The Quran’s Historicity
Prior to 750 AD (thus a hundred years after Muhammad’s death) we have no verifiable Muslim documents which can give us a window into the formative period of Islam. We simply do not have any ‘’account from the Islamic’ community during the initial 150 years or so, between the first Arab conquests, in the early 7th century, and the appearance (with the SIRA-MAGHAZI narratives) of the earliest Islamic literature from the 8th century. All we have, prior to 750 consist ‘’almost entirely of rather dubious citations in later compilations’’ (Humphreys). It is incredible that Islam cannot provide a single corroborated manuscript of their most holy book from even within a century of their founder’s birth.
Quite a few stories found in the Quran have their root in second century Jewish apocryphal literature : stories as the murder of Abel and Cain in sura 5.31-32 is borrowed from the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziah and the Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.5 ; the storey of Abraham, the idols and the fiery furnace in sura 21.51-71 is from the Misdrash Rabbah ; the amusing storey found in sura 27.17-44 of Solomon, his talking Hoopoo bird, and the queen of Sheba who lifts her skirt when mistaking a mirrored floor for water, taken from the 2nd Targum of Esther. There are plenty others like the account of Mt. Sinai being lifted up and held over the heads of Jews as a threat for rejecting the law (sura 7.171) comes from The Abodah Sarah. And so on.
In sura 17.1 we have the report of Muhammad’s journey by night from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque. In later traditions, we find this aya refers to Muhammad ascending to the seventh heaven, after a miraculous night journey (the MI’RAJ) from Mecca to Jerusalem , on a winged-horse called Buraq. This comes from a mixture of different sources : the Testament of Abraham (~200), The Secrets of Enoch (chap.1.4-10 and 2.1), also the old Persian book entitled Arta-I Viraj Namak.
The Quran implies that Muhammad severed his relationship with the Jews in 624 and thus moved the direction of the prayer (Qibla, sura 2.144 and 149-150). Yet, the external documents in our possessions, namely that of the Doctrina Iacobi Chronicler (in 661) and that of the bishop Sebeos (in 660) testifies of rather good relations between the Jews and the Ishmaelites usually known then as the Saracens. The later Armenian source even mentions that the governor of Jerusalem was a Jew in the aftermath of the conquest. So, these testimonies are conflicting with the traditional account from the Quran.
In sura 3.96 and 6.92 we find the mention that Mecca (Bakkah) was the first sanctuary appointed for mankind, the ‘’Mother of all settlement’’ as Adam placed the black stone in the original Ka’ba while in sura 2.125-127) it was Abraham and Ishmael who rebuilt it many years later. Muslims here have an overriding problem as research carried out by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook shows that there is no report of Mecca in any ancient document until the early eight century, from the early reign of caliph Hisham who ruled in between 724-743. Remark that this is a full century after Muhammad’s death.
Yet even more troubling historically is the claim by Muslims that Mecca was not only an ancient and great city, but that is was also the center of the trading routes for Arabia in the 7th century and before. This belief is the easiest to examine, since we have ample documentation from that part of the world with which to check out its veracity. From Bulliet’s extensive research these claims by Muslims are quite wrong. This is further corroborated by Groom and Muller who contend that Mecca simply couldn’t have been on the trading route since it would have entailed a detour from the natural route along the western ridge.
On these accounts, Patricia Crone adds ‘’ Mecca was a barren place, and barren places do not make natural halts. (…) Why should caravans have made a steep descent to the barren valley of Mecca when they could have stopped at Ta’if.’’
Furthermore, she asks ‘’what commodity was available in Arabia that could be transported such a distance, through an inhospitable environment, and still be sold at a profit large enough to support the growth of a city in a peripheral site.’’
The real problem with Mecca , however, is that there simply was no international trade taking place in Arabia , let alone in Mecca in the centuries immediately prior to Muhammad’s birth. It seems that much of our data in this area has been spurious from the outset, due to the sloppy research of the original sources, carried out by the Jesuit Henry Lammens an ‘’unreliable scholar’’. M. Lammens used first century sources (such as Periplus and Pliny) while he should have used the later Greek historians who were closer to the events such as Cosmas, Procopius and Theodoratos (P. Crone).