All Praise is due to Allah, who has no partners, Peace and Blessings be upon His Final Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family and companions. Amîn!
What follows is the paper based on the debate between Mr A. Green and J. Smith at South Bank University on Wednesday, 29 May 1996. There apparently seemed to be some confusion by the Christian contingent about the title of the debate, which they seemed to think was “Is the Qurân the Word of God”. However, it has always been very clear from the first invitation to Jay Smith for this debate (see Appendix 1), that the title was “The Sources of Islâm”, and the subject matter was to be the various papers written by J. Smith on his external historical critique of Islâm (See Appendix 1).
The writers of this paper assume readers to be familiar with Smiths material, so for the most part do not give details on Smiths arguments within the paper.
The first thing that we need to clarify are the issues at stake. The primary question we intend to address is the authenticity of the sources upon which the religion of Islâm is derived.
There can be no doubt of the importance of the authenticity of any give religious scripture. This is because once a text has shown to have been corrupted and altered in order to make it comply with doctrinal or political expediencies, and if there is no reliable means to distinguish the corrupt from the pure, then there is not one passage of that text that cannot be called into question. This is not so easy with a pure and preserved text. This is well understood by the Christian fundamentalists. If it is not the Word of God, then what real value does it posses as guidance, except as a collection of wisdoms?
How, therefore is the authenticity of any given text, or texts to be established. The fact is that the methodology used and accepted by Islâm and the Muslims is historically different from those used by modern Biblical criticism. It must be remembered that the historical and political circumstances that brought about the rise of modern Biblical criticism are unique to that collection of books and the religion of Christianity that claims to be based on it. To demand that the text of Islâm should be subjected to the same type of criticism is somewhat fallacious. The very aspects that made the Bible open to criticism in the first place; internal and external contradiction, the variation between numerous documents and the complete lack of means to verify the validity of the Biblical texts as contemporious to the events they describe, and the growing realization that the Biblical cannon was something that developed in the context of other Christological traditions, none of which seemed to offer any more of a supportable claim to truth than the other, except that the Pauline tradition was that which managed to dominate, are not present in the Qurân and the histography of Islâm. It is noteworthy that the Biblical criticism is something that grew up from within the Christian tradition after some one thousand five hundred years. Muslim had developed a critical apparatus within the earliest years of its history.
In the most direct sense the source of Islâm is none other that the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Mighty the Powerful, the Wise, Allah. He is sufficient as a witness to truth of His religion. As a nation we believe that Islâm proves itself to be the true religion revealed by Allah for the benefit of all mankind. This proof is composed of several different categories of evidence. We do not intend to go into them here. However these evidences lead the believer in them to the conclusion that the religion of Islâm is the true religion of Allah, and thus what the Qurân, the actual Word of God, and its explanation, the divinely guided Prophetic example, is true and correct. Since the Qurân itself states that:
“We have revealed to you the reminder, and upon Us is the preservation of it”
The believer accepts as a fact that both the Qurân and its explanation the Sunnah have been preserved. This is a fact even if we were to accept Smith’s claims of a second century compilation the reality of its undisputed preservation without any deviation or difference throughout the whole Muslim world is without doubt remarkable. It is certainly not something the Bible can claim. To the believer the issue might be a rather different one, i.e. How, or through what means did Allah cause His religion to be preserved? This is ultimately all that we are obliged to answer. We do not feel that it is necessary to prove Islâm’s authenticity through another criterion that someone else might wish to set up. The Qurân speaks of similar challenges to the Prophethood of Muhammad by the pagan Arabs:
“And they say; We shall not believe in you until you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us or you have a garden of date palms and grapes and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst abundantly, or you cause the heavens to fall upon us in pieces as you have pretended, or you bring Allah and the angels before us face to face, or you have a house of gold and silver, or you ascend up into the sky, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension until you bring down for us a book that we will read” (Qurân 17:90-3)
“They say, ‘Why has not a treasure been sent down to him? Or an Angel has come to him ? But you are only a warner and Allah is the Disposer of affairs”(Qurân 12:12)
The Qurân ordered the Prophet Muhammad to declare his inability to provide them with that which they asked. He was a mere man, and the miracles and signs were in the hands of Allah. Then Allah went on to state that:
“Say: O Muhammad. Glorified be my Lord over all that they associate with Him! Am I anything but a man sent as a Messenger”
The Prophet himself would have liked to have met their demands, and this was from his love and concern for his people, and his great desire for them to be guided.
In the light of the manners of he whom Allah endowed with the best of manners, and seeking to follow the way of him whose way is the best, we shall try to provide them with that which they ask, but with the understanding that what Allah has provided is more than enough for those who are sincere.
In this context an examination of the type of proof that Smith is demanding leads to the conclusion that it in fact proves nothing. To give an example, if we were to discover an ancient copy of Homer’s Iliad, some contemporious non-Greek sources, plus architectural evidence, would that mean that Achilles actually was the son of a god, that we should start to worship him, and Zeus and Aphrodite, or similarly with Krishna and Baghavad Gita, or Buddha, etc., . . . Furthermore, even if we do not have what Smith demands it does not prove that it is not the truth, just as the Prophet Mohammed’s inability to bring a house of gold or ascend up a ladder into the sky does not prove that he was not a Prophet. In fact what is really exposed by these demands is the incorrect understanding and methodology and aims of the contenders.
An important issue to understand for the unwary travellers through this unfamiliar territory is the context of these ideas, conjectures and theories that Smith declares as historical facts.
It truly seems that the writing of some of these new historians like Wansbrough, Crone and Cook, who’s ideas have been adopted by Rippin, and now Smith, is an attempt to drag Islâm into the same quagmire that Christianity finds itself in by attempting to attribute the problems from which the Bible and Christianity suffers onto the Qurân and Islâm. They have, of course failed.
The ideas of Crone and Cook have not succeeded in winning support from other Western scholars let alone the Muslims.
In this context it might be helpful to briefly explain the nature of Western scholarship as opposed to what we are used to in Islâm. A scholar in the West is expected to arrive at novel or even radical new approaches to a subject, or at least to contribute significantly to a previous theory. It is quite acceptable, nay in their opinion even desirable, to propound and defend even the most incredulous ideas and feel they quite free to ignore evidence that contradicts their ideas. There was, for example, a well respected scholar of Christianity, who was even a member of the elite group of scholars put in charge of the translation of the Dead Sea scrolls, who propounded a theory that Jesus was in fact a member of an ancient magic mushroom cult! Merely repeating previously accepted notions is not considered “scholarship.”
Humphrey’s writes about Crone and Cooks book Hagarism that it should be viewed as a ‘what-if’ exercise rather than a research monograph. R. B. Sergeant writing in The Journal of Royal Asiatic Society complains about having to plod through “ this tiresome travesty of history.” We rather share his sentiments, not only on this issue, but also the whole mass of J. Smith’s tiresome lies and distortions.
There is little doubt that the likes of Smith are aware of the facts, and the weakness of the Wansbrough/Crone and Cook school, yet in his papers he consistently refers to their ideas and speculative conclusions as established history.
We should have no doubt that the origins of Orientalism are anything but friendly or even impartial attempts to assess the religion of Islâm. Orientalism has its roots firmly grounded in a colonial past and neo-colonialist present. It was always intended to undermine the Muslims adherence to their religion, and make easier the task of ruling the Muslim lands. The work of Orientalists, far from being objective scientific studies are often wrought with prejudice. As one writer states, whilst giving examples of Orientalism’s “ more obnoxious representatives”: “One of the best examples of contemporary Islamophobic Orientalism is in Hagarism: the Making of the Islamic World, by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook.” (Sardar and Davies, Distorted Imagination)
When this prejudice is combined with the interests of Christian missionary activities we can dismiss completely any resemblance of impartiality and honesty. Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Missionaries with whom J. Smith is involved. It seems they have only the slightest hesitation in deceiving and telling outright lies.
Indeed this is not something surprising after having been taught this unscrupulous doctrine by their predecessor in deception, namely Paul, who we find declaring: “ If through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner.” (Romans 3:7), thereby disregarding and contradicting his own book where we read: “ A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.” (Proverbs 14:5).
All this rather reminds us of the type of techniques used amongst the poor and starving Muslims of Africa and Asia. There are reported incidents of Christian Missionaries giving ill and suffering people infected water to drink “ In the name of Mohammed ” and after their illness worsens they give them proper medicine to take “ In the name of Jesus.”
The history of Orientalism is hardly one of unbiased examination of the sources of Islâm especially when under the influence of the bigotry of Christianity. From the fanatical distortions of John of Damascus to the apologetic of later writers against Islâm, that told their audiences that the Muslims worshipped three idols! Peter the Venerable (1084-1156) “translated” the Qurân which was used throughout the Middle Ages and contained nine additional chapters. Sale’s infamously distorted translation followed that trend, and his, along with the likes of Rodwell, Muir and a multitude of others attacked the character and personality of Muhammad. Often they employed invented stories, or narration’s which the Muslims themselves considered fabricated or weak, or else they distorted the facts by claiming Muslims held a position which they did not, or using the habits practised out of ignorance among the Muslims as the accurate portrayal of Islâm. As Norman Daniel tell us in his work Islâm and the West:
“The use of false evidence to attack Islâm was all but universal . . . ” (p. 267)
Smith’s papers are replete with examples of this type of approach. Muslim scholars and apologists have more than effectively refuted this outpouring of lies and abuse. The fact that Smith has resorted to the approach of Crone, Cook and Wansbrough is rather indicative of the effectiveness of the Muslim counter arguments.
Let us therefore examine these ideas in more detail.
[Continued in next article in this series]
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