Prophet Muhammad (S) in Secular History

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Dr. Shabbir
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Prophet Muhammad (S) in Secular History

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Our Beacon Forum
Dated Texts Mentioning Prophet Muḥammad
By:Dr Fawad Ahmed, Florida
Date: Sunday, 30 August 2015, 5:52 pm

Dated Texts Mentioning Prophet Muḥammad From 1-100 AH / 622-719 CE

Islamic Awareness

Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

1. Introduction

The history of the quest for the "historical" Muhammad in the modern Western literature has its origins from the time (c. 1850 CE) of Sir William Muir[1] and Alois Sprenger.[2] Both of them suspected that much of the Islamic traditions on Muhammad, which were accepted by Muslims as authentic, were in fact forged. Their views were given a further impetus by Ignaz Goldziher who became convinced that the tradition literature had grown up after the Arab conquests, i.e., the aḥādīth did not reflect the life of Prophet Muhammad; rather they reflect the beliefs, conflicts and controversies of the first generation of Muslims.[3] In other words, the aḥādīth reflect reality, but not the reality of seventh century Arabia but of Umayyad and early Abbasid empires. About half a century after Goldziher, Joseph Schacht applied the former's methodology and came up with what is called the backward growth of isnāds. Isnāds, he argued, tended to grow backward with time. In other words, traditions with worse isnāds are likely to be earlier and the ones with perfect isnāds betray their late development. Therefore, the legal rules formulated during later times, enshrined in ḥadīth and projected back to the life of the Prophet in order to give them an Islamic justification.[4]

Following the earlier scepticism, albeit charting a new direction, John Wansbrough argued that ḥadīth literature is exegetical in origin, i.e., the bulk of the tradition literature is closely tied to the interpretation of the Qur'an, which he believed did not take its final form/canonised until the late eighth / early ninth century. Ḥadīth literature is not rooted in history but it originated due to the propensity of the early Muslims to tell the stories related to the Qur'an.[5] A variation of Wansbrough's position was put forth by John Burton who suggested that the origins of ḥadīth had nothing to do with real life and everything to do with the problem of interpreting the Qur'an.[6]

Following the footsteps of Wansbrough, a different approach was taken by Judith Koren and Yehuda Nevo to study Islamic history. They contend that any Muslim source must be checked against a non-Muslim source (preferably material, e.g., archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics), and if the two sources conflict, the non-Muslim source is to be preferred.[7] Concerning Muhammad, they claim:

[Brock] points out that there are no details of Muhammad's early career in any Byzantine or Syriac sources which predate the Muslim literature on the subject.[8]

While commenting on the Islamic sources, Nevo claims that "neither the Prophet himself nor any Muhammadan formulae appear in any inscription dated before the year 71 / 691" and that the earliest occurrence of the phrase Muhammad rasūl Allāh is on an Arab-Sassanian coin of Khālid bin ʿAbdullāh from the year 71 AH / 691 CE.[9] It will be seen later that Nevo and Koren were wrong on both accounts, not in keeping with their most surprising claim that it is the revisionists and not the "traditionalists" who pay close attention to the findings of archaeology, epigraphy and numismatics.[10] Perhaps the situation can be summed up no better than the recent analysis by Jeremy Johns, Professor of Islamic Archaeology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. He said,

The polemical style permitted historians to dismiss this article as not worth an answer, while Nevo's unorthodox interpretation of material evidence embarrassed archaeologists into silence (Fig. 1). What, it was widely asked, could have persuaded Der Islam to waste space in this manner?[11]

Nevertheless, despite the nature of the scholarly judgement that has been passed on this article's premises, presuppositions and associated methods, its alleged findings continue to be widely utilised in Christian missionary and apologetical circles for polemical purposes.[12]

The implications here are quite startling. If the sceptics are right then the life of Muhammad as seen in the Islamic literature is not historical. The tradition literature may have grown out of the political and theological debates of the first generation Muslims, as Goldziher argued, or out of the legal debates, as Schacht suggested, or simply out of the need to interpret the Qur'an, as Burton claimed, but it cannot be confidently traced to any real events of the Prophet's lifetime. Therefore, Ibn Ishaq's Sīra along with the corpus of ḥadīth literature may be of limited use for discovering what Muhammad himself said, did or believed.[13] However, such extreme views have somewhat alleviated by, firstly, the availability of new sources that are "pre-canonical" such as the Muṣannafs of ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī and Ibn Abī Shayba or ʿUmar bin Shabba's Tārīkh al-Madīnah (Schacht had no access to earlier sources); and secondly, the development of isnād and matn analysis of the aḥādīth that resulted in the investigation of textual variants of the aḥādīth. Using this technique, aḥādīth have been shown to have very early origins going back to the 1st century of hijra.[14] Availability of new Muslim sources and a careful analysis of non-Muslim accounts have re-invigorated the Western quest for the historical Muhammad.[15]

The most comprehensive work in recent times dealing with the Muslim and non-Muslims accounts of the rise of Islam and Muhammad is by Professor Robert Hoyland, the first person to collect systematically all the non-Muslim evidence bearing on the rise of Islam. His methodical approach in dealing with Muslim and non-Muslim texts has established that they "furnish us with an enriched and expanded version of the Middle East in the early Islamic times".[16] This is also true even for Muhammad, as to how he was perceived among the Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

The aim of this essay is modest. We want to present dated non-scriptural Muslim and non-Muslim texts[17] mentioning Prophet Muhammad from the first century of hijra and see how they perceive him. Do the non-Muslim texts provide some form of corroboration of the Muslim accounts? If yes, then to what extent? How should these texts be utilised in light of authentic early Muslim testimony?

2. Dated Texts Mentioning Prophet Muḥammad From 1-100 AH / 622-719 CE

Below is a listing of dated Muslim and non-Muslim sources mentioning Prophet Muhammad.[18] To put Muslim and non-Muslim accounts in a chronological perspective, the death of the Prophet happened in Rabī al-Awwal, 11 AH / June, 632 CE.

List Of Dated Texts Mentioning Prophet Muḥammad From 1-100 AH / 622-719 CE

A Record Of The Arab Conquest Of Syria, 637 CE / 15-16 AH

This much faded note is preserved on folio 1 of BL Add. 14,461, a codex containing the Gospel accord to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark. This note appears to have been penned soon after the battle of Gabitha (636 CE) at which the Arabs inflicted crushing defeat of the Byzantines. Wright was first to draw the attention to the fragment and suggested that "it seems to be a nearly contemporary notice",[19] a view which was also endorsed by Nöldeke.[20] The purpose of jotting this note in the book of Gospels appears to be commemorative as the author appears to have realized how momentous the events of his time were. The words "we saw" are positive evidence that the author was a contemporary. The author also talks about olive oil, cattle, ruined villages, suggesting that he belonged to peasant stock, i.e., parish priest or a monk who could read and write. It is worthwhile cautioning that the condition of the text is fragmentary and many of the readings unclear or disputable. The lacunae are supplied in square brackets.

... and in January, they took the word for their lives (did) Emesa [i.e., Ḥimṣ)], and many villages were ruined with killing by Muḥammad and a great number of people were killed and captives [were taken] from Galilee as far as Bēth [...] and those Arabs pitched camp beside [Damascus?] [...] and we saw everywhe[re...] and o[l]ive oil which they brought and them. And on the t[wenty six]th of May went S[ac[ella]rius]... cattle [...] [...] from the vicinity of Emesa and the Romans chased them [...] and on the tenth [of August] the Romans fled from the vicinity of Damascus [...] many [people] some 10,000. And at the turn [of the ye]ar the Romans came; and on the twentieth of August in the year n[ine hundred and forty-]seven there gathered in Gabitha [...] the Romans and great many people were ki[lled of] omans, [s]ome fifty thousand [...][21]

There are certain observations to be made here. The phrase "turn of the year" signifies that the beginning of the note refers to the year 634-5 CE. The people of Emesa "took the word for their lives", an expression for surrendering on terms of tolerance, confirmed by oaths. Then there was a battle in Palestine with the "Arabs of Muhammad" in which many villages were ruined and people from the region of Galilee and Beth Sacharya(?), south west of Jerusalem were taken captive. Then the Arabs laid siege to Damascus (as read by Nöldeke).[22] In May, 635 CE, a Byzantine general of the rank of sakellarious was in the region of Emesa. His name according to the Byzantine sources was Theodor.[23] Apparently, he was unable to lift the siege. The next battle took place in Gabitha, a town to the north of the river Yarmuk in the Golan massif. The date of the battle is 20th August AG 947 = 636 CE / Rajab 15 AH, which agrees with the best Arab date for the battle of Yarmuk.[24] As mentioned earlier, the fragmentary nature of this note has resulted in scholars advising caution.[25]

Thomas The Presbyter (Writing c. 640 CE / 19 AH)

The 8th century BL Add. 14,643 was published by Wright who first brought to attention the mention of an early date of 947 AG (635-6 CE).[26] The contents of this manuscript has puzzled many scholars for their apparent lack of coherence as it contains an assembly of texts with diverse nature.[27] In relation to Islam and Muslims, there are two important dates mentioned in this manuscript.

AG 945, indiction VII: On Friday, 4 February, [i.e., 634 CE / Dhul Qa‘dah 12 AH] at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muḥammad [Syr. tayyāyē d-Mḥmt] in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician YRDN (Syr. BRYRDN), whom the Arabs killed. Some 4000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region.

AG 947, indiction IX: The Arabs invaded the whole of Syria and went down to Persia and conquered it; the Arabs climbed mountain of Mardin and killed many monks there in Kedar and Benōthō. There died the blessed man Simon, doorkeeper of Qedar, brother of Thomas the priest.[28]

It is the first date above which is of great importance as it provides the first explicit reference to Muhammad in a non-Muslim source. The account is usually identified with the battle of Dathin.[29] According to Hoyland, "its precise dating inspires confidence that it ultimately derives from first-hand knowledge".[30] This means that the time period between the death of Muhammad (June, 632 CE) and the earliest mention of him (4th February, 634 CE) is slightly over a year and half!

Sebeos, Bishop Of The Bagratunis (Writing in 660s CE / 40s AH)

One of the most interesting accounts of the early seventh century comes from Sebeos who was a bishop of the House of Bagratunis. From this chronicle, there are indications that he lived through many of the events he relates. He maintains that the account of Arab conquests derives from the fugitives who had been eyewitnesses thereof. He concludes with Mu‘awiya's ascendancy in the Arab civil war (656-61 CE), which suggests that he was writing soon after this date. Sebeos is the first non-Muslim author to present us with a theory for the rise of Islam that pays attention to what the Muslims themselves thought they were doing.[31] As for Muhammad, he has the following to say:

At that time a certain man from along those same sons of Ismael, whose name was Mahmet [i.e., Muḥammad], a merchant, as if by God's command appeared to them as a preacher [and] the path of truth. He taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially because he was learnt and informed in the history of Moses. Now because the command was from on high, at a single order they all came together in unity of religion. Abandoning their vain cults, they turned to the living God who had appeared to their father Abraham. So, Mahmet legislated for them: not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to engage in fornication. He said: 'With an oath God promised this land to Abraham and his seed after him for ever. And he brought about as he promised during that time while he loved Ismael. But now you are the sons of Abraham and God is accomplishing his promise to Abraham and his seed for you. Love sincerely only the God of Abraham, and go and seize the land which God gave to your father Abraham. No one will be able to resist you in battle, because God is with you.[32]

Sebeos was writing the chronicle at a time when memories of sudden eruption of the Arabs was fresh. He knows Muhammad's name and that he was a merchant by profession. He hints that his life was suddenly changed by a divinely inspired revelation.[33] He presents a good summary of Muhammad's preaching, i.e., belief in one God, Abraham as a common ancestor of Jews and Arabs. He picks out some of the rules of behaviour imposed on the umma; the four prohibitions which are mentioned in the Qur'an. Much of what he says about the origins of Islam conforms to the Muslim tradition.

A Chronicler Of Khuzistan (Writing c. 660s CE / 40s AH)

This is an anonymous and short Nestorian chronicle was aims to convey church as well as secular histories from the death of Hormizd son of Khusrau to the end of the Persian kingdom. Because of its anonymity, it is known to scholars Khuzistan Chronicle, after its plausible geographical location or Anonymous Guidi, after the name of its first editor. Amid his entry on the reign of Yazdgird, the chronicler gives a brief account of the Muslim invasions:

Then God raised up against them the sons of Ishmael, [numerous] as the sand on the sea shore, whose leader (mdabbrānā) was Muḥammad (mḥmd). Neither walls nor gates, armour or shield, withstood them, and they gained control over the entire land of the Persians. Yazdgird sent against them countless troops, but the Arabs routed them all and even killed Rustam. Yazdgird shut himself up in the walls of Mahoze and finally escaped by flight. He reached the country of the Huzaye and Mrwnaye, where he ended his life. The Arabs gained countrol of Mahoze and all the territory. They also came to Byzantine territory, plundering and ravaging the entire region of Syria. Heraclius, the Byzantine king, sent armies against them, but the Arabs killed more than 100,000 of them.[34]

In summary, concerning Muhammad, the chronicler says that he was the leader of the sons of Ishmael, whom God raised against the Persians.

Seven milestones on the Damascus-Jerusalem road from the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan (65-86 AH / 685-705 CE). Some of them can be seen here. They start with the typical formula of

Bism Allāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm lā ilāha illa-Allāh waḥdahu la sharīka lahu Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ...

In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful. There is no god but God alone without partner and Muhammad is the Messenger of God ...

Drachm Of ʿAbd al-Malik Ibn ʿAbd Allāh, Zubayrid Governor Of Bīshāpūr, 66 AH / 685-686 CE.

Obverse margin: bism Allāh / Muḥammad rasūl / Allāh ("In the name of God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God").

John bar Penkaye (writing 687 CE / 67-68 AH)

Little is known about John bar Penkaye. He was a native of Fenek in north-western Mesopotamia and a resident of the monastery of John Kamul. It was in this monastery he wrote Ktābā d-rīš mellē ("Book of the Salient Points") and dedicated it to a person called Sabrisho‘, the abbott of this convent.[35] In his book John bar Penkaye wrote the chronicle of the world from Creation to his present day which he calls as the "severe chastisement of today".[36] His work seeks to treat the salient points of history in a brief fashion. For the issue which concerns us here, it is discussed in the fifteenth and the last chapter, where the Arab conquests and the devastating famine and plague of 67 AH / 686-67 CE are mentioned.[37] Concerning Muhammad, John bar Penkaye says that:

Having let their dispute run its course, after much fighting had taken place between them, the Westerners, whom they call the sons of ’Ammāyē, gained the victory, and one of their number, a man called M‘awyā [i.e., Mu‘awiya], became king controlling the two kingdoms, of the Persians and of the Byzantines. Justice flourished in his time, and there was great peace in the regions under his control; he allowed everyone to live as they wanted. For they held, as I have said above, an ordinance, stemming from the man who was their guide (mhaddyānā), concerning the people of the Christians and concerning the monastic station. Also as a result of this man's guidance (mhaddyānūtā) they held to the worship of One God, in accordance with the customs of ancient law. At the beginnings they kept to the traditions (mašlmānūtā) of Muḥammad, who was their instructor (tā’rā), to such an extent that they inflicted the death penalty on anyone who was seen to act brazenly against his laws.[38]

John bar Penkaye presented Muhammad as the "guide" and "instructor" whose "traditions" and "laws" the Arabs fiercely upheld. The term "tradition" (Syr. mašlmānūtā) implies that something is handed down, which suggests that the Muslims adhered to and enforced the example of Prophet Muhammad.[39] Concerning the term mhaddyānūtā, Brock points out that:

There is, however, one interesting term used for Mụhammad that terms up in both Monophysite and Nestorian sources, namely mhaddyana, "guide", a term that has no obvious ancestry, although the related haddaya is a Christological title in early Syriac literature.[40]

Anonymous Arab-Sassanian Coin From Kirmān, 70 AH / 689 CE.

Obverse field: Typical late Arab-Sassanian bust without the name of governor. Instead it is occupied by Middle Persian legend MHMT PGTAMI Y DAT ("Muhammad is the Messenger of God").

An Arab-Sassanian coin of the Umayyad governer of Basra Khālid ibn ʿAbd Allāh, Bīshāpūr, 71 AH / 690-91 CE.

The legend reads bism Allāh Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ("In the name of God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God").

Tombstone Of ʿAbāssa Bint Juraij, 71 AH / 691 CE.

... ahl al-Islām muṣībatahum bi al-nabī Muḥammad ṣallā-Allāhu alayhi wa-sallam... wa tashhadu lā ilāha illā-allāh waḥdahu lā sharīka lahu wa anna Muḥammadan ‘abduhu wa rasūlahu, ṣallā-Allāhu alayhi wa-sallam.

The greatest calamity of the people of Islām is that which has fallen them on the death of Prophet Muhammad, may God grant him peace.... [she died] confessing that there is no god but God alone without partner and that Muhammad is His servant and His apostle, may God grant him peace.

Transitional Arab-Sassanian Coin Of Governor ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Āmir, 72 AH / 691-92 CE.

Reverse field: The legend in Middle Persian reads - YZDT’ -I BR’ ‘LH ’HRN YZDT’ L‘YT’ MḤMT’ PTGMBI Y YZDT’ ("One God, but He, another god does not exist. Muhammad is the Messenger of God").

Anonymous Arab-Sassanian Coinage Of Syrian Origin Under ʿAbd al-Malik, 72 AH / 691 CE.

Obverse field: Written in Arabic to downwards to the right of the bust: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ("Muhammad is the Messenger of God").

The Arabic Islamic Inscriptions On The Dome Of The Rock In Jerusalem, 72 AH / 692 CE.

Outer Octagonal Arcade

Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ṣallā-Allāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam... Muhammad rasūl Allāh inna allāha wa malā'ikatahu yusallūna ʿala al-nabīyi yā ayyuhā al-ladhīna āmanū ṣallū ʿalayhi wa sallimū taslīman... Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ṣallā-Allāhu ʿalayhi wa malā'ikatahu wa rusulu wa al-taslīman ʿalayhi wa raḥmat Allāh... Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ṣallā-Allāhu ʿalayhi wa taqabbal shafāʿatahu yawm al-qiyamah... Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ṣallā-Allāhu ʿalayhi.

Muhammad is the Messenger of God, may God grant him peace... Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Verily God and His Angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe, bless him and salute him with a salutation!... Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be on him and the angels and His prophets, and peace be on him, and may God have mercy... Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be on him. May He accept his intercession on the Day of Judgment [on behalf of his people]... Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be on him.

Inner Octagonal Arcade

Muḥammad ʿabd-Allāhi wa rasūluhu inna allāha wa malā'ikatahu yusallūna ʿala al-nabīyi yā ayyuhā al-ladhīna āmanū ṣallū ‘alayhi wa sallimū taslīman ṣallā-Allāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam ʿalayhi wa raḥmat Allāh.

Muhammad is the servant of God and His Messenger. Verily God and His Angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe, bless him and salute him with a salutation! The blessing of God be on him and peace be on him, and may God have mercy.

The Copper Plaque Inscriptions At The Dome Of The Rock In Jerusalem, 72 AH / 692 CE.

Northern Portal

Muḥammad ʿabd-Allāhi wa rasūluhu arsalahu bi-l-huda wa dīn al-ḥaqq liyudhhiru ʿala al-dini kullahi wa-law karih-al-mushrikūn. Āmannā billāhi wa mā unzila ila Muḥammad wa mā ūtiya al-nabīyūna min rabbihim lā nufarriqu bayna aḥadin minhum wa naḥnu lahu muslimūn. ṣallū ʿalayhi Muḥammad ʿabduhu wa nabīyahu wa al-salām ʿalayhi wa raḥmat Allāhi wa barakātuhu wa magfiratuhu wa riḍawānahu.

Muhammad is the servant of God and His Messenger whom He sent with guidance and the religion of truth that He might make it prevail over all religions even if the associators are averse. We believe in God and that which was revealed unto Muhammad and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. The blessing of God be upon Muhammad, His servant and His prophet, and peace be upon him and the mercy of God and His blessing and His forgiveness and His acceptance.

Eastern Entrance

... an ta-ṣallī ʿala Muḥammad ʿabdika wa nabīyika wa tataqabbala shafā'atahu fī ummati ṣallū ʿalayhi wa al-salām ʿalayhi wa raḥmat Allāhi wa...

... that You bless Muhammad Your servant, Your prophet, and that You accept his intercession for his people, the blessing of God be upon him and peace be upon him and the mercy of God and...

The Arab-Byzantine “Three Standing Imperial Figures” Dīnār From The Time Of Umayyad Caliph ʿAbd al-Malik, 72-74 AH / 692-694 CE.

bism Allāh lā-ilaha il-Allāh waḥdahu Muḥammad rasūl Allāh.

In the name of God. There is no god but God alone. Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.

Fragments Of The Chart Of Jacob (= James) Of Edessa, 692 CE / 73 AH.

Jacob (also called James) of Edessa (19-90 AH / 640-708 CE) was a bishop of Edessa. He composed a set of chronological charts intended to continue those of Eusebius. Only fragments from 10th or 11th century remain, covering the 7th century only down to 631 CE.[41] Elias of Nisbis (975-1050 CE) informs us that Jacob of Edessa composed his chronicle in 1003 AG / 692 CE and this is confirmed by Michael the Syrian (12th century) who cites Theodosius of Edessa.[42] Brooks has convincingly demonstrated that this chronicle was a work of Jacob's but with a qualification that it "is not the full work of Jacob but only a series of extracts from it".[43]

The manuscript is arranged in three columns. A central column counts off the years since Constantine and the regnal years of the Byzantine and Persians emperors; historical notices are placed on either side.

In the central column, giving the dates of the rulers, there are entries for following years:

[296 = 932 AG / 622 CE] Muhammad, the first king of the Arabs, began to reign, 7 years.


[303 = 939 AG / 629 CE] No. 2 of the Arabs, Abu Bakr, 2 years, 7 months.[44]

On the left hand side of the column are the following notices:

[Beside years 293 and 294] and Muhammad goes down on commercial businesses to the lands of Palestine and of the Arabias and of Phoenicia of the Tyrians.

There was a solar eclipse.


Beginning of the kingdom of the Arabs whom we call Tayyōyē, while Heraclius, king of the Romans, was having his eleventh year and while Chosroes, king of the Persians, was having his thirty first year [i.e., 620-21 CE].

[Beside years 301 and 302] The Arabs began to carry out raids in the land of Palestine.[45]

Muhammad's trading is placed beside years 293 and 294 = 929 AG / 617-18 CE and 930 AG / 618-19 CE, but before the mention of the solar eclipse. The start of the "kingdom of Arabs" is tied to the rulership of kings of Byzantine and Persians empires and is placed in 620-21 CE. The Arabs' raids are placed beside the year 301 and 302 = 937 AG / 625-26 CE and 938 AG / 626-27 CE.

It is interesting to note that Jacob of Edessa gives an accurate date for the start of the Arab era. He seems to have assumed that the Arab era like the ones during his time such as Byzantine and Persian eras must have been reckoned from the first year of the rule of a king, presumably their first king. Since the Arabs reckoned from 622 CE, i.e., the start of hijra calender, Jacob might have assumed that their first king, i.e., Muhammad, must have started to rule that year.

The ʿAqabah Inscription From The Time Of ʿAbd al-Malik, 73 AH / 692-693 CE.

Bism Allāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm lā ilāha il-l-allāh waḥdahu la sharīka lahu Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ...

In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful. There is no god but God alone without partner and Muhammad is the Messenger of God ...

Aniconic Silver Coins ("Reformed Coinage"), Minted By The Umayyad Caliph ʿAbd al-Malik, From 77 AH / 696 CE.

Reverse margin: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh arsalahu bi-l-huda wa dīn al-ḥaqq liyudhhiru ʿala al-dini kullahi wa-law karih-al-mushrikūn

Muhammad is the Messenger of God whom He sent with guidance and the religion of truth that He might make it prevail over all religions even if the associators are averse.

An Inscription Mentioning The Rebuilding Of Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām, 78 AH / 697-698 CE.

shahida al-Rayyān bin ʿAbd Allāh innahu lā ilāha il-l-allāh wa shahida anna Muḥammadan rasūl Allāh

Al-Rayyān b. ʿAbdullāh testifies that there is no god but God and he testifies that Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.

Arab-Sassanian Fals From Veh-az-Āmid-Kavād (Arrajān), 83 AH / 702-703 CE.

Obverse margin: Muḥammadun rasūlu’llāhi wa’lladhīna yatlūna maʿahu ashiddāʾu ʿalā’l-kuffāri ruḥamāʾu baynahum

Muḥammad is the Messenger of God, those who recite with him are severe [in their dealings] with the unbelievers, compassionate among themselves.

Arabic-Greek / Greek-Arabic and Arabic protocols, mostly from the time of al-Walid I (85-97 AH / 705-15 CE) to Yazid II (101-106 AH / 720-24 CE). Examples from the time of al-Walīd and Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik are available. They all begin typically with the example given below for Arabic. Bilingual texts contain the translation in Greek of Arabic text and conclude with the name of the caliph / governor and the date.

Arabic: Bism Allāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm lā ilāha il-l-allāh waḥdahu la sharīka lahu lam yalid wa-lam yulad wa-lam yakun lahu kufūwan aḥad Muḥammad rasūl Allāh arsalahu bi-l-huda wa dīn al-ḥaqq ...

In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful. There is no god but God alone without partner. He did not beget and was not begotten. And there is none like unto Him. Muhammad is the Messenger of God whom He sent with guidance and the religion of truth ...

Greek: ... maamet apostolos theou ...

... Muhammad is the Messenger of God ...

Inscription In A Mosque In Damascus, Built By Caliph Walīd, 86-87 AH / 705-706 CE.

... rabbuna-Allāhu waḥdahu wa dīnunā al-islām wa nabīyyunā Muḥammad ṣallā-allāhu alayhi wa sallam.

... Our Lord is God alone, and our religion is Islam and our prophet is Muhammad, may God grant him peace.

Aniconic Gold Coins (“Reformed Coinage”), From The ‘Mine Of The Commander Of The Faithful’, 89 AH / 708 CE.

This unique historic coin is of the highest rarity and the earliest known dīnār to bear the legend ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’. The reverse margin bears the same legend as what is seen on the aniconic silver and gold coins issued by Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik.

Reverse margin: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh arsalahu bi-l-huda wa dīn al-ḥaqq liyudhhiru ʿala al-dini kullahi wa-law karih-al-mushrikūn

Muhammad is the Messenger of God whom He sent with guidance and the religion of truth that He might make it prevail over all religions even if the associators are averse.

Ad Annum 705, 705-15 CE / 86-96 AH.

It is list of Arab rulers found in a late 9th century manuscript with an unknown provenance and presumably incomplete since the promise statistics regarding Muslim occupied lands do not appear. The dating of this manuscript is done using the accession date of Walid mentioned in the chronology, who reigned from 705-15 CE. The relevant text states:

Again a report giving the information about the kingdom of Arabs and how many kings they produced and how much land each of them held after his predecessor previous to his death.

Muhammad came upon the earth in 932 of Alexander, son of Philip the Macedonian [i.e., 620-21 CE]; he reigned for seven years.

After him Abu Bakr reigned for 2 years...[46]

This chronicle also provides similar dates just as what we have seen in the case of the chart of Jacob of Edessa.

Arab-Latin Coinage - Bilingual Gold Solidus From Africa, 98 AH / 716-717 CE.

Reverse field: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh

Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.

Arab-Latin Coinage - Bilingual Gold Solidus From Spain, 98 AH / 716-717 CE.

Reverse field: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh

Muḥammad is the Messenger of God.

An Arabic Inscription From Khirbat Nitil, 100 AH / 718-719 CE.

... wā qimhu ʿala ḥawḍi Muḥammad ...

... and s[et him on] the pool of Muhammad ...

3. Prophet Muhammad In The Dated Muslim And Non-Muslim Sources From The First Century AH: An Appraisal

From the listings of the dated texts, it is clear that the name of Prophet Muhammad appears very early in the non-Muslim texts. The time period between the death of Muhammad (June, 632 CE) and the earliest mention of him (4th February, 634 CE) in the writings of Thomas the Presbyter (writing c. 640 CE / 19 AH), is slightly over a year and half! Interestingly enough, one of the earliest indications of stirrings in Arabia comes from the Doctrina Jacobi ("Teachings of Jacob"), a Greek anti-Jewish apologetic work which was presumably composed in Africa in July 634 during the Heraclean persecution. Although Muhammad is not mentioned by name in this tract, he is called a (false) Prophet, who has appeared among the Saracens [i.e., the Arabs] and has the keys of Paradise.[47] The Syriac sources from the middle and until the end of the first/seventh century emphasize Muhammad's centrality for the Muslims. Non-Muslim writers of the first century AH depict the early Muslims as the followers of Muhammad (Thomas the Presbyter, Sebeos, Chronicler of Khuzistan), who was their ‘guide’ and ‘instructor’ (John bar Penkaye) whose ‘traditions’ and ‘laws’ they fiercely upheld (John bar Penkaye) and who prescribed for them abstinence from carrion, wine, falsehood and fornication (Sebeos). Furthermore, the non-Muslim sources of the first century AH also attest that the religion of the followers of Muhammad was strictly monotheistic (Sebeos, John bar Penkaye) and of Abrahamic associations (Chronicler of Khuzistan).[48]

Greek and Syriac sources from the middle and until the end of the first/seventh century emphasize Muhammad's centrality for the Muslims just like the Muslim sources from the same period. Sebeos points out that Muhammad legislated the law proscribing carrion (Qur'an 5:3), wine (Qur'an 2:219, 5:90), falsehood (Qur'an 39:3, 16:116, 33:24) and fornication (Qur'an 17:32, 24:2). More importantly, it shows that early Muslims adhered to a religion that had definite practices and beliefs and was clearly distinct from other currently existing faiths.

The earliest Muslim source to mention Prophet Muhammad is a drachm minted by ʿAbd al-Malik ibn ʿAbd Allāh, Zubayrid governor of Bīshāpūr, in 66 AH / 685-86 CE. The legend on the coin reads Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ("Muhammad is the Messenger of God"), which would become a common phrase in many of the dated texts in the rest of the first century AH. The Muslim sources from this period describe Muhammad as a ‘messenger’, ‘prophet’, ‘servant of God’, ‘sent with guidance and the religion of truth’ and an ‘intercessor on the Day of Judgment’ for his people. Supplications are made to God to send His ‘peace’ and ‘mercy’ on Muhammad. His death is depicted as the ‘greatest calamity’ to fall on Muslims. Also mentioned is the ‘pool’ of Muhammad in Paradise from which the believers would drink on the Day of Judgment. The dated Muslim texts also depict the deity which Muhammad and Muslims after him worshipped as monotheistic; same as the one which is claimed to be worshipped by the Jews and Christians.

Recently, Christoph Luxenberg suggested that the Dome of the Rock was a Christian Church built as a memorial to Jesus containing Christian inscriptions which record, amongst other things, the theological disputes between the camps of the Hellenised and Syrian Christians regarding the divinity of Jesus. Thus phrase muḥammadun ʿabdullāhi wa rasūluhū on the Dome of the Rock does not mean ‘Muhammad is the slave of God and his Messenger’, rather it means ‘Praised be the slave of God and His Messenger’ which Luxenberg considers as a plain unambiguous reference to Jesus.[49] Contradicting the claims of Luxenberg, numerous 1st century AH Arabic-Greek bilingual papyri from the time of Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan[50] (65-86 AH / 685-705 CE) as well as later ones such as Egyptian National Library Inv. No. 67 (90-91 AH / 709-710 CE), PER Inv. Ar. Pap. 3976 (98-99 AH / 716-717 CE) among others[51] clearly translate the Arabic phrase muḥammad rasūl Allāh in Greek as ‘maamet apostolos theou’ i.e., ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of God’, thus confirming that ‘Muhammad’ was considered as a proper name and not ‘praised’ or ‘praiseworthy’. Furthermore, as we have seen, the non-Muslim sources from the middle and until the end of the first/seventh century emphasize Muhammad's centrality for the Muslims and depict the early Muslims as the followers of a living person named Muhammad, certainly not some other "Muhammad" born around six hundred years earlier in a different land who is no longer on earth.

Now we are left with the issue of relative values of the ‘insider’ versus ‘outsider’ accounts of Muhammad. In the various reviews of Crone and Cook's Hagarism one criticism occurs again and again: could the ‘outsiders’, i.e., the external observers have known better than the ‘insiders’, i.e., the Muslims? In the words of Josef van Ess:

... we cannot demand that an observer from outside, who could even less evaluate the radical novelty of the event, should have had a clearer concept of what was really happening. We should rather expect the he tried to describe the phenomenon with his own categories.[52]

The answer to be the above question is clearly no. It is undeniable that Christians presented their information regarding Muhammad, Islam and Muslims in their own terms, which inevitably had some amount of distortion. However, it is important to note that this information is either based on personal observation or ultimately derived from the Muslims themselves.[53] As for the value of Christian accounts, it is two-fold. Firstly, they are often precisely dateable which can't be said of early Muslim writings and secondly, the Christian sources often preserve information which Muslims passed over.[54] With regards to Muhammad, Christian writings from the 1st century of hijra divulge nothing new about his biography when compared with the Islamic sources, but they do reinforce the Islamic accounts about him, albeit with a polemic undertone.

One could turn the question around on its head. What would happen if one should wish to reconstruct the "historical" Jesus based on the observations of groups such as the Jews, Romans, pagans and polytheists? According to the Talmudic Jews, Jesus was a sorcerer who enticed Israel into idolatry. He was subsequently stoned to death and then hung on a tree as punishment for his crimes;[55] Jesus ultimate fate is burning eternally in Hell in boiling hot excrement, due to his mocking the words of the sages.[56] Elsewhere Jesus is accused of and/or associated with idolatry, false prophesy, magic, sorcery and sexual impropriety amongst many other unflattering descriptions.[57] One could repeat this kind of approach based on the writings of the other groups mentioned above. Of course, any such reconstruction of Jesus as given above would be diametrically opposite to the description provided by his earliest followers. Yet, unlike the methods applied by Nevo, Koren, Crone, Cook and others, no considered scholar would adhere to the axiomatic principle of preferring the external source simply because they are observers out with the realm of the group being represented.

Similarly, after devoting a considerable amount of research into weighing the evidence of Jesus in non-Christian sources, Craig Evans reduced non-Christian sources which mention Jesus into three categories: ‘dubious’, ‘minimal’ and ‘important’, dependant on the source's independence from Christian tradition and the closeness to the events being described.[58] In the category of ‘important’ sources, he mentions the Annals of Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56 - c. 118 CE) and the Jewish Antiquities of Flavius Josephus (37 - sometime after 100 CE).[59] Apart from the reasons given above, Evans emphasises the primary importance of these sources is due to their corroboration of certain New Testament accounts.[60] In any case Evans considers the Christian Sources to possess enough information in and of themselves as to negate the need for excessive attempts at modelling Jesus based on non-Christian sources.[61] Likewise similar conclusions can be drawn regarding Prophet Muhammad. The testimonies of non-Muslim accounts are not to be preferred over those authentic Muslim accounts which provide more accurate and detailed information, necessitated by the circumstances of their recording. That is not to say one must ignore what is said about the earliest Muslims by others, merely that the application of common sense take place in order to reach logical and balanced conclusions. Such is the practice when approaching the Judeo-Christian sources – the Islamic sources should be no different.

4. Conclusions

The time period between the death of Muhammad (June, 632 CE) and the earliest mention of him (4th February, 634 CE) in a non-scriptural source is slightly over a year and half. Although revealing nothing new in terms of the biography of Muhammad, what the non-Muslim sources of the first century of hijra do divulge is not unimportant. Often precisely datable, something which can't be said of early Muslim literary sources, the information contained in these accounts generally corroborates the Muslim accounts, albeit coloured with polemical undertones as the conquests were still fresh in their minds. These sources are clearly aware of a person called Muhammad whom the Muslims followed, upholding his traditions and holding fast to the belief and worship in one God casting aside their previous idolatrous practices.

Unlike Christianity, Islam is a not a belief system whose religious formulae and expression are centred on the deification and glorification of a man. To put it another way, Muslims are not "Muhammadans" and Islam is not the worship of Muhammad. This can help to explain why our earliest epigraphic records are not awash with references to Muhammad, instead containing simple pietistic invocations mentioning God. Western scholars whose primary experience is of Judeo-Christian religion, history and culture often fail to appreciate this crucial difference. What these records do emphasise is the worship of one God alone without any partner, his attributes such as mercy and forgiveness are often supplicated for and are found in our earliest inscriptions. By their very nature, these inscriptions are short and are not intended to be complete manuals of faith and doctrine. Once the Islamic state started to change in the time of ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705 CE) following a number of battles and wars both internal and external, propaganda efforts were intensified, perhaps no more vividly than in the construction of the Dome of the Rock, whose Qur'an-inspired inscriptions boldly proclaim the fundamental aspects of the religion, challenging the Christian belief of Jesus as God and proclaiming God's promise that the final victory will be for Islam, “Muhammad is the servant of God and His Messenger whom He sent with guidance and the religion of truth that He might make it prevail over all religions even if the associators are averse”. There could be no more explicit declaration to the residents of the city of Jerusalem and the wider Christian and Jewish communities that Islam, the religion of Muhammad and the earlier prophets, was here to stay.
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