Talks given by Dr Jay Smith of the Pfander Centre https://www.pfander.uk dispute the traditional account of the origins of Islam, drawing on the work of academics and researchers who have looked into the early history of Islam and come to some startling conclusions, which question the official Muslim narrative.
According to Jay Smith, Islam and the Qur’an as we know it today evolved and changed over a period of 200 to 300 years after the death of its prophet.
Muslim sources themselves tell us that Caliph Uthman, the third Caliph after Muhammad, collected verses of the Qur’an that were being passed around and selected one version to be used, ordering all variant readings to be burnt (around 650-653). The variations were so great that Muslims started attacking each other and accusing one another of disbelief.
The earliest Qur’anic manuscripts began to appear during the reign of Abd al Malik and his son al Walid in the 690s – 750s. None of these versions of the Qur’an were complete. They continued to be changed and corrected up to the 9 century. It was by this time that forms of the Qur’an as it is today began to appear (although even these have several variants among them).
Most of the information we have about Muhammad dates from a period about 200 years after he lived. He is only mentioned by name four times in the Qur’an, with no specific information of what he was like. Information we have about his life comes from the Sira, his biography which exists in an English translation, ‘The Life of Muhammad’ by A Guillaume. Muslims attribute this book to Ibn Ishaq who died in 765, but Jay Smith says the final version of this book was written by Ibn Hisham who took what he liked from the earlier book and added material of his own. This was written around 833, a full 200 years after Muhammad is supposed to have died. Certainly not an eye witness then.
There is more about him in the Hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad or about him), which date from the 9 century. Bukhari, who died in 870, made a collection of about 600,000 such sayings, then rejected all but around 7000 as forgeries. These are now preserved as the Hadith, but this collection took place over 200 years after Muhammad so how do we know the ones he preserved were authentic?
When we come to the Qur’an itself we find many things which do not add up with the claim that this was revealed directly by Allah to a man called Muhammad living in Mecca in Arabia in the early 7 century. For example the Qur’an has 65 geographical references, with only nine places named. These include 23 references to Ad (biblical Uz, related to Edom in southern Jordan), 24 to Thamud (Nabateans, again southern Jordan, north west Arabia) and 7 to Midian (east side of Gulf of Aqaba, north of Arabia). All these places are about 600 miles north of Mecca.
While Muslims believe that Mecca is the centre of Islam, there is only one direct reference to Mecca in Sura 48.24. There are references to ‘Bakkah’ which is said to be the site of the Kaaba stone, the black stone, which is today the object that Muslims make pilgrimage to in Mecca. According to verses in the Qur’an and the Hadith, this place, Bakkah, is situated in a valley and a parallel valley with a stream, fields, fruit, olive trees and mountains overlooking the Kaaba. Yet Mecca is not in a valley, has no stream or river, no mountain overlooking it, and is too arid for fruit trees to grow. Olives only grow in the Mediterranean region 600 miles north of Mecca.
According to the narrative Mecca was on a trade route and Muhammad was a trader operating out of there. Yet 7 century maps of the area show no sign of a city called Mecca and no trade routes passing by that area. The earliest maps showing Mecca on them date from around 900. In recent times there have been excavations made for the foundations of large towers and buildings in modern Mecca. These have revealed no trace of an ancient city buried in the ground at the time when there should have been one. Compare this with the massive amount of archaeological evidence for Jerusalem as written about in the Bible.
The earliest mosques (including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem) direct prayer (the qibla) towards Petra in Jordan not Mecca. The description of the city with the valley and the parallel valley with a stream and the fruit and olive trees does describe Petra, but not Mecca. Petra was a centre of trade and the sanctuary for the Umayyads who ruled out of Damascus in this period. It is also close to the other places mentioned in the Qur’an, namely Ad, Thamud and Midian. (For alternative interpretations)
Jay Smith’s conclusion is that most of what Muslims are taught to believe about Muhammad comes from a period later than the time he was supposed to have lived and written down hundreds of miles away from Mecca and Medina. This began with the Umayyads who ruled from Damascus and continued with Abbasids who fought the Umayyads in 750, claiming to be the true successors to Muhammad. They ruled from Baghdad. He concludes ‘Islam and the prophet’s life as we know it was not derived from the 7 century but evolved over a period of 200-300 years and then redacted back on the prophet’s life and compiled in the 9 century.’
He claims that the original sanctuary of Islam was in Petra, now in modern Jordan, not in Mecca. The sanctuary in Petra was destroyed by an earthquake in 713 AD. Because of the conflict between the Umayyads and Abbasids, the black stone was moved from Petra to Mecca, where the Kaaba became the central sanctuary.
Now, the Muslims had a Prophet (Muhammad), a revelation (the Qur’an) and a sanctuary (Mecca). They needed a history, created by the later writings, the Sira in 833, the Hadith in 870 and the Tafsir in 923. By the 9 century they had the book, the man, the place and the story. A new religion was formed and growing, evolving over 200-300 years after the death of its founder.
Jay Smith’s conclusion is that despite Muslim claims that their religion was revealed directly by Allah to Muhammad in Mecca and Medina, the evidence for this is missing. Much of what we know of early Islam is in doubt, nothing is known of Muhammad until the late 7 century or Mecca until the 8 or his story until the 9, many years later and hundreds of miles away from where the events were supposed to have happened. The Muslims have the wrong man at the wrong place doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.