Historical Methodology and the Believer

by Ibn Warraq (July 2010)

Ibn Warraq NER Symposium from Jerry Gordon on Vimeo.

The following is an expanded version of the speech Mr. Warraq delivered to the 2010 New English Review Symposium, “Decline, Fall & Islam” on June 19, 2010.


A few years ago I was invited to a conference at The Hague by Professor Hans Jansen, the great Arabist. After listening to series of grim papers all day long, Hans and I headed for the nearest bar. I was to give my talk the next day and I asked him what I should talk about. He replied, you must begin with a joke, there were not enough jokes. So I shall begin with a joke, first told me by Joe Hoffmann, which in fact is relevant to the theme of my present paper, that is, historical methodology, and the consequences of scientific research into the origins of early Islam and Christianity, consequences for the believer above all.
no cogent external grounds for accepting it. In the circumstances it is not unreasonable

 “As a document susceptible of analysis by the instruments and techniques if Biblical criticism [the Koran] is virtually unknown. The doctrinal obstacles that have traditionally impeded such investigation are, on the other hand, very well known. Not merely dogmas such as those defining scripture as the uncreated Word of God and acknowledging its

“. . . I have often encountered individuals who come to the study of Islam with a background in the historical study of the Hebrew Bible or early Christianity, and who express surprise at the lack of critical thought that appears in introductory textbooks on Islam. The notion that “Islam was born in the clear light of history” still seems to be assumed by a great many writers of such texts. While the need to reconcile varying historical traditions is generally recognized, usually this seems to pose no greater problem to the authors than having to determine “what makes sense” in given situation. To students acquainted with approaches such as source criticism, oral formulaic composition, literary analysis and structuralism, all quite commonly employed in the study of Judaism and Christianity, such naive historical study seems to suggest that Islam is being approached with less than academic candour.”
Consider the following remarks, and try to guess in what sort of publication they might have first appeared:

Political correctness leading to Islamic correctness;

The fear of playing into the hands of racists or reactionaries to the detriment of the West’s Muslim minorities;

Commercial or economic motives;

Feelings of post-colonial guilt (where the entire planet’s problems are attributed to the West’s wicked ways and intentions);

Plain physical fear;

and intellectual terrorism of writers such as Edward Said.

understand at the beginning of this enquiry, namely, why British Islamicists have been so uncritical of Islam.
[15] generous gestures not reciprocated by the Muslims.
[16] Esposito tried to present Islam and Islamism in western categories thereby hoping to create a more favorable attitude to them in the West.

“Why not place Islamist movements in the political category of participation, or even democratization?”
[23] Dr. MacEoin was dismissed many years ago from his university post because his ideas were not acceptable to the Saudis funding the Islamic department.[24]

Western scholars need to defend unflinchingly our right to examine Islam, to explain its rise and fall by the normal mechanisms of human history, according to the objective standards of historical methodology.



“…Spinoza offers an elaborate theory of what religion is, and how and why religion construes the world as it does, creating a new science of contextual Bible criticism. Analyzing usage and intended meanings, and extrapolating from context, using reason as an analytical tool but not expecting to find philosophical truth embedded in Scriptural concepts.”

Some Islamologists have themselves noticed the appalling trend in their colleagues. Karl Binswanger has remarked on the “dogmatic Islamophilia” of most Arabists. Jacques
[30] have even lost their posts for not teaching about Islam in the way approved by Saudi Arabia.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Marinus_Zwemer : accessed 15 November, 2007.

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/staticarticles/article57178.html, accessed 15 November, 2007.

Campus Watch, Esposito: Apologist for Militant Islam, published by FrontPage Magazine, September 3 2002, accessed Nov.30, 2007

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1584954/Extremism-fear-over-Islam-studies-donations.html. Accessed, 29 March, 2010.

. Accessed 29 March, 2010.

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