Islam, though one of the youngest religions in the world, is one of the fastest growing and the second in terms of adherents. Statistics from the Pew Research Center show that out of the 200 countries under consideration, the religion had 1.6 billion followers which represented 23.2% of the estimated world population of 6.8 billion people as of 2010. The statistics reveal that as of 2050, more than 29% of the world’s population will be made up of Muslims. As such, one in every four people is likely to be a Muslim going by these statistics and this gives Islam a significant place in the world. Various accounts state that the religion started in 600 A.D. and they place the founding of the religion on prophet Mohamed who started to have divine visions which he communicated to people leading to the rise of Islam (Guillaume 2004). However, this account on the beginning of Islam is taken as the conventional one and there are several other accounts on the origin of Islam. One of these is “Hagarism” by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. Crone and Cook wrote about the origin of Islam based on texts from other major religions- Christianity and Judaism in a controversial book titled Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. Their account differs from traditionally-accepted versions given by Muslims themselves. This essay compares and contrasts Crone and Cook’s hypothesis that the religion emanated from Mohammad’s quest for a unique religion that was different from Christianity and Judaism which differs with the traditional Muslim account based on the Sirat Rasul Allah (The life of the Messenger) by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham.
Prior to delving onto contrasting the book Hagarism with the conventional belief on the origin of Islam, it is important to give an overview of the two sides. Patricia Crone and Michael Cook wrote their account of the origin of Islam in a 1977 book titled Hagarism. The making of the Islamic World. The word Hagarism is derived from the 7th century tribes living in the Arabian Peninsula that are believed to have been descendants of an Egyptian girl named Hagar who served as a servant to Abraham and bore him a son named Ishmael (Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). Several tribes emanated from Ishmael and came to be known as Hagarenes. According to Crone and Cook, Islam originated from Christianity and Judaism through Hagar and hence the religion is more about Hagar than any other personality which led them to claim that Islam should be referred to as Hagarism (Crone & Cook, 1977).
Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah (760 C.E.) is the first well known narrative on the biography of Muhammad (Guillaume, 2004). Ishaq chose a narrative form of the piece in order to gain control over the image that he presented to the Muslim and non-Muslim world over the origin of Islam. He wrote the book at the time when there were various political, religious and economic groups fighting for supremacy (Nasr, 2007). The Sira was a part of the strategies through which the Abbasids created social cohesion and established their political authority. In the original form of the Sira, Ibn Ishaq wrote a narrative that included a period called Kitab al-Mubtada that dated back to Adam and Eve who are also described as the first parents to humanity in Christianity and Judaism (Guillaume, 2004). However, the part was removed by Ibn Hisham since it was deemed that the account did not clearly mark out Islam as distinct and different from Christianity and Judaism (Copeland, 2002). As such, the removal of the part disentangles the origin of Islam from any other controversial accounts such as Hagarism which tie the origin of Islam to other religions.
The Sira currently comprises of Sunna or stories about Prophet Mohammad that are organized in a chronological order. Ibn Ishaq includes Maghazi literature which is the Islamic genre of writing that focuses on the raids or the wars of Muhammad’s life (Milby, 2008). Since Ibn Ishaq work no longer exists in the original form, its subsequent forms are taken as the true accounts on the origin of Islam. Two recensions are widely considered, one by Ibn Hisham and the other Al Bakka'i, al Tabari, Yunus b. Bukayr, al Athir, Al Qarawayoun which is commonly used in Fez, Morocco (Milby, 2008). According to Guillaume (2004) Ibn Hisham presents Muhammad as man with authentic qualities such as fears, ambitions, jealousy, lust, anger, revenge, aggression and deception. It is Ibn Hisham’s presentation of Muhammad as a man with flaws but who gave himself towards the revelations that he received from Allah that shows the authenticity of the traditional account as the true one (Milby, 2008). The account of Muhammad was written decades after his death by Ibn Ishaq. There are no documents to prove the formative years of Muhammad and all the relevant details were written with the benefit of hindsight. The human flaws of Muhammad had to be presented in order to later depict him as a changed man who reflected the alleged miracle of Quranic revelations. All the people who followed Mohammed had to emulate him in every way of life since the revelations transformed him onto the perfect man (Milby, 2008). Ibn Ishaq is taken as a credible source on the account of Islamic origins since he wrote it about 100 years after Muhammad’s death.
According to Ibn Hisham, the story about the origin of the world as contained in the Biblical accounts did not make sense in telling about the origin of Islam. He moved to the story of Abraham who he considered to be direct ancestor of Mohammed and his followers (Holt, 2008). The eminence is given to Abraham and then to Mohammed instead of Hagar, Ishmael and other personalities that came in between and this is one big difference between Crone and Cook’s account to that given in the Sirat Rasul Allah.
Crone and Cook wrote the book Hagarism from archeological evidence, contemporary documents from the Coptics, Armenians, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian, and Greek and Latin accounts. The authors assert that rather base the origin of Islam on the Islamic tradition and other Arab writings, it should be based on the archaeological, philological and historical data as is the case with the origin of Judaism and Christianity (Milby, 2008). Croke and Cook assert that the traditional accounts are biased, express dogma and they are irreconcilable or coherent to express a verifiable origin of Islam. For instance, the duo notes that there is no hard evidence for the existence of the Quran in any form prior to the last decade of the seventh century while the Islamic traditions which tray to place the opaque revelations of Prophet Muhammad cannot be attested and accounted for prior to the Eight Century (Crone & Cook, 1977). Crone and Cook note that although there is no hard evidence to reject the traditional accounts, there is also no evidence to accept the same.
Islam has its roots as a Jewish messianic movement which was known as Hagarism according to Crone and Cook. The duo used Syriac, Hebrew and Armenian sources to note that the Jewish messianic movement moved into a fertile crescent. They drew from the sources which state that the Judaic Babylonians and the Samaritans influenced the formation of Islam. The sources state that around 690 AD, the movement, refused to fall under Judaism and developed into what would later become Islam (Milby, 2008). The records of the time state that the followers of Muhammad were known as Hagarenes because Mohammed invoked on monotheism. The singular God in whom Mohammed believed in worshipped and claimed to have received revelations from bore similar traits and had been credited with creation of the world in manner similar to the God of the Judaists (Holt, 2008). Consequently, Mohammed introduced monotheistic worship among the Arabs. Nasr (2007) states that indeed Muslims descended biologically from Abraham through his slave wife named Hagar. In the similar manner that Jews and Christians claim to have descended from Abraham through his wife Sarah, so did the Muslims descend from Abraham through Hagar thereby giving eminence to the Abraham’s wives and hence the use of the name Hagarism for the Muslims.
According to Crone and Cook, the Jews and the Hagarenes united to form a faith called Judeo-Hagarism so that they could save the land from an invasion by the Christian Byzantines (Copeland, 2002). Early manuscripts state that Muhammad was the leader of a group of military men who rose to defend Jerusalem and that the first Hijra was a journey from a city in the North to Jerusalem in order to save it since it was Abraham’s Holy land. The Hagarenes became dissatisfied with their unity with the Jews since it denied them the uniqueness of their beliefs (Copeland, 2002). They feared that they could get assimilated or converted into Judaism and hence they created their own religion under the leadership of Muhammad. As such, the Hagarism account by Crone and Cook gives immense weight to the seeking of unique identity by the descendants of Hagar under Mohammed as a military leader contrary to the weigh they would give Mohammed as a visionary and a messenger of God.
Once the Hagarenes were determined to set out their unique religion, they sought theological legitimacy by developing a religion closely modeled along the lines of Christianity and Judaism by picking aspects from the two religions and mixing them to create uniqueness (Holt, 2008). In fact some scholars state that Islam blended aspects of Samaritanism in order to make their religion even more unique and outstanding. Others add that there were several aspects of Judaic mythology and symbolism in the founding of Islam(Copeland, 2002). For instance, in the Quran which was adopted as the holy book of Islam, Mecca is a holy city that matches with the Bible’s and Torah’s Jerusalem. Islam’s Mohammed cuts a figure between Christianity’s Jesus and the Jewish figure of Moses. There are aspects of the figures receiving revelations from God atop mountains, going into lengthy periods of prayer or delivering people from bondage and into enlightenment.
However, this view has been termed as a biased and inaccurate one by many Muslim scholars. The scholars assert that the Crone and Cook’s book was a part of the larger scheme by scholars against the spread of Islam who rose in the 1970s (Milby, 2008). The scholars were associated with the University of London’s school of Oriental and African Studies. The scholars introduced a new way of analyzing Islam and the Quran. They used linguistics and archaeology to dispel traditional and conventional beliefs on the origin of Islam (Copeland, 2002). They for instance used contemporary rather than traditional and authentic texts to state their position that indeed Hagarism explains the true origin of Islam. Numerous people have viewed the book with considerable interest. Some view it as a good attempt to reconstruct the funding of major religions and as positive criticism to the world’s major religions whose founding they say is shrouded in mystery and unfounded issues.
Crone and Cook raised controversy among Islamic scholars from both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world. Many scholars condemned the book as giving a biased and ill-founded account of the origin of Islam. A few scholars admitted that Cook and Crone were on the right in their account but they overstated the facts and the entire account of the origin of Islam. Several years after the book was published, the Crone & Cook book (also referred by some as the “Crook book”) gained massive reading and referencing in article and other books but over the years, the rise and popularity of Islam has led to the rejection of the book’s message. Today, the book is rarely used a reference for the true origin of Islam especially among the modern generation scholars.
The book on Hagarism is an attempt to interpret the reality using records and facts available at the time the Islam was founded. It is the manner in which the records and information has been brought together that has been controversial and conflicts with the conventional origins of Islam (Milby, 2008). The conventional statement that all Muslims agree upon is that “There is no God, but Allah, and Mohammed is His messenger”. Based on this, it is apparent that the conventional origin of Islam has to do with Mohammed and how he received revelations leading to the founding of Islam (Nasr, 2007). In fact, when one repeats the statement several times, he or she is said to become a Muslim. According to conventional beliefs, the statement is not only the beginning of Islam but also the foundation and the totality of Islam (Nasr, 2007). Conventional Islam states that it is not enough that one worships Allah bit one must also worship Mohammad. Indeed, the Quran states 91 times that Muhammad is the perfect Muslim, the divine human prototype and he is also lived the life that Allah approves (Nasr, 2007). So important are the actions and words of Mohammed that they have a special name- Sunna. The Sunna is divided into two texts- the biography of Mohammed (Sira) and the Hadith with refer to the collection of traditions and short stories about Mohammed.
The conventional origin of Islam starts with the birth of Prophet Muhammad in 570 AD. According to Copeland, Muhammad was born in the tribe of Qurayash in the town of Mecca. His parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather and later an uncle named Abu Talib. As a youth he travelled with trading caravans and learnt a lot about his religions such as Christianity and Judaism (Copeland, 2002). He married a widow named Khadija when he was aged 25. The real founding of Islam in conventional Islam is comes in at 610 AD when Muhammad started to receive revelations from Angel Gabriel, which he later put into the Quran. Muhammad prayed and fasted at Mount Hira where God commissioned him to be a prophet and messenger of God who he was to refer to as Allah (Copeland, 2002). Throughout the rest of his 23 years on earth, Muhammad continue to received a series of other revelations leading to the solid founding of the Islamic religion as more people started to follow in the messages that Muhammad preached.
Muhammad preached monotheism at a time when there was great idolatry while Christianity and Judaism rejected his message. Muhammad’s first converts were his wife, Cousin Ali and a friend named Abu-Bakr who later succeeded him. In the first days, Muhammad’s converts faced persecution and he had to organize for the emigration of 80 Muslims to move to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to escape the persecution (Nasr, 2007). As such, conventional records assert that Islam was founded on the basis of revelations given to Prophet Mohammed who then fearlessly spread them; won converts, faced persecutions but pressed on with the calling that he had received from Allah.
The differences between the accounts contained in Crone and Cook’s book with those of the traditional account by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham in Sirat Rasul Allah show the differences in ideologies brought about by religion. There was plenty of sentimentalism that the writers of each account attach to their account. For instance, the Sirat Rasul Allah is geared towards painting Mohammed as the ultimate figure of affection and enlightenment who obtained divine revelations from God (Guillaume, 2004). To this extent, Ibn Hisham goes to great depth of detail and honesty in reporting. Ibn Hisham avoids the controversies of Muhammed’s night journeys and Satanic verses (Guillaume, 2004). Overall scholars note that Ibn Ishaq’s reporting on the life of Muhammad was accurate but Ibn Husham was biased and he deleted several stories that he deemed as too offending upon the character of Muhammad.
Ibn Hisham influenced several of his followers to take great offense with Ibn ishaq. They stated that besides offending the Muslims, Ibn Ishaq also offended Christians and Jews. Ibn Ishaq perpetuate the falsehood that Christians and Jews in Arabia were foreign nationals whereas they were the original and indigenous inhabitants who had been converted to Christianity and Judaism respectively on their own volition without coercion (Guillaume, 2004). Several other people had been converted by force but such were a minority. However, all these accounts are countered by Ibn Ishaq’s objectivity which he proves in his entire account. Tjough on one hand he comes across as hating on the Jews and Christians, he also presents the two religions are enlightening. Scholars have been influenced very differently by Ibn Ishaq’s proclamations (Guillaume, 2004). Rizwi Shuhadha faizer notes that many scholars focused on the Sira as primarily a historical account on the origin of Islam when it is an opinion on what the author perceives to be the character of Muhammad and his life.
Islam makes up about a quarter of the world’s population with close to 2 billion people and this makes it a very significant population. Its origin, practices, founder and other issues regarding its existence are of importance in the modern world. One of the accounts given of its origin was given by Crone and Cook in a 1977 book titled Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. This account contradicts sharply with the account given by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham in an account titled Sirat Rasul Allah. Crone and Cook’s account states that Islam emanated from Christianity and Judaism with several other influences from Samaritanism. The two draw on archaeological evidence from documents written in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Armenian, Syriac, Hebrew and Latin accounts. They assert that Islam was formed by Mohammed who was simply seeking to create a unique religious group. However, according to Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq, Islam originated from the revelations that God gave to Muhammad which he later acted on when starting the religion. The difference here is not on the founder whom the two accounts agree to be Mohammed. The difference is on the motivations that Mohammed had when starting Islam. There are other similarities to the two accounts in that they agree that Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael were all biological ancestors of Muhammad. In all the two accounts have more similarities in almost all the general issues that come about when explanations to the origin of Islam are being sought.
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