Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald explodes a common myth:
“A full understanding of the Arabic language along with understanding of the context of the verses in question is an essential prerequisite…” — from this article by Hesham A. Hasaballa
This is the first line of defense by the Defenders of the Faith. You, Infidel, cannot possibly understand the meaning unless you have not merely an “understanding” but rather a “full understanding” of the “Arabic language.” This has been dealt with by many ex-Muslims, including Ibn Warraq, who point out the obvious: 80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arabs and do not know Arabic. Yet they are treated as Muslims, and believe themselves to be Muslims, and act upon what they read in Qur’an and Hadith. Are all of them grossly misinformed? For that matter, how much of the Qur’an is accessible to Arabs? What about that famous 20% that makes no sense, and that Christoph Luxenberg, a world authority on the languages — Arabic, Syriac (the Aramaic of Edessa), and lesser tongues — of the period when the Qur’an was composed or concocted — has helped to explain by reference to an Ur-text, or Ur-Qur’an, which was not written in Arabic. Arabic, indeed, was not a written language at the time; the Mu’allaqat appears to be a backdated post-Qur’anic forgery, as Taha Hussein, back in the 1920s, and others since, have argued. It was possibly designed to make written Arabic appear to be older than it is.
And despite the fact that there is less difference between classical Arabic and modern Arabic than there is between, say, the Anglo-Saxon of The Exeter Book and the English of today, that does not mean that Arab Muslims today possess anything like a “full understanding” of the classical Arabic of the 7th, or more likely 8th century.
In any case, the insistence that no one can comment on the Qur’an who does not possess what Hesham A. Hasaballa describes as a “full understanding” of Arabic, is simply absurd. And as for the open-ended requirement that one needs to have a “full” understanding “of the context of the verses in question,” that too is absurd.
Why? Because when anyone comments on the Qur’an, one is commenting on how they are received, what their meaning is taken to be, has been taken to be, by Believers, over 1350 years. If Christoph Luxenberg is right, and if the Ur-Qur’an is a Christian lectionary written in Aramaic, and if in fact the keenest philologists agree that the 72 dark-eyed houris, the virgins promised in the Muslim version of Paradise to the Muslim version of martyrs (those killed fighting the Jihad against the Unbelievers), are really “clear raisins” — so what? It will not change Muslim minds.
The evidence is overwhelming from the Qur’anic commentators (the authors of this or that tafsir) that the Qur’an means what most of us, had we time to read and reread it, and had we been properly apprised of the doctrine of “naskh” or abrogation, take it to mean. If anything, the most learned scholars of Islam, men whose type and whose standards scarcely exist in this field (as in so many other scholarly fields in which historical feeling or Gefuhl is needed, and a knowledge of languages essential) — such people as Snouck Hurgronje, Joseph Schacht, Arthur Jeffery, St. Clair Tisdall, and dozens of others — have unanimously concluded that Jihad in the Qur’anic sense involves violence, which comes as no surprise to anyone with any knowledge of Islamic history. (See the samples of their work that were recently republished in the useful anthology “The Legacy of Jihad”).
It is no different from the figure of Muhammad. It may be that Muhammad never existed, or that he existed not in the Hejaz, but in southern Syria. Or that he existed in southern Syria, but at the end of the eighth century. Or that he existed, but all the Hadith (properly, ahadith) are merely tales woven — a tale greater than “The 1001 Nights” — by generations of pious fabulists.
That doesn’t matter to those who believe in, or those who study those who believe in, Islam. What counts is what Believers believe. What do they think Muhammad did or said or what he meant when he was silent? What do they mean when they read in the Qur’an that he is “uswa hasana” and take his every word and deed as a guide for living, for he, Muhammad, is to them the Perfect Man?
What Believers believe, or what it is perfectly reasonable to believe that they believe — the contents of that belief are not a mystery. Understanding the Qur’an does not require a knowledge of Arabic greater than that of a poppy farmer in Kandahar, or of a spoiled brat in Marin County, or of a “Palestinian” woman on the faculty at some Arab or Islamic Studies department — Columbia, Georgetown, Exeter, Durham (does it matter?) — or of the owner of a phone-card store in Dearborn, Michigan, or of a Somali member of the wandering tribe of Vu Cumpra flogging his phony wares just outside the Baptistery in Florence, or for that matter of any other Believer. Those Believers must Believe what hundreds of millions of Muslims have taken such concepts as Jihad to mean, and with remarkable consistency. They have wherever they could, whenever the wherewithal presented itself and the enemy was sufficiently weak, acted upon those beliefs. And (what is still more interesting) they have everywhere behaved in remarkably similar ways toward the various non-Muslims conquered and subjugated, whether they were Christians in Arabia or Syria or Mesopotamia or Egypt or Tripolitania, or Jews in Israel and Mesopotamia or Arabia, or Zoroastrians in Sassanian Persia, or Hindus and Jains in Hindustan and the East Indies, or Buddhists in Central Asia, in India, in the East Indies. Everywhere the treatment has been remarkably similar, or perhaps not remarkably, because the texts, the tafasir, the understandings have been, when it comes to Jihad and to Infidels, very much the same. And it has been the same with or without that “full understanding of Arabic” that Hesham A. Hasaballa tells us that we must possess if we are to have any conception of the “real” Islam.
Nonsense, as usual, on stilts.