Sunday, 22 July 2007
Esposito's Errata Sheet

For John Esposito's article in today's Washington Post,

here is the Errata Sheet:

For "Islam was seen as a continuation of the Abrahamic faith tradition, not a totally new religion."

read:

"Early Islam naturally appropriated and distorted elements of Judaism and Christianity (readers of the Bandar Beacon will want to consult the several anthologies edited by Ibn Warraq on the early Qur'an, including "The Origins of the Koran" and "What the Koran Really Says," as well as his "The Quest for the Historical Muhammad") which was mixed into the substratum of Arab pagan lore -- the djinn, for example, is still devoutly believed in.

This was because relatively small groups of Arabs, already pre-existing in separate colonies among the much larger, settled, richer, advanced non-Arabs, chiefly Christians and Jews, found useful the construction, no doubt by divers hands (but perhaps special attention should be given to the early Umayyad Caliph, Abd el-Malik b. Marwan, in Damascus), of a belief-system that could be presented to the conquered Christians and Jews not as a brand-new and alien form of belief, but rather as "a continuation of the Abrahamic faith tradition, not a totally new religion."

The new, revised, much improved Esposito text would then continue as follows:

"The investigation of early Islam is one of the most fascinating and exciting areas of scholarly endeavor in Islamic studies. It is also an area of study conducted entirely by Western scholars of Islam -- les vrais -- and not one in which any Muslims have wished to participate, for the spirit of free inquiry is entirely lacking in Islam.

That is why, from the days of Ignaz Goldziher, who first studied the Hadith in a skeptical manner (and Goldziher was deeply sympathetic to much of Islam), through the great scholars of Islam -- through C. Snouck Hurgronje, and Joseph Schacht, right up to the present, with the work of John Wansbrough, and then Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, and so many others, Andrew Rippin and Louis de Premare and Gerd Puin, who use all kinds of evidence, and whose names can be found in the anthologies edited by Ibn Warraq and which I, John Esposito, would like to recommend so very highly. And I would of course like to recommend too that all those who study Islam make themselves familiar with the work of Christoph Luxenberg on the "Syro-Aramaic" (i.e., the Aramaic of Edessa) substratum or underlay for the early Qur'an, which helps us explain the approximately 20% of the text that makes little or no sense, even to readers of classical Arabic.

I'm sorry that I myself, lean mean jogging John Esposito, have had no time to read any of these people, and until now have had not the slightest inclination to recommend them, or make any of these scholars known to my colleagues, to my students, or to those I advise in the corridors of power (and did I tell you that during the Clinton Administration I was very much on call, my expertise constantly sought?).

And the reason, you see, is simply time. I do have my jogging. I do have my development work -- my fund-raising, that takes up so much of my time. For I have a whole crew here at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and they need to be paid. There is loyal John Voll, and loyal Yvonne Haddad. There are others, the kind of people who will not let our donors down. There are lectures to be given, and possibly a King Abdul Aziz Prize to fatten my future. There is my own salary, my own take -- and I haven't done at all badly, let me tell you. But that's why I haven't been able to get to any of the books I've mentioned, but have been churning out books with such titles as "Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?" (can you guess from the title what the book might conclude?), and coffee-table stuff, with lots of pictures of tulips and turbans, and the interior of the Blue Mosque looking, as always, positively ravishing. A word of advice for "Islamic scholars" who wish to be as successful as I: make sure you have those books on Islam, even those supposedly scholarly ones, full of pretty pictures -- full of that local-color that fills the reader's mind with thoughts of exotica, and along with the Iznik tiles and that perennial favorite, those painted groups of turbanned Turks, the odd camel will do, but please, listen to me, do go very heavy on what, after all, is the only art form that the Muslim world can offer save for calligraphy, that isn't a patch on what the Chinese and others in the Far East can supply. So put in as many of the mediagenic mosques as you can find -- you can start by consulting, but only on aesthetic matters, Oleg Grabar (but watch out, he's too much of a real scholar to fully trust - just borrow his pictures). Make sure you get in some nice Persian examples, and the Taj Mahal, and the Dome of the Rock, and the Umayyad Mosque, and a few examples from fabulous Bokhara, and the less about Islam, real Islam, that is the texts of Islam, that you put in -- and please, no hint of Antoine Fattal, not a mention of Bat Ye'or, just leave any serious discussion of the meaning of the word "dhimmi" out of your work for as long as you possibly can -- just look at how I have managed to avoid that subject -- but if you must, do it with the old "Umarite Covenant" business. That always gets them. Mention as few of the hundreds of great Western scholars of Islam, in the period 1870-1970, as possible. If they never learn even the names of Henri Lammens, St. Clair Tisdall, Georges Vajda, Charles-Emmanuel Bousquet, Edmond Fagnan, Samuel Zwemer, and others, so much the better. And if any smart young student finds out about them on his own, and dares to mention them, simply invoke the magical phrases "Orientalism" and "Edward Said" and put on a big show of indignation about these "so-called Orientalists," and that will shut him up, and satisfy many of the lemmings in your class. It's always worked for me."

Oh dear. I didn't mean to publish right here those last few paragraphs. They are part of the "Teacher's Guide" that I , lean mean highly-successful-in-every-respect John Esposito, quietly supply to those who use whose names are on the list compiled by my colleagues at the annual meetings of MESA Nostra, the Trusted Ones, the ones whom we can always count on not only to assign my books in their college courses, but to be careful about what the students find out, and careful about what they are never supposed to find out. My god, I hope no one notices this. Let's hope.

Posted on 07/22/2007 11:22 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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