Story of Islam: History or Fiction?
This article starts with my imagination and it takes me to a warm summer evening in 637 AD, Jerusalem. Sophronius was sitting, head bowed towards a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He was old and worried about the fate of the city that he was a patriarch of. At the gates of Jerusalem, Arab marauders under the leadership of Umar Ibn al-Khattab had reached. His eyes wandered around the church hall. Sun was beginning to set behind the horizon; its last rays were throwing a dark shadow over the holy city.
In that period, Jerusalem was the center of Christianity under the Roman Empire. Arabs were considered to be low life, living as Bedouins in the deserts of Arabia. Soon, it all changed. From the sands of those deserts, Arab armies rose like a Tsunami. Only in a few decades, they defeated many of the Persian and Roman armies and captured their most important cities.
Time had come for the world map to change. Time had come for the forgotten people of deserts to rise for glory and create history. Their warriors were called the Saracens. Romans called them Barbarians. They rode heavy cavalry and wielded a heavy sword, fearless, swift, and brave – barbarians.
The army of Ibn al-Khattab fought for six months behind the walls of Jerusalem. Lastly, the stronghold fell and the old hands of Sophronius were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Saracens, the new rulers of Jerusalem. The old patriarch soon died. Today, he is considered a saint in Christianity.
The Christians of Jerusalem were terrified of their new rulers. Who were they? What was their religion? Christian contemporaries of that time wrote about the Arab invaders. They mentioned that the Arabs believed in one God and a Holy guide. Only a few decades before the siege of Jerusalem by Saracens, Jews had revolted against the Roman emperor. It had led to the capture of Jerusalem by the Persian army. Persians gave autonomy to the Jews. But, this freedom was not long to stay. Only in a matter of 15 years, Romans recaptured Jerusalem. Jews were labeled as traitors. Thousands of them were killed. After the Saracen conquest, oddly, Jews were allowed to worship at the site of their old temple. More strange is the fact that many Saracens used to worship at that site where Jews bowed their heads to pray.
Who could they be? Were they Jews?
Today, the descendents of those Arab invaders tell a whole different story. They say that the Arab invasion and conquer during the early seventh century was a miracle. They talk about a Messiah. His name was Muhammad and he was sent as a prophet to the Arabs. He brought a new religion with himself, Islam. Today there are over 1.5 billion Muslims who believe that Saracen warriors were able to win half of the world and build a glorious empire because they rode in the name of Allah, the one true God.
Muhammad is said to have lived from 570 AD to 632 AD. He is said to have received revelations from God while he was meditating alone in a cave over the hills in Mecca. The revelations are today collected in a holy book called Quran. Its central message is known to every living Muslim in the world today,
A ʾilāha ʾillā l-Lāh, Muḥammadun rasūlu l-Lāh (Arabic) meaning, there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.
But, were the Arab invaders really Muslims? How can we know for sure? The Christian contemporaries did write that the invaders believed in one God but why didn’t they mention the word Islam or Allah or even Muhammad. One must understand that the Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians living in Jerusalem around the second half of the 7th century were very sophisticated and learned theologians. If they learned about a new religion, they would certainly mention it in their works. How bizarre that they never did that.
For a skeptic like me, I need evidence to be sure that there was a person like Muhammad. When we study history, we learn about a person through the works of the contemporaries of that time, through inscriptions, coins, documents and such. As much as I have tried, there is no such evidence for Muhammad or even for Islam at that time. If he was a prophet as Muslims say, there should be enormous descriptions of such a figure after Saracens (presumably Muslims) captured Jerusalem. Why is there nothing, not a shred of evidence for the Messiah?
Muslims worship in the direction of Mecca which is present in modern day Saudi Arabia. It is considered one of holiest city in the world. One must question why? There is no mention of the word Mecca in the Holy Koran. Instead it mentions a place called Bacca, that too just three times. Bacca is called as the House of God or a holy sanctuary that was built by Ishmael, son of Abraham. Muslims today believe that it is in fact Mecca which is mentioned as Bacca in Koran.
Bible instead mentions a Valley of Baca in Psalm 84, “How lovely is your dwelling-place, O Lord of Hosts. I long, I yearn for the courts of the Lord; my body and soul shout for joy to the living God … Happy are those who dwell in Your house; they forever praise You. Happy is the man who finds refuge in you, whose mind is on the [pilgrim] highways. They pass through the Valley of Baca, regarding it as a place of springs, as if the early rain had covered it with blessing”.
Can it be that the valley of Baca is the Bacca that is mentioned in Koran? After all, there are a lot of similarities between Koran and the Old and New Testaments. I would like to further one more clue. Koran calls upon the people around Muhammad as the pagans and mentions that they grew olives and lived through agriculture. If it is to be believed then one must imply that Mecca which is considered the birthplace of Muhammad should be surrounded by arable lands. But, it is not. Mecca is arid and mostly infertile.
Koran also mentions the story of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is said that God destroyed this city when its inhabitants tried to rape the angels sent by him. Koran says to the believers, “and, verily, [to this day] you pass by the remnants of their dwellings at morning-time [Al Saffat, 37:137]. The ruins of the twin cities stand even today but they are nowhere close to Mecca. The ruins are 1000 km north of the place where Quran is said to be revealed.
So, if Quran was revealed in Mecca, how can the people to whom it was narrated can pass by the ruins of the twin cities, every day?
Evidence points towards a different story. Maybe, Koran was not written in Mecca. Perhaps it was born in and around the old state of Palestine. This is where the ruins of twin cities are. There is an old city of Avdat in the Negev desert. The city walls still bear the imprints of a pagan culture on its walls and inscriptions. Once upon a time, the city was surrounded by greenery and natives of that city used to grow among other things, olives. I am not saying that Avdat was the place where the stories mentioned in Koran were written. I am just speculating because we have no logical reason to believe that Muhammad or his revelations came out of Mecca.
Conquerors at different times of history have immortalized themselves through their names in their coins and inscriptions, books and palaces. As we try to search for Muhammad in the inscriptions or coins of the early seventh century, we find nothing. It’s completely dark as we try to search for evidence. It was not until 60 years after the supposed death of Muhammad that we find his name released by the Arab war lord, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. My mind wonders, perhaps it was 60 years of time that the Arabs needed to cook a story as such and have a definite religion for themselves and the people they wanted to conquer.
After the initial Arab conquests, when the Saracen army conquered a large part of Arabia as well as some northern strips of Africa, Arab empire was forced into a civil war in itself. Abd al-Zubayr revolted against the then ruler of Arab empire, Yazid. Abd al –Zubayr called himself the third nephew of Aisha, wife of a prophet named Muhammad. He commanded a large uprising against his emperor by using the name of the Prophet. In the same way that Emperor Constantine understood that human beings will not always, bow before a human lord (king) and so he adopted Christianity to rule in the name of Jesus, perhaps al-Zubayr did the same too. A universal religion for a universal empire was the Roman recipe for power. I think al-Zubayr found the same recipe by inventing Muhammad and his presumed religion.
Al-Zubayr was killed in a battle, beheaded and crucified by Abd- al Malik. He later became the king but he kept the name of Muhammad and Allah for himself to guard. He ruled in the name of one God and his empire grew to control almost half of the world, from Spain to India.
I take religion as a political tool. The king and the priests invent it, while the peasants and soldiers upkeep it by giving their sweat in the fields and blood in the wars. After 100 years of the supposed death of Muhammad, his name started to be heard in the Arab empire. It was now a Muslim empire. A Muslim is someone who submits in the name of Allah. As I have always seen, a religious person submits in the name of God, but bows before the golden throne of his King.
I am not saying that my theory of what really happened is true. I am ready to listen. Is there anyone who can give a better argument?
Author: Sourabh Tiwary
I am an atheist, freethinker and humanist, though some of my friends just call me a ”geek”. I like to read a lot and write on eclectic topics ranging from science to education. I like to travel and communicate with new people. I hope that with education and scientific progress, world will certainly become a better place to live. You can find me on Google+