A key text for understanding the Judaic origins of Islam is the book Hagarism, written by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook in the 1970s. The genesis of this book lay in the perception that Muslim accounts of Islam's origins were not reliable. They had been written long after the events described, by people with an interest in distorting the truth. And most modern western tellings of these events simply accepted the basic facts of the Islamic narrative with little or no corroboration.
The radically dissonant approach of Crone and Cook was to simply ignore the Islamic sources and look instead for alternative sources that presented an outsider's perspective. This led them to a bold new account of Islam's origins. I've discussed this to some extent in previous articles (link and link), but let me summarise it again here.
In the early 7th century the (religiously Zoroastrian) Persian empire fought a series of epic wars with the (Christian) Greek Byzantine empire. As these wars unfolded, the Persians conquered much of the Middle East (including Palestine) from the Byzantines. Jews, living as a minority in these cities, sided with the invading Persians against the Christians they lived among. They expected the Persians to prevail. And, for a long time, it looked like the Persians were certain to prevail as they drew closer and closer to the capital city of Byzantium. In the end, however, Byzantine forces rallied, counterattacked massively into Persia and, effectively, destroyed the Persian empire for all time, leaving behind a void that would soon be filled by Islam. All the territories the Byzantines had lost were recovered. This was bad news for the Jews, who had betrayed the Christians. They were about to get their come-uppance. Some fled instead to the Arabian desert where they hooked up with some Arabs who had been exposed to some form of Abrahamic doctrine. These Jews started cooking up a joint ideology of conquest, whose core aim was to get the Arabs to help them reconquer Palestine. This was Hagarism.
These people were referred to by others as 'muhãjirún' or 'mhaggraye'. These are cognates of the word hijra, meaning exodus. This word is familiar to us now, in the Islamic tradition, as a reference to Mohammed's move from Mecca to Medina to found the first Islamic State. But, in Crone and Cook's estimation, the original hijra, which gave the people their name, was not from Mecca to Medina, but from Arabia to Palestine. The Jews had fooled their new Arab henchmen into thinking they had a religious mission to reconquer Palestine. And so they did. Then the Jews broke up with them, their usefulness having come to an end. But the monster they had created then took on a life of its own. Hagarism didn't die off. It became Islam.
Unfortunately, the book Hagarism is a challenging read. It is written in a dense, elevated style, replete with references that are incomprehensible to most people. If you don't have a passing acquaintance with ancient Middle-Eastern history, it may feel like it's written in a foreign language to you. Nonetheless, it's worth persevering with because I think it contains they key to understanding the true origins of Islam: it was a weapon forged by the Jews for use against Christians. In this sense, it could be compared with Communism, an ideological weapon forged against Christian civilisation for the purposes of advancing Jewish ethnic interests. But the weaponised ideology was a living instrument. It escaped the clutches of its masters, ran amok and ended up harming Jews and non-Jews alike.
Here are some key extracts from Hagarism:
There never was any such thing as Judaic civilisation, and there never could have been any such thing as barbarian civilisation. And yet there was a certain obvious complementarity: if barbarian force and Judaic values could be brought into conspiracy, it was just possible that they could achieve together what they could not bring about apart.
...the Arab conquests did not have to take the form of a religious movement. Had the Middle East been invaded by pagan worshippers of al-Uzza and al-Lat in a less fleeting reenactment of the Nabatean conquest of Syria, the religious trajectory of the conquerors would probably-not have differed much from that of the Franks. Had the conquests been initiated under the aegis of the Lakhmids or the Ghassanids, had they issued in some more durable version of the Palmyrene empire in close association with the interests of one or other of the major Christian heresies, it is unlikely that the cultural significance of the Arabs would have been much different in kind from that of the Arian Goths. In neither case would the conquerors have been in a position to leave behind them more than the political and cultural foundations of an eventual nationalism comparable to those of the Hungarians or the Orthodox Slavs.
Instead, barbarian conquest and the formation of the Judaic faith which was eventually to triumph in the east were part of the same historical event. What is more, their fusion was already explicit in the earliest form of the doctrine which was to become Islam. The preaching of Muhammad integrated a religious truth borrowed from the Judaic tradition with a religious articulation of the ethnic identity of his Arab followers. Thus where Arian doctrine was only a truth and Gothic ethnicity only an identity, Hagarism was both. In the course of their subsequent evolution, the Hagarenes developed their truth almost beyond recognition and embedded their identity in an elaborate pagan past. But on the one hand, the religious truths they selected, being initially Judaic and never more than marginally Christian, placed a wider gap between them and their subjects than mere heresy could do in the west: their heresy was more than a heresy. And on the other hand, their Shinto remained less than a Shinto: their barbarian identity was expressed in terms sufficiently Biblical to be intelligible and defensible in the religious language of the world they had conquered. At the same time, the organic link between their truth and their identity remained. The structure of Hagarene doctrine thus rendered it capable of long-term survival, and the consolidation of the conquest society ensured that it did survive. Judaic values had acquired the backing of barbarian force, and barbarian force had acquired the sanction of Judaic values: the conspiracy had taken shape.
This shape fortified the Hagarenes against the cultures they had conquered in two basic ways. In the first place, there was no call for the Judaic values adopted into Hagarism to go soft in the manner of Christianity. Historically, these values had left the ghetto not to convert the world but to conquer it; and conquerors have no need to appeal to the cultural values of their subjects. Conceptually, the Hagarenes separated themselves from the Jews by transposition rather than sublimation: instead of developing the notion of a 'verus Israel' in the manner of gentile Christianity, they had simply substituted Ishmaelite ethnicity for Israelite; and instead of elaborating a Pauline antinomianism, they went on to replace the letter of the law of Moses with the letter of the law of Muhammad. They thus preserved that combination of a literal ethnicity with the letter of a religious law which had constituted the basis of the Judaic 'life apart'. Allah, like Yahweh, was a jealous God.
In the second place, the sanction which Judaic values could confer on barbarian force was a very evocative one. The Jews might live in the ghetto, but the myth which articulated their apartness from the Canaanite world around them was that of the Israelite tribes in the desert. Thus the replacement of Israelites by lshmaelites in the role of the chosen people did more than consecrate the ethnic identity of the conquerors : it also invested their erstwhile 'life apart' in the desert with a distinctly religious aura. Hagarism had caught and fused the alienation from civilisation of both the ghetto and the desert. It was as if by some drastic syncopation of Israelite history the tribal conquest of Canaan had led directly into the Pharisaic resistance to Hellenisation: where Judaism had to some extent received the civilising imprint of a Near-Eastern monarchy, Hagarism retained the harshness of the Rechabite life in the wilderness. The Hagarenes thus rejected the cultural achievements of the conquered peoples as so many Canaanite abominations, and laid the foundations of their cultural life in the tribal past of their Arabian homeland.
Source: "Hagarism - the Making of the Islamic World" by Patrician Crone and Michael Cook (link)