In my May 3, 2013 post, I mentioned I had ordered the new book by James R. White, that Ken Temple had brought to my attention via a thread posted at Beggars All (link). I received the book a couple of days ago, and finished reading it yesterday. I was debating with myself over whether or not to blog on the book, but a couple of emails, and a phone conversation with a good friend, convinced me that I should do so, so here goes...
I shall begin with a few introductory items, before I get into the book itself. First (at the risk of self-promotion), I think I am reasonably qualified to offer a review of this book. I have been a student of the Qur'an and Islam for over a two decades now. I have obtained well over 700 books on the Qur'an and Islam to facilitate my studies (FYI: of the books and essays listed in the WECNTKATQ bibliography, I possess more that 85% of them), and I have interacted with numerous Muslims from various backgrounds/sects (e.g. Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi and Ismaili) via conferences, debates, lectures and developed friendships (one of which was an associate professor of Middle East Studies at Portland State Univ.). So, although I do not have any formal degrees in this area of study, I think I stand on safe ground when I say that I have acquired a knowledge of the Qur'an and Islam that exceeds most Christians.
Second, although some of the endorsements included within the book suggest that Mr. White has provided something unique and new for it's/his targeted audience, this simply is not the case; I was not able find anything of substance within its pages that has not been covered before. For example, Dr. Mateen Elass's, Understanding the Koran - A Quick Guide to the Muslim Holy Book (LINK), has so much in common with Mr. White's book, that I am more than a bit puzzled as to why Dr. Elass's book is not mentioned by him. (Dr. Elass is an ordained Presbyterian minister with an educational and personal background that qualifies him as few others to write on the subject—e.g. his father was a life-long Muslim, he lived for 1o years in Saudi Arabia, his doctorate is in New Testament Studies from a prestigious university, and he remains very active in Christian-Muslim dialogue.)
And third, the book's title suggests that "Every Christian" needs this book in order to "Know About the Qur'an"—a lofty premise for sure—but, those not familiar with Mr. White need to be aware that he personally places significant limits on those who are Christian in his mind; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians need not open their wallets, for in Mr. White's paradigm, they are not Christian!!! (There are many, many more who claim to be Christian who are excluded by Mr. White, but if one limits his exclusions to just Catholic and Orthodox Christians, he has already eliminated well over 1 billion possible readers!)
Now, onto the review of the book and it's content. The book is a paperback, which is 5.5 x 8.5 inches; it has 311 pages, with 3/4 inch margins on each side; it has what appears to be a 12 pt. and 1 1/2 space typesetting for the main body of the text (for those who are bibliophiles like myself, they will immediately discern that the book's actual content is significantly reduced by the above print layout). There are 7 endorsements, and the main body of the text begins with the "Introduction" on page 9. (Note: chapter endnotes instead of footnotes are used.)
The "Introduction" opens with the following questions:
Why would a believing Christian write a book about the Qur'an? If he does, why should believing Christians read it? Shouldn't we go to the Muslims to learn about their own sacred book? (Page 9)
On the following page, Mr. White writes:
There is no substitute for original sources, to be sure. But haven't I now argued against reading this book by a Christian about the Muslim holy book?
An excellent point, followed by an excellent question. Let's see how Mr. White justifies the publishing of a book that "Every Christian" needs in order to "Know About the Qur'an". (Page 10)
The reality is that there are areas—one being Islam in general and the Qur'an in particular—in which the literature is so vast, and the terminology gap so large, that the resultant task is, or least seems, too daunting for even the most committed believer. While some of these works are intended for non-Muslims, most Christians who become desirous of learning of learning about Islamic beliefs and of reading the Qur'an find it necessary to obtain the help of fellow believers who already have been led to the deeper study of the field. This is especially true if one wishes to hear "the other side" of the story about the Qur'an, the one normally not included in Islamic sources, about the text's compilation, the differences among the early Islamic community, and so on. (Page 10)
The above 'apologia' provided for the publication of a book like WECNTKATQ reveals to the careful reader some very interesting details. First, one will notice that the priority placed on the "original sources" (by "original sources" I think Mr. White means works by authors who are faithful Muslims, including the Qur'an itself), has already shifted to, "'the other side' of the story about the Qur'an" (wow, that did not take long!). This 'shift' is evident in the bibliography of the book, in that less than 30 works are contained therein which could be construed as "original sources" (the bibliography seems to imply that "the literature" is not quite as "vast" as suggested).
Second, one should ask Mr. White if he would recommend the same approach to the Bible for the non-Christian who is seeking an objective understanding of it. A direct parallel case would be that of a faithful Jew who is seeking accurate knowledge of the New Testament, "about the text's compilation, the differences among the early [Christian] community, and so on." Keeping in mind that the literature concerning the New Testament and Christianity is "vast" and "that the resultant task is, or least seems, too daunting for even the most committed believer", would Mr. White recommend to such a Jew that he/she should turn to a professional Jewish apologist like Rabbi Singer (LINK), who's ministry focuses on defending the Jewish faith against Christian apologetics/apologists (via books, lectures, debates, CDs, DVDs, etc.), rather than a dedicated Christian apologist/believer??? If Mr. White answers YES to the above question, then he is at least being consistent; however, if is answer is a NO, then we have before us a glaring double-standard.
Mr. White then offers the following qualifications:
This book's title is purposeful: I seek to focus on what Christians [i.e. conservative, Evangelical Christians] need to understand about the Qur'an's teachings particularly as it impacts our interactions with Muslims [i.e. conservative, fundamentalist, Sunni Muslims].
I submit that above is THE driving force behind the book; the book is not about giving it's reader "an exhaustive compendium of Qur'anic knowledge" (this is clearly stated by Mr. White himself: "It is not my intention to write an exhaustive compendium of Qur'anic knowledge", p. 11); nor is it about a balanced, objective look into the Qur'an: the book is polemical effort for a conservative, Evangelical Christian audience, written by a professional apologist, with it's primary goal being to undermine any claims about the Qur'an being an inspired text. As such, it takes it's place among many other such works (I own and have read over 2 dozen such contributions); being IMO, neither the worst, nor the best of the genre.
[Please note: It is not my intent to argue that such works have NO place within the conservative, Evangelical Christian community—the shear numbers of such works, and related websites, strongly suggests otherwise—rather, my intent is to identify the kind of work the reader has before them.]
In subsequent posts (the Lord willing), I hope to delve into the 'meat' of the book, with reflections that I believe will establish my above assertions beyond any reasonable doubt.
Grace and peace,