In a rare excursion into Qur'anic exegesis for a political organization, the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council published a response to Newsweek International's July 28, 2003 article, "Challenging the Quran." The Newsweek article reports on a 2000 book in German, Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur'ansprache, by a scholar using the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. The details of Luxenberg's intricate and ambitious philological study are too complex to enter into here; for a detailed English-language synopsis, see the review by Robert R. Phenix Jr. and Cornelia B. Horn in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies.) (For a simplified presentation, see the interview with Luxenberg in Süddeutsche Zeitung.) Suffice to say that Luxenberg's most famous conclusion is that the houris awaiting Muslim martyrs in paradise are not the anticipated wide-eyed virgins but white grapes. Newsweek concludes with the apt prediction that "Luxenberg may be ushering in a whole new era of Qur'anic study."
MPAC's staff, hitherto better known for justifying militant Islamic terrorism and promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, goes mano-a-mano in Qur'anic exegesis with Luxenberg in a press release titled "The Quran and MPAC's Challenge to Newsweek," fearlessly spouting such silliness as:
He challenges what he claims as the Arabic meaning of "beings with swollen breasts," while had he known Arabic, he would have understood the term as "beings of distinction."
MPAC's department of historical research must have also swung into gear for this particular edition of MPACnews, for it includes the dubious assertion that "there were about 100,000 copies of the Quran circulating in different parts of the world during the time of the second Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab (634-644)."
But most notable about the MPAC press release is its assumption that Luxenberg is attempting "to undermine the foundation of faith" among Muslims by challenging the authenticity of the Qur'an. MPAC says it can "only surmise" that a work like this, "attacking the authenticity of the Quran," seeks to destroy the Qur'an.
(In a similar spirit, Pakistan's information minister deemed the Newsweek article "insulting to the Quran." Raising the prospect that it could incite religious violence, he banned the entire July 28 issue. But at least he lacked the temerity to argue with Luxenberg over ancient Semitic philology, contenting himself with the comment that "Very strange things have been written about the Quran.")
Comment: I pointed to this defensiveness in the face of scholarship three years ago in "Who was the Prophet Muhammad?" noting that "pious Muslims prefer to avoid" issues raised by critical studies such as Luxenberg's. "Their main strategy until now has been one of neglect - hoping that revisionism, like a toothache, will just go away. But toothaches don't spontaneously disappear, and neither will revisionism."
It is sad to see the self-appointed leadership of American Islam going down this route of willful ignorance, denial, and censorship. (August 5, 2003)
Aug. 16, 2004 update: Going yet further afield, American Muslims for Jerusalem, spurred by an Associated Press report that Israel might "adopt" 6,000 Indians who claim Jewish ancestry, issued a press release today titled "Israel is running out of Jews, seeks imposters from India." Given that no less an authority on Jewish law than the Chief Rabbinate itself is scheduled to give a verdict on whether or not to accept the "Bnei Menashe" as Jews, one wonders how AMJ – hardly a guardian of Jewish values and faith – can come to the conclusion that in its demographic battle with the Palestinians, "Israel's quick fix seems to be relying on imports and imposters."