Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The media is abuzz with news that a portion of the Koran, which Muslims believe was first recited by their prophet, Muhammad, may actually predate Muhammad himself. Many seem to think that such news will have a large impact on the Muslim world and make Muslims rethink the veracity of their faith.
Thus Tom Holland, a British historian, asserts, “It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged. And that, in turn, has implications for the historicity of Mohammed and his followers.”
A Koranic manuscript consultant at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Dr. Keith Small, is more emphatic and “told the Times that if the dating is confirmed, as he believed would happen, it could raise serious problems for Islam,” since “This would radically alter the edifice of Islamic tradition. The history of the rise of Islam in late Near Eastern antiquity would have to be completely revised.”
Nonsense. This recent discovery, far from threatening “the edifice of Islamic tradition” or “rais[ing] problems for Islam” is currently being used all around the Muslim world in support of Islam, for a number of reasons.
First, the carbon dating is not radically incongruous with Islamic dating. It indicates that the text was written sometime between 568 and 645. Muslim tradition holds that Muhammad lived between lived 570 and 632, and that the Koran was collated and finalized around 650.
In other words, if the text was written anytime from 610-645—a full 35 years that fall within the range of the carbon testing—it poses no problems for Islam, for Muslims believe that Muhammad began receiving “revelations” or the ayat that became the verses of the Koran when he was forty. All it would mean is that, instead of believing that the Koran was collated in 650, portions of it were written down a few years earlier.
Hardly a thing to rock the faith of most Muslims.
In fact, there is very little that Western scholars and scientists can do or say about Islam that would have much influence on the Islamic mindset. The fact is, over centuries, lots of things have emerged that should put the veracity of the Koran and Islam to the test—whether the plausible suggestion that Muhammad never existed, certainly not the Muhammad of Islamic tradition, or whether the fact that the Koran, which says of itself that it is written in “pure Arabic” (see 12:2, 13: 37), has several Syro-Aramaic words in it. Or perhaps that the Koran says, very literally, that the sun sets in a pool of dark mud (18:86).
Science doesn’t hold much weight with the modern Islamic mindset—not when it contradicts the Koran. The earth is round? So say the lying infidels, responded the late Saudi grand mufti, Bin Baz: if the Koran says the earth is flat (88:20), the earth is flat!
Interestingly, even in the West, if people come to believe that the Koran predates Muhammad, it won’t matter much: we will still be told to respect Islam; after all, Muslims believe it. Whether one rejects the prophethood of Muhammad—the definition of a non-Muslim—or whether one rejects traditional Islamic chronology it’s the same conclusion: Islam is a false religion.
The problem here is that we are dealing with reciprocal projection—the Western mentality projecting its appreciation for reason onto Muslims, and the Muslim mentality projecting its own subversive methods onto the Other, the Infidel, the sworn enemy. Westerners may think this will have an impact on Muslim faith because they know it would have an impact on their own. Conversely, Muslims, who from the start have built their faith on casting doubt and aspersions on the faiths of others, are convinced that any Western claim, scientific or otherwise, that casts doubts on the origins of Islam is merely the latest infidel conspiracy theory.
After all, was it not Muhammad himself who taught that the texts of Judaism and Christianity—the Bible—are corrupt and fraudulent. Is it not obvious, Muslims are thinking, that the infidels will turn this argument on us by saying the Koran is of dubious authenticity?
If reason was a cornerstone of Islamic thinking—it was laid in its grave by the ulema in the 10th century—Muslims would have lost faith in Islam a long time ago (many have and do but remain nominal Muslims due to fears of the apostasy penalty).
It’s not the age of the Koran but its contents that speak against its veracity.
A book that calls for savagely killing all who do not submit to its authority; that calls for beheadings, crucifixions, and mutilations; that justifies theft, extortion, and the sexual enslavement of “infidel’ women and children; a book that calls for everything ungodly but claims to have been written by God is false on principle. Carbon dating is irrelevant.
But of course, while Western academics, politicians, and media can openly discuss this issue of the Koran’s dating—after all, it’s “scientific”—criticizing the Koran from a moral point of view, which is what’s needed here, remains unthinkable (remember: morality is relative in the West).
And so, when all is said and done, the mantra that “Islam is peace” will continue to be chanted mindlessly in the West.