Sunday, 10 September 2017

Notes and Thoughts on Carl Ernst's "How to Read the Quran"

How to Read the Quran –Carl W Ernst – Edinburgh University Press – 2012
Image result for carl ernst quran

Carl Ernst theorises based on a literary approach underpinned by a non supernatural foundation so it’s important to note this if you come across anything he says which goes against the traditional Islamic narrative. Ernst uses  a chronological, literary and historical approach – which is a post orientalist and cosmopolitan approach. Literary investigation includes structural composition and principal themes of suras.
He’s not doing devotional reading nor is he reading the Quran in the way a Muslim would thus he will say things which are not in line with Islamic thought. Be wary of this.

However he does make some points which may be of interest for Muslim apologetics, some of which I will share here.

Unfair treatment of Islam and the Quran by hostile readers (this would include Islamophobes and Christian missionaries)

“Hostile readers of the Quran use a literary approach that is the equivalent of a blunt instrument. They make no attempt to understand the text as a whole; instead, they take individual verses out of context, give them the most extreme interpretation possible and implicitly claim that over 1 billion Muslims around the world robotically adhere to these extremist views without exception. This is, in effect, a conspiracy theory that has virally multiplied in significant sectors of modern Euro-American society. It is irrational, it is paranoid, and it is out of touch with the realities of the lives of most Muslims around the world today. It ignores the existence of multiple traditions of interpreting the Quran in very different fashions. Unfortunately, a small minority of extremists, who quote the Quran in support of terrorist violence, have been magnified by the media into a spectre that is now haunting Europe (and the United States) more intensely than Marxism ever did. In part because of these contemporary anxieties, it is difficult for most Europeans and Americans to read the Quran” 2

“Muslims are all too familiar with condescending Christian missionaries who propose to tell them what the Quran should actually mean” 210

“Most European intellectuals, even at the time of the Enlightenment, took it for granted that Mohammad was an impostor and the Quran a fabrication and a derivative work. There was theological prejudice and negativity in earlier studies of the Quran. “

Reliability and Revisionist Theories

“In comparison with the Bible, the Quran exhibits much greater textual stability, and variant readings found in different manuscripts are largely trivial in pronunciation or vocabulary.  A number of theories have been advanced in recent years by European writers, questioning the traditional account of its composition. Some have proposed that the Quran was actually assembled as long as two centuries after the time of Prophet Muhammad. This hypothetical argument has not gained much traction, because of a lack of supporting evidence. Other more bizarre theories have been advanced, claiming that the Quran is really based on Christian text, or that it is not written in Arabic at all, but in a form of Syrian that is badly understood. Scholars of biblical studies (and readers of The Da Vinci Code) are certainly familiar with breathless exposes that claim to overturn all of the history of Christianity. This kind of radical revisionism probably gets more of a hearing when it concerns Islam, in part because most people are less familiar with the subject, but also because of fantasy expectations about debunking the Quran, otherwise it is hard to understand why such eccentric publications would be featured on the front page of the New York Times”. 4

“The Quran is the source of enormous anxiety in Europe and America, for both religious conservatives, who are alarmed about a competitive postbiblical revelation...” 1

“In practice today, a single reading (that of Hafs via Asim) is predominant, because of the widespread acceptance of the 1924 printing of the Quran by the Egyptian government using that standard, though other readings are occasionally available in print or audio recordings. In general, it is widely assumed that the text of the Quran has remained remarkably stable and that it has been more or less free from scribal insertions of the kind that crept into the manuscripts of the New Testament.”29
Arabic language
“When one turns to the nature of the assembled Quranic text , the first point to be addressed is the character of the Arabic language and the script in which it is couched. Arabic is considered a West Semitic language, and it belongs to the family of languages with alphabetic scripts (such as Hebrew, Aramaic and Ethiopic), which all ultimately descend from ancient Phoenician. Old written forms of the Arabic language are found in rock inscriptions throughout the Arabian Peninsula, which employ several different scripts ultimately derived from South Arabia. Arabic speakers also used the Nabatean script from the second century BCE, notably in the city of Petra (in modern Jordan), and that became the basis for the distinctive Arabic script that emerged in Syria and northwest Arabia in the sixth century CE, sometimes in multilingual inscriptions that included Greek or Syriac.” 26-26
Some notable revolutionary approaches and the media
“But the most revolutionary approach to the Quran in recent scholarship came in the work of John Wansbrough, a literary specialist, who argued that the text of the Quran could not have been compiledin the present from, as the traditional account has it, shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. He proposed that the oral sayings on which the Quran is based were in circulation for as much as a couple of centuries before they were assembled as a book. The codification of the Quran, in his view, was part of a larger historical process in which an originally Jewish-Christian religious movement outside of Arabia eventually turned into an Arab-Islamic polity, which then retrospectively created a fictional account of its origins n Arabia. Wansbrough’s  revisionist work was an extremely learned and complicated argument, and unsupported by direct external historical evidence. Parallel revisionist studies also emeerged  at the same time in the area of early Islamic history, in which Patricia Crone and Michael Cook argued that Muslim sources were completely unreliable and that therefore one can only reconstruct the early history of Islam through foreign sources. A couple of even more radical studies then appeared, which maintained that the text of the Quran was originally a Christian work later revised along Islamic lines (G. Lulling) or that it was originally written in Syriac and then completely misunderstood as an Arabic text (Christopher Luxenberg, a pseudonym). Both of these authors took the bold (and highly questionable) step of making significant alterations in the Arabic text of the Quran in order to make it fit their arguments. In literary terms, these later efforts overstate their case, by calling for the rejection of over a millennium of textual history and proposing completely new explanations previously unsuspected by anyone else. From a quite different perspective, John Burton also challenged the traditional account of the Quran, arguing that it was fully completed during the life of the Prophet. It is remarkable that all these revisionist theories of the origins and history of the Quran share a strong confidence in overturning centuries of the Islamic tradition yet offer dramatically different conclusions that clearly are in conflict among themselves.”  30-31
“A Wall Street Journal reporter published a lurid front-page account, strongly hinting that all the German scholars had been Nazis and suggesting that scholarly study of the Quran would provide shocking challenges to the Muslim faith in the authenticity og the Quran. In response Michael Marx, director of Corpus Coranicum Research Centre, wrote a scathing reply, poking fun at the newspaper article. Marx argued that this article was an example of the modern tendency to believe in vast conspiracy theories like that in The Da Vinci Code, imagining fanciful scenarios of romantic historical research (a la Indiana Jones) that would  call into question the entire history of a major religion, and which have certainly produced entire industries of publishing, film, and tourism. More seriously, Marx challenged the notion that all the German scholars were Nazis and also questioned the tendency of journalists to focus only on revisionist theories of the origins of Islam.”  30
Use of “We” in the Quran for Allah
“Some scholars have even suggested that the use of “We” implies a plurality of speakers, that is, the angels alongside God, but on closer inspection this proves to be a weak argument loosely based on biblical analogies. The Quran does not provide any example of angelic participation in the creation. Instead of overlaying such a simplistic theological interpretation onto the text, a literary approach will take seriously the different contexts and forms of expression of its different voices and personas found throughout the Quran. The shift from “I” to “We” for the principal speaker is very characteristic of the Quranic discourse, and the use of the plural is widely accepted as an example of the “plural of majesty” or the” royal we”, where the plural is used for respect.” 49-50
Tawil: more esoteric interpretation
“The commentary  al-Tabari (d. 923) is a milestone in the detailed explanation of the Quran in terms of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Another important early interpreter is al-Thalabi (d. 1035), whose (still unpublished) commentary has drawn recent attention as a masterful achievement of intellectual synthesis. Other major commentaries were produced by theologians such as al-Razi (d. 1210), from a Sunni perspective, and al Tabarsi (d. 1153), from a Shi’i point of view.”  64
Why Saudi Arabia is not keen on Archeological investigation
A highly conservative religious establishment sees no reason why the traces of Judaism and Christianity should be celebrated in the homeland of Islam, and its views digging up and displaying pagan idols as even more repugnant. 84
On this topic see my notes on Ziauddin Sardar’s Book Mecca:
Stylistic based claims that the Quran has undergone stages of revision are mere speculation
“Obviously the notion that the Quran has gone through stages of revision raises questions about how, and whose authority, later additions could be made to the text. Admittedly, this observation is speculative, since it is based entirely on internal stylistic evidence rather than on any external proof; there are no manuscripts  that contain any earlier versions of these Quranic texts.” 97
Sleepers of Ephesus
“As usual , the Quran does not provide a fully detailed version of the story , assuming instead that listeners are familiar with it..” 123
[This is interesting as the Quran does not go into much detail about other people and events in the Quran, I would assume Carl Ernst believes the immediate audience or some of the people amongst the immediate audience of the Quranic Revelation were familiar with these topics – such as the virgin birth, Jesus’ life and miracles, the life events of Abraham and Moses]
Surah 116-117
“The interrogation of Jesus by God forms a dramatic parallel with the interrogations of Jesus by his opponents in the New Testament, where he is asked to declare whether he is “the Christ. The son of God” (Mathew 26:63) or “the king of the Jews” (John 18:33). In this case, Jesus firmly denies making any claim of divinity for himself or his mother Mary. While this charge does not precisely state Christian theological positions, since Mary is not technically considered divine, it does represent the logical consequences for monotheism of calling her “Mother of God” as was common in the Eastern Church. Moreover Jesus also refuses to claim to have any divine knowledge, saying, “You know what is in me, but I do not know what is in You” (5:116). He presents his teaching as the pure monotheism commanded by God, to which he is witness for humanity (5:117).” 198
Ernst is looking at this from a Protestant viewpoint rather than looking at it from the viewpoint of all known Christian understandings and practices with regards to Mary. There were people who worshipped Mary and in the minds of some Protestants Mary is worshipped/prayed to by Catholics as highlighted by the quote from James White and Taylor Marshall's citation of an ancient prayer found written on papyrus manuscript (p470), this manuscript is dated is dated to 250 CE.

 Brewer's dictionary on Mariamites:

Worshippers of Mary, the mother of Jesus. They said the Trinity consisted of God the Father, God the Son, and Mary the mother of God.
Why it’s difficult for non Muslims to read the Quran:
-Media inflated claims
-Nearly complete lack of acquaintance with the text itself
-Cultural barriers
“Given the blank slate of sheer unfamiliarity with the Quran among Americans and Europeans, it is perhaps inevitable that certain cultural habits have become obstacles to an understanding of it. In the mood of anxiety and fear of the post-9/11 era, it is perhaps understandable that one of these habits would be the temptation to find quick answers in this ancient text, to provide simple solutions to an urgent modern political problem. Unfortunately, nervous haste all too readily leads to serious problems or misrepresentation, as isolated phrases are made to stand in for a whole text, a single text is made o stand for an entire religion, and extremist individuals magnified by the media are taken to be representative of hundreds of millions of people in dozens of different countries. These are not trivial mistakes; weighty and unfortunate consequences flow from any distorted prejudice that substitutes real knowledge.” 4

Mid 1800s a newer approach emerged – chronological readings.
Printing did not take place on a large scale until the mid nineteenth century.
According to a tradition preserved by the Egyptian scholar al-Suyuti (d. 1505), no less a person than Ali had in his possession a copy of the Quran with the suras in some kind of chronological order. 73
Relying on appeals to authority is hardly a solution given the multiple authorities available today
Fairminded and reasonable approaches help understand the religious well springs of others

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