This is cool: Muhammad Who?
So a professor in Germany, a Muslim convert nonetheless, blares out that Muhammad never existed, and naturally, some people are miffed.
I, for one, am intrigued: there's something to the theory. I don't think it is as valid as saying that Old Testament prophets were not real historical actors, or that Jesus was a composite of several persons, but still, there's plenty about Muhammad's story that doesn't add up.
Of course, there was someone who got this ball called Islam rolling in Mecca some fourteen centuries ago, but it's about time to subject this character to the non-PC intensity of historical inquiry in the Arabic language.
First things first, I was quite young when I figured out that this fellow's name could not have been Muhammad bin Abdullah. To start with, he had all sorts of other names too: Ahmad, Mahmoud, Amin, Mustafa, Taha, ...etc. And it would have been too neat to call his father "Abdullah" ("worshipper of Allah") and his mother "Aamineh" ("pious one")...these were merely descriptives.
Second, Islam has a bipolar syndrome that's never been adequately explained and that continues to spin off splinter sects: a Meccan period characterized as pseudo-Judaic and "Nasrani" (...whatever that supposedly meant at the time to the people of the Hejaz), and a period in Media, where the religion turns Manichean, probably due to the influence of Salman the Persian.
I've only read the critiques of Crone/Cook's book Hagarism, but their controversial and much-maligned foray seems to have been in the right direction.
Plus, the whispered Shia assertions that even verses from the Koran have been edited out suggest that at various points the early history of Islam has been radically rewritten.
So let's open the sewer lids, folks, and let's see what roams within. But chances are that this sort of stuff won't get discussed at the MESA conference next week.