August 18, 2003


A Dr. Aslam Abdullah, identified as the editor of the Minaret Magazine, has responded, in a fashion, to the Newsweek article that I mentioned here, on the psuedonymous Christoph Luxenberg's theory that ...

the original language of the Qur’an was not was not Arabic but something closer to Aramaic. He says the copy of the Qur’an used today is a mistranscription of the original text from Muhammad’s time, which according to Islamic tradition was destroyed by the third caliph, Osman, in the seventh century. But Arabic did not turn up as a written language until 150 years after Muhammad’s death, and most learned Arabs at that time spoke a version of Aramaic.

By applying his theory, Luxenberg concludes (or perhaps "theorizes" might be a better word -- I think it's premature to characterize his work) that much Islamic orthodoxy can't be sustained by the reading of the text:

It claims that the Qur’an’s commandment for women to cover themselves is based on a similar misreading; in Sura 24, the verse that calls for women to “snap their scarves over their bags” becomes in Aramaic “snap their belts around their waists.” Even more explosive are readings that strengthen scholars’ views that the Qur’an had Christian origins. Sura 33 calls Muhammad the “seal of the prophets,” taken to mean the final and ultimate prophet of God. But an Aramaic reading, says Luxenberg, turns Muhammad into a “witness of the prophets”—i.e., someone who bears witness to the established Judeo-Christian texts. The Qur’an, in Arabic, talks about the “revelation” of Allah, but in Aramaic that term turns into “teaching” of the ancient Scriptures. The original Qur’an, Luxenberg contends, was in fact a Christian liturgical document—before an expanding Arab empire turned Muhammad’s teachings into the basis for its new religion long after the Prophet’s death.

My own view is that, given the radical nature of Luxenberg's thesis, a fairly large dose of skepticism is in order -- take a tablet about the size of a manhole cover. I don't know much about the state of Islamic archaeology, but I seem to recall that coins struck with Arabic inscriptions dating to the 690s were found in Scandinavia (the Vikings carried on a thriving trade with the Caliphate) and in Siraf on the Iranian coast. I suspect that there's a great deal of physical evidence -- inscriptions and what not -- that can be read using Luxenberg's method. I of course cannot judge Luxenberg's work for myself, but I imagine a number of specialists in classical Arabic and Aramaic are eager to do so for me. It will be interesting to see both his book and what the reaction of his critics will be. (I suspect the latter will be available in English long before the former.)

The good Dr. Abdullah takes a rather different approach to Luxenberg's thesis:

The authenticity of a book depends on its verification by the one that either authored it or narrated it. For example, some 15 years ago, a German scholar claimed to have made an earth-shaking discovery when he published what he called ‘The Diaries of Adolph Hitler’. The London Times published excerpts of the diary, describing it as the most sensational story of the century. A few months later, it was conclusively proven that the diary was fake and was written by anonymous authors. The major argument advanced to disprove the book was that no one knew about it, not even the closest of Hitler's supporters. Above all, he never approved it or delivered it to anyone.

If the book or scriptures attributed to an individual--as an author or a source of narration--is compiled and verified in the lifetime of that narrator or  author, then its authenticity can be taken as face value. Otherwise,  doubt will remain in the minds of readers regarding the true origin of the book or of the contents of the book.

Of course, the Hitler Diaries hoax was revealed through a high tech version of textual analysis, as this piece makes clear:

The diaries themselves were full of flaws:

-- The books were of post-war manufacture, and contained threads that were not made before the 1950s.

--The plastic monogram on the front of one diary read "FH" rather than "AH ."

--The texts of the diaries contained historical inaccuracies and anachronisms.

--The ink used was chemically modern, and tests showed that it was recently applied to the paper.

The success of the fraud had less to do with the technical sophistication of the forgery than the combined and contagious gullibility of many people.

The author of the diaries, by the way, was Konrad Kujau, who'd supported himself for years by selling forged manuscript pages of Hitler's political manifesto. He has a Website, "Konrad Kujau, Meisterfaelscher."

As the article on the diaries I linked noted, no less a figure than the late Hugh Trevor-Roper, the medieval historian who, in the aftermath of World War Two, was asked by the British government to write a report on how Hitler met his end (the fascinating Last Days of Hitler), pronounced the diaries authentic. While Dr. Abdullah is correct in surmising that a great deal of the skepticism arose from the lack of any historical corroboration that Hitler kept a diary, it is not true that this by itself proved that the diaries were forgeries.

Dr. Abdullah goes on to make the following claim:

Among all the religious books that exist today, the Qur'an is the only one that has the privilege of being compiled and approved by the Prophet who received it ...

...By the time the Prophet departed, the Qur'an was already written in the form of a book from cover to cover. The Prophet is reported to have approved the Qur'an after listening to it from men and women who had memorized it and written it. A copy of this Qur'an was with his wife Hafsa bint Omar. Consequently, this was used as the master copy when duplications were made during the time of Caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Ali. (See the chapter on the Qur'an in Sahih el-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim ).

Some Muslim accounts of the history of the compilation as mentioned in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim provide the information that the Qur'an was compiled in the form and format we see today, at the time of Caliphs Abu Bakr and Uthman. In fact, one such account says that when Omar asked the first caliph to commission the compilation of the Qur'an, he refused saying why would he do something that the Prophet did not do ( Sahih el-Bukhari ).  Similarly, another account claims that the third Caliph Uthman appointed a commission of six people to compile the Qur'an as there were different copies of the Qur'an present in different parts of the world.

These two accounts require closer examination on the basis of several other narrations that are mentioned in several books of hadith. First, the two accounts never say that the Prophet didn't compile the Qur'an.  Second, the two accounts do not refer to other narrations in the books of hadith including the Bukhari and Muslim that conclusively prove that the entire Qur'an as is present today, was compiled at the time of the Prophet. What is often confused in these narrations is the difference between ‘compilation’ and ‘copying’. While the Qur'an was compiled at the time of the Prophet, the mass scale copying of the Qur'an began officially at the time of Caliph Abu Bakr. During the lifetime of the Prophet, several of his companions had complete sets of the Qur'anic verses, which they had arranged according to their reading schedule with their own notes. Some were complete and others were not. However, it was at the time of Caliph Abu Bakr that an official copy of the Qur'an was made from the master copy that was with Hafsa bint Omar.

Citing the Bukhari and Muslim collections of hadith as definitive proof of the Hafsa bint Omar story suffers from the same problems that Dr. Abdullah raises about Christian and Zoroastrian scripture -- the distance in time from the events they describe (Bukhari died in 870 c.e., or 148 years after the Prophet; Muslim in 875 c.e.).

I suspect that Luxenberg's rather radical reading of the Qur'an can be challenged, but not by the likes of Dr. Abdullah.

Posted by Ideofact at August 18, 2003 11:45 PM

Yup, Dr. Abudullah falls apart - and it's exactly this 'trust our tradition' approach that Luxenberg wants to start by dismissing.

So far as I - non-arabist that I am - know, the oldest surviving texts from the Qur'an that everyone accepts are actually monumental inscriptions in mosaic in the Dome of the Rock (about 685, though the date is controverted). The material from the mosque in Yemen is fragmentary and still largely unpublished (I think - but I don't really keep up with it -- here's a link to a popular treatment).

There's a very strong academic review of the Lux book at a site devoted to Syriac studies.

On another note -- Francis Lowenheim, a professor at Rice and considerable expert on 20th century papers, dismissed the Hitler diaries immeidately for the Wall Street Journal reporter. He asked -- "do the entries continue without a change of handwriting after xxxx (date)? If so, it's a fraud." (the date being the bomb-in-the-bunker that injured Hitler's writing arm).

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at August 19, 2003 09:53 AM

I'm no expert on Arabic or the Qur'an, so I'll
take as given two frequently made claims:
1) The Qur'an is hard to understand in places
2) It is beautiful Arabic

Luxenberg's hypothesis is consistent with 1), but
I have a little trouble seeing how it can
satisfy 2). Beowulf isn't widely regarded as
beautiful, except perhaps by Middle English

Posted by: James Bellinger at August 19, 2003 11:31 AM

James --

Those statements about the 'beauty of the Qur'an recitation' are about the ravishing (a frequently used word in these descriptions) sound -- not about the sense. I rather like opera, but I can never understand any of it unless I have a libretto and I seldom catch whole sentences in Gregorian chant even though I know Latin well AND know many of the texts well.

If you look around, as I have been doing lately, the "Qur'an is ravishingly beautiful" statement often occurs in the same sentence as statements like "even though I knew no Arabic." It is a matter of faith that the Qur'an is beautiful, though a striking number of converts say that they thought it was beautiful first and then converted. It sure has little to do with the *sense* of the passage being recited.

--Michael Tinkler.

p.s. -- Old English, not Middle :)

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at August 19, 2003 06:20 PM

The URL for the Hugoye Journal review is:

Posted by: Kevin Edgecomb at August 19, 2003 06:36 PM

uh, the "koran is beautiful," well, when i recited surahs and stuff, the passages had a hypnotic quality to them. but, so does a lot of religious chanting in whatever language, and a lot of indigenous "world music." the human mind can make anything seem nice if it isn't atrocious.

also-since most of the people who tell you the koran is beautiful are muslims, there is an element of bias here, as they also believe it is the uncreated eternal word of god. if it is the latter, there is a strong psychological motivation to believe it is beautiful, after all, it is sacred.

in this line of reasoning, many of my mormon friends asserted that the book of mormon was so long, so detailed, and so poetic & plot-thick that joseph smith couldn't have made it up. is the book of mormon poetic? well, i think it's far, far crappier than the KJV that it tries to mimic, but my mormon friends though they were listening to the tabernacle choir singing when they read it....

Posted by: razib at August 23, 2003 04:29 AM

A Critique of Christoph Luxenberg's interpretation of Sura 19:16—26



Following are some relevant comments on the Qur'anic verses 19:16ff., and on their interpretation by Christoph Luxenberg.

Luxenberg believes that:

(a) before Jesus' birth, as narrated by the Qur'an, Mary did not "withdraw from her people to a place eastwards" (19:16) but was "expelled by her relatives," apparently following the "coarse manners in the Orient against unmarried girls with child."

(b) that Jesus, immediately after birth, gave Mary the courage to face her relatives even with a child born out of wedlock.

1- Luxenberg totally ignores the fact that the Qur'an, again & again, firmly refutes ANY suggestion of the unchastity of Mary.

Reference may be made to 21:91 and 66:12, both of which speak of Mary as one: "who guarded her chastity."

By stating that Mary got pregnant out of the wedlock and was expelled by her family for THIS reason and, therefore, bore Jesus as an illegitimate child, who, immediately after his birth, told Mary to sit back and relax because he WAS a legitimate child since God "has made (?) his birth legitimate," makes Luxenberg ignore the Qur'anic verses wherein the chastity
of Mary is staunchly maintained. Thus Luxenberg passes in mysterious silence over the Qur'anic verses (such as 21:91; 66:12, etc.) which
speak of Mary as one: "who guarded her chastity," thereby contradicting the way how Luxenberg interpreted the Qur'anic verses

2- Secondly, the Qur'an has previously stated that Mary's mother had vowed, before her birth, to dedicate the child she was expecting to
the service of the Lord in the Temple (see 3:31).

So when Mary was born Zachariah took charge of her and entered her into the "niche"
in the Temple (verse 32).

According to the "Book of James," Mary was taken to the Temple as early as three yrs old (James, M. R., "Apocryphal New Testament," 1924, pp. 40 ff.)

Now in sura 19:16, we re being told that the "niche" or cell in the Temple, into which Mary used to make sojourn, was located EASTWARDS
in the Temple -- i.e., in the EASTERN corner of the Temple.

Keeping this in mind we conclude that by stating that Mary "withdraw from her people to a place eastwards," it is meant that she was in
isolated retirement (which was a common practice in the Hebrew "nuns") in the niche located in the eastern corner of the Temple at the time of the annunciation.

3- Even more significant is the point that only AFTER Mary was in her isolated retirement did the angel appear to her and announced the birth of a child.

It means that when she went into her isolated retirement the angel had yet NOT appeared to her.

In other words, when she went into her isolated retirement she was NOT yet pregnant.

So when she was NOT yet pregnant, HOW could she have been "expelled by her relatives" following the "coarse manners in the Orient against unmarried girls with child," when there was NO child as yet...???

This is the logical flaw resulting from Luxenberg's interpretation.

4- Verse 24 states that midst Mary's agonized cries and loneliness, "'he' called to her from beneath her" and offered consolation.

The subject of the pronoun 'he' could be:

- the angelic voice, which announced Jesus' birth in verse 17, calling from beneath the hill on which Mary was sitting,

- OR this 'he' could be the baby Jesus sitting at the foot of her mother.

The word: "min-Tahtiha" is pure Arabic and "Tahta" means: "a location that is beneath or below" (see: Lane, "Arabic-English Lexicon," bk 1, part 1, p. 298; "Lisaan al-`Arab," under T-H-T, etc.).

The word: "Sari(an)" is a "rivulet that flows to (water) palm-trees" (Hava, "Arabic-English Dictionary," p. 319).

Labid says in his (pre-Islamic) Mo`allaqa:

Fata-wassa-ta Urza-s-SARIYYE Fa-sadda-`aa
Masjoora-tan Muta-ja-way-ran Kulla-mu-ha

(see: verse 18 from top at: )

There's NO WAY in Arabic language that "min-Tahtiha" would mean "immediately after her delivery" and "Sari(an)" would mean "legitimate" so that the verse would read:

Then he called to her immediately after her delivery: "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath made your delivery legitimate."

"min-Tahtiha" may mean "immediately after her delivery" and "sharyaa" (Not 'Sariyya') may mean "legitimate" IN SYRIAC but they do NOT mean so in Arabic -- and may we remind our "scholar"
that the Qur'an is written in Arabic language.

Their meanings in the Arabic language can only be those that I described above with the help of their usages in the classical Arabic works, all of which stand contrary to Luxenberg's


Posted by: Asif at October 20, 2003 01:31 AM

Moses, Job,Noah, Jesus .... nrver existed.
all invented by jews.

a handful of jews that invented lies and legends , some 2500 years ago and put it on the account of God ....

nowadays, 1 billion christians + 1 billion muslims still beleaving these jewish lies.

btw, Moses is cited 136 times in Quran ....

the result is catastrophic: inter religious wars:
crusades, colonization, 1 st and 2 nd Gulf wars,
mideast conflict etc ....

enough is enough. 2500 years of jewish lies.

Posted by: Warrior at December 6, 2003 10:33 AM

Continued ....

there have been no prophets. all charlatans.
God -- if he existed -- could have talked DIRECTLY to the folk, avoiding misinterpretaions or errors by prophets.

prophecies in the Bible are worthless, since they were written long AFTER they occurred.

as for Mahomet -- if he ever existed -- he could only be a charlatan, since he was repeating same jewish lies.

in short, monotheism, invented by the jews ihn their fake Torah, was the greatest conspiracy in human history.


Posted by: Warrior at December 6, 2003 10:44 AM

if the believers are wrong, what do they lose? but if they are correct, imagine the consequences. and go do a better study before you start criticizing. who in this world would write such a fantastic "lie" without even a mention of his/her name? so what is YOUR truth?

Posted by: Kit at January 30, 2004 06:13 AM

I agree with Kit, these claims can be as unfounded as the ones you are supposededly "calling out," shame on you for trying to discredit something that is beleived by millions of scholars (muslim and not) and only refuted by few, you ignorant ones, and with no accredidation of any sort

Posted by: Miriam at May 9, 2004 02:26 PM