In the aftermath of the recent book and documentary questioning Islamic origins and the veracity of the existence of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, by Tom Holland, many Muslims in Britain were outraged and upset. Sadly, most did not know how to respond. Even more were unaware that the central premises were based upon a discredited work, Hagarism. Here are some reviews:
While the ideas propounded in Hagarism have never won widespread support from scholarship – both Muslim and non-Muslim alike – this is, nonetheless, an interesting read.
To summarise briefly, the authors are quick to put aside the Muslim sources as unreliable. The void is then filled by the early non-Muslim sources which make some references to Islam. The non-Muslim sources are trusted because Muslims would lie and exaggerate about their own religion whereas outsiders would have readily available for themselves detailed knowledge on Islam and would always relate matters accurately, and have no reason to twist facts. The authors propose that Islam came about and developed from a messianic sect of “Hagarenes.” An Arab merchant and preacher, named Muhammad, united the Arabs around the concept of the one true God and preached that the Arabs, being the descendants of Abraham, were the righful heirs of the land of Palestine. The members of this sect were known as the “muhajirun.” The “hijrah” was not from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina) but from Arabia to the “Promised Land” (Palestine), in which Jews participated. Muhammad was alive when the messianic figure of this movement, Umar, entered Jerusalem in the year 638.
The Jews welcomed these new invaders though the Christians feared them as barbarians. Nonetheless, after a certain passage of time, there was a break-up between Arabs and the Jews, the former asserting its distinct identity by emphasising the point that theirs was the true religion of Abraham. While the Arabs acknowledged Jesus as the messiah, their hatred for the cross caused them to deny Jesus’ crucifixion and his Davidic descent. The Hebrew prophets were also rejected and sole authority was given to the Pentateuch, in which the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy is absent together with the sanctity of Jerusalem.
Muhammad’s role and status developed as follows: first he was aligned with a number of non-Biblical prophets, then to a “prophet like Moses” and a recepient of a new revealed book. This is when the Quran was hurriedly composed, put together and presented as the scripture of Muhammad, probably at the end of the 7th century. Around the same time the now redundant notion of the hijrah was replaced with that of “Islam”. Thus, the believers came to be known as “Muslims” rather than as “muhajirun.”
Due to their abandonment of Jewish Messianism, the Arabs began looking for a new holy city, while still maintaining control of Jerusalem. The Samaritans had previously rejected Jerusalem and adopted Shechem, associated with the grave of Joseph. The Arabs decided to do the same; they began looking for a sanctuary associated with the grave of Ishmael, in light of their own supposed ancestral roots. Initially “Becca” was preferred, but its location within north Arabia was unknown. Later al-Hijr was preferred in the same region. But eventually, in Abdul Malik’s time, the Arabs located the sanctuary in Mecca, with Becca having been forgotten and “Mecca” conveniently assumed to be a variant of “Becca.” Thereafter, Muhammad’s links with Jerusalem were severed and the date of his death was adjusted to a period prior to the conquest and the hijrah was transformed into an emigration from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina). Thus, Islamic history as we know it from Muslims is a pious fraud, fabricated by deceptive ancient Arab con-artists.
The above is the gist of Hagarism. In New Testament studies, the enterprise undertaken in Hagarism would be similar to rejecting the entire New Testament and Christian sources and replacing them with non-Christian authors, whose statements are utilised uncritically to revise Christian history. We can rest assure that nonsense of such type will never occur in Christian studies; but in Islamic studies this is a frequent occurance.
As many have pointed out, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the authors of the non-Islamic sources used by Crone/Cook were any better informed on Islam, or more “balanced” than Muslims, particularly given the fact that they were most probably unfamiliar with the Arabic language, having no first hand knowledge of Arabia or even an interest in Islamic history. Why should we expect non-Muslims at this period to have been truthful or completely accurate, or well informed, on Islam when during the times of the Crusades the Christians seriously believed that Muslims worshipped idols?
Nonetheless, Crone and Cook manage to reconstruct history in a radical fashion based on nothing more than fragmentary non-Muslim pieces of evidence. Despite being supposedly historians, these authors not once critically examine the non-Muslim sources. As noted above, no sober historian and scholar accepts this revisionist reconstruction and the thesis has been rightly dismissed and harshly ridiculed in the scholarly circles over the years.
According to a previous reviewer (US amazon site), Kirk H Sowell, “Some early non-Muslim sources – of very limited quantity – do seem to support a radically different story than the standard one.” It should be noted, however, that Crone’s student, Hoyland (“Seeing Islam as Others Saw It”), has published an exhaustive account of the earliest non-Muslim references to Islam. He concludes, in sharp contrast to Crone/Cook, that these sources CONFIRM rather than call into question the traditional Islamic accounts.
Kirk H Sowell, insists that Hagarism is based on at least some “hard evidence,” not withstanding the almost universal rejection of its thesis. The hardness of the evidence within Hagarism can be gauged from the fact that the authors (Crone and Cook) no longer endorse its revisionist account. Unfortunately, many individuals with a prejudice and grudge towards Islam are quick to promote Hagarism without realizing the fact that the authors themselves have dismissed its revisionist claims.
Prof. Khan, who conducted interviews of Crone and Cook a while ago, reports:
“However, what distinguishes this book is the fact that its authors, Michael Cook and Patricia Crone, no longer subscribe to its critical findings. On April 3, 2006, I had a phone conversation with Michael Cook and we talked about Hagarism. He said to me the following, which he later confirmed by means of an email:”The central thesis of that book was, I now think, mistaken. Over the years, I have gradually come to think that the evidence we had to support the thesis was not sufficient or internally consistent enough.” On April 6, 2006, I interviewed Patricia Crone, as well, to see what she now thinks about the book. She was even more candid in repudiating the central thesis of the book. She agrees with the critics that the book was “a graduate essay.” The book was published in 1977 when the authors lived in England. “We were young, and we did not know anything. The book was just a hypothesis, not a conclusive finding,” said Crone. “I do no think that the book’s thesis is valid.”
This is confirmed in Crone’s recent essay. To quote her:
On Muhammad: “…we probably know more about Mohammed than we do about Jesus (let alone Moses or the Buddha), and we certainly have the potential to know a great deal more.”
On the authenticity of the “constitution” of Medina: “On the Islamic side, sources dating from the mid-8th century onwards preserve a document drawn up between Mohammed and the inhabitants of Yathrib, which there are good reasons to accept as broadly authentic;”
On the Quran: “Most importantly, we can be reasonably sure that the Qur’an is a collection of utterances that he made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God. The book may not preserve all the messages he claimed to have received, and he is not responsible for the arrangement in which we have them. They were collected after his death – how long after is controversial. But that he uttered all or most of them is difficult to doubt.”
It should be noted that this is a radical change in Crone’s stance.
Michael Cook, likewise, writes (http://pewforum.org/events/index.php?EventID=114):
The Quran: “The Koran was put together in the exact form in which we have it today something like 20 years after his death in 632. Some time around 650 — give or take a few years — the Koran is put together the way it is now.”
Reviewer Kirk also mentioned that: “coins with Quranic verses differ from the official version sixty years after it was supposedly standardized by Uthman.” But as Whelan and Hoyland, among others, have pointed out, these are slight/minor deliberate adaptations of the accepted standard text for the purposes of clarity and creativity. These are secondary changes that have been introduced to fit the sense. In other words, the accepted standard text is deliberately adapted in minor ways to emphasis particular themes, a very common Muslim practise while delivering speeches or making references to Quranic passages in inscriptions, coins etc. In the words of Whelan, “…even inscriptions of much later dates, when there is no question that a “canonical” text of the Qur’an had been established, embody such variations.” (source: see her essay: “Forgotten Witnesses”)
Putting aside Crone and Cook, recent archaeological discoveries and findings of early Quranic manuscripts and fragments have AFFIRMED rather than called into question the traditional Islamic accounts on the Quran and Islam. In a recent essay, Angelika Neuwirth acknowledges the current reality as follows:
“As a whole, however, the theories of the so-called sceptic or revisionist scholars … have by now been discarded, though many of their critical observations remain challenging and still call for investigation. New findings of qur’anic fragments, moreover, can be adduced to affirm rather than call into question the traditional picture of the Qur’an as an early fixed text composed of the suras we have. Nor have scholars trying to deconstruct that image through linguistic arguments succeeded in seriously discrediting the genuiness of the Qur’an as we know it … The alternative visions about the genesis of the Qur’an presented by Wansbrough, Crone and Cook, Luling and Luxenberg are not only mutually exclusive, but rely on textual observations that are too selective to be compatible with the comprehensive qur’anic textual evidence that can be drawn only from a systematically microstructural reading.
“Structural, linguistic and literary features,” in Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an, 2006, pp. 100-101
I would recommend, however, the reading of Crone and Cook’s Hagarism, but not because I think it contains worthwhile information, but only so that readers know how ridiculously “creative” some can become in their urge to make rubbish a people’s history.
The authors are “critical” – hyper-sceptical – only in dismissing Muslim sources. At work is a strong prejudice which causes them to reject all Muslim sources in toto since Muslims cannot be trusted. Hagarism has been rightly dismissed and harshly critiqued in the scholarly circles over the years.
Defending Hagarism, someone said that some early non-Muslim sources appear to present a “radically different” story from the standard one. It should be noted that Crone’s student, Hoyland (“Seeing Islam as Others Saw It”), has published an exhaustive survey of the earliest non-Muslim references to Islam. He concludes, in sharp contrast to Crone/Cook, that these sources CONFIRM rather than call into question the traditional Islamic accounts.
It was also said that Hagarism is based on some “hard evidence,” not withstanding its almost universal rejection. The hardness of the evidence can be gauged from the fact that the authors no longer endorse Hagarism. Unfortunately, many unfamiliar with scholarship, such as the openly hostile anti-Muslim reviews below, are quick to promote Hagarism without realizing that the authors themselves have dismissed its revisionist claims.
Khan reports: “However, what distinguishes this book is the fact that its authors … no longer subscribe to its critical findings …”
About Crone: “She [Crone] was even more candid in repudiating the central thesis of the book. She agrees with the critics that the book was “a graduate essay.” The book was published in 1977 when the authors lived in England. “We were young, and we did not know anything. The book was just a hypothesis, not a conclusive finding,” said Crone. “I do no think that the book’s thesis is valid.”” […]
Crone recently acknowledged we know more about Muhammad than about Jesus and that: “…we can be reasonably sure that the Qur’an is a collection of utterances that he [Muhammad] made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God. The book may not preserve all the messages he claimed to have received, and he is not responsible for the arrangement in which we have them. They were collected after his death – how long after is controversial. But that he uttered all or most of them is difficult to doubt.”
It was also said that coins with Quranic verses “differ” from the accepted Quranic text. But as Whelan and Hoyland pointed out, these are secondary changes – introduced to fit the sense. The accepted standard text is deliberately adapted in minor ways to emphasis particular themes, a common Muslim practise. Whelan says, “…even inscriptions of much later dates, when there is no question that a “canonical” text of the Qur’an had been established, embody such variations.” (“Forgotten Witnesses”)
Recent archaeological discoveries have AFFIRMED rather than called into question the traditional Islamic accounts. Neuwirth acknowledges:
“As a whole, however, the theories of the so-called sceptic or revisionist scholars … have by now been discarded … New findings of qur’anic fragments, moreover, can be adduced to affirm rather than call into question the traditional picture of the Qur’an as an early fixed text composed of the suras we have. Nor have scholars trying to deconstruct that image through linguistic arguments succeeded in seriously discrediting the genuiness of the Qur’an as we know it … ”
“Structural, linguistic and literary features,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an, pp. 100-101
I recommend Hagarism, but only so that readers know how not to be bad “historians.”
he religious texts of monotheistic religions form an intersecting field of study. For a starter, the historicity of the Christian bibles is so much in doubt hence it leads to legitimate questions about the exact dates and the identity of the authors. And the fact that all the “prophetic” books of the old testament were shamelessly written long after the events they claim to “predict” have happened, is all but too obvious except for the utterly ignorant.
The Koran itself may be open to scrutiny, about its authorship, the language it uses and many other aspects.
The two authors “Crone & Cook” have simply done nothing except parroting the questions that real scholars have had about the historicity of biblical texts and tried raising the same questions about Islamic history, without the slightest modification that is warranted due to the totally different historical backgrounds. For that reason they had to ignore all existing scholarship and to exclude all historical evidence except what they determined valid if it served their thesis. In most cases even this selectiveness in choosing the sources is not enough, they have to twist the meaning, use their own interpolation of the narrative to come up with the results they seek.
For example, after quoting for almost a whole page an “Armenian Chronicle” supposedly written in the 660s and ascribed to Bishop Sebeos, which even according to the authors, and I quote :
” This version of the origins of Islam is an unfamiliar one. It is also manifestly ahistorical in its admixture of Biblical ethnography and demonstrably wrong in the role it ascribes to the Jewish refugees from Edessa. This role, quite apart from its geographical implausibility, is in effect chronologically impossible ….. This need not however invalidate the picture which Sebes gives .. ” (page 7) !!!!
This quote is but one example of the level of “scholarship” that has gone into the book.
Furthermore, in the preface to the book the authors claim that the book will raise the eyebrows of the specialist, won’t be accepted by a “believing Muslim”, even disliked by a “Muslim who has lost his religious faith but retained his ancestral pride”. Well let me add that the book is an insult to any reader with a sense or understanding of scholarship and history, after all, historical research is not a fishing expedition where we dig for flimsy and uncorroborated sources simply to try to prove pre-conceived ideas and hypotheses.
Their hypothisis would be nothing short of laughable if it were not for the fake mantle of “scholarship” that the authors cloak themselves with. Furthermore, it is appalling if “Hagarism” reflects the level of “scholarship” in this field, since at best, the book does not move past the polemics of the religious fanatics of the middle ages.
On April 6, 2006, I interviewed Patricia Crone, as well, to see what she now thinks about the book. She was even more candid in repudiating the central thesis of the book. She agrees with the critics that the book was “a graduate essay.” The book was published in 1977 when the authors lived in England. “We were young, and we did not know anything. The book was just a hypothesis, not a conclusive finding,” said Crone. “I do no think that the book’s thesis is valid.”
Part of the confusion arises from the fact that Cook and Crone have made no manifest effort to repudiate their juvenile findings in the book. The authors admitted to me that they had not done it and cater no plans to do so. Repudiating scholarly work is not easy because sometimes errors are intertwined with valid findings. No scholar is obligated to rewrite books to correct errors. Scholarly decency, however, demands that the authors officially repudiate a scandalous thesis, one in which they no longer believe and one that maligns the faith of more than a billion people.
It appears however that the authors do not wish to discount a book that launched their careers and brought to them contacts and fortune. Patricia Crone teaches at the Institute for Advanced Studies, the academic home of Albert Einstein, an institute that proclaims itself as “one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry.” Michael Cook is a chaired professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, who in 2002 (a few months after 9/11 terrorist attacks) received $1.5 million Distinguished Achievement Award from the Mellon Foundation “for significant contribution to humanities research.”
In my original review, I had posted links to two articles, one of them being a recent article by Crone on the subject of the historical Muhammad. Unfortunately, the links were removed by amazon. In any case, let me clarify: I did not mean to suggest that Crone and Cook are now fully within mainstream scholarship. But, as far as the historicity of Muhammad is concerned, and the authenticity of the Quranic text, they have made a remarkable change.
Crone states that we know more about Muhammad than we do about the historical Jesus and historical Buddha. She accepts the Quran as something which Muhammad presented as revelation from God. She puts a question mark over whether or not we have everything which Muhammad presented as the Quran. Interestingly enough, Muslim sources also state that not everything which Muhammad preached as the Quran came to be permanently preserved (this is discussed in Muslim books under the heading of abrogation). She also does not dismiss in toto Muslim traditions (Constitution of Medina is accepted as “broadly authentic.”)
So this is a remarkable U-turn from Crone on important issues. Cook, also does not deny the Quran’s authenticity nor Muhammad as a historical figure.
Crone’s article is available here: http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/mohammed_3866.jsp
To quote some bits from the above:
Crone has this to say about the historical existence of Muhammad:
“…we probably know more about Mohammed than we do about Jesus (let alone Moses or the Buddha), and we certainly have the potential to know a great deal more.”
She goes on to say:
“There is no doubt that Mohammed existed, occasional attempts to deny it notwithstanding. His neighbours in Byzantine Syria got to hear of him within two years of his death at the latest; a Greek text written during the Arab invasion of Syria between 632 and 634 mentions that “a false prophet has appeared among the Saracens” and dismisses him as an impostor on the ground that prophets do not come “with sword and chariot”. It thus conveys the impression that he was actually leading the invasions.”
“…this [Greek text] source gives us pretty irrefutable evidence that he was an historical figure. Moreover, an Armenian document probably written shortly after 661 identifies him by name and gives a recognisable account of his monotheist preaching.”
“On the Islamic side, sources dating from the mid-8th century onwards preserve a document drawn up between Mohammed and the inhabitants of Yathrib, which there are good reasons to accept as broadly authentic; Mohammed is also mentioned by name, and identified as a messenger of God, four times in the Qur’an.”
“The evidence that a prophet was active among the Arabs in the early decades of the 7th century, on the eve of the Arab conquest of the middle east, must be said to be exceptionally good.”
Regarding the Quran itself, Crone writes:
“Most importantly, we can be reasonably sure that the Qur’an is a collection of utterances that he made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God. The book may not preserve all the messages he claimed to have received, and he is not responsible for the arrangement in which we have them. They were collected after his death – how long after is controversial. But that he uttered all or most of them is difficult to doubt.”
Review of Roman, Provincial and Islamic Law: The Origins of the Islamic Patronate
This book of Patricia Crone is an expansion of a chapter in her 1973 PhD thesis, which thesis was called “The Mawali in the Umayyad Period”. It attempts to revive the thesis of Goldziher and Schacht about Islamic law, that it had borrowings from (provincial eastern) Roman law. It is, like much of Crone’s early work, fundamentally wrong.
The book starts with two chapters, each a standalone essay. The first represents how Crone saw the state of the field on Roman elements in Muslim law, as of 1987. She noted that Goldziher and especially Schacht had failed to make their case; in many points where Islamic law *seems* to echo Roman law, it was really Jewish law which had made the borrowing. From that, everyone knows that Muslim law is Judaic at its base, as anyone who has witnessed an Iranian stoning can attest. So Crone proposed to start anew; this time with a deep investigation of the wala’, the clientage system in Islam.
Wala’ is often connected with slavery and it is in that context we are considering it here. Ideally (in Islam) a master would give his slave freedom, and then would adopt the freedman as something like a relative – the mawla. At the same time, it was possible for a master to kick a slave out of the house and renounce all responsibility for what the now-fully-freedman – here, a sa’iba – did from then on. The book argues for evolutions in both, from an originally Roman understanding.
The book argues that the first tasyib meant renunciation of the service element of wala’. The book claims that, in tasyib’s second stage, this also came to mean the master had no claim on the slave’s inheritance – or debts. The book sees this second understanding as first appearing under early Islam (p. 68) and at its conclusion narrows this to Mu’awiya (pp. 90-1). Crone observed that many later “classical” jurists forbade tasyib altogether (this much is true). She also observed that the Roman clientage was not a kinship tie (also true). The book’s general argument is that the very possibility of tasyib meant that the first wala’ was also not a kinship tie. The book deduces that wala’ started out as Roman clientage, and that the Marwanids ruled it into being as a family relationship. It was at that point, says the book, that that the tasyib was rendered more difficult – like divorcing one’s father.
It requires a specialist in Islamic legal history and hadith to evaluate this book’s claims. As it turned out, even Bernard Lewis who oversaw her original thesis missed its mistakes. If *Lewis* failed to review this argument properly; then surely *I* have no hope of doing this.
Fortunately for us the book’s assertions received that checking, at last, in 1997. One Ulrike Mitter of Hamburg went to Leeds, attended the International Medieval Congress there and presented a speech based on her doctoral thesis. This was published, in Der Islam #78 (2001), as “Unconditional manumission of slaves in early Islamic law: a hadith analysis”. Mitter went even more narrowly into the mechanics of tasyib-manumission. Mitter found tasyib in Islam even prior to when Crone found it. But she also found that it *always* meant full manumission. And equally early was wala’ as a kinship tie (but we all knew that from reading Goldziher). Roman law had nothing to do with the Islamic expression of any of this. All the groundwork for the classical wala’ was laid before the Umayyads got into it. Crone’s book is wrong.