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More than one hundred years ago Western scholars began to investigate the origins of Islam, using the highest standards of objective historical scholarship of the time. Their aim was to determine what could be known about Muhammad and the rise of early Islam quite apart from the pious and totally unobjective traditions preserved by the Muslim religious community. In some ways this research was inspired by a similar investigation of Christianity made famous by Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus. Today although much has been learned about early Christianity, little comparable progress has been made in the field of Islamic Studies. Here objective historical research has long been severely handicapped both by the resistance of Muslim societies to Western analysis of their sacred traditions and by the apologetic approaches of many Western scholars, who have compromised their investigations for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities.
It is in this context that Ibn Warraq presents this important anthology of the best studies of Muhammad and early Islam ranging from the very beginnings of Islamic Studies in the nineteenth century to contemporary research. In his selection and in an introductory essay, Warraq makes it clear that some very serious scholarly controversies lie at the heart of Islam. First, the Koran itself, the Muslim sacred scripture and the foundation of Islamic culture, is called into question as the basis for objective historical knowledge of Muhammad. Some scholars have also questioned the reliability of most of the other early Arabic documents that supposedly attest to events in the life of Muhammad and his followers. Was the Koran dictated by Muhammad at all? Was it actually compiled any earlier than a hundred years after the Prophet's death? How much of Muslim sacred tradition, in the light of objective historical analysis, must be dismissed as unreliable hearsay? Were the motives of the first Muslim conquerors during the Jihad truly religious in nature or largely mercenary? These disturbing questions, long suppressed throughout the history of Islamic scholarship, are here raised again in these erudite and thoroughly researched essays by noted scholars.
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Ibn Warraq is the highly acclaimed author of Why I Am Not a Muslim, Virgins? What Virgins?, and Defending the West. He is also the editor of The Origins of the Koran, What the Koran Really Says, Leaving Islam, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, and Which Koran?.From Publishers Weekly:
Warraq, author of Why I Am Not a Muslim, here offers a "quest for the historical Muhammad" using the same methodology established by scholars attempting to uncover the historical Jesus. Applying this approach to determine if early traditions about Muhammad and the birth of Islam are historically accurate, Warraq predictably finds that the faith tradition cannot support the historian's demanding gaze. For example, Warraq argues that the centrality of Muhammad himself (as the prophet of God, author of the Qu'ran and focal point of Islamic culture) did not emerge until at least two centuries after the death of the historical Muhammad. Warraq's subtext is significantly unlike the Jesus Seminar's similar work, in which historians who are also Christians struggle to sort out the ways that historical methodology may illuminate and enliven the faith tradition. As his earlier titles suggest, this is not the work of a Muslim in radical dialogue with his faith. Under the guise of scholarly objectivity, Warraq wages a vigorous attack on the traditions of Islam. Biases notwithstanding, there is also much useful scholarship here; not only has Warraq provided a highly readable critical survey of the literature of this quest, he has also collected the most important texts needed to begin a more objective evaluation of Islam's sacred tradition. The reader's task is to sort the polemic from the scholarship. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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