In Search of Muhammad

by Clinton Bennett
Cassell, London, 1998
Reviewed by Jay Smith

(Page numbers in [ ] brackets)


[viii] God can speak to us in other world views, providing they don’t contradict what we know of God in Christ. “…if God’s nature is made known to us through the biblical record, then it is right for us to inquire whether God is speaking to us through what we encounter in other world-views – as long as this does not contradict what we know of God in Christ, who is the touchstone for all Christians”

[2] Muhammad must be understood theologically and not just historically

[3] Thesis of the book: to explore different understandings of Muhammad, that of history and of faith by both Muslims and non-Muslims, and finding the similarities and differences of both insider and outsider positions.

[4] Only insiders can understand their stories.

[5] Wants to look at all the texts to find the hidden assumptions, using multiple disciplines.

[6] According to Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1959): we must become you to then talk with you about ‘you’.

– Thus we are only permitted to say that which our subject agrees to.

– Then we can only know Muhammad by those who see him as a prophet.

-“This is exactly what this book aims to achieve – an understanding of what Muhammad means to those for whom he is Prophet, and of what he might, can or does not mean for those for whom he is not a Prophet…but my fundamental aim is to hear Muslim voices. When I examine textual and historical material, my aim is both to uncover voices which can be found within the texts, and to listen to other Muslim voices which have commented on and interpreted these texts.”

[7] What you write as an outsider must elicit approval from the insider to be valid.

-Smith believes “that the aim of an outside scholar writing about Islam is to elicit Muslim approval…and I [Bennett] have tried ever since to make it my motto.”

-“Historians, reconstructing the past, have, often found there the evidence they need to justify their current ideological assumptions… ‘seen’ what they have wanted to see…Such ‘constructs’ actually tell us more about the observers than they do about the observed.”

[11] Bennett’s premise, using C.W.Smith: “1) to see what Muslims see in Islam; 2) to understand why others have seen Islam differently, and last but not least, 3) to ask whether what anybody sees in Islam can be justified, given the texts, voices and data which are available to us.”


[1] Muhammad of History: The Primary Sources

[20] Only 300 out of 6,666 verses in the Qur’an are on law.

[21] Source criticism of the Qur’an has been done by: Tisdall (1901); Bell (1945); Crone and Cook (1977); Wansbrough (1977) Cook (1983); and Ibn Warraq (1995).

– Wansbrough (1977) dates the standard version of the Qur’an to two centuries after Muhammad, reflecting sectarian interests.

– Wansbrough, due to death threats, changed his field of research…”to the comparatively tranquil pastures of the treaties worked out between Crusaders and Muslims in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries” (Hugh Goddard, Christians and Muslims: From Double Standards to Mutual Understanding, London, Curzon Press, 1995, pg.8)

[22] Muslims don’t feel that similar sources prove indebtedness, since such sources are believed to be ‘revelatory’ in origin, any similarity is due to their having the same ‘author’.

-[shows faulty logic when he agrees with the Muslim assertion that Talmudic and apocryphal sources for the Qur’an are not a problem, claiming that they and the Biblical texts are equally revelatory (page 22). Yet no Jew or Christian would consider the apocryphal Talmudic or Christian apocryphal stories to be equal to the Biblical text, having been written many centuries later, and by spurious individuals; they are not considered authoritative, and therefore the Qur’anic stories are likewise not authoritative.]

[24] Qur’an states only 3 prayers (S.11:114 and 24:58), while the Hadith are responsible for five prayers, and the five pillars.

– The 99 names of Allah all come from the Hadith.

[25] According to Crone, no early sources now exist: “all surviving versions have lost their starting point in as much as not a single hadith remembers the context in which the document was issued…many add extraneous material; and such clauses as they do remember are either summarized too briefly to be informative or else given in paraphrases so far removed from the original wording that their meaning has changed” (from ‘Review of F.E.Peter’s ‘Muhammad and the Origins of Islam’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd series, 5:2, pg.271)

-Bennett criticizes Crone’s and Cook’s analysis as weak, maintaining that due to the lack of originals, one cannot know for sure whether the copies we possess have strayed from those originals, so why not simply accept them as authoritative? He has completely missed Crone’s and Cook’s principal argument: that since the Muslim source material is between 150-300 years late, it cannot be considered primary, and may not even be trusted as it does not correspond with the existing seventh century extra-Islamic material in our possession, which are closer to the events of that time.

-Abu Hurayra was considered the closest companion to Muhammad, yet he is suspect, and therefore not the best authority to cite; since Umar called him ‘the worst liar among the muhaddithun (narrators of hadith)’.

[27] Many fraudulent traditions came from itinerant storytellers [Kussas], who embellished tales to astonish their audience in return for payment.

[28] Ibn Ishaq’s Sira contains much fiction.

[30] Both Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi had Shi’a sympathies and so their biographies give us examples of ‘political reshaping of the material’.

[31] The Six authoritative (Sahih) hadith are compiled by: al-Bukhari (810-870); Muslim (817-874); Daud (817-888); al-Tirmidhi (821-892); al-Nasai (d.915); al-Darimi (797-868); and Ibn Maja (824-886).

[32] Bukhari (870) retained 7,275 out of 600,000 hadith, but only 2,765 were unique.

Abu Daud (888) retained 4,800 out of 500,000 hadith.

Sahih = best; Hasan = good; da’if = weak

– Islamic computing centre: http://www.ummah.org/icc/index.htm

[33] The rules for hadith science were not developed until the early 11th century, by Al-Hakim (d.1014) who developed 52 categories, and then Ibn al-Salah (d.1245) who developed 65 categories.


[2] The Sources: a Critical Evaluation

[38] According to Crone and Hinds (“God’s Caliph”, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986:1) “Muhammad’s authority developed posthumously, invented by the religious scholars as a device to wrestle power out of the hands of the Caliph.”

-The idea that Muhammad’s political power passed to the Caliph was invented at a later period (the early Abbasid- post 750 AD), when the idea of Muhammad as a ‘fully-fledged founder-prophet’ was used to undermine the positions of the Caliphs (1986:26).

-Cook felt that Muhammad created Islam, and that much of what has now become distinctly Islamic were borrowed from existing Jewish and Christian stories and ideas (1983:77).

-The 5 Pillars do not appear until the 9th century (Rippin, Muslims, vol.1, London, Routledge, 1990:86).

-Rather than critique the work of Cook, Bennett simply quotes a criticism by A.S. Bose that Cook’s writing was ‘hostile, prejudiced, biassed, and an atheist-tinted vision of Islam’, but gives no explanation or examples to back up Bose’s criticism and simply accepts it at face-value. This is not only sloppy work but detrimental to one who claims to be fair and just in his assessment.

[39] Bennett mentions that both Watt and Rodinson offer biographies of Muhammad “which, arguably, are as reliable as those of any other historical figure”.

[45] The miracle of splitting the moon comes from Bukhari 58:35 and 56:26.

[46] Many point out that the sources for the ‘miracle hadith’ of Muhammad come from the cousin of Muhammad Ibn ‘Abbas (who was 13 at Muhammad’s death), and Anas Ibn Malik (who was only 19), which may caste doubt on their testimonies.

[48] Anthropomorphic language of God: ‘God sits on a throne’ (S.57:4), and one can see God’s face on the day of reckoning (S.75:23).

[54] Bennett admits that the miracle stories are fabricated (possibly because he cannot believe that Muhammad could do miracles)!! Why then is he not able to say the same concerning his biography?

-There was a lot of political pressure being placed on the compilers; thus Mu’awiyah put pressure on the scholars to suppress hadith favourable to Ali, and extolled hadith favourable to Uthman, as he came from the same family.

[55] Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi were both pro-Ali, and this comes out in their biographies.

[56] The Abbasids compiled anti-Umayyad hadith (see quote MM, 1, p.42, attributed to Ibn Mas’ud and transmitted by Muslim).

[57] Bennett is doubtful of manipulation, yet refuses to speak about the late dates.

[60] According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr the prophet left such an impression on his companions that they would not have forged new sayings or actions.

-According to Sayyid Ahmed Khan, he saw no reason to suspect that ‘early believers, men and women, should willfully lie and deceive’.

[61] A man may beat his wife (Bukhari 72:43) and “I looked into paradise, and saw that the majority of its people were the poor, and I looked into the Fire, and found that the majority of its people were women” (Bukhari 76:16, 51)!

[62] Mernissi believed that Bukhari was a misogynist, and that is why he has anti-women hadith.

-Bennett admits that the hadith are exaggerated to fulfill an admirable view of Muhammad.

-Bennett also thought that the misogyny was a result of Abbasid attitudes and was not thus real history.

[63] Bennett’s conclusion was the third period of Muhammad’s life (in Medina) is almost wholly authentic, except the miracles and the misogynist hadith (how PC!!).

-Bennett admits some fabrication is happening, but never states how he knows that the reliable hadith are historical.

[64] Bennett’s object is to see the Muhammad of history, however using his criteria (that Muhammad was passionate for the poor, disliked ostentation and wealth, had a simple concept of justice, all of which stands the test of time).

[65] He criticizes Crone’s statement that ‘the Qur’an is a text without a context’, because she bases her arguments on non-Islamic sources (Duhhh, no kidding).


[3] Non-Muslim Lives of Muhammad: from the 7th-16th Centuries

[74] Nestorians flourished under Abbasid Muslim rule, and Mar Timothy (in office 780-823) debated with the Caliph Al-Mahdi (775-785).

-Also John of Damascus (675-679) debated on the titles of ‘Word’, ‘Spirit’ (Q4:171), the trinity, and divinity of Jesus.

[75] John of Damascus in defining the trinity says, “Just as the whole of the taste and the whole of the scent is from the whole of the apple, and yet scent is not taste nor taste scent, so, too, the persons of the Trinity being uncircumscribed are not separate one from another and not mixed and confused with one another but ‘separated in their person in a united wayand united in their nature in a separate way” (Mingana:25f)

– Tahrif = the corruption of scripture (Q2:59, 75, 121, 140; 3:63, 113; 4:44)

-Watt believes that there is no claim in the Qur’an for the corruption of scripture, but makes allegations of the concealment of passages.

-Sayyid Ahmed Khan speaks of a ‘corruption of meaning and interpretation, not of actual alteration of the written text’.

[76] John of Damascus calls Muslims ‘Hagarites’.

-Al-Kindi in 830 AD criticized the Muslim view of Muhammad, saying that he was only a soldier of fortune, who had no miracle to his name, that the Qur’an was ‘a rag-tag of discrepancies and garbled tales, a confused heap, with neither system nor order…with one passage contradicted by another’.

-He believed that “histories are all jumbled together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked. Are such, now, the conditions of a revelation sent down from heaven?” (Muir’s edition 1882:18-19,26).

– Al-Kindi also condemned Holy War and the laws concerning women.

-He stated that Muhammad’s chief ‘object and concern’…was to attack surrounding tribes, slay and plunder them, and carry of their females for concubines” (Muir 1882:49-50)

– Al-Kindi had considerable knowledge of Muslim sources, especially the miracle Hadith.

[77-78]In the 13th century Bar Hebraeus maintains that the violent and sexual themes in the Qur’an point to a human origin.

-Christian apologists did not critique the sex and violence themes of Muhammad because 1) they wanted to win the intellectual argument rather than revert to character assassination, 2) they preferred to compare Christ with the Qur’an and not with Muhammad, 3) there were penalties for criticizing Muhammad, 4) Muslims admired the criticisms, thinking it ennobled Muhammad.

[79] [Bennett’s study of Islam began at Selly Oak]

[80] Byzantine literature represented Muhammad as an epileptic, and thus the reason for his ‘revelatory trances’.

[82] Spanish Christians pinpointed Muhammad’s sexual immorality.

[83] 11th century Europeans believed Muhammad was being worshipped, and saw him as the devil incarnate, using the derisory name ‘Mahound’.

-Much polemical literature featured attacks against the Muslim heaven which was designed for men.

-“They [the heavenly maidens] are devout wives, and those who with grey hairs and watery eyes died in old age. After death, Allah re-makes them into virgins” (Andrae 1936:26)

[85] 12th – 13th centuries = Crusades. Gave Christians a more realistic look at Islam, and so was not as polemical. Contact between the two opened up commercial relationships as well as medical, architectural, food, dress, and vocabulary links.

[86] The Crusades were not so negative, nor had as great an impact on Islam as is commonly felt today.

-Muslim Spain became the centre of medicine, astronomy, attracting many scholars to study Ibn Rushd, Ibn Tufayl, and Aristotle (whose works were preserved by the Muslims, though forgotten in the rest of Europe).

[87] The 13th century used the ‘irenic’ approach; writing, reason, and argument, which was considered better than the sword, but in Latin, thus Muslims did not read them.


[4] Non-Muslim Lives: from the Renaissance to Today

[93] The birth of serious non-Muslim scholarship of Islam begins with the Renaissance.

[94] [Bennett: Muslim sources are devoid of myth and fiction]

[95] [Bennett: Allah of the Qur’an and Yahweh of the Bible are one and the same]

[97] [Bennett: The western view of Muhammad was distorted and prejudiced]

[99] George Sale (1734) was the turning point in the West’s concept of Muhammad, in that he was willing to listen to Muslim voices.

[100] Non-Muslims came closer to Muslims when they admitted Muhammad’s temporal achievements, but then moved away when the refused his theological claims.

[107] There were three categories all non-Muslims who wrote about Muhammad fit into: 1) those who wrote for Westerners alone [Thomas Carlyle, Crone/Cook], 2) those who wrote for both, but from a Western perspective [Lord Cromer, William Muir], and 3) those who wrote to ‘do justice to the faith in Muslim hearts’ [Wilfred Cantwell Smith].

[108] [Bennett: wanted to separate fact from fiction, but whose facts?]

[110] Crone & Cook: [Bennett: both Crone and Cook did not want to have Muslim approval]

-What they say is that Islam is more an Arabian heilgeschichte, lending authority to a hybrid religion, partly founded by Muhammad, but moreso by his successors (Crone 1987:230)

– Their book was banned in Egypt

[111] [Bennett: he points out that William Muir’s ‘life of Mahomet’ used only ‘the oldest and most authentic sources’ which “evidences a genuine desire to reproduce fact, not fiction…” So old sources do suffice after all!!]

[117] [Bennett: believed Muir’s criticisms of Muslims and Islam were due to his colonial experiences rather than academic research, thus Bennett believes that therein lies the reason for the bias]

-[Bennett: rather than accepting Muir’s version for Muhammad’s allowing deception to kill Ka’b (a poet who wrote verses irritating Muhammad), refers to Lings explanation that deception is permitted in war, yet Lings is a Muslim, so would his interpretation also not have a bias! Then Bennett castigates Muir for not allowing for deception in war, taking Lings version!]

[119] [Bennett: Sura 9:5 the sword verse according to Bennett is only used for defensive purposes or to right a wrong, and since the unbelievers were to repent, they must have initiated some type of attack first, and so war was permitted; this is eisegesis.]

-[Then in the same paragraph he quotes various Muslim scholars (Rahman, and Muhammad Ali, who felt Muhammad never ‘fought against peaceful people’, that he never was inclined for war, and that he was peace-loving by nature, contradicting the above]

[127] “The Satanic Verses are found in Tabari and Ibn Sa’d but not in the earlier Ibn Ishaq, though Ibn Hisham may have edited them out”

[133] [Bennett: finally accepts that ones presuppositions colour their conclusions.]

-Writers at the end of the 19th century thought much good of Muhammad, but that he had a stained moral character.


[5] Muhammad’s Significance in Muslim Life and Thought

[139] [Bennett: he has difficulty understanding how authority in Islam could have been with the Caliphs, then redacted back onto Muhammad.]

[142] [Bennett: The Qur’an placed limits on Muhammad in that he could not go contrary to its message; but what about the number of wives?]

-quotes Maududi in delineating that while in the west people make their own laws, in Islam God makes the laws.

[148] Umayyads (660-750), Abbasids (750-1517 [Buyids 932-1075; Saljuks 1075-1258; Mongols 1258-]), Ottomans (1517-1924)

[151] The Abbasids were basically Persian, retaining the caliphate in their close-knit family, ceased to treat Arabs as special, increased the non-Arabs participation in running the empire, and modelled their rule on the Sassanid pattern, even adopting Persian ideas about the divine nature of kingship (Caliphat Allah).

[154] Definition of Sufism: It stresses the individual rather than society, the internal rather than the historical, God’s love rather than his power, men’s heart rather than behaviour, their pure soul over their correct actions, and that law is used for one’s private discipline.

[169] Shi’a: adding to the importance of Muhammad as a model, they say that his descendants may interpret Islam for each generation, adding newly inspired content to Islamic law, that they Imams enjoy a unique authority within the Shi’a world, and that Ali’s role becomes elevated at Muhammad’s expense.

[170] Because the imams can re-interpret law, Shi’as has had less difficulty with change, and is better able to adjust to new circumstances.

[183/184] The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the devotion to Muhammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Muhammad’s uniqueness.

[185] The Mu’tazilites, who flourished during the early Abbasid Khalifate believed the Qur’an was created, using Sura 43:3, whereas the Asharites believed the Qur’an was uncreated, using Sura 85:22. Orthodoxy agrees with the Asharites.

– If the Qur’an is uncreated this risks a duality, associating a partner with God.

[191] [Bennett: He admits that Muhammad becomes the model for every conflicting tradition. Does this not show how Muhammad and Islam are thus created in OUR image?]

[192] [Bennett: finally admits that when Muslims look at Muhammad they do so through the eyes of faith, which is a theological belief, and not ‘historically sustainable’. He then says that since we have historical documents about Muhammad the theological claims must be subject to critical inquiry! Thus “scholarly scrutiny may be able to identify whose claims harmonize more, whose less, with the classical texts”, but what about their historical authority?]


[6] Conversations Islamic

[195] [Bennett: His second year students did not know where he stood on Muhammad, possibly because he refused to take a position]

[197] [Bennett: He found that even with the same text, Muslims came to different conclusions]

[199] [Bennett: mentions that liberal Muslims agree that because of their late dates many of the hadiths cannot be genuine, agreeing with the Revisionists! So are they insiders?]

[203] [Bennett: believes that Christianity is not exclusivistic, thus there is no need to convert, and so need to find the insiders view]


Conclusion: Towards a Postmodern Theology of Religions

[221] [Bennett: says that]

[222] [Bennett: Salman Rushdie, an insider, reflects a negative image of Muhammad, which is equal to the outsiders view; but this is o-kay. Yet, earlier he contends that all Muslims, and thus all insiders only see Muhammad as positive]

-If you approach the sources with the ‘hermeneutic of faith’ then everything is o-kay in the Qur’an, including the deceptive killing of Ka’b Ibn al-Ashraf; whereas if you approach the sources with the ‘hermeneutic of doubt’ you will see the same incident as morally degrading.

[223] And both ‘a prioris’, insider and outsider, are correct, according to post-modernism.

[224] Bennett’s thesis: peaceful co-existence.

[227] Bennett believes that Jesus is much like the Qur’an, yet Muhammad models the Qur’an, thus we cannot have the Qur’an without Muhammad. [Which Muhammad, the one of faith or of history?]

[229] [Bennett: believes that both Christ and Muhammad are both exemplary, and rooted in divine self-disclosure]

[230] The cross only shows God’s character in Jesus. [what about redemption?]

-[Bennett: then quotes and agrees with Newbigin who claims catagorically that the cross was there ‘to take away our sin’].

[231] [Bennett: says that God reveals himself thru not only Moses, Job, Jesus, but even Muhammad; the bags out!]

[232] Bennett believes that there is no absolute culture, and adds that since, as Newbigin believes, the Christian [he adds Muslim] message is real, affirming it is no arrogance, and to remain quiet is treasonous. [but how can he glibly add Muslim to Newbigin’s statement?]

[236] Muhammad is a corrective, useful for law and war; since Christians interested in war have no model of it in Christ.

[237] “Muhammad’s sunnah, with its many safeguards against the misuse of power may serve as a ‘prophetic corrective’ for Christians”

[238] Muhammad lived quite frugally [yet her received 1/5th of all booty]

-Bennett is in a bind with the Qur’anic rejection of the crucifixion, and so rather than use the Muslim interpretation (insiders) he comes up with his own interpretation.

[241] We must abandon our convictions (i.e. the trinity), become unitarian and Muslims must accept Qur’anic criticism.

[242] Religion is basically for social works.