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History and the Holy Koran

History And The Holy Koran

In the course of the analysis of Islamist terrorism, we made a basic analytical distinction that needs to be discussed in more detail. On the one hand, we said, there existed the history of societies and political orders informed by Islam, an account of which we called a history of the Islamic community. We assumed here that the status of the history of this community, its res gestae, was as unproblematic as the history of the U.S. mail or of gunpowder. On the other hand we said there existed a paradigmatic Islamic history, which we tentatively described as the account of God and his messengers to humanity. Early in chapter 3 we said further that Islamic history, which we also identified as the “Islamic vulgate,” by analogy with the Christian Bible given its official form by Saint Jerome in the fourth century, would be discussed “without preju­dice.”

The intention of this terminology was to maintain the frontier between piety and political science; we assumed here that it was possi­ble to study the Islamic story of God and his messengers to humanity without taking a position with respect to the veracity or the literal truth of Islamic history. But this means that it is possible to be neutral before the actual messages that were delivered concretely on specific occasions. We have seen, notwithstanding the Koranic assurance that there can be no compulsion in matters of religion, that this second assumption, even more than the first one concerning the history of Islam, contains or expresses a major problem.

From time to time, in explicating the significance of Islamic his­tory we have imaginatively adopted the perspective of “the pious Mus­lim.” This was, of course, a simplification because (we further assume) there may be a plurality of perspectives that are compatible with Islamic piety. Simplification or not, for one holding to that position of piety, the plurality of perspectives presents an issue that cannot be so easily discussed nor, implicitly, so easily disposed of or dismissed. To put the matter more simply still: one is either pious or not. For reasons dis­cussed in chapter 2, for a pious Muslim living the reality of Islamic his­tory, a pious Jew or a pious Christian is a pious Muslim because, within the experienced reality of Islamic history, Islam is the fulfillment of both Judaism and Christianity, to say nothing of paganism.

On the basis of such an understanding of Islamic history, the adjective in the phrase “Islamic piety” is superfluous. Accordingly, the assump­tions we have made, or the attitude we have taken, first, with respect to the distinction between the history of Islam and Islamic history and, second, with respect to the veracity of the latter, may be seen (and for the pious, quite properly) as entirely disingenuous, not to say the ex­pression of an impiety. To begin with, a pious (Muslim) individual, one who we said believed in the Muslim vulgate, would never have made the initial distinction. Furthermore, for a pious (Muslim) individual, the veracity of Islamic history is its meaning, much in the same way as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Thus, neutrality with respect to that meaning is rebellion against it, and so rebellion against God’s revealed message to Moses.

In short, for a pious individual the problem of existence is not under­standing the word of God but obeying it. Even within Islam, however, matters are not so simple, as the discussion above of the position of the faylasuf indicated. There is an equivalent problem within Western his­tory more generally, a history that, for present purposes, can include the Bible and Greek philosophy as well as Islam.1 We will first present Leo Strauss’s version of this question, then Eric Voegelin’s, and finally we indicate how recent scholarship, much of it undertaken outside the Islamic lands, has a bearing on the issues of salafism and Islamism raised in the course of this study.

In 1967, Strauss delivered a lecture, “Jerusalem and Athens: Some Preliminary Reflections,” at the City College of New York.2 According to Strauss, “as far as we Western men are concerned” the genesis of what “Western man” became is “indicated by the names of the two cities Jerusalem and Athens.” Today, of course, the realities signified by these intelligible analytic terms — the names of the two cities, Athens and Jerusalem — are widely considered to be cultural options. Strauss then questioned the intelligibility of culture and of a cultural understanding of culture, which calls itself a science of culture. His reasoning is straight­forward: a science of culture claims to be neutral with respect to the plurality of cultures that actually exist. Accordingly, it fosters a universal tolerance of plurality. But this amounts to an assertion of the rightness of cultural pluralism and so of pluralism as right. That is, the science of culture, far from giving cultures their due, reduces them to elements of something they are not, namely, science. The science of culture does not, therefore, lead to scientific objectivity, as often has been claimed. Indeed, the science of culture, or to be more accurate, a tolerant neutral­ity with respect to the validity or veracity of the realities expressed by the terms Athens and Jerusalem, is simply evasive and, au fond, unintel­ligible. The conclusion to be drawn at this point, then, is that there is simply a stand-off between piety and political science.

Strauss did not, however, leave the matter at an impasse. What leads to objectivity, he said on this as on many other occasions, is the attempt to understand the several and various cultures, positions, arguments, philosophies, and so on, as they understood themselves or understand themselves. “Men of ages and climates other than our own did not understand themselves in terms of cultures because they were not con­cerned with culture in the present-day meaning of the term. What we now call culture is the accidental result of concerns that were not con­cerns with culture but with other things and above all with the Truth.” But this approach, when the object to be understood is the Bible, and so of the biblical expose of truth — or Truth, as Strauss wrote — presents a major additional problem: it seems to require that the one undertak­ing the enquiry go beyond the self-understanding of the Bible to say nothing of the Greeks, because it amounts to gaining wisdom, or knowl­edge of Truth.

This consideration leads to a further problem: according to the Bible, “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord; according to the Greek philosophers, the beginning of wisdom is wonder.” Can there be two beginnings? But to raise such a question — or any question, for that matter — means that one does not already have the answer, does not already have the knowledge of Truth, or is not wise, however much one may wish to become wise. “We are seekers for wisdom, ‘philosophoi,'” said Strauss; but “by saying that we wish to hear first and then to act to decide, we have already decided in favor of Athens against Jeru­salem.” However, by taking the side of Athens against Jerusalem, one must abandon the attempt to understand Jerusalem on its own or any other terms: for the pious city, the city of righteousness, one must obey and fear the Lord. End of story. To use the imagery of “hearing the word of God,” seeking to understand it would already be an act of impiety be­cause (for the pious) God’s word demands obedience, not understand­ing. Indeed, to seek understanding is already to use the imagery of sight, not of hearing: we seek to “see what God’s word, or any other word, means,” quite a different enterprise than hearing and obeying.

On the other hand, Strauss pointed out, if one follows through on the side of Athens against Jerusalem one is compelled to treat the Bible as a text suitable for the same kind of “historical-critical study” as the Nicomachean Ethics or the Code of Hammurabi. Strauss then proposed an alternative way of reading the Bible and of grasping the tension be­tween Athens and Jerusalem. Unquestionably, Strauss’s position on this point is both complex and controversial. Fortunately, it need not con­cern us. What counts is that Strauss was very much aware of the gen­eral problem that concerns us at present.

So was Eric Voegelin. In “The Gospel and Culture,” Voegelin discussed this same question along different but complementary lines.3 Charac­teristically, Voegelin began with a brief historical reference to the initial absorption of the “life of reason,” or the “culture of the time,” namely, Hellenistic philosophy, by the community of the gospel. In this way, Voegelin said, the sectarian community was able to become the Chris­tianity of the church. The gospel was acceptable to the culture of the time, furthermore, because it appeared to answer the questions raised by the philosophers.4 In the First Apology of Justin the Martyr, the author claims that the Logos of the gospel is the developing logos of philoso­phy. “Hence, Christianity is not an alternative to philosophy, it is phi­losophy itself in its state of perfection; the history of the Logos comes to its fulfillment through the incarnation of the Word in Christ.” Accord­ingly, the distinction between philosophy and the gospel is the differ­ence between stages in the history of reason.

A modern way of posing the same question that has a more direct bearing on the issue under analysis is the controversial 1966 New Cate­chism, published by the Dutch bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. The opening chapter is called “Man the Questioner.” It asserts that Chris­tians are human beings with “inquiring minds” and are searching for ways to account for their faith. The motivation of the Dutch bishops is a mirror image of the motivation of Justin: he began as an “inquiring mind” and, following the philosophical schools, was led to the gospel; the bishops, in contrast, had somehow to recover a sense of inquiry because it had been lost and, as is true of many contemporary Christians, they remained in a tranquil state of uninquiring faith. Voegelin adds a “supplement” or a “reminder” that “neither Jesus nor his fellowmen to whom he spoke his word did yet know that they were Christians — the gospel held out its promise not to Christians, but to the poor in the spirit, that is, to minds inquiring, even though on a culturally less so­phisticated level than Justin’s.” The conflict that lay behind the assertion of the Dutch bishops and what expressed itself in the ensuing contro­versy over the Dutch Catechism, as it is generally known, was not be­tween the gospel and philosophy “but rather between the gospel and its unenquiring possession as doctrine.”

The conflict, that is to say, is between an inquiring mind and a doc­trine that prohibits inquiry. Whatever the pragmatic effectiveness of doctrine as a means of ensuring the credal integrity of a community, the price is invariably the suppression of questions that an inquiring mind is apt to ask. Just as Strauss found a way to deal with the tension between Athens and Jerusalem, so did Voegelin find a way to deal with an inquiring mind in the context of Christianity. To put the issue sim­ply: “the question to which, in Hellenistic-Roman culture, the philoso­pher could understand the gospel as the answer” concerns “the human­ity of man,” which “is the same today as it ever has been in the past.” The emphasis for both Voegelin and Strauss lies on the questions asked, not the more or less adequate answers received, nor on the equally ques­tionable criteria by means of which the more adequate can be distin­guished from the less.

These reflections have a bearing on the issue of Islamist terrorism insofar as Islamists have undertaken the “reducing diets” (to recall the image of Meddeb) of an already astringent regimen. In less colorful language, the issue concerns the relationship of an inquiring mind, which is characteristic of the “humanity of man,” and uninquiring obe­dience to the equally unproblematic word of God, the unproblematic status of which is, to the inquiring mind, evidence only of a dogmatic and closed mind. The literature on this question in the context of Islam far surpasses anything we can discuss here, and the following sketch is intended chiefly to illustrate a political problem rather than analyze or evaluate the un­derlying religious, interpretive, or spiritual problem — which, as men­tioned above, on philological grounds alone far exceeds my competence.

In 1953, Franz Rosenthal began an article with an understated title, “Some Minor Problems of the Qur’an,” in this way: “The basic problem involved in the following discussion is whether we are permitted to doubt the traditional understanding of the Qur’an.”5 In light of the ex­plicit direction given in the Koran (2:1), that “this is the Perfect Book, free from all doubt,” the answer, within the context of Islamic history or the Muslim vulgate, is obvious: no doubt at all is permitted because there are no genuine “problems” in the Koran, not minor ones and cer­tainly not major ones. The Koran is not to be doubted because it is meant to be heard and obeyed. Likewise, the title of Warraq’s recent book, What the Koran Really Says, which reproduced Rosenthal’s paper, raises for Islamic history a thoroughly inappropriate but implicit ques­tion: what does the Koran really say? We are asked, therefore, to see what God’s word means, which is a philosophical inquiry rather than an act of obedience.

This is a radical question, an expression of an inquiring mind, be­cause the appropriate answer to the implicit question is: the Koran records God’s eloquence. If one is unsure of what God’s eloquence means, master the exegetical tradition and find out. The grave problem with this answer, which is the answer of Rosenthal’s “traditional under­standing,” is that an examination of the tradition will tell you what the exegetes took it to mean, not what God’s word means nor even, to fol­low Strauss’s formulation, what it meant to the contemporaries of the Prophet, the pious ancestors, nor to the Prophet himself. To answer that question, which is one that eventually the inquiring mind must consider, brings us to a basic fork in the interpretive road: if one rejects “traditional understanding,” which in the Islamic context we may call the teachings of the ulema (roughly analogous to the teachings and dis­putes of the pre-Reformation Church), then there is left only indepen­dent interpretation, ijtihad, or something like what Strauss called a “historical-critical study.”

In the chapters above, we have already considered the conflict between the “traditional understanding” and “independent interpretation” and in this context analyzed the writings of men such as Ibn Taymiyya, Qutb, and bin Laden from the perspective of political science or “historical-critical study.” The issue here, however, involves a different and more radical one: it is possible to bring to light the pneumopathological at­tributes of an Asahara or a bin Laden by analyzing their texts in order to understand them on their own terms. However, it is one thing to try to understand an author as the author understood himself or her­self, which we may call the principle of Straussian hermeneutics, but when the author of a text is God, something quite different is involved. A historical-critical study of a text, for example, that Islamic history upholds as “uncreated”6 in the sense that it is the direct Word of God, is a recipe for conflict, even for war.

In other words, to examine the text of the Koran as a product of a particular set of historical or cultural or individual experiences is easily seen by those living Islamic history, whether in accord with “traditional understanding” or in terms of some idiosyncratic ijtihad, as an attack on Islam. Mindful of the post-fatwa life of Salman Rushdie, this is why today so many minds inquiring into “problems of the Koran” use pseudonyms. A half century ago Rosenthal could publish in his own name, which speaks to a changed political rather than interpretive climate today.

Today, for Muslims living within Islamic history, matters are made worse when the inquiring minds are also Western and so doubly damned as both infidel and formerly or neo-colonial. For Westerners derailed by dogmatic postcolonial, postmodern sensibilities, things are no better: there can be no serious distinction between scholarship and polemic for postmoderns because there are no inquiring minds. There are only interested minds. Or, as Michel Foucault once put it, there is no knowledge, only power-knowledge. Notwithstanding the unpropitious context for the appearance of a mind inquiring into the text-critical problems of the Koran, or into what the Koran “really says,” a good deal of the traditional understanding has been radically revised by the past gener­ation of scholars — inquiring Muslim and non-Muslim minds working in the area of Middle Eastern studies — to give as neutral a designation as possible. Their concerns, to reiterate a point just made, are not with the perverse interpretations of ijtihad nor of the politics of the Ikhwan, though we shall argue that it has political as well as scholarly significance.

Two aspects of the problem concern us. The first deals with recent accounts of the formation of the Islamic community on the basis of what may be termed allegiance to the Islamic vulgate, and second is the textual status of the vulgate documents. The analogous problems in Judaism would consist in the reconciliation of (1) the archeological his­tory of ancient Palestine, which provides a physical record of the grad­ual historical development of hilltop villagers into a kingdom, which then was conquered and exiled forcibly to Babylon where the “prophets” brought together the theology of the exodus from paganism into mono­theism, with (2) the content of this theology, which told the well-known stories of: Yahwe’s initial revelation to Moses, the exit from Egypt to Sinai, the episode of the Burning Bush, Yahwe’s gift of the Ten Com­mandments, the wandering in the desert, the conquest of the Promised Land, the Davidic kingdoms, the Babylonian captivity, the revelations of Daniel, and so on.7

The Islamic equivalent to the distinction between the history of the tribal villagers of Palestine and their political life, and the theology of the exodus from paganism, has a similar structure: (1) the revelation at Mecca, the creation of the new community in Medina, the early rightly guided caliphs, their conquests, and the creation of the Umayyad Em­pire, is an equivalent version of (2) the Israelite exodus under different historical circumstances and experiences. Not humiliation, defeat, and exile, but triumphant imperial succession to Rome and Persia fur­nished the contents of the Muslim story of exodus from paganism to monotheism.

This multidimensional historical/symbolic complex is far more sub­tle than the Islamic vulgate, which combines the two dimensions into a single story. Voegelin has given the name historiogenesis to the creation of the compound story that combines an account of “what happened,” the res gestae, with a meaning that provides significance to “what hap­pened,” in this instance, obedience to the word of God.We noted in chapter 4 the elaboration of what might be termed a secular vulgate or secular historiogenetic account by Montgomery Watt. Watt provided a conventionally Western and secular account of the origins of the history of Islam. For present purposes it provides a useful starting point and a contrast to both the Muslim vulgate and a remark­able study, published in 1977 by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. They argued that Islam began as a messianic movement, “Hagarism,” the objective of which was to rule the Holy Land in a peculiar kind of alliance with the Jews. The peculiarity, according to Crone and Cook, was that messianic Israelite redemption was conducted by an army with an Ishmaelite genealogy. “There were,” they wrote:

“really only two solutions. On the one hand they [the proto-Muslim “Hagarenes”] could proceed after the manner of the Ethiopian Chris­tians, that is to say by themselves adopting Israelite descent. But in view of the play they had already made of their Ishmaelite ancestry, it is hardly surprising that they should have clung to it throughout their entire doctrinal evolution. On the other hand, if they would not go to the truth, the truth might perhaps be persuaded to come to them. On the foundation of their Ishmaelite genealogy, they had to erect a prop­erly Ishmaelite prophetology. It was a daring move for so religiously parvenu a nation, but it was the only way out.”

The tension between Israelite redemption and Ishmaelite genealogy, to say nothing of the transformation of the exodus symbolism from defeat and humiliation to victory and triumph, was extreme. As John Wansbrough remarked in a celebrated review of Hagarism, “it seems, indeed, that the problem of identity in Islam is not exclusively a legacy of colo­nialism; it has been there all the time.” Wansbrough himself developed his own systematic analysis of Islamic history about the same time. He explicitly applied to the Koran and the story of the Prophet at Mecca and Medina the techniques of biblical criticism developed over the pre­ceding century and a half by Western scholars. He did so, moreover, on the commonsensical (at least to an inquiring Western scholar) grounds that if the Christian and Jewish revelations could be discussed using “source-critical” or “historical-critical” methods, so could the Islamic.9

In addition to a novel approach to Muslim sacred texts, a kind of “critical history” was applied to the early years of the Umayyad Empire. Between the death of the Prophet in 632 and the establishment of an Arab-ruled Islamic empire by the end of the century, the purely prag­matic necessity of establishing the superiority of Islam over the two competing monotheisms, as well as over Zoroastrianism and “pagan­ism” or paganisms, was obvious.10 At the same time, the three religious communities strongly outnumbered the ruling Muslims. In addition, the Umayyad rulers were faced with the need to unify a wide range of traditional legal customs in order to reduce the instability of the eighth century that had led to dynastic wars of succession. The point of this effort to create a coherent “theologico-political” synthesis was to create a civil theology or a “minimum dogma” (to use a formula that Voegelin applied to Spinoza’s efforts under similar circumstances).

Starting around 800, commentators and scholars invented Islamic history, or what we have called the historiogenetic myth of Islam, on the basis of “trustworthy authorities” who were alleged to have transmit­ted faithfully the oral reports of the Prophet during the previous five or six generations. Wansbrough argued the Koran was the finalized ver­sion of “an extensive corpus of prophetic logia” drawn from traditional Judaeo-Christian imagery that gained whatever unity the text has by means of a “limited number of rhetorical conventions.” In his second book, Wansbrough argued that Muslim practices underwent a similar kind of transformation so that existing ninth-century practices were said to date from the time of the Prophet. These actions by what he called a “clerical elite,” that is, the ulema, raised Islam above the other sects — Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian — by “neutralizing” Christian Trinitarian doctrine into Muslim unity and attacking Jewish scripture as having been abrogated by successive revelation.11 These Western analyses of the origins of Islam naturally enough provoked considerable con­troversy both from Muslim traditionalists and from tradition-minded Western Arabists and Orientalists.12 The controversy has redoubled in light of a parallel line of philological analysis focused on the textual history of Muslim scripture.

Let us begin our summary of this issue with a reprise of some agreed-upon historical data. The earliest texts from the Koran date from 691, fifty-nine years after the death of the Prophet. They are inscribed inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and vary slightly from the standard Koran. The third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (644-656) ordered the hith­erto oral text to be set down in writing. This “Uthman recension” was to be authoritative and constitutes the first book in Arabic. It is also widely agreed that the political purpose of the Uthman recension was to ensure that, all over the growing Umayyad Empire, Muslims would make reference to the same text and not quarrel, like the Jews and the Christians, over what the scripture said. At the same time, Uthman or­dered all “imperfect” copies of the Koran destroyed.

The original Koranic script, called the rasm, in which the text estab­lished by Uthman was written, is without diacritical marks, written as dots, that are used to distinguish various letters and vowels. The diacrit­ical points were added around the turn of the eighth century on orders of Hajjaj bin Uusuf, governor of Iraq (694-714). The result essentially transformed an orally transmitted text into a written one. Apart from the inscriptions inside the Dome of the Rock, the earliest text of the Koran was, until recently, the Mail Manuscript in the British Library, which dated from the late seventh century; two other manu­scripts, one in the Library of Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and another in Istanbul at the Topkapi Museum, are from the eighth century. In 1972, a number of manuscripts were discovered in the Grand Mosque of Sanaa, in Yemen, during repairs to the loft between the inner and outer roofs following a major rainstorm. They were turned over to Qadhi Ismail al-Akwa, president of the Yemeni Antiquities Authority. A few years later, al-Akwa showed them to Gerd-Rüdiger Puin, a German Arabist and Islamic paleographer at Saarland University. In 1981, Puin and Hans Caspar Graf von Bothman, an Islamic art historian and colleague at Saarland, and Albrecht Noth, of the University of Hamburg, obtained support from Germany to preserve, clean, and restore some fifteen thou­sand sheets and fragments. It turned out that the Sanaa materials were older than the Mail Manuscript.

The Yemeni authorities did not publicize the find or the work done by the Germans. The Germans said very little either and went about their work, which now included making photocopies. In 1997, von Bothman returned to Germany with 35,000 pictures, some of which were clearly palimpsests, manuscripts containing faint earlier texts that had been erased in order to reuse the parchment at a later date. The political rea­son for their reticence was obvious. As Puin put it, “So many Muslims have this belief that everything between two covers of the Koran is just God’s unaltered word. They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana’a fragments will help us do this.”13

Another German scholar, the pseudonymous Christoph Luxenberg, has drawn additional implications from the Sanaa discovery and from prior philological work by Günter Lüling.14 Lüling reopened an argu­ment that had been made in the nineteenth century by Western Orien­talists, that a dialect of Aramaic, namely, Syriac, or Syro-Aramaic, had influenced the vocabulary of the Koran. In the Prophet’s time, Syriac was the language of written communication in the Middle East. Equally important, the literature written in Syriac was chiefly Christian. Now, the Koran is filled with biblical references, yet the Prophet was an illit­erate merchant. Leaving aside the intervention of Gabriel, this means either that Mecca was home to large numbers of Jews and Christians, and not just pagan Bedouins, as the Islamic tradition maintains, or the Koran was written some place other than Mecca.15

Luxenberg continued his interpretation along the same philological lines as Lüling but drew some even more significant (and controversial) conclusions. Not only was the Koran soaked in Christianity and writ­ten in a language that used a large number of Syro-Aramaic words, but the very meaning of the term Koran derives from a Syriac word, qeryana, which is a technical term in Eastern Christianity that means “lectionary,” which is to say, a set of liturgical readings taken from the Bible and read aloud at various ritual occasions during the year.16 The method used by Luxenberg is complex and can best be judged over the long term by philologically competent scholars. The short-term implica­tions, as the discussion of the dark-eyed houris above has indicated, are politically very important.

More than the fantasies of recruits to “martyrdom operations” are involved in the revisions to the Koran that follow from Luxenberg’s argument. For those living within Islamic history, that is, for the pious Muslim, the Koran was not only transmitted from God to the Prophet without human intervention, but it was communicated in perfect Ara­bic, a unity of form and style and language and content that is itself a representation of the perfection and unity of God. Luxenberg’s argument simply destroys this account entirely. Not only is the Koran a Christian lectionary, the text itself put together at Uthman’s command was compiled by people who could not read the lan­guage in which parts of it were written, namely, Syro-Aramaic. That is why they misread the passage about the dark-eyed houris as well as several other ones of much greater theological significance.

Even if scholars know that the questions raised by Westerners such as Luxenberg, or by Lüling, Puin, and von Bothman, or by contempo­rary Muslim scholars have been raised before in the history of Islam, those previous efforts by inquiring minds have long been forgotten. As a result, the current work is bound to be seen widely as yet another attack by Western scholarship or by apostate Muslim scholars. As with the controversy over the houris, it should come as no surprise that the Luxenberg thesis was not simply critically examined and analyzed according to the conventions of ordinary scholarship, but the argument has been characterized as a “plot against the Qur’an under the guise of academic study and archive preservation.”17

Toward the end of her study of the seductive appeals of terrorism, especially of Islamist terrorism, Jessica Stern indicated the challenge to Westerners. Clearly military opposition or a policy change with respect to Israel or Saudi Arabia is not the main issue. Nor is it the simple fact that the cultures and societies and religions of the world provide human beings with many forms of collective identity. “One of our goals,” she said, “must be to make the terrorists’ purification project seem less ur­gent: to demonstrate the humanity that binds us, rather than allow our adversaries to emphasize and exploit our differences to provide a seem­ingly clear (but false) identity, at the expense of peace.”18 A concern for the common humanity of all people is possible only for inquiring minds, minds in search of a common humanity. In terms of the historical and the theological issues raised in this appendix, such a person would see in Revelation, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, a symbolic, not a literal truth. The alternative would be to capitulate not to Islam but to fundamentalists who have no need to inquire about anything because their impulses no less than their acts lead to totalitarian domination and the superfluousness of humanity itself.



1. For a discussion of historically intelligible units of analysis, such as “Western history,” in the discourse of political science, see Cooper, Barry, Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science. Columbia: University of Missouri Press,1999, chap. 8.

2. Reprinted in Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. Edited with an introduction by Thomas L. Pangle. Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1983, 147-73. The fol­lowing quotations are from the first few pages.

3. Voegelin, “The Gospel and Culture,” 172-212. In Published Essays: 1966-1985, edited by Ellis Sandoz. Vol 12 CW.1990. Available, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.  As with the essay of Strauss, the quotations are taken from the opening pages.

4. See also the study of Cochrane,C.N., Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine.  Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.

5. Reprinted in Warraq, Ibn [pseud.], ed., What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary.  Amherst: Prometheus, 2003.

6. For a discussion of the contemporary political relevance of this apparently recondite theological issue, see Ruthven, Malise, A Fury for God:The Islamist Attack on America. London: Granta, 2002, 39-43; Lewis, Bernard, Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. New York: Modern Libraray, 2003, 8.

7. See Ahituv, Shmuel,and Oren, Eliezer B. The Origin of Early Israel: Current Debate: Biblical, Historical, and Archaeological Perspectives.The Irene Lev-Sala Seminar. Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1998.

8. Voegelin, Eric. The Ecumenic Age. Edited by Michael Franz. Vol IV, Order and History. Vol.17 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. Columbia: University of Missouri press, 2000, chap. 1.

9. See Watt, W. Montgomery. Muhammad at Mecca. Oxford: Clarendon, 1953, and Muhammad at Medina. Oxford: Clarendon, 1956;  Crone, Patricia and Cook, Michael. Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.,16; Wansbrough, John.”Review of Hagarism,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 41 (1978),155; Wansbrough, John. Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977; Wansbrough, John. The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History. Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1978. See also Rippin, Andrew.The Quran and Its Interpretive Tradition. Burlington: Ashgate, 2001.

10. See Berkey, Jonathan P. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East 600-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003., chap. 2.

11. Wansbrough, Quranic Studies, op.cit.,1, 47; Wansbrough, The Sectarian Milieu, op.cit.,123-27.

12. See Berg, Herbert. “Islamic Origins Reconsidered: John Wansbrough and the Study of Early Islam.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 9 (1997),3-22, reprinted in Warraq, Ibn [pseud.], Quest for the Historical Muhammad, 489-509. See also Motzki, Harald. “The Collection of the Qur’an: A Reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments.” Der Islam 78 (2001), 1-34.

13. See “A Qur’an Palimpsest from the Sanaa Qur’ans,” available at; see also Lester, Toby. “What Is the Koran?Atlantic Monthly, January 1999.

14. Lüling’s original work was privately printed in 1974: Über den Urkoran: Ansatze zur Rekonstruktion der vorislamisch-christlichen Strophenlieder im Koran. A second, corrected edition, was published in 1993.(Erlangen: Verlagsbuch-handlung H. Lüling) It was widely ignored until he published two articles in English, “Preconditions for the Scholarly Study of the Koran and Islam, with Some Autobiographical Remarks.” Journal of Higher Criticism 3 (1966).and “A New Paradigm for the Rise of Islam and Its Consequences for a New Paradigm for the History of Israel.”Journal of Higher Criticism 7 (2000).

15. See Crone, Patricia. Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. See also Stille, Alexander.”Scholars Dare to Look into Origins of Quran,” New York Times, March 2, 2002 and Stille, “Radical New Views of Islam and Origins of the Koran.” Silk Road Communications. 2002.

16. Luxenberg, Christoph. Die Syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’annsprache. Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 2000.. See also the reviews in the Journal of the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society,; and Phenix, Robert R., Jr., and Horn, Corneilia B., “Review.” In Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 6 (2003). .

17. See Geissinger, Aisha. “Orientalists Plot against the Qur’an under the Guise of Academic Study and Archive Preservation.” Muslimedia, May16-31, 1999. See also Theil,Stefan. “Challenging the Qur’an” Newsweek, July 28, 2003,; Hathout, Maher. “Response to ‘Challenging the Quran’ Article in Newsweek.” iViews, August 4, 2003.; Muslim Public Affairs Council, “The Quran and the Challenge to Newsweek.” August 5, 2003.;  “Muslim Scholar Refutes Newsweek Qur’an Article,” Palestine Chronicle, August 5, 2003.

18. Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: HarperCollins, 2003., 280.


This excerpt is from New Political Religions, or An Analysis of Modern Terrorism (University of Missouri, 2005); Also see our review of his book and his “The Genealogy of Islamic Terrorism: Parts One and Two.”

Barry CooperBarry Cooper

Barry Cooper

Barry Cooper is a Board Member of VoegelinView and Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary. He is the author, editor, or translator of more than thirty books and has published over one hundred and fifty papers and book chapters. He writes a regular column in the Calgary Herald.

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