Sep 162014

This article is from “Fifteen Letters (Khamsata ‘Ashara Maktuban)

This is not the first English translation of this book. It was first translated in 1997 by Muhtar Holland, the outstanding translator of many of Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilan’s works into English. Mr Holland used one manuscript from the Databank der Orientalischen Handschriften der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany. In my editing and translation of the text I have used three manuscripts, one at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, UK, the second in the Special Collections Library at Michigan University, USA, and the third in King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Translating a mystical work like this is a big challenge. The meaning of the text is often subtle, deep, and open to interpretation. The task of translation is not made any easier by the fact that the Arabic text is itself a translation from the original Persian. But as I explained earlier, the fact that the text consists of short sentences each followed by a Qur’anic verse makes the job of the translator easier. Unsurprisingly, Holland’s translation and mine show differences in understanding various parts of the text.

The style of the writing has resulted in a translation structure like this: words of the Shaikh + of: + Qur’anic verse. I have used the character “—” to indicate that the text on a new line continues the preceding text. This is an example:

Be afraid of:

The Day on which the person flees from his brother, mother, father, spouse, and sons, (80.34-36)

—and think of the reckoning of:

Whether you show what inside your souls or hide it Allah will reckon with you for it. (2.284)

I have used “of” to link the Shaikh’s words to the verse they precede, instead of using something like “that is mentioned in the following verse” which is too verbose. This means that the transition from the end of the Shaikh’s words to the beginning of the verse is often not smooth linguistically but completely natural and elegant at the level of the meaning.

Each pair of words of the Shaikh and the verse that follows them has a concept that is present in both the Shaikh’s words and the verse. The Shaikh’s words explain the verse, and the verse explains what the Shaikh meant. So in the example above, the Shaikh is talking about a particular “call” that he quotes a specific verse to elucidate.

To retain the tone of the original text while at the same time presenting it in a way that is easy to read, I have put the long conjunctive sentences on separate lines. To make it easy to distinguish between the Qur’anic text and the Shaikh’s words, I have used a different font for the former and placed each verse on a separate line.

Copyright © 2014 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

May 232013

I received by email a thoughtful review of my book Jesus the Muslim Prophet: History Speaks of a Human Messiah Not a Divine Christ. The review was also circulated by the reviewer to others, who have interest in Christian theology or may be even qualified in the subject, whom the reviewer at times addresses in his review. The reviewer has welcomed my reply to the review, so I am publishing his review followed by my reply.

This is how the reviewer Juan A. Ayala-Carmona introduced himself:

This writer (yours truly) is an ordained Christian minister and theologian who has degrees in Comparative Religions and Theology. I received my D. Min. in Theology from the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, 1982 and have served as professor of church history, religion, and theology at various colleges and theological schools. I retired as a prison chaplain with the New York State Department of Correctional Services in 2009.

This is the text of the review:

My intention is to evaluate Dr. Fatoohi’s book relative to both its strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Fatoohi is receiving a copy of this critique and his response is welcome. Your comments and responses are also welcome, and I think that they would be helpful to both Dr. Fatoohi, myself, and to all others who are interested in examining the beliefs and practices of the both the Christian and Islamic communities with the greatest degree possible of impartiality, objectivity, and open-mindedness, bearing in mind that pure “objectivity” does not exist. Dr. Fatoohi’s biases are reflected in his book, and my biases are reflected in this response. Absolutely none of us has a 100% handle of the truth. As one of my professors of theology (Dr. Paul Fries) used to say, “All theology is partial and tentative.” The Apostle Paul says “We see dimly through a mirror.” All of our positions are subject to correction and any necessary revision.

I will begin by stating my appreciation for Dr. Fatoohi’s approach to this subject from the standpoints of both faith and scholarship. Contrary to the notion that many believers (both Christian and Muslim) have about scholarship diminishing and eroding faith and spirituality, Dr. Fatoohi makes it very clear that if anything, scholarship strengthens faith. The book calls for a faith which is informed by history, science, and other branches of human knowledge as well as by experience and tradition, both oral and written. This fact, in and of itself, makes Dr. Fatoohi’s book a “must read” type of document. I strongly recommend the reading of this book to all of you. By reading his book, you will be in a much stronger position to evaluate both the book and my critique of it. Dr. Fatoohi makes it clear that he accepts reader responses.

The major strengths of Dr. Fatoohi’s book are:

1. His familiarity with the history, scriptures, and traditions of the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths. Dr. Fatoohi is very conversant with the Torah, New Testament, and Qur’an, as well as with the experiences and traditions which gave rise to and generated those sacred books.

2. His familiarity with the historical-critical approach to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Christian Scriptures (New Testament), and the Qur’an. He demonstrates knowledge of authorship, intended audience, reasons for writing, and the variety of literary styles in each of the sacred books.

3. His familiarity with the historical development of Christian theology, especially relative to the issue of the Christian doctrine of Jesus being God-in the flesh. He points out in a very succinct manner the views of Jesus in the Gospels as contrasted with the views of Jesus in the Pauline writings.

4. Dr. Fatoohi clearly points out the distinction between the doctrines of the early Church (1st century), and the teaching of the Church in the post-Apostolic era. He specifically points out that the doctrine of the Trinity in systematic form was a later development.

5. His clarification about the words “Islam” and “Muslim” meaning submission and one who submits respectively. Thus, it opens the door for Christians to avoid being offended by his use of the word “Islam” and “Muslim” in relation to Jesus and other Bible figures.

The major weaknesses of Dr. Fatoohi’s book are the following:

1. His unstated but clear assumption that divine revelation in the Bible (especially the New Testament) is superseded by divine revelation in the Qur’an. Dr. Fatoohi, like most Muslims that I know, is of the persuasion that the Qur’an is a correction to and revision of the “corruptions” of the New Testament.

2. Subsequently, Dr. Fatoohi assumes and believes that the contents and teachings of the New Testament are true only to the extent that they concur with the contents and teachings of the Qur’an. In a sense, Dr. Fatoohi commits the same mistake that many Christians commit. In the same manner that many Christians are guilty of “Christianizing” the Old Testament by reading it in the light of the New Testament, Dr. Fatoohi “Islamicizes” the New Testament by reading it in the light of the Qur’an.

3. Dr. Fatoohi readily accepts the statements supposedly made by Jesus about Himself relative to His being “the Son of Man,” but when he encounters statements about Jesus referring to Himself as being something other than human, he attributes these sayings not to Jesus, but to Paul, John, and others who wanted to make Jesus equal to God, and/or being “God in the flesh.” Consistent with his Islamic beliefs, Dr. Fatoohi thus endorses the notion that the Bible is true only to the extent that it is in harmony with the Qur’an.

4. By constantly (and consistently) stating throughout the book that it was Paul and subsequently John who introduced the notion of the God-man into Christian theology in order to accommodate to pagans of non-Jewish and non-Christian origins, Dr. Fatoohi is thus making the Apostle Paul and other writers of the New Testament to be false teachers because they have elevated Jesus to the status of divinity. Because the teachings of Paul and others are found in the book which we Christians believe to be divinely inspired. Dr. Fatoohi is in essence saying that certain parts of the Bible are humanly concocted and constructed. I know that many Muslims would be offended if any one were to suggest anything similar about the Holy Qur’an. This reminds me of an experience that I had in 1972 in New York. A Muslim neighbor of mine (in the Bronx) invited me to attend his Masjid. Out of curiosity to know more about what other people believe and practice, I accompanied the brother to the Masjid. After the congregation completed their prayers, he directed me to the Imam with whom I sat and conversed for a short time. The Imam explained the basic tenents of Islam to me. I asked him if Muslims believe in the Bible. He responded by stating that they do, but mostly the Old Testament Scriptures. I asked him if they believe in the New Testament Scriptures. He stated that they do, but only parts of the New Testament, because the New Testament has been “corrupted.” When I asked him for evidence that the New Testament has been “corrupted,” he said to me “It says so in the Qur’an.” I asked him “how do you know that the Qur’an hasn’t been corrupted?” He asked me to leave.

In essence, Dr. Fatoohi is taking the same approach as the Imam. The Bible, in his view, is to be evaluated in the light of the “truths” of the Qur’an and not the other way around, even though the Bible was written many years and centuries prior to the Qur’an. To sustain this position is to invalidate the divine inspiration of the Bible, and in essence making the writers of the Bible (especially the New Testament) false teachers while claiming total divine inspiration for the Qur’an. Sorry Brother Fatoohi, but with all due respect to you, your faith, and the Qur’an, “no can do.” Only a historical act, such as the Incarnation of God in Christ can help us to make sense out of human history. To you as a fellow scholar and as a sincere believer, I say Asalaam-alaikum. To all others I say to God in Christ be the glory now and forever more. Amen!

I would end this piece by saying that since I am not infallible or perfect, and since I do not have a monopoly on God’s truth, I welcome comments, reactions, responses, and any suggestions that any of you may deem necessary.

Grace and peace,

Juan A. Ayala-Carmona

This is the end of the review. 

Thank you Dr Ayala-Carmona for your interest in reading my book, reviewing it, and sharing the review with me. I would also like to thank you for the scholarly tone of your review.

I like to start by saying that I fully respect your views. I would also like to thank you for your generosity in highlighting strengths of the book. As you have kindly invited my reply, I would like to say a few things about the four weaknesses you identified in my book.

Points 1 & 2. I should clarify that this book and two other smaller books (The Mystery of the Crucifixion and The Mystery of the Messiah) were derived from my major and detailed study The Mystery of the Historical Jesus. In the latter, I covered all aspects of Jesus’ life. I later took specific materials from that comprehensive book and revised and extended them into the focused book you have read. The book on the historical Jesus starts with a chapter called “Approaches to the Study of History in the Qur’an and the Bible.” As its title suggests, this chapter reviews the relevant methodologies which I categorize into four approaches: secular, Biblical, secular-Biblical, and Qur’anic. It discusses the assumptions of each approach and the weaknesses of the first three approaches, and presents the Qur’anic approach as the most reliable methodology. The book makes it clear that it advocates the Qur’anic approach. In fact, the last section in that chapter starts with the following:

Having introduced the main approaches to the study of history in the Bible and the Qur’an and explained why it is important to understand what approach a study takes, I need to make it clear that this book follows the Qur’anic approach. Any information in the canon, apocrypha, and history that is relevant to the subject of this book will first be presented and then explained from the Qur’an’s point of view. Presuming that the Qur’an is the Word of God, this book seeks to show the consistency of the Qur’anic story of Jesus and its alignment with historical facts. It also compares the Qur’an’s consistent account of Jesus’ life with the problems that the same story has in Christian sources.

That section and chapter then conclude with the following:

As it follows the Qur’anic approach, this book will argue that the historical Jesus is that of the Qur’an, and that his real role in history is accurately explained by the Qur’an’s view of the world, not the view of the Bible or any secular approach. However, it will consider in detail the arguments of the other approaches and any counter argument to the Qur’anic approach. 

I will make every effort to differentiate between bare facts and their interpretations according to the Qur’anic approach. These facts can then be looked at by others to examine the validity of the given interpretations and test whether a different approach gives better interpretations of these facts. I will point out the similarities and differences between the Qur’an and relevant Jewish and Christian sources, and I will explain and relate them to established historical facts, using the Qur’anic perceptive. It is then to the reader to decide whether this Qur’anic interpretation of history is more consistent, convincing, and in line with established facts, or other alternatives, including the Bible’s. 

Let me repeat again, this book does not claim to be a dispassionate, neutral study of Jesus’ history. I am not sure that such an attempt is possible at all anyway. Nevertheless, I will ensure that I make my assumptions clear and differentiate between facts and their interpretations, allowing the reader to decide whether the arguments of the book are likely or unlikely, credible or absurd.

I think this is fair to say that I could not be clearer about the approach that the book takes.

This substantial chapter is not something that I could have added to the three smaller books that I derived from the source book. However, the “Preface” of the current book still says enough to make clear what the book tries to achieve:

Like my other writings, this book tries to bring the Qur’an to the study of the historical Jesus which Western scholarship has mainly restricted to the Old and New Testaments, along with historical writings. My other, related goal is to get Islamic scholarship to show more interest in historical sources and to also look at the Old and New Testaments and other Jewish and Christian sources from a historical perspective. 

This book focuses on contrasting the human Jesus of the Qur’an with the divine Jesus of Christian sources. Admittedly, this subject has been examined by Christian, Muslim, and other scholars considerably more than other topics of the historical Jesus. However, one new contribution to the literature that my book makes is to show that the human Jesus as presented in the Qur’an is the one that fits in history. The concept of a divine Jesus can only be an invention from the post-Jesus era.

Nevertheless, I appreciate how the absence of the original introductory chapter might have given the impression that I have not stated my assumptions explicitly.

Point 3. You are right in your observation that I use the Qur’an to differentiate between which statements attributed to Jesus that are likely to be historical and which are not. This is consistent with the approach of the book, as explained in detail above.

Point 4. I should make it clear that I do not intend to offend anybody by any claim I make in my writings. I respect the right of every person to take whatever view they want. It is not my intention to insult or demean anybody or faith in the past or present. But I also have to accept the obvious fact that some beliefs are contradictory and cannot be reconciled with each other. Furthermore, in the same way I do not believe that a reading of history that is different from mine is intrinsically offensive to me, I do not consider my reading of history to be offensive to anybody.

But I also know that offense can be read into things. Let me give a relevant example. The Qur’an claims that all people, including Christians should believe in Muhammad and the Qur’an. Most Christians do not, meaning they do not believe in the message of the Qur’an. This means that they do not believe that the Qur’an is a divine book, which implies that either Muhammad deliberately lied or, at best, was himself deluded. These two conclusions, which mean that Muhammad was a false prophet, are easily seen as offensive by Muslims. You can see then how easy for a Muslim to take offense from the very fact that someone does not believe in the message of the Qur’an. But that should not be the case. If we accept that people have the right to hold different beliefs, then we have to accept that at times these beliefs might contradict and reject each other. If we consider this to be offensive in anyway, then talking about the right to freedom of belief and expression becomes meaningless.

I disagree with the Imam who asked you to leave the mosque because you questioned his belief about the Qur’an, but I equally reject any assumption that a serious work that questions one version of history in favour of another is offensive to those who believe in the former, not least because the former can be equally accused of being offensive! This is particularly so when the Muslim reading of history immensely venerates Jesus, albeit not as God. Can the same be said about the Christian reading of history regarding Prophet Muhammad? I do not think so. Still, no offense should be taken by Muslims.

You likened my approach in the book to the behaviour of that Imam. Unlike the Imam who only made a statement about his faith and refused to discuss it, I have written extensively to show that this statement is not a matter of faith only. I also encourage and respect serious dialogue and debate. I often say that I learn a lot more from those I do not agree with than those I agree with, because challenge and the need to work harder comes from the former not the latter. I hope that publishing your review on my website further confirms that my approach differs completely from the Imam’s. .

There is one last important point I should add. Muslim scholars have always written about Jesus using Islamic sources only. While I write about Jesus from a Qur’anic perspective, my writings are not based on the Qur’an only. The genuinely new contribution I try to make to the literature is bringing in historical facts and sources. My writings attempt to start a study of the historical Jesus from a Qur’anic perspective. The historical Jesus has been studied extensively by Christian and Western scholars, and I try to encourage the development of a similar discipline in Islamic scholarship.

Thank you again for your thoughts about the book and for sharing them with me. I also welcome any further thoughts you may like to share.

Copyright © 2013 Louay Fatoohi
The review is copyright by Juan A. Ayala-Carmona
All Rights Reserved

Dec 162012

Chapter 1 begins with a brief introduction to the generic meaning of the term “naskh” in Arabic before it moves to focus on the technical meaning of this term. Tracing it in the earliest sources, the chapter discusses how this concept developed from its most basic form to the complex principle it became. It demonstrates that the technical meaning of the term as the abrogation of a divine ruling by a later divine ruling was unknown to the first generation of Muslims, is a later development, and that the three different modes of abrogation developed at different stages. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the three types of abrogation and the main points of difference between scholars about this doctrine.

Abrogation is one of the mechanisms that guided the development of Islamic law. Chapter 2 considers whether changes to the laws of previous religions can be seen as cases of abrogation, i.e. whether abrogation is a concept that operates within Prophet Muhammad’s divine message only or whether it existed in the messages of previous prophets also. We will study such changes from the point of view of the Qur’an, not their respective religious laws, as we are interested in examining whether the concept of abrogation, even in reference to changes involving pre-Islamic religious laws, exists in the Qur’an.

There are four variants of the term “naskh” in as many verses in the Qur’an, and these are the subject of Chapter 3. Two use the term in the generic sense of “transcribe,” but the other two have been seen by scholars as providing support to the principle of abrogation. A detailed examination of both verses shows that neither refers to the concept of abrogation. In other words, the term “naskh” never appears in the Qur’an in the meaning it acquired in Islamic law.

There are two other verses that do not use the term “naskh” but which have been seen as referring to abrogation. Chapter 4 shows that, like the verses that have the word “naskh,” these verses have nothing to do with the principle of abrogation. Chapters 3 and 4 leave no doubt that abrogation is not a Qur’anic concept. This concept did not originate from the Qur’an but was read into it.

The shaky conceptual grounds on which abrogation stands must have had inconcealable practical consequences for the development of this principle. There must have been a lot of confusion about what abrogation exactly means and how it is applied. This, indeed, is what Chapter 5 illustrates. It first discusses differences between scholars about the concept of abrogation and then examines the type of mistakes scholars have made when applying their definitions of this concept. It then presents statistics showing the significant differences in identifying the number of abrogated verses according to a select group of scholars from different times.

Chapter 6 deals with the first of the three modes of abrogation: the abrogation of the ruling but not the wording of a Qur’anic verse or what I call “legal abrogation.” Many verses are said to have been abrogated in this manner. In this chapter, I review the six cases that have attracted the most agreement among scholars. All of these claims turn out to be based on misinterpretations of the verses in question.

One case may be claimed to be an instance of abrogation, but even in this solitary instance the non-abrogation interpretation is more plausible. One verse that is claimed to have abrogated numerous verses is what scholars have called “the verse of the sword.” This verse is claimed to have abrogated many verses that instruct Muslims to be tolerant to non-Muslims, accommodate other religions, show forgiveness, and seek peace. These abrogation claims have been used in modern times by terrorists who have committed various atrocities under the name of Islam. Chapter 7 shows that all those abrogation claims have no foundations in the Qur’an. They take the application of abrogation to a new level of absurdity. Although the subject of this chapter represents a specific alleged case of legal abrogation, I have given it its own chapter because of its significance in today’s world.

The case of the verse of the sword is particularly useful in elucidating how the principle of abrogation became itself a major driver for the growth of claims of abrogated verses. The list of verses that this verse is supposed to have abrogated continued to grow over time. Once the concept of abrogation was accepted, it started to be the source of various abrogation claims. Abrogation became one tool that could be called upon in legal and exegetical debates to substantiate one’s position.

The Ḥadīth makes a critical difference between the content of the “muṣḥaf” and the “Qur’an.” It claims that the muṣḥaf does not contain all Qur’anic verses, as some of these were “withdrawn” by God during the life of the Prophet and consequently not recorded in the muṣḥaf when it was compiled after his death. This withdrawal was at times performed by God making the Prophet and the Muslims forget verses that had been revealed, and at other times by the divine will ensuring that those verses were not included in the muṣḥaf. Chapter 8 demonstrates how the concept of withdrawn verses, which translates into the conclusion that the muṣḥaf does not contain all Qur’anic verses, is fundamentally flawed. The chapter also explains how one of the three modes of abrogation was introduced to present the alleged absence of some verses from the muṣḥaf as a divine act, thus averting any questioning of the process of compiling the muṣḥaf and, ultimately, the integrity of the latter.

The claim that the Prophet was made to forget some Qur’anic verses is a major driver in the development of the theory of abrogation, leading to the formulation of the legal-textual mode of abrogation. Indeed, it has broader implications for the history of the Qur’anic text. This is why I have dedicated Chapter 9 to a detailed discussion of it. I first show that the claim of forgotten verses has no foundation in the Qur’an. I then examine the Ḥadīth narratives that promote this notion and expose their serious problems.

One of the anonymous reviewers of the book suggested combining Chapters 8 and 9. The two chapters are related and can be combined. But whether the text of the muṣḥaf contains the whole of the Qur’an, which is addressed in Chapter 8, does not depend only on whether Prophet Muhammad forgot some verses, which is discussed in Chapter 9. It also depends on when the text was recorded, how it was transmitted, the reliability of the transmission process, etc. I chose to focus Chapter 9 on whether Muhammad forgot verses because this is at the heart of the argument of abrogation — hence my preference for separating the two chapters.

Chapter 10 discusses the second mode of abrogation: the abrogation of the wording and ruling of a Qur’anic verse. I call this “legal-textual abrogation.” In Chapter 8, I explained that this mode of abrogation was developed to explain why the muṣḥaf does not contain certain Qur’anic verses. In Chapter 10, I show how this view is promoted by various ḥadīths and I discuss problems in this concept.

I also study the main relevant ḥadīths and show that they lack credibility. We will see, for instance, that most of these alleged verses are non-legalistic, yet all modes of abrogation imply that they deal with verses that introduce legal rulings. Using legal-textual abrogation to explain the absence of the alleged verses from the muṣḥaf is not only doomed to fail, but is also self-contradictory as abrogation, by definition, cannot be applied to those missing passages.

The abrogation of the wording but not the ruling of a Qur’anic verse is the subject of Chapters 11 and 12. There are two passages that are not found in the muṣḥaf and a missing word from a verse in the muṣḥaf that are claimed to represent “textual abrogation,” as I call this mode of abrogation. I examine the so-called “stoning verse” separately in Chapter 11, because of the length of this discussion, and I deal with the other two cases in Chapter 12.

Again, Ḥadīth narratives are used to support these claims. Yet my examination of these ḥadīths will show that they cannot be linked to the Prophet. As is the case with the instances of legal-textual abrogation, the alleged passages are not historical, i.e. they were never part of the Qur’an. Their absence from the muṣḥaf is not due to abrogation, another mechanism, deliberate manipulation, or accident. It is simply a reflection of the fact that none of them is a Qur’anic verse.

Having reviewed the three modes of abrogation, my conclusion is that abrogation is a phenomenon that lacks any support from the Qur’an. The three modes were developed to address three different concerns. Legal abrogation, which was probably the first mode of abrogation to appear, was the result of perceived contradictions between certain Qur’anic verses. These misinterpretations were at times chosen by exegetes to explain the prevalence of certain practices that contradicted Qur’anic rulings.

Legal-textual abrogation was needed to rationalize the belief driven by certain narratives that the muṣḥaf did not contain all verses of the Qur’an. In the case of textual abrogation, which is the last mode of abrogation to be proposed, the alleged two passages and one missing word from the muṣḥaf were invented to give Qur’anic support to widely accepted legal rulings. In the case of stoning, this ruling was in conflict with verses in the muṣḥaf. The fact that the rulings of the two passages and the word are operative meant that they could not be covered by legal-textual abrogation, so they had to be given their own mode of abrogation.

The three modes of abrogation were driven and supported by a large number of ḥadīths. The fact, however, is that there is nothing in the Qur’an to substantiate abrogation, let alone portray it as a major principle in the formation of Qur’anic law.

While this book is focused on abrogation in the Qur’an, for completeness, Chapter 13 tackles briefly abrogation in the Sunna. The term “Sunna” denotes all that the Prophet said, did, and approved and disapproved of. These include not only non-Qur’anic instructions from God but personal opinions of Muhammad the man. It is natural, therefore, to expect the Prophet to have changed his mind at times, permitting something he had once banned, prohibiting something he had allowed, or, generally, replacing one instruction with another. This conclusion has no implications for the non-historical concept of abrogation in the Qur’an.

Some of the flaws in the principle of abrogation reflect a fundamental misunderstanding by Muslim jurists of the concept of Islamic law in the Qur’an and the role of the Prophet in implementing it. There are at least serious inconsistencies in how these have been understood and used in formulating Islamic law. This critical issue is discussed in Chapter 14. A coherent model for understanding the concept of Islamic law is presented.

The findings of this book are summarized in Chapter 15. The chapter draws together the main conclusions of this study.

Appendix A explains the concepts of “Ḥadīth” and “Sunna” and the differences between them, as this understanding is essential for reading the book.

For the reader’s convenience, the book has two indexes, one for the Qur’anic verses and the other for names and subjects.

I have added a Glossary covering the technical terms used in the book for easy reference.


Copyright © 2012 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved