NOVEMBER 15, 2008

Excerpt: Muslim Academic Questions Muhammad's Existence

Below are translated excerpts from an article in German entitled, "Islamic Theology Without the Historic Muhammad -- Comments on the Challenges of the Historical-Critical Method for Islamic Thinking," by Germany's Prof. Muhammad Kalisch, a Muslim. (See related article.)

Muhammad Sven Kalish

Up to some time ago I was convinced that Muhammad was a historical figure. Although I always based my thinking on the assumption that the Islamic historical narrative regarding Muhammad was very unreliable, I had no doubts that at least the basic lines of his biography were historically correct.

I have now moved away from this position and will soon publish a book in which I will, among other things, comment on this question and explain my arguments in more detail. This essay is only a short summary of my most important arguments. It also deals with the question of what implications historical-critical research has for the Islamic theory and how I deal with my research results as a theologian.

With regard to the historical existence of Muhammad ... I consider my position simply as a continuation of the most recent research results. It appears so spectacular only because it has been said by a Muslim ... Most Western scientists turn down such an hypotheses out of respect for Islam or because they are afraid of the reactions of their Muslim friends or because they think it is speculative nonsense.

The word "respect" sounds wonderful but it is completely inappropriate here because one really refers to the opposite. Whoever thinks that Muslims can't deal with facts puts Muslims on the same level as small children who can't think and decide for themselves and whose illusions of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny one doesn't want to destroy.

Whoever really bases his thoughts on the equality of all human beings must expect the same intellectual performance. Really treating Muslims with respect would imply that they are strong enough to deal with their religion on the basis of our modern level of knowledge. "Islamophobes" think we Muslims are barbarians, the "kind-hearted" take us for "noble savages"... The result is the same: Muslims are seen as different from the rest of the world -- they either belong in a "petting zoo" or in cages for wild animals, but by all means they belong in a zoo.

The final argument is even more awful because it can only be described as cowardly. Religious fundamentalists are spreading out (not only Islamic fundamentalist) and freedom of thought must be defended no matter what. There must not be any compromise on this otherwise we set the track for a retreat into the Middle Ages and this can happen much faster than many people think.

My position with regard to the historical existence of Muhammad is that I believe neither his existence nor his non-existence can be proven. I, however, lean towards the non-existence but I don't think it can be proven. It is my impression that, unless there are some sensational archeological discoveries -- an Islamic "Qumran" or "Nag Hammadi" -- the question of Muhammad's existence will probably never be finally clarified.

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Click here to read the full version of Prof. Kalisch's article in German.