Did the Prophet Muhammad really exist? This question, which may seem bizarre on the surface, is at the root of a new book by Robert Spencer, a prominent author and the director of Jihad Watch. Spencer, a figure who is praised by his fans and loathed by his detractors, has written numerous books on Islam.
Earlier this week, The Blaze spoke with the expert about his controversial, new book, “Did Muhammad Exist?” As can be derived from the title, the text delves into some uncomfortable subject matter, as Spencer examines the historical documentation surrounding the Muslim prophet.
The book’s official description perfectly encapsulates its central tenets:
Did Muhammad exist?
It is a question that few have thought—or dared—to ask. Virtually everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, takes for granted that the prophet of Islam lived and led in seventh-century Arabia. But this widely accepted story begins to crumble on close examination, as Robert Spencer shows in his eye-opening new book.
In his blockbuster bestseller The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer revealed the shocking contents of the earliest Islamic biographical material about the prophet of Islam.
Now, in Did Muhammad Exist?, he uncovers that material’s surprisingly shaky historical foundations. Spencer meticulously examines historical records, archaeological findings, and pioneering new scholarship to reconstruct what we can know about Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the early days of Islam. The evidence he presents challenges the most fundamental assumptions about Islam’s origins.
The premise of the book is that Islam — like Judaism and Christianity –deserves to be scrutinized and appropriately examined. Spencer maintains that Islam, unlike the other massive faith systems, has never truly been given the academic attention and examination it deserves. Like Christianity, he maintains that the faith is one that “deserve[s] historical scrutiny.”
“This [newest book is] something that I started to think about when I wrote the biography of Muhammad in 2006,” Spencer told The Blaze.
Naturally, considering the book’s title, I asked him to divulge — Did Muhammad exist? His response was quick, condensed and to the point.
“Well, no. If you mean the prophet of Islam who was purported to receive revelations from Allah that were put into the Koran. No, that guy certainly did not exist,” he boldly proclaimed. “The regular guy — he possibly existed.”
While this will send shockwaves through Islamic communities, Spencer said that the greatest surprise in his research was that it led him to doubt something he had always maintained — that Muhammad was, indeed, real.
Considering these statements and the volume of work they accompany, one cannot help but wonder if Spencer is nervous about the potential fallout he could experience at the hands of radical Islamists. But when I asked him about any potential hesitations, he simply shrugged them off.
“I’ve gotten so many death threats over so many years…what’s a few more?,” he said. “If somebody wants to do violence to me because of this book, then in a certain sense it validates what I’ve been saying about Islamic texts for years.”
The author went on to share that the threats have created a scenario in which he consistently needs to have adequate — often times extra — security. Rather than having millions in his coffers, as some might assume, the cost of ensuring safety, among other elements, proves to have a massive fiscal toll.
“We go down to zero with every initiative,” Spencer said. “We’re always scrapping the bottom of the barrel financially.”
And considering some of the people who have threatened him in the past, it’s understandable why he would want to ensure he has adequate protection. Adam Gadahn, an American-born al-Qaeda operative who became a key officer in the upper-tanks of the jihadist group, has made purportedly threatening mentions of Spencer in past video postings.
The well-known expert told me that he has seen, with his own eyes, other threats that have been waged against him in the radical Islamic chat rooms he has been able to personally permeate. One of these shocking messages once read, ”May Allah rip out his spine from his back and split his brains in two, and then put them both back, and then do it over and over again.” These are only two examples, as Spencer has numerous others.
In our discussion, the expert on Islam explained that his interest in the faith stretches back to both his lineage and his childhood. His family is from the Ottoman Empire. After hearing stories during his younger years about how his family members inevitably came to be exiled, he wondered how — if the empire was so wonderful — it could treat his loved ones in such a manner. Before long, the author said he was studying history and exploring the Koran.
“As time went by professionally, as a writer, I began to make connections with people who were interested in these issues,” Spencer explained, going on to illustrate that these studies led to a viable career path. “I ended up consulting in the 1990s with individuals and groups on jihad [and similar subjects].”
It was after the September 11 attacks that Spencer wrote his first book. “Did Muhammed Exist?” is his eleventh.
After chatting about the book and his background, I asked him about the claims that some on the left make regarding alleged bigotry and anti-Arab sentiment.
“In the first place, the idea that we’re anti-Arab is completely ridiculous. I am in daily contact with Arab Christians and am very close to them in numerous ways,” Spencer said. “What they’re [detractors are] trying to do by saying that we’re racists…is to try and make this a racial issue, which its not. There’s nothing racial about it.”
The author went on to say that there are individuals of all races who are both threatened and targeted by radical Islamic extremism. The racism charge, he said, is merely an avenue through which to dismiss his research and claims. Spencer maintains that his voice — and others like it — are essential to protecting women, among others, who are the target of Islamist attacks. Without the protectionism that he and other advocates like Pamela Geller give, there would be no one to help these victims, he said.
“What we see in the left’s alliance with the jihadis…is that they hate America more than they hate anything else,” Spencer said. “They hate Western civilization, they hate christianity and they hate Judaism.”
Additionally, he went on to say that the left and Islamic extremists share similarities in that they both seek to establish what he called “an earthly Utopia.”
When it comes to his critics — and Spencer has many — the author charges that “there’s never been any cogent response” to his books. He maintains that he has invited his critics numerous times to debate him and that they have consistently declined.
Now, critics will once again have an opportunity to question Spencer’s allegation that Muhammad, at least in the Islamic theological sense, did not exist. The only question is: Will they take him up on the challenge?