For more than a century linguists and historians have been examining the ancient scriptures of the world’s major religions. Although a great deal is now known about the historical and cultural development of such well-known sacred texts as the Hebrew Torah, the Christian New Testament, the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, and the Chinese I Ching, relatively little progress has been made in the study of Islam’s holy book, the Koran. This is due mainly to the reluctance of the orthodox Muslim community – especially its fundamentalist wing – to take a rational and critical approach to a book considered to be a divine revelation. For too many Muslims, such a treatment of their sacred text would be a blasphemous challenge to their faith or a form of cultural imperialism. Fearful of violent repercussions, modern scholars of Islam have tended to steer clear of this controversial area and have not continued the excellent early work on the sources of the Koran begun by previous researchers.
In an attempt to reinvigorate the debate over the Koran’s historical roots editor Ibn Warraq has selected these important scholarly articles, the majority of which date back to the first half of the twentieth century. Warraq’s unique volume points out the advances that have been made in explaining the origins of the Koran and at the same time highlights key questions yet to be answered. Divided into four parts, this penetrating work begins with the first truly scientific study of the Koran by Theodor N’ldeke. The focus then shifts in part two to the difficulty of establishing a reliable Koranic text, as shown in the pioneering studies by Leone Caetani, Alphonse Mingana, Arthur Jeffery, and David Margouliouth. Part three offers essays by Abraham Geiger, W. St. Clair-Tisdall, and C. C. Torrey, which explore the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian sources of Muhammad’s “revelation.” This compelling work concludes with a consideration by Andrew Rippin of the controversial interpretations of contemporary scholar John Wansbrough, who questions the historical accuracy of the earliest Islamic texts.
Origins of the Koran is an indispensable source book for anyone interested in investigating the historical basis of one of the world’s most influential books.