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What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary Hardcover – October 1, 2002
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"For the professional Islamicist, it is enormously convenient to have all these articles assembled together in a single work. For anyone interested in the Koran, it will be a boon to understanding Islam. …robustly critical scholarship…."
-Times Literary Supplement
"Like Ibn Warraq's earlier (and extraordinary) Why I Am Not a Muslim, this book offers a perspective on Islam and the Koran which demands a wider reading and a wider debate , and not just in the Christian and secular West.... [An] excellent book on a sensitive and under-explored subject."
From the Inside Flap
Islam has worldwide influence, and even in the United States is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Islam and its sacred book, the Koran, have been the subject of voluminous commentary and, recently, great popular interest; yet it has rarely received the kind of ojective critical scrutiny that has been applied to the texts of the Bible for more than a century.
Though some scholars of note have raised crucial questions about the authenticity and reliability of the Koran and Muslim tradition, Koranic studies by and large have failed to take advantage of critical skeptical methodologies. Today the majority of interpreters of Islam's sacred text appear content to lie in the Procrustean bed prepared by Muslim tradition more than a thousand years ago.
To correct this neglect of objective historical scholarship, Ibn Warraq has assembled this excellent collection of critical commentaries on the Koran published by noted scholars from the beginning of the twentieth century to recent times. These important studies, as well as his own lengthy introduction, show that little about the text of the Koran can be taken at face value. Among the fascinating topics discussed is evidence that early Muslims did not understand Muhammad's original revelation, that the ninth-century explosion of literary activity was designed to organize and make sense of an often incoherent text, and that many of the traditions surrounding Muhammad's life were fabricated long after his death in an attempt to give meaning to the Koran. Also of interest are suggestions that Coptic and other Christian sources heavily influenced much of the text and that some passages even reflect an Essenian background reaching back to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Complete with a glossary of Arabic terms and appendices on Semitic languages and scripts, this outstanding volume is a welcome resource for interested lay readers and scholars alike.
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This book is not at all interesting. It uses recycled material from other polemics. Not only that, his arguments have a weak base and are simply not at all scholarly. Taking a look at this other books, its no secret that Ibn Warraq is not in search of anything other than having people come to his side.
Since ibn warraq has an "inconsistent handling of Arabic materials," how can we accept this book as sound, seeing how the Quran is in Arabic?
I wonder how many of the people here actually understand Arabic, or have at least read a reliable translation of the Quran? Perhaps they could then see whether or not Surah 96 is truly "incoherent nonsense."
The book is organized as an anthology, with many entries that read like scholarly papers written for The Society of Biblical Literature. Some of the material requires an acquaintance with classical Arabic, and makes references to loan words from Hebrew, Syriac, and other aancient Semetic languages.
I would recommend that the general reader approach the book by reading Warraq's "Introduction," first, and then skip over to the critical concluding essay by Ibn Rawandi (Section 8.3). (Ibn Rawandi is the pseudonym of another Islamic dissenter like Ibn Warraq. Both these names are derived from 8th and 9th Century Islamic dissenters described in Chapter 10 of Warraq's "Why I Am Not A Muslim.")
After reading Rawandi's critical essay, one should then go back and read (or re-read) the materials to which Rawandi refers. Only then should the naive reader attempt to follow the arguments concerning loan-words found in the Koran from Syriac, Ebionite-Christianity, and other ancient sources.
Why is this all so hard to unravel? It appears to me that the state of critical scholarship about the Koran is much less well developed than is scholarship about the Bible. The attempt to explain the redundancies and contradictions in the Koran is about as well developed today as was Biblical scholarship in the last quarter of the 19th Century. Why is scholarship about the Koran so much less well developed? One reason may be that Western scholars have simply been more interested in the sources of their own religious canon. But another salient factor is the resistance within Islam itself toward any such critical examination of the Koran. Warraq tells us the Encyclopedia of Islam says the Koran plays a role within Islam, like that played by Christ in Christianity. So Muslims are even more allergic to critical examinations of their canon than Christian fundamentalists are of theirs. As Barry Rubin explains in his "The Long War For Freedom," merely proposing to examine the Koran with the tools of critical scholarship can get one imprisoned or even executed in an Islamic country today.
I can understand, in retrospect, why this book was so difficult to read. Warraq simply could not present his case for the Koran being a document with a history of construction from multiple sources, without first leading us through such a dense thicket of evidence and analysis.
The book was announced in 2002 and reviewed around the `web but I only caught a copy in January of 2003. It starts with two introductions. The first introduction, Ibn Warraq's own, is a sprawling overview of Arabic philology and Qur'anic scholarship. The second introduction is Toby Lester's Atlantic Monthly article... which you can get for free online.
So already we can see the problems with the book, and with its editor and publisher. It is published a year after the publisher promised it, and it is too long, and it contains material that can be found elsewhere, and it contains speculations that are extremely debatable within the field. A decade later, this author will put out "Which Koran?" which, as I've reviewed elsewhere, incorporates all these problems to an unforgiveable extent.
However, and this is what distinguishes this book from "Which Koran?": it also contains articles that cannot be found elsewhere (easily) and cannot be done without.
Part 2 concerns the archaeology of Islamic sloganeering - and it has just the one article, Yehuda Nevo's "Toward a Prehistory of Islam". This starts this book off with a nuclear bang. This article in 1991 forced scholarship to take a second look into the development of *popular* "Islam". Later in 2003, Prometheus put out Nevo's "Crossroads To Islam", which supercedes this article, but this article forms an effective "trailer" for the best part of that book.
Part 3 handles the language of the Qur'an - and is really multiple sub-parts. Here, too, there is external material you will need to make sense of the articles. The sub-text of the first sub-part is Arthur Jeffery's "Foreign Vocabulary". To that Mingana's article leads up, and then Margoliouth's article amends it. The sub-text of the next sub-part is the claim of Vollers that the Qur'an was not written in "irab" (noun-declensions). Kahle attempts to rescue Vollers and then Rabin disputes Kahle-Vollers (one problem here, though, is that this whole argument is likely moot as of now). Then come some speculative essays that add little to my understanding.
Part 4 started with some nice stuff about possible sources for the Qur'anic haggada: Essenic (Bishop, Philonenko) and Coptic (Bishai). Part 4 closed with a mini-part featuring Koebert's work on sura 22 and the "talbiya" pilgrimage-prayer. There we are, again, missing some context: in this case "Eine von 1 Kor. 15.27f beeinflusste talbia" in Biblica 35 (1954). Here, additionally, are some translation-decisions and outright typoes which drove me to my wit's end. Once I figured out what was going on, which literally took me years, I ended up agreeing with his reading of sura 22; but I remained unconvinced that 1 Cor. 15.27 can be located in Arabic ritual outside the tafsir / hadith tradition of the late Umayyad era (Qatada etc). For this: Manfred Kropp, "Tripartite formulas in the Qur'anic corpus" (2011), 259.
The whole of Part 5 is a waste of time. Mainly it demonstrates the lack of Orientalist agreement over The Verse of Jizya and the meaning of Furqan, alongside additional flights of scholarly fancy.
In part 6, J Barth explains the hiccups in the Qur'an, albeit in the order of revelation and not the canonical order. He is sometimes, I think, wrong but is awesome for sura 25. In part 8, Geyer lays out the strophic structure - the innate poetry - of suras 26, 51 among others (once more, it follows up someone else's work not reproduced here - this time it's DH Mueller's "Propheten", 1896, which handles 11, 44, 69 &c). In part 8 is also a Wellhausen miscellany, "Zum Koran", among which is a translation of a para-Qur'anic qasida by one "Samuel" and the start of a commentary. The rest of parts 6 and 8 is speculative - again. Well, there's part 7, which just rips off Bell's (discredited) commentaries; and there's an introduction by Ibn Rawandi to the work of Lueling (and Luxenburg), but I consider Lueling and Luxenburg to be fringe.
Finally, part 9 has the paleography of physical Qur'anic books. Grohmann lays out that they exist; Gerd-R Puin explains some of the controversy. I liked Gerd-R Puin's essay; I just wish he'd had more time with the manuscripts.
To sum up, a hefty portion of this thick book is redundant for honest researches into the Book of Allah. The redundant essays tend toward showing how little we know of the Qur'an - they are just illustrations of ignorance. Given that Ibn Warraq's argument at the outset was that these pericopae were unintelligible even when the Qur'an was compiled, and given that Ibn Warraq started out even before this book as an anti-Islamic essayist: I can't help but feel that the editor put in this backfill not for the reader's benefit, but for the activists'.
I don't know about you, but this annoys me, it makes me feel sucker-punched. I wanted a book about Islamic scholarship. In many places, this *is* a scholarly book. But that's not good enough for the activists; the activists want me to oppose Islam. I can do that, or not, just fine without the dubious help of dubious articles. There are enough GOOD articles out there for that purpose.
So I'm subtracting a star for the bloat and above all for the tendentiousness of that bloat. But I still have to give this book a four. It is a necessary work; and even more necessary if read alongside the other work of Arthur Jeffery and Yehuda Nevo.
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I recommend it.
However, that remains in doubt, so I darent risk it.