One of the first difficulties Muslims have to contend with concerning Mecca are the sources for everything they know about their city Mecca. It all comes from the ‘Standard Islamic Narratives’ (also known as the Islamic Traditions).
Yet, these traditions are not from the time of Muhammad at all, nor even from the century Muhammad lived. So, they are not eye-witness accounts.
Take for instance the Sira (the biography of Muhammad’s life). It was first written in 833 AD by Ibn Hisham, which lived almost 200 years after the fact. It is there that we first hear about the city of Mecca.
Another genre, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) were first written by al-Bukhari in the decades prior to 870 AD, which is 270 years after the fact. It is from the Hadith that we find out about the history of Mecca reaching all the way back to Adam and Eve.
Two other genres, the Tafsir and Tarikh (the commentaries and histories of the Qur’an and Islam) were first written in the decades before 923 AD by al-Tabari, which is almost 300 years after the fact.
What this tells us is that Muslims are dependent for everything they know about Mecca from documents written 200-300 years after the fact, since nothing at all exists of this city from the century Muhammad lived (the 7th century).
What’s more, the Islamic Traditions which give us everything we know concerning the early history of Islam, maintain that the origins of Islam happened in Mecca and Medina (the central part of Arabic known as the Hijaz). Yet, all of the writers of the Traditions worked in Baghdad, which is 1,120 mi. too far north.
Ibn Hisham (the author of the Sira) was from Basra, which is 1,200 miles from Mecca, but he grew up in Cairo, which is 990 miles from Mecca.
Al Bukhari (the first author of the Hadith) is from Bukhara, which is 2,600 miles from Mecca.
Al Tabari (the first to compile the Tafsir and the Tarikh) is from Tabaristan, which is 1,700 miles north of Mecca.
Can you see a pattern? All of these northern areas where the compilers of the Traditions lived are where the Abbasids originated from. Furthermore, all of the writers of the Traditions worked in the 9th and 10th centuries.
CONCLUSION: They all wrote their material hundreds of miles too far away, and hundreds of years too late, proving that they neither knew Muhammad, nor ever heard him speak, and were dependent on hundreds of years of ‘oral traditions’ for everything they compiled!
Due to the fact that almost everything Muslims are dependent on for their place (Mecca) are too far and too late, 21st century scholars now suggest that:
“Islam [and Mecca], as we know it, did not exist in the 7th century, but evolved over a period of 200-300 years” (Humphreys 1991:71,83-89)
“The Qur’an probably was not revealed to one man in 22 years, but likely evolved over a period of 50-100 years” (Rippin 1985:155;1990:3,25,60; Lester 99:44-45; Wansbrough 1977:160-163)
Their Conclusions: The history of Islam [and the city Mecca], at least from the time of the caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 AD) and before, is a later fabrication (Cook 1983:65, Robinson 1996:47)
Because of these problems, the scholar’s concerns are manifold. If, they contend, so much of Islam’s history was created so late, and so far away, then, they ask:
-Why did it take so long to write about Mecca?
-Were the Arabs not literate, and did they not live in that area? Remember, according to Islamic history, they controlled Basra, Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo by 642 AD, and then from Spain to India by 685 AD, and within that large swath of land there were certainly many sophisticated cities where people could read and write.
-So, where did the 9th c. biographers get their material from?
-Furthermore, can it be trusted if it is so late (200-300 years later), and so far away?
-Shouldn’t we, therefore, go to the period these events surrounding Mecca took place? In other words, shouldn’t we go to the 7th century, and see what we find?
Of course we should…so what then are the scholars finding? That is what these talks are all about…but note: we are only interested in the 7th – 8th centuries, not the 9th – 10th c. for this investigation on Mecca.
© Pfander Centre for Apologetics – US, 2022
(61,790) Music: “Justice and Fame” by Rafael Krux, from filmmusic-io