Dear National Review: Stop Embarrassing Yourselves

Matt Duss and Eli Clifton and others have rightly called out National Review’s Rich Lowry for continuing to publish anti-Muslim bigots and provocateurs. On that note:

In a new review of Robert Spencer’s new book, Daniel Pipes tells us that the revisionist history which posited a relatively late date for the composition of the Quran and which casts doubt on the existence of the Prophet Muhammad was a “secret” whose existence Spencer (and author Tom Holland, reviewed here) has “ended”.

This revisionist history has remained a virtual secret among specialists. For example, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, authors of the synoptic Hagarism (Cambridge University Press, 1977), deliberately wrote obliquely, thereby hiding their message.
But never fear:
Now, however, two scholars have separately ended this secrecy: Tom Holland with In the Shadow of the Sword, and Robert Spencer with Did Muhammad Exist?

Two points: First, the idea that Cook and Crone (or any other scholar) meant for their work to be somehow hidden from general scrutiny is so fantastical I hardly know how to even address it. Second, Cook himself  has moved on from that book, which was from earlier in his career. He is a major historian of the Islamic intellectual tradition, so perhaps Pipes should drop him an email and ask him if Muhammad existed. He won’t like the answer.

Robert Spencer writes an extended book report on the work of Wansbrough, Cook, Crone, and others, and Pipes sells it as a brave unveiling of some shrouded history which previous scholars were too timid to proclaim openly. This is what passes muster at a flagship conservative publication?

And just to add a dose of creepiness Pipes ends his review with:

May the revolution begin.

4 comments to Dear National Review: Stop Embarrassing Yourselves

  • Tom Holland

    A point of information. I absolutely do not deny the existence of Muhammad, nor do I posit a late date for the composition of the Qur’an. I do wish people would actually READ my book before making assertions about it!

  • Caner K. Dagli

    Thanks for the clarification. I did in fact base myself on the reviews, and I mentioned your work only because Pipes did.

  • Tom Holland

    Well, it’s a sensitive business, writing about the origins of any faith – and I hope you would accept that to doubt what Islam has to say about its own beginnings is not necessarily to be Islamophobic.

    You may also be interested in the discussion that I’ve been having with some of my more severe critics here:

  • Caner K. Dagli

    I would have to read your book to judge further. But as someone in the field, it is my position that the questions related to “origins” have been more or less exhausted in terms of facts, and what we have are re-interpretations. The problem with “origins” questions is that it has tended to distract scholars from actually trying to understand the content and nuances of the Quran (and also hadith), and a close reading of the Quran’s text (and not only context) has a very important bearing on its origins, obviously. In my view, for example, the early codification of the Quran is a settled question, as it is for many non-Muslim scholars. Details about the Prophet’s biography and individual hadith are obviously at a different level of reliability.

    Moreover, “the origins of Islam” is an ambiguous phrase. Do we mean the origins of Islamic civilization as we have known it, or the Quran, or rituals? These questions are quite different.

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