The Syro-Aramaic Reading of The Koran - Academic Objections

Academic Objections

Luxenberg’s argument that the Qur’an has Syro-Aramaic origins has attracted debates in the academic community and popular media. Scholarly reviews have been critical of his book.

The Qur'an is "the translation of a Syriac text," is how Angelika Neuwirth, a German scholar of Islam, describes Luxenberg's thesis – "The general thesis underlying his entire book thus is that the Qur'an is a corpus of translations and paraphrases of original Syriac texts recited in church services as elements of a lectionary." She considers it as "an extremely pretentious hypothesis which is unfortunately relying on rather modest foundations." Neuwirth points out that Luxenberg doesn't consider the previous work in Qur'an studies, but "limits himself to a very mechanistic, positivist linguistic method without caring for theoretical considerations developed in modern linguistics."

Richard Kroes describes him as "unaware of much of the other literature on the subject" and that "quite a few of his theories are doubtful and motivated too much by a Christian apologetic agenda."

François de Blois, in the Journal of Qur'anic Studies, points to grammatical mistakes in Luxenberg's book: "His grasp of Syriac is limited to knowledge of dictionaries and in his Arabic he makes mistakes that are typical for the Arabs of the Middle East." He describes his book as "not a work of scholarship but of dilettantism."

Patricia Crone, professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, refers to Luxenberg's work as "open to so many scholarly objections" and "notably amateurism".

Dr Walid Saleh describes Luxenberg's method as "so idiosyncratic, so inconsistent, that it is simply impossible to keep his line of argument straight." He adds that according to Luxenberg, for the last two hundred years, Western scholars "have totally misread the Qur'ān" and that, ad hominem, no one can understand the Qur'an as "Only he can fret out for us the Syrian skeleton of this text." Summing up his assessment of Luxenberg's method, he states:

The first fundamental premise of his approach, that the Qur'ān is a Syriac text, is the easiest to refute on linguistic evidence. Nothing in the Qur'ān is Syriac, even the Syriac borrowed terms are Arabic, in so far as they now Arabized and used inside an Arabic linguistic medium. Luxenberg is pushing the etymological fallacy to its natural conclusion. The Qur'ān not only is borrowing words according to Luxenberg, it is speaking a gibberish language.

Islamic writers mention the following issues with Luxenberg's hypothesis; "The geographical spread of pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions range from Zebed from the Syriac speaking heartland in the north to Mada'in Salih in the south and from Abu Darag (Egypt) in the West to Sakakah in the East. Syrian Aramaic or the Syriac was the language which Luxenberg says the Qur'an was partially written in. The bulk of the pre-Islamic Syriac inscriptions are confined to the Edessa region in modern south Turkey. It is certainly a long way from the hijaz region and in particular Makkah! The pre-Islamic Syriac inscriptions south of Damascus are almost non-existent (an exception being the one at Jabal Usays, south east of Damascus), except those written by travellers or pilgrims. ... Apart from Luxenberg's lack of understanding regarding the development of Syriac and Arabic orthographies, grammars and lexicographies, his work makes no attempt to anchor his arguments in any believable historical context, as we have already seen earlier. It is not clear who these Christians of pre-Islamic Makkah were who used the alleged Qur'anic aramäische-arabische Mischsprache and how these writings produced the Arabic Qur'an. What kind of time scales were involved in the transformation? What were their religious beliefs and what made them change their(!) religion into Islam?"

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