Quran and Textual Analysis

Via Ideofact, I see that Tacitus has linked to an article in Newsweek about Christoph Luxenberg (a pseudonym) who claims that some of the words in the Quran should be considered to be in Syriac rather than Arabic.

In a note of encouragement to his fellow hijackers, September 11 ringleader Muhammad Atta cheered their impending “marriage in Paradise” to the 72 wide-eyed virgins the Qur’an promises to the departed faithful. Palestinian newspapers have been known to describe the death of a suicide bomber as a “wedding to the black-eyed in eternal Paradise.” But if a German expert on Middle Eastern languages is correct, these hopes of sexual reward in the afterlife are based on a terrible misunderstanding.

Arguing that today’s version of the Qur’an has been mistranscribed from the original text, scholar Christoph Luxenberg says that what are described as “houris” with “swelling breasts” refer to nothing more than “white raisins” and “juicy fruits.”

Amber will be very happy to hear this, since she always gets mad about men getting virgins while she would have to make do with only me.

All kidding aside, I was surprised about this article. This is after all old news, work that was published years ago even in the popular press (as I mentioned in a previous post). Then I read the following line:

Luxenberg —- a pseudonym —- is one of a small but growing group of scholars, most of them working in non-Muslim countries, studying the language and history of the Qur’an. When his new book is published this fall, it’s likely to be the most far-reaching scholarly commentary on the Qur’an’s early genesis, taking this infant discipline far into uncharted —- and highly controversial —- territory.

So it’s actually about publicity for his book then.

Regarding his claims, I can’t really make much sense out of the ones given in the Newsweek article since they all seem to have been picked based on an agenda rather than scholarly textual analysis (no houris in heaven, no hijab/covering for women, Muhammad as witness to the prophets rather than last prophet, Quran as teaching rather than revelation). I am not competent to judge his claim about Aramaic being the language of the Arabs at the time. I would need a lot more information about his analysis to come to any conclusions. Unfortunately Luxenberg’s book is only available in German (I don’t think I can ask my Dad to use his German skills on this book.)

Via ParaPundit, I saw this comment in the Forward which states some of my own objections as well:

Moreover, inasmuch as h.oura’u is an attested Arabic word that really does denote a fair-eyed woman, it is not clear what makes the pseudonymous Mr. Luxenberg so sure that the h.uru of the Koran are white raisins. Perhaps the many alimentary images in Sura 56 —- the pure spring waters and the fruit and the “flesh of fowls” —- have convinced him that the word h.uru should also refer to food. But since there are “immortal youths” who bring this food to the saints in heaven, why not fair-eyed women? In principle, the justification for emending an ancient text, or for interpreting it in a brand-new way, should be a basic problem with the traditional interpretation that calls for an innovative approach. In this case, it is hard to see what that is.

ParaPundit quotes this from the Forward article:

That Western scholars discussing Islam and the Koran have to publish under pseudonyms to ensure their physical safety is, of course, a sad commentary not only on the intolerance of the Islamic world, but —- even after the American action in Afghanistan —- on the West’s weak posture in the face of this.

Now I have heard about Luxenberg and Ibn Warraq (who I don’t necessarily consider a scholar) using pseudonyms. Most of the other scholars working on the Quran do use real names. Regarding Luxenberg, I would be interested in finding out how he publishes in scholarly journals or presents his work in conferences etc. (I am completely ignorant of humanities/social sciences in this respect. May be Brian Ulrich can correct me here. I have also no idea where to look for his articles.)

On the other hand, quite a few Muslims need a large dose of tolerance for views they disagree with. Pakistan government has banned the latest issue of Newsweek because of this article.

Government has banned the latest edition of US weekly magazine Newsweek because it carries material likely to incite Muslim religious sentiments, information minister said today. Shaikh Rashid told AFP that all copies of the weekly’s July 28 edition would be confiscated. “We have ordered the customs authorities to seize all copies of the Newsweek issue as it contains material which can incite religious sentiments,” Rashid said, adding that the objectionable article on page 40 was about the Holy Quran. He said there was freedom of expression in Pakistan but the government expected the media to be careful about the religious sensitivities of the Muslim people.

In addition, a number of my Muslim friends will say that Luxenberg is obviously wrong. They will give me reasons based on their faith. My reply is simple: True, but only for Muslims. Why should someone who does not believe in Islam accept these arguments? Faith-based reasoning does not work on someone who does not share that belief. We need to analyze Luxenberg’s claim not on the basis of our faith but by using textual analysis, history and rational thought.

Huffington Vs Huffington

Now that could be an interesting race for California Governor: Arianna Huffington running against her ex-husband Michael Huffington. Any guess as to how many people will vote for the wrong Huffington?

The rule-busting California gubernatorial recall election took a turn for the bizarre Friday as author-columnist Arianna Huffington appeared ready to kick off an independent run to replace Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and her ex-husband, former Rep. Michael Huffington, prepared to run as a Republican.

And who has more name recognition than Gary Condit?

Meanwhile, supporters of former Democratic Rep. Gary Condit say the congressman —- whose life is the subject of a documentary called “Public Service: The Private Campaign of Gary Condit,” to premiere Aug. 8 in Sacramento —- is being urged to consider a run as a Democrat.

This recall might turn out to be loads of fun!

Via the Talking Dog.

Restaurant Recommendations

We are planning to go to Washington DC next weekend. Can anyone recommend any good restaurants? I am looking for walk-in places where we don’t have to make reservations in advance or wear nice clothes but that have great food.

For lunch, the restaurant should be close to the Mall, but the dinner restaurant can be anywhere in the metro area.

Do I have any DC readers?

CIA’s War

Josh Marshall quotes the Nelson Report about war between the CIA and the administration.

and the war has just begun, intelligence community sources warn. The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of “a whole series of stories which are ready to break”, a source told us today, adding, “I’ve never seen such hostility and disdain as now being expressed between the White House and the CIA. Never…”

Much as I don’t like the Bush administration’s policies and especially methods, I think this is bad. We need to make sure that the intelligence agencies don’t declare a media war on the necons in the Bush administration. Not by supporting the administration’s ideas, but by opposing them in the arena of politics and public opinion.

Intelligence agencies are by their nature very secretive organizations which do some of the dirty intelligence stuff that needs to be done. They do need to do their intelligence work free of political interference, but embarassing the government or getting it to agree with them is not part of their job.

Like Max Sawicky, I am not a fan of the CIA and I do believe that the administration was wrong. But it should not be the CIA which proves it wrong in the media. That job should be Congress’s.

Boring Porn

I can understand the woman’s reaction, but what kind of porn puts a man to sleep?

Pakistan and Afghanistan

This random rant is brought to you courtesy of Tacitus:

Pakistan itself, meanwhile, is happily engaging in its national pasttime of effectively ignoring its extremists and conducting small-scale aggression against its neighbors. Is Islamabad an ally? I guess if Riyadh is, sure. And I deserved to get hit, because he works hard and I didn’t have dinner ready.

Ally? Who says Pakistan is an ally or friend! Doesn’t Tacitus remember the idea of states having interests and not friends? Was it Washington or Jefferson who said that? We have an interest in Pakistan helping us with Al-Qaeda and Taliban, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that other countries will act according to our will in this or other matters. They will look towards their national interest. They will do some of our bidding because let’s face it we are big and rich. The Pakistanis will do whatever they think is in their interest and that’s ok by me even if their interests don’t match with ours.

Also remember that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not properly marked. According to the Washington Post,

“This is a dotted-line border,” the ambassador said. “It has not really been demarcated. So what happens is that the soldiers, not knowing where the exact border would lie, they trespass into Afghanistan territory or Pakistan territory by 100 meters or 200 meters for a better location. These things happen.”

Some Western diplomats, however, accuse Pakistan of using the international battle against terrorism as cover to assert territorial claims over its impoverished neighbor by establishing military outposts.

Let us remember what was happening in the same border areas last year.

U.S. military authorities announced today that a brief shootout erupted between U.S. and Pakistani troops along the Afghan border Sunday, prompting the U.S. forces to call in an F-16 warplane that dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Pakistanis to end the clash.

[…]Reports from Pakistani officials in South Waziristan, the tribal administrative zone on the Pakistani side of the border, said at least two members of the Pakistani Border Scouts were killed in the bombing, which they said hit a Muslim religious school on the Pakistani side of the border in which some of the Border Scouts had taken refuge.

[…]Details of Sunday’s shooting and the subsequent bombing remained unclear —- including exactly where it happened. A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Steve Clutter, said the incident occurred in a “gray area” between Pakistan and Afghanistan along the Durand Line, which was defined in the 19th century by the British and is often disputed or ignored by both sides. A Pentagon official said, however, that the military believes both the shooting and the bombing took place inside Afghanistan.

Seems like we never can agree which side of the border things happen over there! The reason seems to be the Durand line. It is a mostly unmarked 2,430km (1,510 miles) long arid mountainous border which is named after Sir Mortimer Durand who basically forced Abdur Rahman Khan, amir of Afghanistan, to agree on the border in 1893. It basically divided the Pashtun tribal areas into half as a sort of buffer between Afghanistan and British India.

Afghanistan did not like the Durand line and was in fact the only state to vote against Pakistan’s admission to the UN in 1947 because of the border dispute. The original agreement was for 100 years and Pakistani efforts in 1996 to get the Taliban to agree on the Durand line as a permanent border were not fruitful.

And if you think that Pakistan is always meddling in Afghan affairs, here’s some news for you: It didn’t start that way. Afghanistan had a claim on the Pashtun areas of FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan from the beginning. There used to be this idea called Pashtunistan (or Pakhtunistan), an independent state for all the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nationalist Pashtuns and the Afghan government wanted the Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan to secede. Now no government likes that irrespective of the validity or otherwise of the claims of parties trying to secede. Afganistan’s government, especially under the Prime Ministership of Sardar Daud (who later overthrew his cousin King Zahir Shah in 1973), helped the Pakhtunistan cause quite diligently.

Prime Minister Daud Khan (1953—63) took a stronger line on Pashtunistan, and, to the surprise of many, turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military assistance.

The Pashtunistan issue precipitated Daud Khan’s downfall. In retaliation for Afghan agitation, Pakistan closed the border with Afghanistan in August 1961. Its prolonged closure led Afghanistan to depend increasingly on the Soviet Union for trade and in-transit facilities. To reverse the trend, Daud Khan resigned in March 1963, and the border was reopened in May.

Pakistani interference started after Sardar Daud overthrew King Zahir Shah in 1973 and increased quite a lot when Daud was overthrown by People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1978. The Soviets invaded in 1979 and the rest is history.

As I said, this is just a rant against the simplified view of history and international relations that conservatives generally have. I don’t have any clue why the Pakistani army is wandering in the border area since it has never really controlled the tribal areas of Pakistan. One guess is that they see this as a chance to assert army and federal authority over the fiercely independent tribes in FATA.

Also, I have long criticized the Pakistani army doctrine of “strategic depth” which calls for a friendly or client Afghan state to get some depth in a war with India. That is a crazy idea and can only lead to problems with Afghanistan.

X2 and T3

This was the weekend of sequels and single letters.

We finally watched X2. It’s good; in fact, it’s better than the first one. But you definitely should have seen X-men before watching X2. There is not much character development and screen time is divided almost equally. Definitely one of my favorite comic book movies.

We did not have high expectations for Terminator 3, but having watched Terminator as a teenager it was absolutely necessary to keep up with the story. It does seem like they want to make another couple of sequels. Lots of action and not a bad movie overall. I think low expectations definitely helped as well.