Seán - Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2Thu, 20 Jun 2013
Phew! This book was a bit of a slog. This review might be too!
I’m left a little confused about who this book is aimed at and exactly what the motivations behind it were. I know that Ibn Warraq has an agenda; I’m just not quite sure what it is. I did read his Why I Am Not a Muslim some time ago and although it was interesting, the combination of sustained polemic with a topic as huge, complicated and contested as Islam made it rather tiring.
What this book really needs is perspective, but it’s hard to know where to find it. It consists of essays and extracts from writers on Islam and the Qur’an from the 19th century to the 1990s. Some of the works are published for the first time in English which perhaps counts for something, but on the whole it’s very difficult for an outsider to know how to judge the value of these writings. Some of them are surely out of date or disproved and one at least seemed to be included only to be refuted in a later article.
Professor As’ad AbuKhalil makes a rather dismissive reference to the book in the only thing approaching a review I’ve read:
The "political" career of Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym for a former Muslim) is a good example. Ibn Warraq is on a mission to "expose" and attack the dangers of Islam. For his efforts, he, like Lewis, received an invitation to the White House to meet with high-ranking officials. Ibn Warraq probably takes his name from the courageous free thinker in classical Islam, Abu 'Isa Muhammad bin Harun bin Muhammad al-Warraq. But unlike the present-day Ibn Warraq, Abu 'Isa was a courageous freethinker who wrote refutations of more than one religion. Ibn Warraq claims to subscribe to secularism and freethinking, yet he objects to Islam only and aligns himself with Christian fundamentalism, which raises questions about the true thrust of his mission. Free thinking, in any religion and against all religions, should be encouraged although there is a difference between religious bigotry and enlightened freethinking. The latest two books by Ibn Warraq merely collect old writings by classical Orientalists. The more rigid and biased the Orientalists, the better for Warraq. Warraq himself has nothing original to say on the subject; he merely resuscitates the writings of those Orientalists who have been long discredited, such as Henri Lammens and Ernest Renan, among other less discredited Orientalists. Warraq rejects mainstream Orientalists, like W.M. Watt. He quotes Renan's famous Islam et la Science lecture approvingly: "To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him." It is now acceptable to express such views in polite company.
Middle East Journal Vol 58, No. 1, Winter 2004
Perhaps AbuKhalil, being an atheist, would agree that liberation from irrational belief is the best service a person could render themselves
then? I have no idea if Ibn Warraq is positively aligned with fundamentalist Christianity or whether he has merely allowed his work to be used by more dubious polemicists. The criticism of only critiquing Islam also seems a little harsh. It could easily be a case of working with what you know (and what has affected your own life). And although "orientalism" is no doubt a problematic stream of colonial thought that needs challenging, I can’t help feeling that AbuKhalil is using the label Orientalist
here as a bit of a blunt instrument. But once, again it’s difficult to know unless you’re totally immersed in the field.
And that brings me to my fundamental problem with this book. If you’re already an expert in Qur’anic studies then this book will probably be useless to you at best and perhaps absurdly dated at worst. If you’re not, then this book can only be heavy going. Some of the articles quote the text they’re referring to, but some do not. I have a passing acquaintance with Linguistics, some knowledge of Arabic phonetics and script, but no useful knowledge of the language and I found it very had to judge the value of the linguistic speculations contained in it. Some of them are no doubt complete nonsense; some of them seem more plausible. But who can tell?
After all is said and done, there is some interesting content, but it won’t be easy sifting through this book for it. It is, ironically, about as mubin
("clear") as the Qur’an it critiques.Show More