even represented at the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). But its Achilles Heel was its tight relationship with the imperial power of Persia. When the Arab empire conquered Persia, Zoroastrianism faced an existential crisis as it was not considered one of the three peoples of the book (Q 3:64-71). With the collapse of Zoroastrianism and the empire behind it, many ordinary Persians became Nestorian Christians and spread their new-found faith into Central Asia and China, creating a even larger Christian community in Asia than existed in Europe in the Middle Ages. At the same time, many former Zoroastrian priests were observed by local Jewish Rabbis to be preserving their status in the new order and converting to Islam, bringing their beliefs with them. This was not a new phenomenon. Many Roman pagan priests did the same thing centuries before when their temples were converted to churches under Emperor Constantine’s orders. They brought the worship of the goddess Diana/Artemis with them as the worship of Mary, mother of Jesus. Could the uncanny correlation between the life of Zoroaster and Muhammad be similar religious plagiarism in action?
Digging deeper, there are other signs of this infiltration. The Islamic practice of washing three times before saying prayers five times a day perfectly reflects the Zoroastrian tradition, 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 wash their hands before prayer. Muslims copy this tradition. To finish off on a not so minor point, Zoroastrianism also taught that righteous men will be rewarded with eternal prostitutes in paradise. In the Qur’an the name is for these prostitutes is houris, but the ancient Persian is term paari (Q 55:45-78)
These facts raise more questions than they answer. But we are only just getting started.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE CULT OF SIN
There were other, more ancient religions and beliefs in Persia too. The cult of the god called Sin, sometimes called Nannar, 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 city of Abraham, who was called to leave Zoroastrianism and this 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, and the basis of the term the wilderness of Sin. Sin, the moon god, was also extensively worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia. According to renowned Princeton University academic Berta Segall, South Arabia’s stellar religion has always been dominated by the Moon-god in various variations (Berta Segall, The Iconography of Cosmic Kingship, the Art Bulletin, vol.38, 1956, p.77). This makes sense when you understand that a lot of travel had to done by night in this region. Two of the three chief gods worshipped in South Arabia were the moon gods Sin and Amm.
The connection to moon worship was a thus a deeply held feature of Arab polytheism at the time Islam emerged. The claim by Islamic apologists that the adoption of the crescent moon as the pre-eminent symbol of Islam only arose after the conquest of Constantinople in the 15th Century is a decoy to the facts and flies in the face of all Qur’anic teachings about adopting un-Islamic practices. What Islamists do not tell you is that Marwan II, the last of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphs, moved his capital from Syria to…the Iraqi city of Harran, the very capital of the cult of Sin, without even bothering to stop their worship when he got there! Legend even suggests the locals convinced the Muslims into thinking they were the fabled Sabeans, the third group designated as peoples of the Book in the Qur’an (Q 5:69).
Was Allah himself a moon god? The jury is still out. There is evidence both ways and the case is not settled on this question. However, we can be confident that at least some symbolism of moon worship still exists inside Islam by the curious use of a crescent moon in nearly all their emblems. And just in case you thought this is odd, just remember that, in western society, the first working day of each week is also dedicated to the moon!
INFLUENCE OF JUDAISM
Judaism has had a great influence on the world. Its strident monotheism, reflected in Christianity, has changed the world forever. It molded Islam too. Islam clearly relies on Jewish concepts of monotheism, prophets, scripture, fasting, prayer, alms, directional prayer, angels, heaven, hell, Satan, reward and punishment, and the Ten commandments. Islam’s writings therefore draw inspiration from a roll-call of references to Old Testament prophets, history and events. There are Islamic versions of the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, Moses, Saul, Gideon, David and Goliath. The list actually extends to over fifty people and the events that surround them, often retold as pure propaganda designed to promote Islam’s religious or military agenda, and often retold with great ignorance as to the facts of history. Some 7% of the Qur’an consists of the retelling of Old Testament writings with Moses and Abraham being the two most mentioned names in the Qur’an.
This Islamic affiliation with Judaism is no accident as Jews were an integral part of life in most cities and towns in the Middle East. But they stood apart, confident in the truth and authority of their monotheistic faith. They were Yahweh’s chosen people, descendants of Isaac, at once admired by Arabs but often despised. Islam, an intensely jealous religion, emerged right next door to Judaism
However, deliberately altering facts created a dilemma. Jews saw Muhammad as a false prophet and a pusher of fake ideas (Q 2:106-8, Q 16:101, Q 32:3, Q 4:82) who couldn’t even perform a simple miracle (Q 6:37). So, the Torah and the Qur’an could not both be right. To avoid continual accusations of dodgy scholarship and plagiarism, Muslim scholars quickly and cleverly invented the idea that the Qur’an was the original, perfect and direct copy of eternal tablets kept in heaven and given to their guy (Q 12:1-2, Q 33:40), and that it was actually the Jews who altered their one-time Islamic texts to make themselves look important (Q 2:75). Once this simple but unfounded logic was accepted by the ignorant and faithful, how could the Qur’an be wrong, or even questioned. Islam thus claimed to confirm Judaism, but in reality it mined, plundered and destroyed Jewish history. It superficially claimed continuity, but extinguished the deeper purpose of that continuity by elevating its own local Arab diety in place of Yahweh of the Bible. Very clever indeed.
Were the Jews Originally Allies?
But it wasn’t always this way. Islam began with great respect for Judaism (Q 2:62, 97, Q 4:47). Jews were people of the book. Indeed, reading the Constitution of Medina, a trustworthy document according to all historians, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was a pact between Muslims and Jews for the joint conquest of Palestine, not Mecca. All Arab tribes under the constitution are mentioned, but suspiciously missing are the three Jewish tribes said to be living in Medina at the time, and the Jews are also considered Umma, part of the Islamic community! That doesn’t agree with the official story in the Qur’an, especially the second chronological half. Could it be that Islamic historians, after victory in Palestine and a split with the Jews, rewrote their history to denigrate them via the unquestionable Qur’an. After all, there is no evidence for the destruction of the three Jewish tribes supposedly from Mecca anywhere else in history, and Islamic sources for their destruction are suspiciously late. After the conquest of Palestine, respect quickly changed to anger and then to intolerance and war as Arab aspirations for empire grew and Jews kept dismissing Islam’s claims to exclusive righteousness (Q 9:29-30).
Sacred Law Reinvented
The Jews followed a sacred and ancient written code, the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Torah was the basis of all laws in their culture. It was said to be inspired by God, and according to the Jews, written by Moses under divine instructions. The Talmud and Oral Torah, which was finally codified into the Midrash after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, added to, refined and elaborated on the application of the written Torah to every aspect of life. The Jews introduced to the world the idea of a legal code that controlled private as well as public behaviour. Islam liberally copied this distinctive pattern of divine jurisprudence based on its own original document with added explanatory commentaries.
Judaism and Islam are therefore unique in having national systems of religious law based on an original divine document and supplementary commentaries. Judaism has the Torah, the Talmud and the Midrash, while Islam has the Qur’an and the Hadiths. Islam thus takes from Judaism a belief in the sacredness of all spheres of life. There is no secular, all of life is lived under submission to deific legal systems, from food laws to finance, from clothing to personal relationships. Western law does not regulate such personal behaviour and private thought. Islam does via Sharia law, and would consider it silly not to. It borrowed that idea from Judaism.
So 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 Hadiths, with their rules and regulations began to emerge. This is a highly suspicious coincidence. Could it be that Jewish Rabbi converts to the new religion quickly began regulating every aspect of Islamic life as they had done with their own laws and traditions? Or is that that Islamic scholars came over to Sura desperate for ideas on how to create a legal code out of thin air to reign in their new Arab imperial masters? Either way, it is significant that Jewish laws like stoning for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) made their way into the Islamic legal code when the Qur’an clearly prescribed whipping (Q 24:2)! By the 8th Century, illiterate Arab warriors and all-powerful caliphs both bent on empire building, were indeed being rounded up and legally caged in by converted scholars fashioning a new legal code to keep their new Arab masters under control.
The Islamic Abraham
Born around 2000BC, scholars now tell us that the man called Abraham was very likely a real person. If so, then the account of the life of Abraham leads directly to the front door of Judaism, then out the back door to Christianity and Islam. The Jews trace their ancestry from Abraham’s son Isaac. But the Arabs believe their ancestry comes from another of Abraham’s sons called Ishmael, conceived outside marriage by Abraham and a slave girl named Hagar (Genesis 16:1). Ishmael is described in Genesis as a wild ass of a man who would be against everybody, and everybody against him (Genesis 16:12). Genesis says both lines were promised abundant descendants, but only Isaac was promised covenantal greatness from God (Genesis 17:19-22). Ishmael and his mother were eventually banished to the wilderness of Paran by none other than Abraham’s jealous wife Sarah. Paran, incidentally, just happens to be deep in the Sinai Peninsula near Petra.
You can see where this is going, can’t you! In the Middle East, Arabs were often labelled Hagarites after their ancestral mother, or Ishmaelite’s after their illegitimate father. Throughout history they had often been at war with the Jews (1 Chronicles 5:10-20) while living under the emotional burden of knowing their ancestry. By late antiquity they were living next door to large numbers of newly arrived and haughty Byzantine Christians who had invaded and possessed Palestine in large numbers. The Ishmaelites of Arabia, the Negev and Petra had become scorned second class citizens in world affairs by these new arrivals. Hadn’t they been loved by Abraham? Hadn’t Ishmael also had twelve sons like Abraham’s grandson Jacob? Didn’t they still venerate Abraham at the great tree of Mamre near Hebron, much to the disgust of surrounding Christians who tried to stamp it out? Wasn’t their claim just as valid as everyone else’s?
It was but a small step for men of the cultural and physical fringes of empire who hated shame and craved honour to start following a prophet who suddenly declared they had been robbed of their birth-right by conniving Jews and Christians who rigged the history books to suit themselves. What more primal and motivating drive does a people have than to right a great historical injustice, bring honour where once there was shame, and deal swift justice to those who wronged them. We see this time and time again throughout history, and the example I am thinking of is Hitler’s Germany. It took a mere two decades for him to turn their shame into a war machine. Likewise for Muhammad.
From Muhammad’s time onwards, Arab descent from Abraham has become a source of pride, not shame. Rewriting their own history with a false but appealing narrative, which, by the way, is the very act they accused the Jews of doing, they declared Abraham once and for all time, theirs alone.
The Islamic Moses
And it was not Abraham’s life that was reworked. The life of Muhammad got a makeover too. By the time Muhammad’s biography was first written, which was a suspiciously long 150 years after his passing, his story had not only been moulded into the image of Zoroaster,, as mentioned above, but also that of Moses. After all, wasn’t Muhammad a man like Moses deep in the desert speaking face to face with God, bringing a set of divinely gifted 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 empire was being legitimised with the arrival of Muhammad to be a superstar prophet greater than Moses himself.
Appropriating Jewish Sacred Sites
The true test of any great religion in the ancient world was the temporal blessings that its god bestowed. Empires were a blessing for god, they also brought wealth and great religious monuments were a favour returned. Persia had Zoroastrianism and its imposing stepped Ziggurats. The Byzantines had Christianity and their opulent Hagia Sophia. Judaism had recent memories of Herod’s great temple at Jerusalem. The Arabs, coming from the desert, soon had an empire and wealth but no monuments. So, where to start?
It was no accident that Jews, Christians and Muslims all saw Jerusalem as the centre of the world and rightfully belonging to their religion alone. After its conquest by the Arabs, Muslim builders went to work. They levelled the holiest site in Judaism, the site where Abraham was said to have offered up Isaac, where Solomon dedicated his temple, where Herod had built his masterpiece, and within spitting distance from where Jesus was crucified. There they built the great Dome of the Rock Mosque in 691AD, neither temple, ziggurat or church. Killing two birds with one stone, it served to symbolise Islamic domination of both the Jews and Christians and the superseding of their corrupt ignorant religions. The blessings of God were now with Islam alone. This new temple represented the true primal and superior faith, the uncorrupted faith that the whole world needed to know about. It was the beginning of a quest for regional domination, for empire.
But this great mosque was not enough. Somewhere during the reign of Abd al-Malik, the great caliph who fashioned Islam as we know it today, he decided on a new temple as the ultimate imperial and religious trophy. The focus of religious energy was to be taken from Mamre, Jerusalem and Petra, and dropped a safe distance from meddling religions, deep in the heart of Arabia. A great and familiar Arab Ka’aba, not a replica Jewish temple, was where the new religion would find its true spiritual home once and for all. And it was built in a settlement safe from future attack. After Abd al-Malik’s celebrated pilgrimage into the Arabian Peninsula in 694AD to Ta’if, where his father had served as governor, the orientation of all mosques started turning south and away from Petra, to a small Ka’aba site 100km north west of Ta’if, a site so small it appeared on no trade routes, maps or any secular records until 741AD. Objections to the change in direction raged for some sixty years until living memories were lost, but the die was cast. Mecca was born, and finally began appearing on secular history’s pages in all its Nabataean style, symbolism and glory. From this point on Islam was going to be a distinctly Arab religion.
THE INFLUENCE OF JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN HERECIES
Unfortunately for Muhammad, or whoever wrote the Qur’an, by the time Islam was birthed there were literally hundreds of fanciful and fairytale versions of the Bible and associated legends in circulation around the Roman Empire and especially beyond its fringes where it was safe to read them. Muhammad, and the foreigner that was teaching him about the religions of the day (Q16:103), obviously used many of them to help compile the Qur’an. The writers of the Qur’an claimed they knew how to discern fiction from fact (Q 3:78), however, as you can see from the examples below, they made a few mistakes:
- From the Second Century Talmudic writings came Surah 2:30-38 where we find all angels, except Satan, worshipping Adam.
- Surah 21:51-71 has Abraham destroying idols. This fable is borrowed from another Second Century collection of Jewish folktales called The Midrash Rabbath.
- From the second century fable of Abodah Sarah we find Allah threatening to drop Mt Sinai on the Jews (Q 7:171).
- The story of the prophet known as The Two Horned One (Q 18:82-101) is derived from the Romance of Alexander (the Great), but Alexander was no Muslim.
- The story of King Solomon, the hoopee bird and the queen of Sheba (Q 27:17-44) came from The II Targum of Esther, another Second Century Jewish fairy tale
- The story of Mary Imram and Zechariah (Q 3:31-41) comes from a Second Century Christian folktale included in The Protoevangelion’s James the Lesser.
- Fanciful stories about Jesus’ birth in Surah 19:16-28 come from a Second Century book known as The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus.
- The story of the talking baby Jesus (Q 19:29-33) come from The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus making birds of clay (Q 3:49) comes from Thomas’ Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ.
- The story of Cain and Abel in Surah 5:31-32 comes from The Targum of Jonathon Ben Uzziah and Bar Sanhedrin, 4:5.
After reading these fanciful stories, all passed off as divinely inspired truth by the Qur’an, you have a choice. You could, as the Muslim faithful do, conclude that these suspiciously familiar accounts in the Qur’an were actually real history, had nothing to do with surrounding legends, came directly from the mind of Allah the creator of the universe, were stored for eternity in heaven on sanctified tablets, were divinely and mystically passed to an illiterate man called Muhammad, faithfully and perfectly memorised by his followers, and then recorded in a book without a single error, a book that you should never question because of its utter holiness. Or, you can conclude they were plagiarised by ignorant men who didn’t know any better. Occam’s Razor is the tool you should use to decide which is the better conclusion.
Why would writers of the Qur’an make such a colossal error of judgement? Perhaps it was due to ignorance. Perhaps, by inserting some apocryphal writings, they were deliberately trying to prove their point that the Jews and Christians had indeed corrupted their own original scriptures and they were finally correcting major mistakes and omissions. Perhaps they were advised by wayward Christian heretics and Jews who knew no better themselves. I believe this last reason is closest to the truth. The all-powerful Catholic Church had driven thousands of heretics out of its realm and they found themselves living on the fringes of the empire, peddling their teachings to whoever would listen, and the early Muslims were listening. We will never know the full answer, but with the Qur’an claiming that Mary was part of the Trinity (Q 5:116) and that Aaron was Mary’s brother (Q 19:27-29), we have ample proof of the muddled nature of Qur’anic sources. The indisputable fact of these folktales being in the Qur’an puts to rest once and for all the challenge laid down in Surah 4:82 that if the Qur’an was not from Allah then it would contain contradictions.
THE INFLUENCE OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY
Some five centuries before Islam’s emergence, the apostle Paul visited Athens and launched the first Christian attack on the intellectual philosophies of the great thinkers of Athens (Acts 17). In time Christianity would prevail, but Greek philosophy would in turn infiltrate Christianity. Plato was particularly popular with Christian philosophers. The thousand year old school of Athenian philosophy continued to influence the world around it up until was shut down in 531AD under the orders of Emperor Justinian. Many of the Greek philosophers refused to convert so left to seek asylum in Persia. After but a single year they were rejected by the Persians so moved to Syria. Here, after their works were translated into Syriac and Arabic, they fell into obscurity. Their ideas live on today inside Islam at its very core understanding of the nature of their god. Greek mathematics and logic also gave birth to Islam’s scientific golden age, and eventually came back to Europe with the Crusaders, sparking the Renaissance and the rise of Western Civilisation as we know it today.
So, what was it about Greek thinking that influenced the Arab concept of god? 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. Whereas Christianity identified with Plato in saying ultimate reality is indeed good, it just rejected the impersonal aspect. God, in Christian theology, was good, personal and knowable. While the great school of philosophy was still in Athens, Neo-Platonism extended Plato’s teachings as a defence against the rise of Christianity. It taught that the creator, the one, was categorically beyond knowing, utterly incomprehensible, an absolute unity rather than a trinity, and impenetrable to humans.
The Greeks were not the only people fighting the rise of Christianity. Jews were also conducting a rear-guard action against what they saw as the encroaching Messianic cult of Christianity and its claim of absolute truth. They argued that Christians, who believed in the trinity, were not true monotheists but actually polytheists, totally corrupting Judaism in its teachings.
Taking a leaf out of Judaism’s understanding of God that denied the trinity, Muhammad, or whoever wrote the Qur’an, went further and adopted the ideas of the Neo-Platonists wholeheartedly. In time Islam came to teach that their god Allah was so great it was beyond knowing, beyond consciousness, unable to be described with human attributes and without personality traits. 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 early Islam several advantages. It enabled them to counter New Testament teachings about the trinity, the deity of Jesus, 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.
However, from a purely logical point of view, the adoption of Neo-Platonism also created Islam’s ultimate spiritual, philosophical and cultural weaknesses. To begin with, the unknowability of God destroys Muhammad’s claim to have communicated with him. The unknowability of God also undermines Islam’s claim that their God is superior. How can he be superior if he is unknowable? Because Allah’s character is the opposite of Yahweh, it also utterly destroys Islam’s claim that the God of the Christians and Jews is the same God they worship. It also makes a mockery of those Quranic verses where it is said that God breathed when he created man with his hands (Q 38:71-75). These are knowable human attributes! In addition, and by necessity, Islam became a religion of rituals and formalities, instead of relationship and deep spirituality. Independent thinking was quashed. Blind obedience to an unknowable being was demanded. Human rights became obsolete.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE SAMARITANS
Almost all that the modern world knows about the Samaritans comes from a parable told by Jesus illustrating neighbourly love (Luke 10:25-37). But there’s much more to the story. Samaritanism was a splinter religion that turned away from Judaism very early in its history. They looked back to Moses alone for inspiration, believing Judaism to be utterly corrupted by the 70 year captivity in Zoroastrian Babylon. They also believed Jerusalem was not the true place of worship. The Samaritan temple was at Mt Gerizim, some 60 kilometres to the north, where it is said Joshua himself had laid the temple’s foundation stone. Samaritans believed that all scriptures that came after Moses, whether Jewish or Christian, were impure, corrupt and works of men with an agenda. The early Islamists adopted this concept to their own advantage. But there was more to be mined.
To the Samaritans, Yahweh was one. There creed was: There is no God but One. Let us believe in Him, and in Moses, his Prophet (Crown, Pummer and Tal, page 161). Their faith was in the absolute unity of Yahweh. To the Samaritans, Yahweh could not be understood by human beings apart from his divine revelation, which was of course the Samaritan Torah, a document created in heaven before the foundation of the world. Submission to that revelation was paramount and absolute. Once again this all sounds familiar to anyone versed in Islamic doctrine.
The Samaritan revolts were a series of insurrections during the 5th and 6th Centuries in Palestine, launched against the Byzantine Empire. They were brutally suppressed and some fifty thousand Samaritans fled Palestine while twenty thousand Samaritan children were sold as slaves. Samaritan doctrines and its human diaspora then seeped into surrounding cultures and seem to have had significant influence on proto-Islam. Muhammad is said to have travelled widely in the areas where Samaritans lived and moved into, and as you can see from the summary above, he clearly absorbed some of their ideas. Islamic doctrines about the nature of god, Jerusalem not being the true place of worship, the expectation of absolute obedience, corrupted Jewish scriptures, and the recitation of the Shahadah Creed all find parallels in old Samaritan beliefs.
THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY
The Qur’an was written in two halves. The first was during an era of cooperation with surrounding religions, the second was an era of domination of the same religions. Through reading the Qur’an one can see that Islam began with great respect for Christianity. Co-operation and the adoption of Christian beliefs was normal. However, once Islam became politically dominant and began conquering nearby nations, it instinctively knew that if it did not distance itself from Christianity, it would one day be subdued by its greatest ideological enemy (Q 8:39, Q 9: 29-30, 36, 73, 123, Q 48:28, Q 61:9). Nothing has changed in 1,400 years! In time Islam conquered and destroyed Christianity in its historic heartland of the Fertile Crescent, North Africa and Anatolia. Islam then spread into, south western Europe, South Asia, China, South East Asia, East Africa, Southern Europe and finally Eastern Europe itself in the Fifteenth Century via Constantinople. Islam has always lusted after Europe. We are currently, in the early 21st Century, witnessing Islam’s fourth attempt to conquer European Christendom.
Jesus Honoured, Then Rebranded
Islam borrowed much from genuine Christianity, from the distorted Byzantine catholic version of it (Q 5:116) that prevailed at the time of Muhammad, and from the fanciful folk-tales spread in its name, as described above. If Islamic history is to be believed, of which I have grave doubts, Muhammad was greatly involved with Christians in his early life. But let’s go with the official story for a minute. Islamic tradition says that he enjoyed the favour of Nofel, a Christian leader in Mecca and married Nofel’s niece Khadijah. Muhammad is said to have travelled extensively to Syria, Iraq and Yemen for trade, where he would have been exposed to the range of religious beliefs on offer at every market place. In the idolatrous city where he lived there were also Hanifites, Arabs who believed in monotheism. These also influenced his ideas about monotheism. It is said that Nofel was himself a Hanifite from Muhammad’s own tribe who had converted to Christianity. Indeed whole Arabian tribes, such as the Ghassanids in the north, had already converted to Christianity.
Some Christian academics such as Daniel Shayesteh, who come from a Muslim background and have a deep understanding of Islamic literature, can see subtle evidence in early Qur’anic writings that Muhammad came very close to becoming a Christian in his early life. Perhaps this is why Jesus, called Isa in the Qur’an, is mentioned 96 times while Muhammad is mentioned only 4. In the Qur’an Jesus is the only sinless man. Jesus is the only person to have a virgin birth (Q 3:45-47). Jesus was sent from Allah and went straight back to heaven (Q 3:55). Jesus died and is the only person who rose from the dead (Q 19:33). It is obvious that Muhammad initially created an environment where Christians are initially very highly esteemed (Q 2:62).
Islamic traditions also say that as time went on, both Jews and Christians refused to honour Muhammad as one of their own. In his lust for power and his personal insecurity Muhammad grew indignant and violent, seeing himself and his teachings as superseding Christian beliefs. The Qur’an eventually decreed Muhammad to be the final and greatest prophet over and above Jesus and Christianity, a new messiah figure no less (Q 33:40). Muhammad was not the first to make such claims (Matthew 24:4-11). The Qur’an goes on to claim, without any proof, that the New Testament actually prophesied Muhammad’s coming (Q 61:6). The Qur’an also decrees the Abrahamic covenantal promises came down through history via Ishmael, not Isaac (Q 37:99-109). The Qur’an added, twisted and rebranded many Christian beliefs about salvation, heaven, hell and judgement. The Qur’an eventually condemned the trinity (Q 4:171), the resurrection of Jesus (Q 4:157-158), and Christians as a whole (Q 9:30-31), demanding they follow Islam or face violent consequences. The Qur’an, once again without any proof, also accused both Jews and Christians of corrupting their own books, which they claim were once purely Islamic literature (Q 11:110).
In the pages of the Qur’an Jesus thus eventually morphs into a Muslim whipping boy, bringing vengeful, violent judgement upon obstinate Christians on the last day judgement. Aggression and temporal power, not religious tolerance and co-operation became the core official Islamic creed. In many ways this change of thinking as the Qur’an progresses is much more likely to have come from the progression of Arab empire than from the lips of its founding prophet.
Confusion Over The Holy Spirit
The Qur’an also appropriates another unique feature of the New Testament, that of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity. In the Qur’an the Holy Spirit is called Ruh Al-Qudus, with ruh meaning breath. However, as with many concepts in the Qur’an, the use of the term is not consistent. In some places it means an angel and this is the most widely held view (Q 19:15-19). This surah is plagiarised from Luke 1:26-38. See also Surah 16:100-104. In others it can be a creative word from Allah through Isa (Q 4:165-169, 3:40-44). In others it can be the breath of life (Q 21:90-94, 66:10-14), passages plagiarised from Matthew 1:20. References from Surah 15:25-29 and 32:5-9, create great confusion for Islam as they are a direct copy of Genesis 2:7. Their depiction of Allah’s attributes is in defiance of the Islamic teaching that Allah has no relationship or connection with human attributes. At the end of the day Muhammad himself admitted he was confused about his own teaching on the Holy Spirit (Q 17:85-89).
Lent Becomes Ramadan
Very early in church history we have records of Christians observing a period of self-denial and fasting in the lead up to Easter to remind them of the self-sacrifice of Jesus in going to the cross. They called it Lent. This was formalised under the Catholic Church and forty days was decided upon to remind Christians of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Many Christians traditions infiltrated the fringes of the empire in the hundreds of years leading up to the birth of Islam. Ramadan looks like it is one of these (Q 2:182-3) with its thirty days of fasting and prayers. The similarities are too close for coincidence. The Hadiths freely acknowledge the pre-Islamic roots of Ramadan but do not go the extra mile and acknowledge their true foundation (Bukhari 5:58-172).
THE INFLUENCE OF THE BYZANTINES
Fifty years after their conquests began, the Arabs were now in charge of an emerging political empire built on the combined crumbling frontiers of the Byzantine and Persian empires. The regions new Arab rulers were in a privileged position to observe and adopt practices that worked to entrench their political power. Under the commanding and autocratic rule of Abd al-Malik, who reigned from 685 to 705AD, the role of Caliph was modelled after a combination of the Christian emperor and its Pope. The role of the obscure founder of Islam, Muhammad, was elevated substantially into that of a prophet. Indeed it was under his rule that we find the first objective evidence of Muhammad’s existence in coins minted by Abd al-Malik with Muhammad’s name around 690AD. Under Abd al-Malik the Temple Mount became a place of Islamic worship with the erection of the Dome Of The Rock Mosque, which gives us our second historical mention of Muhammad, in 691AD. Under Abd al-Malik the language of government was changed to Arabic, as was the coinage. In the decades after his rule ended, the direction of prayer began to point to the newly emerging city of Mecca, instead of its traditional direction toward Petra. It was Abd al-Malik, above anyone else, who turned the obscure sayings of a mysterious desert prophet into the Arab/Islamic Empire we know today. He was the Islamic version of Christendom’s Emperor Justinian.
The Byzantines under Justinian legacy were the perfect role model for Abd al-Malik to execute this transition. They had divided the world into two camps, the righteous and the pagans. Within Justinian‘s empire of faith and attached legal code, there was to be only one religion tolerated. Treatment of non-believers was severe: legally enforced second class citizenship, forced conversions, heavy taxation, and expulsion from civil service. Heretics too were quickly dispatched, both geographically and physically to the edges of the empire. Massive churches, such as the Hagia Sophia, reinforced spiritual and temporal power. Palestine, and especially Jerusalem, was the ultimate trophy and Catholic Byzantine’s possession of it spoke of its divine favour before God. The Byzantines were on a mission to Christianise the world, by force of arms if necessary, and pagan temples were not tolerated. A great Byzantine basilica was even built over the site of the sacred tree of Mamre, much to the disgust of local Arabs. The Byzantines dominated both language and culture. All of these methods of social, religious and political control were adopted in some form by the new Islamic empire under Abd al-Malik. He learnt from the best.
In the hundred years after Abd al-Malik, Islam, as Christianity had done before, developed its own doctrinal cannon as it culled vast quantities of extraneous and fictional material from the Hadiths, and probably the Qur’an as well. Because the Qur’an was handed down orally, for over 150 years followers of Muhammad people claiming direct connection with him had been conveniently remembering all sorts of fanciful and embellished sayings of the prophet that fitted their own agenda perfectly. This is where we find the legend of Muhammad as the perfect prophet and leader, in the mould of Zoroaster, Moses and Jesus being sculpted. An Iranian scholar, Abu Dawud, had to cull at least 500,000 alleged sayings of Muhammad when compiling his own authentic hadith, not written until over 200 years after the death of Muhammad! It was also not until 200 years after Muhammad that we have the first biography of his life. This is the equivalent of having the first Christian gospel written in the 3rd Century AD. This is suspiciously late, and exists in a vacuum of objective historical material. There is no secular literature about Muhammad in existence from his own lifetime. All we have is what predisposed Islamic scholars have given us, with a few snippets from around 690AD.
In time Islamic legal jurisprudence, Sharia Law, would be developed and refined, drawing on precedent from several empires and many belief systems, but especially the Jewish Talmud. The administrative language of the Levant was also changed forever, cementing Arabic as the lingua franca from Morocco to Pakistan for the next 1,300 years. For the rest of history the Islamic empire would conduct an eternal war against the Christian faith, knowing full well only one of the two religions would be triumphant. A new chapter in that war has recently begun inside Europe, and inside the Muslim realm. My seminars titled The Rise and Fall of Islam, and Islam in 2100AD give you an insight into how this war will unfold over the course of this century.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE ARAB BEDOUINS
Poetry and Poets
Poets are honoured in many cultures, but none so much as the Middle East and the Bedouin culture of pre-Islamic Arabia. Being largely an oral culture, poetry was everything. It was history, culture, wisdom, patronage, identity, and above all, the most popular form of art. To be a poet was to be an honoured and respected citizen, a veritable rock-star of that era, and the most popular poetry was that which glorified your tribe and ridiculed all others. In Bedouin poetry eloquence was more important than content, and the most successful poets gained the social, political, economic and religious favour of the tribe.
Being a highly superstitious culture, Arabian poets believed that no one could become a great poet unless a jinn, a spirit being created by Allah (Q 15:27), appeared to him and took over (Q 6:130). This was not such an odd thing to believe in the ancient world, or the modern for that matter. The Greeks honoured the spiritually possessed Oracle of Delphi, and many people today seek the guidance of a medium with divine insight. The Qur’an claims Muhammad’s personal messenger was an angel, but in the link above to Surah 6:130, you can see that the special messengers from Allah were actually said to be Jinn, and that Satan, called Iblis, was a also a Jinn (Q 18:50). Muhammad’s initial encounter with his angel was violent and greatly forced against his human will, not what you would expect from the Biblical Gabriel, but what you would from an Arabian Jinn. Indeed most of the Islamic theology relating to the Jinn dates back to Christian theology regarding demons. This is yet another example of the plagiarism of Islam.
If the claims of the Qur’an are true, then Muhammad did indeed appeal to the Bedouin traditions and claimed to be possessed by a spirit being (Q 53:4-10). He then became an oracle for this being and a spiritual leader in his tribal circles. However, he never claimed to be just a mere poet (Q 69:38-42), but something much greater, a prophet of revelation from the Lord of the worlds (Q 69:43), a great prophet in the mould and line of the Jews and Christians no less.
Whatever Muhammad thought of himself, the people still saw him as a poet (Q37:36). What’s more, the Qur’an is written in a deeply poetic style, unique to that culture. Time and time again the Qur’an appeals to its eloquent literary style, called rhymed prose, where every fifth line rhymes, as the ultimate test of its divine origin (Q 2:23, Q 17:88, Q 72:1-2). This is exactly the type of appeal we would expect of poetry in the Bedouin culture of the day, but quite odd to any objective, evidence-based enquiry. In no other culture could this claim be taken seriously. Even in his own time some still called it a bogus claim (Q 10:38). For an in-depth investigation into how Muhammad’s assertions for his Qur’an stacks up under pressure, please refer to my essay called Islam’s Book.
Love of War
The Bedouin culture was nomadic, tribal, fiercely loyal and warlike. Family hierarchy, clan and tribal attachment, honour, shame and violence were deeply ingrained into daily life. Having no central government, they were anarchists by instinct, decrying any form of external control. Each tribes leader, the tribal imam, was highly venerated and beyond questioning or challenge. The 6th Century Bedouin poet, Abīd ibn al-Abras, summed up Bedouin culture well when he said said that we follow the ways of our forefathers, those who kindled wars and were faithful to the ties of kinship (Hoyland 2001, P121-2).
The Roman and Persian empires had long exploited this Bedouin love of fighting via a steady stream of valuable Arab mercenaries recruited into their armies. Imperial frontiers needed constant defence, and who better to defend them than those that lived there. Indeed whole tribes, such as the Judham and the Amila had migrated north to take advantage of the new employment and trade opportunities. The mercenaries working for the Byzantines were, collectively called Saracens or the Foederati. Some, like the Ghassanids, had become largely Christian and fought for the Byzantines against the Arabs. Others, such as the arch enemies of the Ghassanids, the Lakmids, fought for the Persians.
The devastating plague of Justinian that began in 541AD, raged for decades and killed a third of both the Byzantine and Persian populations, changed everything. Afterward Arab Mercenaries were needed more than ever to prop up the two crumbling, competing façades of power. It was the filling of both imperial armies with Arab soldiers that gave latter Islamic warriors the skills to eventually drive both the Persians and the Byzantines out of the Levant a hundred years later. It was the abundance of Byzantine and Persian Arab mercenaries fighting their own people that explains why tired imperial armies collapsed so quickly. Old Arab tribal enemies, now united under the newly-minted vision of Arab Imperial glory, would then storm through North Africa and on to Pakistan, creating a vast empire within a few generations.
It is this deeply embedded Bedouin culture of violence that we also find in the Qur’an. Over and over again, it proclaims vengeance and bloodshed on whoever challenges, disagrees, mocks, and disbelieves the prophet, the Islamic agenda and the Qur’an (Q 2:190-193, Q 16:106, Q 16:75, Bukhari vol 5, book 58, No 148, Q 24:2, Q 22:19-22, Surah 9: all ), which by definition conveniently meant the Arabs conquerors. These are the words of justification for conquest, not a holy man and his book in a desert. Conquest is in the DNA of the Qur’an. It is the foundational reason why Islam spread by the sword, and that down through the ages Islam been at war with the rest of the world. All of this is supposedly the perfect will of the Muslim god. However, it more accurately reflects a primitive Bedouin culture that lacked a central government. Islam was birthed in blood, grew into an empire through blood, ruled through blood, fights with itself constantly, and has now declared war on the West. If you wish to see ancient Bedouin culture at work today, consider the actions of any number of Islamic terrorist organisations active in the world today, pushing death, violence and destruction on innocent people and cultures.
Pilgrimage to holy sites is nothing new. The Bedouins practiced their own form of pilgrimage to their various Ka’aba’s, containing their polytheistic gods. The establishment of a single Ka’aba and a single god, with pilgrimage (hajj) to that site is an extension of this practice Q 22:27). The worship of a meteorite was also well established before Islam sanctified it at Mecca, as was the throwing of stones during the Hajj, walking around the meteorite seven times, animal sacrifices at the end of the hajj, the timing of the hajj by the phases of the moon, amongst many other practices. It is instructive to note that the only excuse offered by Islamic theologians for the persistence of these Bedouin practices inside Islam is that they somehow came from Abraham. There is no proof for this claim, but an abundance of evidence to the contrary.
I trust by now you have come the same conclusion as I have, that Islam is a largely a fabrication. If Islam is the one true universal religion, the primal religion, the true message of all great prophets the following questions should not exist:
Why is there such a vacuum of historical data that can verify the Islamic version of Islam?
Why did all mosques face Petra for the first hundred years, when the Qur’an says they didn’t?
Why is Mecca completely missing from history until 741AD?
Why is Muhammad’s tribe completely missing from secular historical records?
Why does the Qur’an talk about agriculture at Mecca when it is climatically impossible?
Why does Islam appeal to obscure and illogical Bedouin proofs of authenticity?
Why did Islam adopt so many Nabataean cultural expressions and religious rituals?
Why does the Qur’an rarely mention names or places if it was a true historical document?
Why does the Qur’an contain so much fiction plagiarised from apocryphal writings?
Why did the language of the Qur’an come from Nabataea and not from deep in Arabia?
Why does the Qur’an talk about a place at the Dead Sea as being close by its author?
Why would all early caliphs base themselves in Palestine, Syria and Iraq instead of Arabia?
Why does the Qur’an tell Biblical stories so badly?
Why does Islam steal so many people from the Old and New Testament?
Why is the life of Muhammad a suspiciously exact mirror of the life of Zoroaster?
Why does the Qur’an never condemn the old pagan high god, Hubal?
Why did Islam adopt a Nabataean cube containing a meteorite as its most holy shrine?
Why did the crescent moon of the Cult of Sin become the symbol of Islam?
Why did Islam adopt Samaritan and secular Greek concepts of the creator?
Why does Islam try to absorb and then destroy Judaism?
Why did Islam try to absorb and then destroy Christianity?
Why did Islam adopt the same type of legal system as the Jews?
Why is the Qur’an friendly toward Jews and Christians, but suddenly change its attitude?
Why does Islam paint Muhammad as a messiah figure in the line of Moses and Jesus?
Why is Muhammad missing in action from historical records until 690AD?
Why does Islam copy Zoroastrian beliefs about getting through hell?
Why does Islam copy Zoroastrian’s five daily prayers against the Qur’ans instructions?
Why does Islamic law happen to develop next to the centre of Jewish jurisprudence?
Why is the Sahadah Creed a direct copy of the Samaritan creed?
Why does Islam have such a deep need to claim Abraham for themselves?
Why is there such confusion about the nature of the Holy Spirit in the Qur’an?
Why does Islam inflict Bedouin standards of violence and vengeance upon the world?
The fact that these questions do exist, and that Islamic scholars fight to supress them rather than engage and answer them, is testimony to the brittle and insecure nature of the religion. The very core beliefs about the origins of Islam are now crumbling. Islam is only just beginning to come under the objective academic microscope, and the result so far is not looking good for the verification of their version of history. It is my belief that, as time progresses, future academics will continue to find more evidence that will deeply challenge the core beliefs and narrative of this religion that has done so much to suppress its own truth.
For further information on Islam I invite you to read other essays in this series: