In a global culture and in the age of information, there are many voices making claims and vying for our attention. How can we know which claims are valid and true? In the case of religion, is there one that is better than the others or are they all equal?
As an atheist, J. Warner Wallace thought they were all equally bad. He was a detective with the LAPD who was assigned cold cases. He used his unique skill set to gather circumstantial evidence to support his theories in order to close unsolved murder cases. At some point, he decided to apply the forensic skills that he used to investigate cold cases to the claims made in the New Testament, and ended up becoming a Christian.
Interestingly, Detective Wallace applied the same cold case forensic principles to the claims of Mormonism and says that the same day that he became a Christian was also the day he became a “not-Mormon”. According to him, Mormonism did not live up to its claims as far as the evidence was concerned.
Detective Wallace shares his story as well as his investigative principles in his book, Cold-Case Christianity. In this series of posts, I will use three of Wallace’s cold-case principles to investigate the claims of Islam:
- testing the eyewitnesses,
- following the evidential chain of custody and
- separating the artifacts from the real evidence.
Will the claims of Islam hold up to such scrutiny?
TEST YOUR WITNESSES
When dealing with an eyewitness, investigators and jury members need to assess whether or not they can trust the eyewitness. Wallace outlines four of the most important aspects of evaluating the credibility of an eyewitness:
- establishing that the eyewitness was actually present,
- that they are honest and accurate,
- that their testimony can be verified by other evidence, and
- determining whether or not they would have an ulterior motive to lie.
I will attempt to apply these criteria to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
The prophet Muhammad received his first vision, his supposed divine call, in a dream while alone in a cave. The claim is that the vision was of the angel Gabriel, but Muhammad’s first reaction was fear that an evil spirit had possessed him. Upon relaying the incident to his wife, she and later her Christian cousin, reassured him that he had a revelation from God and that he would be a prophet like Moses. It would be another three years before Muhammad would receive another message from the alleged angel, and in the meantime he became depressed and suicidal. Later with other revelations, the respected Muslim historian Haykal writes that Muhammad would have convulsions during a revelation and that those with him would place a pillow under his head and stretch him out in his clothes. After recovering, he would then relay the revelation to those waiting around him.
This information seems to answer some important questions about Muhammad.
Was he present at the inception of Islam as an eyewitness? Yes, but from the testimony of those in Muhammad’s circle, what Muhammad saw was actually in his head or in a dream. Was this a revelation or just a hallucination? We have no way of knowing what he actually saw or whether it actually happened. Everything Muhammad revealed had to be believed upon his self-report.
Of note, in his initial self-report, Muhammad was scared that he was demon-possessed. He was neither elated nor concerned that he was receiving a call from God for a greater purpose. He had to be convinced of this by someone else’s interpretation of the events (events for which the interpreter was not even present). From the outset, Muhammad’s call from God cannot be established to have happened even by the testimony of other eyewitnesses, and even if the event did happen, it cannot be established that it was an actual call from God.
Subsequent revelations seem to have been witnessed by others, but what did they actually observe? According to Haykal, those around Muhammad witnessed him having convulsions and that is all. Geisler and Saleeb quote the Muslim biographer describing such an event:
Silence reigned for a while; nobody could describe it as long or short. Muhammad had not moved from his spot when revelation came to him accompanied by the usual convulsions.
He goes on to describe Muhammad taking time to recover and the relaying what had been revealed to him. No one else was privy to those revelations and neither did they hear or see anything other than Muhammad having convulsions.
Was Muhammad honest and accurate about what was going on in his head, about what was being revealed to him? One must seriously consider the fact that he originally thought he was demon-possessed and had to be convinced otherwise. It is also known that Muhammad reversed a revelation which he claimed was originally given to him by Satan, and that he had been deceived. It is also known that Muhammad would allow his scribe, Abdollah, to change the wording of a revelation. This scribe later renounced Islam as false because of this.
Thus, if Muhammad could be deceived once, why not multiple times? And if he could change the wording of a revelation from God at the suggestion of a scribe, how can any of his testimony be trusted? From the historical evidence presented here, Muhammad appears not to be a credible eyewitness.
Additionally, it is difficult to verify Muhammad’s testimony. As mentioned above, no one else saw or heard Muhammad’s revelations, they only saw him convulsing. Neither did Muhammad ever perform any miracles, which was the standard test for a prophet. The stories of miracles that do exist are not from the Qur’an, but from various traditions and they contain contradictions. Muhammad did claim that the Qur’an’s style and teaching was itself a miracle and thus verification of his divine message. The problem with that is that the message is used to verify the message, which obviously begs the question of whether its source is divine. Neither does beautiful prose or poetry make a piece of literature divine.
Lastly, in regards to evaluating Muhammad as an eyewitness, he would have had motive to lie. From history, we know that being a prophet gave him access to power, wealth and sex. He sanctioned raids on caravans, assassinations and polygamy (himself exceeding the allowable 4 wives by having 15). Geisler and Saleeb note
the Qur’an itself informs us that Muhammad was not indisposed to breaking promises when he found it advantageous,
and revelations seemed to come at opportune times to allow for questionable actions such as marrying an adopted son’s ex-wife or killing during the sacred month of Arab.
In establishing the credibility of Muhammad as an eyewitness, history reveals that he was present but alone at the time of the original revelation with subsequent revelations only appearing as convulsions, his honesty and accuracy is either questionable or completely lacking, external verification of his claims is also lacking, and he had motive to lie or to continue lie.
Thus, Muhammad’s eyewitness testimony lacks credibility and should not be trusted.