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Question 245:

“Hello. There have been several research projects into the question whether the Prophet Mohammed ever lived at all. What is your view about this?”

 

Answer:

It is true that there is currently much research into the question of the historic figure of Mohammed. Recently, in his publication “Wer waren Jesus und Muhammad? Ihr Leben im Vergleich“ [Who were Jesus and Mohammed? A comparison of their lives] (Freiburg: Herder, 2011), Joachim Gnilka summarised the current state of the discussion. He writes: “Outsiders approaching this question feel perplexed. The state of the work surrounding historic Mohammed criticism is akin to the research into the life of Jesus from the 19th century. The positions could not be more diverging. On the one hand, ancient traditions are being retained. This is likely to be the position of the vast majority of Islamic Mohammed researchers but also of some Western experts on Islam. Those representing the opposite position question the historic existence of Mohammed. This position occurs in various forms. In between the two extremes there are a number of other positions.” (p. 246). An example of the “position denying the existence of Mohammed” is the view of Karl-Heinz Ohlig. According to him “Islam has its origins in East Mesopotamia. These origins are connected to an Aramaic speaking preacher whose name we do not know. He is followed by an “Arabian“ prophet whose name is also unknown. In those days the Syrian region was still dominated by a pre-Nicaean Christianity that is the rejection of the first Council of Nicaea [dated 325 AD] where the divinity of Christ had been proclaimed. Ohlig believes that Caliph Abd al-Malik, who built the dome of the rock in Jerusalem and who minted coins, was still a Christian of this kind. Where his inscriptions and coins bear the name of Mohammed, they do not refer to the Islamic prophet but to Jesus. Mohammed should not be seen as a proper name but as having the meaning of “The one to be praised”. If from the second half of the eighth century, following the merging of the Arabic and the Christian traditions into a new religion, “Mohammed“ is interpreted as referring to one prophet, the founder of Islam, then this is mere fiction ((cf. Ohlig (publisher), Der frühe Islam [Early Islam]. Berlin 2007, p. 327-361). He never existed.” (Gnilka, p. 246f.)

Tilman Nagel criticises this model that denies the existence of the prophet Mohammed: “Eliminating Mohammed from world history raises more questions than it claims to solve... There then arises the much harder question, of how Mohammed, who has just been evicted from world history, eventually enters it as a very powerful image.“. And further: Those supporting the view that “some people had got together and created a story with a history of some 150 years, with thousands of actors from various religious and political traditions all arguing with each other, with different interpretations and the same core event “ have much explaining to do (cf. Tilman Nagel, “Muhammad. Leben und Legende” [Mohammed, life and legend]. Munich 2008, p. 719 and 839). I share Nagel’s opinion.

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