Mel, from Sneaker's Corner, along with a Middle Eastern Arab scholar named 'Murad', came on to Pfanderfilms to discuss whether we can find any historical evidence for the first 4 'rightly guided Caliphs' (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali) in the 7th century.
He began by asking the question "Who am I? My mother’s name is Amina. One of my wives is called Zaynab. I also have another wife called Aisha.
Obviously these three categories would fit for Muhammad himself, yet, these 3 are all true of the Caliph Marwan, who ruled for only one year, from 684-685, and was the father of Abd al-Malik. The coincidence that he would have the same mother and wives as Muhammad are too high to believe. So, Mel asked, could these names have been used by the later traditions for Muhammad's story?
What about the usage of the word 'Caliph'? There are no rock inscriptions in the 7th century which uses the term الخليفة (Caliph). The term which was used was 'Amir Al Mu'minin' (commander of the faithful) which doesn't even denote a sense of a successor. The term 'Caliph' was a shortening of Khalīfat Rasūl Allāh and meant "successor of the messenger of God“.
According to Robert Hoyland, in his book 'Seeing Islam as Others Saw it: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian (Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam Studies in Late Antiquity and
Early Islam, The Darwin Press 1998), the Doctrina Jacobi (634 AD) mentions an unnamed Arabian prophet “armed with a sword” who was alive in 634 AD.
Thomas the Presbyter mentions a battle between the Byzantines & the 'Tayaye d’Mhmt', east of Gaza in 634.
If he was still alive in 634, then the dates for Abu Bakr’s and Umar’s caliphates in the Traditions are in doubt.
Ah, but what about the Umar rock inscription? On the rock it says: "In the name of God. I am Zuhar. I wrote [this] when 'Umar died, the year 24"
There are two problems with this inscription. First, it doesn't refer to Umar as 'Amir Al-Mu'minnin, let alone the Caliph. He is given no title, so he could be anyone with the name Umar.
Secondly, the date of this death fits with the Islamic traditions. It says he died in the year 24, which would make it around 644-645 AD. But, if the Byzantine-Arab Chronicle (741 AD) is correct that Umar reigned for 10 years, then there is no time for Abu Bakr to have reigned, given Muhammd is said to be still alive in 634.
So, the Chronology has insurmountable problems. We could throw out the Doctrina Jacobi and Thomas the Presbyter as evidence to Muhammad being still alive in 634… But we still have Sebeos (660s) who says that Muhammad led the invasion into Palestine. The invasion of Palestine is commonly accepted as taking place in 634-638. So the problem perists…
So, what about Ali?
Two of the earliest historical references to Ali contradict the much later Islamic version of events
The Maronite Chronicle (late 7th century) maintains that Mu'awiya has his sister's son Hudhayfa killed. ‘Ali was slain "while praying at Hira." Mu'awiya went down to Hira and received allegiance from all the Arab forces there.
So, according to this source, Ali was killed in 658, not 661, as the Traditions state.
But was Ali (Abu Turab) even a caliph?
According to George of Resh'aina (d. ca. 680), we find this account:So, 'Ali was the emir of Hira, not a caliph!
After Maximus went up to Rome, the Arabs seized control of the islands of the sea and entered Cyprus and Arwad, ravaging them and taking captives. They gained control over Africa and subdued almost all the islands of the sea; for, following the wicked Maximus, the wrath of God punished every place which had accepted his error. When Maximus saw that Rome had accepted the foul mire of his blasphemies, he also went down to Constantinople at the time when Mu'awiya made peace with the emperor Constans, having started a war with Abu Turab, the emir of Hira, at Siffin and defeated him. [Hoyland’s Note: Abu Turab is the nickname of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib,
• The historicity of the first 4 caliphs is seriously in doubt.
• Attempts at getting their story straight have failed.
• Abu Bakr couldn’t have been a caliph as contradictory evidence rules that out.
• Umar’s historicity rests on one rock inscription that could be about anyone of that name.
• Ali was never a caliph and he died 3 years before his reign was meant to have ended.