They have forsaken the Lord (Part 4) – James’ Reply

Robert: I principally agree with your argument, minus the “apologist” comment.

James: What or which apologist comment?

Robert: I most certainly disagree on several points.  I understand as a Christian it’s natural for you to put your scripture on a higher level, I have been there done that.

James: It’s funny that you mention this. You do know that the Qu’ran actually puts biblical scripture on the same level with the Qu’ran (see Sura 6:115, Sura 6:34, Sura 10:64, Sura 3:3 and others). If Muslims believe the Qur’an is true in its statement that nobody can change the words of God then errors in the Bible prove that the Qur’an is not from God and / or Muhammad endorsed an erroneous book. Also, everything in the Qu’ran would have to be viewed in light of biblical scripture since obviously the revelation of biblical scripture predates that of the Qu’ran. This is a serious logical problem for Islam and the implications of the above are huge when you consider that the bible and the Qu’ran, substantially, are diametrically opposed to one another.

Robert: But where I disagree is that Christianity in it’s modern context of the last several centuries is only understood in the English “western” concept and by it’s design is made to look easy.  So when you make comments about the scripture I most assuredly disagree not just as a Muslim, but also as a student pursuing his degree in Early Christianity and NT.  What you will find once you dig, is that the modern context is overly simplified once you get to the original texts, history, and languages.  The same has always been true of the Tanakh any Rabbi would assert that.  So my arguments about the text and context of the Quran actually are identical to the previous texts.

James: Modern context? Overly simplified? I’m really not sure what you are trying to say here but giving an example of the “…western concept and by it’s [sic] design is made to look easy” comment might help me respond intelligently.

Robert: The problem is the Quran hasn’t been “whitewashed” for lack of a better word to make it doctrinal or dogmatically easy to read.  It exists in it’s original form without revision.

James: Obviously, your claim of Qu’ranic original preservation is highly controversial; in fact, the Hadiths refutes this claim in many places; if you were interested I could corroborate this statement. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why you are more comfortable with marginalizing the Hadiths than some of your scholarly peers. You imply that the Bible has been “whitewashed” or revised; I would like to think that I’m somewhat knowledgeable about biblical history; can you give examples of this white washing?

Robert: Now if one were to start reading original texts (well those that survive) of the Bible, the contexual arguments would be exactly the same.

James: Your assertion is loaded so my response will be loaded. There are over 5000 extant manuscript artifacts (also called codecs) of the bible; on the other hand, we don’t know how many total manuscripts of the Koran exist or whether they differ from the Qu’ran we have today because any manuscript evidence is hidden for unknown reasons; I mean, what’s to hide? If the Qur’an truly is uncorrupted, why does the Muslim world not publish the oldest Qur’an manuscripts? Why not start with the Topkapi and the Taschkent manuscripts? Incidentally, you could destroy every bible on earth and because of the redundancy of manuscripts available, we would still be able to arrive at the bible we have today with little effort so I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the “contextual arguments would be the same.” Nothing has changed in the Bible. When I want to understand a verse in the Old Testament or Tenakh, I simply refer to my Hebrew Lexicon since I have the original Hebrew per the manuscripts. Similarly, when I want to exegete any passage in the New Testament, I simply refer to my Greek lexicon.

Robert: You say that in order to understand context in the Quran one must look to other sources, I completely disagree.  In fact I am one of the Muslims who hardly ever look at Hadith for example to amplify a verse outside of clarifying more in depth.  In fact I quoted Quran specifically to address “controversial” text.  It isn’t Muslims who have the problem explaining, it’s non-Muslims that have the problem understanding the nature of the Islamic text.

James: I would argue that you are conveniently attributing historical events to Quranic verses to deflect the arbitrary nature of the verses. Ultimately, you have no rebuttal since unlike the Bible, the Quran fails to identify the historical context for the verses in question or for that matter most of the Quranic text.

Robert: We don’t just read one verse and say “ahah this is Islam” in fact the Quran says so of itself that the only way to truly understand the book is to contextualize in only after reading the entire book itself.  This is where Muslim and non-Muslim alike fail.  You cannot extract a verse or even several out of the Quran to get the essence of the book, it just doesn’t work like that.

James: The verse you provide seems to convey that we should be able to read the Quran plainly without commentary, but obviously this is not the case. Anyone reading the Quran without any outside influences (with the exception of the social context of that day) would arrive at the same conclusions that I and number of people have. This is the reason why your explanations of the controversial verses are not that evident. It’s not that we don’t understand to selectively apply historical context; it’s that the text does not necessitate that type of exegesis. For example, there is nothing in scripture that tells us we must understand or limit the rules concerning the role of women in the church in terms of the historical context. Therefore, if I were to say that it only applies to the women of Paul’s day, this would be called eisegesis, since the text does not call for that. So, while I admire the fact that you have an answer for the controversial verses, the fact that your interpretation is not the most obvious for someone of my educational background is slightly worrisome.

Robert: The context of the book is firmly rooted in the book itself.  The Hadith are merely designed to show application.

James: I disagree with your assertion here; it’s impossible for a Muslim to arrive at your interpretations without extra-Quranic text. How would I know to associate Surah 9:29 to “the time when the early Muslim community was at war with the Pagan Meccans?” I mean, if I have to be a “sahabi” (companion of Prophet Muhammad) to properly understand any of the Surahs (as many Islamic scholars claim) then how can you claim that the context of the book is rooted in the book itself? The bible does not require such prerequisites.

Robert: Salvation:  Belief in the One God of Abraham (saw) and work righteousness.
Life after Death:  On the day of Judgment we will all be raised again and rewarded for what we did in this life good or bad.
Nature of God:  Beneficent, Supreme, Most Merciful, and Oft turning to Mercy of course there are the 99 names or attributes of God, you can google that
non-Muslims:  Will have their reward with God as well, Jew, Christians, Sabians, etc. any who believe in God in the last day will go to paradise.
Peace:  Is better than war and is the first option in all things
War: Only in self defense against oppression and persecution
Rules of War:  Never kill the innocent under any circumstances, stop fighting when hostilities cease, never start a war, and never transgress these limits
Women:  Equal to men in every regard, only differing in nature, and physical attributes
I could go on and on and this is all scripture in the Quran ask and I can point you to it.

James: Every one of the eight items you listed is not necessarily coherent in the Quran but it is not my intention to go into details unless provoked to do such. My point in saying this is to simply dissent regarding the clarity of such theology in the Quran.

Robert: Furthermore, context is relative to the text in question.  You simply can’t apply the same standard of reasoning from one text to another.  Especially if you don’t consider the nature and make-up of the text.  The Bible more or less is written lateral.  This happened, then this, then that.  The Quran isn’t.  So to apply the same scriptural method to both books is just wrong.  If I were to read the Vedas for example and applied my scriptural understanding of the Quran or the Bible to a Hindu text, I would most likely get all readings wrong too.

James: Your first three sentences are very confusing; what are you trying to say? How is the context relative? What is a “standard of reasoning” and why should it differ unless the author of the Quran is achieving something special by using a non-chronological presentation? Also, you highlight a major weakness in the Quran, namely, its non-chronological presentation. Most literature that is displayed in such a way usually does more to confuse the reader than inform them. Order is essential to facilitate clarity, conversely, disorganization promotes confusion. Even movies directors that use the non-chronological format to mystify a trite plot have to eventually bring everything together in the end otherwise the presentation never truly conveys the intended and entire message. What scriptural method do you apply to the Quran that is different from the scriptural method of the Bible? Your very last sentence does not reinforce your previous sentences; in fact, it is really a “straw man”, as to my knowledge, no one in this thread has suggested that you should apply your knowledge of one scriptural domain to ascertain the meaning of another.

Robert: The truth of the matter is there are fundamentals to Islam that almost all Muslims agree that many of the refuters never mention, because many don’t know.  You have Aqeeda, Tawheed, and the Pillars.  All that other stuff that makes for good debate really has no bearing on the faith of the Muslim.  Sort of like how many Christians fundamental belief is in John 3:16 or Romans 10:9 and all the other things like the role of women in the church are secondary in nature.

James: Unfortunately, I must dissent. In fact, I would suggest that the entire aggregate of Islamic knowledge is fodder for refutation including the fundamentals. No Islamic dogma has gone unscathed. Many skeptics have done so meticulously and I am willing to provide these refutation if asked or provoked to do so.

Robert: The real question is where do we go from here?  What’s the actual point?  As you said so yourself, by what measure will you accept or deny?  I don’t expect or even believe that my words will change anything in the short term, however my words should at least be an opinion to reflect, that is obviously in direct opposition to you and others predisposed beliefs.

James: You still have not asked the question I recommended. Before providing all the details you have presented, it would have helped (and probably still will) if you asked the skeptic what evidence he/she is willing to accept as proof. What do you mean by “predisposed belief?” I will reiterate that I think our dialogue has been fruitful regardless of whether we know where to go from here or not.

Robert: One thing is for certain on a more personal level, from your interaction with me, you know that I obviously don’t advocate that which you believe Islam does.  You have interacted with me in person and now in the email in depth.  I’m on record on my blog and my show, and I’m beginning to move forward with speaking engagements and who knows what else.  So by living the example of what I believe and teach.  That leaves a fundamental question:  If Islam is what you or others say it is, but I’m a devout Sunni Muslim, then why such a stark contrast in ideas from what you consider “true Islam”?  There must be something to what I’m saying especially with the broad Muslim support I enjoy here and abroad (even in Nigeria) go figure, or we are all just blowing smoke and you and other non-Muslims are actually right.

James: I value your moderation and consider you an anomaly in the Muslim world. I believe your aptitude for comprehension will take you further (in the quest for knowledge) than most people I know including myself.

Robert: May God lead us to the true answers…

James: Amen

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