Paul (Bilal) Williams here demonstrates how modern secular scholarship is a) discarding the radical historical-scepticism/ historical revisionism of the 1970s and b) affirming the reliability of the traditional (Islamic) account of the Qur’anic compilation. In particular, Paul refers to Professor Angelika Neuwirth’s entry in the Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an.
Why is this important?
This is important because one of the Christian critiques (which, to be fair, is a reasonable point to make) that posits how Muslim dais and Islamic apologists often refer to secular historical works in their critique of traditional Christian accounts of the Biblical compilation is problematic. Their complaint is twofold:
- First, that Muslims should NOT rely on such [secular] works (that, by the way seems to confirm the Islamic suggestion that the Bible has been historically compromised by the hands of men – i.e. corrupted – and, therefore, is genuine revelation no longer); and,
- Second, Muslims MUST realise that these secular historians would equally be critical of Muslim assumptions about Islam. That is to say, they are working from within a completely different foundation and frame of reference (paradigm), which will inevitably yield perspectives that will run counter and oppose the Islamic perspective – i.e. Muslims are using them cross-purposes.
Well, a good objection or example Christians might cite (notably by James White) is that secularists will NEVER accept the authenticity of revelation since they are at best agnostic and non-commital with the ‘God-question’, and at worst, devout atheists – ‘anything-but-God’, to them, is the answer. That is to say, the Christian actually shares with the Muslim the belief in revelation and in God. There is, therefore, a conflict of interest or an inconsistency-in-methods by appealing, thereby, to secular studies, if one is trying to use such studies to ‘prove’ the truth of Islam.
This objection is valid in one respect:
If the Muslim is endorsing the philosophical underpinnings of Secular Liberal Humanism either by being unaware of it in his analysis (and condones it unconsciously) or by adopting it – then, yes, the objection holds.
The Christian objection, however, fails in several ways:
- for instance, there is a difference between being a philosophical empiricist and a methodological empiricist; the former is a serious problem, but the second is not necessarily so. There is actually Islamic allowance, here: see point 4.
- the objection assumes that by citing the findings of a secular study, that there is a complete commitment of dependence to it. This is not (or should not) be the case. Muslims generate the rightness or wrongness of a position, ultimately, via the traditional method: according to the Qur’an and Sunnah according to the understanding of the early community of believers (the Salaf al-Saliheen).
- there is an assumption by the objection that reference to a secular study is dependence – and any reference is sufficient to be qualified as dependence, which might be facetiously construed as ‘total dependence’. This is, of course, fallacious.
- It is, in fact, qur’anic to also see or observe the signs Allah has laid out in the world (duniya) and this is known as ‘ayah-tullah’ (signs of God). (Cf. Qur’an 41:53; 47:10…)
- This means that there might be sufficient congruence – from time-to-time – in some of the findings of secularists, materialists, empiricists and rationalists with that of the Islamic purview. That is to say, the total Truth of the Islamic perspective was glimpsed at by some worldy truths discovered, co-incidentally, by a secular study; and this would be precisely those aspects in the world that assist the Muslim dais and Islamic apologist to showcase the Truth that authentic Islamic revelation has been articulating all along. Basically, another pixel revealed (in the world) of the bigger picture (seen clearer via revelation that some others might be blind to).
- That is to say, far from being inconsistent with the Islamic perspective, utilising such studies, in fact, (depending on the study and the point being made) can be said to be sufficiently consistent and legitimate.
It seems, then, that the argument that secular studies having unearthed the depth and breadth of corruption in the history of the Biblical compilation WILL ultimately and inevitably undermine Islam by unearthing corruption in the history of the Qur’anic compilation is NOT true. It has, instead, done the reverse, by serving only to confirm what we already know and believe: the robustness of the Qur’anic compilation and the Truth of Islam.