Centrality of scripture in Islamic life

Seyyed Hossein Nasr notes that the Quran is the first and last thing that Muslims hear:

The two testimonies (shahadatan), one bearing witness to the Oneness of God and the other to the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam, both verses from the Quran, are the first words uttered into the ears of a newborn child and in most cases the last words uttered by a Muslim in the last moments of consciousness before death. 

Hagarism: Sources 1

Patricia Crone and Michael Cook wrote a book called Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. The book posits a very different origin for Islam than the one we usually read about. They question the existence of the historical Muhammad and the origins of the Qur’an.

This book is vociferously hated in Islamic circles from what I can tell. I see it denounced and ridiculed, but I have yet to see anything that actually refutes it in terms of dealing with its claims and sources one by one. Crone herself has said that she no longer holds to the central thesis of Part I of the book {she has not refuted the entire thing}. That said, I want to list some of her sources for public consumption.

Her first claim is that the prophet of “Hagarism” came preaching Judaic messianism. Her is her text, interspersed with her endnotes and sources:

If we choose to start again, we begin with the Doctrina Iacobi, a Greek anti Jewish tract spawned by the Heracelan persecution.

N. Bonwetsch (ed.), Doctrina Iacobi nuper baptizati, in Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften ‘zu Göttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse, n.s., vol. xii, Berlin 1910.

It is cast in the form of a dialogue between Jews set in Carthage in the year 634; it was in all probability written in Palestine within a few years of that date.

See F. Nau, ‘La Didascalie de Jacob‘, in R. Graffin and F. Nau (eds.), Patrologia Orientalis, Paris 1903-, vol. viii, pp. 715f. The lack of hindsight in respect of the outcome of the Arab invasion would suggest that Nau’s date of 640 is certainly too late.

At one point in the argument reference is made to current events in Palestine in the form of a letter from a certain Abraham, a Palestinian Jew.

Doctrina, pp. 86f

A false prophet has appeared among the Saracens … They say that the prophet has appeared coming with the Saracens, and is proclaiming the advent of the anointed one who is to come[tou erkhomenou Eleimmenou kai Khristou]. I, Abraham, went off to Sykamina and referred the matter to an old man very well versed in the Scriptures. I asked him: ‘What is your view, master and teacher, of the prophet who has appeared among the Saracens?’ He replied, groaning mightily: ‘He is an impostor. Do the prophets come with sword and chariot? Truly these happenings today are works of disorder … But you go off, Master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared.’ So Abraham, made enquiries, and was told by those who had met him: ‘There is no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only bloodshed; for he says he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.’

There are several points of interest in this account. One is the doctrine of the keys. It is not of course Islamic, but there are some slight indications that it was a doctrine which the Islamic tradition had been at pains to repress: there is a group of traditions in which the keys of paradise are sublimated into harmless metaphor, and a Byzantine oath of abjuration of Islam mentions the belief that the Prophet was to hold the keys of paradise as part of the ‘secret’ doctrine of the Saracens.

See A. J. Wensinck et al., Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, Leyden 1933- 69, s.v. miftah, where the key(s) of paradise are prayer and the shahada.

‘I anathematise the secret doctrine of the Saracens and promise of Muhamed that he would become the gatekeeper (kleidoukhos) of paradise .. .’ (E. Montet, ‘Un rituel d’abjuration des Musulmans dans l’eglise grecque‘, Revue de l’histoire des religions 1906, p. 1 5 I). The oath seems to be a ninth-century compilation of heterogeneous materials.

The point is not of great intrinsic interest, but it does suggest that we have in the Doctrina a stratum of belief older than the Islamic tradition itself. Of greater historical significance is the fact that the Prophet is represented as alive at the time of the conquest of Palestine. This testimony is of course irreconcilable with the Islamic account of the Prophet’s career, but it finds independent confirmation in the historical traditions of the Jacobites, Nestorians and Samaritans;
The earliest confirmation is that of the ‘Continuatio Byzantia Arabica‘, which preserves in Latin translation a Syrian chronicle dating from early in the reign of Hisham (see below, p. 179, n. 9) and presumably of Melchite or Jacobite origin: according to this source, the Saracens invaded the provinces of Syria, Arabia and Mesopotamia while under the rule of Mahmet (T. Mommsen (ed. ), Chronica Minora, vol. ii ( = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, vol. xi), Berlin 1894, p. 337). Otherwise the most important testimony on the Jacobite side is the archaic account of the origins of Islam preserved by Michael the Syrian (J.-B. Chabot (ed. and tr.), Chronique de Michelle Syrien, Paris 1899-1910, vol. iv, p. 405 = vol. ii, pp. 403f); to this maybe added an anonymous Syriac chronicle of the later eighth century (I. Guidi et al., Chronica Minora (= Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Scriptores Syri. third series, vol. iv), Louvain 1903-7. pp. 348 = 274)· On the Nestorian side the belated witness of the Arabic Chronicle of Si’ird is explicit (A. Scher (ed. and tr.). Histoire nestorienne, part two, in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. xiii, p. 601).while a Syriac chronicle probably written in Khazistan in the 670s suggestively slips in a mention of Muhammad as the ruler of the Arabs in the middle of an account of the conquests. (Chronica Minora, pp. 30 = 26; the dating is that of T. Nöldeke, ‘Die von Guidi herausgegebenesyrische Chronik’, Sitzungsberichte der philologischhistorischen Classe der KaiserlichenAkademie der Wissenschaften, vol. cxxviii, Vienna 1893. pp. 2f). On the Samaritan side we have the testimony of a medieval Arabic recension of the tradition (E. Vilmar (ed.), AbulfathiAnnalesSamaritani. Gotha I 865. p. I 8o). The convergence is impressive.

the doctrinal meaning of the discrepancy will be taken up later.

But the really startling thing about the Doctrina is its report that the Prophet was preaching the advent of ‘the anointed one who is to come’. That is to say the core of the Prophet’s message, in the earliest testimony available to us outside the Islamic tradition, appears as Judaic messianism. The idea is hardly a familiar one, but again it is strikingly confirmed by independent evidence.

It also finds a confused reflection in the prominence in Theophanes’ account of the beginnings of Islam of Jews who take Muhammad to be their expected Christ (Chronographia, A.M. 6122).

[end of quotes from Hagarism]