A Defending Crusader…

The best defense is to be good and offensive…or something like that.

What are they afraid of?

Posted by Godefroi on January 15, 2008

An editorial (Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code) in today’s online edition of Asia Times takes a look at the recent unveiling of an archive of photos of the Qur’an that may be the oldest known. I say unveiling, but that’s a mischaracterization. The archive was supposedly lost in a bombing event during WWII, but a German scholar disclosed that she had knowingly hidden it for nearly two decades.Many others have written about this in the last few days. It’s not my intention to rehash the story. I find a couple of comments in the editorial noteworthy, however.

It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa’na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

This new story is very reminiscent of the Yemenite fragments unearthed way back in 1972 (the existence of which was widely publicized in the Atlantic Monthly [“What is the Koran”, find it here – GdB] in 1999. Again, there was an archive of photographs that at first the Yemeni government tried to confiscate (WHY?). These are also locked up in Germany with limited access (WHY?). Eight years later (35 actually) the world is still waiting for the results of study. (WHY?) The photos either confirm the Islamic ideology that the Qur’an exists “unchanged for over 1300 years” or they don’t. If they do, Islamic leaders should be shouting for the results to be published. If they don’t….

The history of the archive reads like an Islamic version of the Da Vinci Code. It is not clear why its existence was occulted for sixty years, or why it has come to light now, or when scholars will have free access to it.

This is very troubling to me. The archive is an historical treasure. It should be disseminated to scholars far and wide. The only reason I can see to keep this trove hidden, especially now that it’s existence has been verified, is to bury it. Why bury it? Fear. Fear that it’s contents would be too explosive, and the risk to either the health of the researcher or Islam would be too great…that is, Islamic sympathy, if not actual preference.

It may be a very long time before the contents of the Bavarian archive are known. Some Koranic critics, notably the pseudonymous scholar “Ibn Warraq”, claim that Professor Angelika Neuwirth, the archive’s custodian, has denied access to scholars who stray from the traditional interpretation. Neuwirth admits that she has had the archive since 1990. She has 18 years of funding to study the Bavarian archive, and it is not clear who will have access to it.

Again, what’s the holdup? Why the secrecy? It stinks of favoritism.

Apart from the little group at the University of the Saarland and a handful of others, though, the Western Academy is loathe to go near the issue.  In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is a failsafe way to commit career suicide.

Note to academia: Your job is to teach, not indoctrinate. You do not have the right to avoid or hide facts that disagree with your points of view, or those of your funders. STOP TAKING MONEY FROM THE SAUDIS!

Neuwirth has led the attack on “Christoph Luxenburg” and other Koranic critics who dispute the traditional Muslim account. According to Higgins, “Ms Neuwirth, the Berlin Koran expert, and Mr Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would ‘overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms’, Mr Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam.”

True colors always show. The custodian of the archive is not interested in any criticism of the Qur’an that deviates from Muslim theological doctrine. Pathetic.

The story thus far recalls the ending of another Indiana Jones film (Raiders of the Lost Ark), in which the Ark of the Covenant is filed away in an enormous warehouse, presumably never to be touched again. The Muslim world will continue to treat Koranic criticism as an existential risk, and apply whatever pressure is required to discourage it – albino monks presumably included.

If that happens, it will be a travesty of historical proportions. Non-muslims have the right to know if the Qur’an can support it’s claim to be the eternal unchangeable word of God. More importantly, MUSLIMS have the right to know. Prolonging Promoting a delusion is simply unconscionable.

But that is not the end of the matter. The Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and frustrate the search for truth. It is impossible for Muslims to propose a dialogue with Western religions, as 38 Islamic scholars did in an October 13 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders, and rule the subject of text criticism out of the discussion.

Precisely for this reason, Church leaders see little basis for a dialogue with Islam. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, “Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it’s difficult to discuss the contents of the faith.”

Throughout the Internet, Islamist sites denounce the work of a handful of marginalized scholars as evidence of a plot by Christian missionaries to sabotage Islam. What the Muslim world cannot conceal is its vulnerability and fear in the face of Koranic criticism. In the great battle for converts through the Global South [anyone know what this means? – GdB], this may turn out to be a paralyzing disadvantage.

The Bible has been subjected to textual and historical criticism for centuries, and Christianity (and, of course, Judaism) has survived. What is Islam afraid of?

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