Honest scholars wanted

It is misleading to say that "religion does not belong in the domain open to proof or disproof by scholarship or science" (Letters, 17-31 December). Sincere believers in religions that make factual claims, including Islam, must be affected by new knowledge, as countless people in Europe were by New Testament criticism and Darwinism. Criticism of the Koran, which the New Statesman should be congratulated for airing, makes it easier, at least, to offer new interpretations. Abd al-Raziq and many Islamic modernists attempted to do just this, although they were seldom listened to.

Antony Black
Emeritus professor in the history of political thought, Department of Politics
University of Dundee

So it has taken the current negative focus on Islam and Muslims to bring out the "brilliant" SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) historians and linguists of the Sixties and Seventies (Wansbrough, Crone, Cook, Hawting et al) from decades of well-deserved obscurity.

Martin Bright's report ("The great Koran con trick", 10 December) on their theories of the alleged fabrication of the Koran after the death of the Prophet Mohammad suggests that somehow Muslims emerged in the early seventh century, but then, about two centuries later, they "created" the Koran "as a coherent scriptural basis for Islam to suit the needs of a sophisticated empire". What is more perplexing is that from the start there were, according to Patricia Crone, alleged divine injunctions - of war against the infidels, conquest, rape and pillage - to propel the Arabs out of the peninsula and on to the world stage. Where, then, did these alleged divine commands come from, and to whom were they addressed?

Bright made no attempt to subject the fantastic theories of this SOAS set to any type of scrutiny. Similar theories on the fabrication and "back-projection" of Hadith promoted by the Jewish scholars Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht have been debunked by meticulous scholarship such as that of Mustafa al-Azami.

We don't think you need worry too much about Muslim sensibilities or get too excited about the prospect of these "revolutionary" academics getting their act together to present their fiction in "an accessible way". What we really need is honest, scrupulous scholarship and the freeing up of a lot of academia from barren pursuits and from various types of racist and other bigotry.

Yousuf Bhailok
Secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain
Wembley, Middlesex