MÜNSTER, Germany -- Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.
So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.
And his colleagues, too:
"We had no idea he would have ideas like this," says Thomas Bauer, a fellow academic at Münster University who sat on a committee that appointed Prof. Kalisch. "I'm a more orthodox Muslim than he is, and I'm not a Muslim."
Which would tell the moron something, if he thought about it.
Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism. German scholars of the 19th century, he notes, were among the first to raise questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Apparently the professor doesn't understand that he's not allowed to raise such questions about Islam; that's a protected species of religion.
"Of course Muhammad existed," says Tilman Nagel, a scholar in Göttingen and author of a new book, "Muhammad: Life and Legend." The Prophet differed from the flawless figure of Islamic tradition, Prof. Nagel says, but "it is quite astonishing to say that thousands and thousands of pages about him were all forged" and there was no such person.
Um, Mr. Nagel, that would be 'fictionalized' not 'forged'.
All the same, Prof. Nagel has signed a petition in support of Prof. Kalisch, who has faced blistering criticism from Muslim groups and some secular German academics. "We are in Europe," Prof. Nagel says. "Education is about thinking, not just learning by heart."
Apparently Prof. Nagel hasn't been paying attention to what's been happening around him in the 'thinking' process of Europe, especially that touching on Islam and muslims. Speaking of which,
Prof. Kalisch's religious studies center recently removed a sign and erased its address from its Web site. The professor, a burly 42-year-old, says he has received no specific threats but has been denounced as apostate, a capital offense in some readings of Islam.
"Maybe people are speculating that some idiot will come and cut off my head," he said during an interview in his study.
A few minutes later, an assistant arrived in a panic to say a suspicious-looking digital clock had been found lying in the hallway. Police, called to the scene, declared the clock harmless.
He'd better get used to it.
What's really interesting isn't the outrage and threats from various muslims and groups; it's the actions and words of people in the university system having horror fits about what he's said. If he'd said nasty things about Jesus or the Torah, no problem; say something about Muhammed? "You can't do that!"