I’m in the middle of reading Why I am Not a Muslim, and enjoying it thoroughly. I’m wondering if anyone can direct me to a lay-targeted book that discusses the following theory from a secular perspective:
“Muhammed of Mecca” (who was a signficant merchant, but didn’t live in Mecca, which was not an important trading center at the time) had a problem—his trading partners were primarily monotheist Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, and they had an objection to the Arabs worship of tribal and local deities. Specifically, they thought that Arab ethics was entirely too tolerant of raiding, cheating and stealing from other peoples. (I won’t opine on whether they were right.) So Muhammed drafted a plan for a new faith that united the monotheists and Arabs into one system, that promised to deal fairly among each other. This is why the Quran talks more often about “believers” than about “Muslims,” and emphasizes dealing fairly with them—it was designed as a trade alliance to reduce friction among different groups.
Muhammed’s Medina years had nothing to do with whoever “Muhammed of Mecca” was. Sometime after the life of that individual, an alliance of Arab tribes and city-states overran the entire Arab peninsula, and needed something to unify them culturally. So they took Muhammed of Mecca’s artificial religion, and appended onto it their own tales of conquest, making Muhammed the central actor into them, to give them an aura of religious and ethical legitimacy.
I must admit, I find the above appealing because I would LIKE it to be true. It certainly seems both unappealing and unlikely that the ethicist of Mecca turned into the Medinan warlord. I WANT to believe that he was simply grafted onto their stories, sort of the way right-wingers of today claim that Jesus would have favored having a large military.