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Featured Origins of the Quran/Islam - various academic perspectives

Discussion in 'Religious Debates' started by Augustus, Dec 25, 2015.

  1. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    Though I would post this as there have been some discussions about Early Islam in various threads, so some people might be interested in a basic summary of various academic perspectives from across the spectrum.

    The main points of this post will actually be in post 2, but it was already tl;dr so I thought I'd move some of the 'preamble' to a separate post. Info in this post is nonessential and can be skipped [actually you can skip part 2 as well if you like as it's long and probably boring :D].

    Firstly, for the benefit of our Muslim friends here, I want to make it clear that none of this is an 'attack' on Islam. Many Muslims (and not always without reason) are quite hostile to Western 'orientalist' approaches to Islam and people often use history to try to discredit Islam as a whole. I've absolutely no intention to 'refute' Islam, I'm just reporting a range of views that exist amongst scholars, many of which i think to be incorrect anyway. :)

    Secular academic history aims to explain the origins of Islam without the supernatural aspects though, and thus differs from theology. Theology starts from the perspective that God did it and uses logic, evidence and analysis to explain aspects of religions within this paradigm. Secular academic history starts from the premise that God didn't do it and uses logic, evidence and analysis to explain things within this paradigm. Academic history is (rightly or wrongly, depending on perspective) biased against supernatural explanation.

    This doesn't mean that there is no overlap between them, just that they use different conceptual frameworks. If God does exist, then much of academic history will be incorrect because it is operating from within an incorrect paradigm. It is also the case though that academic history is not necessarily incompatible with many of the basic tenets of Islam

    The problem with researching Early Islam from a secular perspective is that an ideal scholar would be to be able to read English, Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Ethiopic, Coptic, French and German (and perhaps a couple more) to have a chance of reading most of the available material in primary or secondary form. They would also have to be an expert in linguistics and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and their scriptures and traditions. Then they would have to learn the history of Arabs, Byzantines, Jews, Ethiopians, Persians, Copts, Yemenis, Armenians, etc.

    Early Islamic Studies is probably the most complex discipline in the humanities/social sciences and this means that many findings are more tentative than certain.

    I certainly make no claim to being an expert or a proper scholar, but I find the history of Islam a fascinating subject. What I've noticed is that the more I read, the more I realise how much I don't know. You can read one article and think 'wow, that makes perfect sense', then read another article that explains why that theory is probably wrong. A non-expert has to rely on the opinions of others though because, for example, they have no way to evaluate claims that relate to specific, highly technical aspects of Syriac/Arabic grammar themselves.

    As such, it is prudent to remain sceptical and non-commital to even the nicest sounding theories, especially the most precise ones.

    Anyway, onto the main part....
     
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  2. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    The Orthodox Islamic belief is that Muhammed received the Quran as the literal word of God via the Angel Gabriel over a period of many years in Mecca and Medina. Although there were some Christians, Jews and Hanifs amongst the people, most were polytheistic pagans. Based on the Quran and prophetic example, Muhammed created a community of distinct Muslims and sought to convert others into, Islam, the true religion of God as followed by all of the previous prophets.

    What are some alternative explanations? [I'm not presenting any of these as being 'true' just presenting what views other people have proposed. All of these have flaws, and some are almost certainly false. This isn't a complete or detailed explanation either as that would take too long. Also there is overlap between these ideas and they don't represent coherent or uniform perspectives]

    Scholarship deemed 'traditionalist' would accept the Muslim tradition as being mostly accurate, although minus the supernatural explanations. Muhammed authored the Quran in the environment described by the Islamic tradition. Traditionalists might change a few details here and there but they broadly accept that the Islamic tradition gives a pretty accurate reflection of reality.

    Other schools of thought would be loosely deemed revisionist. On the extreme revisionist end of the scale is that Muhammed didn't exist, Muhammed instead being an honorific title, perhaps for Jesus, meaning 'praiseworty'. The Quran was really created by Abd-al Malik over 100 years later as a tool of empire building. [this view is almost certainly false]

    Other views consider the Quran to be the work of multiple authors/redactors, one of whom was Muhammed. This is not a single perspective, but a broad field of opinions with often contradictory views presented by different scholars. Some would have many traditions predating Muhammed, which is why some aspects of the Quran have no accepted interpretation - it has been forgotten. Others would have the Quran being added to/edited/redacted for as long as 2-300 years after his death. Islam thus developed over a period of time considerably longer than Muhammed's life. [these views are a 'mixed bag', some ideas interesting and insightful, others almost certainly incorrect]

    Yet other views consider the Quran to be pretty much the work of Muhammed himself, although they note that, contrary to the popular view that the Quran contains a simplistic misinterpretation of Christianity, that it is actually theologically sophisticated with a keen understanding of contemporary religious disputes. As such the Quran assumes the audience is already familiar with much of the material discussed in it. Subtle references to Biblical characters and stories would not make any sense to polytheistic pagans unversed in scripture. Some surahs of the Quran also relate closely to non-scripture based Christian myths, others Midrashic teachings, others Church orders. This means that Muhammed must have been from a community of Abrahamic monotheists. Some say Jews, others Jewish Christians, others Syriac Christians/anti-Chalcedonian Christians, some say Mecca was monotheistic, others say Mecca didn't really exist and Muhammed was from the Palestine/Syria borderlands. Some from within this tradition see Muhammed as a social reformer, others as an apocalyptic prophet preaching the eschaton would arrive in his lifetime. When he died and the world didn't end, his teachings were recast into what became Islam - For example, based on the physical evidence we have, early 'Muslims' are never called Muslims but mu'minun (believers) and muhajirun (emigrants)and seem to have been to some extent ecumenical rather than Islamic and sectarian. [again, these views are a 'mixed bag' obviously many of them contradict each other which results from the difficulties caused by the paucity of evidence from this era. Overall, some scholars in this field have made insightful discoveries, others are a bit more scattergun]

    Another view is that the Quran is mostly a translation of Syriac liturgical formulae, hymns and homilies that evolved over time into what we now consider Arabic [this view overlaps a bit with previous ones]. The word Quran derives from Syriac qǝryānā, “reading of Scripture in Divine Service”, etymon of Arabic qur’ān, and the Quran was really a lectionary, a text to be read to a congregation. The Syriac roots would explain the difficulties exegetes have had in interpreting certain aspects of it, it's in a language that was no longer spoken by the Medieval scholars. [a problem with this view is that there are not many scholars with exceptional knowledge of both Arabic and Syriac as well as history so linguistic analysis is often done without recourse to historical evidence. It also suffers from people 'seeing what they want' rather than what can be reasonably proved. There have been some interesting discoveries also though].

    As mentioned, any of the above ideas actually overlap between categories; the divisions I have made are for simplicity more than accuracy. They (hopefully) give a basic introduction to various interpretations of the origins of the Quran/Islam.

    It should also be noted that many academic views on the origins of Islam, even revisionist ones, are not necessarily incompatible with the Islamic faith. Perhaps they show aspects of the orthodox tradition to be incorrect, but the tradition has been long debated by Muslims themselves anyway and some people even view this scholarship as being beneficial to Islam as it helps Muslims learn more about the history of their religion.

    For example, the linked article is a very reasonable Muslim response to some aspects of Western scholarship, which also acts as an introduction to some of their ideas, and concludes: "their work can be used by anyone who, like Iqbal, wishes new life to be breathed into a 1,400-year-old faith. For this Muslims need to be braver than the caliph who dared not touch the Prophet’s pulpit. Western scholars are already removing the struts and supports that once held together the edifice of historical Islam. Only by learning from such approaches can the faithful challenge their wilder speculations, and stake a claim in how the pieces might be put back together." Sameer Rahim , The Shadow of the Scroll – Reconstructing Islam’s Origins http://www.nottinghilleditions.com/uploads/essaywinners/NHEessayRAHIM.pdf

    Overall, this quote expresses attempts to discover a 'true' history pretty well: "Like any complex historical phenomenon, the birth of Islam is over-determined. Delimiting it too precisely risks over-simplifying reality, and freezes the essentially fluid interaction of ideas and sects. The mystery of the birth of a religion cannot be solved, and neither can the alchemical transformation of religious ideas, of their passage from fluid to solid state." G. Stroumsa - Jewish Christianity and Islamic Origins

    There simply isn't enough evidence to make nice clear predictions with any degree of certainty (and likely never will be). You can think of it as a 1 million piece jigsaw with scholars working on 1 piece at a time. Some of these new pieces aren't even new additions, just replacements for older pieces. Adding new pieces to the jigsaw can give us a better understanding of the picture, but guessing what the whole picture shows without enough pieces will likely only give a simplified distortion of reality. The chances are we will never see the completed picture, but might get a decent understanding of some of its constituent parts.

    [As I don't profess to be even close to being an expert and as this is a quickly written and simplistic summary which in no way claims to be comprehensive or authoritative, I welcome any additions and/or corrections :)]
     
    #2 Augustus, Dec 25, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2015
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  3. james dixon

    james dixon Well-Known Member
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    The Quran contains the Ten Commandments and many of their beliefs are the same as the Christian beliefs. Mohamed is not our enemy;Islam is not our enemy but I know who are.

    google "spitting on Christians"
     
    #3 james dixon, Dec 25, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2015
  4. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    Actually, this is a free online university course that is a pretty good introduction to the topic:

    Lot's of shortish lectures and access to assorted readings. Interesting and accessible, even if you just want to watch the videos. Well worth it for anyone with an interest in the topic.

    Taught by Gabriel Said Reynolds of Notre Dame University, one of the world's leading (non-Muslim) scholars.

    https://www.edx.org/course/introduction-quran-scripture-islam-notredamex-th120-2x
     
  5. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    Worthless for anyone outside islam. he does not focus on historical origins of muhammads teachings and focusses on how islam evolved after his death, and how the different sects were shaped

    Sure about that?

    as A Muslim Theologian in the Sectarian Milieu. Reynolds also prepared an introduction and translation of this history, published by (BYU 2008) as The Critique of Christian Origins


    Which carry no credibility

    Qur’an manuscript studied by Alba Fedeli and held at Birmingham’s university library had been carbon dated to somewhere between AD 568–645 (carbon dating allows only for a range of years, and not a precise date).

    When in fact it held a 95% accuracy
     
  6. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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  7. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    As an expert scholar yourself, I'm surprised you haven't heard of him. If you had, you would be very embarrassed with that comment :)

    Here's a book he edited https://serdargunes.files.wordpress...-historical-context-gabriel-said-reynolds.pdf

    I gave you the link before, but you obviously never opened it.

    Yes, He's Catholic. :)

    You just failed to understand that your quote referred to a book title, rather than him: 2010. Introduced, Translated, and Annotated. The Critique of Christian Origins: Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s (d. 415/1025) Islamic Essay on Christianity. Edited Samir Khalil Samir. Provo UT: BYU Pres.

    Frantic googling is not a substitute for knowing what you are talking about :)

    read post 2 :)
     
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  8. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    None of which says anything of value.

    No real value.


    NON ANSWER
     
  9. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    To even begin to look into the origins of islam we have to study what we know.

    What do we know?

    We know biblical mythology written in Arabic is attributed to muhammad.

    It is as fact as historical facts can be the koran plagiarized biblical traditions.

    So who could have taught muhammad is as relevant as any question.

    Who were the closest people to him that knew the bible well and wrote in Arabic?

    We should assume he was illiterate and that he collected these traditions over his lifetime.

    The trail we search begins with muhammad and goes back in time. Saying we don't know is worthless.
     
  10. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    A parallel would be Jesus.

    How much of Jesus teachings do you think John taught him? I would suspect most everything he knew. His attributed knowledge did not come out of a vacuum. He had a teacher, and we know it was John. Despite the NT downplaying their role. Exactly like islam downplaying Waraka.

    And Jesus had little to do with the compilation of the NT.

    The koran did not originate with muhamamd either, it did not exist in his time. Traditions existed, biblical traditions in Arabic he had collected.

    So you cannot ignore all possible sources.
     
  11. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    Depends on how much you trust the sirah.

    Why should we assume either of these?

    In the Qur'an the Prophet Muhammad is identified as al-nabl al-ummT (Q.7I157-8).1 Muslim consensus has come toperceive this epithet for the Prophet of Islam as indicating conclusively that the was Muhammad, 'the illiterate prophet.' ...

    Firstly, in Qur'anic usage, both sing, ummi and pi. ummiyyundo not represent a single meaning, but a spectrum of ideas. This spectrum covers distinct, however, intimately connected sub-meanings such as: anyone belonging to a people: the Arabs - i.e., a people not having a Scripture (yet); anyone not having a scripture- i.e., not reading it,or not reading in it; anyone not reading (a scripture) - i.e., not being taught or educated (by some thing or somebody)...

    Secondly, the philological-historical examination of the three Qur'anic terms ummi, ummiyyun, and umma does not confirm the popular interpretation of ummi, which
    focuses exclusively on illiteracy...

    Thirdly, when understood in theway shown here, theQur'anic expression al-nabi al ummi can contribute essentially to the understanding of the history of Islam since it stresses both: the ethnic origin (Arab,Arabian), and the originality of the Prophet of Islam."
    Muḥammed, the Illiterate Prophet: An Islamic Creed in the Qur'an and Qur'anic Exegesis, S. Gunter, Journal of Quranic Studies Vol. 4, No. 1 (2002), pp. 1-26


    As for the second, why should we assume that he collected them all?

    Important question, who was the audience of the Quran, and what knowledge did they have of Abrahamic monotheisms?
     
  12. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    There is very little historicity here. But traditions and cultural anthropology are pointing in that direction.

    Also noting there were different levels of literacy, which I'm not placing him in any of those.

    I believe Jesus was illiterate as well

    Most is the context.

    Has more to do with when the book was finished, not muhammads time.

    But I will say biblical traditions were becoming more well known, and monotheism is appealing to the masses.


    Muhammads family had that knowledge. Its safe to say it was all over that geographic region, we know it was.

    About the same as trying to determine jesus life from the bible, very little.


    But like the bible, it is safe to assume John taught Jesus, despite the mythology stating he paved the way

    The same way Waraka had some amount of influence Muhammad despite the lack of traditions, just like the bible
     
  13. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    There is a major difference though.

    John the Baptist was a major figure with solid historicity whose presence in the Bible is potentially embarrassing for Jesus as his 'subordinate'.

    Waraqa is a bit part player with unknown historicity who clearly serves a rhetorical purpose - a Christian who recognises Muhammed's prophethood (actually, some sources say Jew and others Hanif. Even his Christianity is debated)

    There is reason to believe that he probably did exist, but it is not certain and details about his life are only known from later traditions.

    Jesus was poor, Muhammed was wealthy and well travelled nobility. Others in his society of lower status could read and write, why not him?

    His illiteracy serves theological purpose. We'll likely never know the true answer though.


    I think it likely that there is a very strong connection between Muhammed and the Quran, why should we assume anything though.

    The degree of religious knowledge suggests an environment well versed in scripture and familiar with contemporary religious debates.

    If this is the case, why does Waraqa have to be important? You are trying to force something to fit because it 'sounds nice' rather than any real evidence.

    Why do you think none of the major contemporary trends in [Western secular] Islamic studies have any value, but the Waraqa thesis is close to fact?

    Can you give me an example of a scholar you find insightful?
     
  14. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    Most people could not read or write. Even of the rich. Being in a Bedouin tribe at an early age in the desert, one would have to look at the percentages.

    Traditions say he is not literate, even though the word in context is debated.

    I would lean more on the anthropology of Bedouin tribes and semi orphans.

    You also have to realize as an adult merchants may only have limited literacy, as I previously stated. There were different stages.



    His historicity is not all that solid. But he probably did exist. All we have Is the Josephus and the NT. The NT downplayed his role completely.

    Waraka fits this role as well, if you are going to say a angel taught the prophet, yo don't say he had lessons with a Christian priest.

    The fact he is mentioned quite a bit in his life would indicate he was downplayed, yet historians had to include him because of the traditions that may have been well known.

    Unlike the bible, his history was recorded much longer after death when Islamic traditions were well seated. You will not write history that goes against the angel.

    You can take the kernel of truth of Waraka and should be able to expand on it greatly, because the suras even place Waraka in muhammads life at critical religious points in his life.
     
  15. Shad

    Shad Veteran Member

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    One does not need to be an expert in every single language. A combination of experts working together can accomplish this without issues and have. The major issue is that Hebrew is a reconstructed language thus no one is an expert on a language dead for centuries. This is my only issue with this post. I agree with the rest
     
  16. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    Agreed. I said to be an ideal scholar, you can get by with a small number of them but the more the better.
     
  17. Shad

    Shad Veteran Member

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    You propose a standard which is implausible. However we can hope scholars that link Islamic tradition, the Quran, etc with say Syriac texts should understand both languages to high level or at the very least work closely with those that do. The major issue I see is that at times people rely on references they read rather than references from a person directly involved with any given work. Cooperation at times is very lacking due to the conflict between historical methods and those that take their theology as true.
     
  18. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    Traditions say he split the moon. His illiteracy is very convenient for theological reasons. Much of his biography is designed to distance him from Abrahamic monotheists and their teachings. as a source of inspiration. It's ultimately unknowable, but there is no reason to operate under assumptions that it is true,

    As to whether he was an orphan or not it is unknowable beyond the tradition also.

    Or he was there to act as confirmation of his prophethood.

    We don't even know he existed though. He might be a purely literary creation, a composite, a theological tool. Even if we accept he did exist, the 'we can expand on it greatly' part risks moving into the territory of pseudo-history.

    From Muhammed, By M Haykal (an Islamic source):

    It is reported that one day the Quraysh tribe convened at a place called Nakhlah to celebrate the day of the goddess al `Uzza. Four Qurayshis failed to show up and participate in this sacrament: namely, Zayd ibn `Amr, `Uthman ibn al Huwayrith, `Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh and Waraqah ibn Nawfal... Waraqah joined Christianity, and it is reported that he translated into Arabic some of the contents of the Evangels. `Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh remained a man without religion until he joined Islam and emigrated with his fellow Muslims to Abyssinia. There it is reported that he joined Christianity and died a Christian. His wife Umm Habibah, daughter of Abu Sufyan, remained a Muslim. She returned to Madinah and became one of the wives of the Prophet and a "Mother of the Faithful? As for Zayd ibn `Amr, he separated himself from his wife and from his uncle al Khattab, lived for a while in al Sham and `Iraq and returned to Arabia without ever joining either Judaism or Christianity. He also separated himself from Makkan religion and avoided the idols. Finally, as for `Uthman ibn al Huwayrith, a relative of Khadijah, he traveled to Byzantium, became a Christian and, for some time, achieved a position of eminence in the imperial court. It is said that he sought to subjugate Makkah to Byzantium and to get himself appointed as the emperor's viceroy.

    (these were the 4 Hanifs I discussed with you previously) Of the other 3 Hanifs, one became 'viceroy' and fought for the Romans, so is likely to be a Ghassanid leader. One went to Syria, the later power base of the Umayyads, where some Arabs associated with the 'Quraysh' seemed to own property (remember the later fitna seems to be a tribal war between Syrian and Hijazi factions). The other went to Axum/Ethiopia a Roman Ally (interesting that the fleeing 'Muslims' went to a Roman client).

    The Quran contains words with Syriac and Ethiopic roots, and we know that Arab tribes made up a significant part of the Roman troops, directly or as mercenaries. It is hard to believe that there are simply these 4 individuals, much more likely they represent groups/tribes from the period with particular affiliations.

    Most scholars don't focus on such narrow concepts as Waraqa teaching Muhammed as it is more specific than the evidence allows. His existence in tradition can be used as evidence towards broader themes like the presence of Jewish Christianity in the Hijaz or for something like "The important point here is that Waraqah’s story accords well with Gregor Schoeler’s position that Christians may well have used written notes in Arabic as aides de mémoire in pre-Islamic and Qurʾānic times in the oral presentation of the scriptures, especially in liturgical settings." The Bible in Arabic - Griffiths

    Is it justifiable to consider the Sirah is unreliable as history, then choose it to be highly accurate simply because it is convenient?

    You still haven't let me know which scholars you find insightful on these issues? Also, why do you not value the works of the vast majority of [non-Muslim] scholars working in contemporary Islamic studies that you deemed 'worthless'? Can you answer these questions please, they would be very helpful for the discussion (especially as you think I am 'cherry picking') but you don't seem to want to answer them. Even just an article or 2 that you think are good would be appreciated.
     
    #18 Augustus, Dec 26, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2015
  19. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    It was a normative description made to explain a point. The ideal scholar would have all of these, and the fact that it is all but impossible is a reason why Islamic Studies is so difficult. It's harder to make the links when you can only look at the issue from a narrower than ideal perspective.

    It also contributes to false 'discoveries' where something looks good from maybe a linguistic perspective, but would be rendered implausible due to historical circumstances or vice versa.

    You must know that sometimes you read something that you think is amazing, then later on someone else says it's impossible. I've got no real way to judge who is correct, and the same can apply to people who actually are genuinely knowledgable in the field. If you can't make the judgement yourself, who should you trust?

    It's much easier to be a scholar in say Byzantine History, than Early Islamic History.
     
    #19 Augustus, Dec 26, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2015
  20. outhouse

    outhouse Atheistically

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    This is interesting in itself though.

    he was said to be the first to confirm.

    But if they were going to build us this for rhetorical purposes, they would have said or gave more details such as waraka the priest who confirmed him being a prophet. They were silent on all aspects of this. We only know about it from historical text
     
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