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The Quest for the Historical Muhammad Hardcover – March 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Warraq, author of Why I Am Not a Muslim, here offers a "quest for the historical Muhammad" using the same methodology established by scholars attempting to uncover the historical Jesus. Applying this approach to determine if early traditions about Muhammad and the birth of Islam are historically accurate, Warraq predictably finds that the faith tradition cannot support the historian's demanding gaze. For example, Warraq argues that the centrality of Muhammad himself (as the prophet of God, author of the Qu'ran and focal point of Islamic culture) did not emerge until at least two centuries after the death of the historical Muhammad. Warraq's subtext is significantly unlike the Jesus Seminar's similar work, in which historians who are also Christians struggle to sort out the ways that historical methodology may illuminate and enliven the faith tradition. As his earlier titles suggest, this is not the work of a Muslim in radical dialogue with his faith. Under the guise of scholarly objectivity, Warraq wages a vigorous attack on the traditions of Islam. Biases notwithstanding, there is also much useful scholarship here; not only has Warraq provided a highly readable critical survey of the literature of this quest, he has also collected the most important texts needed to begin a more objective evaluation of Islam's sacred tradition. The reader's task is to sort the polemic from the scholarship. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This anthology of writings on Muhammad and early Islam "can be seen as an implicit criticism of this optimistic view of our historical evidence for the rise of early Islam." Rather than being a quest, as the title suggests, this work attempts to refute the traditional view and legitimacy of Islam and its founder. Contradictory statements concerning how much historical material is available on the life of Muhammad range from an overwhelming amount to practically none at all. The book, edited by Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim), readily admits to the anti-Islamic bias of some of its contributors. For example, Henri Lammens, who authored three chapters, is described as one who had "a holy contempt for Islam." Lammens himself refers to the Qur'an as an "infinitely shabby journal." Although very scholarly, this work is not balanced and is sure to cause a good deal of controversy in the Muslim world. Not recommended.
-Michael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 554 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (March 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573927872
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573927871
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,343,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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277 of 325 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Who was the Prophet Muhammad?
By Daniel Pipes The Jerusalem Post Friday, May 12 2000
In a well-known and oft-repeated statement, the French scholar Ernest Renan wrote in 1851 that, unlike the other founders of major religions, the Prophet Muhammad "was born in the full light of history." Indeed, look up Muhammad in any reference book and the outlines of his life are confidently on display: birth in CE 570 in Mecca, career as a successful merchant, first revelation in 610, flight to Medina in 622, triumphant return to Mecca in 630, death in 632. Better yet, read the 610-page standard account of Muhammad's life in English, by W. Montgomery Watt, and find a richly detailed biography. There are, however, two major problems with this standard biography, as explained in a fascinating new study, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, edited by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books). First, the massive documentation about Muhammad derives in every instance from Arabic written sources - biographies, collections of the prophet's sayings and doings, and so on - the earliest of which date from a century and a half after his death. Not only does this long lapse of time cast doubt on their accuracy, but internal evidence strongly suggests the Arabic sources were composed in the context of intense partisan quarrels over the prophet's life. To draw an American analogy: It's as though the first accounts of the US Constitutional Convention of 1787 were only recently written down, and this in the context of polemical debates over interpretation of the Constitution. Second, the earlier sources on the prophet's life that do survive dramatically contradict the standard biography.
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66 of 75 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Look up the Prophet Muhammad in any reference book and the outlines of his life are confidently on display: birth in C.E. 570 in Mecca, career as a successful merchant, first revelation in 610, flight to Medina in 622, triumphant return to Mecca in 630, death in 632. There are, however, two major problems with this standard biography, as explained in this fascinating collection of essays. First, the massive documentation about Muhammad derives in every instance from Arabic written sources - biographies, collections of the prophet's sayings and doings, and so on - the earliest of which date from a century and a half after his death. Second, the earlier sources on the prophet's life that do survive dramatically contradict the standard biography. In part, these are literary sources in languages other than Arabic (such as Armenian, Greek, or Syriac); in part, they are material remains (such as papyri, inscriptions, and coins).
Although the unreliability of the Arabic literary sources has been understood for a century, only recently have scholars begun to explore its full implications. They look skeptically at the Arabic written sources and conclude that these are a form of "salvation history" - self-serving, unreliable accounts by the faithful. The huge body of detail, revisionist scholars find, is almost completely spurious. For example, an inscription and a Greek account leads Lawrence Conrad to fix Muhammad's birth in 552, not 570. Patricia Crone conclude that Muhammad's career took place not in Mecca but hundreds of kilometers to the north. Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren find that the classical Arabic language was developed not in today's Saudi Arabia but in the Levant, and that it reached Arabia only through the colonizing efforts of one of the early caliphs.
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220 of 262 people found the following review helpful By Syed Ali on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I would like to Thanks Ibn Warraq for writing a great "Reference" work for us (Muslims). His books: Why I am not a Muslim, Origins of Koran and Quest for the Historical Muhmmad are the books which should be read and appreciated by all Muslims. I do not understand why Muslims call "him" Islam Basher when he is not really saying anything about Islam or Muhammad (s) from his own. All he is doing is compiling some Hadiths (traditions), from our so-called "holy" hadith and Sira books, in his books. If there is anyone to blame for Islam bashing then you should blame Ibn Hisham, Bukhari and all the other people who have written Muslims history.
"Muhammad married to 6 years old girl while he was 51" or "He slept with his 11 wives in one night" and so on are not ibn warrq's words but "Bukhari's".... All this is quoted in "Sahih Al-Bukhari", then why don't you call Bukhari a Islam Basher, or Kafir, or why don't you give "Fatwa" (verdict) against him, why don't you call Bukhari and all of his followers "Murtid".
Muslims should be thankful to Ibn Warraq for revealing these absurdities from our so called holy literatures, instead you are requesting John Esposito (is he really a scholar? ) to write a review, whose only purpose to write is to please Muslim leaders and fundamentalists to make money. I dare scholars like Esposito to write one critical analysis on Hadith literature, I bet they won't.
If you are "Muslim" and would like to know, what kind of Islam is depicted by your Mullahs, Shikhs, Hazrats, Muhadits, Sufis and Muftis then Ibn Warraq's books are must for you.
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