October 7, 2023

The Invention of Muhammad And The Diverse Roots of Islam


I. What is history?

History is a catalogue of lies and fabrications.

"History" said Napoleon, "is a set of lies agreed upon."

Dynasties and regimes rise and fall, empires come and go. During their ascendancy they craft historical narratives to fit their political and religious needs at the time. Unpopular views are crushed, opposing narratives are censored, and scholars are threatened, all so that the official story of events desired by the rulers is maintained and solidified for present and future generations. 

And that is as true today as it was 80, 100, or 1400 years ago.

In our age the big transformative events, the ones that move history forward, signal new beginnings, start and end wars, overthrow regimes, change the destiny of nations, and create new mytho-political foundations for states, are manufactured through the mass media. 

How did Castro come to power in Cuba? The radio. The Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran used cassette tapes to spread his propaganda. And Trump destroyed the entire American political establishment in 2016 with the power of social media. Obama's use of Facebook in the 2008 election campaign is also noteworthy. And, we should also remember FDR's pioneering use of radio chats in the 1930s and Hitler’s total control of the printing presses upon coming to power.

The point is that when information flows only from one direction it becomes quite easy to shape narratives about significant political and social developments. 

Historical events in modern totalitarian societies are not spontaneous or mere consequences of cause and effect. They are choreographed and produced for public consumption. 

With the introduction of mass communications and public advertising in the last century it has never been easier for governments to lie and get away with it.

And with the absence of any kind of free debate, artful lies become historical gospel almost immediately. Discussions about questionable topics are considered taboo and banned. The official narratives are presented as factual history, and any dissent is framed as treason, or even a byproduct of mental illness.

We don't live in a religious age but we might as well be because the foundations of the post-World War order are based on grand myth-making and blind faith in the words of democratic and international institutions. The post 9/11 world also would not be possible without the aid of television which is a religious and magical device that can shape the views of a captive population.

And that's just the media's reach. The realm of education is even more powerful in crafting and disseminating popular opinions about current events and history.

In school textbooks, regardless of the country, guilt for millions of deaths in modern wars is assigned to a nationalist leader, insignificant patsies, an imperial power, or rogue terrorist groups. According to official stories their actions alone set in motion giant wars, civil conflicts, and political transformations.

It is all legends and fairy tales. 

Real history is much more complex. 

Real history is messy.

Throughout history rulers have relied on the creation of legendary stories and myths to sanitize their criminal power grabs, mass murder campaigns, and imperial expansions. 

And there's no better sanitization of unspeakable crimes than religion. 

Every self-respecting empire needs one.

And there is no religion without a prophetic leader, be he real or imagined.

The historicity of Muhammad, the so-called prophet of Islam, is considered a taboo topic worldwide. The term "Islamophobia" has been introduced into the popular lexicon to shut down critical debate about anything to do with the religion, from its true beginnings to its modern day oppressive practices. Basic questions can't be asked in public forums and academic establishments.

But that hasn't stopped all scholars from examining the murky roots of Islam. There has been an abundance of scholarship and research done in this field which has made it increasingly difficult to affirm Muhammad's existence as a distinct historical personality. 

Voltaire famously said about God, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." For the Islamic religion the same could be said for Muhammad. The invention of this mythical character was a political, religious, and civilizational necessity. 

The question is why?

II. What is Islam?

Islam is a hodgepodge of vastly different religious teachings, spiritual traditions, biblical literature, Jewish apocrypha, Gnostic motifs, Zoroastrian mythology, Buddhist practices, and arcane rituals taken and repackaged as new inventions. It was the New Age religion of its day, except it wasn't peaceful hippies spreading the message.

It takes a great deal of its ideas and lore from the Bible and Abrahamic Scriptures in general. And it should be mentioned that the biblical tradition itself is based on astrotheology, pre-Biblical mythical stories, and ancient Greek philosophy rather than the teachings and life of a messianic figure named Jesus.

Jesus figures prominently in what eventually became Islam because he was the savior figure in the Arab Christian lands that were occupied by the Byzantine and Sasanian empires. When they liberated their areas in the 7th century they looked to Jerusalem, not Mecca, as their sanctuary. As Jay Smith has documented in his insightful online lectures and video series, Mecca didn’t even exist at that time. It was not even a dot on a map. 

The figure of Muhammad also didn't exist. Multiple German scholars say today that the name Muhammad means, "the praised one" or the "revered one" referring to Jesus Christ.

So how did an honorific title for Jesus in the 7th century become, in the span of a few centuries, the last world prophet and the seal of prophethood?

This is where the pen came in, which is mightier than the sword.

The creation of Islam was not an overnight phenomenon but a painstakingly long and ardous process that was initiated to secure the material, political, and territorial gains of the early Arabic conquests.

Regardless of the era, rulers need religion to bring unity to their empires. No universal world empire has ever existed without a universal world religion and consequently a universal world prophet. 

Empires go to war for gold, but men conquer in the name of God. The majority of men become base animals when they enter a state of war and conquer foreign territories. So, to stay sane, a connection to the divine is needed to cleanse their minds and their hands. Islam has always provided that to those who take up the sword.

If religions didn't exist empires would have to create them to expand their military supremacy and perpetuate their cultural dominance.

Every great empire that has lasted for longer than 100 years has had a religious fountain to draw from and inspire its populace in times of crises. 

The ideology of divine kingship has been the key linchpin in stable societies since time immemorial. The permanence of Christianity and Islam has been dependent upon the power of kings and caliphs, not the other way around. 

Where would Christianity be today without the political interventions of Roman Caesars and the conquering Norman kings of the early Middle Ages? Where would Jerusalem be without the Crudades? Where would Islam be without the ruthless swords of the Far East? 

It is not an accident that Islam took its largest religious blow in history with the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate a hundred years ago. 

The sword always comes first. 

Monks and scribes play their roles in spreading religion, but someone has to pay them to do their work in comfort and security, and most of the time that someone has been a warlord king.

The character of Muhammad himself fits the mold and lifestyle of a worldly king rather than a prophetic and highly evolved saint. It is obvious he was created in the image of bloodthirsty and lustful military conquerors.

The invention of Muhammad was a political and religious necessity for the young Arab civilization that was expanding rapidly but also facing staunch religious and military resistance from Christian dominions in Eastern Rome, Christian Ethiopia, and traditional Zoroastrian and Buddhist kingdoms in Central Asia. 

It was not a straight forward military conquest. The transition to Islamic rule in these parts of the world took centuries, with the final nail in the coffin and the end of the old Christian world coming with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Islam's religious syncretism was necessary for the political unification of a multilingual, multicultural, and multi-ethnic empire. 

An empire that repeatedly needs to rely on military conquest to retain power in its frontier territories and far flung provincial capitals is not an empire that can last the test of time. As Rome wasn't built in a day, Islam wasn't either. 

A new language, religion, prophetic lineage, and entire history had to be invented, though not entirely whole cloth because there was base material around to work with and build upon. 

And it was a successful long-term endeavor because there was a massive vacuum that needed to be filled. Controlling a large swath of land requires political finesse, not historical consistency or intellectual integrity. 

Ruling by force alone is an expensive commitment from both a financial and military perspective. Ideology is fundamental to holding onto power. Standing armies are difficult and dangerous to maintain for a king because it can be a breeding ground for ambitious generals, as well as unruly and war weary soldiers. 

For the purposes of unity and the consolidation of political power it would better to simply elevate a class of priests who are beholden to the king. Such an organized body can mobilize popular support for the king's policies by appealing to the common religion shared by all in the empire. 

Achieving universal brotherhood within the empire was a long and bloody affair for Islam, much like Christianity. The Islamic clergy was an institution that was introduced for the direct purpose of solidifying an official narrative, ostracizing and persecuting politically dangerous sects, and spreading a unified religious message. Its social role as spiritual guide for the common people is secondary. Much like the Catholic priesthood, or any organized religious institution, it is full of morally reprehensible characters who have contributed very little to the moral and intellectual upliftment of nations and peoples. 

When the roots are rotten, the fruits will be inedible.