I used to assume that, whatever you may have thought of him, Muhammad actually existed.
Turns out the evidence is slight.
–There are no contemporaneous accounts of Muhammad outside the koran but the earliest complete text of the koran dates nearly 200 years after Muhammad’s supposed death.
–The Arabs who conquered parts of North Africa – including Egypt – did not refer to themselves as “Muslims” but simply as “believers”. We know this from the records of the people they conquered in eg Egypt.
–“Muhammad” means “blessed one” or “honoured one”. It was not an actual name prior to Muhammad.
–The present-day Mecca cannot possibly be the Mecca referred to in the koran. As the scholar, Patricia Crone, pointed out in Open Democracy:
The suspicion that the location is doctrinally inspired is reinforced by the fact that the Qur’an describes the polytheist opponents as agriculturalists who cultivated wheat, grapes, olives, and date palms. Wheat, grapes and olives are the three staples of the Mediterranean; date palms take us southwards, but Mecca was not suitable for any kind of agriculture, and one could not possibly have produced olives there.
Since Medina and Mecca were seprated by, at most, a couple of hundred kilometres this raises a question about the location of Medina.
The case for the non-existence of Muhammad is analysed in detail in:
The Hidden Origins of Islam: New Research into Its Early History Hardcover – July 30, 2009
by Karl-Heinz Ohlig (Editor), Gerd-R Puin (Editor)
The book is not an easy read but it’s worth struggling through.
For what it’s worth I’m inclined to doubt the existence of Muhammad.