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A special review and examination of Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist?
(Page 4 of 4)
This “imperial theology” (to borrow Spencer’s term; p. 208) was based on a monotheism that perhaps was more tolerant towards Judaism and Christianity in its very early days (hence Qur’anic verses such as 2:62 that include Jews, Christians and Sabaeans in the fold of salvation; p. 209). Yet from the end of the 7th century onwards, Islam takes on a much more distinct identity, with a separate prophet and holy book, supplanting Judaism and Christianity.
SPENCER’S EXPLANATION FOR THE ORIGINS and development of early Islam is significantly corroborated by analogy with the rise of the Roman imperial cult after Augustus’ creation of the Principate.
Needing to hold the Roman state together with concentration of power in his hands, he made much of the reputed divine descent of his family line (the Julian line), and commissioned Virgil to write an epic celebrating the founding of the Roman race by his supposed ancestor Aeneas. In the same way, we have Muhammad as the founder of Islam and the Muslim ummah. For the first time, we see a coherent and emphatic articulation of an expansionist outlook:
tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento (hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem, parcere subiectis et debellare superbos
Remember, Roman, to rule the peoples with your power (these will be your skills), to impose mos on peace, to spare the subdued and war down the proud’ — Aeneid 6.851-3.
Here we have ideas that closely parallel Islamic expansionism in the concept of jihad, as articulated in the classical theology that developed from Muhammad’s life and example as a warrior prophet: the notion of establishing peace through warfare and bringing civilization to the subdued.
Though the above lines are instructions from Aeneas’ father Anchises to the hero, they have the force of emphasizing the Romans’ destiny. The divine mandate to rule the world is corroborated by the chief god Jupiter’s famous saying: “imperium sine fine dedi” (‘I have given empire without end’ — Aeneid 1.279). Like Mohammed, Aeneas engages in fierce warfare, becoming master of Latium in central Italy.
While the Aeneid’s borrowings from earlier epics are apparent, the text also drew on the value system promoted by Augustus and his inner circle (in particular Maecenas) that drew on Stoicism. Thus, the poem had a paradigmatic function, becoming a virtual school-text for Roman boys, and Aeneas himself soon became an idealized figure in the same way that Muhammad came to be seen as a moral paragon among Muslims.
The point of this comparison is not to say that the Arab conquerors borrowed ideas of expansionism and the like from the Romans (they didn’t), but rather that Spencer’s explanation of the rise of Islam should not be implausible from a historical perspective. It is therefore hardly shocking that Islam was bound with politics from the beginning (p. 214).
As for the question of Muhammad’s existence, Spencer gives a concise answer to round off his book: “the full truth of whether a prophet named Muhammad lived in seventh-century Arabia, and if he did, what sort of a man he was, may never be known” (p. 216), but for too long, the topic of Islamic historiography has been confined to highly specialized academia, with the growing problem of Islamist intimidation.
Thus, an accessible primer on the subject as we have here is most welcome. In addition, the project of translating this book into Arabic is to be commended.
In the years to come, it would be good to see Spencer’s book prescribed as introductory reading for courses on Islam in schools and universities. I myself have taken the step of donating his book to Brasenose College’s library, and hope that others will similarly distribute the work upon reading it.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?