The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (Ibn Warraq)

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The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (2000), edited by Ibn Warraq, is an anthology of 15 studies examining the origins of Islam and the Qur'an. The contributors argue that traditional Islamic accounts of its history and the origins of the Qur'an are fictitious and based on historical revisionism aimed at forging a religious Arab identity.

Summary of arguments[edit]

  • Although the unreliability of the Arabic literary sources has been known for a century, only recently have scholars begun to explore its full implications, thanks largely to the ground-breaking work of the American scholar John Wansbrough.
  • Philologists and scholars look skeptically at the Arabic written sources and conclude that these are a form of "salvation history" - self-serving, unreliable accounts by the faithful.
  • Most of the material asserted by Islamic revisionist scholars is dubious, written mostly to promote of a self-serving religious agenda. The use of the historical methods disproves most of the traditional accounts to such a degree that Patricia Crone has written, that "one could, were one so inclined, rewrite most of Montgomery Watt's biography of Muhammad in reverse." For example, an inscription and a Greek account leads Lawrence Conrad to fix Muhammad's birth in 552, not 570.[1]
  • Patricia Crone contends that the events of Muhammad's life did not take place in Mecca as believed by traditionalists but hundreds of miles to the north.[2]
  • Yehuda D. Nevo and Judith Koren trace the origins of classical Arabic to the Levant rather than in what is today Saudi Arabia and that it only spread to Arabia through the military expansions of one of the early caliphs.[3]
  • The Arab tribes who conquered great expanses of land in the seventh century were not Muslims, but pagans.[3]
  • The Qu'ran is actually a collection of adaptations from earlier Judeo-Christian liturgical materials compiled by self-serving later authors.[4]
  • Islam did not come into existence until two or three hundred years after the date claimed by traditional Muslim accounts (around CE 830).[5]
  • Islam developed not in the far deserts of Arabia but through the interaction of Arab conquerors with the societies they overran.[5]

Reception[edit]

In his review, Daniel Pipes praised the book as a "fascinating collection of essays" that raises "basic questions for Muslims concerning the prophet's role as a moral paragon".[6]

Criticism[edit]

Other well-known American scholars such as Fred Donner has criticized the selection of essays, and described it as a "monument to duplicity". Donner writes that Warraq unduly favors revisionist theories in order to advance "anti-Islam polemic," forwarding that "this lopsided character makes The Quest for the Historical Muhammad a book that is likely to mislead many an unwary general reader."[7]

Alfons Teipen, a professor of religion at Furman University, criticized the editing: "The two introductory articles... are one-sided, rather polemical overview[s] of... scholarship on the life of Muhammad."[8]

Asma Afsaruddin described the book as a "partisan work" and added that Warraq "clearly has an ideological axe to grind". Asma states that "poor editing, sloppy transliteration, and ad hominem attacks on certain authors...especially Watt, add to the chagrin of the reader", and argued that "Ibn Warraq is not interested in debate; he wants nothing less than wholesale conversion to his point of view within the community of scholars of Islam" and added that his book "needlessly poisons the atmosphere and stymies efforts to engage in honest scholarly discussion".[9]

In his review of the book, As'ad AbuKhalil states that Ibn Warraq collected old writings by Orientalists who have been long discredited and added that "the more rigid and biased the Orientalists, the better for Warraq".[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lawrence I. Conrad Recovering lost texts : some methodological issues
  2. ^ Daniel Pipes The Quest for the Historical Muhammad Middle East Quarterly September 2000
  3. ^ a b Judith Koren and Yehuda D. Nevo Methodological approaches to Islamic studies
  4. ^ Herbert Berg The implications of, and opposition to, the methods of John Wansbrough
  5. ^ a b Ibn Rawandi Origins of Islam : a critical look at the sources
  6. ^ http://www.meforum.org/article/1360 Daniel Pipes: The Quest for the Historical Muhammad
  7. ^ Donner, Fred. (2001) Review: The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, University of Chicago.
  8. ^ Teipen, Alfons H. (Summer 2003). "The Quest for the Historical Muhammad". Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40 (3): 328–9. 
  9. ^ Asfaruddin, Asma; Warraq, Ibn (2001). "The Quest for the Historical Muhammad". Journal of the American Oriental Society (American Oriental Society) 121 (4): 728–729. doi:10.2307/606555. JSTOR 606555. 
  10. ^ AbuKhalil, As'ad (2004). ""The Islam Industry" and Scholarship: Review Article". Middle East Journal (Middle East Institute) 58 (1): 130–137. JSTOR 4329978. 

Further reading[edit]