Robert Spencer wrote recently about how some interlocutors will deny anything — anything — if they think they can use the denial to their advantage. He adduced as examples recent controversies over the closure of the gates of ijtihad and the arrangement of Qur’anic suras. As to the gates of ijtihad being closed, it is those Bright Young Reformers who, having failed to keep us from noticing that they are indeed closed, and have been for almost a thousand years, now go on to tell us that if we only give them money, money, money (and the Carnegie and other foundations, and universities, and Western governments, have been shelling out like crazy to every Muslim “Reformer” with his hand out), they — those Bright Young Reformers — will just swing those gates wide open, wide enough for the quadrigas of these brave gladiators to drive straight on through. (Oops, those details come from the time of Rome, and therefore of real universal and deep-seated Jahiliyya or Ignorance.)
As to the arrangement of the suras, the point on which Serge Trifkovic caught out Dinesh D’Souza (who promptly wrote about it as a mere matter of “Trivial Pursuit”), why do they matter? Well, if you are attempting to find out which suras are unlikely to have been subject to “naskh” or “abrogation,” you will naturally wish to find out which are later in time. And in finding out which are later in time, you might think, if you did not know differently, that those suras with low numbers — such as Sura 9, the most violent of them all — were surely the ones that had been abrogated by later ones.
But you would be wrong. Sura 9 is numbered 9 not because it is one of the earliest, but because of its length. In fact, Sura 9 is either the last or second-to-last of the Suras, which means it is of very great authority indeed.
That’s why it matters. And that’s why D’Souza’s attempt to dismiss his lack of such knowledge as “trivial,” is so wrong. That he then goes on to say that Trifkovic didn’t answer his, D’Souza’s, own question in reply — “When did Iran become Shi’a?” — though Trifkovic was singlemindedly at this point pursuing his quarry. He was not going to let go of his hot pursuit until D’Souza had, for god’s sake, answered the question. And in truth, the answer to D”Souza’s question is not nearly as important as questions about the Qur’an, the alpha and omega of Islam.
The question of when Iran became Shi’a is of interest, but it is not indispensable to one’s understanding of Islam, as is a comprehension of how the Qur’an works, how it is arranged, what parts of it can be taken as immune to abrogation, and which parts subject.
No doubt when one first reads, as D’Souza did, somewhere in Bernard Lewis that Shi’ism begins with Arabs, not Persians, and was embraced late by the Iranians, is of interest. But what does it tell us? How does it affect, say, our understanding or appreciation of the Shi’a-Sunni split in Iraq, and beyond Iraq, today? In fact, it has no bearing on the matter. But if Infidels thinking that because there are 114 Suras numbered consecutively, a certain Sura 9 must surely be among the earliest and therefore among those most subject to abrogation, then we have a problem, and not only in Houston, but everywhere that innocent Infidels may reside.
Shi’ism could once be found in places were it is now virtually extinct, and in the earliest centuries was not dominant in Iran (Persia) as it now is. But knowing or not knowing that is not more important than knowing exactly when Calvin and Zwingli existed, or where, or finding out when this or that place became predominantly Protestant during or after the Reformation. Or it might be akin to not knowing exactly when the Gallicanism came into the French church, or when Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries, and got his divorce. Not knowing when the Council of Nicaea took place is no doubt a fault, and so is not knowing exactly in what century Christianity was brought to England, or for that matter to China, but it would be far more scandalous if someone were teaching in a divinity school who did not know the most elementary doctrines of Christianity. D’Souza doesn’t see that, because he can’t make sense of Islam, Islam as a belief-system, Islam as a politics and geopolitics, Islam as a working-out, in time, by Muslims of the exigencies of their demanding, and dangerous-to-Infidels faith.
Some questions matter, some don’t. Discerning which go into which category itself requires some concentrated study — study which those who presume to instruct persist in shirking.