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I have been listening to a podcast, called "The History of Byzantium" and in one of the episodes there was a discussion about the lack of reference to Mohammad or Qur'an in the century after his death, and Muslims were referred as Ishmaelites, Saracens, etc. but never any reference to the prophet. It sounded like the Caliphate from Damascus somehow created an image of Mohammad. After that period, an Islam that is more similar to our days' version emerges, with references to its prophet, and the holy text.

I haven't been able to find any sources on this discussion, what I have been able to find is a link to this book, which I haven't read yet:

Robert Spencer: "Did Muhammad exist? : an inquiry into Islam's obscure origins", Isi Books, 2014

Can someone give a modern historic outlook of beginnings of Islam, and the existence of its prophet? Also please correct if there are any mistakes in this text.

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    The Prophet Muhammad died in 632. The first major confrontation between Arab and Byzantine forces took place in 634.
    – Lucian
    Apr 11 '20 at 23:41
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    When Mohammed died, Islam was still in Arabia, and the Koran and hadith/sunna were not written down. The wave of conquest come after, with the first caliphs - who could have got a written tale to suit their needs. Given what I read on his website, Spenser himself usually writes/argues as if Mohamed existed - his point is to examine the existing evidence. For example, the elapsed time between death and book is larger for Mohamed than for Jesus.
    – Luiz
    Jul 19 '20 at 3:39
  • Given the latest friendly edit and the changes it brought to the meaning here (and existing answers…): I guess you will want to ask another question that references en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… and some of the sources given there or going into that direction? (A person existing, or the figurehead remolding of him are wholly separate things?) Jul 23 '20 at 9:19
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Your question touches on the problem how one would prove any historical fact when there is no living (and credible) witness or modern forensic analysis. Look at the sources, consider who wrote them, consider who would benefit from forging them, consider if multiple different sources give a coherent explanation.

  • There seem to be fragmented non-Islamic sources from the 7th century AD.
  • Naming differences are easily explained by exonyms and endonyms. The fact that the western chroniclers got the name wrong early on is only to be expected. (Consider that the French call the Germans Alemanni while the Slavic languages simply call them Nemec, mute ...)

The preponderance of evidence seems to show that Mohammed did exist. I'd call it about as strong as the evidence for Jesus. What Mohammed did, what he wrote and what he taught is another matter, where faith enters the question.

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    I'd say the evidence for the existence of Mohammed is in fact far stronger than for the existence of Jesus. Christianity was an underground cult for its first century or two. Islam started on its wave of military conquest during Mohammed's lifetime, which continued with little interruption (other than the still-ongoing argument over whether Abu Bakr or Ali was his rightful heir) for many centuries.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 21 '16 at 20:18
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    " as strong as the evidence for Jesus" doesn't say much..
    – Greg
    Feb 23 '16 at 4:33
  • How can you compare the existence of 2 people who live 600 years apart? You should compare 2 people of the same time era. Mar 11 '16 at 2:26
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Well it seems likely that he existed if that's what you mean to ask.

When you say "give a modern historic outlook and the existence of the prophet" what do you mean? Wikipedia has a large number of sources https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad

I certainly don't think that somebody simply made him up if that's what you mean to imply. If you wish to read about the early days of Islam (i.e Mohammad's life) it would seem you would be well served by following the sources in the Wikipedia article. It seems that there were lots of reference amongst the Byzantines, Jews and the Europeans to Mohammad and Islam in general.

I am no expert on the subject, but given the impact he had on the Middle East (prosecuting war in the Middle East, siring children etc.) I would say his existence was far more established than that that of, say, Jesus of Nazareth.

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  • How can you compare the existence of 2 people who live 600 years apart? You should compare 2 people of the same time era. Mar 11 '16 at 2:23
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    It's really very simple. By examining sources (or the lack thereof). This question isn't about comparing the two, it's about citing historical evidence for the existence of one. There are very, very few historical records of Jesus of Nazareth and almost all are after his death. Your statement seems to misunderstand the scope of the question. Just a hunch, but are you a Christian?
    – Anaryl
    Mar 11 '16 at 17:21
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The History of Byzantium podcast decided to adopt the radical end of the ‘sceptical view’, which does not reflect the current scholarly consensus. Even the guest they brought on to speak about the subject was Tom Holland, a popular historian who is not a specialist in the field and cannot read Arabic, Syriac or other relevant languages. You need to be aware that there is now an amateur cult following for these extreme conspiracy-style theories (eg that Islam began in Transjordan instead of Mecca) that most scholars have long since dismissed. As one of the answers pointed out, Patricia Crone, who started out as a radical skeptic and practically founded that school, moved away from many of her assertions and acknowledged that there is no serious doubt that Muhammad existed or that the Quran dates from his time.

As to the evidence, we first have unanimous agreement from the 2-3 generations after Muhammad that he existed. Early Muslim history played out on a global stage starting immediately after Muhammad’s death. No one could just make him up and have everyone just play along. Muhammad is not unique in this way, though the evidence in his case is even stronger than for other figures. To say otherwise is to engage in Moon-landing-denial-level conspiracy theorizing.

I think the Islamic historical tradition is good enough evidence as it is, but some have insisted that only non-Arabic evidence counts. The most famous example of these is the Syriac Fragment on the Arab Conquests dating from 636CE and recording the first battles between the “Romans” and the “Arabs of Muhammad”. This is around the date given by the Muslim historians for the same battles.

If you want an accessible summary of the current state of the field, you can take a look at Sean Anthony’s recent book Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. Anthony was a student of Crone so his sceptical bona fides are beyond question. Another student of Crone, Robert Hoyland, collected all non-Arabic historical materials on early Islam in Seeing Islam as Others Saw It.

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There is a great deal of historical evidence that Muhammad was a real person. Although many of the details of his life were recorded after he died, numerous near-contemporary records establish that he did exist, and he was the leader of the Arabs. As Princeton scholar Patricia Crone concluded: "There is no doubt that Muhammed existed, occasional attempts to deny it notwithstanding." uchicago.edu

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    Personally, I don't doubt that Mohammed existed but please cite some examples of this 'great deal of historical evidence'. Jul 19 at 1:30
  • @LarsBosteen The first page or so at the link Otto provided will give you a good capsule summary of the evidence. Jul 19 at 15:30

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