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.
This Qur'an Might Have Been Written While Muhammad Lived
New research shows that the oldest known copy of the Qur'an may have been written during Muhammad's lifetime. It is known as the Birmingham Qur'an, because it is held by the University of Birmingham. Radiocarbon dating proved that the document was almost certainly written in the first half of the seventh century, the same period when Muhammad began building followers for his new faith.
The Qur'an contains the revelations of the Prophet Muhammad, according to Muslim tradition. Prior to this discovery, researchers believed that the first Qur'an was written around 650. The Birmingham Qur'an is thus not only the earliest known Qur'an, but it is also strong evidence that Muhammad was a real person.
The Qur'an Only Mentions Muhammad Four Times
Still, it is important to remember that the Qur'an is very different from the New Testament, which tells the story of the life of Jesus. The Qur'an, by contrast, is not the story of Muhammad's life. Instead, the Qur'an contains 114 chapters of material that, according to Muslim tradition, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over the course of 23 years.
The Qur'an represents the message Muhammad received from God, but it does not contain an account of the Prophet's life. Rather, it shows the world through Muhammad's eyes, and, in an interesting twist, the name Muhammad is only mentioned four times in the Qur'an.
Muhammad May Have Left Behind His Beard As Proof
Just as religious relics have been an important part of Catholicism, there are several relics from Muhammad. However, unlike Catholicism, relics are not officially sanctioned by Islam, and the Prophet himself preached against worshipping relics. In spite of the prohibition, physical relics from Muhammad have a long history. And one of the most popular relics is Muhammad's beard.
After his death, the Prophet's favorite barber reportedly shaved off part of the beard, which is now preserved at the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. The museum also claims to have Muhammad's tooth, his sword, and his footprints. However, there is no proof that these relics are authentic.
Muhammad's Name Doesn't Appear On Coins Until 50 Years After He Died
Today, calligraphic inscriptions of the Prophet's name can be found in many mosques. Because Islam prohibits images of Muhammad in order to prevent idolatry, or the worship of images, Muhammad's name itself is often used to represent him.
However, the first inscriptions that used Muhammad's name in this way appeared decades after the prophet died, causing some to question whether he was a real person at all.
Even though Muhammad died in the 630s, his name only appears on Arabic coins and inscriptions in the 680s, a full 50 years after he died. Some scholars have used this to argue that Muhammad didn't exist at all - that he was, instead, a creation by later people.