Muhammad in History Outside of the Islamic Tradition

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The childhood, career, doings, military campaigns, preaching, revelations, love affairs, and even the most intimate details of the life of the prophet Muhammad are recorded in great detail in the Islamic historical tradition of the hadith, tafsir, and sira. Yet all of these sources originate in the 8th century of the common era/2nd Islamic century or even much later, some such as the tafsir of ibn Kathir as late as the 13th century/7th Islamic century. There exists no contemporary or near-contemporary record of Muhammad in the Islamic tradition in the 7th century and relatively few mentions of him in physical artifacts like coins from that time. Yet, Muhammad's existence is well attested in the historical tradition outside of the Islamic canon in numerous documents from the 7th century/first Islamic century as well as the early 8th century/2nd Islamic century, well before the writing of the first known sira. Although his historical existence is attested, the picture painted of the Muhammad and the early Arab conquests is painted as altogether different than what is portrayed in the Islamic sources. Most remarkably, our earliest sources including one which was written while he was apparently still alive, portray him as the leader in charge of the Arab force invading Palestine. A number of our sources portray Muhammad and the Arabs as cooperating very amicably with the Jews in order to conquer Palestine, despite what the Islamic tradition tells us about the Islamic communities break with the Jews in Medina. Those sources which mention his origin say that he was from Yathrib, id est Madina, not Mecca, and the Arab themselves are called "muhajiruun" or "immigrants", indicating that the "hijra" was not from Mecca to Medina but rather from Arabia to the holy land of Palestine. Although separated by geography, language, religion, and time, these various sources all present a stunningly similar picture of the early Islamic movement and the prophet, one which is totally at odds with the orthodox Islamic narrative.

The Middle East at the dawn of the Islamic Age

The Sources

The commonalities

Divergences from the Islamic narrative

Confirmation from the Islamic sources

Explanations for the discrepancy

Reasons for the divergence