Nov 18, 2008 

Scandal exposes Islam's weakness
By Spengler 

"Did you hear about the German Gnostic?"
"He couldn't keep a secret." 

Just such a Teutonic mystic is Professor Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a German 
convert to Islam who teaches Muslim theology at the University of Munster. 
Kalisch recently laid a Gnostic egg in the nest of Islam, declaring that the 
Prophet Mohammed never existed, not at least in the way that the received 
version of Islamic tradition claims he did. Given that Kalisch holds an 
academic chair specifically funded to instruct teachers of Islam in Germany's 
school system, a scandal ensued, first reported in the mainstream 
English-language press by Andrew Higgins in the November 15 edition of the Wall 
Street Journal. 

On closer reading, Kalisch offers a far greater challenge to Islam than the 
secular critics who reject its claims. The headline that a Muslim academic has 
doubts over the existence of the Prophet Mohammed is less interesting than why 
he has such doubts. Kalisch does not want to harm Islam, but rather to expose 
what he believes to be its true nature. Islam, he argues, really is a Gnostic 
spiritual teaching masquerading as myth. Kalisch's heretical variant of Islam 
may be close enough to the religion's original intent as to provoke a 
re-evaluation of the original sources. 

A labor of love from inside the fortress of Islamic theology may accomplish 
what all the ballistas of the critics never could from outside the walls. 
Koranic criticism, I have argued for years (here and elsewhere - You say you 
want a reformation? Asia Times Online, August 5, 2003) is the Achilles' heel of 
the religion. That argument has been made about Christianity for years by 
Elaine Pagels and other promoters of "Gnostic Gospels", and it is dead wrong. 
In the case of Islam, though, it might be dead accurate. 

Kalisch is a Gnostic, a believer in secret spiritual truths that undergird the 
myths manufactured for the edification of the peasantry. But he is a German 
Gnostic, and therefore feels it necessary to lay out his secrets in thorough 
academic papers with extensive footnotes and bibliography. It is a strange and 
indirect way of validating the dictum of the great German-Jewish theologian 
Franz Rosenzweig: Islam is a parody of Judaism and Christianity. 

It is in weird little byways of academia such as Kalisch wanders that the great 
battles of religion will be fought out, not at academic conferences and photo 
opportunities with the pope. For example: the Catholic Islamologists who 
organized the November 4-7 meeting of Catholic and Muslim scholars in Rome 
envision incremental reforms inside Islam through a more relaxed Turkish 
version (see A Pyrrhic propaganda victory in Rome Asia Times Online, November 
12, 2008 and Tin-opener theology from Turkey Asia Times Online, June 3, 2008). 
Despite their best efforts at an orderly encounter with Islam, events have a 
way of overtaking them. Last March, Pope Benedict personally received into the 
Catholic faith the Egyptian-born Italian journalist Magdi Allam at the Easter 
Vigil. In September, Kalisch dropped his own bombshell. In a way, it is 
longer-acting and more deadly. 

A small group of Koran scholars, to be sure, has long doubted Mohammed's 
existence. Their scholarship is sufficiently interesting, though, to question 
whether it is worthwhile exposing the alleged misdeeds of the Prophet Mohammed, 
who may not have existed in the first place (The Koranic quotations trap Asia 
Times Online, May 15, 2007). Earlier this year, I reported on the progress of 
the critics, as well as belated emergence of a treasure-trove of photocopies of 
Koranic manuscripts hidden away by Nazi Islamologists (Indiana Jones meets the 
Da Vinci Code Asia Times Online, January 18, 2008). The Nazis had a Gnostic 
interest in Islam (call them "Gnazis"). The manuscripts and copies are now 
under the control of mainstream scholars at the University of Berlin, with deep 
ties to Arab countries. 

Kalisch is the first Muslim scholar to dispute the Prophet's existence, while 
continuing to profess Muslim. If the Prophet did not exist, or in any case did 
not dictate the Koran, "then it might be that the Koran was truly inspired by 
God, a great narration from God, but it was not dictated word for word from 
Allah to the Prophet", he told a German newspaper. A German Protestant who 
converted to Islam as a teenager in search of a religion of reason, Kalisch can 
live with an alternative of reading of Islam. Very few of the world's billion 
and a half Muslims can. 

Islam cannot abide historical criticism of the sort that Judaism and 
Christianity have sustained for centuries. "Abie, if you're here, then who is 
that there in my bed?," responds the Jewish wife in the old joke when her 
husband catches her in delicto flagrante. No one can offer an alternative 
explanation for the unique persistence of the Jewish people after 30 documented 
centuries of Jewish life. "If Moses didn't exist," the Jews respond to 
skeptics, "then who brought us out of Egypt?" Told that perhaps they didn't 
come out of Egypt, the Jews will respond, "Then what are we doing here today?" 

Christians, by the same token, read the writings of numerous individuals who 
either met Jesus of Nazareth or took down the accounts of people who did, and 
who believed that he was the only begotten Son of God. Proof of Jesus' 
divinity, though, is entirely beside the point. If the Christian God wanted to 
rule by majesty and power, he would not have come to earth as a mortal to die 
on the cross. The Christian God asks for love and faith, not submission before 
majesty. The Christian is not asked to prove the unprovable, but to love and 
believe. Muslims have a different problem: if Mohammed did not receive the 
Koran from God, then what are they doing there to begin with? Kalisch has the 
sort of answer that only a German academic could love. 

"We hardly have original Islamic sources from the first two centuries of 
Islam," Kalisch observes in a German-language paper available on the Muenster 
University (website). It is fascinating reading, and since it is not yet 
available in English I take the liberty of translating or summarizing a few 
salient points. Responsibility for any errors of translation of interpretation 
is my own. 

Kalisch continues, "And even when a source appears to come from this period, 
caution is required. The mere assertion that a source stems from the first or 
second century of the Islamic calendar means nothing. And even when a source 
actually was written in the first or second century, the question always 
remains of later manipulation. We do not tread on firm ground in the sources 
until the third Islamic century." 

This, Kalisch observes, is extremely suspicious: how can a world religion have 
erupted in a virtual literary vacuum? A great religion, moreover, inevitably 
throws off heresies: where are the early Islamic heretics and Gnostics? Later 
Islamic theologians knew the titles of some of their works, but the content 
itself was lost. "The only explanation for the disappearance is that it had 
long since become unusable theologically," he alleges of certain Shi'ite 

Kalisch draws on the well-known work of Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, whose 
criticism of the received version have a distinctly minority position in 
Koranic scholarship: 
  It is a striking fact that such documentary evidence as survives from the 
Sufnayid period makes no mention of the messenger of god at all. The papyri do 
not refer to him. The Arabic inscriptions of the Arab-Sasanian coins only 
invoke Allah, not his rasul [messenger]; and the Arab-Byzantine bronze coins on 
which Muhammad appears as rasul Allah, previously dated to the Sufyanid period, 
have not been placed in that of the Marwanids. Even the two surviving 
pre-Marwanid tombstones fail to mention the rasul.
The great scandal of Islamic tradition is the absence of Islamic formulations 
from coins and monuments dating from the its first two centuries, as well as 
the presence of material obviously incompatible with Islam. "Coins and 
inscriptions are incompatible with the Islamic writing of history," Kalisch 
concludes on the strength of older work, including Yehuda Nevo and Jutith 
Koren's Crossroads to Islam. 

The oldest inscription with the formulation "Mohammed Messenger of Allah" is to 
found in the 66th year of Islamic reckoning, and after that used continuously. 
But there also exist coins found in Palestine, probably minted in Amman, on 
which the word "Muhammed" is found in Arabic script on one side, and a picture 
of a man holding a cross on the other. Kalisch cites this and a dozen other 
examples. Citing Nevo/Koren and other sources, Kalisch also accepts the 
evidence that no Islamic conquest occurred as presented in much later Islamic 
sources, but rather a peaceful transfer of power from the Byzantine empire to 
its local Arab allies. 

"To be sure," Kalisch continues, "various explanations are possible for the 
lack of mention of the Prophet in the early period, and it is no proof for the 
non-existence of an historical Mohammed. But it is most astonishing, and begs 
the question of the significance of Mohammed for the original Muslim 
congregation in the case that he did exist." 

The numismatic, archeological, source-critical and other evidence against 
acceptance of the received version of Islamic history was well developed by 
other scholars. But it was never accepted by mainstream Orientalists. Cynics 
might point to the fact that most Middle Eastern studies programs in the West 
today are funded by Islamic governments, or depend on the good will of Middle 
Eastern governments for access to source material. Academia is not only 
corrupt, however, but credulous: the question arises: if Mohammed never 
existed, or did not exist as he is portrayed, why was so much effort devoted in 
later years to manufacturing thousands of pages of phony documentation in the 
Hadith and elsewhere? 

Why, indeed, was the Mohammed story invented, by whom, and to what end? The 
story of the Hegira, Mohammed's flight from Mecca to Medina allegedly in 622, 
provides a clue, according to Kalisch. "No prophet is mentioned in the Koran as 
often as Moses, and Muslim tradition always emphasized the great similarly 
between Moses and Mohammed," he writes. "The central event in the life of 
Moses, though, is the Exodus of the oppressed Children of Israel out of Egypt, 
and the central event in the life of Mohammed is the Exodus of his oppressed 
congregation out of Mecca to Medina ... The suspicion is great that the Hegira 
appears only for this reason in the story of the Prophet, because his image 
should emulate the image of Moses." 
Furthermore, "the image of Jesus is also seen as a new Moses. The connection of 
Mohammed to the figure of Jesus is presented in Islamic tradition through his 
daughter Fatima, who is identified with Maria ... The Line Fatima-Maria-Isis is 
well known to research. With the takeover of Mecca, Mohammed at least returns 
to his point of origin. Thus we have a circular structure typical of myth, in 
which beginning and end are identical. This Gnostic circular structure 
represents the concept that the soul returns to its origin. It is separated 
from its origin, and must return to it for the sake of its salvation." 

Kalisch concludes that Islam itself began as a Gnosis, a secret teaching much 
like the Gnostic Christian sources rejected by the Church Fathers. "The myth of 
Mohammed ... could be the product of a Gnosis, which wanted to present its 
theology in a new and original myth with a new protagonist, but actually is the 
old protagonist (Moses, Jesus). For the Gnostics it always was clear, that the 
issue was not historical truth, but rather theology. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed 
were only different characterizations of a mythic hero or son of god, who would 
depict an old spiritual teaching in mythical form." 

He explains, 
  In the Islamic Gnosis, Muhammed appears along with [his family members] Ali, 
Fatima, Hasan and Hussein as cosmic forces ... the Gnostic Abu Mansur al Igli 
claimed that God first created Jesus, and then Ali. Here apparently we still 
have the Cosmic Christ. If a Christian Gnosis was there are the origin of 
Islam, then the Cosmic Christ underwent a name change to Mohammed in the Arab 
world, and this Cosmic Mohammed was presented as a new edition of the Myth of 
Moses and Joshua (=Jesus) as an Arab prophet.
Thirst for secret wisdom drew Kalisch to Islam as a teenager, and keeps him 
within the faith despite his devastating critique. As he writes, 
  The teachings of Islamic mysticism are not specifically Islamic. They are a 
new minting of the perennial philosophy, which is found everywhere in the world 
in various traditions ... For me, this perennial philosophy is what the Koran 
means when it speaks of a teaching that God brought to humankind in all epochs. 
My own views on the subject of Islamic mysticism are contained in a recent 
essay, (Sufism, sodomy and Satan Asia Times Online, August 12, 2008). Kalisch, 
it should be noted, adheres to a minority sect within the minority Shi'ite 
current in Islam, the Zaydi variant. His conclusions will convince few in the 
Islamic mainstream. But his work points to the great vulnerabilities of Islam. 
As I wrote some months ago, the German Jesuits who advise the Vatican on 
Islamic matters invested heavily in the supposedly moderate establishment of 
Sunni Islam in Turkey, and the theology department of the University of Ankara 
in particular (Tin-opener theology from Turkey Asia Times Online, June 3, 

Of far greater interest may be the wide assortment of variant and 
quasi-heretical trends within Islam. Something very ancient and entirely 
genuine long buried within Islam may be struggling to the surface, a cuckoo's 
egg, as it were, waiting to hatch. It is noteworthy that Germany's Alevi 
community (immigrants from Turkey's 5-to-15 million strong Alevi population) 
expressed solidarity with Kalisch when he came under attack from other Muslim 

Coming from a minority within a minority, Kalisch has offered a new and 
credible explanation of the motive behind the great reshuffling of Islamic 
sources during the second and third centuries of the religion. I cannot 
evaluate Kalisch's handling of the sources, but the principle he advances makes 
sense. It is another crack in the edifice of Islam, but a most dangerous one, 
because it came from the inside. 

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