This is the groundbreaking scholar who famously postulated that the Qur’an’s virgins of paradise were really white raisins. From Reuters, with thanks to Nicolei:
PARIS (Reuters) – When a Muslim radical murdered the Dutch director Theo van Gogh for a film criticising Islam, Christoph Luxenberg saw his name ripple through Internet forums 1,000 times and immediately knew why.
“The safety of experts on Islam is topical again,” he said — in a surprisingly detached tone for the author of a critique of the Koran who fears it could one day spark similar anger.
Van Gogh, murdered last week for a film slamming Muslim treatment of women, set out to be provocative. But such is the apprehension among critics of Islam that even an obscure German professor of ancient Semitic languages keeps a very low profile.
“Christoph Luxenberg” is a pseudonym. The professor hides his work from his own students — even those who recommend it to him, not knowing he is its author. He gives interviews by phone and offers little hint of who he really is or where he lives.
This has served Luxenberg well over the past four years, when his book “The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran” was only available in dense academic German. But he doesn’t know what to expect when an English translation appears next year.
“I fear a strong reaction in the Islamic world,” he told Reuters late on Wednesday by telephone. “My Muslim friends tell me that many people will jump on this book.”
The fate of Islamic reformers in the Arab world is sobering.
In the 1990s in Egypt, the writer Faraq Foda was gunned down for criticising fundamentalists and Cairo University professor Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid was forced to divorce his wife and flee abroad for examining the Koran in its historical context.
Luxenberg thinks the academic nature of his work sets him apart from Salman Rushdie, the British writer threatened with death in 1989 by fundamentalists insulted by his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which toys with the idea that the Koran is not infallibly divine.
But although he originally thought he could publish under his own name, Muslim friends warned him not to. He said van Gogh’s murder “confirms how right they were”….
His thesis that the Koran had Aramaic forerunners, possibly Christian writings, also challenges the tradition that the Koran was dictated in Arabic to Mohammad by the Angel Gabriel and consists of the actual and unchangeable words of God.
“If you challenge that, quite a few things fall apart, so the Muslims don’t want to accept this,” Luxenberg said, adding that liberal Muslims had encouraged him to continue his work.
“My work does not question the Koran, only the traditional exegesis of the Koran — what men have read into it.”
“I”m not afraid,” he continued. “I know what I”m doing is serious and I”m not doing it to destroy Islam. But it would do Islam good if Muslims could discuss it freely. That would help them progress in so many ways.”
Indeed. But many would rather see him dead first. Christianity has engaged in and profited from the explorations of scholars like Luxenberg; why not Islam? This imperviousness to self-reflection and self-criticism is disheartening: I myself (though I do not mean to compare myself to Luxenberg as a scholar) have yet to see a Muslim engage my own work constructively and discuss the questions I have raised from Islamic texts. Instead, I am smeared as an “Islamophobe” and derided as ignorant (I can think of three Muslim spokesmen who have done this just this week). It’s an easy charge to make, but without any direct refutation of what I have written, it is empty. Even if that were an accurate characterization of me, my questions remain: where is moderate Islam? How can moderate Muslims refute the radical exegesis of the Qur’an and Sunnah? If an exposition of moderate Islam does not address or answer radical exegeses, is it really of any value to quash Islamic extremism? If the answer lies in a simple rejection of Qur’anic literalism, how can non-literalists make that rejection stick, and keep their children from being recruited by jihadists by means of literalism?
If it is ignorant to ask those questions, call me Dumbo — but the 800-pound gorilla in the living room remains: no moderate Muslim has adequately answered them.
And Christoph Luxenberg, one of the brightest scholars of this generation, must work under an assumed name and fear for his life — in the heart of Europe.