"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," is a very well-known English saying. Although originally applied to the rights and duties of wife and husband, it is now more widely used when demanding equal rights and duties for everyone. It calls for consistent rules and standards, and for an equal treatment of people and situations.
There are an amazing number of inconsistencies in Zaman's publications on the NESSIA website, and even more are found when also taking into account his arguments and behavior on internet discussion forums. This article is going to document some of these, and further examples will probably be added in the future. The current topics are:
In his article Clear Raisins or just Sour Grapes?, Zaman bitterly complains:
These fantasies are being propagated on the internet via Dr. Christoph Heger who refuses to divulge what his doctorate is in, and in book form by an Iranian atheist by the pen name "Ibn Warraq". Ibn Warraq is the author of "Why I Am Not A Muslim" and is currently including translations of Luxenberg’s works with Dr. Heger’s help in an upcoming follow up to his book "What the Koran Really Says". Ibn Warraq claims he uses a pen name because he "fears for his life", yet it is also convenient for both "Dr" Heger, and "Ibn Warraq" that we may not find out their credentials and competency in Semitic Etymology and Philology (or anything about them at all) due to their opportune anonymity.
Zaman is demanding to know what "official" qualifications others have, but he does not inform the reader of the site "Near Eastern and Semitic Studies Institute of America" (NESSIA) what his qualifications are. [See the article Who or What is NESSIA really?]
It is everyone's free decision how much he wants to divulge of his own background, but as long as Zaman doesn't produce his certificate, diploma, Masters, or PhD degree in Semitic Studies from an accredited institution, he cannot legitimately demand it from anyone else. Anything else is hypocrisy.
Will an official and verifiable "certificate of qualification" change the truth or falsehood of Dr. Heger's arguments in any way? Certainly not. Claiming otherwise would be committing either the logical fallacy of appeal to authority (if thinking a degree in the subject would make a wrong argument correct) or the fallacy of ad hominem (when seeking to discredit their argument by appealing to the lack of an academic degree). Credentials are important for employers, so that they have some kind of indication that people are worth the money they are going to pay them. Credentials are next to irrelevant for the discussion of a particular argument. Since Zaman is hardly intending to pay Luxenberg or Dr. Heger for their work, what is his demand for knowing their credentials really about?
Dr. Heger discusses these theories about the origin and proper reading of the Qur'an as an individual who has certain ideas and convictions. It is his good right to bring these ideas to the public arena and seek an audience for them (freedom of speech). Shibli Zaman exercises the same right and publishes his ideas on websites and newsgroups, and these are ideas that many people do not like either! There is one difference though ... Dr. Heger does not ask the readers to believe his theories based on any supposed academic credentials. The arguments have to speak for themselves and be shown either strong or wrong in these discussions and based on their own merits. He has, as far as I know, never appealed to his doctorate to give his arguments more force. On the other hand, the name "Near Eastern and Semitic Studies Institute of America" (NESSIA) seems to have been created for the very purpose to give Zaman's personal arguments more weight in his public appearance (cf. the article Who or What is NESSIA really?).
Shibli Zaman regularly commits the fallacy of ad hominem and insults those who dare criticize him. However, in order to disqualify the argument of somebody by an ad hominem attack, one first needs to know something personal about the opponent that can then be used against him. What seems to irk Zaman most about the anonymity of Ibn Warraq, Luxenberg and Dr. Heger is that he has too little knowledge about them that he could use for the purpose of diverting the attention of the readers from the argument under discussion to the person who makes the argument.
In his article, Forgive Them, For They Know Not Greek, Zaman writes:
II. Scholarly vs. proletarian evidence
Mr. Shamoun proceeds:
"According to Greek Grammarian William D. Mounce: 'There is no more forceful way in the Greek language to tell someone to do something than a simple imperative - particularly the second person imperative. Especially when such a command is given regarding a specific situation, the one giving that command sees himself as an authority figure. He expects those addressed to do exactly as he has ordered." (Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar [Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI 1993], p. 302; bold emphasis ours)"
It is unfortunate for Mr. Shamoun who appealed to it, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar is a very novice textbook. With all due respect to its author, it is not an exhaustive reference for Greek grammar by any stretch. The author also happens to be a pastor and devout Christian.(underline emphasis mine)
Even though Zaman's comment in the last sentence above is an instance of the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy, I want to discuss it separate from the general ad hominem section following below.
If regularly preaching in a church is a handicap to properly teach Greek, is preaching in a Mosque then also a handicap to learn and teach Arabic? If being a devout Christian disqualifies somebody's Grammar book on Biblical Greek in Zaman's eyes, would a consistent standard of evaluation not demand that Zaman is from now on going to reject all grammar books, dictionaries etc. on the subject of Quranic Arabic written by devout Muslims? Somehow, I do not believe that Zaman will be able to be consistent this issue.
Apparently, Bill Mounce, who has written several books on Greek, including advanced ones, and who is Professor of New Testament at an accredited theological Seminary (for details see Sam Shamoun's answer to Zaman's article), is disqualified from commenting on Greek just because he is a Christian (as if that is some kind of mental disease), but Zaman, who has as far as I know no degree in theology or in Greek, is qualified to teach others about Greek in his article just because he is a Muslim.
There is yet another twist to this. On the very same day that Zaman posted the above disparaging remarks, he also quoted from the Greek Dictionary appendix in Strong's Concordance in order to defend his wrong argument about the etymology of proskuneo. Strong's Dictionary is not even for novices in Greek (i.e., first and second year students of Greek), it is for the total amateur who does not know any Greek, wouldn't know how to look up a Greek word in a real dictionary, and therefore has to do "Greek by numbers". [For details on this, see the section on Strong's in the article Shibli Zaman and Etymology, Part II.] Zaman appealed to this dictionary as evidence despite the fact that James Strong was a devout Christian.
Zaman's criterion actually seems to be like this: If I find something that fits my agenda, I will use it, no matter whether it is true or coming from a recognized scholarly resource. On the other hand, if I don't like something, I will find a way to dismiss it with contempt, even if my reason is nothing but an ad hominem argument.
The longer one reads the writings of Mr. Zaman, the more obvious it becomes that he constantly accuses others of using ad hominem against him, while at the same time insulting and attacking almost everyone left, right and center.
There are a multitude of examples for the above claim. In this space, we will document some of these in the future. For now, the reader is pointed to the smaller discussion of "Zaman and ad hominem" in the article Shibli Zaman and Etymology, Part II. The most ironic part of it is, that Zaman uses the word regularly to accuse others without knowing its actual meaning, thus using it incorrectly.
Zaman is outraged to find a passage in the Bible that seemingly labels unbelievers as dogs but on the other hand cites with apparent approval that the Muslim Calif calls the Roman emperor a dog!
(a) On transliterating Greek
In the article Forgive them, For They Know Not Greek, Zaman attacks Sam Shamoun for a meaningless transliteration of a Greek word. In his introduction he writes:
First of all, when dealing with Greek transliteration, "aphes", as Mr. Shamoun has written, renders ap-h-es (απηες) which is meaningless. When dealing with Greek transliteration one must be careful to note that the English letter "h" represents the Greek letter eta (η).
Luke 23:34 according to the Nestle-Aland 26/27 Greek is:
[[ο δε ιησους ελεγεν πατερ αφες αυτοις ου γαρ οιδασιν τι ποιουσιν]] διαμεριζ ομενοι δε τα μιατια αυτου εβαλον κληρους
... For the purpose of this discussion, please note the bolded phrase afes autois (αφες αυτοις) above.
Zaman's arguments can hardly get more silly than the above. For hundreds of years the common transliteration of the Greek letter "phi" (φ) has been "ph" in English and many other European languages. There may exist other transliteration schemes which render "phi" as "f", but I don't think even Zaman is going to write from now on about "filology" and "filosofy", or get his medicine from the neighborhood "Farmacy". [Should the above used word "phrase" perhaps be corrected to "frase"?] With this argument Zaman really inaugurated a whole new "fase" in Muslim debate methodology with a strong "emfasis" on linguistic accuracy.
Okay, what exactly did Zaman do wrong to arrive at a meaningless Greek word?
The Greek word in question is αφες. Shamoun used a transliteration scheme (actually, probably the most common one) that is rendering these four Greek letters as follows:
The Greek alphabet does not have a letter "h" at all. Greek has breathing marks (spiritus asper = and spiritus lenis = ) found at the beginning of words starting with a vowel, a diphthong, or the letter "rho", but those marks never occur in the middle of a word [one minor and rare exception: the letter "rho" (ρ) may occasionally bear a breathing mark also in a position inside a word]. Most transliteration systems render the spiritus asper (rough breathing) with an "h". [Others may ignore it, since it is not a letter. The spiritus lenis is usually not transliterated.] In any case, whenever one sees an h in the middle of a transliterated Greek word, it comes either after the letter p, i.e. it is "ph" and representing the Greek letter "phi" (φ), or it comes after t, i.e. it is "th" representing the Greek letter "theta" (θ) [the transliteration of "rho" is usually just "r" without an "h" despite the spiritus asper]. Thus, there is absolutely no ambiguity in the system. The transliteration is always uniquely determined, and (backwards) it uniquely determines the Greek word that it renders. When encountering the transliteration "aphes", it is absolutely clear (to anyone with the slightest clue about Greek), that the letters are to be separated as a-ph-e-s, not as ap-h-es as Zaman did.
Zaman, on the other hand, used a different transliteration scheme in which the letters are rendered in this way:
|( phi||=||φ||=||f )|
Zaman then takes the transliteration of αφες in System A (i.e. "aphes") and transliterates it back into Greek according to his own system, System Z, which obviously results in the meaningless word απηες. This he takes as a sufficient basis to attack Shamoun for giving a meaningless transliteration. In reality, it is Zaman who is either extremely ignorant, so ignorant that he does not even know the most common of all transliteration systems of the Greek alphabet, or he is plain dishonest and devious, and he constructed this argument in order to ridicule Shamoun even though he knew very well what Shamoun meant, and that his transliteration was and is correct.
Somehow it seems rather unlikely that Zaman did not know about the system of transliteration used by Sam Shamoun. It is, after all, the transliteration system used also in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible:
Zaman has used Strong's Concordance for years. Ironically, on the same day (28 July 2003) on which he attacked Sam Shamoun for his transliteration, Zaman also published another article in which he appealed to the Greek dictionary in Strong's Concordance that uses exactly this transliteration that Zaman objected to as wrong and meaningless! In effect, Zaman did both reject and appeal to the same source on the very same day.
So we must therefore ask, which of the following alternatives is true?
Zaman is quick to accuse others of dirty tricks (cf. his accusation against me in this article). Being a Christian, I will gladly give him the benefit of the doubt also in this case, but unless Zaman is going to tell us himself, the reader will have to make his own judgment based on the above evidence. [Here will be inserted the answer or a link to it when it becomes available.]
In either of the above two cases, Zaman not only attacked Shamoun for using one system of transliteration (which turned out to be perfectly correct), but he used another system without giving a reference for it, i.e. without giving us evidence that he did not make it up himself but is using a system that is also commonly used by others. Therefore, I do expect from Zaman that he will also document the source of the transliteration system used by him in this particular article.
Ironically, Zaman himself uses different systems of transliteration in different articles! For example, the Greek word for dog (κυων) is rendered by him first as "kuon" (here) and later as "kuwn" (here). I don't mind. There are different valid systems. But Zaman's behavior and inconsistent standards are neither scholarly nor acceptable in anybody's definition of good manners and proper conduct.
Zaman's inconsistencies in regard to transliterations do, however, not end here,
since this was not the first time that Zaman got entangled in a struggle over
(b) On transliterating Hebrew
In a discussion on the Islamic newsgroup soc.religion.islam (SRI), Zaman argued that Muhammad is prophecied by name in Song of Songs 5:16, and as his argument developed he gave various non-standard transliterations of the word he was discussing. In the following I quote first Zaman's response to being corrected by Andy Bannister, and then Bannister's answer:
> Here Andy Bannister proceeds to "correct" me by contesting my English > transliteration of Hebrew words. Unless Andy Bannister can introduce > any official standard for Hebrew transliteration, this entire point is > lengthy, unnecessary, and ridiculous. Shibli, this is a complete cop-out. Nearly every elementary grammar of Hebrew and most dictionaries contain a system of transliteration. While there is no absolute standard of transliteration, NO PUBLISHED academic dictionary or grammar would justify ANY of the multiple ways that you transliterated the word under discussion. Let me remind our readers once more of the multiple ways in which you tried to transliterate the singular ("machmad") and the plural ("machamaddim") of the word in question in Song of Songs 5:16. You variously used: MACHAMADIM MACHAMMADIM MACHAMADD MACHAMAD and in this, your most recent post, you added another: MUCHAMMADIM Now the reason I pointed out these mistakes is not simply some quibble over transliteration methods, but that *no* transliteration method would allow the horrendous mistakes I have quoted above. Let me go further and explain why each of these is wrong: 1. In the case of "MACHAMADIM", no system of transliteration would justify not doubling the "D" before the plural ending "IM". 2. In the case of "MACHAMADD", no system of transliteration would justify doubling a final "D" with no daggesh forte or transliterating a silent shewa with "A". 3. In the case of "MACHAMAD" no system of transliteration would justify transliterating silent shewa with "A". 4. In the case of your "MACHAMMADIM", no system of transliteration would justify doubling a "M" without a daggesh forte. 5. In the case of your "MUCHAMMADIM", no system of transliteration would justify the "U", nor doubling a "M" without a daggesh forte. As I have already said, what is most ironic is that you contradict not only the transliteration systems used by the authorative dictionaries and grammars, but you also contradict *YOURSELF* from one page to the next.(Source: Andy Bannister, Re: PART 1 OF 4 : [The claim that Muhammad is found in Song of Songs 5:16], SRI posting on 2000/04/17)
Shamoun used the most common system of Greek transliteration, but Zaman attacked him and called it meaningless. On the other hand, when Zaman uses a transliteration that was wrong according to ALL the different systems used in scholarly literature, he claims his transliteration cannot be called wrong until there is only one accepted system! That is an impressive method of reasoning by any standard.
Under the title "Featured Columns" Shibli Zaman currently displays the following items on the entry page of his website:
|(Source: www.nessia.org, on 30 July 2003)|
On Zaman's site the above are embedded in a much more professional graphics environment than my quotation could reproduce here. Well done, one could say. Overlooking the insults for the time being, these teasers are certainly pleasing to look at and inviting to click through to the articles and read them.
The pictures are all chosen very appropriately. An image of an ant accompanies the article on ants in the Qur'an. The article about etymological fallacies centers on the word proskuneo (doing obeisance) that is used in the story of the Canaanite woman, and the image shows this woman kneeling before Jesus. The article "Forgive them, for they know not ..." discusses the grammar of this very statement of Jesus on the Cross, and the image shows (the feet of) Jesus's body hanging on the Cross on the left side, and on the right we see one of the Roman soldiers for whom Jesus requested the forgivenness. The image coming with the article on Evangelicals shows probably one of the best known American Evangelical Pastors, though the image is too small to identify him with certainty.
So, what is wrong? Shibli Zaman gave the explanation himself in a posting to the Islamic newsgroup three years ago:
From: Shibli@Zaman.Net Date: 2000/05/30 Message-ID: <email@example.com> Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam as-salaamu `alaykum, First I will address and/or clarify the position of images/statues according to the Ahl as-Sunnah. Regarding the fabrication of images/statues the position of the Ahl as-sunnah is as follows: 1) To draw images or make statues is HALAL granted that they are not of animate objects. a. There are certain exceptions according to necesity in various schools of thought. 2) The creation of images and/or statues is HARAM if they are in replication of animate creatures (ie humans and/or animals). This legal position is based on the following: Regarding the permissibility of making images and statues ibn `Abbas (r) is recorded to have stated the following in SaHeeH al-Muslim 24:5272, "...If you have to do it at all [make images and statues], then paint the pictures of trees and lifeless things." Regarding the forbiddance of making images and statues replicating living or animate things SaHeeH al-Muslim 25:5273 states, "...Ibn `Abbas (r) said, 'I heard Allah's Messenger (Sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam) as saying, 'He who painted pictures in the world would be compelled to breathe a soul in them on the Day of Resurrection, but he would not be able to breathe soul (in them)."
Question to Zaman:
If images of humans and animals are forbidden in Islam, why does Zaman use paintings and photographs on his website in order to make it more attractive?
The last two pictures above are against the teaching of Islam, because they show humans and animals. But the first two are even worse, because they depict a prophet! Let me quote some further Muslim statements on the issue of publishing images of prophets.
Remaining within the strict teachings of Islam, Akkad finds ways to tell the story of Mohammed without photographing the prophet-founder or any of the central figures of the Faith, ... (Review of "The Message", a Muslim movie about Muhammad).
Muslim pressure groups regularly protest when people intend to make movies (even historical documentaries) in which Muhammad should be depicted. For example, CAIR demanded from PBS to edit (out) an image of the Prophet Muhammad in the series "Islam: Empire of Faith" in deference to Muslim sensitivities about representations of religious figures (Source: CAIR, 5/3/2001).
If Muslims cannot prevent the depiction of Muhammad, they will take stronger measures like in this example dating February 2003:
Islamic Countries Slam Newsweek’s Depiction of Prophet Muhammad
JAKARTA, Feb. 13 (IslamOnline & News Agencies) - Indonesia's highest Islamic authority said Wednesday it urged the withholding of Newsweek magazine's February 11 issue to prevent a possible backlash by Muslims here over its depiction of Prophet Muhammad ...
Umar Shihab, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (Muslim scholars), said the group also asked the publisher of Newsweek to apologize to Muslims worldwide for using the images.
"The Sunni branch of Islam as well as other Islamic schools forbids the visualization of a prophet or God's messenger," Shihab told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "Because of that, the publication of Prophet Muhammad [SAAWA]'s image can be seen as an insult to Islam."
Newsweek's distributor in Jakarta has withheld the issue pending the council's advice. The Ulemas' Council has sent a letter to the distributor urging it not to circulate the issue, ...
Last week, the Bangladeshi government said it had banned the publication, sale, distribution and preservation of all copies of U.S.-based Newsweek's February 11 Asian edition, which was published in Singapore. The action was taken for fear that the image's publication "may hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," the government said.
In Egypt, the Al-Azhar institution, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, reiterated Sunday, February 10, its ban on the representation of prophets, following Newsweek’s use of an image of Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS). Imam Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi and other ulemas, or Muslim scholars, recalled the ban on "all paintings, drawings, illustrations, personification or interpretations of a prophet," Egypt's official MENA news agency reported. The institution also noted that it had banned the appearance in all media of images of "prophets and the 10 people [the Prophet’s companions] who were promised Paradise," ...
(Source: Islam Online - News Section; bold emphasis mine)
The above quoted pronouncements in regard to the Newsweek article make it very clear that the prohibition of images holds for ALL prophets, not only for Muhammad. Thus, we wonder about the following:
The Islamic ruling is very clear. Why does Zaman nevertheless publish images of Jesus?
The discussions in the above sections pose some serious questions for Zaman. This last section is really of minor or actually of no importance or consequence. It is added here more for entertainment than anything else. Zaman loves to make a big brouhaha when his debate opponents make typos or use a word incorrectly, even though he knows exactly what was meant. Just one example shall suffice:
Bushism par excellence – "Lexicographical Inexactitude"
First, with all due respect to Mr. Austin, I couldn't help but laugh at the very start of this "rebuttal" and I knew I was in for a whole torrent of lexical and logical bungles a la good ole G. Dubbya who is funding them with an initial grant of half a million dollars of American tax-payers' money. Birds of a feather flock together.
While trying to accuse me of making lexical inaccuracies, he says I make "Lexicographical Inexactitudes".
"Lexicographical Inexactitude" means making errors of an ambiguous nature while writing a dictionary. "Lexicography" is the writing of dictionaries.
"Lexicography - Noun. The process or work of writing, editing, or compiling a dictionary."
[The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition]
For the record, I have never written a dictionary.
All he had to do was say "Lexical Inaccuracies", but in an effort to look smart he ended up doing the exact opposite. So from the start we are forced to duly assess the aptitude of the individual attempting to write a "rebuttal" and discredit Islam without any form of provocation. I don't want to be offensive, but, guys, please at least have someone proof-read your work.
Now let us see who commits gross and negligent "inexactitudes".(Shibli Zaman, REBUTTAL: Fire Under the Sea - Part 2)
Let's turn then to some of Zaman's own creations ...
For several weeks Zaman displayed this teaser on the entry page of his site:
REBUTTAL: Jochen Katz's
"Etymological Fallacy Award"
Shibli Zaman [ 7/28/2003 12:00:00 AM ]
Jochen Katz from "Answering-(Attacking)-Islam" launched a scathing 15-page ad hominem attack against me in which he tried to discredit my abilities in Semitic linguistics. To do this, he chose to focus upon a side comment I had made in my article "Stung From the Same Home Twice" regarding the Gospels' use of the Greek word "proskunew". As Jochen in his understandably limited abilities had trouble finding something to attack on NESSIA, he blindly shot in the dark and repeatedly shot himself in the foot.
One could now go to great lengths why Zaman may have typed HOME instead HOLE, perhaps it was a Freudian slip revealing deeper issues, whether he has made his home in a hole, or whether he has some bad experiences of getting stung at his (parental?) home, or ... but we won't.
The next one is a howler that graced Zaman's site for about three years (from 2000 until at least end of 2002), and is perhaps more revealing than he would like. After giving a standard dictionary definition of the term "etymology", he stated the purpose of his linguistic efforts with these words:
In this section you will find various works which I have written in the area of etymology in order to englighten the truth as well as refute falsehood. ... (Source: http://shibli.zaman.net/etymology.htm; 2000-2002)
Usually, it is the people who live in the darkness of ignorance, misconceptions or even deception. People need to be enlightened with the truth. The problem for Zaman is that the truth does not always seem to conform to his agenda. Since the truth isn't behaving always as it should, therefore the truth is ever so often in need to be enlightened and corrected by Zaman, who untiringly will make every effort to help her out. [Perhaps Zaman even receives some financial assistance from Islamic governments for his invaluable efforts (see his above comments)?]
Responses to Shibli Zaman
Answering Islam Home Page