Historical Attestation of Muhammad

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Historical Critical Method

Traditionalist Historians

Revisionist Historians

Patricia Crone, Michael Cook, John Wansbrough, and Yahuda Nevo.[1]


The following gives a brief summary of the key artifacts and early literary documents about the life of Muhammad. The items are listed chronologically based on when they were first created. Other key events from the first two centuries of Islamic history are also listed for reference. Many dates are approximate and noted with a ~.

  • 622 Hijrah?
  • 633 Death of Muhammad?
  • ~634 Doctrina Jacobi : "Prophet who has appeared with the Saracens"
  • ~636 Syriac Gospel Fragment : " killing of {the Arabs of} Muhammad (Muhmd)"
  • 637 Arab conquest of Jerusalem
  • ~639 Sophronius : "Saracen conquests"
  • ~640 Thomas the Presbyter : "the Arabs of Muhammad (tayyaye d-Mhmt)"
  • 656 First Islamic Civil War- First Fitna. End 661.
  • ~660's Sebeos, Bishop Of The Bagratunis : Mentions "Mahmet", gives sparse details of his life
  • ~690's John, Bishop of Nikiu : Uses the term "Moslem" and "Mohammed"
  • 691 Arab-Sassanian coin : "Muhammad Rasul Allah"
  • 692 Dome of the Rock Inscription : "Muhammad" & "Jesus son of Mary", Qur'anic verses
  • 696 Reformed Coinage : "Muhammad"
  • 747 Ababasid revolt against Umayyad Caliphate.
  • 761 Ibn Ishaq : Siratu Rasul Allah - first biography. Not extant.
  • 776 Graffiti from northern Arabia : Quran - first mention as generic "book"
  • 810 Tombstone, Egypt : Quran - first explicit reference
  • 826 Muhammad al-Bukhari : Begins Hadith collection. d 870.
  • 840 Ibn Hisham - Quotes from Ibn Ishaq's work
  • 843 The earliest dated literary papyrus
  • 876 Earliest Qur'an Manuscript Fragment - (no later than this date)


The traditional narrative of Muhammad's life identifies him as the author, or original reciter, of the Qur'an. Critical historians suggest that if this is true then the Qur'an would be a document contemporary to his life and could serve as a valuable source of information about the prophet. However, the Qur'an offers very few details about the author nor much information about the lives of the people in early 7th century Arabia.

References to Muhammad

"Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. ..."
Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing."
" And those who believe and do righteous deeds and believe in what has been sent down upon Muhammad - and it is the truth from their Lord - He will remove from them their misdeeds and amend their condition. "
"Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves...."
"And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, 'O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.' But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, 'This is obvious magic.'

Collection of the Qur'an

One fundamental problem pointed out with accurately dating the contents of the Qur'an is that the verses, even by traditional Muslim accounts, were not collected and put together into a single book during the lifetime of Muhammad. They were put together at least a decade after his death through a process of gathering and recording verses that had been etched upon scraps of papyrus, bone, and wood along with interviewing members of the early community who had committed parts of the Qur'an to memory.

If this narrative of the Qur'an's formation is true then it raises several questions; how accurate was the collection of the book, and is the current version of the Qur'an reliably Muhammad's? It is possible that parts of the originally recited Qur'an were not included in the book or entire passages were included that came from an author other than Muhammad. There were countless legends and stories circulating at this time in the Middle East and any number of them could have been erroneously added to the Qur'an. Based on this information, there is the possibility that the handful of verses in the Qur'an about Muhammad's life may not actually be authentic. They may well have later found their way into the book as it is known today.

Earliest Manuscripts

Sira Literature

Ibn Ishaq

Ibn Hisham


Collection of the Hadith

Science of the Hadith

Historical Methods

Archaeological Evidence

Dome of the Rock Inscription

Arab-Sassanian coins

"In July of the same year the emirs and many Arabs gathered and gave their allegiance to Mu'awiya. Then an order went out that he should be proclaimed king in all the villages and cities of his dominion and that they should make acclamation and invocations to him. He also minted gold and silver, but it was not accepted because it had no cross on it. Furthermore, Mu'awiya did not wear a crown like other kings in the world. He placed his throne in Damascus and refused to go to the seat of Muhammad [Medina or Mecca]."
Maronite Chronicler

Reformed Coinage

Non-Muslim Writings

While no early Arab texts about the life of Islam's prophet exist, there are copies of non-Muslim writings that reference the Arab conquest of the Middle East. These include eye witness testimony to the events that take place in the second and third quarters of the 7th century. While the authors provide limited details on the Arabs that conquered Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, they do provide some insight into how the conquered people of those areas viewed their new rulers. In particular, a few references to a "Muhammad" can be found which dates to the first few decades of the Arab conquests.

Doctrina Jacobi

One of the earliest references to the Arab conquests of the Middle East comes from a Christian named Jacob who wrote a polemical tract around 634. In his tract, Jacob includes a section from his cousin Justus who writes about how he heard of the killing of a member of the imperial guard, or candidatus, in a letter from his brother Abraham in Caesarea. He mentions that the Saracens (a name used for Arabs at this time) are attacking people in the land and they are lead by a prophet:

When the Candidatus was killed by the Saracens, I was at Caesarea and I set off by boat to Sykamina. People were saying "the candidatus has been killed," and we Jews were overjoyed. And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come. I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared." So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men's blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible. [2]
Doctrina Jacobi V.16, 209. [p. 57]

Syriac Gospel Fragment

In January {the people of} Hims took the word for their lives and many villages were ravaged by the killing of {the Arabs of} Muhammad (Muhmd) and many people were slain and {taken} prisoner from Galilee as far as Beth...[2]
Syriac Gospel Fragment


But the present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why are the birds of the sky devouring human bodies? Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so that he justly cries out to us: "Because of you my name is blasphemed among the pagans," and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us. That is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and add victory to victory. Moreover, they are raised up more and more against us and increase their blasphemy of Christ and the church, and utter wicked blasphemies against God. Those God-fighters boast of prevailing over all, assiduously and unrestrainably imitating their leader, who is the devil, and emulating his vanity because of which he has been expelled from heaven and been assigned to the gloomy shades.
Sophronius Holy Baptism, 166-167

Thomas the Presbyter

In the year 945, indiction 7, on Friday 7 February (634) at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad (tayyaye d-Mhmt) in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician bryrdn, whom the Arabs killed. Some 4000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region. [2]
Thomas the Presbyter, Chronicle, pp. 147-148

Sebeos, Bishop Of The Bagratunis

So [The Jews] departed, taking the road through the desert to Tachkastan to the sons of Ishmael. [The Jews] called [the Arabs] to their aid and familiarized them with the relationship they had through the books of the [Old] Testament. Although [the Arabs] were convinced of their close relationship, they were unable to get a consensus from their multitude, for they were divided from each other by religion. In that period a certain one of them, a man of the sons of Ishmael named Muhammad, became prominent [t'ankangar]. A sermon about the Way of Truth, supposedly at God's command, was revealed to them, and [Muhammad] taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially since he was informed and knowledgeable about Mosaic history. Because the command had [g104] come from on High, he ordered them all to assemble together and to unite in faith. Abandonning the reverence of vain things, they turned toward the living God, who had appeared to their father--Abraham. Muhammad legislated that they were not to [123] eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsehoods, and not to commit adultery. He said: "God promised that country to Abraham and to his son after him, for eternity. And what had been promised was fulfilled during that time when [God] loved Israel. Now, however, you are the sons of Abraham, and God shall fulfill the promise made to Abraham and his son on you. Only love the God of Abraham, and go and take the country which God gave to your father Abraham. No one can successfully resist you in war, since God is with you." [2]
Sebeos Ch 30

John, Bishop of Nikiu

And now many of the Egyptians who had been false Christians denied the holy orthodox faith and lifegiving baptism, and embraced the religion of the Moslem, the enemies of God, and accepted the detestable doctrine of the beast, this is, Mohammed, and they erred together with those idolaters, and took arms in their hands and fought against the Christians. And one of them, named John, the Chalcedonian of the Convent of Sinai, embraced the faith of Islam, and quitting his monk's habit he took up the sword, and persecuted the Christians who were faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. [2]
John Chronicle, 121.10-11

See Also


  1. Brown, Jonathan A. C. "Muhammad. A Very Short Introduction", Oxford University Press. pgs 94-95.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Hoyland , Robert "Seeing Islam as Others Saw It", google books. Darwin Press, Incorporated, Jan 1, 1997. Excerpts from the book, christianorigins.com.