In the wake of 9/11, life in the United States, and throughout the world, permanently changed. Not only was American security threatened and freedoms lost (one simply can’t board an airplane without being scanned, analyzed, and profiled into some governmental data system), but a religion most Americans knew little of hit the front pages: “Islam.” What kind of religion would convince some Muslims to fly themselves into the Twin Towers on a suicide/mass-murder mission in the name of Allah? What does this faith teach anyway, and more importantly, is it true?
No one should simply believe something blindly. Click To Tweet To fully embrace and accept any faith teaching, a person would be wise to investigate its claims. One can be sincere about a faith, but one can be sincerely wrong. It is best to know why one believes something—to have some evidence backing it up. To better comprehend Islam, I have analyzed the Muslim faith by making use of three cold-case techniques that former Cold-Case Detective, Jim Warner Wallace employs: 1) examining the witnesses, 2) considering circumstantial evidence, and 3) determining if those involved were biased.
What Islam Teaches
A man living in Saudi Arabia in the sixth century claimed to have had a revelation from the one true god, Allah. His name was Muhammad, and he believed he was the last and final prophet of God. His revelation resulted in the formation of the Qur’an (Koran), the Muslims’ holy book on which they base their religion.
The Muslims view their relationship to Allah as that of slave to a master. They have a rigid view of monotheism, rejecting the Christian concept of the Trinity because they have an anthropomorphic view of the Father and Son relationship as procreation. They believe God does not have a “knowable essence,” yet believe he has essential attributes of self-existence, uncreatedness and eternality, which actually does give him a knowable essence. Islam teaches that God wills everything, and that mankind has no free will. Everything is predetermined including one’s thoughts, actions, words, and deeds. Salvation is works oriented. One can go to heaven if one has done enough good deeds to fulfill one’s religious obligations. As the Qur’an says, “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy,—They will attain salvation: But those whose balance Is light, will be those Who have lost their souls; In Hell will they abide” (23:102-3). The Qur’an also talks about those who give their lives “to earn the pleasure of God” (2:207), and that “God will deliver those who fear Him, for they have earned Heaven” (39:61).
Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the eternal speech of Allah, insisting it is uncreated, existing only in the mind of God from all eternity. Muhammad is not the foundation of their faith, as he was only a messenger of the Qur’an. Yet many Muslims today worship him as a type of savior, even though Muhammad himself forbade idolatry.
- Eyewitnesses examination
Muhammad is the key eyewitness to the faith of Islam who sincerely believed he was commissioned by God to teach the word of God. He was said to be the last of the prophets, bringing the final revelation of God to humanity, ending all other revelations and religions. As written in the Qur’an, he is the “Seal of the Prophets” (33:40).
He annually retreated to a cave to meditate, living on rations in solitude. At the age of forty, after years of practicing these personal retreats, in the year 610 A.D., Muhammad believed he encountered his first divine revelation in his sleep. His revelation came from what he believed to be the angel Gabriel. There were no other witnesses to this event, only his subjective experience. Is this reliable testimony? To better determine that, let’s examine Muhammad’s life and those close to him.
Muhammad descended from the line of Ishmael, while heirs to the Jewish throne came from Isaac. He sincerely believed he was called as “The Final Prophet,” but according to tradition, even recorded in the Qur’an, Muhammad was not qualified to be a prophet. The Qur’an itself states that the prophetic line came through Isaac, not Ishmael (29:27).
“The Muslim scholar Yusuf Ali adds the word ‘Abraham’ and changes the meaning as follows: “We gave [Abraham] Isaac and Jacob, and ordained Among his progeny Prophethood And Revelation.” By adding Abraham, the father of Ishmael, he then includes Muhammad, a descendant of Ishmael, in the prophetic line. Yet, Abraham’s name is not found in the Arabic text of the Qur’an, which Muslims consider to be perfectly preserved.”
There is a strange story of how he received his commission as so-called final prophet. “During his call, he was choked by the angel. Muhammad himself said of the angel, “He choked me with the cloth until I believed I should die. Then he released me and said: ‘Recite!’ (Iqra).” When he hesitated, he received “twice again the repeated harsh treatment.”  Can coercion be the act of a gracious and merciful God Muslims claim Allah to be?
Even Muhammad himself questioned his experience at first, fearing it might be from the devil or an evil spirit. A respected modern Muslim biographer M.H. Haykal speaks vividly of Muhammad’s plaguing fear that he was demon-possessed: “Stricken with panic, Muhammad arose and asked himself, “What did I see? Did possession of the devil which I feared all along come to pass? Muhammad looked to his right and his left but saw nothing. For a while he stood there trembling with fear and stricken with awe. He feared the cave might be haunted and that he might run away still unable to explain what he saw.” But it was his wife, Khadija, and her cousin that persuaded Muhammad to believe that the revelation was the same as that of Moses, and that he, too, would be a prophet of his nation.
After the first so-called revelation, Muhammad had a three-year period of silence, during which he fell into the depths of despair, feeling forsaken by God, and even entertaining thoughts of suicide.
It’s interesting to note the possibility that Muhammad’s first impression might have been the correct one, namely, that he was being deceived by a demon. Muslims acknowledge that Satan is real and that he is a great deceiver, so why dismiss the possibility that Muhammad himself was being deceived?
Nonetheless, once convinced by his wife that he was called like the prophet Moses, Muhammad memorized the inspirations, and then taught them orally to his followers. Scribes eventually wrote them down. Often Muslims apologists will compare Muhammad’s revelations to Moses’ experiences, like when he saw the burning bush, and when he received the Ten Commandments. Some critics see nothing supernatural at all in the source of Muhammad’s ideas, noting that the vast majority of ideas in the Qur’an have known sources, whether Jewish, Christian, pagan, or otherwise.
In Mecca, the city where he lived, citizens themselves charged that Muhammad may have received ideas from certain foreigners, as there were Christian slaves living there, and at least one Jew mentioned in Muslim commentaries. Muhammad himself was known to have talked about Biblical matters with people who knew more than the average inhabitant of Mecca. Because of this, many began to doubt this new faith. Eventually, Muhammad left Mecca and took his message to Medina, two hundred miles north. He found favor with citizens of that region who were more open to monotheism. However, his own people recognized the genetic fallacy in Muhammad’s stories, but the people in Medina were unaware of it.
Since Meccans didn’t endorse Muhammad’s convictions, another who could have corroborated Muhammad’s claims, his own scribe, Abdollah b. Abi Sarh (in Medina), might be able to support his story. Even he turned away from Islam! The scribe had changed the closing words of verses on several occasions from, for example, “mighty and wise” to “knowing and wise.” After numerous changes of this type, the scribe renounced Islam on the ground that the revelations, if from God, could not be changed at the prompting of a scribe like himself.
Considering these witness testimonies, the facts undermine the claim Muhammad was called to bring the full and final revelation from God in the circumstances surrounding his alleged revelations. The only people who supported his initial claim were his wife and a cousin, and since they were family members, their testimony is probably biased.
- Circumstantial Evidence – The Qur’an
The best circumstantial evidence Islam has is its holy book, the Qur’an. It is the only so-called miracle Muhammad ever claimed to accomplish. The Qur’an is the ultimate divine miracle according to Muslims, who claim its literacy excellence exceeds that of what any mere man could have written. Muslims consider it the greatest wonder among the wonders of the world, especially since Muhammad was illiterate.
In Islam, the Qur’an is the equivalent to the status of Jesus Christ in Christianity, being “The Word of God.” Qur’an literally means “reading or reciting” which is what Muhammad did over the years to the scribes as he was being given revelations by the angel Gabriel. According to Islam tradition, while Muhammad was alive, there was no need to gather his revelations into one collection. Popular orthodox Muslim theory today holds that the Qur’an was arranged under Muhammad and Gabriel’s direct supervision. Muhammad died in 632 A.D., but the text was standardized between 632–653 A.D. How could a dead prophet organize the Qur’an into chapters? A closer look at how the Qur’an was compiled will show great discrepancies.
At the time the Qur’an was written, there was not an established Arabic written religious literature, and Arabic grammar was not even codified until the eight century. The Arabs had a strong oral literary culture, but it was not thorough enough to have had an established or precise vocalization of written text: it couldn’t completely contain variation within written texts of that time. “Because of this situation, it is impossible to know how the Qur’an was read during the lifetime of Muhammad,” said Keith E. Small, associate researcher for the Centre for Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Relations at the London School of Theology.
According to Small, there are many difficulties recovering the forms of the text in use during Muhammad’s lifetime because no original survived, and one-single written version does not appear to have been in use. His followers collected materials, but these earliest collections of the Qur’an are not available. There were multiple authoritative texts floating around, each requiring a separate oral tradition until Muhammad’s successor, Uthman ibn Affan, considered in Islamic tradition a rightly guided Caliph (or religious ruler), sent out orders to the entire empire to gather this “scriptio inferior” collection, burn it, and replace it with his edited version to create a single, unified written version. This reconstruction is an early edited “Canonical text-form” from 653-705 A.D.
Some assert it was a direct version from the original autograph, but as scholars have observed, manuscripts show a later codification process gradually shaped the current Qur’an. The Revisionists view is that the Qur’an didn’t reach it final shape until late Abbasid times, between 945-1248 A.D, and is commonly considered the first “real work” of Arabic literature, which helped adapt the language’s grammar.
“At best, one of the collections among the various versions available was chosen to be the final text everyone used, and it was heavily edited,” Small continued. “Others versions were forcibly suppressed, not because they were less authentic per se, but because they presented rivals to the one chosen text and could provide a basis for political and religious competition.”
Overall, there are problems that make the construction of critical text analysis of the Qur’an virtually impossible. What cannot be reconstructed with any precision are any of Muhammad’s companions’ collections, or the oral traditions, from before 1000 A.D. “There has never been one single, identifiable textual specimen or manuscript that has been universally accepted as representing that text,” said Fred Donner, a scholar of Islam and Professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago.
The idea of one precise version of the Qur’an going back to Muhammad cannot be substantiated in this situation. However, what can be maintained is that an oral tradition of the recital of the Qur’an existed from the earliest period. What is contested is how complete and strong this tradition was to preserve a precise pronunciation of the text as it was received. A written version was produced within decades of Muhammad’s death, and this demonstrates that a strictly oral transmission was not considered enough to safeguard and preserve a text.
It can be deduced that the Qur’an today consists of texts chosen from a group of others, then canonized, edited at the expense of other versions, and improved upon to make it conform to a desired ideal. A strongly edited version, made twenty to one-hundred years after the death of Muhammad, is what can be found, not the originals. This circumstantial evidence is not reliable since the originals cannot be corroborated.
- Were they biased? Examining Motives
Muslims have no evidence that the Qur’an is inspired and from God. They simply believe it is. They also believe Muhammad led an exemplary life as the final prophet, but sincerity of conviction is not proof of authenticity of any belief. Given the lack of strong evidences to support this worldview, why does a fifth of the world’s population believe it?
Political and religious motives may have been sufficient reasons for people to abuse a system and create recitations that served sectarian purposes. The Arabian peninsula was splintered by many competing belief systems, and Islam was seen as the unifying force in bringing these factions together.
Geisler and Saleeb point out that many converted to Islam for the promised rewards or the threatened punishment for those who fought against Muhammad. Those who submitted were promised paradise with beautiful women, but for those who waged war against “God and His apostle” were threatened with execution, crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet. Muhammad was known as the Prophet of the Sword, and Islamic tradition says he told his followers that “the sword is the key of heaven and of hell.” It was submit or die. Greed was also a motivator for those converting to Islam. Apparently Arab warriors were entitled to four-fifths of all the plunder gathered from captives.
These were numerous natural causes for the quick spread of Islam. It glorified the Arabic people, provided incentives to conquer and plunder other lands, and promised heavenly rewards for dying. Finally, Muslims believe Islam is God-willed, and that it is destined to dominate the world. This could account for why some extremists justify acts of violence to spread its worldview. Because Muslims have all the basic motives for believing (sex, financial gain, and power), there is a strong bias towards Islam.
Muhammad believed he had an encounter that was divine in nature resulting in his being the last and greatest of prophets. This is no proof of a verifiable experience.
The Qur’an never had an original text, or autograph, to be copied for future use. It has been shown to have had many textual variants, making an original version of what Muhammad orally transmitted impossible to recreate. The circumstantial evidence is not trustworthy.
Lastly, Islam itself spread quickly for reasons that appear to be politically motivated, and rewards or fear-based, meaning the converts faced great biases in choosing to accept Islam. When the three cold-case detective techniques are applied to this worldview—the eyewitness testimony, circumstantial evidence, and biases—the evidences supporting Islam simply fail to convince, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Muslim faith is a reliable source of truth.
 J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishing, 2013).
 Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 139.
 Ibid, 127.
 Ibid, 139.
 Ibid, 151.
 Many Western historians of Islam see this practice as a result of the influence of the Syrian Christian monks.
 Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 72.
 Ibid, 153.
 Ibid, 159.
 M.H. Haykal, Muhammad Husayn. The Life of Muhammad, (Indianapolis: North American Trust Publications, 1976), 74.
 Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 159.
 Ibid, 161.
 Ibid, 162.
 Ibid, 161.
 Ibid, 161.
 Ibid, 76.
 Ibid, 162.
 Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, 74.
 Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 105.
 Ibid, 91-92.
 Badru D Kateregga, and David W. Shenk, Islam and Christianity: A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 29-30, 134.
 Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts, (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011), 164.
 Ibid, 163.
 Ibid, 164.
 Ibid, 166.
 Ibid, 175.
 Fred Donner, “The Historical Context” in Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006, 23-40.
 Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts, 179-180.
 Ibid, 184-185.
 Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam, 151.
 Karen Armstrong, Islam: a short history, (New York: Random House, 2000), 3.
 Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam, 207.
Armstrong, Karen. Islam: a short history. New York: Random House, 2000.
Donner, Fred. “The Historical Context” in Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Geisler, Norman L. and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam, the Crescent in Light of the Cross, second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.
Haykal, Muhammad Husayn. The Life of Muhammad. Indianapolis, IN: North American Trust Publications, 1976.
Kateregga, Badru D. and David W. Shenk. Islam and Christianity: A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981.
Small, Keith E. Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishing, 2013.