Response to "Those High Flying Claims"

Dr. Ernest Hahn

Feb. 14, 2000

To: Islamic Awareness, Messrs. M S M Saifullah, Qasim Iqbal, Jason Hannan, Mansur Ahmed & Muhammad Ghoniem

Thank you for your reply to my essay "The Satanic Verses".

By way of response, kindly consider the following:

While I accept your clarification with respect to sources vs. transmitters of the so-called Satanic verses, I should add that I did not intend "sources" to mean that Ibn Sa'd and at-Tabari originated these accounts. Nor have I intended to claim that these accounts are purely historical.

To say, however, that Tabari rejects accountability for his accounts does not necessarily imply that he has no opinion about the truth or falseness of these accounts. Given the fact of the vast number of false traditions which came into circulation (so the account about Bukhari distinguishing between true and false traditions about Muhammad), it seems difficult to think that Tabari transmitted all that he heard uncritically.

Does discussing who coined the term "Satanic verses" and attributing it to "the belligerent Sir William Muir" really contribute helpfully to the discussion? If the term is theatrical, is it not theatrical simply as a derivative of the dramatic accounts found in Tabari, etc.?

If you have not seen Silas' response to your reply to my essay, may I commend it to you? I am deeply grateful to him for his argumentation. He has made my task considerably easier!

With reference to your conclusion: "The fact that al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd and others have recorded this story in their works does not prove that the story itself is true': If this statement is true, it seems to me that it is just as true or even more so after reading Silas' essay that their records do not prove that the story itself is not true. For further comment see Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith for All Seasons, Bellew Publishing, London, 1990, p. 59: "Indeed, the potentially damaging incident of 'The Satanic Verses' (K:53:19-23), recorded in detail by a scrupulously honest Muslim tradition, had demonstrated the possibility that the Devil could interfere with Muhammad's reception of the sacred text."

As for the challenge you have me making to Muslims: fair enough, it is a challenge. But surely you, too, can see it also as only a challenge to the far grander challenge which some Muslims constantly pose before the world, non-Muslims and Muslims, i.e., presenting Muhammad as the uniquely perfect human and the Qur'an as God's unique Scriptures, inimitable, perfectly preserved, the Word of God, even the eternal Word of God. Surely such exalted claims invite, perhaps even demand, a response.

My own elementary response, based on biographical and historical materials authored by Muslims and respected by other Muslims, was to provide only one illustration of the type of problems which may arise even out of the honoured writings of honoured Muslim authors against such claims made for Muhammad and the Qur'an. (Would you agree such problems exist?) In my opinion your rebuttal ("Those Are the High Flying Claims") has not solved the problem of the Satanic Verses; in fact, Silas' essay has accentuated the problem and contributed greatly to the probability that the story is rooted in history. I would welcome seeing your reasoned response to him.

Finally, a little postscript: Do we accept the assumption that our conversation is intentional dialogue? I hope that I am not overly sensitive and unfair in suggesting that especially the last part of your conclusion was more diatribe than rational argument. Does this approach accord with your kind greeting of peace? Do you feel that such an approach somehow edifies Islam and that it honours God? I am serious when I say I would appreciate an Islamic justification for it.

God's peace be with you!

Ernest Hahn

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