Stefan Theil‘s Newsweek piece by that topic has generated some commentary around the blogosphere for its revelations that many tenets of modern Islam may simply be based on poor transcription of the Qur’an. Donald Sensing offers excellent analyis of the article and then an extended discussion of why Islam, at least as practiced in the Middle East, is so different from Christianity, despite their common roots. A couple of interesting snippets:

It’s important to remember that the Quran does not occupy the same religious place in Islam as the Bible does for Christians. For Muslims, the Quran is much more analogous to what Christ is for Christians – the supreme and actual revelation of Allah.

I didn’t know that.

The Quran contains the actual utterances of Allah, transmitted error-free to Muhammed by the angel Gabriel. And the word of Allah was given in Arabic. It is a basic tenet of Islam that the text has been passed down since his day completely without change.

That is why even Muslims who understand Christian faith very well incorrectly think that our willingness to engage in textual crtitcism of the Bible proves that we don’t really believe in it. If we really thought it was true, we would simply accept it, not dissect it. In fact, analysis of Christian and Jewish texts by Christians and Jews is used by Muslims to claim that the Bible’s testaments are in fact corrupt – a tenet of Islam for many centuries, now buttressed by modern scholarship. The corruption of the biblical texts was put aright by the giving of the Quran to Mohammed.

So it is a true bombshell to claim, as Luxenberg does, that it is the Quran that is textually corrupted, and that the original text cannot be retrieved with certainty, and that a reasonable reading of a likely version of the original actually buttresses Judaism and Christianity rather than refutes them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this debate unfolds–and whether “Luxenberg” gets the same treatment Salman Rushdie got.

I do wonder, as I noted in Don’s comments section, how much of this is a function of the differences in the two faiths rather than those of the two societies? That is, Christianity has gone through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation, whereas Islam is still stuck in the 7th Century or so. Surely, that plays some role in all this.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PoliBlogger says:

    Some interesting comments.

    And, I think I can partially answer your question by stating that nowhere in church history was the Bible ever treated as Don is stating Muslims treat the Quran.

    Although no doubt your point about most of the Muslim world being stuck in the past is quite relevant.

  2. J Ballard says:

    Ann inciteful essay in the Guardian by James Woolsey, former CIA director, advances the argument that democracy need not be the end product of a western phylogenetic development, replete with Renaissance, etc.,11726,1001644,00.html

    “In the Philippines, it was people power. In Mongolia, Mali and countries all over the world, democracy has become a way of life….These are places where, year after year, the smart, self-appointed experts have said, ‘X will never be a democracy’. They said that the Germans would never be able to run a democracy, the Japanese would not, Catholic countries would not – because in the 1970s, Iberia and Latin America were non-democratic. They said it about people from a Chinese cultural background, yet the Taiwanese seem to have figured it out; maybe China will too. They said it about the Russians; after all, they missed the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment – how could they run a democracy? But they seem to be getting started.”

    I think he has a point. In fact, if he is wrong the world is in deep doo-doo. There isn’t time for an elegant historical metamorphosis.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I think Woolsey is partially right, although he overstates the level of democratization in almost all those places.

  4. Hatcher says:

    Actually, Islam has gone through Reformation and Counter-Reformation… the Wahabbis are the equivalent of the Jesuits and Dominicans, insisting on a “clean” religion, swept of accretions and popular elements such as “saints” and “mysticism.”

    What is missing, though, is an Enlightenment, which is pretty hard to sell when you suggest mucking around with the word of God as specially delivered by an angel.

    “Luxenberg” is most assuredly going to be on the receiving end of unpleasantnesses. That’s exactly why he’s writing under a pseudonym.

    There will certainly be Gehennah to pay.

  5. James Joyner says:


    While Wahabbism has some things in common with the Protestant Reformation, it’s not the same thing. From a political/cultural standpoint, the most significant thing at the PR was the democratization of religion. The Priesthood of all Believers took away, for Protestants, the power of the clergy and the Church generally and created a one-on-one relationship with the almighty. This quickly led to a similar dwindling of the power of secular leadership.

    That hasn’t happened in most of the Middle East.