Wednesday, September 05, 2007

PROFILE: On Ibn Warraq ...

I'm always amused by persons who claim to live in secret locations out of fear of threats received from "Islamic extremists". Heck, I've received some threats in my life - from anti-Muslim extremists, from Muslim extremists and from people with no identifiable agenda. I guess it's the price one pays for being involved in public discussion.

Ibn Warraq is one such author. He uses a pseudonym apparently for safety reasons. He has authored and edited a variety of books, claiming to hold some scholarly credentials in Islamic sciences. Dr Jeremiah McAuliffe has dealt with some of Ibn Warraq's more controversial arguments and methodology here.

Ibn Warraq has also been criticised by other writers and scholars, including Fred Donner of the University of Chicago. Here is part of what Donner has to say about Ibn Warraq's The Quest for the Historical Muhammad:

... the compiler’s agenda ... is not scholarship, but anti-Islamic polemic

... “Ibn Warraq” and his co-conspirator “Ibn al-Rawandi” detest anything that, to them, smacks of apologetic; for this reason they criticize harshly several noted authors for their ‘bad faith’ or ‘moral ambiguity.’ Yet this book is itself a monument to duplicity. The compiler never has the honesty or courage to divulge his identity, even though a list of contributors (pp. 551-54) gives a biographical sketch of all the other contributors who, unlike “Ibn Warraq” and “Ibn al-Rawandi,” are already well-known. Far more serious is the fact that this book is religious polemic attempting to masquerade as scholarship. It is a collection of basically sound articles, framed by a seriously flawed introduction, and put in the service of anti-Islamic polemic dedicated to the proposition that Islam is a sham and that honest scholarship on Islam requires gratuitous rudeness to Muslim sensibilities. By associating these articles with “Ibn Warraq’s” polemical agenda, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad will raise suspicions among some Muslims that all revisionist scholarship is
motivated by such intolerance. This is likely to make the future progress of sound historical scholarship on Islam’s origins harder, rather than easier.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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abberblab said...

Reflecting on all this, one begins to wonder a bit about things like intellectual standards and integrity—as in, "Does Donner have any?" And what are the standards of a profession that allows such a vacuous, malice-saturated and ill-written review to see the light of day? The next few sentences tell the tale: scholarship on Islam, we are told, does not count as scholarly unless it massages the tender and easily-offended sensibilities of Muslims. The answer to the question about integrity would therefore appear to be "no."

This is the caliber of what claims the mantle of expertise in the Near East Studies establishment. Bear it mind the next time you hear some famous scholar of Near East Studies pontificating about this or that "specialized" topic while slinging his (or her) academic credentials at you, and expecting the credential-slinging to perform the task of intellectual intimidation. Try not to be intimidated for a change. Just apply the usual standards of rigor that apply to any inquiry and ask yourself whether these "informed commentators" and "experts" really measure up. You may be surprised to see what you find. And what you don't.

Daniel Papsmeer said...

Aaah, yes. Good old campus watch. A perfect retreat for disgruntled mercenary writers posing as academics and lacking thee academic rigour and objectivity required to get a real academic job in a real university. And ever-happy to take whatever scraps are thrown their way by far-Right sink-tanks.

Anonymous said...

" ... massages the tender and easily-offended sensibilities of Muslims ..."

So all 1.2 billion Muslims are easily offended and cannot withstand criticism?

I guess just like all the Jews were anywhere from 1,600 to 60 years ago.

This sort of language is fit for Nazis. How sad it is that some of today's Nazis are Jewish by birth.