(h/t @WarpedMirrorPMB)(WSJ)Mr. Holland finds that much of the Quranic imagery associated with Muhammad's Qurayshite opponents—generally referred to as idolators—does not tally with the Quran's supposedly Arabian provenance. For example, the idolators are condemned for slitting the ears of their livestock or exempting certain cattle from having to carry a load. Such details are puzzling, as Mr. Holland shows: "Mecca, a place notoriously dry and barren, is not, most agronomists would agree, an obvious spot for cattle ranching—just as the volcanic dust that constitutes its soil is signally unsuited to making 'grain grow, and vines, fresh vegetation . . . fruit and fodder,' " as mentioned in the Quran.
One can't help but feel that this is an attempt to re-establish Israel as the home of Islam. Suspect at best
...In a view that Mr. Holland takes forward from Wansbrough and his disciples, Islam was born not in the deserts of Arabia but in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars—the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes. The Qurayshites may not have been Meccans but Arab tribes that had grown rich on Roman-Byzantine patronage. Far from being illiterate (as the biographies claim, with a view to emphasizing the Quran's miraculous character), Muhammad was a sophisticated man who "laid claim to traditions of divine inspiration that were immeasurably venerable," knowing full well what he was about.
The religion he founded began as a classic millennial cult comprising Jews, Christians and Arabs driven by an apocalyptic belief in the end of the world, with Jerusalem as its original focus. The early caliphs of Islam, who saw themselves as God's vice-regents, were both heirs and beneficiaries of the same millennial expectations—long entrenched in the region's culture—that surface in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The purely Arabian provenance attributed to Islam and its prophet were later inventions by pious scholars who tried to curb the power of the caliphs by using the memory of Muhammad, with its iconic moral authority. The empires of the caliphs are long gone, but the sunna of the prophet—his custom and example—endures.
—Mr. Ruthven is the author, among other books, of "A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America" (2003). "Encounters with Islam," a book of essays, will be published this month.