Scholars have for centuries been pursuing clues to “the historical Jesus” — evidence that the religious figure now known as Jesus Christ actually once existed as a real person. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of popular books, documentaries, television programs, magazine articles, research papers, films and more on the search for the “real” Jesus. While this investigation into the ultimate origins of Christianity may have once long ago been controversial, it is by now quite commonplace and accepted as a standard part of religious studies, even when the researchers conclude (as they often do) that the evidence for the historicity of Jesus is skimpy at best.

But no similar investigations have ever been conducted on the historicity of Muhammad (a.k.a. Mohammed, depending on the Arabic transliteration). Why not?

Most people assume that no one bothers to investigate whether or not Muhammad was a real person for the same reason that no one bothers to investigate the reality of other religious founders such as Joseph Smith or Martin Luther or Anton LaVey — because the evidence for their existence is overwhelming, well-documented and unquestioned. Regardless of whether or not Muhammad’s teachings were moral or useful, everyone, even the most hardened infidels, of course accepts that he must have existed. Right?

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