Method Against Truth:  Orientalism and Qur’anic Studies

Method Against Truth:  Orientalism and Qur’anic Studies

The Orientalist enterprise of Qur’anic studies, whatever its other merits and services, was a project born of spite, bred in frustration and nourished by vengeance: the spite of the powerful for the powerless, the frustration of the rational’ towards the ёsuperstitious’ and the vengeance of the orthodox’ against the ёnon-conformist’. At the greatest hour of his worldly-triumph, the Western man, coordinating the powers of the State, Church and Academia, launched his most determined assault on the citadel of Muslim faith. All the aberrant streaks of his arrogant personality - its reckless rationalism, its world-domineering fantasy and its sectarian fanaticism - joined in an unholy conspiracy to dislodge the Muslim Scripture from its firmly entrenched position as the epitome of historic authenticity and moral unassailability. The ultimate trophy that the western man sought by this dare-devil venture was the Muslim mind itself. In order to rid the West forever of the problem’ of Islam, he reasoned, Muslim consciousness must be made to despair of the cognitive certainty of the Divine message revealed to the Prophet. Only a Muslim confounded of the historical authenticity or doctrinal autonomy of the Qur’anic revelation would abdicate his universal mission and, hence, pose no challenge to the global domination of the West. Such, at least, seems to have been the tacit, if not the explicit, rationale of the Orientalist assault on the Qur’an.

That Orientalism was a naked discourse of power and that its epistemology was a crude charade of legitimizing ethnocentric arrogance, is no longer a point of contention with any knowledgeable student of Islam or of modern history. Thus, it is neither inapt nor squeamish to construe the Orientalist enterprise as a frontal, at times even subversive, ёbehind the lines’, assault on the Qur’an; for, the only distinguishing mark of the Orientalist approach is its vengefulness and hatred. Seldom, if ever, has any sacred scripture of a universal faith been treated with such pathological animosity as the Orientalists handled the Qur’an. Far from showing even the perfunctory reverence that in cases like these is otherwise de rigueur, the Orientalist launched his iconoclastic’ attack with such fanaticism that compared to it even the crusaders’ fury pales to nothing. Indeed, brave would be the person who today would defend the Orientalist method for studying the Muslim Scripture as being the natural mode of apprehension of the rationalist man. If it was ёrationalist’, it was of a supremely arrogant European kind. Indeed, in all its emotional moorings, the Orientalist method was visibly vindictive, partisan and squint-eyed (Cf. our review-essay: Islam and Orientalism: The Duplicity of a Scholarly Tradition’, in MWBR, vol. 6, no 1, pp. 3-12). Of all the sacred texts of the world, it singled out the Qur’anic revelation for carrying out its senseless act of vandalism that shocked even its own champions. For instance, a scholar like Ignaz Goldziher, hardly to be accused of pro-Islamic partiality, had to cry out in protest exclaiming: ёWhat would be left of the Gospels if the Qur’anic methods were applied to them?’

To condemn the entire legacy of Orientalism, at least its enterprise of Qur’anic studies, as an outburst of psychopathic vandalism may seem harsh in our more ecumenical’ times. It might even be dangerous. Such a wholescale dismissal of a solidly scholarly tradition, for instance. may become for us a facile substitute for critical and nuanced analysis. Indeed, there are signs that some of us are doing just that: dismissing Orientalism entirely and cavalierly rather than studying it and analyzing it. Whatever the rewards of such emotional escapism, the stance adopted here (see the Introduction to the Bibliography) is diametrically opposed to any sentiment of self-indulgence. In our opinion, there is no substitute for the defeat of Orientalism but on the epistemological battlefield. Only be checkmating the Sovereign of the Orientalist cognitive pieces will the Muslim be able to pursue the games of his own choosing. Having said this, it also remains incontestable that any earnest-minded reader, Muslim or otherwise, who has the patience to sit through the irreverent inanities or petty squabbling of its mediocre discourse, will come to the realization that indeed there is something sick and sickening about the Orientalist hatred of Islam and the Muslims. If nothing else, the Muslim finds it impossible to forgive the Orientalist for tone he employed in his discourse. It remains painful to this day.

With the balance-sheet in hand, we now know that Orientalism has failed in all its major objectives. If by its frontal attack on the Qur’an it sought to make a breach in the fortification of the Muslim faith, it has failed miserably. If by its ёrationalist’ epistemology, it had hoped to make a dent in the Islamic personality, the evidence today spells the death of such nefarious designs. Muslims today are rallying around the banner of their faith and revelation with firmer commitment than prior to the Orientalist assault. If some odd Orientalist benignly strove to make Muslim conscience more in alignment with the canons of modernity, his disenchantment must be great because Muslims today are challenging the moral and epistemological foundations of modernity itself. Even if by his disinterested observation, form a doctrinally safe distance of course, the Orientalist had aspired to unravel the mystery of the numinous, he stands totally humiliated today. Neither his method nor his rationality, it appears irrefutable now, will ever solve the riddle of the revelation. More pitiable than all that, the edifice of colonial power-structure, which sustained and protected the Orientalist hoax, has been pulverized by the emancipatory forces of history. There exists, thus, neither the intellectual nor the political space for carrying out the Orientalist discourse today. Little wonder, then, that even the old Orientalist establishements are having a face-lift now and the Muslim is being admitted to their closed sessions. In short, whatever the Orientalist had hoped to gain by his academic endeavours has not come to fruition at all. Thanks to the historical development, thus, the Muslim may now analyze the cognitive and emotional disorders of the Orientalist personality within a less infected emotional atmosphere than would have been possible in the heydays of the Orientalist hegemony.

Ignoring the historical roots of modern Orientalism which reach as far back as the polemical marshes of medieval Christianity, we should turn our attention to nineteenth century which saw the appearance of a number of biographies of the Prophet, notably by Gustav Weil (1843), Muir (1861) and Sprenger (1861-65). Obviously these biographical works also contained some introductory material relevant to the study of the Qur’an [83, 131; The bold numerals within square brackets refer to listings in the Bibliography] which later crystallized into a separate discipline of its own. Sprenger and Weil also laid the foundation of the Chronology of the Qur’anic text - something which was elaborated by every subsequent scholar till it reached the cul-de-sac of its own making. Earlier, in 1834, Gustaf Flgel’s recension of the Qur’anic text had already provided Orientalist scholarship with one of its indispensable tools. With regard to Qur’anic studies, however, the most notable event of the nineteenth century Orientalism was the publication of Nldeke’s seminal work, Geschichte des Qorans, in 1860 [88]. It was under the auspices of the Parisian Acad충mie des Inscriptions et Belle-Letteres that a competition on the best monograph on the Qur’an was announced in 1857. Of the three scholars who were attracted by the subject, Aloys Sprenger, Michele Amri and Theodore Nldeke, the latter won the prize and out of this effort was born the most seminal work of the Orientalist scholarship on the Qur’an.

From its inception, Orientalist scholarship conceived of its principal task as the establishment of the chronology of the Qur’anic text. With Nldeke this, perhaps the only 涑scientific’ so to speak, motif of western Qur’anic studies gets fully crystallized. Following Weil [131], Nldeke proposed a chronological scheme, dividing the revelation into three Meccan and one Medinese periods, that has gained widespread acceptance since then. Apart from the four-period standard chronology, there were other systems as well, most notably the ones proposed by Muir (five Meccan, including one pre-Prophetic (!), and one Medinese phases) [83], Grimme and Hirschfeld [51]. Notwithstanding all their differences from the Muslim datings, however, the early European chronologies are nothing but variation of the traditional schemes. More radical - and preposterous - re-arrangement of the Qur’anic text was later suggested by the eccentric Scotsman, Richard Bell [16-20]. Taking his cue from Hirschfeld that in dating the Qur’an one must take notice of the individual pericopes rather than entire suras, Bell undertook a verse by verse examination and even tried to recast the entire text of the Qur’an in his own mould! The peculiar theory which the Scottish crackpot laboured all his life to substantiate concerned the revision of the text by the Prophet himself in Medina. One of Bell’s more quixotic suggestions was that whilst some passages were being revised, the Prophet instructed his scribes to note them down on the back of the sheets that already had the verses that were being replaced on them. Later editors, not willing to discard any shred of the revelation, therefore, inserted the old verses back in the text as it were. Consequently, Bell tried to explain every possible break in the text on the basis of some discarded scrap’ that had got into the Qur’an by mistake! Whatever his ingenuity at the rehabilitation of the original arrangement, Richard Bell, paradoxically, brought the western attempt to establish a textual chronology of the Qur’an to a complete halt. Like the proverbial snake, Orientalism bit its own tail. All that one can say today is, in the authoritarian opinion of the Encyclopaedia of Islam [72] (摑Al-Kur’an’, s.v.) that it is not possible to put the suras as wholes in chronological order, or to determine the exact order of the passages on any major teaching..’!

The reasons for the Orientalist obsession with dating and chronology are not far to seek. At its most obvious, the theme of chronology which itself is a category of history, provides a chain of temporal, and hence causal, ёexplanations’ for the phenomenon’ of the Qur’an. Not only does such a ёnatural’ order of events obviate the need of any supernatural and transcendental agency, which is the claim of the Muslim perception, but with the introduction of the category of sequential time’ in the workings of the Sacred, the notions of historical relativity or relative truth are also reinstated at the heart of our cognition. If the Qur’an itself may be understood as a chronological sequence of events, then whatever truth that it proclaims cannot be but temporal, and hence fallible. To introduce the category of ёsecular’ time in the sacred’ event of the revelation is, thus, to ёcon-fuse’ temporality with eternity. It is not accidental that Muslims, who are fully committed to the historicity’ of the Sacred Descent (Nuzul), the Event of the Qur’an, have never confounded the Sacred times of the Revelation with the ёsecular’ times of profane history. True enough, the Revelation took place in historical times, but inasmuch as the Sacred entered into history, it radically metamorphosed history and temporality. Thus, for the Muslim, the nature of time and history is fundamentally different during the Event of the Revelation, during the Sacred Mission of the Prophet, because then God guided the affairs of the Community in a uniquely direct way. Insofar as the Orientalist epistemology is unable to concede the possibility of the Sacred intervening in human history during the time of the Prophecy, its system of chronology does not cross-sect the Muslim perception of the sacred times but merely runs parallel to it. All that the Orientalist can accomplish by his method is to posit a category of history’ which encircles but never enters the sacred times of the Prophecy. Clearly, therefore, the Orientalist method is unable to arbitrate the issue of ёhistorical truth’: all it is able to achieve is the confusion of the two order of realities - profane times and sacred history. Given its ideological commitment, it may not be unfair to assume that the ultimate objective of the Orientalist chronological exercise is not to pronounce any judgement on the truth’ of the Qur’an but to spread confusion concerning its temporality and hence confound the unperceptive believer.

Along with chronology, the other major theme of Orientalist scholarship with ёscientific’ pretensions is, what may be broadly termed as, textual and linguistic studies’. Since linguistic analysis and explanation has been the mainstay of Muslim exegetical tradition, one expects that not only would Muslims find modern Orientalist approach congenial to their traditional temper but that the western effort would also be able to enrich Muslim self-understanding itself. And indeed, to some extent, it is so. Modern scholarship possessing a much broader knowledge of comparative Semitic philology and even of other classical languages, not to speak of the more sophisticated methods of linguistic analysis that are at its disposal, is in an infinitely better position to shed light on ёobscure’ words and terms that have baffled traditional commentators. In many cases, modern knowledge is indeed a boon. It has provided more plausible explanations, given more solid etymologies and traced more foreign words than was possible for the traditional Muslim scholars. And yet, there is always a polemical and derogatory side to the Orientalist effort. Not only does it assume a total cultural void in the pre-Islamic Arabia but in terms of discretion, it also labours under the assumption that the traditional Muslim view, influenced as it is by theological and dogmatic considerations, must of necessity be discarded. Invariably, out of the two or more plausible explanations, western scholars compulsively pick up the one which is farthest from the accepted Muslim opinion [60]. Alas, there can be no other reason for this but the pathological, Islamophobic, trait of the Orientalist personality.

Undoubtedly, within the matrix of linguistic, textual and chronological studies, the most ambitious project of Orientalist scholarship was to produce a critical’ text of the Qur’an. To a Muslim, uncompromisingly conditioned by the authority of the mutawatir tradition, such scholarly hubris strikes as suicidal, if not downright blasphemous. Such, however, is the lure of the ёcritical’ approach for the Orientalist that everything that is normative and axiomatic for the Muslim tradition has to be rejected with impunity, even if it tolls the death of impartiality or of scholarship’. In any case, the moving force behind this project was Arthur Jeffery, who had earlier pursued this line of research vigorously [59]. Together with a team of German scholars and on the basis of the surviving manuscripts from the earliest times, Jeffery was busy preparing ёthe critical text of the Qur’an’, when his project was brought to a halt by the Allied bombing of Munich during the World War II. All the manuscripts and other material that had been assembled with such painstaking fanaticism were utterly destroyed. Charles Adams mourns the loss in these words: The degree of loss was so great that it may never again be possible to mount a similar effort. The problem is further compounded by the deaths of most of the persons involved. To my knowledge no extensive critical work on the text of the Qur’an is now being undertaken in either the Muslim or the Western worlds’. Whatever the validity of the mock- sentiment of bereavement above, our readers ought to know that the highly praised critical dimension of Jeffery’s project consisted of nothing more than documenting all the textual variations - usually no more than dialectical or vocal divergences that in no way affect the sense and meaning of the extent ёVulgate’ - that had, wittingly or unwittingly, crept in the Muslim works on the Qur’an. Obviously, the most paramount tenet of Orientalist reason’ is skepticism. To distrust vengefully everything that is consensual and conformist in the Muslim tradition and to espouse passionately everything that is deviant and freakish is the the epitome of sacred canons of Orientalist ёcriticism’!

Purely philological and lexical research, of course, is impossible without situating linguistic terms and expression in a historical and cultural milieu. It is here that the ingenuity [4, 8, 48, 121, 128, 132, 133], polemics [3, 13-20, 35-6, 37, 39, 41-42, 50, 52, 54-6, 59-62, 64, 68, 75-76, 80-2, 87, 90-94, 100, 109, 112, 113, 120, 122, 124-6, 132] derision [90-94], irony [101] and the proverbial Islamophobia [almost everyone] of Orientalism find their full rein. Within this paradigm, thus, by far the greatest part of the Orientalist effort is devoted to tracing the origins of the Qur’an and the sources of its teaching’. The rationale behind committing all the resources of Orientalism to this project is, no doubt, polemical through and through. Epistemologically, it is grounded in a materialistic metaphysics that does not recognize the possibility of the Transcendent acting in human history, just as, dogmatically, it is unable to concede that God speaks to anyone but to His ёown people’. Given this fortuitous union of the skeptical and the Biblical, it is not surprising that, in studying the Qur’anic revelation, even the most committed theist from among the People of the Book wears the agnostic mask. Scholars, otherwise fanatically opposed to weighing the mystery of revelation in the scale of reason, approach the Qur’an with ideological premises and methodological practices that are strict taboos in their own homes. It is this duplicity of the Biblical, read Christian, personality that Goldziher finds objectionable. For the Muslim, however, the hubris of the Chosen is little different from the prejudice of the Saved.

Unfortunately, the ecumenical’ promise, which the theme of ёJudaeo-Christian antecedents of the Qur’an’ undoubtedly holds, was callously flouted in the annals of Orientalism. Sectarian passions were sanctified in the name of method’ and all search for ёtruth’ was expelled from its academic precincts. Uppermost in these concerns was the eagerness to prove’ that the Qur’an was a poor replica of the Bible and that the Prophet was no more than a confused ёforger’ of the Judaeo-Christian revelation! If Jewish doctors strove to prove the Jewish Foundations of Islam’ [122, cf. even, 13, 44, 52, 55-6, 68, 113, 120], Christian clerics felt obliged to outbid them in demonstrating its ёChristian Origins’ [3, 14, 20, 60, 62, 87, 90-94, 129, 132]. Central to this type of perception is a racial sensitivity that has been sanctified in the name of religious exclusivism. God speaks only to the children of Israel and inasmuch as the Arabian Prophet is an outsider, God could not have addressed him directly, is the gist of this stance (Even the few odd conciliatory’ schemes of revelation, that have come to us from Jomier [65] Massignon or Moubarac [81-2], unblushingly tout for the ёracial’ rationale!).

Only from such a sentiment of racial-religious exclusiveness may the Orientalist reproach to the Prophet and the Qur’an be justified: the Arabian outsider appropriates’ the truth of the Bible and ёforges’ it into a revelation of his own! Everything Qur’anic that corroborates earlier scriptures, thus, is viewed as borrowing’ and everything that the Qur’an modifies of their contents is dismissed as ёdeviant’ and distortive’. Should one, on the other hand, accept - even phenomenologically and not doctrinally - that the ёfounder’ of Islam stands at the end of a long chain of religious personalities, best described as prophetic’ according to the typology of the Near East, then the whole edifice of Biblical Orientalism crumbles to the ground. In the latter case, it would be absurd to speak about ёderivations’, borrowings’, ёdistortions’, even misunderstandings’, as the Qur’anic revelation too would be recognized as expounding the common truth of ёmonotheism’ (according to the Muslim opinion, even arbitrating it) rather than transgressing’ the preserve of Judaeo-Christianity. Clearly, at the heart of the Orientalist vision lies the conviction of the non-conformity of the Qur’anic revelation and the racial ёheresy’ of the Prophet of Islam. By all standards, it is a dogmatic conviction and has nothing to do with the claims of method.

Forgotten also in the source-historical discourse of Orientalism is the inconvenient fact that the Qur’an categorically proclaims its affinity with earlier revelations, including the Biblical, and that for the Muslim, convinced as he is to the unity of the content as well as the source of all revelations, the evidence of Judaeo-Christian antecedents of the Qur’anic themes causes little doctrinal discomfort. Inasmuch as the Qur’an and other scriptures exhibit overlapping of themes and motifs, even of linguistic expressions, it is due to the identity of the Transcendent Source of this knowledge and not attributable to any vagaries of its human recipients. For, not to claim externality for the Source of one’s own - as well as for that of the others’ - truth is to negate the revelation principle’ itself. Indeed, it is tantamount to denying the existence of a transcendent order of knowledge and reducing the revelation to the imminent workings of the human mind. (Is the truth of Judaism (or Christianity) from God or is it a product of the Jewish (or Christian) genius?) In claiming that the truth of the Qur’an is a borrowed, human, truth, whereas that of Judaism (or Christianity) is the revealed, divine, truth, the Orientalist reveals himself to be a dogmatic partisan of the Biblical tradition. Or, in his zeal to deprive the Muslim scripture of its transcendent moorings, he ends up by denying the possibility of revealed, extra-sensory, knowledge Ѽber haupt. Thus, despite his fondness of running with the hare and hunting with the hound, as it were, the Orientalist may claim methodological validity either for all the historical revelations or for none at all. Denying the revelation-principle in the case of the Qur’an and upholding it in that of the Bible hardly makes the Orientalist method more scientific’. At heart, and behind all the masks of academic respectability, the Orientalist always remains, either a dogmatist or an atheist! In both cases, his methodological perception does violence to the Islamic faith is unable to arbitrate the question of the Islamic truth.

The dogmatic principle of the uniqueness of the Biblical tradition, the darling of the Orientalist method, as mentioned earlier, cannot be maintained in the nascent discipline of phenomenology of religions. If anything, the phenomenological perception has a tendency to posit a typological and taxonomic kinship between all ёSemitic’, Prophetic’ or ёWestern’ religions [78] (In perceiving this unity, the modern discipline, thus, comes very close to the Qur’anic notions of the Abrahamic faiths). In a sense, then, one of the most cogent refutation of the Orientalist method has, unwittingly, arisen within the western worldview. It is not accidental, thus, that in studying Islam, Biblical Orientalism is loathe to employing the phenomenological methodology. Even here, however, there’s no mistaking about the Islamophobic emotionality of Orientalism. Thus, whatever phenomenological studies of Islam that have been carried out within the Orientalist tradition have not been free of the Biblical bias [64, 79, 104]. At times, they have even been unable to rise above the Biblical calling to polemicise against Islam [37, 90] Committed as it is to the recovery of religious meaning, the new discipline of phenomenology of religions does show scholarly promise and, if handled properly, it may elicit insights that, mutatis mutandis, may enrich Muslim self-perception itself [48]. As yet, however, this potential remains largely untapped.

Notwithstanding the appearance of certain dogmatically, if not ideologically, neutral, even conciliatory tracts [45, 65, also, 35-6], the academic’ temper of Orientalist scholarship has grown more skeptical with times [75-6, 107-8, 125-6, 132]. Today, the most radical demand for the revision of Orientalist legacy comes in the field of chronology and concerns the authenticity of the Qur’anic text itself! We have seen that with Richard Bell tolls, no pun intended, the death-knell of the chronological movement of Orientalism. Henceforth, only an Exodus could save the chosen ones of its pure faith from the accursed captivity of chronology in the Arabia of history and lead them to the Promised Land, the no-man’s Jerusalem, of literary analysis. Orientalism’s new deliverer was to be John Wansbrough [124-26]. The new methodology and its wholescale rejection of the traditional chronological framework is as candid an admission of defeat on the part of the Orientalist establishment as it is a unilateral breach of the scholarly contract between Muslim sources and modern methods. The gist of Wansbrough’s astounding thesis is that the Qur’an is a ёcomposite’ document containing within its covers a number of strands of sectarian Jewish polemics, that its present form and structure were crystallized during the ninth century of the Christian era and that it may or may not incorporate anything of the Prophet’s own inspiration or revelation! Clearly, such a cataclysmic conjecture can only be sustained by making chaos out of the order Islamic history. Not surprisingly, therefore, Wansbrough has to disown the entire corpus of Muslim historiography in order to strike a bargain with the merchants of literary analysis’. Only such a quantum jump ensures the Orientalist to reach the orbit of higher polemical charge!

With Wansbrough, the triumph of method over truth is complete. Along with the bath water of Orientalist chronology, one now throws the baby of Islamic history as well. The Qur’an, thus unanchored from its historic moorings, now becomes amenable to any kind of methodological torture and the Orientalist scholar absolved of any chronological responsibility. He may now dismiss the entire formative history of Islam as a hoax, and yet be free from the burden of advancing a single plausible reason for this colossal self-deception. He may play any kind of scholarly charade, and as long as he keeps on producing the rabbit of method from his academic hat, there is no end to his jugglery’, nor any reprimand for his jestery. The divorce of history and method that is the seed of Wansbrough’s literary analysis, however, is bringing mixed harvest to the, now largely abandoned, manor-house of Orientalism. If, on the one hand, there is a vanguard assault to pulverise the mansion of Islamic history into the rubble of ёsalvation history’, most notably in the works of Patricia Croone and Michael Cooke, there is also, on the other hand, the growing evidence of reliability of the Muslim tradition [85-6]. Oddly enough, Wansbrough’s own pupil, John Burton is also proclaiming, most paradoxically and more than any traditional Muslim claim, that the entirety of the Qur’an in its present textual arrangement is the work of the Prophet himself! Understandably, the Orientalist establishment has reacted with caution, circumspection and skepticism to Wansbrough’s highly provocative, nay tendentious, hypothesis. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, for instance, sums up the majority-view of the Orientalists as: Neither [Wansbrough or Burton] has given convincing reasons for his own hypothesis, or for the shared assertion that the Muslim accounts should be rejected altogether’ [72]. More outspoken dismissals of Wansbrough’s brazen assertions have not been lacking either. R.B. Serjeant, for instance, expresses the gist of the counter-argument against Wansbrough as such: ёAn historical circumstance so public [as the appearance of the Qur’anic revelation] cannot have been invented’! (For a very firm, pithy and scholarly rebuttal of Wansbrough’s methodology’, vid.: Fazlur Rahman: ёApproaches to Islam in Religious Studies: Review Essay’, in R.C. Martin (ed.): Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, Arizona, 1985, pp. 189-202; also the same author’s: Some Recent Books on the Qur’an by Western Authors’, in The Journal of Religion, vol. 61, no 1 (January, 1984), pp. 73-95, as well as his more general work, Major Themes of the Qur’an, Chicago, 1980).

Out of the vast corpus of Orientalist works, only a few deal with the contents of the Qur’an, and even these are peripheral to the Orientalist effort and worldview. Apart from some recent Christian works that go a long way towards the revision of earlier Islamophobic sentiments [35-6, 45, 65], there is one scholar whose work recommends itself highly to the Muslims. Against all the canons of Western academism, the Japanese scholar Izutsu, as an outsider to Orientalism and sharing none of its historical prejudices or emotional phobias, has allowed the Qur’an to speak for itself [57-8]. The result also speaks for itself! The moral ѩlan of the Qur’anic worldview, ritually masked by the Orientalist method, here shines through with dazzling luminosity. Professor Izutsu’s work provides the most cogent argument against the claim that the truth of a scripture is accessible only to those who are inside its sacred tradition.

In the end, the uncomfortable question that has to be faced by any earnest-minded Muslim critic of Orientalism: Has the Orientalist enterprise brought nothing of value to Islam? Is there anything in its vast scholarly output that helps us elicit some insights about our own situation today or of our collective enterprise in history? Critical, even irreverential and pathologically Islamophobic, though the Orientalist may have been in dealing with our heritage, has he nothing to contribute to our self-criticism? So far, we have ignored the Orientalist reproach. Because of its foreign origin, its missionary trappings and its colonial designs, we have, rightly, dismissed Orientalism as the pathological fallacy of the Western religious, political and cultural megalomania. Nonetheless, we cannot remain immune forever against the claims of its method that are being proffered in the name of universal’ reason itself. Sooner or later, authentic Muslim effort will have to approach the Qur’an from methodological assumptions and parameters that are radically at odds with the ones consecrated by our tradition. If we are not to follow in the footsteps of the Western man to the wasteland of skepticism, disbelief and despair, we better learn from the nemesis of Orientalism that the only proper method for the study of the Qur’an is the one that allows its truth to speak for itself.


To read this and many other articles, visit Parvez Manzoor’s homepage at http://www.algonet.se/~pmanzoor/


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