With the Name of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth


by Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.
(formerly Hakeem Muhammad)

It is easy to overlook the weaknesses in arguments when we agree with the conclusions.  The article entitled, “What is the Koran?” in the January 1999 issue of The Atlantic Monthly is full of weaknesses, but if we agree with its conclusions we may find those weaknesses easy to overlook.

The article is the cover story for the issue, and on the cover the following text appears:

“Scholars are scrutinizing the Koran in the same manner they have long scrutinized the Bible.  They must tread very carefully.”

These comments are designed to attract attention, arouse curiosity and sell the magazine, and therefore — perhaps — we should not take them too seriously.  But after reading the article I have concluded that these comments do accurately reflect the tone of the article.  What do these comments mean?
First of all, the comments imply that scholars have not previously studied the Qur’an.   One of the remarkable characteristics of the Muslim civilization which excelled the rest of the world for approximately six centuries is the prodigious output of so many of its scholars.  In addition to exploring every conceivable subject in depth, several scholars made encyclopedic attempts to incorporate all knowledge into comprehensive schemes.  We may thank these scholars for the foundations of every aspect of knowledge upon which our contemporary civilization is based.  Only a facile acceptance of some feeble of notion of inherent European superiority (so-called “white supremacy”) would allow anyone with an awareness of Europe’s Dark Ages and its rise into civilization after extensive contact with Muslim scholars to believe in some “Western Civilization” continuum independent of the Muslim civilization which preceded the rise of modern Europe.  We are the heirs of Muslim scholars, more so — certainly — than of the ancient Greeks (who were, primarily, students of the Egyptians).
One of the problems of today’s Muslims is that in the early centuries of the Muslim civilization the Qur’an was studied so intensively by scholars that Muslims have become dependent on those many tomes of ancient analysis and unwilling to believe that there is still more to be gained from further study.

In contrast, scholarly study of the Bible can be traced to the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Up to that time, the biblical scripts were accepted at face value.  Instead of studying the Bible in conjunction with knowledge of history and science, history and science were studied with the intention of confirming the Bible:  the search for Noah’s ark, and for evidence of the flood, was a central theme of archaeology and geology into the mid-nineteenth century, for example.
Continued (Part Two)

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