11 December 2001
The MCB's response to cover story 'The great Koran con trick' - New Statesman, 10 December
So it has taken the current negative focus on Islam and Muslims to bring out the 'brilliant' SOAS historians and linguists of the sixties and the seventies (Wansborough, Crone, Cook, Hawting et al) from decades of well-deserved obscurity.
Your special report (NS, 10 Dec. 01) on their theories of the alleged fabrication of the Qur'an after the passing away of the Prophet Muhammad suggests that somehow Muslims emerged in the early seventh century CE but only about two centuries later they 'created' the Qur'an 'as a coherent scriptural basis for Islam to suit the needs of a sophisticated empire'. What is more perplexing is that from the start there were however, according to Patricia Crone, alleged Divine injunctions - of war against the infidels, conquest , rape and pillage - to propel the Arabs out of the peninsula and onto the world stage.
If there was no Qur'an at this early stage, where did these alleged Divine commands come from and to whom?
What is regrettable is that your special reporter Martin Bright, who also happens to be the home affairs editor of the Observer, made no attempt to subject the fantastic theories of this sixties and seventies SOAS set to any type of scrutiny. Similar theories on the fabrication and 'back-projection' of hadith promoted by Ignaz Goldzhier and Joseph Schacht have been debunked by meticulous scholarship such as that of Professor Azmi formerly of Cambridge University.
It may be interesting to note that SOAS at the time was dominated by the likes of Professor Bernard Lewis whose Zionist colours now shine even more brightly from Princeton and by people like the then Professor of Islamic Law, Jerome Norman Daniel Anderson, who was a bigoted evangelical Christian. He held that the greatest task facing Christendom was the conversion of Muslims to Christianity or failing that weaning them away from Islam. In his old age, he admitted that they had not achieved much success in the first task.
We don't think you need to worry too much about Muslim sensibilities or to get too excited about the prospect of these 'revolutionary' academics getting their act together to present their fiction 'in an accessible way'. What we really need is honest and scrupulous scholarship and the freeing up of a lot of academia from barren pursuits and from various types of racist and other bigotry.
Perhaps a simple fact to note in all this is that many Jewish and Christian scholars and writers, while they have been able to accept that special individuals like Abraham, Moses and Jesus were Divinely elected prophets, have found it impossible to concede that the illiterate Arabic-speaking Muhammad whose mission lasted for twenty three years in the early seventh century could also have been a prophet in this noble line.
In the tradition of all true Prophets, Muhammad's message is centred on the primordial summons to the human being to acknowledge, in gratitude and humility, the One Source and Sustainer of all creation and to liberate themselves from all forms of false worship. The notion of individual accountability and just recompense is also a vital part and a constantly recurring theme of this Qur'anic summons. No research, however 'revolutionary', will alter these basic truths.