The Origin of Islam: New Path to God or a Jewish-Christian Heresy?

DANIEL JANOSIK : Director of Islamic Studies, Adjunct Professor of Apologetics, Historical Theology, and Islamic Studies at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and the adjunct professor in Apologetics at CIU Columbia International University (A.B., College of William and Mary; M.Div., Columbia International University; M.A., Columbia International University; Ph.D., London School of Theology) Dissertation: John of Damascus, First Apologist to the Muslims.


The first 60 years of Islam after the death of Muhammad are not only interesting to study but vital for a thorough understanding of Islam’s origin story. How and when did Islam become a fully developed religion? There is a significant controversy over whether it was a perfect and complete faith at the time of Muhammad’s death, or whether decades more were required for the various movements and religious elements to come together into a cohesive religion. While traditional Muslim accounts explain these 60 to 70 years as a time in which faithful Muslims spread their new faith militarily, a number of scholars have objected to this view and believe that the historical evidence fits better with a mixed military-religious series of raids and a religion that was still being finalized during this period in regard to leadership, central creeds, and policy toward non-Muslims. Here both sides of this debate will be considered, first recounting the accepted Muslim beliefs about the transition from prophet to empire, and then examining some of the main counter-arguments from scholars who do not accept this traditional account.


The Traditional Muslim View of Transition from Prophet to Empire

For Muslims, Muhammad’s death in 632 AD marked the beginning of a gradual transition of Islam from a localized movement to a global vision. By the time of his death, according to the traditional view, all of Arabia had converted to the new religion of Islam and formed a universal “ummah,” or brotherhood. However, the prophet’s death, which was rather sudden, also created an immediate need for his followers to appoint a new leader, as he had not named anyone to succeed him.

His close friend and colleague Abu Bakr were chosen to be the first successor, known as the “caliph.” Since a number of Muslims fell away or revolted during this transition, the need to bring them back to the fold resulted in the Wars of Apostasy, also called the “Ridda” wars. Abu Bakr was able to subdue this revolt and reunite all the tribes of Arabia. After his short leadership of two years, the next caliph, Umar, had the Muslim forces invade Iraq, Syria, and Egypt with the purpose of spreading the message of Allah to all people – as the Qur’an commands.[1] In 635 AD, Damascus fell, and in 638 Jerusalem surrendered to the Muslims.[2] The next 100 years saw the forces of Islam conduct a series of successful military campaigns throughout the Middle East and North Africa, reaching up to the very borders of Europe and the Byzantine Empire. This long period of military victories was hailed as a sure sign of Allah’s favor.


Despite this overall success, internal strife among the Muslim forces themselves also marked this period. The most enduring part of the struggle was a significant division between two groups who disagreed over whether the succession of Muhammad would be decided by community consensus or by family ties. The group called the Sunnis (followers of tradition) gained the upper hand from the beginning, and the first three “rightly-guided” caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman — distinguished themselves in their leadership on the battlefields and in their devotion to Allah. After an opponent assassinated Uthman, the prophet’s son-in-law Ali was chosen to succeed him. This brought hope to Ali’s followers, called the Shia (followers of Ali), but not all Muslims were in favor of this decision. Muawiyah, a strong Sunni leader, criticized Ali for not avenging Uthman’s murder and refused to recognize him as caliph. This discontent led to a battle between the forces of Muawiyah and Ali at a place named Siffin in 657.[3]

Though their dispute was resolved by arbitration, Ali was seen as weak, and in time some of his followers, known as the Kharijites (“those who leave”), abandoned him. This led to another rebellion against Ali’s forces by the Kharijites, which Ali won. However, shortly after this Ali was wounded by a poisoned sword wielded by a Kharajite assassin and died. Ali’s eldest son Hassan was voted in as the next caliph, but Muawiyah brought his army against Hassan and convinced him to make peace and yield the caliphate to Muawiyah in 661. Muawiyah was a shrewd leader and ended up founding the Umayyad Empire, which lasted until 750. The traditional accounts relate how, under the Umayyad rule much of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain was conquered by forces that believed their success was a reward for faithfully following Allah, for wherever they went they declared “there is one God and Muhammad is his messenger.”

One of the most powerful leaders of this new empire was the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik, the son of Marwan I. It was during his reign (685-705) that Islam gained widespread control of former Byzantine territories in the Middle East. He initiated the building of the Dome of the Rock and was the first one to mint coins inscribed with the Shahada, which is the central creed of Islam (“There is no God but Allah”). These inscriptions also proclaimed Muhammad’s preeminence as the last and greatest prophet of Allah. Muslims thus believe that Abd al-Malik was instrumentally used by Allah to solidify the hegemony of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa. According to this view, he was especially motivated by a desire to carry out the mandates of the Qur’an in practical terms: to unify the people, to create order in government, and to ensure the flourishing of the one true religion. During his reign, Abd al-Malik also began the process of making Arabic the official language of the empire. All of this brought a new level of prominence to Islam.[4]

Muslims view the military exploits under the reigns of these caliphs not as an arbitrary expansion, but rather as the working out of commands that Muhammad’s successors and their followers identified in the Qur’an. As Donner explains, “The Islamic community itself … saw the conquest as the result of religious zeal for the new faith, and as a truly miraculous demonstration of the divine favor that Islam is supposed to enjoy.”[5] For example, Surah 9:33 predicts the conquest of Islam over all religions through the means of Jihad, or a struggle that brings the infidel under the will of Allah. In addition, Surah 9:29 allowed the Muslims to subdue Christians and Jews because they did not acknowledge the truth of Islam. They were given three choices: convert to Islam, pay a head tax called the Jizyah, or be killed. Muslims believed that these harsh measures were necessary since a rejection of Islam would mean an eternal sentence in hell. Therefore, it would be much better for everyone to submit to Allah and live under his mercy and compassion.

This first 100 years of Islam after Muhammad’s death, therefore, saw the rise not only of internal conflict but ultimately an impressive array of military victories and a new empire that spread the religion and culture of Islam over a vast territory. These remarkable achievements clearly conveyed to Muslims the approval and guidance of Allah in this critical time of growth.


Counterview of the Transition from Prophet to Empire

Revisionist scholars, as might be expected, disagree that the Muslims’ early military success was the simple outcome of a holy mission, which Muslims were compelled to undertake out of devotion to Allah. Although the conquest was inarguably successful militarily, revisionist scholars question both the nature and motivation for these exploits. Their arguments usually center around two main points: an alternate explanation for Islamic military success, and an argument for the evolutionary development of Islam as a religion, which only reached its final form during the days of Abd al-Malik.

First, while the traditional Muslim accounts portray hordes of faithful Muslim soldiers overpowering formidable forces, scholars give an alternate explanation by arguing that the military exploits of this early period were actually a series of raids and a gradual migration of Arabs into the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire between Arabia and Mesopotamia.[6] These areas had recently been left open to invasion by the retreating Byzantine army in the mid-7th century, and much of the early takeover was accomplished with little bloodshed since the towns and cities were quite vulnerable. For example, Damascus was surrendered to the Arab forces in 635 after a siege lasting several months,[7] and two years later the bishop of Jerusalem capitulated in a similar manner.[8] According to the testimony of certain non-Muslim chroniclers, the elite leaders of the Arab forces were motivated by a simple form of monotheism inspired by an apocalyptic message that mixed together elements of Christian and Jewish beliefs.[9]

In contrast, some modern scholars provide evidence that the Arab soldiers were still mostly pagan, and their forces were even mixed with Christian, Persian, and other foreign soldiers (who, if they were not involved for the sake of financial reward, had been captured and forced to fight as slaves).[10] According to this view, this wave of skirmishes was more of a migratory movement than a conquest, and these scholars have pointed to several details to support this. For instance, it is questionable as to whether Muawiyah’s reign, thirty years after the death of Muhammad, was over anything other than a “loose confederation of Arab tribes” or “politically independent communities of mu’minun (believers).”[11] In addition, at the time of the original “invasions,” the invading forces actually lived in garrison towns outside the population centers, with the real interest being in collecting taxes rather than converting anyone to their religion.[12] It was only later in the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) that a “centralized administrative and fiscal apparatus” capable of managing a stable government was present. [13] This contrasts with the traditional account of a determined campaign on the part of the Muslims to convert the local regions to Islam in the early years after the death of their prophet.

The second main point of revisionist thought is an alternate explanation for the beginnings of Islam. It basically supposes that the Middle East in the late 7th and early 8th centuries was marked by a religious trend of Jewish and sectarian Christian influences, and that a leader such as Abd al-Malik took advantage of these trends and mixed them with Arabized elements – especially regarding stories of a historical but vague figure similar to the traditional Muhammad – to create a new, formalized religion. Non-Muslim chronicles refer to a religious and military leader around the same time that Muhammad was supposed to have lived, but there is no way to verify if these accounts describe the Muhammad of Islam. These fragmentary references describe similar events but do not include details that are specific characteristics of Islam. Instead, they describe a local leader who, within a Jewish apocalyptic tradition, was seeking to establish a religious dominance in the region. In addition, some scholars assert that the Arabs who emigrated into Palestine and Syria during the latter half of the 7th century were Ishmaelites who wanted to lay claim to Jerusalem under the rule of a new type of Christianity where Jesus was the Messiah and the “chosen one,” but not the divine Son of God.[14] This would certainly fit with the viewpoint of John of Damascus, who was an eyewitness to many of these developments. He even named his apologetic treatise documenting the beliefs of the new rulers as the “Heresy of the Ishmaelites.”[15] The revisionist argument, then, suggests a missing element in the origin story of Islam: a person who deliberately tied together the various developing threads of folklore and theological content to create the real beginnings of Islam. This argument is supported by evidence for late 7th-century religious developments in the Middle East and the actions of the Caliph, Abd al-Malik.


These religious developments center on a concept which scholars have called “intermediate monotheism.”[16] They essentially argue that early Arabs believed in a mixture of various religious elements drawn from monotheistic religions – primarily Christianity and Judaism – but that gradually these elements naturally or deliberately were re-shaped into a new monotheistic religion that focused on the Arab people. The final outcome of this process would have been Islam in its final form.

Several key aspects of the intermediate monotheism should be noted. First, the religious beliefs that these early Arabs are believed to have followed were probably developed from several sources. One possible source consisted of 7th-century Jewish and non-orthodox Christian influences.[17] Scholars have also identified evidence of Jewish-Christians called Nazoreans living in Arabia at this time; they believed in Jesus as the messiah but continued to follow Jewish ceremonial laws.[18] As a result of these various influential beliefs, scholars argue that the Arabs from that region picked up the general tenets of these faiths and believed in a “very simple form of monotheism with Judeo-Christian overtones.”[19] It is this stage that is referred to as “intermediate monotheism,” since it is halfway between Judeo-Christian beliefs and a new faith altogether. However, since the Christians and Jews in that area did not always hold orthodox beliefs, this composite religion is argued to have created a distorted version of Christianity among the Arabs. For instance, they thought that the Trinity included Mary rather than the Holy Spirit. They also rejected the historicity of the crucifixion and the resurrection and viewed Jesus as a political messiah rather than a savior. They also believed this messiah would be the “chosen one” who would lead them back to Jerusalem, which would become the “restored” kingdom on earth, and there they would follow the true religion that would unite all the followers of Abraham.[20]

Another intriguing aspect of the intermediate monotheism theory is addressed by David Cook, a scholar who argues persuasively that this apocalyptic/political messiah movement was highly influential, claiming that it may have significantly shaped the eventual development of Islam. He explains,

The Koran is filled with predictions about the end of the world. The prophet Mohammed envisioned the End as being very close, within a few years after receiving his revelation. My own personal belief is that Islam was started as an apocalyptic movement, not necessarily a millennial movement. An apocalyptic movement is one that feels the end of the world is imminent, whereas a millenarian movement seeks to bring about a messianic otherworldly kingdom.[21]

Ibn Warraq, a scholar, and critic of Islam, agrees with this assessment, writing that the impact of messianic sects was so crucial that “Islam emerged only when it came into contact with and under the influence of Rabbinic Judaism.”[22]


A final point of the intermediate monotheism argument is that scholars suggest, based on the evidence discussed above, that this intermediate monotheism formatively shaped Islam as it developed into the religion as we know it today. In a practical sense, it has been argued that non-Orthodox Christian groups, such as the Nestorians and the Monophysites, had a distinct political impact by initially favoring the rule of the Intermediate Monotheist leaders, believing that it was less stringent than the Byzantine rule.[23] This political favor would have enabled the early “Muslims” to take control of large swaths of the Arabian Peninsula with little military conflict, setting up circumstances for the eventual rise of the Umayyad Empire. [24] More specifically, however, scholars suggest that over a period of decades or even centuries certain Arab leaders took material from these monotheistic sources (and even from some pagan ones) and molded the stories into their own Arabized narratives, where Arabs became central to the story.[25]


It All Started with Abd al-Malik

Finally, revisionist scholars offer evidence to argue that this “intermediate monotheism” was codified and formalized by Abd al-Malik by the end of the 7th century. Scholars suggest that this caliph understood the need for legitimacy within his government, which had only been founded decades earlier by Muawiyah and was still becoming established. They offer this explanation because of the evidence of a sharp change in policy during Abd al-Malik’s reign that made it unique from that of Muawiyah. Jeremy Johns, the Director of the Khalili Research Center at Oxford University, for instance, argues that there is no evidence of a Muslim state before Abd al-Malik’s reign. Muawiyah’s empire functioned under a status quo approach with Byzantine administrators continuing their work and “believers” mostly living in garrison towns.[26] Abd al-Malik, however, both expanded and formalized his control over the region, squelching the rebellions of rival leaders such as Ibn al-Zabayr. It is logical to deduce that some kind of unifying factor was needed at this point, and the evidence from coins, inscriptions, and non-Muslim chroniclers all point to a new emphasis on a religion that is clearly Islamic rather than vaguely Christian or just monotheistic. Scholar Robert Hoyland explains “it was pressure from rebel factions that induced Abd al-Malik to proclaim Islam publically as the ideological basis of the Arab state.”[27] In this case, the evidence of the coins and inscriptions gives testimony to a government claiming divine authority, religious writings that proclaim dominion over all other religions, and a prophet who claims to be the “seal” of all other prophets. All these things would have brought legitimacy to a new empire while honoring the Arab people.

Khalili Family

In addition, the necessity of having a credible government with a formalized religion, a holy book, and a prophet, combined with the first real evidences of an identifiable Islamic agenda, has led scholars to suspect that Islam only took on its first complete form during Abd al-Malik’s reign. Thus, if Islam initially took on this formalized position at this time, it was most likely for the purpose of strengthening or legitimizing the reign. According to this view, the minting of coins under Abd al-Malik was used to solidify his position as “Commander of the believers” and to also produce a new Arab identity. It is after all from Abd al-Malik’s reign, in 691 AD, that the first Muslim historical reference to Muhammad dates (in the first of his new Arabic coins).

Scholars who make these arguments, therefore, generally interpret the available historical and archaeological evidence as supporting the theory that Islam only existed in fragmentary form before the creation of the Islamic empire. In fact, they argue that its very cohesion is due to the political and ideological strength which an Arabized state religion would have brought to the caliphate. Intermediate monotheism would have provided the mixture of religious elements necessary for Islam’s foundational beliefs, but most likely would not have developed into the form of Islam known today without secular forces playing such an important role. Scholars thus believe that while this mixture was initially adapted as a general monotheistic culture in early Arabia, it later developed into a new, all-encompassing religion that became a primary tool for political hegemony.

Implications of the Counterview Regarding the Transitional Period

If these scholars are correct and Islam developed from gradually assembled collections of monotheistic thought, and only came into its first recognizable form at the end of the 7th-century, during the reign of Abd al-Malik, then the majority of the traditional origin stories for Islam are inaccurate. In particular, the belief that Islam developed in a relatively short period of time during Muhammad’s life is thrown into doubt, since neither the time period nor the finalized version of a divine revelation can logically fit with the points which intermediate monotheistic scholars advocate. The implications of this would include the reduction of Islam to a man-made religion and one that has neither a special message from the true God nor any substantive reason to reject Jesus Christ as God.

In addition, these scholars conclude that the religion of Islam may well have developed out of Abd al-Malik’s deliberate effort to synthesize elements from previous religions, including Christianity and Judaism, in order to create a unique religion that would favor the Arab people (or more specifically, the Arabs who also identified as Ishmaelites). If this were the case, then this Arabization of biblical stories would have resulted in a manmade, not divine, revision of earlier so-called “corrupted” scriptures. In fact, the Muslim versions of these narratives would thus have lost any convincing reasons for belief or acceptance. This possible synthesis would also indicate that many narratives in the traditional account would have been fabricated or that later events would have been “retro-fitted” to an earlier time. For example, the traditional account relates that the third caliph, Uthman, burned all the other manuscripts that did not coincide with the official one, but this event is not documented in any written account from the time it supposedly occurred. However, there is documented evidence that the governor of Iraq, al-Hajjaj, who served under Abd al-Malik in the early 8th-century, was known for burning defective manuscripts.[28] This latter story could have been retrofitted to an earlier time in order to build a more credible case for the finalization of the Qur’an half a century earlier. Such examples demonstrate why it is important for Christians to understand the historical background of the origin of the Qur’an as well as the origin of Islam. The evidence will help discern the truth. After all, it is important for Christians to know the truth and also help others find the truth that will set them free.

Implications of Archaeology, Linguistics, and Geography

An entire additional problematic issue with the traditional story of Islam is the historicity of Mecca itself. This concern has increasingly arisen in recent research, which suggests that Mecca as a city did not exist in the time of Muhammad, and therefore could not have actually been the locus of early Islam

Primary Source Material

There are a number of scholars who claim that Islam could not have originated in Mecca or even in the Hijaz region of Arabia. For example, Peter Townsend, the author of The Mecca Mystery, writes, “To put it as bluntly as possible: there is not a single shred of uncontested primary source evidence confirming the existence of an ancient city at the spot where the modern city of Mecca is located.”[29] Instead, Townsend goes on to list numerous reasons that Mecca could not be the birthplace of Muhammad, or the Qur’an, or even Islam. First of all, he points out that there is no primary source evidence of the existence of an ancient city in the present location of Mecca.[30] There are numerous mentions of Taif, just 70 miles away, as well as Najran, Sana’a, Medina, and Petra – but no Mecca. There is even an absence of the name of Mecca in any of the ancient inscriptions found in the records of cities that occupied the Arabian peninsula.[31] If Mecca was known as the “mother of all cities,” then surely there would be documents from the 7th century, or earlier, that would mention the city as well as the people. However, there is nothing in the literature that even alludes to a city called Mecca until the middle of the 8th century, when the city is mentioned in the Continuatio Byzantia Arabica, written around 741AD.[32] In addition, it is not found on a map until around 900 AD,[33] and any reference to trade with Mecca is absent in the records of that time.[34] Even Patricia Crone, former professor of Islamic History at Princeton University, in Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, was dubious of the claim that Mecca was a major center of trade and worship due to the barren landscape and the absence of any reference to historical sources.[35]

In summary of all the evidence that fails to mention the city of Mecca in any of the primary source material surviving from the time Islam came into existence, Townsend writes, “To put it as simply as possible: If Mecca existed in ancient times, the scribes and kings of Arabia and Northeast Africa would have noticed. They clearly did not. It is entirely absent from the historical record and implications of this should be abundantly obvious.”[36] On the other hand, Petra was at the crossroads of trade between Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, and it was very well known in the literature of that time as well as for hundreds of years earlier. This is why some scholars are considering the city of Petra as the real birthplace of Islam instead of Mecca.

Physical Features

 In addition, Townsend gives evidence that the physical and geographical features of Mecca do not line up with the Qur’an or the Hadith.[37] For example, the mountains of Safa and Marwah, which mark the journey of Hagar in her quest for water, do not fit with the description in the Hadith. They are too small and close to each other. Also, the Hadith references to Mecca describe a place where the soil is suitable to grow fields of grain, trees, and grapevines. However, Mecca does not have olive trees, and it cannot even support the growth of food for camels and sheep. The Hadith also talks about two parallel valleys with a stream in between, but Mecca does not have these features.[38] However, all of these features are found in the ancient city of Petra.

Young Christians

Geographical and Archaeological Features

It is also noteworthy that the scant geographic references to the people groups in the Qur’an are concentrated in Northern Arabia near the city of Petra. Of the 65 references, 54 refer to three people groups which did not reside in the Hijaz area of South Western Arabia where Mecca is situated.[39] The people of ‘Ad (Uz or Ud), were allies of the tribes led by Edomites living in the land. These could have been the Hyksos, or shepherd kings, who invaded Egypt from Arabia in the time of Moses. The second group of people mentioned was the Midianites, who were descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah. Like the people of ‘Ad, the Midianites once controlled Northern Arabia and united the Arabian tribes throughout the region. The Thamuds referred to the people “after ‘Ud (‘Ad)” who united the tribes of Ishmael and were also known as the Nabataeans.[40] These were the ones who settled in a canyon area that became known as Petra. Thus, the majority of the people groups and the geographical places mentioned in the Qur’an centered in Northern Arabia around the city of Petra, and not the Southwestern city of Mecca.

Another major discrepancy, made known by Middle Eastern archaeologist Dan Gibson, is that recent archaeological examinations of the mosques from the first 100 years of Islam indicate that the qibla, or the direction of prayer, did not face toward Mecca, but rather to a more northern location, the Nabataean area around Petra where the people of ‘Ad, Midian, and Thamud all resided. Due to this archaeological evidence, Gibson does not support Mecca as the birthplace of Islam. Instead, based on his research Gibson concludes that “Islam was founded in northern Arabia in the city of Petra. It was there that the first parts of the Qur’an were revealed before the faithful were forced to flee to Medina. Thus, the prophet Muhammad never visited Mecca, nor did any of the first four rightly guided caliphs. Mecca was never a center of worship in ancient times, and was not part of the ancient trade routes in Arabia.”[41] In addition, Gibson mentions that at a 2002 conference on Nabataean Studies held in Petra he had the opportunity to speak to several Jordanian and Saudi archaeologists who admitted that the archeological record at Mecca was basically non-existent before 900 AD.”[42] This may be why the Saudi government is destroying most of the ancient buildings and sites in Mecca.[43] They may be trying to cover over something that was “not there” before the 9th century.


Linguistic Evidence

The final link to Petra can be found through a linguistic study of the Qur’an itself.  Robert M. Kerr, a professor of Comparative Semitic Linguistics at Waterloo University, suggests that the language of the Qur’an places it in the context of North Arabia, 600 miles north of Mecca, centered around the city of Petra.[44] He bases his evidence on the fact that the script used in the Qur’an is from the North Arabian Nabataeans and not the South-Arabian alphabet that was used in the Hijaz where Medina and Mecca were located. He also suggests that since the Qur’an’s vocabulary is “largely borrowed from Aramaic, especially Syriac, the liturgical language of the local churches,” this further indicates that the Classical Arabic used in the Qur’an had its origin in the Arabia Patraea of Syro-Palestine with its capital in the city of Petra. He points out that if the Qur’an had been written in Mecca or Medina, it would have been in “a different Semitic language and written in a different script.”[45] Based on these linguistics differences, Kerr concludes that “all of the contemporary epigraphical, literary and linguistic evidence points to Islam being a product of Arabs living in Syro-Palestine.”[46]

Mark Durie, who has a Ph.D. in Linguistics and a Th.D. in Islamic Studies, agrees with Kerr and points out that there are a number of linguistical features that demonstrate that the Arabic of the Qur’an was not a Meccan dialect, but rather developed in the Southern Levant (the area around Petra) as a Nabataean dialect. Durie concludes that the orthographic and phonological features of the Qur’anic rasm (root consonants) provide clear evidence that what became the Classical Arabic of the Qur’an was never the native dialect of Mecca, but rather reflects the Nabataean Arabic dialect of the region surrounding Petra.[47]  If these assertions are correct, then it will be necessary to revisit the question of not only the origin of the Qur’an, but also the origin of Muhammad and Islam itself, for if Mecca did not exist at the time of Muhammad, then he could not have lived there. Also, it would be much more possible for the Qur’an to reflect the beliefs of the Nabataeans who were familiar with the Jewish-Christian heresies and perhaps responsible for creating the greatest Christian heresy of all time.

Apologetic Conclusions

Ultimately, Christians can gain valuable insight from this discussion about the early years of Islamic expansion. Muslim accounts claim that the empire building which occurred in the decades after Muhammad’s death originated from a burst of religious enthusiasm and the desire to fulfill the will of Allah. However, if the arguments discussed above cast any doubts worth considering on the truth of this explanation, then the only other logical option is that the empire was not truly driven by religion. Rather, men like Abd al-Malik used Islam as a tool to unify, motivate, and justify those actively involved in building and controlling the new empire. The thoughtful Christian should immediately compare the early years of Christianity (which, as has been mentioned earlier, are well documented) with the early period of Islam. Did Christianity burst into a period of conquest and expansion in the name of Jesus? The very opposite reality of intense persecution, the early Christians’ general separation from government and politics, and the emphasis on poverty and suffering being a natural part of missionary work paint a stark contrast to the Islamic expansion. Thus, a significant apologetic point that Christians should include in their witness is this dramatic difference between how Christianity and Islam saw their respective missions to spread their new faiths. “Why such a difference?” should be the question that naturally arises. This is a great subject to explore, as it includes not only issues of historical evidence but also key differences in the underlying assumptions that each religion has about the world and the role of believers in that world.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Building Bridges to Understand

To apply these implications and apologetic points, Christians can first build a bridge by sharing how the Christian Scriptures are trustworthy, and that abundant historical sources testify to the traditional view of the development of Christianity, even from the first century AD. Islam claims to have developed in the “full light of history,” but in reality, its sources are questioned by a number of scholars for a variety of reasons.

 It is likely that Muslim friends will reject any reinterpretation of the origins of Islam, especially if it does not favor their understanding of the events from the past. However, one of the best ways to get someone thinking about the validity of their own belief system is to demonstrate that what they have come to accept may not be accurate. Discussing these points must be done with gentleness and respect, but Christians must also remember that it is difficult to begin building a new foundation when the old one is still in the way. Since Islam’s origins have been obscured in darkness, the true light of the gospel can bring redemption and truth to the many Muslims who truly want to know the “true path” to God.

A second “bridge” that can be established between Muslims and Christians is one which addresses the concept of conquest and forced conversions. Several verses in the Qur’an call specifically for world domination:

8:38-39; 2:193: “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion be only for Allah.” Also in the Hadith, Sahih Muslim1:33: The Messenger of Allah said: “I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammadis the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer and pay zakat.”

Surah 8:38-39 is, therefore, telling Muslims that they need to fight against the non-believers (Jews, Christians, pagans) until everyone follows Islam. In Surah 2:193, Muslims are to fight until “religion be only for Allah.” Although liberal Muslims today argue that fighting and forced conversions were only for the time of Muhammad, these verses contradict that view because they emphasize that the only endpoint is when all people in the world follow Islam.

Although there are other verses in the Qur’an that say there is “no compulsion in religion” (Q. 2:256) indicating that Muslims should not try to coerce people to follow Islam, the practice of  “abrogation” negates this, stating that whenever there are contradictory statements in the Qur’an, the chronologically later verses replace or nullify the earlier verses. The plea for “no compulsion in religion,” then, is abrogated by verses revealed later that call for all the non-believers to face one of three choices: either to convert to Islam, submit to being a “protected” 2nd class citizen, or be executed. This really does not leave non-Muslims much choice about their conversion.

Knowing these verses as well as the practice of abrogation presents a great opportunity for Christians to contrast the dictates of the Qur’an to those of the Bible. Christians can tell their Muslim friends that in Christianity there is no compulsion at all, but rather salvation is a “free gift” provided by Jesus Christ who loves every person so much that he took their sin upon himself and died in their place so that they would not have to face the wrath of God, which will be their destiny if it were not for God’s grace. It is still a choice, but one that is guided by love rather than fear. Hopefully, this will open up the door to share the full gospel with Muslim friends.

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[1] Q. 8:38-39; 2:193: “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion be only for Allah.” Also in the Hadith, Sahih Muslim 1:33: The Messenger of Allah said: “I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer and pay zakat.”

[2] Fred Donner, Early Islamic Conquests, (Princenton University Press, 1981), 130-132; 151-2.

[3] Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tabari volume 5, 243; Karim M. S. Al-Zubaidi, Iraq, a Complicated State: Iraq’s Freedom War, (UK: AuthorHouse, 2010) 254.

[4] Nevo, Crossroads to Islam, 255-6. G.E. Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600-1258 (Aldine, 1970), 75.

[5] Donner, Early Islamic Conquests, 3.

[6] Crone, Hagarism, 9.

[7] Donner, Early Islamic Conquests, 130-132.

[8] Ibid., 151-52.

[9] Nevo, Crossroads to Islam, 219-220.

[10] Ibid., 89, 220-221.

[11] Jeremy Johns, “Archaeology and the History of Early Islam: The First Seventy Years” (Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 46, 4, 2003), 411–418.

[12] Nevo, Crossroads to Islam, 17.

[13] Johns, “Archeology and the History of Early Islam,” 418.

[14] Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist?, 208. Karl-Heinz Ohlig, Early Islam, 251-271. See also Crone, Hagarism.

[15] see Janosik, John of Damascus.

[16] Nevo, Crossroads to Islam, 195-99, 222-29, 243-44. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers (though Donner refers to this development as the “Believer’s Movement”). Other scholars, such as Patricia Crone, Karl-Heinz Ohlig, and Volker Popp also refer to the same phenomenon by other names.

[17] Berkey, Formation of Islam, 61, 65.

[18] Donner, Muhammad and the Believers, 31.

[19] Nevo, Crossroads, 11.

[20] Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist?, 208. Ohlig, Early Islam, 251-271. See also Crone, Hagarism.

[21] David Cook, 2001 CBN interview:’s-apocalypse

[22] Ibn Warraq, “Introduction,” in The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam‘s Holy Book, Ibn Warraq, ed. (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), 24. Warraq cites R. Stephen Humphreys, who adds, ‘that Islamic doctrine generally, and even the figure of Muhammad, were molded on Rabbinic Jewish prototypes.’ See Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (Princeton, 1991), 84.

[23] Nevo, Crossroads, 89, 97-98.

[24] Ibid., 89, 97-98.

[25] Nevo, Crossroads, 11. Berkey, Formation of Islam, 75.

[26] Johns, “Archeology and the History of Early Islam,” 418.

[27]Hoyland, “New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State,” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 69, Issue 3, October 2006), 397.

[28] Ibn Warraq, Origins of the Koran, 108-109.

[29] Peter Townsend, The Mecca Mystery: Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History (Peter Townsend), 48.

[30] Townsend, The Mecca Mystery, 48.

[31] Ibid., 49.

[32] Hoyland, Seeing Islam, 43-44.

[33] Townsend, The Mecca Mystery, 48.

[34] Ibid., 53.

[35] Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Gorgias press, 1987), 7. See also Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword (Little, Brown, 2012), 303.

[36] Townsend, The Mecca Mystery, 54.

[37] Ibid., 50.

[38] Ibid., 110-13.

[39] Ibid., 104.

[40] Dan Gibson, Qur’anic Geography: A Survey and Evaluation of the Geographical References in the Qur’an with Suggested Solutions for Various Problems and Issues, (Canada: Independent Scholars Press, 2011), 137.

[41] Gibson, Qur’anic Geography, 379.

[42] Ibid., 223.

[43] “Destruction of early Islamic heritage sites in Saudi Arabia,”

[44] Robert Kerr, “The Language of the Koran,” Tingis Magazine, February 18, 2013.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] See Mark Durie, The Qur’an and its Biblical reflexes: Investigations into the Genesis of a Religion (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018).

3 thoughts on “The Origin of Islam: New Path to God or a Jewish-Christian Heresy?

Add yours

  1. Superficial and weak article !

    Just copying personal views lacking evidence and trying to transmit personal assumption without supporting it with historical evidence or proofs. All The article is based on as we don’t find then it could be ! something like as we don’t find an inscriptions of Jews to time of Moses or even before the 7th century then they didn’t exist or could be a tale invention of some leader came later!

    Also, Jewish-Christian believers are the real Christians in early emergence of Christianity. Their Belief is totally different from the Islamic view and deeply debated and argued in Islamic Text. in a way makes it hard to make a connection between them.

    I think you need to read more in the History of Islam and Christianity before you try to put your assumption and waste our times.

    The Article is about how to kill your academic life in very easy steps!


    1. Maybe you read Dr. Daniel Janosik’s biography above and see if his academic career is hurting. Moreover, read his book before judging one article. You are attacking the person because you can’t attack the facts.

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