The Abyss Gazes Into You Too, Islam

There’s a WSJ story about a German theologian who has decided that the founder of his religion is not an historical figure but either a fiction or an amalgam of several individuals and that his religion may just be a cultural variation on another faith. You may have read about something like this happening before, but this time it’s a bit different: the theologian is Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert who has proposed that there was no historical Muhammad. Kalisch is insistent that he’s still a Muslim, but his views are likely to land him well outside of mainstream Islamic belief. Here’s what happened to Kalisch’s views on his religion’s founder (or alleged founder, in deference to Kalisch):

“He had no doubts at first, but slowly they emerged. He was struck, he says, by the fact that the first coins bearing Muhammad’s name did not appear until the late 7th century — six decades after the religion did.

He traded ideas with some scholars in Saarbrücken who in recent years have been pushing the idea of Muhammad’s nonexistence. They claim that ‘Muhammad’ wasn’t the name of a person but a title, and that Islam began as a Christian heresy.

Prof. Kalisch didn’t buy all of this. Contributing last year to a book on Islam, he weighed the odds and called Muhammad’s existence ‘more probable than not.’ By early this year, though, his thinking had shifted. ‘The more I read, the historical person at the root of the whole thing became more and more improbable,’ he says.”

I never really had a problem with the idea that around 600 there was a guy living somewhere around Mecca who approximated what we know about Muhammad in terms of his life and accomplishments (just as many non-Christians can accept that there was probably an historical figure approximating Jesus). I don’t know what it is about German scholarship that causes theologians to end up questioning central features of their religion. It does appears that converting to Islam does not diminish this tendency among German academics.