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Is The Qu’ran The Word of God?

Jay Smith

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  003white   For A Slightly less Technical Evaluation Of The Qur’an.. See The Qur’an

Also See Section A Remarkable Book Called The Bible


Is The Qur’an The Word Of God... Part I  
Is The Qur’an The Word Of God... Part II
Is The Qur’an The Word Of God... Part III


D: An External Critique of the Qur'an
D1: Hijra
D2: Qibla
D3: The Jews
Armenian Chronicler of 660 A.D.
Doctrina Iacobi
D4: Mecca
D5: Dome of the Rock
D6: Muhammad
Nevo's Rock inscriptions
D7: 'Muslim' and 'Islam'
D8: Qur'an
E: Can We Use These Non-Muslim Sources?
F: Conclusion
G: References Cited

An External Critique of the Qur'an
Fortunately we are not totally dependent on the late Muslim sources or the Qur'an itself for our data on the origins of the Qur'an, and Islam. There were other people in existence at that time, who lived close by and have left us material which we can use. Non-Muslim evidence is found in a body of material in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Coptic literatures from the time of the conquests (seventh century) onwards (Crone 1980:15). We also have a large body of Arabic inscriptions, which pre-date the Muslim traditions (Nevo 1994:109). Yet, these materials all seem to contradict much of what the traditions and the Qur'an say. And it is this material which has proved most helpful in assessing whether the Qur'an is the true and final Word of God. It is this material which Muslims will need to pay attention to in the future, and against which they will need to come up with a ready defense. Let us then look at what it has to say.

D1: Hijra
A papyrus dated 643 A.D. has been discovered which speaks of the year twenty two,' suggesting that something happened in 622 A.D. among the Arabs which coincides with the year of the hijra (Cook 1983:74). What it was that happened we are not sure as the papyrus does not tell us. Could this be the date that Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and nothing more, or is it the date when the Arab conquest commenced? While Islamic tradition attributes this Hijra from Mecca to Medina, they can provide no early source (in other words a seventh century source) which will attest to the historicity of this exodus (Crone-Cook 1977:160). The earliest manuscript we have is an inner Arabian biography of the prophet attested in a papyrus of the late Umayyad period, which places it around 750 A.D., over 100 years later (Grohmann 1963:71).

The Arabic material in our possession (coins, papyri, inscriptions) all omit to name the era (the tombstone which dates the year twenty nine of the hijra,' cited by many Muslims, is known only from a late literary source). Greek and Syriac materials refer to the era as that of the Arabs, but it is two Nestorian ecclesiastical documents from 676 A.D. and 680 A.D. which give us the starting point as the emigration of the Ishmaelites from not within Arabia, but from Arabia to the promised land, possibly outside of Arabia (Crone-Cook 1977:9,160-161).

And what is this promised land? An Islamic tradition compiled by Abu Dawud gives us a clue. It says, "there will be hijra' after hijra,' but the best of men are to follow the hijra' of Abraham." (Abu Dawud 1348:388) While some Muslims maintain this must be understood theologically to imply Abraham's movement from idolatry to monotheism, I think it best to retain the Biblical and Jewish understanding of Abraham's exodus which was from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, via Haran (Genesis 11:31-12:5). Thus it would seem more likely that the promised land to which the Arabs are emigrating is none other than the Syro-Palestinian coastline: from Sidon to Gaza and inland to the Dead Sea cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Kitchen 1993:164). Patricia Crone, in her new article entitled 'The First Century Concept of Higra', finds interesting support for a Hijra outside Arabia. In her article on the Hijra, she lists 57 attestations which come from within and without the Muslim tradition, which point to a Hijra, or exodus, not from Mecca to Medina, but from Arabia to the north, or to surrounding garrison cities (Crone 1994:355-363). This is indeed interesting, as much of what we will learn from here on will parallel and thus possibly corroborate these findings as well.

This information on the Hijra gives us the first potential evidence which suggests that much of the data found in the Qur'an and the Islamic traditions simply does not correspond with existing external sources, and that perhaps there is another agenda at work here. Let us therefore move on to find what that agenda is.

D2: Qibla
According to the Qur'an, the direction of prayer (the Qibla), was canonized (or finalized) towards Mecca for all Muslims soon after the Hijra. The date 624 A.D. is an educated guess for this occurence (see Sura 2:144, 149-150).

Yet, the earliest evidence from outside Muslim tradition regarding the direction in which Muslims prayed, and by implication the location of their sanctuary, points to an area much further north than Mecca, in fact somewhere in north-west Arabia (Crone-Cook 1977:23). Consider the archaeological evidence which has been and is continuing to be uncovered from the first mosques built in the seventh century:

According to archaeological research carried out by Creswell and Fehervari on ancient mosques in the Middle East, two floor-plans from two Umayyad mosques in Iraq, one built by the governor Hajjaj in Wasit (noted by Creswell as, "the oldest mosque in Islam of which remains have come down to us" - Creswell 1989:41), and the other attributed to roughly the same period near Baghdad, have Qiblas (the direction which these mosques are facing) which do not face Mecca, but are oriented too far north (Creswell 1969:137ff & 1989:40; Fehervari 1961:89; Crone-Cook 1977:23,173). The Wasit mosque is off by 33 degrees, and the Baghdad mosque is off by 30 degrees (Creswell 1969:137ff; Fehervari 1961:89).

This agrees with Baladhuri's testimony (called the Futuh) that the Qibla of the first mosque in Kufa, Iraq, supposedly constructed in 670 A.D. (Creswell 1989:41), also lay to the west, when it should have pointed almost directly south (al-Baladhuri's Futuh, ed. by de Goeje 1866:276; Crone 1980:12; Crone-Cook 1977:23,173).

The original ground-plan of the mosque of Amr b. al As, located in Fustat, the garrison town outside Cairo, Egypt shows that the Qibla again pointed too far north and had to be corrected later under the governorship of Qurra b. Sharik (Creswell 1969:37,150). Interestingly this agrees with the later Islamic tradition compiled by Ahmad b. al-Maqrizi that Amr prayed facing slightly south of east, and not towards the south (al-Maqrizi 1326:6; Crone-Cook 1977:24,173).

If you take a map you will find where it is that these mosques were pointing. All four of the above instances position the Qibla not towards Mecca, but much further north, in fact closer to the vicinity of Jerusalem. If, as some Muslims now say, one should not take these findings too seriously as many mosques even today have misdirected Qiblas, then one must wonder why, if the Muslims back then were so incapable of ascertaining directions, they should all happen to be pointing to a singular location; to somewhere in northern Arabia, or possibly Jerusalem?

We find further corroboration for this direction of prayer by the Christian writer and traveller Jacob of Edessa, who, writing as late as 705 A.D. was a contemporary eye-witness in Egypt. He maintained that the Mahgraye' in Egypt prayed facing east which was towards the Ka'ba (Crone-Cook 1977:24). His letter (which can be found in the British Museum) is indeed revealing. Writing in Syriac, he refers to the Mahgraye,' saying, "So from all this it is clear that it is not to the south that the Jews and the Mahgraye here in the regions of Syria pray, but towards Jerusalem or the Ka'ba, the patriarchal places of their races." (Wright 1870:604)

Note: The mention of a Ka'ba does not necessarily infer Mecca (as so many Muslims have been quick to point out), since there were other Ka'bas in existence during that time, usually in market-towns (Crone-Cook 1977:25,175). Creswell, in the notes of his book on 'Early Muslim Architecture' (page 17) refers to Finster's article, 'Kunst des Orients', stating that Finster

    "... draws attention to other cube-shaped buildings in Arabia, mentioned in early Arabic literature, and suggests that the Ka'ba could therefore have been part of an Arabian building tradition." (Creswell 1969:17; Finster 1973:88-98)

It was profitable to build a Ka'ba in these market towns so that the people coming to market could also do their pilgrimage or penitence to the idols contained within. The Ka'ba Jacob of Edessa was referring to was situated at "the patriarchal places of the races," which he also maintains was not in the south. Both the Jews and the Arabs (Mahgraye) maintained a common descent from Abraham who was known to have lived and died in Palestine, as has been corroborated by recent archaeological discoveries (see the discussion on the Ebla, Mari and Nuzi tablets, as well as extra Biblical tenth century references to Abraham in McDowell 1991:98-104). This commom descent from Abraham is also corroborated by an Armenian chronicler as early as 660 A.D. (Sebeos 1904:94-96; Crone-Cook 1977:8; Cook 1983:75).

Therefore, according to Jacob of Edessa, as late as 705 A.D. the direction of prayer towards Mecca had not yet been canonized. Dr. Crone, in her 1994 article 'The First Century Concept of Higra', adds another finding which could imply a Jerusalem direction for the early Qibla. New research carried out by Patricia Carlier on the Umayyad Caliphal summer palaces notes that the mosques at these palaces had Qiblas pointing towards Jerusalem as well. (Carlier 1989:118f,134)

According to Dr. Hawting, who teaches on the sources of Islam at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, no mosques have been found from this period (the seventh century) which face towards Mecca (noted from his class lectures in 1995). Hawting cautions, however, that not all of the Qiblas face towards Jerusalem. Some Jordanian mosques face north, while there are certain North African mosques which face south, implying that there was some confusion as to where the sanctuary was placed. Yet, the Qur'an implies that the direction of the Qibla was fixed towards Mecca close to 624 A.D., and has remained in that direction until the present!

Thus, according to Crone, Cook, Carlier and Hawting, the combination of the archaeological evidence from Iraq along with the literary evidence from Syria and Egypt points unambiguously to a sanctuary [and thus direction of prayer] not in the south, but somewhere in north-west Arabia (or even further north) at least till the end of the seventh century (Crone-Cook 1977:24).

What is happening here? Why are the Qiblas of these early mosques not facing towards Mecca? Why the discrepancy between the Qur'an and that which archaeology as well as documents reveal as late as 705 A.D.?

Some Muslims argue that perhaps the early Muslims did not know the direction of Mecca. Yet these were desert traders, caravaneers! Their livelihood was dependant on travelling the desert, which has few landmarks, and, because of the sandstorms, no roads. They, above all, knew how to follow the stars. Their lives depended on it. Certainly they knew the difference between the north and the south.

Furthermore, the mosques in Iraq and Egypt were built in civilised urban areas, amongst a sophisticated people who were well adept at finding directions. It is highly unlikely that they would have miscalculated their Qiblas by so many degrees. How else did they perform the obligatory Hajj, which we are told was also canonized at this time? And why are so many of the mosques facing in the direction of northern Arabia, or possibly Jerusalem?

The answer may lie elsewhere. I would contend that there are possibly two reasons for this discrepancy:

    that there was still a good relationship between the Muslims (called Haggarenes, Saracens or Mahgrayes) and the Jews, and, consequently, there was no need to change the Qibla (which even the Qur'an admits was originally towards Jerusalem: sura 2); and

    that Mecca was not yet well-known.


D3: The Jews
The Qur'an implies that Muhammad severed his relationship with the Jews in 624 A.D. (or soon after the Hijra in 622 A.D.), and thus moved the Qibla at that time (Sura 2:144, 149-150). The early non-Muslim sources, however, depict a good relationship between the Muslims and Jews at the time of the first conquests (late 620s A.D.), and even later.

Doctrina Iacobi
Take for example the earliest testimony of Muhammad and of his "movement" available to us outside Islamic tradition; a Greek anti-Jewish tract called the Doctrina Iacobi which was written in Palestine between 634 and 640 A.D. (Brock 1982:9; Crone-Cook 1977:3). The Doctrina warns of the Jews who mix with the Saracens,' and the danger to life and limb of falling into the hands of these Jews and Saracens" (Bonwetsch 1910:88; Cook 1983:75). In fact, this relationship seems to carry right on into the conquest as an early Armenian source mentions that the governor of Jerusalem in the aftermath of the conquest was a Jew (Patkanean 1879:111; Sebeos 1904:103).

What is significant here is the possibility that Jews and Arabs (Saracens) seem to be allied together during the time of the conquest of Palestine and even for a short time after (Crone-Cook 1977:6).

In the Doctrina the Judeo-Arab intimacy is again evidenced by indications of a marked hostility towards Christianity on the part of the co-invaders. According to Bonwetsch, it mentions a converted Jew who protests that he will not deny Christ as the son of God even if the Jews and Saracens catch him and cut him to pieces (Bonwetsch 1910:88). It is apparent that the author believed that the Arabs and Jews were in alliance together well into the conquests.

The authenticity of this account is confirmed by the great compiler of the Sira of Muhammad, Muhammad ibn Ishaq, in the document known as the Constitution of Medina.' In this document the Jews appear as forming one community (umma) with the believers despite the retention of their own religion and are distributed nameless among a number of Arab tribes (Gottingen 1859:342; Guillaume 1955:233; Crone-Cook 1977:7). Since, according to both Crone and Cook, this document is plausibly one of the most archaic elements of the Islamic tradition, its agreement with the earliest external accounts of the origins of Islam is highly significant (Crone-Cook 1977:7).

If these witnesses are correct than one must ask how it is that the Jews and Saracens (Arabs) are allies as late as 640 A.D., when, according to the Qur'an, Muhammad severed his ties with the Jews as early as 624 A.D., more than 15 years earlier?

Armenian Chronicler of 660 A.D.
To answer that we need to refer to the earliest connected account of the career of the prophet, that given in an Armenian chronicle from around 660 A.D., which is ascribed by some to Bishop Sebeos (Sebeos 1904:94-96; Crone-Cook 1977:6). The chronicler describes how Muhammad established a community which comprised both Ishmaelites (i.e. Arabs) and Jews, and that their common platform was their common descent from Abraham; the Arabs via Ishmael, and the Jews via Isaac (Sebeos 1904:94-96; Crone-Cook 1977:8; Cook 1983:75). The chronicler believed Muhammad had endowed both communities with a birthright to the Holy Land, while simultaneously providing them with a monotheist genealogy (Crone-Cook 1977:8). This is not without precedent as the idea of an Ishmaelite birthright to the Holy Land was earlier discussed and rejected in the Genesis Rabbah (61:7), in the Babylonian Talmud and in the Book of Jubilees (Crone-Cook 1977:159).

Thus Muhammad's vision was not merely Arabia, but was oriented towards Palestine, along with the Jews (Crone-Cook 1977:8), a feature, according to work done by J.B. Chabot independently attested in Jacobite historical traditions (Chabot 1910:405).

Interestingly, according to research done by Crone and Cook, the Palestinian orientation survives even in later Islamic traditions, with Palestine disguised as Syria (Crone-Cook 1977:158). We need only refer to the writings of Abu Dawud Sulayman b. al-Ash'ath al-Sijistani, and Ahmad b. Muhammad ibn Hanbal to find that the prophet recommended Syria as the land chosen by God for the elect of his servants (Abu Dawud... 1348:388; Ahmad b. Muhammad ibn Hanbal 1313:33f; Munajjid 1951:47-74). These inferences would also fit in well with the assertion mentioned earlier by Crone of an Arab Hijra, or exodus, from Arabia to the north, and not simply between cities in Arabia.

The break between the Jews and Arabs, according to the Armenian chronicler of 660 A.D., came soon after the conquest of Jerusalem of 640 A.D. (Sebeos 1904:98).

Again we find a number of non-Muslim sources contradicting the Qur'an, maintaining that there was a good relationship between the Arabs and Jews for at least a further 15 years beyond that which the Qur'an asserts.

If Palestine was the focus for the Arabs, then the city of Mecca needs to be questioned.

D4: Mecca
Muslims maintain that "Mecca is the centre of Islam, and the centre of history." According to the Qur'an, "The first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (or Mecca), a blessed place, a guidance for the peoples." (Sura 3:96) In Sura 6:92 and 42:5 we find that Mecca is the "mother of all settlements."

According to Muslim tradition, Adam placed the black stone in the original Ka'ba there, while according to the Qur'an (Sura 2:125-127) it was Abraham and Ishmael who rebuilt the Ka'ba many years later. Thus, by implication, Mecca is considered by Muslims to be the first and most important city in the world!

Apart from the obvious difficulty in finding any documentary or archaeological evidence that Abraham ever went to or lived in Mecca, the overriding problem rests in finding any reference to the city before the creation of Islam. From research carried out by both Crone and Cook, the supposed first and only pre-Islamic reference to Mecca is an inference to a city called "Makoraba" by the Greco-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy in the mid-2nd century A.D., though we are not even sure whether this allusion by Ptolemy referred to Mecca, as he only mentioned the name in passing. Furthermore, according to Dr. Crone, the three Arabic root letters for Mecca (MKK) do not at all correspond with the three Arabic root letters for Makoraba (KRB) (as the letters 'ma-', which preceed 'koraba', signify 'the place of'). Thus, there is absolutely no other report of Mecca or its Ka'ba there in any authenticated ancient document; that is until the late seventh century (Cook-74; Crone-Cook 1977:22). In fact, they maintain, "the earliest references are those found in one Syriac version of the Apocalypse of pseudo-Methodius" (Crone-Cook 1977:22,171).

However, although the Apocalypse itself dates from the late seventh century, the references to Mecca are only found in later copies, and are not present in the European or later Syrian traditions, and make no appearance in the Vatican Codex,' which is considered by etymologists to be the earliest text (refer to the discussion on this problem between Nau and Kmosko in note "7," p. 171, in Crone & Cook's Hagarism:1977).

The next reference to Mecca, according to Crone and Cook, occurs in the Continuatio Byzantia Arabica, which is a source dating from early in the reign of the caliph Hisham, who ruled between 724-743 A.D. (Crone-Cook 1977:22,171).

Therefore, the earliest corroborative evidence we have for the existence of Mecca is fully 100 years after the date when Islamic tradition and the Qur'an place it. Why? Certainly, if it was so important a city, someone, somewhere would have mentioned it; yet we find nothing outside of the small inference by Ptolemy 500 years earlier, and these initial statements in the latter seventh to early eighth century.

And that is not all, for Muslims maintain that Mecca was not only an ancient and great city, but it was also the center of the trading routes for Arabia in the seventh century and before (Cook 1983:74; Crone 1987:3-6).

Yet, according to extensive research by Bulliet on the history of trade in the ancient Middle-East, these claims by Muslims are quite wrong, as Mecca simply was not on the major trading routes. The reason for this, he contends, is that, "Mecca is tucked away at the edge of the peninsula. Only by the most tortured map reading can it be described as a natural crossroads between a north-south route and an east-west one." (Bulliet 1975:105)

This is corroborated by further research carried out by Groom and Muller, who contend that Mecca simply could not have been on the trading route, as it would have entailed a detour from the natural route. In fact, they maintain the trade route must have bypassed Mecca by some one-hundred miles (Groom 1981:193; Muller 1978:723).

Patricia Crone, in her work on Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam adds a practical reason which is too often overlooked by earlier historians. She points out that, "Mecca was a barren place, and barren places do not make natural halts, and least of all when they are found at a short distance from famously green environments. Why should caravans have made a steep descent to the barren valley of Mecca when they could have stopped at Ta'if. Mecca did, of course, have both a well and a sanctuary, but so did Ta'if, which had food supplies, too" (Crone 1987:6-7; Crone-Cook 1977:22).

Furthermore, Patricia Crone asks, "what commodity was available in Arabia that could be transported such a distance, through such an inhospitable environment, and still be sold at a profit large enough to support the growth of a city in a peripheral site bereft of natural resources?" (Crone 1987:7) It was not incense, spices or other exotic goods, as many notoriously unreliable early writers had intimated (see Crone's discussion on the problem of historical accuracy, particularly between Lammens, Watts and Kister, in Meccan Trade, 1987:3).

In her study on the Meccan Trade, Dr. Crone points out that of the fifteen spices attributed to Mecca: six went out of fashion before the sixth century; two were imported by sea; two were exclusively from East Africa; two were inferior and thus never traded; one was of a problematic identity; and two cannot be identified at all (Crone 1987:51-83). Consequently, not one of the fifteen spices can be attributed to Mecca. So what was the trade for which Mecca was famous? Some Muslims maintain it was banking or perhaps camel herding; yet in such a barren environment?

According to the latest and much more reliable research by Kister and Sprenger, the Arabs engaged in a trade of a considerably humbler kind, that of leather and clothing; hardly items which could have founded a commercial empire of international dimensions (Kister 1965:116; Sprenger 1869:94).

The real problem with Mecca, however, is that there simply was no international trade taking place in Arabia, let alone in Mecca, in the century immediately prior to Muhammad's birth. It seems that much of our data in this area has been spurious from the outset, due to sloppy research of the original sources, carried out by Lammens, "an unreliable scholar," and repeated by the great orientalists such as Watts, Shaban, Rodinson, Hitti, Lewis and Shahid (Crone 1987:3,6). Lammens, using first century sources (such as Periplus - 50 A.D. - and Pliny - 79 A.D.) should have used the later sixth century Greek, Byzantine and Egyptian historians who were closer to the events (such as Cosmas, Procopius and Theodoretus - Crone 1987:3,19-22,44). Because they were not only merchants, travellers and geographers, but historians, they knew the area and the period and therefore would have given a more accurate picture.

Had he referred to these later historians he would have found that the Greek trade between India and the Mediterranean was entirely maritime after the first century A.D. (Crone 1987:29). One need only look at a map to understand why. It made no sense to ship goods across such distances by land when a waterway was available close by. Patricia Crone points out that in Diocletian's Rome it was cheaper to ship wheat 1,250 miles by sea than to transport it fifty miles by land (Crone 1987:7). The distance from Najran, Yemen in the south, to Gaza in the north was roughly 1,250 miles. Why would the traders ship their goods from India by sea, and unload it Aden, where it would be put on the backs of much slower and more expensive camels to trudge across the inhospitable Arabian desert to Gaza, when they could simply have left in on the ships and followed the Red Sea route up the west coast of Arabia?

There were other problems as well. Had Lammens researched his sources correctly, he would have also found that the Greco-Roman trade collapsed by the third century A.D., so that by Muhammad's time there simply was no overland route, and no Roman market to which the trade was destined (Crone 1987:29). He would have similarly found that what trade remained, was controlled by the Ethiopians and not the Arabs, and that Adulis on the Ethiopian coast of the Red Sea and not Mecca was the trading centre of that region (Crone 1987:11, 41-42).

Of even more significance, had Lammens taken the time to study the early Greek sources, he would have discovered that the Greeks to whom the trade went had never even heard of a place called Mecca (Crone 1987:11,41-42). If, according to the Muslim traditions and recent orientalists, Mecca was so important, certainly those to whom the trade was going would have noted its existence. Yet, we find nothing. Crone in her work points out that the Greek trading documents refer to the towns of Ta'if (which is close to present-day Mecca), and to Yathrib (later Medina), as well as Kaybar in the north, but no mention is made of Mecca (Crone 1987:11). Even the Persian Sassanids, who had incursions into Arabia between 309 and 570 A.D. mentioned the towns of Yathrib (Medina) and Tihama, but not Mecca (Crone 1987:46-50). That indeed is troubling.

Had the later orientalists bothered to check out Lammens' sources, they too would have realized that since the overland route was not used after the first century A.D., it certainly was not in use in the fifth or sixth centuries (Crone 1987:42), and much of what has been written concerning Mecca would have been corrected long before now.

Finally, the problem of locating Mecca in the early secular sources is not unique, for there is even some confusion within Islamic tradition as to where exactly Mecca was initially situated (see the discussion on the evolution of the Meccan site in Crone & Cook's Hagarism 1977:23,173). According to research carried out by J.van Ess, in both the first and second civil wars, there are accounts of people proceeding from Medina to Iraq via Mecca (van Ess 1971:16; see also Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Dhahabi 1369:343). Yet Mecca is south-west of Medina, and Iraq is north-east. Thus the sanctuary for Islam, according to these traditions was at one time north of Medina, which is the opposite direction from where Mecca is today!

We are left in a quandary. If Mecca was not the great commercial center the Muslim traditions would have us believe, if it was not known by the people who lived and wrote from that period, and, if it could not even qualify as a city during the time of Muhammad, it certainly could not have been the center of the Muslim world at that time. What city, therefore, was? The answer is not that difficult to guess, as has been intimated already. It seems that Jerusalem and not Mecca was the center and sanctuary of the Haggarenes, or Maghrebites (early names given to the Arabs) until around 700 A.D..

The earlier discussions concerning the Hijra, the Qibla, and the Jews pointed out that it was towards the north, possibly Palestine that the Hijra was directed, that it was somewhere in the north-west of Arabia that the Hagarenes turned to pray, and that it was alongside the Jews that the conquests were carried out (Crone-Cook 1977:9,160-161,23-24,6-9). Add to that another fact which may help us bring this all together:

D5: Dome of the Rock
In the center of Jerusalem sits an imposing structure (even today) called the Dome of the Rock, built by Abd al-Malik in 691 A.D.. One will note, however, that the Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, as it has no Qibla (no direction for prayer). It is built as an octagon with eight pillars (Nevo 1994:113), suggesting it was used for circumambulation (to walk around). Thus, it seems to have been built as a sanctuary (Glasse 1991:102). Today it is considered to be the third most holy site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Muslims contend that it was built to commemorate the night when Muhammad went up to heaven to speak with Moses and Allah concerning the number of prayers required of the believers (known as the Mi'raj in Arabic) (Glasse 1991:102).

Yet, according to the research carried out on the inscriptions by Van Berchem and Nevo, the earliest dated inscriptions in the edifice of the building say nothing of the Mi'raj, but relate merely polemical quotations which are Qur'anic, though they are aimed primarily at Christians.

Many Muslims are quick to point out that both suras 17:1 and 2:143-145, which speak of the 'inviolable place' and the 'change of the Qibla', can be found on the inscriptions on the drum of the dome and the doorway facing south. They would do well to read the history of those inscriptions. What they will find is that neither of these inscriptions are original, nor are they old. The entire dome was rebuilt by al Zaher Li-L'zaz in 1022 A.D. due to an earthquake in 1016 A.D. (Duncan 1972:46). The drum was rebuilt in 1318 A.D. (Creswell 1969:30), but the inscriptions (both the lower sura 36 and the upper sura 17) were not added until 1876 A.D. by Abdul Hamid II (Duncan 1972:66). The present doors (where sura 2:144 is found) were not erected until 1545 A.D. (Creswell 1969:26). The southern portical where sura 2:143-145 is written was not built until 1817 A.D. by the Sultan Mahmud (Duncan 1972:64). Thus, once we read the history of the dome, we find that neither of these two 'incriminating' suras belong to the original dome when it was constructed by 'abd al-Malik in 691 A.D.

The earliest inscriptions which we can attest to speak of the messianic status of Jesus, the acceptance of the prophets, Muhammad's receipt of revelation, and the use of the terms "islam" and "muslim" (Van Berchem 1927:nos.215,217; Nevo 1994:113). It must be noted, however, that even their early dates are in doubt due to a different design attributed to the supporting pillars from an account by the Persian Nasir i Khusran in 1047 A.D. (see Duncan 1972: 44-46).

If the sanctuary was built to commemorate such an important event in the history of the prophet's life (the Mi'raj), why do none of the earliest inscriptions refer to it? Nowhere in the earliest inscriptions is there any mention of his night journey to heaven, on the back of the winged horse Buraq, nor is there any mention of the dialogue Muhammad had between first Moses and Allah, nor the required five prayers, which was the purpose of the event!

How can this be explained? A possible explanation could be that the story of the Mi'raj simply did not exist at this time, but was redacted later on during the Abbasid period (after 750 A.D.). This is not hard to understand when one realizes that the idea of five prayers also seems to have been redacted later as well. The only references to prayer in the Qur'an occur in suras 11:114; 17:78-79; 20:130; and 30:17-18 (though there is doubt whether they all speak of prayer [salat], or whether they speak of praise [sabaha]). What we find in these references are three required prayers. They say nothing of five prayers (albeit many Muslim commentators have tried desperately to add, by means of a tortured reading, the two missing prayers either in the morning or in the evening).

This story of the Mi'raj supposedly took place while Muhammad was living in Medina (most likely around 624 A.D.). Yet we are obliged to refer to the Hadith, compiled 200-250 years later to find not only that five daily prayers are stipulated, but what they are called. If the Qur'an is the word of God, why does it not know how many prayers a Muslim is required to pray? And furthermore, why, if the Dome of the Rock were built to commemorate that momentous event, does it say nothing about it until over 1000 years later? It seems obvious that this building was originally built for other purposes than that of commemorating the Mi'raj. The fact that such an imposing structure was built so early suggests that this was the sanctuary and the center of Islam up until at least the late seventh century, and not Mecca (Van Bercham 1927:217)!

From what we read earlier of Muhammad's intention to fulfill his and the Hagarene's birthright, by taking back the land of Abraham, or Palestine, it makes sense that Abd al-Malik would build this structure as the center-piece of that fulfillment. Is it no wonder then, that when Abd al-Malik built the dome in which he proclaimed the prophetic mission of Muhammad, he placed it over the temple rock itself (Van Berchem 1927:217).

According to Islamic tradition, the caliph Suleyman, who reigned as late as 715-717 A.D., went to Mecca to ask about the Hajj. He was not satisfied with the response he received there, and so chose to follow 'abd al-Malik (i.e. traveling to the Dome of the Rock) (note: not to be confused with the Imam, Malik b. Anas who, because he was born in 712 A.D., would only have been three years old at the time). This fact alone, according to Dr. Hawting at SOAS, points out that there was still some confusion as to where the sanctuary was to be located as late as the early eighth century. It seems that Mecca was only now taking on the role as the religious centre of Islam. One can therefore understand why, according to tradition, Walid I, who reigned as Caliph between 705 and 715 A.D., wrote to all the regions ordering the demolition and enlargement of the mosques (refer to 'Kitab al-'uyun wa'l-hada'iq,' edited by M. de Goeje and P. de Jong 1869:4). Could it be that at this time the Qiblas were then aligned towards Mecca? If so, it points to yet another contradiction with the Qur'an which established Mecca as the sanctuary, and thus direction for prayer, during the lifetime of Muhammad from 80 to 90 years earlier (see sura 2:144-150).

And that is not all, for we have other archaeological and manuscript evidence which point up differences with that which we read in the Qur'an:

D6: Muhammad
The writings by the Armenian chronicler from around 660 A.D. (referred to earlier) give us the earliest narrative account of Muhammad's career to survive in any language, attesting that Muhammad was a merchant who spoke much about Abraham, thus providing us with early historical evidence for the existence of Muhammad (Cook 1983:73). Yet this chronicler says nothing of Muhammad's universal prophethood, intimating he was only a local prophet.

Even the earliest Islamic documents, according to Dr. John Wansbrough, say nothing of his universal prophethood. The Maghazi, which Wansbrough points out are stories of the prophet's battles and campaigns, are the earliest Islamic documents which we possess (Wansbrough 1978:119). They should give us the best snapshot of that time, yet they tell us little concerning Muhammad's life or teachings. In fact, nowhere in these documents is there a veneration of Muhammad as a prophet! If, according to the Qur'an, Muhammad is known primarily as the "seal of all prophets" (Sura 33:40), then why would these documents be silent on this very important point?

Nevo's Rock inscriptions
In order to know who Muhammad was, and what he did, we must, therefore, go back to the time when he lived, and look at the evidence which existed then, and still exists, to see what it can tell us about this very important figure. Wansbrough, who has done so much research on the early traditions and the Qur'an believes that, because the Islamic sources are all very late, from 150 years for the Sira-Maghazi documents, as well as the earliest Qur'an, it behooves us not to consider them authoritative (Wansbrough 1977:160-163; Rippin 1985:154-155). It is when we look at the non-Muslim sources that we find some rather interesting observances as to who this man Muhammad was.

The best non-Muslim sources on seventh century Arabia which we have are those provided by the Arabic rock inscriptions scattered all over the Syro-Jordanian deserts and the Peninsula, and especially the Negev desert (Nevo 1994:109). The man who has done the greatest research on these rock inscriptions is Yehuda Nevo, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is to his research, which is titled Towards a Prehistory of Islam, published in 1994, that I will refer.

Nevo has found in the Arab religious texts, dating from the first century and a half of Arab rule, a monotheistic creed. However, he contends that this creed "is demonstrably not Islam, but [a creed] from which Islam could have developed." (Nevo 1994:109)

Nevo also found that "in all the Arab religious institutions during the Sufyani period [661-684 A.D.] there is a complete absence of any reference to Muhammad." (Nevo 1994:109) In fact neither the name Muhammad itself nor any Muhammadan formulae (that he is the prophet of God) appears in any inscription dated before the year 691 A.D.. This is true whether the main purpose of the inscription is religious, such as in supplications, or whether it was used as a commemorative inscription, though including a religious emphasis, such as the inscription at the dam near the town of Ta'if, built by the Caliph Mu'awiya in the 660s A.D. (Nevo 1994:109).

The fact that Muhammad's name is absent on all of the early inscriptions, especially the religious ones is significant. Many of the later traditions (i.e. the Sira and the Hadith, which are the earliest Muslim literature that we possess) are made up almost entirely of narratives on the prophet's life. He is the example which all Muslims are to follow. Why then do we not find this same emphasis in these much earlier Arabic inscriptions which are closer to the time that he lived? Even more troubling, why is there no mention of him at all? His name is only found on the Arab inscriptions after 690 A.D. (Nevo 1994:109-110).

And what's more, the first dated occurrence of the phrase Muhammad rasul Allah (Muhammad is the prophet of God) is found on an Arab-Sassanian coin of Xalid b. Abdallah from the year 690 A.D., which was struck in Damascus (Nevo 1994:110).

Of greater significance, the first occurrence of what Nevo calls the "Triple Confession of Faith," which includes the Tawhid (that God is one), the phrase, Muhammad rasul Allah (that Muhammad is his prophet), and the human nature of Jesus (rasul Allah wa- abduhu), is found in Abd al-Malik's inscription in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, dated 691 A.D. (Nevo 1994:110)! Before this inscription the Muslim confession of faith cannot be attested at all. It must be noted, however, that the date for this inscription could itself be much later, possibly added by al Zaher Li-L'zaz when he rebuilt the inner and outer ambulatories above which the inscription is situated, in 1022 A.D. (Duncan 1972:46).

As a rule, after 691 A.D. and all through the Marwanid dynasty (till 750 A.D.), Muhammad's name usually occurs whenever religious formulae are used, such as on coins, milestones, and papyrus "protocols" (Nevo 1994:110).

One could probably argue that perhaps these late dates are due to the fact that any religious notions took time to penetrate the Arabic inscriptions. Yet, according to Nevo, the first Arabic papyrus, an Egyptian entaqion, which was a receipt for taxes paid, dated 642 A.D. and written in both Greek and Arabic is headed by the "Basmala," yet it is neither Christian nor Muslim in character (Nevo 1994:110).

The religious content within the rock inscriptions does not become pronounced until after 661 A.D. However, though they bear religious texts, they never mention the prophet or the Muhammadan formulae (Nevo 1994:110). "This means," according to Nevo, "that the official Arab religious confession did not include Muhammad or Muhammadan formulae in its repertoire of set phrases at this time," a full 60 years and more after the death of Muhammad (Nevo 1994:110). What they did contain was a monotheistic form of belief, belonging to a certain body of sectarian literature with developed Judaeo-Christian conceptions in a particular literary style, but one which contained no features specific to any known monotheistic religion (Nevo 1994:110,112).

Of even greater significance, these inscriptions show that when the Muhammadan formulae is introduced, during the Marwanid period (post 684 A.D.), it is carried out "almost overnight" (Nevo 1994:110). Suddenly it became the state's only form of official religious declaration, and was used exclusively in formal documents and inscriptions, such as the papyrus "protocols" (Nevo 1994:110).

Yet even after the Muhammadan texts became official, they were not accepted by the public quite so promptly. For years after their appearance in state declarations, people continued to include non-Muhammadan legends in personal inscriptions, as well as routine chancery writings (Nevo 1994:114). Thus, for instance, Nevo has found a certain scribe who does not use the Muhammadan formulae in his Arabic and Greek correspondence, though he does on papyrus "protocols" bearing his name and title (Nevo 1994:114).

In fact, according to Nevo, Muhammadan formulae only began to be used in the popular rock inscriptions of the central Negev around 30 years (or one generation) after its introduction by Abd al-Malik, sometime during the reign of Caliph Hisham (between 724-743). And even these, according to Nevo, though they are Muhammadan, are not Muslim. The Muslim texts, he believes, only begin to appear at the beginning of the ninth century (around 822 A.D.), coinciding with the first written Qur'ans, as well as the first written traditional Muslim accounts (Nevo 1994:115).

Consequently, it seems from these inscriptions that it was during the Marwanid dynasty (after 684 A.D.), and not during the life of Muhammad that he was elevated to the position of a universal prophet, and that even then, the Muhammadan formula which was introduced was still not equivalent with that which we have today.

For further discussion on the six classifications or periods of the rock inscriptions, and their content, I would recommend Nevo's article (pages 111-112).

D7: 'Muslim' and 'Islam'
We now come to the words "Muslim" and "Islam." Muhammad's adherence to the Abrahamic line could explain why no mention is made of the name Muslim until the latter years of the seventh century (Cook 1983:74; Crone-Cook 1977:8). In fact the earliest datable occurrence of this term is not found until the inscriptions on the walls of the Dome of the Rock which we know was constructed in 691 A.D., 60 years after the death of Muhammad (van Berchem 1927:217; Crone-Cook 1977:8).

Prior to that time the Arabs were referred to as Magaritai, the term we find in Greek papyri of 642 A.D. (called PERF 564 and PERF 558: Grohmann 1957:28f,157). In the Syriac letters of the Bishop Isho'yahb III from as early as the 640s A.D. they were called Mahgre or Mahgraye (Duval 1904:97).

The appearance of these terms is not unique, however, but are found as far afield as Egypt and Iraq, which is significant (Crone-Cook 1977:159). The corresponding Arabic term is Muhajirun, which is both genealogical as they are the descendants of Abraham and Hagar, and historical, as they are those who take part in a hijra, or exodus. The earlier discussion on the significance of the hijra pointed out that this was (according to external sources) possibly towards Palestine and not simply to Medina.

Athanasius in 684 A.D., writing in Syriac used the name Maghrayes to refer to the Arabs. Jacob of Edessa in 705 A.D. mentions them as Hagarenes. The Doctrina Iacobi refers to them as Saracens (Bonwetsch 1910:88; Cook 1983:75). Thus, contrary to what the Qur'an says in Sura 33:35, it seems that the term Muslim was not used until the late seventh century (Crone-Cook 1977:8). So where did the name originate?

According to Crone and Cook the term Islam (and the corresponding word Muslim) in the sense of "submission to God" was borrowed from the Samaritans (Crone-Cook 1977:19-20). Crone and Cook maintain that "the verb aslama has cognates in Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, but whereas neither Jewish nor Christian literature provides satisfactory precedent for the Islamic usage, we find exact parallels to Islam in [the Memar Marqah], which is the most important Samaritan text of the pre-Islamic period." (Crone-Cook 1977:19,169; Macdonald 1963:85) They go on to say that, "the plausible sense of the root to invoke here is that of peace' and the sense of to make peace.' The reinterpretation of this conception in terms of the ultimately dominant sense of submission' can readily be seen as intended to differentiate the Hagarene covenant from that of Judaism." (Crone-Cook 1977:20)

Though the Qur'an uses this term (Sura 33:35), it seems, from the seventh century documents which we do possess, that it was not known during the life of Muhammad, which consequently adds more credence to the possibility of an evolution in the Qur'anic text.

D8: Qur'an
We now come to the Qur'an itself. As was stated earlier, the Qur'an underwent a transformation during the 100 years following the prophet's death. We have now uncovered coins with supposed Qur'anic writings on them which date from 685 A.D., coined during the reign of Abd al-Malik (Nevo 1994:110). Furthermore, the Dome of the Rock sanctuary built by Abd al-Malik in Jerusalem in 691 A.D. "does attest to the existence, at the end of the seventh century, of materials immediately recognizable as Koranic." (Crone-Cook 1977:18) Yet, the quotations from the Qur'an on both the coins and the Dome of the Rock differ in details from that which we find in the Qur'an today (Cook 1983:74). Van Berchem and Grohmann, two etymologists who have done extensive research on the Dome of the Rock inscriptions, maintain that the earliest inscriptions contain "variant verbal forms, extensive deviances, as well as omissions from the text which we have today." (Cook 1983:74; Crone-Cook 1977:167-168; see Van Berchem part two, vol.ii, nos.1927:215-217 and Grohmann's Arabic Papyri from Hirbet el-Mird, no.72 to delineate where these variances are)

If these inscriptions had been derived from the Qur'an, with the variants which they contain, then how could the Qur'an have been canonized prior to this time (late seventh century)? One can only conclude that there must have been an evolution in the transmission of the Qur'an through the years (if indeed they were originally taken from the Qur'an).

The sources also seem to suggest that the Qur'an was put together rather hurriedly (as we mentioned in the previous section, on the internal critique of the Qur'an). This is underlined by Dr. John Wansbrough who maintains that, "the book is strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content, perfunctory in its linking of disparate materials, and given to the repetition of whole passages in variant versions. On this basis it can plausibly be argued that the book is the product of the belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions." (Crone-Cook 1977:18,167)

Crone and Cook believe that because of the imperfection of the editing, the emergence of the Qur'an must have been a sudden event (Crone-Cook 1977:18,167). The earliest reference from outside Islamic literary traditions to the book called the "Qur'an" occurs in the mid-eighth century between an Arab and a monk of Bet Hale (Nau 1915:6f), but no-one knows whether it may have differed considerably in content from the Qur'an which we have today. Both Crone and Cook conclude that except for this small reference there is no indication of the existence of the Qur'an before the end of the seventh century (Crone-Cook 1977:18).

Crone and Cook in their research go on to maintain that it was under the governor Hajjaj of Iraq in 705 A.D. that we have a logical historical context in which the "Qur'an" (or a nacsent body of literature which would later become the Qur'an) was first compiled as Muhammad's scripture (Crone-Cook 1977:18). In an account attributed to Leo by Levond, the governor Hajjaj is shown to have collected all the old Hagarene writings and replaced them with others "according to his own taste, and disseminated them everywhere among [his] nation." (Jeffrey 1944:298) The natural conclusion is that it was during this period that the Qur'an began its evolution, possibly beginning to be written down, until it was finally canonized in the mid to late eighth century as the Qur'an which we now know.

All these findings give us good reason to question the true authority of the Qur'an as the word of God. Archaeology, as well as documentary and manuscript evidence indicates that much of what the Qur'an maintains does not coincide with the data at our disposal. From the material amassed from external sources in the seventh and eighth centuries, we can conclude:

    that the Hijra was more-than-likely not towards Medina, but towards Palestine;

    that the Qibla was not fixed towards Mecca until the eighth century, but to an area much further north, and possibly Jerusalem;

    that the Jews still retained a relationship with the Arabs until at least 640 A.D.;

    that Jerusalem and not Mecca was more-than-likely the city which contained the original sanctuary for Islam, as Mecca was not only unknown as a viable city until the end of the seventh century, but it was not even on the trade route;

    that the Dome of the Rock was the first sanctuary;

    that Muhammad was not classified as God's universal prophet until the late seventh century;

    that the terms Muslim'/ Islam' were not used until the end of the seventh century;

    that five daily prayers as well as the Hajj were not standardized until after 717 A.D.;

    that the earliest we even hear of any Qur'an is not until the mid-eighth century;

    and that the earliest Qur'anic writings do not coincide with the current Qur'anic text.

All of this data contradicts the Qur'an which is in our possession, and adds to the suspicion that the Qur'an which we now read is NOT the same as that which was supposedly collated and canonized in 650 A.D. under Uthman, as Muslims contend (if indeed it even existed at that time). One can only assume that there must have been an evolution in the Qur'anic text. Consequently, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that only the documents which we now possess (from 790 A.D. onwards) are identical to those which are in our hands today, written not 16 years after Muhammad's death but 160 years later, and thus not 1,400 years ago, but a mere 1,200 years. The ramifications of this assertion are astounding indeed.

E: Can We Use These Non-Muslim Sources?
All the while that modern Islamic historians have been struggling with Muslim traditions, they have had available to them the Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and Coptic literatures of non-Muslim neighbours, some of whom were subjects of the Arab conquerors (Crone 1980:15). To a large extent these sources were edited and translated at the end of the last century (1800s) and the beginning of the present. Yet, they were left to collect dust in the libraries ever since. The question we must ask is, Why?

The answer that Muslims give is that these sources were hostile, which possibly is true. However, given the wide geographical and social distribution from which they originate, they could scarcely have vented their anti-Muslim feelings with such uniform results (Crone 1980:16). It is because there is agreement between the independent and contemporary witnesses of the non-Muslim world that their testimony must be considered. Whichever way one chooses to interpret them, they leave no doubt that the Qur'an was the product of an evolving revelation, more than likely canonized during the early Abbasid period towards the mid to end of the eighth century, and in or around, what is today Iraq and Iran (see Crone 1980:3-17).

F: Conclusion
What, therefore can we say concerning the Qur'an? Is it the Word of God? Muslims contend that we can only understand the origins of the Qur'an through the eyes of Muslim Tradition, which tells us that Allah revealed his truth through the Qur'an which was sent down to Muhammad. We, however, suspect the authenticity for this claim, as the primary sources for the later traditions simply do not exist prior to the eighth century. In fact the Muslim sources which we do possess are of a relatively later date, compiled between 200-300 years after the fact, and are dependant on oral traditions passed down by storytellers whose narratives not only cannot be corroborated, but suddenly seem to proliferate towards the end of the eighth century.

Wansbrough takes the position that the Qur'an was compiled even later than the traditions, and was used as an authoritative stamp to authenticate later beliefs and laws by those who were responsible for canonizing the Muslim Traditions. If he is correct, then one would wonder whether Muhammad would even recognize the Qur'an which we possess today.

Nonetheless, the Qur'an itself has been suggested as a source for Islam, and its own best authority. Yet it too suffers from many of the same problems mentioned above. When we open the Qur'an and read it we are faced immediately with many structural and literary difficulties which bode ill for a document claiming to be the final and perfect Word of God. We are presented with spurious "Biblical accounts" which parallel known second century heretical Talmudic and Christian Apocryphal documents. And while we wonder how these very human documents found their way into a supposedly non-human scripture, we are introduced to scientific peculiarities which have also found their way into its pages. These difficulties do seem to point away from a divine authorship and point towards a more plausible explanation; that the Qur'an is simply a collection of disparate sources borrowed from surrounding pieces of literature, folk tales, and oral traditions present during the seventh and eighth centuries, and accidently grafted in by unsuspecting later compilers of the Abbasid period.

Non-Muslim sources which we possess from a variety of surrounding societies also corroborate the evidence above. Much of what we find in these external seventh and eighth century sources contradict what the Muslim Tradition and the Qur'an tell us, causing us to suspect the latter's authenticity.

In the end we are left with little on which to hold. Muslim sources are found to be questionable, while non-Muslim sources point to a dearth of any real evidence for the accurateness of the Qur'an. There is indeed, much disturbing material here with which the Muslim apologist must now contend. Yet, I do find solace in the fact that the next time I see a Muslim holding his Qur'an aloft as evidence of Allah's blueprint for humanity, I can ask him one simple question, the same question historians are now asking, "Where, indeed is the evidence for that which they believe?"

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The Caliphs:

632-661 .......... Abu Bakr, Umar 1, Uthman, Ali
(Sufyanid Period)
661-680 .......... Mu'awiyah I
680-683 .......... Yazid I
683-684 .......... Mu'awiyah II
(Marwanid Period)
684-685 .......... Marwan I
685-705 .......... 'Abd al-Malik
705-715 .......... al-Walid
715-717 .......... Suleyman
717-720 .......... Umar II
720-743 .......... Hisham
744-750 .......... Marwan II
(Abbasid Period

Index To Articles on Islam