For other uses, see The Quest of the Historical Muhammad

The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, edited by Ibn Warraq, is an anthology of 15 studies examining the origins of Islam and the Qur'an. The contributors argue that traditional Islamic accounts of its history and the origins of the Qur'an are fictitious and based on historical revisionism aimed at forging a religious Arab identity.

Summary of arguments


  • Although the unreliability of the Arabic literary sources has been known for a century, only recently have scholars begun to explore its full implications, thanks largely to the ground-breaking work of the American scholar John Wansbrough.
  • Philologists and scholars look skeptically at the Arabic written sources and conclude that these are a form of "salvation history" - self-serving, unreliable accounts by the faithful.
  • Most of the material asserted by Islamic revisionist scholars is dubious, written mostly to promote of a self serving religious agenda. The use of the historical methods disproves most of the traditional accounts to such a degree that Patricia Crone has written, that "one could, were one so inclined, rewrite most of Montgomery Watt's biography of Muhammad in reverse." For example, an inscription and a Greek account leads Lawrence Conrad to fix Muhammad's birth in 552, not 570. [1]
  • Patricia Crone notes that the events of Muhammad's life did not take place in Mecca as believed by traditionalists but hundreds of miles to the north.[2]
  • Yehuda D. Nevo and Judith Koren trace the origins of classical Arabic to the Levant rather than in what is today Saudi Arabia and that it only spread to Arabia through the military expansions of one of the early caliphs.[3]
  • The Arab tribes who conquered great expanses of land in the seventh century were not Muslims, but pagans.[4]
  • The Qu'ran is actually a collection of adaptations from earlier Judeo-Christian liturgical materials compiled by self-serving later authors.[5]
  • Islam did not come into existence until two or three hundred years after the date claimed by traditional Muslim accounts (around CE 830).[6]
  • Islam developed not in the far deserts of Arabia but through the interaction of Arab conquerors with the societies they overran.[7]
  • Quest for the Historical Muhammad raises basic questions for Moslems concerning the prophet's role as a moral paragon; the sources of Islamic law; and the God-given nature of the Koran.


In his review, Daniel Pipes praised the book as a "fascinating collection of essays" that raises "basic questions for Muslims concerning the prophet's role as a moral paragon".[8] Other well-known American scholars such as Fred Donner criticize the selection of essays, describing it as a "monument to duplicity." Donner writes that Warraq unduly favors revisionist theories in order to advance "anti-Islam polemic," forwarding that "this lopsided character makes The Quest for the Historical Muhammad a book that is likely to mislead many an unwary general reader."[9]

Alfons Teipen, a professor of religion at Furman University, criticized the editing: "The two introductory articles... are one-sided, rather polemical overview[s] of... scholarship on the life of Muhammad."[10] Asma Afsaruddin described the book as a "partisan work," but added that Warraq "clearly has an ideological axe to grind."[11]

See also


  1. Lawrence I. Conrad Recovering lost texts : some methodological issues
  2. Daniel Pipes The Quest for the Historical Muhammad Middle East Quarterly September 2000
  3. Judith Koren and Yehuda D. Nevo Methodological approaches to Islamic studies
  4. Judith Koren and Yehuda D. Nevo Methodological approaches to Islamic studies
  5. Herbert Berg The implications of, and opposition to, the methods of John Wansbrough
  6. Ibn Rawandi Origins of Islam : a critical look at the sources
  7. Ibn Rawandi Origins of Islam : a critical look at the sources
  8. Daniel Pipes: The Quest for the Historical Muhammad
  9. Donner, Fred. (2001) Review: The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, University of Chicago.
  10. Teipen, Alfons H. (Summer 2003). "The Quest for the Historical Muhammad". Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40 (3): 328–9. 
  11. Asfaruddin, Asma (2001). "The Quest for the Historical Muhammad". Journal of the American Oriental Society 121 (4): 728–729. doi:10.2307/606555. 

Further reading

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