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The origin of Islam- from historical perspective

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[Prologue: On 27 April 2021, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, gave a long interview in Saudi national TV channel on his ‘Vision 2030’ for Saudi Arabia. In that interview he, inter alia, said to restrict Wahhabism, Salafism and all orthodox schools of Islam by following only Quran as the Constitution of his country. Even he asserted that any Hadith (Sayings of Muhammad) or narration of Sirat (biography of Muhammad) which was not in tune with Quran needed to be left behind. He also came hard on Islamic terrorism. That earth shaking interview has somehow escaped the main stream media of India. Islam, dependent only on Quran, would have to discard about 80 per cent of its current beliefs, laws, and practices. Was MBS trying to be Martin Luther of Islam? Against that background, a historical look into the origin of Islam has been ventured in this article.]   

The first biography of Muhammad, called ‘Sirat Rosul Allah’ was said to be written by Muhammad ibn Ishaq about 130 years after Muhammad’s death. Ishaq was located in Bagdad at that time. No copy of that biography was available. Ishaq’s student al-Bakkai edited a copy which was also not found. A further edited copy of al-Bakkai’s copy, done by ibn Hisham during mid-ninth century (more than 225 years after Muhammad’s death), could be found. So, it was not known as to what was actually written in original Ishaq’s ‘Sirat Rosul Allah’ and how far authentic that was.

The first Sahih Hadith (‘authentic sayings of Muhammad’, also known as ‘Sunnah’) was compiled by Muhammad al-Bukhari about 220 years after the death of Muhammad. The compilation was done in Bukhara located in present day Uzbekistan. Moreover, before Bukhari Hadith and second generation edited version of ‘Sirat Rosul Allah’ of ibn Hisham, we could not find any concrete historical reference of Prophet Muhammad’s life in Arab or non-Arab historical records.

The earliest manuscripts (partial) of Quran available in Istanbul, Samarkand, Sana’a, Paris, Cairo and Birmingham pointed that those were written in late seventh to early and mid eighth century and had variations among them, as well as, with the present standard ‘Uthman Quran’ we have. ‘Uthman Quran’, the so called present Quran, was claimed to be compiled 20 years after the death of Muhammad in AD 652 and we learnt about that from Sahih Hadith that was compiled more than 200 years after Muhammad. That was difficult to believe.

As per Islamic traditions (which developed during 8th, 9th and 10th centuries AD), some copies (four, five or nine) of Quran were compiled and written under third Caliph Uthman’s instruction and sent to different cities of the then Arab empire. After that, all written original sources of Quran were allegedly burned by Uthman. That was intriguing. However, no original copy of that Uthman Quran could actually be found anywhere later on.

Most surprisingly, Quran was canonized five times and the last time was during 1924 in Cairo and officially approved by king Fahd of Saudi Arabia during 1985, i.e. more than 1350 years after Muhammad. And this latest canonized version of Quran has been passed on as Uthman Quran now. Nobody cared to know as to how Quran, revealed in Qureish dialect, transformed into modern Arabic language bypassing ‘scriptural defecta’ of seventh century’s Qureish dialect? Nobody also cared to reconcile the difference between the six manuscripts of Quran stated above. The manuscript of Sana’a Quran even showed obvious over-writings at many places. So we have a major problem about authorship, timeline and contents of Quran also.

By sixth century AD, different Arab tribes were living in the area of present day North-Western Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq and acted as buffer between ever-envious Byzantine Empire in the West and Persian Empire in the East. These Arabs were engaged in business, as well as, in the Armies of Byzantine and Persian Empires. They were mostly polytheists, and some were followers of Christianity and Judaism. Another small monotheist section of Arabs, known as ‘Sabians’, was also living there. Byzantine Empire was Christian and Persian Empire was Zoroastrian.

By early seventh century AD, both Byzantine and Persian Empires were crumbling down fast due to old age and bloody wars between the two. Some Arab tribes saw the opportunity and under some un-named leader won a few battle around Petra (in present day Jordan) and occupied some piece of land. By the end of the last conflict between Byzantine and Persian Empires (which lasted from 602 AD to 628 AD), both sides had exhausted their human and material resources and achieved very little. Consequently, they were vulnerable to the sudden emergence of the Arabs, whose forces invaded both empires only a few years after 628 AD. By 659 AD the Arabs swiftly conquered the entire Persian Empire, as well as, the Byzantine territories of present day Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Armenia, and North Africa. Those Arab conquests and formation of Empire were later attributed to Muhammad and four ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’ without any historical evidence.

The then Arabs who suddenly tested victory, power and war booty (including slaves and women), did not have the pedigree. They were unruly, quarrelsome and violent. As a result First Civil War broke out among the Arabs in 656 AD. It was a five years long bloody power struggle. In the Arab history, first formal dynasty was established by Umayyad family under Mu’awiyah-I during 661 AD with capital in Damascus. Then Second Civil War for 12 years, between 680 AD and 692 AD, ravaged the early Arab Empire. All ingredients of conspiracy, treachery, betrayal, blood bath, hatred, cruelty, fight and killing were liberally available in those two Civil Wars which were fought mainly as power struggles. Meanwhile, Abd al-Malik Marwan became the fifth Umayyad King in 685 AD and suppressed the Second Civil War with lots of difficulties after seven years of his reign. Arabs later went through Third Civil War between 744 AD and 747 AD and Fourth Civil War between 809 AD and 819 AD.

It is plausible that to overcome the civil unrest or power struggle and to expand the empire’s boundary, Abd al-Malik and then his successors and up to a few Kings of next Abbasid dynasty were instrumental in creating the story of Muhammad and the history of Islam. Arabs were given a Prophet, as well as, Quran, Sahih Hadith and Sirat. These gave respectability to Arabs of which they could be proud of. However, the Quran went on changing till ninth century and Hadith went through the turmoil of authentic and unauthentic ones; whereas Sirat was claimed to be edited twice.

First reference of ‘Shahada’ was found in AD 691. It was inscribed on the ‘Dome of the Rock’ constructed in Jerusalem by Abd al-Malik. However, the word ‘Muhammad’ used in that inscription was a common noun and could indicate Abd al-Malik himself meaning, ‘The Blessed One’. Codification of ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ (Shahada, Namaz, Roza, Zakat and Hajj) came from Sahih Hadith and not from Quran. Quran mentioned three daily prayers, while Sahih Hadith prescribed five daily prayers. First reference to Muhammad, Islam and Muslim in the different rock inscriptions of West Asia was dated between 690 AD and 730 AD. The word Allah was, however, a pre-Islamic Arabic word with same meaning.

It can be postulated that Quran, Sahih Hadith and Sirat, the trilogy of Islam, came in written form almost side by side and religion of Islam, its prophet and four ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’ were created retrospectively for uniting and channelizing the strength of people of early Arab Empire to serve the imperialistic, administrative and social needs of Arab kingdoms of that time. So time frame and lack of objective records of Muhammad, Quran, Sahih Hadith and Sirat have raised doubts about the Prophet we are told about now and his Islam. However, by late tenth century all beliefs, laws and practices under Islam were sanctified through Quran (14%), Sahih Hadith (60%) and Sirat (26%).  

As immediate needs of Abd al-Malik, his successors and next Abbasid Kings were political and imperial, nobody bothered about consistency of ‘constructed’ religion. Thus, many variations, wild imaginations, gaps, plagiarisms, repetitions, confusions and contradictions and historical errors had remained as parts of ‘constructed’ Islam. Due to the same reasons, Quranic Allah was mostly fearsome and many verses were full of violence and hatred towards non-Muslims whom the Arab kings (Caliphs) wanted to conquer. Under Islam, apostates were considered as rebels to be killed. The critics of Islam and Muhammad were also mercilessly treated under blasphemy clause. These facilitated tightening of the grip of Caliphs over subjects in the name of Islam.  

Mu’tazilah school of Islamic theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Bagdad, in present-day Iraq, during the eighth to tenth century was surely a reactive and rational response to the cruel, inhuman and ethno-centric Islamic teachings. But that theology was squarely defeated by aggressive school of Islam.

It was highly probable that Muhammad, if at all he existed as first head of Arab kingdom in early seventh century AD, was surely not like as has been portrayed by Islam and constantly being justified by Islamists. All Arab kings from late seventh to at least ninth century, in connivance with ‘Ulema’, were projecting their imperialistic and fascist attributes on Muhammad and his Allah. The later nexus between Al Saud family’s political power and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s (1703 AD to 1792 AD) orthodox Sunni Islamic theology could be a replication of what happened earlier.

Though Islam claimed Muhammad’s lineage from Abraham, there was not an iota of historical evidence to support that weird claim. In past three to four decades, dozens of sky scrapers had been constructed in Mecca and around Kaaba. But no archeological evidence could be found to support Mecca as an ancient city. In conclusion it could be said that authenticity and contents of Quran, Sahih Hadith and Sirat, which made the foundations of Islam, were highly doubtful. And Mecca was later chosen as holy birth place of Muhammad. Hijra to Medina also did not have any historical basis.

In all probability, Islam has been an Arab imperialistic cult in the guise of a religion. Muhammad and Islam were discovered as Prophet and ‘best religion’ and concretized over a period of time from mid seventh century AD to tenth century AD, by Caliphs with support from ‘Ulema’ to serve the interest of Arab imperialism. There is nothing like ‘political Islam’ and ‘terrorism in Islam’, as we cry these days. Islam has been political and violent since its inception.

It is no wonder that all the present day problems of Islam are rooted in its origin only. Let us see as to how MBS can reform Islam and how Muslims of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh react to the proposed reform of MBS.  



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