Saturday, February 16, 2008

More on James White and Islam

My last thread here on AF was not the first time I have commented on James White’s explorations into Islam. Back in 2003, James wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal (volume 25, number 3) concerning “the Bible and the Qur’an”. I had some difficulties with the article and wrote a letter to CRI; much to my surprise, my letter was published in the next issue. James’ original article is available online:

White’s CRJ article

My letter, and James’ subsequent response, are not online (at least I have not found them). The following is the letter I sent to CRI; my next post (the Lord willing) will include James’ published response, followed by some comments.

April 7, 2003

Dear Editor,

Today I received the Vol. 25, No. 03 issue of the Christian Research Journal. I have been a subscriber for many years, and though I have thought of writing responses to some of the articles that have appeared in the magazine in the past, this is the first time I have actually done so.

I feel compelled to respond to James R. White’s article, “Examining Muslim Apologetics” (pp. 32-41).

On page 35 we read, “Christians encourage textual study and discovery of new manuscripts, while Muslims show little interest in researching the history of their own scriptures, preferring traditional belief that the Qur’an is perfect in its current state.” And on page 36, “Belief in the perfection of the Qur’an precludes, by definition, interest in the study of its earliest manuscripts, as it is considered to entertain even the possibility that its early manuscripts differ in the slightest from the modern version.”

The above statements by Mr. White clearly indicate that he either is uninformed on the subject, or has purposely chosen to keep pertinent data from his readers. The statement that “Muslims show little interest in researching the history of their own scriptures” is patently false. In my own personal library I have books, by orthodox Muslims, which are devoted to the textual history of the Qur’an. They include: Variant Readings of the Qur’an: A Critical Study Of Their Historical and Linguistic Origins (Ahmad ‘Ali al Imam, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1998); An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an (Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, The Alden Group, 1999); and Ulūm al-Qur’an – An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’ān (Ahmad Von Denffer, The Islamic Foundation, 1983). Further, Arabic works on the textual history of the Quran are numerous—an important early example is Ibn Abī Dawūd’s The Kitāb Al-Masāhif.

The noted 20th century Islamic scholar Arthur Jeffery’s monumental book Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Quran lists no less that 32 Arabic works which he used as sources for his work. Prior to the said list, Jeffery wrote:

“The material which follows is taken from the writer’s collections made with a view to a critical text of the Qur’an. They will of course appear in their place in the apparatus criticus to that text when it appears, but the assembling of them here under the individual names was essential that scholars might be able to deal critically with the evidence of each Codex as a whole. The main sources from which the variants have been drawn are…” (He then lists the above mentioned 32 works, some as large as 30 volumes!)

Another Islamic scholar had the following to say:

“From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. ‘Traditional science’, as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient narratives. But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.” (Bernard Lewis, Islam In History: Ideas, People, & Events In the Middle East, 1993 edition, PP. 104, 105.)

And yet, Mr. White maintains that there is an “indisputable difference between the attitudes of Christian scholars and Islamic scholars” (p. 36). Unfortunately, Mr. White is relying on non-scholarly internet sources for his material, and then attempts to convince his readers that he is accurately representing legitimate Islamic scholarship.

Moving on to Mr. White’s treatment of the current version of the Qur’an (the Uthmanic text), once again, he seems to have relied on “popular” literature, rather than scholarly sources. Two prominent Islamic scholars had this to say about the Uthmanic text:

“Whatever may have been the form of the Qur’an previously, it is certain that the book still in our hands is essentially the ‘Uthmāmic Qur’an…If we remember that to preserve every smallest fragment of genuine revelation was an ineluctable requirement, the commission under Zayd must be adjudged to have achieved a wonderful piece of work.” (Watt and Bell, Introduction To The Qur’an, p. 44)

Watt and Bell also note that the Uthmanic text was completed before Uthman’s death (656 A.D.), which means, by any objective standard, that the Uthmanic text is much earlier to the original source, and considerably more pristine, than any Biblical text (let alone NT as a whole).

Now, before ending, I think it is important to note that Mr. White is correct in his portrayal of popular Muslim polemics concerning the Biblical text. I will agree with Mr. White that the vast majority of Muslim treatments on the Bible are deplorable. But, the same must be said of Mr. White’s treatment of the Qur’an.

In ending, Mr. White’s article is another example of misrepresentation by anti-Islamic apologists. Such examples have a long history, and must end. Instead of fostering real, scholarly dialogue between Christians and Muslims, it has, instead, added “fuel to the fire”. If I were an editor of the Christian Research Journal, I would seriously consider a retraction in the upcoming issue.

In Christ,

David Waltz

Grace and peace,


Friday, February 15, 2008

James White’s recent attacks on Islam

James White, during the last few months, has spent a considerable amount of time attacking Islam, and in particular, the Qur’an, in radio broadasts and via “YouTube” videos. This recent barrage follows on the heels of James’ debate with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally in October, 2007 (which was preceded by another debate by the two in May, 2006.) Much of James’ polemic centers around the textual integrity of the NT and Qur’an; but an interesting ‘rabbit-trail’ is embedded within the greater context of his ongoing ‘discourse’ with Islam. This ‘rabbit-trail’ is capsulized in the following radio broadcast excerpt:

“…Muhammad did not understand what the doctrine of the Trinity was. I think there is pretty good evidence that he understood Christians to worship uh, Allah, Jesus and Mary. In fact there is a text in the Qur’an [5.116, 117] where, where, Allah asks Jesus did you ever command me to worship yourself and Mary as gods in derogation of Allah; and, uh, of course, Jesus you know, said, no, certainly I never commanded anything like that; well there wasn’t anyone running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time…” (The “Iron Sharpens Iron” radio program, 11-06-07 - - 38:00 min. ff.)

This ‘rabbit-trail’ is repeated at:

“YouTube” video (“Surah 5 and the Real Jesus” – 02-07-08):

And again:

The “Dividing Line” radio broadcast (02/07/08): - 42:00 min ff.

There are two significant problems with this ‘rabbit-trail’, the first being that there were Christians (heretical) “running around worshipping God, Jesus and Mary as a Trinity at that time”—the heretical sect know as the Collyridians. For a brief introduction to this sect:

[See also: The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis – Books II & III, trans. by Frank Williams, 1994, pp. 618, 620-629.]

The second problem is that many Islamic scholars do not believe the Qur’an is addressing the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in passages usually invoked by Christian and Muslim polemicists (e.g. Surah 5.116, 117). Note the following:

Hasty interpretation, without judicious weighing of the evidence, persuaded Muslim exegetes that the Koran condemns the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Christian apologists fell into this same snare…But those texts condemned a “tritheism” that has nothing to do with the formulation of the dogma of the Trinity. The same is true of the Koran’s supposed condemnation of the Incarnation. It condemns not the doctrine of Chalcedon, but Monophysite and Nestorian formulations of the doctrine. (Giulio Basetti-Sani , The Koran in the Light of Christ: A Christian Interpretation of the Sacred Book of Islam, p. 136.)

It has often been thought that the Qur’an denies the Christian teaching of the Trinity, and commentators have taken its words to be a rejection of orthodox Christian doctrine. However, it seems more likely that it is heretical doctrines that are denied in the Qur’an, and orthodox Christians should agree with most of the statements. (Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p. 133.)

The fourth-century Christian heresiologist Epipahius mentions the Andtideco-Marianites who worshipped Mary as a goddess. It is possibly they who are envisaged in the Qur’anic insinuation that Christians deifed both Jesus and this mother. (Neal Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity, p. 21.)

What Christians mean by “God in Christ” is not adoptionism. This, as earlier noted, was a misreading which early Christianity itself resisted and rejected. But is a way of thinking which, in rebuking Christians, the Qur’an itself has frequently in view. Its rejection of Christology is in fact a rejection of adoptionism which Christians also repudiate. (Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, p. 203.)

…there are considerable differences between the Qur’an and the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that so far as the actual statements of the Qur’an are concerned, the differences are not so great as they are sometimes supposed to be. Modern scholars, Christian and Muslim, tend to read later controversies into the wording of the Qur’an. Thus the rejection of the doctrine that ‘God is one of the three’ [5.73/7] is usually taken to be a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; yet strictly speaking what is rejected is a doctrine of tritheism which orthodox Christianity also rejects. Similarly the rejection of the fatherhood of God the Father and the sonship of God the Son is strictly speaking a rejection of fatherhood and sonship in a physical sense; and this Christianity would also reject. (Watt and Bell, Introduction To The Qur’an, p. 158.)

I do not know exactly how long James has been involved in Islamic studies (he mentions a debate with a Muslim apologist back in 1999), but I have had a keen interest in this field since the mid-90s, adding well over 500 books on Islam to my ever-expanding library, and must admit that I am at a bit of a loss trying to figure out why someone who has spent at least 8 years in the field would use such a weak, shallow argument—an argument which is, at least in part, based on a falsehood if one accepts the testimony of Epiphanius.

But then, as readers of this blog already know, James has used faulty arguments before…

Grace and peace,