Sunday, December 7, 2008

jihad time?

From Andrew Higgins in the WSJ, the story (so far) of Sven Muhammad Kalish-- a Muslim convert and scholar-- who is going (far) against the grain in claiming that Muhammad probably didn't exist. (As with Mormonism, there are many critics of the various claims of the religion's founder, but his non-existence is a rare position to hold.)

Does he have a good life insurance policy? For whatever Christianity's flaws, at least you can debate and criticize it without getting killed!

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed....

Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged. Even Danish cartoonists who triggered global protests a couple of years ago didn't portray the Prophet as fictional. German police, worried about a violent backlash, told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises.

"We had no idea he would have ideas like this," says Thomas Bauer, a fellow academic at Münster University who sat on a committee that appointed Prof. Kalisch. "I'm a more orthodox Muslim than he is, and I'm not a Muslim."

When Prof. Kalisch took up his theology chair four years ago, he was seen as proof that modern Western scholarship and Islamic ways can mingle -- and counter the influence of radical preachers in Germany. He was put in charge of a new program at Münster, one of Germany's oldest and most respected universities, to train teachers in state schools to teach Muslim pupils about their faith.

Muslim leaders cheered and joined an advisory board at his Center for Religious Studies. Politicians hailed the appointment as a sign of Germany's readiness to absorb some three million Muslims into mainstream society. But, says Andreas Pinkwart, a minister responsible for higher education in this north German region, "the results are disappointing."

Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism. German scholars of the 19th century, he notes, were among the first to raise questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Many scholars of Islam question the accuracy of ancient sources on Muhammad's life. The earliest biography, of which no copies survive, dated from roughly a century after the generally accepted year of his death, 632, and is known only by references to it in much later texts. But only a few scholars have doubted Muhammad's existence....

He devoured works questioning the existence of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Then "I said to myself: You've dealt with Christianity and Judaism but what about your own religion? Can you take it for granted that Muhammad existed?"

He had no doubts at first, but slowly they emerged. He was struck, he says, by the fact that the first coins bearing Muhammad's name did not appear until the late 7th century -- six decades after the religion did....

Interesting that this time frame would allow legend to evolve effectively-- unlike the time frame in which we see Christianity emerge.

The professor says he's more determined than ever to keep probing his faith. He is finishing a book to explain his thoughts. It's in English instead of German because he wants to make a bigger impact. "I'm convinced that what I'm doing is necessary. There must be a free discussion of Islam," he says.

Keep wrestling Dr. Kalisch-- and I'll pray for your security and Security!


At December 7, 2008 at 11:25 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Now, you can criticize Christianity without getting killed. But this wasn't true a few centuries ago, in some Protestant as well as Catholic countries. Give Islam some time, and perhaps they will arrive at the same level of tolerance. It took the rise of skepticism in Europe, along with centuries of religious violence and war, to teach Europeans to separate religion from state and to value freedom of conscience. Of course, the United States, with its protection of religious liberty in the context of a secular, constitutional government, was formed in reaction to what had happened in Europe.

A good book against Islam, written under a pseudonym by a former Muslim who teaches engineering somewhere in the US, is Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq.

At December 8, 2008 at 8:58 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Great point!

I'm not sure that Islam is built for that. (My ignorance, not necessarily a limitation of Islam.) Another angle is that religion devolved from the state &/or Islam reduced to a civil religion (as it is in large part in the U.S. and what remains in Europe) may allow for a peaceful pluralism.

I've read a handful of interviews with Warraq, but not read the book. From that (and your recommendation), I would guess that it is a good book.


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