One thought on “Robert Spencer: Q&A in Melbourne

  1. I think that the idea that Muhammad didn’t exist at all doesn’t have strong utility. Partly because informed Muslims have an answer to that…Muhammad didn’t just forbid images of himself (lest they become idols), he also forbade the writing of his revelations.

    Now, this might be a convenient explanation of why there were no previous references to Muhammad in the historical record, except that there isn’t any reversal of the prohibition against writing down the revelations of Muhammad and that is a rather inconvenient prohibition to be directly violating with your main book of scripture.

    Also, the reason that the Arabs never left the region before as a nation is because they never had one before. They were constantly in-fighting and living in total savagery with no unified cultural identity above the level of the clan. Something did change that state of affairs, someone did spark the idea of unification rather than constant feuding. Nations don’t just happen, at some point someone has to invent the idea that you don’t kill your neighbor and take his stuff just because you don’t have a living ancestor in common to disapprove of it.

    The Arabs didn’t have that before Muhammad, and they did afterwards. Now, there have been great warlords who came up with the idea of assembling a militarized nation out of disparate clans. Genghis Khan comes to mind as the most successful, but there have been others. But it is rare for such leaders to give away the credit, particularly to an imaginary figure.

    So I think that attacking the historicity of Muhammad by saying he didn’t exist is less persuasive than saying that he did exist but his life and teachings were significantly fictionalized to suit the purposes of later rulers. There is also the difficulty of distinguishing between the assertion that Muhammad didn’t exist at all and mere derogation of his character from the standpoint of a Muslim who devoutly “believes in” Muhammad.

    If I may make an analogy, I find it is far easier to persuade Christians that they are wrong about some point of doctrine, philosophy, or morality by pointing out that what they believe is a later accretion of Christianity (often quite recent) and that Christ originally said or taught something quite different.

    For instance, if one goes back to the parable of the Good Samaritan as an answer to the question “who is my neighbor”, Christ specifically stresses that it is the compassion shown by the Samaritan (rather than his origin as a stranger) that qualifies him to be considered as a neighbor whom the man who fell among thieves is commanded to love “as himself”.

    This runs immediately contrary to the common usage of the idea of “love your neighbor as yourself” that is peddled or accepted by many modern Christians. But it is right there in Christ’s own words. Some Christians reject this original teaching (which is probably how the modern teaching came to be in the first place), but others are quite willing to accept it (it’s true that I’ve never actually tried claiming that Christ just didn’t exist, but I’ve seen others try it and it doesn’t generally seem to work that well on anyone with a strong attachment to a Christian culture).

    Now, admittedly there are greater difficulties doing this with Islam since the scriptures and hadiths were evidently mostly the creation of the Jihadists. But persuading Muslims that Koranic Islam is an affront to the Prophet is fundamentally possible, as demonstrated by the persistence (despite official persecution to the point of death) of reformist Muslims who find themselves compelled to believe this based on the historical evidence.

    Chiu Chun-Ling.

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