Recently, scholars have debated whether Jesus was a real person. Alongside textual and physical evidence, the discovery of evidence of the crucifixion may show how Jesus died. Still, the historical evidence for his life leaves some remaining questions unanswered, like why Jesus is portrayed as white.
And what about other religious leaders and prophets? For example, was Muhammad real? Religious documents claim that Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 and founded Islam in 610. As for the historicity of Muhammad, some have claimed that there is no proof Muhammad was real - instead, they argue, he was invented decades later by followers of Islam.
When it comes to evidence of Muhammad, there are a number of sources that call him a general or a warlord - but fewer that discuss his religious message. And the Qur'an only mentions Muhammad by name four times. Plus, because of the religious prohibition on images of the Prophet Muhammad, he is often shown with a veil or represented by his inscription. So is there evidence that Muhammad was a real person? Well, here's what we've got.
The Arab Conquest Left Behind Numerous Records About Muhammad
Within a decade after the death of Muhammad, Arab armies had conquered much of the Middle East. This successful military conquest not only created a new Arab empire, it also left behind numerous historical records that mention Muhammad.
As Arab armies invaded Syria, non-Muslims recorded information about the invaders. They also described the charismatic leader of the religion around the time of his death. One Greek text written between 632 and 634 calls Muhammad a "false prophet." As Arab armies conquered Syria, the text says, "a false prophet has appeared among the Saracens," almost certainly referring to Muhammad.
The text goes on to dismiss Muhammad as an imposter, because prophets do not come "with sword and chariot."
One Early Non-Muslim Report Of Muhummad Called Him A Warlord
In 636, only four years after the death of Muhammad, a Christian manuscript recorded details about the life of Muhammad. It is known as the fragment on the Arab conquests, and it was jotted down on a copy of the New Testament.
It reads: "In January... many villages were ravaged by the killings of [the Arabs of] Muhammad and many people were slain and [taken] prisoner from Galilee as far as Beth."
The document goes on to describe the battle at Gabitha, also called the Battle of Yarmouk, which took place on August 20, 636. Muslim Arabs clashed with a Christian Byzantine army over control of Syria; when the Muslims won a decisive battle, they ended Byzantine rule in Syria.
Although Muhammad died in 632, the fragment is clear evidence that he was a real person, even if the source only describes him as a warlord.
Letters Written By Muhammad Still Exist
In 628, Muhammad wrote letters to the most powerful kings in the world, inviting them to convert to Islam. The letters went out to the Byzantine emperor, the Persian emperor, the King of Abyssinia, the ruler of Egypt, the governor of Syria, and the ruler of Bahrain.
In the letter to the Byzantine emperor, Muhammad wrote:
“This letter is from Muhammad the slave of Allah and his Apostle to Heraclius, the ruler of the Byzantines. Peace be upon him who follows the right path. Furthermore, I invite you to Islam and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your subjects."
While three of the six letters still exist, some have contested their historical accuracy.
The Life Of The Prophet Muhammad Was Written More Than A Century After He Died
Biographies of the Prophet began to appear in the eighth century. For example, there are a number of works under the category Sira, or prophetic biographies of Muhammad's life. One early version, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, was written by Ibn Ishaq, who died in the 760s, over a century after Muhammad lived. The biography draws on a number of earlier sources to reconstruct the life of Muhammad, and it describes Muhammad's entire life in great detail.
However, because the biography was written over a century later, and because it was written by a follower of Muhammad, it is not the most reliable source to establish whether Muhammad was a real person. Still, while some details in the biography might be contested, it does provide some proof that Muhammad lived.