An expert on Islam is warning that the whole premise of Islam, the idea that Muhammad got the Quran from Allah, recited it, then it was written down – all of that might be based on a faulty assumption.
And that is that Muhammad was around before the Quran.
In fact, Robert Spencer, whose Jihad Watch website provides an authoritative source for the impact of Islam, says it’s possible “some other individual or group used texts that were already in existence and shaped them to fit their own political and theological agenda.”
Spencer cites a recent report in the Daily Mail, which described how several pages were carbon-dated by experts at Oxford, who found not only were some of the pages likely from the oldest Quran in the world, they possibly were created between 568 AD and 645 AD.
The dates given for Muhammad’s life often are 570 AD to 632 AD, meaning the fragment could have been in print (hand-written on parchment) two years before Islam’s founder was born.
“On July 22, I wrote this about the same Quran manuscript,” said Spencer, citing his earlier posting:
“So if this is a fragment of the Quran as it now stands…and yet it could date from as far back as 568, two years before Muhammad is supposed to have been born, it might not be a fragment of the Quran at all. It could instead be a portion of some source that later became part of the Quran.”
He pointed out then that “the Quran, according to Islamic tradition, was compiled in its definitive form in the year 653 by the caliph Uthman, who ordered all variant texts burned and the canonical version distributed to all the provinces within his domains.”
He said that story doesn’t really hold water, as “if the entire Islamic world had copies of the Quran by the mid 650s, why is it that not until the latter party of the seventh and early part of the eighth century do mentions of the Quran begin to appear?”
The oldest pages were found “bound within the pages of another Quran from the late seventh century … Written in ink in an early form of Arabic script on parchment made from animal skin, the pages contain parts of the Suras, or chapters, 18 to 20.”
It noted that “several historians have said that the parchment might even predate Muahammad.”
Reported historian Tom Holland, “It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Quran emerged – and that in turn has implications for the history of Muhammad…”
Keith Small, from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, was blunt, “This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Quran’s genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven.”
The report said the fragments were found inside another Quran. The documents were collected nearly a century ago by Alphonse Mingana, a priest who collected Middle East documents during expeditions sponsored by Edward Cadbury, a scion of the chocolate dynasty.
The book was in the library where it was untouched more or less until the recent carbon dating tests.
Spencer said, “Suras 18 and 20, with their long stories of Moses (very odd ones in 18, along with material about Dhul Qarnayn, who is usually assumed to be Alexander the Great, and the Christian story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus), and sura 19, with its extended retelling of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, as some of the most obviously derivative sections of the entire Quran – reinforcing the impression that this could be a fragment of a source of the Quran, not the Quran itself,” Spencer wrote.
“And indeed, it is not the Quran itself, we are finally told, for ‘the verses are incomplete, and believed to have been an aide memoire for an imam who already knew the Quran by heart, but the text is very close to the accepted authorized version.’
“Very close is how close? Any deviation could just as easily be not an aide memoire for an imam, but evidence of editing and change, as Islam was being developed in the latter part of the seventh century and the early part of the eighth,” Spencer said.