The Koran and The Psychopathology of The Prophet (Part I)

A couple of days ago I received an email from a Canadian named Sergei Bourachaga, who wanted me to help him post an article he had written. Here’s what he said:

On May 24, 2008, I submitted to the “Public Message Forum” of The Canadian Coalition For Democracies a lengthy article entitled: “The Koran and The Psychopathology of The Prophet (Part1)”. In less than 24 hours the article was removed and the link ( created by the google search disconnected. The article was deemed “too offending” to the Muslim Community.

I asked him to send me the article so that I could look it over. Its topic lies within our mission statement, and it contains nothing that violates our posting guidelines, so I am happy to republish it here.

The Koran and The Psychopathology of The Prophet (Part I)
by Sergei Bourachaga


While writing this article I have had the enormous good fortune to interact with several academics in the field of psychology, and scholars with extensive expertise of the Arabic language during the Jahilyah period and post Islamic era. I can’t identify them by name because Islamic fanaticism has often relied on violence to silence views and opinions that do not agree with the likes or dislikes of Muslim clerics or community leaders. But still I have to credit them for sharing their knowledge without any reservation. I also relied extensively on the writings of several prominent figures who had addressed through books and essays the psychopathological aspect of the Prophet’s personality. Since their views are part of the public domain, I will list all of them just in case readers of this forum decide to go for an in-depth scrutiny of the psychopath declared by the Koran as “insanoul kamel” (Arabic equivalent for) “an excellent model of human conduct” 33:21, God’s gift to humanity according to Islam, but historical facts show that he was nothing but Satan’s curse to mankind.

One source where a wealth of information was gleaned is Dr. Abbas Sadeghian’s book titled Sword and Seizure. Dr. Sadeghian promotes, with the support of solid historical evidence, the view that Muhammad suffered “complex partial epileptic seizures” clearly reflected through the following symptoms: excessive perspiration, light trembling, olfactory, auditory, and visual hallucinations, and hyper-religiosity. Another good source on the psychological profile of The Prophet is Dr. Hafsa bint Sharif, Ph. D and her essay “Psychological Profile of Muhammad”. Author Robert Spencer produced an excellent book entitled The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of The World’s Most Intolerant Religion, covering the 23-year prophetic career of a narcissist whose ramblings were nothing but distorted views stolen from The Old Testament, The Talmud, and Christianity the religion of his first wife Khadija. According to The Biography of The Prophet by Ibn Kathir, following the first apparition of the angel Gabriel, Khadijah took Muhammad to her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, a man of knowledge and a Christian who “had studied the books of both the Jews and the Christians very closely and he had learned a great deal from many of their wisest people”. Waraqa confirmed to the couple that humanity has been expecting “The Seal/Last of The Prophets (of monotheism)” and the creature of light Muhammad saw was definitely angel Gabriel. Last but not least I recommend the book titled “Understanding Muhammad: The psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet” written by Ali Sina. A must for the proper understanding of a tyrant whose teachings were behind the massacre of 80.000.000 human beings in India alone, from the day the first Islamic armies invaded the land to present. Mr. Sina places Muhammad in the same league of totalitarian butchers such as Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Ze Dong.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The KoranBy now too many Canadians are familiar with the Islamic obsessive attachment to the notion that the Koran is the infallible word of God, revealed to Muhammad by Jibril (the Arabic name of angel Gabriel in the Koran), preserved unchanged by Muslim scholars in its authentic form, so perfect that the infallible book together with The Hadith is the basis of The Sharia Law, the “Just Law” that will be implemented and enforced by Muslim Jihadists the day the conquest of this planet is achieved, and the Kouffars/infidels (Jews and Christians) forced to accept the perfect Deen (Arabic for religion) Islam. Of course Islam has a verse “ for the “Perfect Deen” the way it has a verse or a Hadith for every issue that regulates human behavior, thought, bodily functions, from cleansing the self after a bowel movement to dealing with wives or female slaves when they are menstruating, to… Allah announced the “Perfection of Islam” during the “Farewell Pilgrimage” of Muhammad (last one before his death). The Lord reassured him “ This day I have perfected your deen for you and have completed My blessing on you, and have chosen Islam for you as your deen”. The Koran 5:3

How valid is the Islamic claim of the Koran’s infallibility? Is it really the “Word of God” or “after-the-fact” claims designed to satisfy the ego of a psychopathic narcissist masquerading as a “Man of God”?

In part one of my essay I will endeavour to prove to the readers of the forum that the Koran is not even a poor imitation of what perfection is. In future essays, I will try to link verses to specific traits in the personality of the Prophet, and the pathological motives that forced him to introduce each and every verse, and exploit them to further his political agenda and satisfy his obsessions. I would like to start with the critical point that Muhammad was an illiterate, and no Muslim or an infidel has ever challenged this point. On the contrary, Muslim scholars have always pointed out with pride that it was a miracle for an illiterate to memorize such a huge volume of Souras (Koranic chapters) and thousands of verses. Muslim scholars conveniently forget that the Prophet was not born in a social, political, and cultural vacuum. He was the product of the Jahilyah period when illiteracy was the norm, and the oral tradition was the dominant means used by Arab tribes to transmit, from one generation to another, folk wisdom, cultural and religious values, linguistic rules and principles, etc…
– – – – – – – –
Poets, warriors, and tribal leaders of the Jahilyah managed with casual ease, without Divine intervention from Allah, to memorise huge volumes of poetry known at the time as “Qasida”/poem or “Qasaed”/poems. Poets were highly respected for their talents, their exceptional ability to memorize hundreds of lengthy poems, and their mastery of the spoken word. They were highly rewarded by tribal leaders for their valuable role as custodians of tribal history, since no uniform system of writing was developed at the time for the Arabic language, complicated by the fact that isolated tribes developed different dialects in different geographical areas of the Arab world. So it is not a coincidence or a “Miracle” that Muhammad used the same structure of the “Qasaed” to promote his teachings. Too many Arab poets (Muhammad’s contemporaries) from different tribes did notice that there was nothing exceptional about the linguistic structure of Muhammad’s religious statements fashioned in the principles of the Qasaeds. To defend his plagiarism when confronted with such accusations made by Arab poets, Muhammad had to rely on the authority of Jibril the Angel to promote several verses pointing out to his gullible followers that Heaven is the source of his personal views and not the fallible mind of a narcissist parading as a Prophet —

“By the declining star, your compatriot (Muhammad) is not in error, nor is he deceived. He does not speak out of his own fancy. This is an inspired revelation. He is taught by one (Jibril) who is powerful and mighty.” The Koran 53:1-6

“This (the Koran) is a mighty scripture. Falsehood cannot reach it from before or behind. It is a revelation from a wise and glorious God. “ The Koran 41:42-43

Almost four centuries later, one of the giants of the Arabic literature and poetry, Abu al-Ala al-Maarri (973-1057), who was a dedicated rationalist, picked up again the accusations made by Muhammad’s contemporary poets, and declared the Koran and Islam as a travesty. Abul al-Ala wrote several books, the most famous of them was Fusul wal Ghayat, fashioned and structured in the exact style of the Koran to highlight the point that there was nothing “miraculous” or “divine” about the “Holy Book” of Islam, revered strictly by the sheer power of numbers, millions who blindly accepted its tenets. With an obvious contempt for Islam, Al-Marri accused it of dividing mankind into two groups: “One intelligent without a religion, and the other religious without intellect”.

Now let us go back to the claims of the Koran, and scrutinize closely some of the key pillars upon which the entire book rests. The Koran insists in dozens of verses that God is the author of “The Holy Book of Islam”. It points out that:

“He is God in heaven and God on earth; He is the wise One, the All-knowing… ” 43:85

… the source of infinite wisdom, infinite mercy, infinite… ad infinitum.

“We have revealed the Koran in the Arabic tongue that you may grasp its meaning. It is a transcript of Our eternal book, sublime, and full of wisdom.” 43:1-5

The All-knowing Allah of Islam selected Muhammad to spread His message/will/commands to mankind, and to avoid any misunderstandings or confusions, instructed Jibril to use the Arabic language for His revelations to simplify things to the finite mind of the Prophet. I managed to isolate at least 11 verses emphasizing the selection of the Arabic language as a privilege, as a simple measure to insure the clarity of the message, and a way of undermining the power of the Devil who managed to infiltrate the ranks of The People of the Book (Jews and Christians), and forced them to commit the ultimate evil of rejecting the Prophet and his teachings. “A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail; a Koran in Arabic, for people who understand… ” 41:3

What was the first revelation Jibril wanted the Prophet to understand?

“Read, in the Name of your Lord who created, created man of a clot, and your Lord is the Most Gracious, who taught with the pen what he did not know.” 96:1-5

The All-knowing Allah forgot that he is dealing with an illiterate prophet. In order for Muhammad to read to his followers the will of Allah, he first has to master the use of the pen, write and then read. Unfortunately Muhammad was too busy collecting wives, waging wars, and dispensing brutal justice, and all these preoccupations forced him to disregard the very first instruction he received from God, and he died without leaving behind a single manuscript with his own handwriting, where a pen was used to confine his noble thoughts to a piece of paper. May Allah forgive him for this unintentional bad judgement call.

What did Allah say also in the first revelation? “… created man of a clot… ” Didn’t he claim also in the same “Holy Book” that he created man from a germ? “Confound man! How ungrateful he is! From what did Allah create him? From a little germ He created him and proportioned Him.” 80:19-20 Didn’t Allah insist in another verse that He created man from dust? “By one of His signs He created you from dust; you became men and multiplied throughout the earth.” The Koran 30:19

In another verse Allah created man from a sperm, and since Muhammad was never a biologist with proper training in “Reproductive Technology”, he failed to indicate whose sperm was used to create the first man. We can’t blame him; Jibril did not guide him properly, and Jibril cannot be admonished since he was conveying the words of a confused Creator who did not remember how he originally created man in his experimental lab. To justify the confusion of The Creator, his servant Muhammad conspired with Jibril to cover the entire fiasco with the following verse: “Men if you doubt the Resurrection remember that We first created you from dust, then from a sperm, then from a clot of blood, then from a half-formed lump of flesh, so that We might manifest to you Our power.” The Koran 22:5.

It seems that the raw material God needed to create man, was also the subject of the rules of “Supply and Demand” in his heavenly lab. So whenever he exhausted the inventory of one raw material he had to use a different type, four or five in total, to create and recreate the first man. Or, it could well be that Dr. Sadeghian was right, and the epileptic prophet had a seriously flawed memory, and despite the fact that his native language (Arabic) was used by Jibril, he failed to memorize properly how God created man, and contradicted himself throughout the Koran on several critical issues that go well beyond the creation of man.

Well, we have covered the confusing story of the creation of man; now let us address the issue of the earthly kingdom Allah gave him to rule. We know that the man’s kingdom was called earth:

“And it is He Who spread out the earth like a carpet, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and flowing rivers… He draws the night as a veil over the day… ” 13:3

“And the earth We have spread out like a carpet; and rested thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance”. 15:19

“He Who has made for you the earth like a carpet spread out; has enabled you to go about therein by roads… ” 20:53

Either Muhammad is perplexed and seriously intimidated by the voice of Jibril, thus becoming unable to concentrate on what the angel is saying, or the Creator has become too senile to remember that His perfect design decreed to give planet earth a spherical form meaning round not flat like a carpet. The Creator missed also the critical point that planet earth rotates on its axis, and that phenomenon is enough to create day to toil and night to rest, and thus there is no need to use a giant veil to cover the earth to create night and darkness to rest.

Imagine all these verses were conveyed in Arabic, and yet so much confusion and chaos about how “The Infinite Wisdom” tried to save man’s soul from eternal damnation. But the chaotic thoughts and emotions of the Prophet do not end with the previously mentioned issues. On too many messages conveyed by Jibril, Muhammad failed to offer any explanation, and generations of Muslim theologians faced the same embarrassment for the last fourteen centuries when confronted by foreign scholars with the very obviously incoherent writings in the Koran, that reflect nothing but contempt for human logical thought and reasoning.

Let me be more specific. Read again all the verses mentioned in the entire essay up to this point. Count how many times “We have” and “Our” were used in reference to the single God. Hundreds of “We”s and “Our”s are casually used in the Koran.

It is a blasphemy in Islam to refer to Allah as a collective entity made up of several partners (Al shourk). Was the Prophet assuming that the angels were co-creators and he referred to the entire heavenly endeavour to save the soul of man, as the act of “We” the Gods and Angels? Was the shrewd Prophet trying to recruit pagans who believed in multiple Gods, and the “We”s and “Our”s were clever ways to attract the listening ears of the pagans? Or was our epileptic prophet experiencing auditory hallucinations that precipitated in his mind the impression of dealing with multiple celestial personalities?

Also, too many Souras in the Koran start with a set of isolated letters from the Arabic alphabet (Alef, Lam, Ra, Kaf, Ayn… ). They have no meaning or relationship to the title of the Soura, and often the title itself has no direct or full relevance to issues addressed in the verses of each Soura. The following is the classical explanation placed forward for Western consumption: “If we (Muslim theologians) find an authentic narration leading to the Prophet that explains these isolated letters, we will embrace the Prophet’s statement. Otherwise, we will stop where we were made to stop and will proclaim: “We believe in it (the Koran); all of it is from our Lord” 3:7

Well, what happened to Allah’s effort and the Koran’s insistence that the Arabic language was selected to make The Lord’s will very clear? These letters do not clarify anything, and do condemn Allah’s efforts for clarity to dismal failure. They exist in the beginning of too many Souras. Is Allah so imperfect that he failed to convey his thoughts in a simple direct manner, and needed mystery to attract the attention of Muslims, or perhaps make the narcissistic Prophet the centre of every Muslim’s attention? Or again could it be that the epileptic prophet attempted to start a sentence and failed to finish the first word because the electrical impulses were disrupted in his brain and by the time normalcy and proper chemical balance was restored for the neurons to communicate and thoughts to form, the poor prophet failed to recollect what he wanted to say?.

But despite memory failures let us give the Prophet the credit he deserves for creating “The Personality Cult” for his followers. After all, his charisma managed to convince his intellectually bankrupt inner circle, who committed to memory every word and statement he made, even the most trivial and senseless detail coming from God’s servant, and the meaningless letters were kept in the Koran, not because they are pearls of wisdom from the mouth of God, but because the power of ruthless authority insisted to have them preserved.

Let us not forget also that his many wives were sexually very demanding, and this was the frequent cause of the mental exhaustion the poor Prophet experienced. “The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round… they were eleven in number… Had the Prophet the strength for it? We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty men” Hadith-Al Bukhari Vol.1 Book 5 Number 269

I can write hundreds of pages about the systematic inconsistencies, contradiction of views and thoughts permeating the pages of the hate literature called “The Koran”. But such a goal will be boring and banal for readers. It will be more interesting to explain to Canadians how a psychopath shaped a “Holy Book” in his psychological image, and the venoms of hatred it carries to demonize and dehumanize Jews and Christians are nothing but a reflection of the psychopathic thoughts and warped political agenda he pushed for a self-serving glory.

Part II will be covering those details.

16 thoughts on “The Koran and The Psychopathology of The Prophet (Part I)

  1. This is “gefundenes Fressen” as a reference in my own private campain against Mohammedanism.

    However, ‘Sergei Bourachaga’ writes:

    It will be more interesting to explain to Canadians how a psychopath shaped a “Holy Book” in his psychological image, and the venoms of hatred it carries to demonize and dehumanize Jews and Christians are nothing but a reflection of the psychopathic thoughts and warped political agenda he pushed for a self-serving glory.
    – – – – –
    Is really this poor fellow Mohammed to be blamed for ALL the stupidity in the noble Koran? The following piece from my campain-blog is with the assistence Google hastily translated in the very early morning.

    John Wansbrough, School of Oriental and African Studies, London argues firmly that the Koran is composed of a variety of texts that were created during perhaps hundreds of years. In any event, all researchers seem to agree that there is not any evidence of the Koran’s existence before 691 – which is 69 years after Mohammed’s death. That year the dome of the Rockmoskée in Jerusalem was built an on its base some inscriptions has been found with a likely residence in the Koran. These inscriptions are not identical with the corresponding verses in the Koran that have been preserved through the centuries, which is considered to indicate that the Koran as late as at the end of the seventh century was still in the editing. The Koran is as a text permeated with a monotheistic thinking, with references to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jesus and still do the official Islamic historiographers claim that an illiterate brigand surrounded by idolatrous beduins in the remote and sparsely populated Mecca, in middle of the Arabian desert, far away from places where the monotheistic thinking occurred – would have received the divine revelations imparted by Gabriel, just there in the cave Hira. Of course, it is the case – how would it otherwise have happened. Questions goes to the chaplain of the king of Sweden Mr Leif Karlsson, sorry, I mean imam Abd al Haqq Kielan.
    – – – –
    The politicised religions ‘national socialism’ and ‘Islam’ are equal to each other like berries – not as blueberries, but perhaps like blackthorn and sour cherries! What separates them is place and time. To capitulate to such movements only inspires and confirms them. Cf. Muenchen 1938. After some ten years of little success preaching in Mecca, the Prophet suddenly decided 53 years old to move to Medina – in fact, he fled – at the same time he acquired the name Mohammed with the meaning ‘the commendable’, earlier he was known by the names Kotham or Halabi. A barely fifty men decided to follow their commander. At the time of the move on July 16, 622 the Islamic era started, political Islam became a reality, theocracy began. Cursed be the day!

  2. Yes, Qutham was beaten out of Mecca. The sources are mum about the three years before that event. Gracing his exit was a little stunt where he tricked his adopted son to take the actual beating. Oh, these ‘holy’ persons!

    Cursed be the day!

    ‘Night’, that is. You think these misadventures take place in bright daylight? Nah. Try looking up the 2nd pledge of Al-Aqabah, where the Muslims solemnly promised Qutham to wage war against all mankind.

    I kid you not.

  3. On the contrary, Muslim scholars have always pointed out with pride that it was a miracle for an illiterate to memorize such a huge volume of Souras (Koranic chapters) and thousands of verses.

    In pre-literate times this sort of feat was not altogether uncommon. The ancient Greek aoidoi (literally, “singers”) were—between a handful or two of them—able to “sing” the entire Homeric Odessy or Illiad. Much like Ray Bradbury’s “book people”, these individuals used assorted mnemonic devices of cadence and rhyme to memorize and retrieve voluminous passages of ancient texts. That Muhammad managed to do so several centuries later is of no great import.

    I refer you to untold numbers of modern musicians who can—from memory alone—summon up hundreds of songs, along with their instrumental music, at a moment’s notice. The current term is “eidetic memory”, something that I am often accused of possessing and usually in far less complimentry terms.

    Al-Marri accused it of dividing mankind into two groups: “One intelligent without a religion, and the other religious without intellect”.

    Now, that’s going to leave a mark!

    “Men if you doubt the Resurrection remember that We first created you from dust, then from a sperm, then from a clot of blood, then from a half-formed lump of flesh, so that We might manifest to you Our power.”

    Nothing like covering all the bases—biological or otherwise—just in case.

    Has anyone else here heard of the legend that, between his shoulder blades, Muhammad had a mole the size of a pigeon’s egg? Cancer of the brain—much like that of Ted Kennedy—would go a long way towards explaining things.

  4. Zenster, that mole was proof of his prophethood!

    If that’s the best he can bring for proof, someone screwed us…

    Really. It’s in the hadith.

  5. I agree with Zenster that the oral tradition is surprisingly strong in the absence of a written language.

    As an example, I recall a tribe being discovered (I guess North Africa somewhere) who had memorized the Old Testament between them. It was almost identical to our written copies.

    Which of course bunks the crap out of the Islamic claim that the Jewish & Christian scriptures were somehow ‘corrupted’ away from their Islamic origins. The scholars lie on this issue, pure and simple.

  6. Henrik R Clausen: … that mole was proof of his prophethood!

    So, like a sort of weird Pawtuxet Phil, Muslims gather around an odd rodent’s burrow somewhere and shout “Allahu Snackbar” when they see his shadow?

    Just checking …

  7. Anti-Islamist —

    Please don’t paste long URLs into the comments; they make the post page too wide and mess up the appearance of the permalink page.

    Use link tags; the instructions are at the top of the full post’s comment section.



    Has anybody seen an egg of a partridge recently?
    Dr. Badawi continues his apologetic on behalf of Muhammad. In a somewhat absurd introduction, Badawi tells us that one does not need to make prophecies (detailed predictions of future events which come true), in order to be called a Prophet. Once again, Dr. Badawi gives us no credentials or proofs of Muhammad’s claim to prophethood, other than the fact that Muhammad said so, therefore, it must be so, and if it is so, then so it is.

    Miracles are another very important sign that a Prophet is from God. I would not accept the testimony of a person who claims to be a Prophet without accurate prophecies. Miracles are an additional proof of a Prophets claim, but the gift of prophecy (accurately predicting future events) is the true criteria of prophethood.
    What was Muhammad’s proof of Prophethood

    Narrated As-Sa’ib bin Yazid:

    My aunt took me to the Prophet and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! This son of my sister has got a disease in his legs.” So he passed his hands on my head and prayed for Allah’s blessings for me; then he performed ablution and I drank from the remaining water. I stood behind him and saw the seal of Prophethood between his shoulders, and it was like the “Zir-al-Hijla” (means the button of a small tent, but some said ‘egg of a partridge.’ etc.)
    – – –
    Hadith Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 189
    This “seal of Prophethood” was, in fact, a mole on Muhammad’s back! This proof is completely unacceptable for anyone who believes in the Prophets of the Bible.
    – – – – – – – –

  8. quoting ANTI-ISLAMIST’s comment :

    “John Wansbrough, School of Oriental and African Studies, London argues firmly that the Koran is composed of a variety of texts that were created during perhaps hundreds of years. In any event, all researchers seem to agree that there is not any evidence of the Koran’s existence before 691 – which is 69 years after Mohammed’s death.

    It would benefit many scholars to gain access to the following:

    The Mysterious once assumed lost/now found archives of the Koran
    On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.
    The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God’s word. The wartime destruction made the project “outright impossible,” Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.
    Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along.

    It would be of interest to follow-up on the:

    Conference On The Early History Of Islam And The Koran

    The newly founded institute, Inârah Institute for Research of Early Islamic History and the Koran, in cooperation with the Religious Studies Department of the University of Saarlandes, Germany and the Europäische Akademie Otzenhausen, Germany held its first International Conference on the Origins of the Koran and Early Islamic History.

  9. How can the Koran be considered “perfect” by Muslim apologists if the very Hadiths themselves mention that some suras (verses) were forgotten (lost, because those who had memorized them were killed in one of the many imperialistic battles during Mohammad’s initial reign on terror, before they were written down) and at least one was eaten by a passing domestic animal (since it was written on bark)?

    Phony and fraudulent claims for a plagiarized and patent pastiche.

  10. Profitsbeard: … at least one was eaten by a passing domestic animal

    Thus began the now time-honored tradition of claiming: “The dog at my homework!”

  11. The dog is kafir’s best friend.
    – – – – –
    A dumb story from Sweden.
    An enterpricer was called to the tax-authorities for an audit- he put his accountbook on the bicycle’s baggage carrier, the road was very rugged so he accidently dropped the accountbook and before he managed to stop his bicycle a big dog appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the book by his mouth and run away. It is said that the tax-official accepted the unusually complex story – , but it shall have happened back in the idyllic 1960s.
    – – – – – –
    the link that ‘heroyalwhyness’ presented about Anton Spitaler and his 450 rolls of film was most interesting, if not to say thrilling!
    First the Robert Capa 127 rolls – and then the Spitaler rolls – give us more of this!

  12. Re.Anton Spitaler and his 450 rolls of film
    – – – – – –
    Frau Neuwirth und Herr Marx haben mir die Antwort von letzterem auf den WSJ-Artikel
    zugänglich gemacht, die ich hier ebenfalls dokumentieren möchte:
    – – – – –
    A reaction to the article „The Lost Archive“, The Wall Street Journal 12.1.2008, page 1
    (US edition)
    Michael Marx (
    Director of Research Centre Corpus Coranicum (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der
    The lost archive, the myth of philology, and the study of the Qur’an

    Director of Research Centre Corpus Coranicum (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der

    The lost archive, the myth of philology, and the study of the Qur’an

    The belief in the myth that old manuscripts should be mysterious and powerful is part and
    parcel of the age of Modernity. That such expectations were operative in the discussion on
    the Qumran fragments is still remembered, and more recently the Da Vinci Code, in itself a
    quite shallow story, sold extremely well. The fact that the Wall Street Journal placed an
    article on the “lost Bergsträsser-film archive” of Qur’anic manuscripts on its front page on
    12th of January seems to be due to the myth of “textual wars” taking place in the world.
    Labelled as a clash of civilizations or war of religions, conflicts today in the Middle East and
    Europe involving Christians, Muslims and Jews are likely to be perceived in isolation from
    their economical, social, or political preconditions. On September 12th 2001 a friend of mine
    bought a copy of the Qur’an in order to “understand what is going on”. Indeed, as if in the
    spirit of the protestant slogan of “sola scriptura” (= “through scripture only”), the idea of
    deciphering the software of “Muslim patterns of action” through the Sacred Book of Islam is
    tempting. As superficial as it may look, this very perception of the direct causal link between
    “what Muslims do” and passages of the Qur’an seems to be widespread. No article on the
    missing enlightenment in “Islam” without pointing to a still missing “but urgently needed”
    critical edition of the Qur’an. Almost no coverage on warfare in the Middle East and suicide
    bombings without the attempt to dig out passages from the Qur’an and pictures of praying
    and reciting Muslims. The cultural, social, and religious diversity of a whole region, the
    Middle East, that European and American history labels as the cradle of civilisation and the
    birthplace of Judaism and Islam appears transmuted into a “disturbing” monolithic religious

    The article on the lost photo archive of old Quranic Manuscripts collected by Gotthelf
    Bergsträsser (1886-1933) and his colleague Otto Pretzl (1893-1941) calls to mind a whole
    tradition of philological research on the Qur’an that has fallen into oblivion since World War
    II. Two centuries ago, it was German speaking philologists who laid the foundation for
    critical approaches to the Quran. Abraham Geiger’s (1810-1874) often quoted and
    frequently misunderstood book “Was hat Mohamed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen”
    (“What did Mohamed take from Judaism?”), published in 1833, can be seen as a landmark,
    setting up a school of Jewish scholars who for almost a hundred years included the study of
    Islamic sources into the text corpus of Jewish texts they studied. The title of Geiger’s book
    is misleading, since the author is far from attacking the prophet but sees Mohamed as a
    kind of genius, embedded in a (Late Antique) context where Jewish texts and traditions are
    seen as integral parts of the emerging first Muslim community. It is a paradoxical fact that
    the founding figure of the Jewish Reform movement sought to trace Jewish tradition back to
    a Middle Eastern context in order to accommodate Judaism in post-Napoleonic Central
    European societies by studying interconnections between rabbinical traditions and the
    Qur’an. In a society where the ghettos just had been dissolved, a Jewish movement
    developed its vision of a European Jewish identity by tracing their tradition back to the
    Middle Eastern context and showing links to another religion emerging in the same region.

    The 19th century also saw German speaking scholars like Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921),
    Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930), and Gustav Weil (1808-1889) who laid the foundations of a
    philologically sound approach to Middle Eastern literatures in Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, and
    Persian. The fruits of their and their students’ works are often considered milestones of text
    edition and are still to be found in bookstores in the Middle East and the Western world. It
    was Theodor Nöldeke who left a book on the history of the Qur’an that is considered a
    landmark of philological scholarship of the Qur’an by Western and Eastern scholars. Even if
    Nöldeke, in his 19th century spirit, referred to the prophet as a genius, thus attributing
    authorship of the text to him, his work offers proof of a degree of knowledge of Islamic
    tradition and philological methods that is almost non-existent today. Among Nöldeke’s
    successors were scholars like Gotthelf Bergsträsser and Otto Pretzl who developed the
    project of creating a philological critical study of the Qur’an. Bergsträsser not only travelled
    diverse Arab countries (the Mediterranean Sea) to take pictures with the newly developed
    first transportable Leica photo-camera but also went regularly to Cairo to participate in the
    meetings of the Royal Egyptian Academy of Sciences. He can be described as a scholar
    who not only studied his “object”, Arabic texts, but who also understood that knowledge of
    the Muslim tradition had to be included in his intellectual approach by sharing and
    exchanging knowledge with his Middle Eastern colleagues. After his premature and
    unexpected death in 1933, he left behind a treasure that was lost from sight after World War
    II. The widespread belief in its non-accessibility was reinforced by rumours of the
    destruction of the material in 1944 and the silence of his successor Anton Spitaler (1910-2003).

    Many, although by no means all, German scholars who remained in Germany after the
    Nazis came to power, did have sympathies for the Nazis. In times of war, knowledge of
    foreign languages qualified scholars for specialized positions in the German war machinery
    where their linguistic skills were seen as important. Nevertheless, measuring the
    achievements of German scholars by examining their political biographies seems to me not
    helpful. Gotthelf Bergsträsser only experienced the very beginning of the political
    catastrophe that was the Third Reich. His colleague at Munich University, the musicologist
    Kurt Huber (1893-1943), who together with Bergsträsser published an article on the
    recitation of the Qur’an in Cairo, joined the White Rose movement that opposed the Nazi
    regime. He was executed in 1943. The fact that the German philological tradition of studying
    the Qur’an flourished in the 1920s and remained in existence during the Nazi period, cannot
    in itself justify describing German scholarship in that field as having a Nazi agenda (as
    observed in many internet blogs discussing the “The Lost Archive”). As Jewish scholars in
    Germany and Europe were killed or had left the country, post-War Germany had lost not
    only its intellectual elite, but also German as a language of international scholarship
    underwent a decline, not only in Oriental studies.

    Post World War II studies on the Qur’an no longer followed the tradition set by Goldziher,
    Nöldeke, and Bergsträsser. In the 1970s, the works of John Wansbrough (1928-2002) and
    Patricia Crone suggested a new perspective on the Qur’an, where the text either would
    emerge one to two centuries after the prophet, or come out of Palestinian religious
    movements (reducing Mecca and Medina to collective retrospective imaginations of the
    Muslim community). Neither theory is in harmony with results of research of the last two
    decades. Today, perhaps neither of the scholars mentioned would write their books a
    second time in the same vein. Yet, in a field like Qur’anic studies, both works were often
    seen by Muslim readers as revealing the true aims of Western scholarship, thus to a certain
    extent they can be said to have destroyed mutual trust. For scholars from Europe today, the
    suspicion of belonging to a “revisionist school” can still be sensed in the Middle East, and is
    often an obstacle to academic exchange between scholars.

    The field of Qur’anic studies, that can be described as under-studied compared to two
    centuries of Biblical studies, contains many “blank spaces” on the research map. The lack of
    a comparative study of the oldest manuscripts and the oral Muslim tradition requires a lot of
    documentation and analytical work. The Bergsträsser photo archive affords a good overview
    of important old manuscripts from European and Middle Eastern libraries, it can not,
    however, serve as a magic wand. From the material that has been entered into a database
    to date it would appear that any expectations that old Qur’anic manuscripts in the Old Hijazi
    script included in the Bergsträsser photo archive would offer a different text of the Qur’an
    are unjustified. It is interesting to note that orthographic differences observed in manuscripts
    of the early 8th century are variations of spelling that a comparison of 20th century prints of
    the Qur’an from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Nigeria show to be still alive.
    Muslim tradition does indeed refer to one text, yet still allows and transmits variant readings
    and writings within a certain range. This “unmodern” attitude towards the text, (textual
    behaviour) of allowing ambiguity and a range of readings, can be described as having
    characterized Muslim tradition since the earliest times. Until the present day, the Qur’an is
    recited in slightly “diverging” textual and acoustic shape in Morocco and in Egypt. What is
    required here is a systematic study of all the available material, manuscripts or sources on
    the different Muslim traditions of reading the Qur’an, in order to study the text of the Qur’an
    – in the same way the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are studied – with due
    diligence, knowledge, and precision.

    Since Nöldeke, Bergsträsser, Pretzl and their Australian colleague Arthur Jeffery (1892-
    1959) developed a framework for a systematic study in the 1920s that was interrupted in the
    following years by the death of the scholars involved and the events leading up to and during
    World War II, the only perspective left is a modest attempt to continue Nöldeke’s and
    Bergsträsser’s work today – more than seventy years later. Even if the story sounds
    intriguing, no Da Vinci Code scenario or Qumran fever will make things easier. The study of
    old manuscripts and Muslim oral tradition requires a lot of time and patience. Until today,
    each and every hypothesis of a “new text”, a “different text” or a completely new historical
    scenario of the genesis of the text remains a hypothesis based on scarce material evidence
    and looks very unlikely. This is valid for the hypotheses of Luxenberg, Ohlig, Wansbrough
    and other spectacular “new readings” of the Qur’an. Scholarly work has of course to take
    place in isolation from religious claims of any sort, which simply belong to another
    discourse. (That does not mean that one has to subscribe to the religious dogma that the
    Qur’an is an inspired text or that it has a divine origin). The metaphysical question of the
    text’s origin cannot be answered by science and philology. What can be studied are the
    textual beginnings of the Qur’an as they are manifested in manuscripts and in the Muslim
    tradition across the centuries.

    The Berlin project that started in 2007 under the title “Corpus Coranicum”, sees itself as the
    attempt to collect documents on the Qur’an systematically and transparently. The rich
    material of the Bergsträsser collection offers a solid basis for a documentation of the text of
    the Qur’an in history. On the other side, it also refers to the achievements of a scholar who
    came from the German speaking philological school and was fully aware of the importance
    of studying Arabic sources and exchanging ideas with his Middle Eastern colleagues. The
    project, based at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, was developed by Angelika
    Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai and the author in 2006. Angelika Neuwirth’s more than thirty years’
    experience in Qur’anic scholarship can be described as an approach that is based on a
    careful study of the text itself, combining material from the Islamic tradition with modern text
    hermeneutics. In the framework of Corpus Coranicum this is a perspective which no single
    scholar would ever have been able to pursue alone but one which unquestionably requires
    the cooperative work of researchers from diverse specializations. The project group studies
    the Qur’an as a text that has a history in Late Antiquity; Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and
    Ethiopian source texts about the theological debates contemporary with the emergence of
    the Qur’an are collected and made available in a database structure (Texte zur Umwelt des
    Koran = “Texts on the Environment of the Qur’an”), in order to reconstruct the milieu that
    the text addressed. Every text enters a world where there are earlier texts in existence. The
    Qur’an addressed listeners from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Charitable
    reading of the Qur’an means undertaking the attempt to reconstruct the way the text was
    received by the earliest community. If the 112th Sura is read against the background of the
    most important Jewish credo (“Shma Israel”; Deutronomy 6,4) and the Nicene Creed (of the
    First Council of Constantinople in 381 CE), the relationship – the message of the text seen
    against the background of two other Late Antique texts – can be described in the sense that
    the Qur’an addressed people in a given context.

    By studying overlaps with Late Antique traditions, the originality of the Qur’an in its context
    becomes evident. The idea of a text emerging in a context sounds trivial, but in the case of
    the Qur’an investigating it requires the unearthing of the achievements of a whole (mostly
    German speaking) tradition that is very little studied today, not least as a result of the
    decline in German language skills among scholars. The above mentioned Jewish Reform
    Movement founded by Abraham Geiger in the 19th century produced numerous studies on
    the Qur’an and its context. These scholarly achievements are almost forgotten today and
    were only continued in miniature after World War II. The tragedy of neglected scholarship in
    this field has contributed to the deplorable current situation of Qur’anic scholarship. For the
    study of the Qur’an as pursued by the Corpus Coranicum project, two traditions have to be
    revived, one is the “Lost Archive”, the other could be classified as “forgotten books”. Both
    are seen as necessary and have to be brought together in an integral scholarly effort,
    combining philology of manuscripts with knowledge about Late Antique reference material in
    order to allow us to see the Qur’an in the context of human history.

    Any examination of the time before the Qur’an does entail the need to include Islamic
    history in a wider framework of Middle Eastern history of Christianity and Judaism. Hereby
    the concept of an exclusive vision of a Jewish-Christian identity has to be questioned. If
    Judaism and Christianity, religious traditions that emerged from the same region, can be
    accommodated in Europe or the United States, why should the Qur’an and Islamic history
    be seen as separate. By showing and documenting that the discourse of the Qur’an
    addressed a Late Antique milieu where Judaism and Christianity was known, the Qur’an
    and the history of the Muslim community can be freed from their current connotations of
    exotic (“non-European”) otherness. Comparisons between Jewish and Muslim legal
    traditions not only show similarities but show also how a new discourse can enter into a
    rivalry with an existing one. At the same time, dogmatic debates reflected in the Qur’an
    point to the fact that the text is situated in a region where six centuries of Church history not
    only produced harmony.

    The Qur’an project is conscious of the fact that exchange and debate is necessary. The
    approaches of the Corpus Coranicum project are the subject of debates with Muslim
    scholars. After lectures and discussions held in Morocco, Iran, and Turkey the opinion that a
    “critical project” on the Qur’an is tantamount to a suicide project, does not coincide with my
    own (albeit limited) experiences. On the contrary, a debate in the city of Qom on the study
    of manuscripts and the relationship between the uncanonical gospel of the infancy of
    Thomas and parts of the 3rd Sura turned out to involve a number of Shiite clerics in a
    discussion of the type of discourse the Qur’an could be described as. The possibility that
    any of the speakers might not necessarily be a Muslim seen as being relevant was not
    sensed by the author. Late Antique sources in Syriac or Hebrew language are of course
    scarcely studied and translated into Arabic or Persian in Muslim countries today, thus
    hindering discussion of such material. At the same time, many Western scholars of
    theology, Jewish studies, church history, Syriac etc. have also shown themselves sceptical
    about discussing the importance of their respective disciplines for understanding the Qur’an.
    In the end, it is the necessity and the will to discuss an embeddedness of the text in time
    and space that is at stake. Many scholars have refused to accord the Qur’an its due place in
    history, the recently begun Corpus Coranicum project has decided to take an opposite
    approach. Consisting of a mixed group of researchers, the academic target audience is a
    European one, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other.

    By laying the groundwork for a systematic approach to Qur’anic Studies, the outlined
    research approach is aimed at contributing to a vision of history in which Christian, Jewish
    and Muslim traditions refer to a shared Middle Eastern heritage. From a European
    perspective, the Middle East as a point of departure has always been accepted for the age
    of Antiquity, why should Late Antiquity be treated differently? In a time when the belief
    seems to be widespread that sacred texts are capable of supplying explanations for the
    behaviour of individuals, research on the contexts of a text could contribute towards
    dissolving an essentialist perspective on a sacred text – something which is still too rarely
    questioned in public debate and scholarship.

    After having read a column in the Asian Times Online (15th of January) under the title
    “Indiana Jones meets Da Vinci Code”, based on the Wall Street Journal’s article on “The
    Lost Archive”, I bought hats for our whole research team, our female Muslim colleagues
    now wear them on top of their headscarves.

    (Michael Marx Berlin/Potsdam, 16.1.2008)

Comments are closed.