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.)
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.
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.