Different Methodologies for God's Books -
Muslims and Western Historical Criticism


Many Muslims, particularly those engaged in dialogue and debate with Jews and Christians, freely use Western historical critical methodology in their study of the Scriptures of Jews and Christians. But do they utilize this methodology in their study of the Qur'an?

In the past and present, some Muslims have ventured to question the claims of perfection and inimitability often attributed to the content and form of the Qur'an. Let one example suffice. A relatively recent publication Contemporary Islam and the Challenge of History (Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, State University NY Press, Albany, 1982) includes a chapter "The Case of a Quranic Exegete" that deals with a conflict over the historical accuracy, authenticity and literary character of the Qur'an. It focuses on the thesis, authored by Muhammad Ahmad Khalaf Allah for Cairo University, which emphasizes that the intent of the Quranic narratives is "admonitions and exhortation", not history, and which as a result, suggested the possibility of historical error, contradiction, or anachronism in the Qur'an, examples of which Haddad cites in her footnotes. Khalaf Allah's conservative Muslim contemporaries saw his method as sanctioning Western historical critical methodology. They, therefore, vehemently criticized both the methodology and the author.

Ultimately, there is little point in arguing with the Muslim's presupposition of Quranic perfection, if the Muslim is closed to any questioning of this presupposition. But it is strange, Haddad suggests, that Quranic exemption from "literary historical or critical study ... does not extend to exegesis of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures...." Moreover, she says:

The paradox of the validity of one methodology for the study of the scriptures of one faith and the sanctity of the traditional method for the study of the Qur'an is not noted by a single (conservative Muslim?) author.... (Haddad, p.53)

Many Muslims might respond to this paradox as follows: "True, all previous Scriptures were originally God's Word. In the course of time they were corrupted and/or abrogated. The Qur'an alone remains perfect, inimitable and final Scripture." Yet even if we were to agree with these Muslim assumptions regarding the previous Scriptures and the Qur'an - which we do not - how does this exempt the Qur'an from the historian's critical skills and yet allow the Bible to be subject to these skills? Where does the Qur'an itself sanction two different methodologies?

Other articles by Dr. Ernest Hahn
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