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Austin Cline

Suppression of Scholarly Criticism or Qur'an, Islam

By July 1, 2008

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In Islam the role and place of the Qur'an is more analogous to the role and place of Jesus in Christianity, not the Bible. Proving that the Qur'an was not a direct revelation from God would thus be more like proving that Jesus never existed, not simply that there are contradictions or errors in the Bible. We probably won't ever find conclusive proof that no Jesus ever existed, but we may have proof that the Qur'an we have today is a product of human editing.
It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

The history of the archive reads like an Islamic version of the Da Vinci Code. It is not clear why its existence was occulted for sixty years, or why it has come to light now, or when scholars will have free access to it.

Source: Asia Times

Even if scholars did have free access to this material, though, it's not clear how much would come of it:

Apart from the little group at the University of the Saarland and a handful of others, though, the Western Academy is loathe to go near the issue. In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is a failsafe way to commit career suicide. ...

The Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and frustrate the search for truth. It is impossible for Muslims to propose a dialogue with Western religions, as 38 Islamic scholars did in an October 13 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders, and rule the subject of text criticism out of the discussion.

Precisely for this reason, Church leaders see little basis for a dialogue with Islam. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, "Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it's difficult to discuss the contents of the faith."

Throughout the Internet, Islamist sites denounce the work of a handful of marginalized scholars as evidence of a plot by Christian missionaries to sabotage Islam. What the Muslim world cannot conceal is its vulnerability and fear in the face of Koranic criticism. In the great battle for converts through the Global South, this may turn out to be a paralyzing disadvantage.

Even if the microfilm evidence doesn't point to the sort of conclusions which the so-called "revisionist" scholars argue for, it is still wrong if scholars in America are prevented — even implicitly — from working on the material and with the ideas because their financial backers would object. It's not genuine scholarship if it is dependent upon arriving at "safe" conclusions and pleasing monied religious interests. American colleges which allow foreign funders to define the direction of scholarship in any way have sold out both American academics and American students.

It's hardly surprising for believers to be taking an explicitly irrational stand. What other choice is there, given the context? Such believers only accept science and scholarship insofar as they support people's traditional beliefs. It's promoting and justifying one's religious ideology that is important, not facts and logic. If scholars and researchers need to be intimidated, threatened, and otherwise silenced in order to ensure that no uncomfortable truths are brought out into the light of day, then so be it.

Sadly, it is just such revision of people’s conception of the Qur'an which would benefit Islam in the long term. If believers could stop seeing the Qur'an as the unalterable and unquestionable Word of God and more like a human-created, human-edited text that might have been divinely inspire, then secularization and liberalization would probably be much easier throughout the Islamic world. Not everyone would be able to make the switch, of course, but you don't need everyone — just enough to make a difference in society.

Comments
July 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm
(1) Tamar says:

If you have to suppress something to make it “fit” with what you already believe, should there not be alarm bells ringing loudly in your ears?

I find it sad and disheartening when I see people searching for support of what they already believe instead of searching for truth (however subjective that term may be).

Even worse is suppression of facts. I recall reading several books on Jehovah’s Witnesses origins. Those documented facts were certainly never discussed by the vast majority of the members.

Adjusting facts to make me feel better about what I believe makes me feel nauseous and weak.

People’s comfort and happiness appears to be more important than the search for real truths, even when that comfort and happiness is at the expense of the freedom and tolerance of others. Freedoms like the right to choose what is best for your body, for your mind, for your family.

If people took an honest look at religions in general, I think they would find that the blanket of “truth” they hold so dear is full of holes and not useful for very much anymore.

October 1, 2009 at 6:20 am
(2) Far says:

“If believers could stop seeing the Qur’an as the unalterable and unquestionable Word of God and more like a human-created, human-edited text that might have been divinely inspire, then secularization and liberalization would probably be much easier throughout the Islamic world.”

And the Muslim sees what you’re motivations are, but the muslim does not see the quran or any tradition suggesting that it was human created. Nor do they believe it, nor do they promote it. So why do you want them to say that? We look to the scholarship of the bible and find that they say what they say about it. Yet we deny scholarship when we please?

The argument of scholars being suppressed is one such from Ben Steins Expelled.

October 1, 2009 at 6:36 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

And the Muslim sees what you’re motivations are, but the muslim does not see the quran or any tradition suggesting that it was human created.

There is only evidence of human creation, because there is no evidence of divine origins.

Nor do they believe it, nor do they promote it. So why do you want them to say that?

For the reason that was so clearly stated that you even quoted it: “secularization and liberalization would probably be much easier throughout the Islamic world.” The Western world is more free, more scientifically advanced, and more prosperous than all of the Muslim world and those areas of the Muslim world which have liberalized the most are also those which are most free and most prosperous.

We look to the scholarship of the bible and find that they say what they say about it. Yet we deny scholarship when we please?

I’m sorry, but that’s incoherent.

The argument of scholars being suppressed is one such from Ben Steins Expelled.

You seem to be missing one dramatic difference: Ben Stein and like-minded creationists can’t point to any genuine science being suppressed, but I pointed out above the suppression of Quranic scholarship. If you disagree and believe that skeptical, critical scholarship is not being suppressed in the Muslim world, why don’t you point to some?

April 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm
(4) maria says:

Austin

you are in the state of mind where you think you know alot about what you are talking about, but you actually dont, before critiquing Quran try to learn it well, i think you are messing alot and making your vague judgments

April 11, 2010 at 8:08 am
(5) Austin Cline says:

you are in the state of mind where you think you know alot about what you are talking about, but you actually dont,

If you have any substantive criticism of the above, feel fee to share. Simply complaining that I don’t know what I’m talking about, without actually identifying any errors of fact or in reasoning, is pointless at best.

before critiquing Quran try to learn it well, i think you are messing alot and making your vague judgments

Feel free to share what it is you think I am “missing.” Or, if you simply hoped to intimidated with vague judgments and never had the skill, knowledge, or intention of offering anything like a substantive critique, you can remain silent — perhaps even just not return in order to avoid seeing the responses.

December 23, 2011 at 8:25 am
(6) Edmund Eldergill says:

I notice other modern trends among non-Muslim academics and the Western media that illustrate both a lack of intellectual honesty on their parts and a desire to appease Islamic states, scholars and their own indigenous populations of Muslims.

It is noticeable how Mohammed is referred to as the “Prophet Mohammed” as if that status is accepted by non-believers. I also object to the complete suppression of all legitimate historical investigation of the character of Mohammed. As a barrister I am well trained in assessing the weight to be given to evidence. The ignoring by scholars of the first ever biography of Mohammed, written by a Muslim, Ibn Ishaq, is one suspects a result of the desire not to discuss the torture and mass killing of prisoners of war by Mohammed revealed in it rather than any serious argument that it is an unreliable source: the earliest extant biography by a follower of the same faith would appear to be some of the better evidence upon which to base one’s opinions.

It is also very apparent how certain of the hadith of Muslim – greatly respected by Muslims as a source of reliable information about Mohammed’s sayings – are ignored because they portray Mohammed in an appalling light in his treatment of woman, slaves and the wives of enemy soldiers killed in battle. If Western academics can no longer be trusted to impartially investigate the history of Islam then we may as well close their departments as worthless.

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