This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
Professor Daniel M. Varisco recently posted an announcement about an ‘Online Qur’an Resources’ project, which is sponsored by the Social Science Research Council.
Varisco chairs the Department of Anthropology at Hofstra University and is the director of Middle Eastern and Central Asia studies. He is fluent in Arabic and has lived in the Middle East (Yemen, Egypt, Qatar) for over 5 years since 1978, according to this page on the Hofstra University website. He may also be familiar to many readers of Irtiqa, especially those who keep a good eye on intelligent blogs dealing with Islam, and indeed Salman has often referred in passing to Tabsir, the blog produced by Varisco with other contributors. Tabsir, which is Arabic for “to give clarity or insight”, aims at providing “fair, open-ended scholarly assessment” of issues dealing with Islam and the Middle East, as opposed to the “stereotypes, misinformation and propaganda [that are] spread in the media and academic forums.” And last but not least, “Tabsir provides an online resource and archive for students and teachers.”
And so in the aim of providing such resources and archives for students and teachers, Varisco has, with Bruce B. Lawrence, a professor in the Department of Religion at Duke University, launched the Online Qur’an Resources project.
I would like to present a very brief overview and a few comments. Clearly, this is not going to be a thorough review, for it’s only been a few days since the site was announced, and a visitor will immediately realize that it is rich with dozens of links and documents, and it will take any interested person many hours to sift through it.
The first thing I want to say is that this is a welcome contribution, for the following main reason: this is one of the very few websites that tries to present a spectrum of views on various aspects of the Qur’an, ranging from the ultra-apologetic standpoint to the most critical positions. Indeed, one is immediately startled to see on the same page (Science and the Qur’an, more on this shortly), links to pages by: Harun Yahya, Maurice Bucaille, Zakir Naik, Taner Edis, and Infidels.org.
The main sections of this Qur’an Resources website are: The Qur'an; Interpreting the Qur'an; Reciting the Qur'an; Translating the Qur'an; Qur'an, Jihad and Justice; Science and the Qur'an; and Attacking the Qur'an. Let me focus on the ‘Science and the Qur’an’ webpage; others might comment on the other sections.
The page is divided into the following subsections: General Muslim Views; Anti-Muslim Views; Astronomy; Biology; History of Islamic Sciences ; Mathematics; and Medicine.
In the ‘General Muslim Views’ subsection, one is quickly surprised to find Irtiqa, the only “resource” listed there that is not directly related to the Qur’an. In fact, Irtiqa does not even devote a section to the Qur’an among the 36 subjects listed on its page (menu on the right). Of the other 12 resources listed in that subsection, 10 are directly related to the Qur’an and Science, and the other two deal with “Islamic Science”. Irtiqa is the odd one out.
The other (sad) surprise is that many of those resources deal with I`jaz, the “miraculous scientific content of the Qur’an”. I know this is not the curators’ fault, and indeed I`jaz tends to dominate the Science-Islam digital landscape, but perhaps Varisco and Lawrence could make an effort to provide more scholarly articles (check out the Journal of Islamic Studies and Zygon, for instance) on that topic, and not rely too much on the mediocre material one finds on the free web. For one must ask: what kinds of “resources” do the works produced by Zakir Naik and Tariq Al-Suwaidan constitute?
And essentially the same remark can be made about the other subsections of the Science and the Qur’an page, namely the surprising juxtaposition of nonsensical works with other, much more scholarly and rich ones. For example, in the Astronomy section, one finds the famous article by Owen Gingerich on “Islamic Astronomy” (published in Scientific American in 1986) a few lines above the (in)famous determination of the speed of light from Qur’anic verses (by the late Dr. Hassab Elnaby – see a detailed critique of that work and that whole line of discourse in my book, “Islam’s Quantum Question”). Likewise, in the Biology subsection, Harun Yahya is put alongside Jalees Rehman.
So, in summary, this is a welcome contribution, and a potentially very useful resource repository. And though I must remind myself and everyone that I have only looked briefly at the website, and it’s clearly a work in progress, I think that one advice that can be given to Varisco and Lawrence is to distinguish or differentially label the various kinds of “resources” given, for students in particular will not immediately know that there’s a world between Gingerich and Elnaby, and to beef up this repository with articles and references of much greater substance and academic weight.