The Sunni-Shia Divide and Islam’s Puzzling Origins

In his latest essay, Emmet Scott posits that Islam arose as a result of the Arab usurpation of the Sassanid Empire in the middle of the 7th century A.D.

The Sunni-Shia Divide and Islam’s Puzzling Origins

by Emmet Scott

In my Impact of Islam (2014) and Guide to the Phantom Dark Age (2014) I argued in some detail that Muhammad was a fictitious character conjured to life by the Umayyad Caliphs in the late seventh century in order to justify and legitimize the Arab usurpation of the Persian Sassanid Empire. In the above studies I also suggested that the earliest “Islam” was spread by the Sassanid Empire and that the great “Arab Conquests” of Anatolia, Syria and Egypt were in reality carried out by Persian armies. Certainly the earliest Islam detected by archaeologists is thoroughly Persian in character in terms of art, architecture, iconography, and even pottery. Thus for example, the crescent moon with the star, Islam’s symbol par excellence, is in fact an Iranian religious motif and appears on Persian coins many centuries before the advent of Islam.

In the above two volumes I also argued that the Sassanid king Chosroes II (reigned 590-628) converted to the Ebionite (or Judaic) form of Christianity (or, more accurately, Judaic Jesus movement) and that Ebionitism, popular throughout the Middle East since the fourth century, formed the doctrinal bedrock of what later came to be known as Islam. I suggested too that the Qur’an was originally an Ebionite devotional text written in Aramaic, and that it was only under the Umayyad Caliphs (beginning with Mu’awiya) that the book was transcribed into Arabic — a transcription which changed the meaning of many passages.

The Ebionite cult was doctrinally almost identical to Islam; it accepted the Mosaic Code, with all it implied (circumcision, halal/kosher food, divorce, stoning for adultery, etc.), yet also saw Jesus as a prophet — though not the Son of God. That Chosroes II converted to Ebionitism is suggested by a number of clues. First and foremost, he is known to have converted to some form of Christianity (usually described as “Syriac”) after his marriage to the beautiful Syrian princess Shirin, who was also a Christian of some variety. Secondly, and crucially, he began to issue coins bearing the Aramaic legend bism Allah, “in the name of God.” These coins are regarded as the earliest Islamic coins and are usually believed to have been issued by one of the conquering Rashidun caliphs, either Umar or Uthman. Yet the same coins have the image of Chosroes II and his name in Pahlavi script, as well as a Zoroastrian fire temple on the reverse side. It is inconceivable that any Islamic ruler — (in our modern understanding of Islamic) would have issued coins of this design. Yet in spite of that the coins are routinely ascribed to Arab caliphs, for the simple reason that to assign them to the man whose name appears on them — Chosroes II — would mean placing a question mark on the whole of early Islamic history. And that is something historians have as yet been unwilling to do.

We know that a decade or so after Chosroes’ death the throne was occupied by Yazdegerd III, his grandson. Yazdegerd was the last Sassanid Emperor and we are told that in his time Persia was conquered by the armies of Caliph Umar. Yet Yazdegerd’s coins also display the legend bism Allah, as well as the Zoroastrian fire temple. Now it may just be conceivable that the Arabs could have for convenience continued to use the basic design of coins minted by the last Sassanid emperor, Yazdegerd III, but why continue to mint coins with the name of an earlier Persian king, Chosroes II, one who moreover had died a decade and a half earlier?

Caliph Umar, the reputed Arab conqueror of Persia, was said to have been assassinated by a Persian captive/slave named Piruz Nahavandi sometime around 645. Interestingly, the assassin, though regarded as a villain by Sunni Muslims, is seen as something of a hero, or even saint, by Shias, who report a tradition that he was miraculously saved from retribution and transported to Kashan in Persia, where he lived out his days amongst the adherents of Ali. The tomb of Nahavandi is still a center of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims.

And this brings us to a crucial point: The Rashidun, or “Rightly-Guided” Caliphs, the first three caliphs who are said to have conquered much of the Byzantine and Persian lands, are not honoured by the Shias of Persia, but are regarded as usurpers and impostors. Only Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad and last of the Rashidun, is regarded as a legitimate commander of the faithful. In Shia belief, only Ali was legitimate, since he was of the bloodline of the Prophet.

Ali himself was assassinated by a Kharijite during a war of succession against Mu’awiya, supposedly in 661. Now it so happens that Mu’awiya is the first Islamic ruler to bequeath to us artefacts bearing his name: Neither Muhammad himself nor any of the “Rightly-Guided” Caliphs who came after him has left so much as a brick or inscription to mark his existence. This is an extraordinary state of affairs, for we are told that by the time of Ali’s death the lands of the Caliphate stretched from the borders of India in the east to Carthage in the west. For forty years then the Islamic world, a large and expanding empire, had been ruled by Caliphs who failed to leave a single artefact attesting to their existence. This is a situation unique to the early Islamic world, and must make us wonder whether any of the aforementioned characters actually existed.

Examination of the Qur’an, as Christof Luxenberg and others have shown, would suggest that the answer to the latter question would be “no.” As Luxenberg pointed out (The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran, 2007), up to one third of the Qur’an makes no sense when read as an Arabic text. However, read as an Aramaic text, the whole book makes perfect sense, and reveals itself to be a devotional text belonging to some form of Christian sect. Jesus (Isa) appears twenty-five times in the Qur’an whereas Muhammad appears only four times. The name “Muhammad” implies “chosen one” or “praised one” in Aramaic (and Arabic) and the coins of Mu’awiya, which show a man holding a cross along with the name MHMT (Muhammad) would suggest that “Muhammad” was originally a title for Jesus. This is an opinion rapidly gaining ground amongst historians and lexicographers. At least three of the occurrences of the name “Muhammad” in the Qur’an could easily be interpreted as referring to Jesus, and even the fourth could conceivably be viewed in the same light.

Aside from Jesus and his mother Mary (Maryam) virtually all of the characters encountered in the Qur’an belong to the Old Testament, indicating a profoundly Jewish background to the text. Moses, for example, is mentioned 136 times, and more to the point, Jesus is identified as the nephew of Moses. This would suggest that the Qur’an’s Jesus (Hebrew Yehoshua) has been confused with the Old Testament Joshua (also Yehoshua in Hebrew), who was indeed from the next generation after Moses. Now whereas Jesus of the New Testament was more or less a complete pacifist, Joshua of the Old Testament was a war leader, and quite a brutal one at that. Could it be that the Jesus (Isa) of the Qur’an owes more to Joshua than to Jesus? In any event, if Muhammad was originally an honorary title for Jesus, this means that no historical character named Muhammad ever existed and the whole story of Islam’s origins and early development is a myth.

All of which brings us back to the first Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiya. With the latter ruler a process of Arabization began, and it is an extraordinary coincidence, if coincidence it is, that the first archaeological traces of an Arab Islamic civilization (as opposed to a Persian Islamic civilization) are found precisely in the reign of Mu’awiya, the man whose life marks the great divide between Arab Sunni and Persian Shia Islam. I would suggest then that Mu’awiya was an Arab general in the employ of the Sassanid Empire, who staged a coup d’état against his Persian masters and seized the Sassanid throne. It is known that huge numbers of Arab troops, along with entire Arab tribes and peoples, such as the Lakhmids, were affiliated to the Sassanids and formed an important part of Sassanid armies. Interestingly, the Lakhmids, whose territory included a large part of south-west Iraq and north-east Saudi Arabia, are known to have converted to some form of Christianity, usually described as Nestorian, in the sixth century. With the murder of Chosroes II in 628 the Sassanid Empire was rent by civil war, with rival factions vying for control of the state for over a decade. In the midst of this turbulent period, I suggest, Arab generals played a prominent role, initially installing kings on the throne and finally, under the leadership of Mu’awiya, seizing the throne itself. We should note that barbarian troops and generals behaved in the same way in the latter centuries of the Roman Empire. The Arabs, long minor partners in the Sassanid Empire, now found themselves in control, and they had no intention of letting it slip. A process of Arabization began: The Qur’an, previously known to all as an Aramaic document, was now transcribed into Arabic, and to complete the process “Muhammad,” previously a title of Jesus, was now transformed into a conquering Arab prophet, who emerged from the deserts of Arabia at the head of victorious armies. Arab generals, who had taken part in the wars for the Sassanid throne following the murder of Chosroes II, were transformed into conquering caliphs, and a story was concocted telling how these men subdued the mighty Sassanid state.

By the late seventh and early eighth centuries a veritable industry grew up producing hadiths which purported to describe incidents in the life of the newly-invented Prophet Muhammad, hadiths which often contradicted some parts of the Qur’an itself and which explained the contradictions by the expedient of “abrogation”. In short, the Prophet had changed his mind about this or that, following a new revelation from God, and cancelled his earlier teaching.

But the peoples of Iran could not be completely taken in by this process. They well knew that the Arabs were usurpers, and whilst they accepted that “Muhammad” was indeed a prophet who spoke a Semitic language (i.e. Jesus), they denied the legitimacy of the men who wrought such havoc in the Persian homeland following the death of Chosroes II, men such as Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. Only Ali was accepted as a genuine leader because “Ali” too (the “high” or “elevated one”), as Volker Popp has noted, was another honorary title for Jesus. (See Popp, “The Early History of Islam” in Karl Heinz Ohlig and Gerd. R Puin eds. The Hidden Origins of Islam)

Chronology of Islam’s Early Origins.

4th to 6th
  Ebionitism, a Jewish “Jesus movement”, spreads throughout Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia. The Ebionites rejected the Four Gospels and insisted that Jesus was a faithful Jew who never challenged the laws laid down by Moses.
Circa 600:   Chosroes II, a Sassanid king resident in Aramaic-speaking Ctesiphon, embraces Ebionitism and accords it a privileged position within the Sassanid Empire.
614:   Sassanids, with large contingents of Arab troops, capture Jerusalem and carry out a massacre of the Christian population.
620:   Sassanids, with Arab mercenaries and allies, conquer Egypt.
640:   Arab troops, commanded by Mu’awiya, stage a coup d’état against Yazdegerd III and seize control of large parts of the Sassanid Empire, including much of the Iranian Plateau.
660:   Capital of the Empire moved from Ctesiphon to Arabic-speaking Damascus and the Arabization of the court commences.
670:   Document henceforth known as the Qur’an transcribed into Arabic with many changes of meaning from the Aramaic original.

Emmet Scott is the author of Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy.

Previously: The Myth of the Primeval Matriarchy

23 thoughts on “The Sunni-Shia Divide and Islam’s Puzzling Origins

  1. This story is not acceptable and has more than a few flaws.

    The most important clue, presence of Jews in Medina (Yathreb those days), is missing in the whole story. Arabs became familiar with the idea of Messiah when they came in contact with the Jews which, in turn, ironically slaughtered by Muslims later. Mohammed was not the only person who claimed to be the messiah; at least 3 other Arabs who claimed to be messiah are recorded, the most famous and powerful one was Mussaylimah. Please notice the usage of word “messiah” in my text, and notice how author carelessly misuses the general idea of messiah in Judaism for the historical Lord Jesus himself. I am sorry, but this looks like another Zionism-sponsored pseudo-research to distract attention from the guilt of Jews in development of Islam. More detailed explanations will take long and I doubt I am allowed to use such bandwidth.

    Author connects any development in Mesopotamia (modern countries:Iraq and Syria) to Persians, and King Chosroes himself, and does not seem to be able to distinguish between Sassanid Empire and Persians. Sassanid Empire included many nations with Persians at highest rank, and it’s much too naive to relate any coin or any religion found in those areas to Persians; these things can only represent the ideas of local kings. Even in modern country Iran, only 5 families can be identified with any relevance to Persians, and a sixth lives in Georgia. Author even mis-introduces the origins of Armenian Princess Shirin to make the story look accurate.

    Later development of Shia in Iran is not the result of Persian origins of Islam, but the Arabs who actually moved into those areas. To make this fallacious idea look real, author misuses some correct data: Ali was from Mohammed bloodline. In fact, Ali was not the only one from Mohammed bloodline, Ummayad were 2nd degree cousins, and Abbassids were 1st degree cousins of Mohammed. These three cousins (Ali, Muawia, Abbass) and their descendants were in serious competition to grab the kingdom. After Ali has been murdered, his front lost the power and cousins started to kill them, so they escaped to the farthest areas of empire -Iran and Lebanon- where they could be a bit safer. That’s how descendants of Ali spread into other places and with them the idea of Shia itself.

    • If you are correct then the archeology will point in that direction, Mr Scott is basing his proposal upon those archeological finds that have so far come to light. I see no such clues in your response.

      Your foray into joo bashing does not help either, it indicates an emotional attachment to modern Islamic anti-Semitic diatribe. Mr Scott’s hypotheses in Mohd. & Charlemagne Revisited make a lot of sense and this essay flows from them clarifying issues rather than plunging them back into darkness.

      • The author is suggesting that Muhammad is like a King Arthur. A mythopoetic standin for post Roman warlords.

        Only in England Arthur is a fairytale and rollicking good yarn and in Arabia Muhammad becomes a literal force.

        The Aramaic read is interesting but I really would like to see side by side comparisons of meaning in sentences.

    • I can’t speak for our host, but please do use the bandwidth, or if that is not possible please supply links. The subject is too important to ignore.

      The Sunni/Shia split is a mystery to those of us who are neither Muslim nor from a Muslim country, and the traditional explanation in terms of the descent of the rightly guided caliphs does not seem reasonable.

  2. The idea that the vast Arab conquests were in fact carried out by Sassanid armies was already put forward in the 90’s by the German historian Heribert Illig.

  3. There is a good chunk of the modern day Bible that is open to question given the contents of the dead sea scrolls. Early Christianity had its share of power hungry individuals prepared to edit their religion to suit their own ends, as happened at the Council of Nicea. I see nothing here that is any different and no reason to discard an interesting theory especially as there is at least some archeological evidence to support it.

    • “Early Christianity had its share of power-hungry individuals prepared to edit their religion to suit their own ends, as happened at the Council of Nicea.”


      Nicea took the politically unpopular position (Athanasius was repeatedly exiled for a total of 17 years). [redacted ad hominem rhetoric]

    • “There is a good chunk of the modern day Bible that is open to question given the contents of the dead sea scrolls.”

      That’s not what I’ve read on the subject. Would you care to give some examples of questions?

  4. There is no early Mohamedan archaeology nor any independent documentation of a powerful all conquring beduin chieftain from Arabia doing whatever Muhammad was supposed to have been doing at the time. The stories of Yathrib/Medina are likely to be true albeit attributed to a mythical earlier figure. Nor does it all matter. Islam is essentially a supremacist, expansionist, anti-moral, de-limiting ideology that decouples men from manhood and encourages them to practice to fulfillment all their base most ferocious instincts of domination and subjugation of others. It is not unique to Arabs or Muslims It took Hitler less than a decade to convince Germany to become Nazi. The rapaciousness exhibited by Muslims everywhere IS Islam. Its that simple.

  5. Sounds like some form of a Persian 1984 played out hundreds of years ago and its legacy is with us today.

  6. Such a discussion may be of some historical interest for nonmuslims.
    But even if all the arguments and assumptions would turn out to be true, it wouldn`t make much of a difference for the muslims.

    One simply cannot debunk a faith by reason.
    I mean no reasonable person would believe, that Muhammed actually flew to Jerusalem on a horse with a human head, or that Jinns (who are made out of fire and air) really do exist, or that Ibrahim did build the Kaaba and left his footprint behind…

    Btw. the crescent moon with the star (though not the five pointed islamic one) also was the symbol of the goddess Artemis and of Byzantium and later Constantinopel.
    It was the Turcs who adopted it for Islam.
    Even St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna had a moon and a 6 or 8 pointed star-symbol on top of the highest steeple, it was exchanged only some years after 1683 (in the aftermath of the second siege of Vienna by the Turks).

    • ” the crescent moon with the star”, to muddy the water further, is also an ancient Egyptian symbol and probably also Babylonian.

  7. Another thought: If Jesus really is identical with Muhammed, or was connected in any way.
    Then why are the traditions or legends of their lives so different.
    There had to be at least some common ground.

    Muslims call Jesus Isa (which actually means Esau), but arabic Christians call him correctly Yazu.
    If Muhammed really existed, he clearly had only minor knowledge of Christianity (or of some sectarian forms of Christianity, maybe influenced by Gnosticism).

    • This refers to two separate things.

      In the Koran book and the Mohammed of the Hadiths.

      It’s basically two separate people.

  8. This analysis has many well-shod feet to run on. Scott is to be highly commended in weaving it with both archeological and textual evidence – upon his loom sober deduction. He is not alone as we all know; Robert Spencer’s “Did Muhammad Exist” is another accessible volume.

    Most Westerners are utterly ignorant of “Oriental” Christianity (not all of it *heretical*) that Scott’s observations need to be prefaced with a course in Early (Syriac) Christianity. It was very much a Jewish Christianity, true; but the danger here is to give in to a false polemic that somehow Judaism (Rabbinic or *Jesus Movement*) is to be faulted for “giving birth” is Islam. Not the case. The case is not there was too much Jewishness in *Oriental/Syriac* Christianity, for then one would need to fault the Coptic Orthodox Church of Ethiopia (which is the most Jewish of all the Christian churches). Besides, one can make an argument Latin Christianity grew alien barnacles on its body by being less Jewish – of breaking the Commandment to honor one’s mother.

    [Islam is a double heresy – both Christian & Jewish. That is why it is so dangerous, especially when it is down on the mat, defeat – or dying.]

    Now back to the initial topic:

    Yet, I fear, too many Counter-Jihadist are a bit uneasy with the *theory*. Islam is our well-earned enemy, but to have the core of it – Muhammad, himself – be nothing but a rasping sound among the willows and reed is a bit (how shall we put it) of a downer. We’re human. When we do, at battle’s end, slay the giant, victory would be sweeter and more gloriously crowned if only we could see some blood!

  9. It’s a darn interesting theory, but then so are all those books about the Knight’s Templars and the Holy Grail and Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. Very hard to prove one way or the other, and in a way it’s irrelevant. It’s the current incarnation of Islam we have to deal with, not what it might have once been.

  10. This caused me to do a little research of which I don’t know the validity. I found something that stated the Muslims thought Ebionite Christianity is/was the true Christianity. I have heard they also believe Abraham, Moses, Jesus were all Muslim and practiced Islam as it was at the time. So this means Judaism at one time was Islam. Ebionite Christianity was Islam. I can make a few more statements that leads us to a COEXIST bumper sticker because no religion has remained unchanged. What is missing from the coexist argument is the reality that not everyone wants to coexist or what the consequences of their actions and beliefs will be.

  11. Obviously the points about the lack of evidence for the “rightly guided Caliphs” and the inconsistent coinage, plus the Aramaic origin for at least parts of the Koran were covered by Spencer in “Did Muhammad Exist?”, along with the statement that since Muhammad means “the Glorious One”, it could be a reference to Jesus in such places as the Dome of the Rock inscriptions. If someone wanted to replace that with a Muhammad that was a purely fictional character, no resemblance to Jesus would be necessary. Spencer cites a number of scholarly studies to support the above but does not go any further.
    What caught my attention regarding the Persian connection was a statement by a history professor named Paul A. Rahe who recently wrote a book on Sparta in his lecture for the Hillsdale college course on Athens and Sparta in regard to the Persian wars in the discussion session following the lecture about Sparta and the Persian wars.
    The ancient Persians, 1200 years before the appearance of Islam were waging what amounted to Jihad against the Greeks. In the Zoroasterian view the king of Persia was God’s agent to bring order to a disordered world by means of conquest, which gives obvious parallels to the concept of jihad. He specifies that the influence of this Persian religion obviously was around to affect Muhammad along with Judaism and Christianity, and its influence needs to be further explored. Obviously the above essay suggests another interpretation of his observations.

    • How is this any different than Sikh/Hindu who say Dharma must rule everywhere?

      Difference being in tolerating other religions & their temples?

      There aren’t shared Buddhist, Zoraster, Hindu & Greek temples in C Asia still.

      The abrahamics don’t have such a tradition.

      Or I’m incorrect?

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