Uncovering Early Islam

The year 1880 saw the publication of a book that ranks as the single most important study of Islam ever. Written in German by a young Jewish Hungarian scholar, Ignaz Goldziher, and bearing the nondescript title Muslim Studies (Muhammedanische Studien), it argued that the hadith, the vast body of sayings and actions attributed to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, lacked historical validity. Rather than provide reliable details about Mohammed’s life, the hadith, Goldziher established, emerged from debates two or three centuries later about the nature of Islam.

(This is like today’s Americans debating the Constitution’s much-disputed Second Amendment, concerning the right to bear arms, by claiming newly discovered oral transmissions going back to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Obviously, their quotations would inform us not what was said 225 years ago but about current views.)

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