An Interview with Christoph Luxenberg

15 views
Skip to first unread message

Christoph Heger

unread,
Mar 19, 2004, 5:19:31 AM3/19/04
to
Greetings to all,

Because of the ongoing discussion about the theses of Christoph
Luxenberg, even in this and other groups, it will meet the interest
of participants to get aware of an interview with Christoph
Luxenberg, the author of "Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran.
Ein Beitrag zur Entzifferung der Koransprache" [The Syro-Aramaic
Version of the Koran. A Contribution to Decyphering the Koran's
Language"], Berlin 2000, published in Germany in the newspaper
"Süddeutsche Zeitung" and translated into Italian in
"L'espresso," no. 11, March 12-18, 2004. The English
translation is by Matthew Sherry.

Kind regards,
Christoph Heger
________________________________________________________________


>From the Gospel to Islam

An interview with "Christoph Luxenberg" by Alfred Hackensberger


Q.: Professor, why did you think it useful to conduct this re-reading of the Koran?

A.: "Because, in the Koran, there are many obscure points
that, from the beginning, even the Arab commentators were not able to
explain. Of these passages it is said that only God can comprehend
them. Western research on the Koran, which has been conducted in a
systematic manner only since about the middle of the 19th century,
has always taken as its base the commentaries of the Arab scholars.
But these have never gone beyond the etymological explanation of some
terms of foreign origin."

Q.: What makes your method different?

A.: "I began from the idea that the language of the Koran
must be studied from an historical-linguistic point of view. When the
Koran was composed, Arabic did not exist as a written language; thus
it seemed evident to me that it was necessary to take into
consideration, above all, Aramaic, which at the time, between the 4th
and 7th centuries, was not only the language of written
communication, but also the lingua franca of that area of Western
Asia."

Q.: Tell us how you proceeded.

A.: "At first I conducted a `synchronous' reading.
In other words, I kept in mind both Arabic and Aramaic. Thanks to
this procedure, I was able to discover the extent of the previously
unsuspected influence of Aramaic upon the language of the Koran: in
point of fact, much of what now passes under the name of
`classical Arabic' is of Aramaic derivation."

Q.: What do you say, then, about the idea, accepted until now,
that the Koran was the first book written in Arabic?

A.: "According to Islamic tradition, the Koran dates back to
the 7th century, while the first examples of Arabic literature in the
full sense of the phrase are found only two centuries later, at the
time of the `Biography of the Prophet'; that is, of the life
of Mohammed as written by Ibn Hisham, who died in 828. We may thus
establish that post-Koranic Arabic literature developed by degrees,
in the period following the work of al-Khalil bin Ahmad, who died in
786, the founder of Arabic lexicography (kitab al-ayn), and of
Sibawwayh, who died in 796, to whom the grammar of classical Arabic
is due. Now, if we assume that the composition of the Koran was
brought to an end in the year of the Prophet Mohammed's death, in
632, we find before us an interval of 150 years, during which there
is no trace of Arabic literature worthy of note."

Q.: So at the time of Mohammed Arabic did not have precise
rules, and was not used for written communication. Then how did the
Koran come to be written?

A.: "At that time, there were no Arab schools – except,
perhaps, for the Christian centers of al-Anbar and al-Hira, in
southern Mesopotamia, or what is now Iraq. The Arabs of that region
had been Christianized and instructed by Syrian Christians. Their
liturgical language was Syro-Aramaic. And this was the vehicle of
their culture, and more generally the language of written
communication."

Q.: What is the relationship between this language of culture
and the origin of the Koran?

A.: "Beginning in the third century, the Syrian Christians
did not limit themselves to bringing their evangelical mission to
nearby countries, like Armenia or Persia. They pressed on toward
distant territories, all the way to the borders of China and the
western coast of India, in addition to the entire Arabian peninsula
all the way to Yemen and Ethiopia. It is thus rather probable that,
in order to proclaim the Christian message to the Arabic peoples,
they would have used (among others) the language of the Bedouins, or
Arabic. In order to spread the Gospel, they necessarily made use of a
mishmash of languages. But in an era in which Arabic was just an
assembly of dialects and had no written form, the missionaries had no
choice but to resort to their own literary language and their own
culture; that is, to Syro-Aramaic. The result was that the language
of the Koran was born as a written Arabic language, but one of Arab-
Aramaic derivation."

Q.: Do you mean that anyone who does not keep the Syro-Aramaic
language in mind cannot translate and interpret the Koran correctly?

A.: "Yes. Anyone who wants to make a thorough study of the
Koran must have a background in the Syro-Aramaic grammar and
literature of that period, the 7th century. Only thus can he identify
the original meaning of Arabic expressions whose semantic
interpretation can be established definitively only by retranslating
them into Syro-Aramaic."

Q.: Let's come to the misunderstandings. One of the most
glaring errors you cite is that of the virgins promised, in the
Islamic paradise, to the suicide bombers.

A.: "We begin from the term `huri,' for which the
Arabic commentators could not find any meaning other than those
heavenly virgins. But if one keeps in mind the derivations from Syro-
Aramaic, that expression indicated `white grapes,' which is
one of the symbolic elements of the Christian paradise, recalled in
the Last Supper of Jesus. There's another Koranic expression,
falsely interpreted as `the children' or `the youths'
of paradise: in Aramaic: it designates the fruit of the vine, which
in the Koran is compared to pearls. As for the symbols of paradise,
these interpretive errors are probably connected to the male monopoly
in Koranic commentary and interpretation."

Q.: By the way, what do you think about the Islamic veil?

A.: "There is a passage in Sura 24, verse 31, which in
Arabic reads, `That they should beat their khumurs against their
bags.' It is an incomprehensible phrase, for which the following
interpretation has been sought: `That they should extend their
kerchiefs from their heads to their breasts.' But if this passage
is read in the light of Syro-Aramaic, it simply means: `They
should fasten their belts around their waists.'"

Q.: Does this mean the veil is really a chastity belt?

A.: "Not exactly. It is true that, in the Christian
tradition, the belt is associated with chastity: Mary is depicted
with a belt fastened around her waist. But in the gospel account of
the Last Supper, Christ also ties an apron around his waist before
washing the Apostles' feet. There are clearly many parallels with
the Christian faith."

Q.: You have discovered that Sura 97 of the Koran mentions the
Nativity. And in your translation of the famous Sura of Mary,
her "birthgiving" is "made legitimate by the Lord."
Moreover, the text contains the invitation to come to the sacred
liturgy, to the Mass. Would the Koran, then, be nothing other than an
Arabic version of the Christian Bible?

A.: "In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical
book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been
used in sacred Christian services. In the second place, one may see
in the Koran the beginning of a preaching directed toward
transmitting the belief in the Sacred Scriptures to the pagans of
Mecca, in the Arabic language. Its socio-political sections, which
are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in
Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the
foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the
Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic
society."

Q.: To many Muslim believers, for whom the Koran is the holy
book and the only truth, your conclusions could seem blasphemous.
What reactions have you noticed up until now?

A.: "In Pakistan, the sale of the edition of
`Newsweek' that contained an article on my book was banned.
Otherwise, I must say that, in my encounters with Muslims, I have not
noticed any hostile attitudes. On the contrary, they have appreciated
the commitment of a non-Muslim to studies aimed at an objective
comprehension of their sacred text. My work could be judged as
blasphemous only by those who decide to cling to errors in the
interpretation of the word of God. But in the Koran it is
written, `No one can bring to the right way those whom God
induces to error.'"

Q.: Aren't you afraid of a fatwa, a death sentence like the
one pronounced against Salman Rushdie?

A.: "I am not a Muslim, so I don't run that risk.
Besides, I haven't offended against the Koran"

Q.: But you still preferred to use a pseudonym.

A.: "I did that on the advice of Muslim friends who were
afraid that some enthusiastic fundamentalist would act of his own
initiative, without waiting for a fatwa."

Altway

unread,
Mar 23, 2004, 7:22:19 PM3/23/04
to

"Christoph Heger" <christo...@onlinehome.de> wrote in message
news:23a0d3d0.04031...@posting.google.com...

> Because of the ongoing discussion about the theses of Christoph
> Luxenberg, even in this and other groups, it will meet the interest
of participants to get aware of an interview with Christoph
Luxenberg, the author of "Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran.
Ein Beitrag zur Entzifferung der Koransprache" [The Syro-Aramaic
Version of the Koran. A Contribution to Decyphering the Koran's
Language"], Berlin 2000, published in Germany in the newspaper
"Süddeutsche Zeitung" and translated into Italian in
"L'espresso," no. 11, March 12-18, 2004. The English
translation is by Matthew Sherry.

Comment:-

>From his previous performance, I would say that if
Heger recommends it then it is likely to be pure
speculation having little relevance to true Islam.

But one could be surprised!

Hamid S. Aziz


..

Message has been deleted

Altway

unread,
Mar 23, 2004, 7:26:33 PM3/23/04
to

"Christoph Heger" <christo...@onlinehome.de> wrote in message
news:23a0d3d0.04031...@posting.google.com...

> A.: "At first I conducted a `synchronous' reading.


In other words, I kept in mind both Arabic and Aramaic. Thanks to
this procedure, I was able to discover the extent of the previously
unsuspected influence of Aramaic upon the language of the Koran: in
point of fact, much of what now passes under the name of
`classical Arabic' is of Aramaic derivation."

Comment:-
Quite possible.
All modern languages have derivation in older languages.
But this does not mean that the words retain the same meaning as the
original.

> Q.: What do you say, then, about the idea, accepted until now,
that the Koran was the first book written in Arabic?

> A.: "According to Islamic tradition, the Koran dates back to
the 7th century, while the first examples of Arabic literature in the
full sense of the phrase are found only two centuries later, at the
time of the `Biography of the Prophet'; that is, of the life
of Mohammed as written by Ibn Hisham, who died in 828.
We may thus establish that post-Koranic Arabic literature developed
by degrees, in the period following the work of al-Khalil bin Ahmad,
who died in 786, the founder of Arabic lexicography (kitab al-ayn),
and of Sibawwayh, who died in 796, to whom the grammar of classical
Arabic is due. Now, if we assume that the composition of the Koran was
brought to an end in the year of the Prophet Mohammed's death, in
632, we find before us an interval of 150 years, during which there
is no trace of Arabic literature worthy of note."

Comment:-
So Arabic literature is based on the Quran

> A.: "At that time, there were no Arab schools &#8211; except,
perhaps, for the Christian centers of al-Anbar and al-Hira, in
southern Mesopotamia, or what is now Iraq. The Arabs of that region
had been Christianized and instructed by Syrian Christians. Their
liturgical language was Syro-Aramaic. And this was the vehicle of
their culture, and more generally the language of written
communication."

> Q.: What is the relationship between this language of culture
and the origin of the Koran?

> A.: "Beginning in the third century, the Syrian Christians
did not limit themselves to bringing their evangelical mission to
nearby countries, like Armenia or Persia. They pressed on toward
distant territories, all the way to the borders of China and the
western coast of India, in addition to the entire Arabian peninsula
all the way to Yemen and Ethiopia. It is thus rather probable that,
in order to proclaim the Christian message to the Arabic peoples,
they would have used (among others) the language of the Bedouins, or
Arabic. In order to spread the Gospel, they necessarily made use of a
mishmash of languages. But in an era in which Arabic was just an
assembly of dialects and had no written form, the missionaries had no
choice but to resort to their own literary language and their own
culture; that is, to Syro-Aramaic. The result was that the language
of the Koran was born as a written Arabic language, but one of Arab-
Aramaic derivation."

Comment:-
So why did the Arabs not become Christian?
And why does the Quran contradict Christian doctrines?

Surely, there was also an oral transmission of the teachings of the
Quran from Teacher to pupils down the ages as there still is.

> Q.: Do you mean that anyone who does not keep the Syro-Aramaic
language in mind cannot translate and interpret the Koran correctly?

> A.: "Yes. Anyone who wants to make a thorough study of the
Koran must have a background in the Syro-Aramaic grammar and
literature of that period, the 7th century. Only thus can he identify
the original meaning of Arabic expressions whose semantic
interpretation can be established definitively only by retranslating
them into Syro-Aramaic."

Comment:-
I do not think so.
This is a superficial view. It assumes an intellectual or lingual
understanding.
(a) In order to understand the Quran it is necessary to link
to the chain of transmission from the Prophet..
(b) As the Quran itself states it is understood by those purified in heart
It is a revelation in the heart of believer.

> Q.: Let's come to the misunderstandings. One of the most
glaring errors you cite is that of the virgins promised, in the
Islamic paradise, to the suicide bombers.

> A.: "We begin from the term `huri,' for which the
Arabic commentators could not find any meaning other than those
heavenly virgins. But if one keeps in mind the derivations from Syro-
Aramaic, that expression indicated `white grapes,' which is
one of the symbolic elements of the Christian paradise, recalled in
the Last Supper of Jesus. There's another Koranic expression,
falsely interpreted as `the children' or `the youths'
of paradise: in Aramaic: it designates the fruit of the vine, which
in the Koran is compared to pearls. As for the symbols of paradise,
these interpretive errors are probably connected to the male monopoly
in Koranic commentary and interpretation."

Comment:-
Here we see the superficiality of interpretation.
The reference to paradise is clearly symbolic in both religions.
The literal translations are irrelevant. It is the significance that
counts - the experience or "flavour" not the words.

> Q.: By the way, what do you think about the Islamic veil?

> A.: "There is a passage in Sura 24, verse 31, which in
Arabic reads, `That they should beat their khumurs against their
bags.' It is an incomprehensible phrase, for which the following
interpretation has been sought: `That they should extend their
kerchiefs from their heads to their breasts.' But if this passage
is read in the light of Syro-Aramaic, it simply means: `They
should fasten their belts around their waists.'"

Comment:-
The same superficiality is displayed here.
Is it likely that the Prophet put something in the Quran that was
incomprehensible? And no one questioned him?
Does `They should fasten their belts around their waists.'
make any sense.

> Q.: You have discovered that Sura 97 of the Koran mentions the
Nativity. And in your translation of the famous Sura of Mary,
her "birthgiving" is "made legitimate by the Lord."
Moreover, the text contains the invitation to come to the sacred
liturgy, to the Mass. Would the Koran, then, be nothing other than an
Arabic version of the Christian Bible?

> A.: "In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical
book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been
used in sacred Christian services. In the second place, one may see
in the Koran the beginning of a preaching directed toward
transmitting the belief in the Sacred Scriptures to the pagans of
Mecca, in the Arabic language. Its socio-political sections, which
are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in
Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the
foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the
Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic
society."

Comment:-
It is true that the Quran sees Islam as a continuation of
true religion as taught by all the Prophets and not a separate religion.
Jesus, too, did not think that he was creating a new religion but
fulfilling the one taught by Abraham and Moses.

But just as Jesus had to correct the misconceptions and malpractices
that had entered into Religion, so also did the Quran.

But Luxemberg has not understood this.
And his opinions and readings are based on
false assumptions.

If this is a typical example of Luxembergs work
I for one, do not have much respect for it?
But I would not persecute him - there are many people
with naive and ridiculous opinions.
I might even read him in case there is some
jewel in the mud.

Hamid S. Aziz

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
Message has been deleted
Message has been deleted
0 new messages