The above picture from Tom Gross Media shows “Salman Rushdie’s coffin being prepared at the ‘International Exhibition of the Koran’ at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran” in September 2008. Note also the coffin for the state of Israel in the background — as well as the caricature of Bill Clinton.
Old grudges die hard in Tehran, apparently, but the article below notes that there are historical investigations being carried out that Islamic authorities may ultimately find even more threatening than Rushdie’s novel. Is Muslim tradition a “myth, a ‘pious fraud’ created after the Islamic conquests to provide an ideological foundation for the expanding empire”?
The implications of this are very large. Since the literal, mainstream and authoritative version of Islam mandates warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers, only a movement that rejected literalism in regard to the Qur’an, Hadith, and sira could possibly make for the creation of an Islam that taught the necessity of peaceful coexistence with unbelievers as equals on an indefinite basis. Of course, the possibility that such a thing will ever appear is remote, but if it ever were to do so, it would be based on historical investigations such as those outlined in this article.
I’m thinking that this would be a good subject for a book — one that I hope to write in the next year or so.
“The gospel truth?,” by Sean Gannon in the Jerusalem Post, December 5 (thanks to all who sent this in):
September 26 marked the 20th anniversary of Viking Penguin’s publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. While generally well-received by the critics, its treatment of Islamic themes in a series of narrative subplots was quickly deemed blasphemous and Viking Penguin’s refusal to heed demands for its withdrawal led to an international furor, culminating in an Iranian fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death. His crime? Responsibility for a book which was “compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the prophet and the Koran” and “dared to insult the Islamic sanctities.”
That Rushdie was forced to spend 10 years in hiding (and still lives under threat of execution) on the grounds that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction, represented a “total distortion of the historical facts” about Islam is deeply ironic, given that a genuine critico-historical assault on “Islamic sanctities” had been under way for more than a decade with no repercussions.
Well, not quite. When one Islamic scholar, Suliman Bashear, taught his students at An-Najah National University in Nablus that the Qur’an and Islam were the products of historical development rather than being delivered in perfect form to Muhammad, his students threw him out of the window of his classroom. Christoph Luxenberg, who has done groundbreaking work in this area, publishes under a pseudonym for a very good reason.
Spearheaded by scholars at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), it focused largely on the Koran, which these so-called new historians of Islam subjected to modern historical and philological analysis. Their findings flatly contradict the Islamic account of its origins.
According to this account, the Koran represents the uncorrupted word of God, “constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable.” It was transmitted to man through Muhammad, a prosperous Meccan merchant who received it via the angel Gabriel as a series of verse revelations between 610 and his death in 632. Uneducated and illiterate, Muhammad committed these revelations to memory before reciting them to his followers, who memorized them verbatim in turn. The killing of hundreds of these “memorizers” in the battle of Yamama in 633 alerted his successor as Muslim leader, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, to the danger that the revelations could be lost. He therefore gathered all available sources into a loose compilation called the suhuf which was then used by the third caliph, Uthman, to produce in the mid-650s a standardized text of the Koran. Copies were sent to Islamic communities with orders that all other versions be destroyed. Muslims believe this Uthmanic recension is the Koran as we have it today.
BUT ACCORDING to the New Historians, there is no evidence that the Koran was compiled by Muhammad or canonized under Uthman; in fact, there is no proof it existed in any form before the end of the seventh century, and the first signs of a standardized codex date from the early 800s, 150 years after Uthman’s death. In his 1977 survey Qur’anic Studies, the late professor of Semitic studies at SOAS, John Wansbrough, applied to the Koran “the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism” developed in the 19th century by German biblical scholars such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and Julius Wellhausen – i.e., treating it as a literary construct and comparing it to contemporary devotional works.
The fact that it is “strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content… and given to the repetition of whole passages in variant versions” is evidence, he argued, that it “is not the carefully executed project of one or many men, but rather the product of an organic development from originally independent traditions during a long period of transmission.”
The existence in Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock of Koranic inscriptions which differ from Uthman’s text, and the discovery in 1972 of a Yemeni “paper grave” containing thousands of Koranic fragments exhibiting other textual variations, further indicate that, far from being divinely revealed in its unchanging entirety, the Koran evolved as a literary artifact.
IN A follow-up study, The Sectarian Milieu, Wansbrough postulated that the Koran emerged out of a two-centuries-long dialogue between Muslims and the Christians and Jews they encountered during the Islamic conquests. Its precepts slowly developed in opposition to the older religions, resulting in a tradition distinctively Arabian but based on Judaeo-Christian foundations. Wansbrough saw rabbinical Judaism as the Koran’s overriding influence, citing its biblical and talmudic borrowings.
Other scholars, however, have highlighted its Christian substrates. The German scholar Christoph Luxenburg contends that it is based on the qeryana – lectionaries used in seventh-century Syrian Christian churches. He even proposes that the Koran is not exclusively in Arabic (for Muslims, a sacrilegious suggestion) but incorporates sections of Syro-Aramaic, a language similar in structure and script, and that many of its more impenetrable passages become coherent only when read as Aramaic. Most controversially, Luxenburg claims the word houri, commonly translated as “wide-eyed virgins” in the verse describing the jihadist martyr’s heavenly reward, is actually an Aramaic word meaning “white grapes of crystal clarity.”
And that is the one finding out of all these investigations that has so far entered the popular consciousness.
THE IDEA of an evolving Koran has been developed by Wansbrough’s former SOAS students Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. In Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, they eschew Muslim sources for Islam’s early history in favor of contemporary Armenian, Greek and Syrian accounts. These, they maintain, demonstrate that Muslim tradition is a myth, a “pious fraud” created after the Islamic conquests to provide an ideological foundation for the expanding empire. The Koran was compiled as part of this process, to provide a coherent scriptural basis for the growing body of law that its governance required. It was then attributed back to Muhammad to give it unassailable authority….
Read it all.