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You Won’t Believe Today’s The New York Times Front Page

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Published on: July 24, 2015

The New York Times dedicated its front page to the questionable discovery of a long lost Quran in, of all places, the UK.

The New York Times blew up their front page in order to maximize the opportunity to report on something (anything!) Islamic other than slaughter, oppression and persecution — no matter how silly and dubious the story.

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Islamic scholar Robert Spencer explains:

NY Times: Qur’an manuscript discovery “a joyful moment for a faith that has struggled”

There is a great deal that is questionable about this “discovery,” as I showed in this article. Nonetheless, the mainstream media is making a big deal of it, and this effusion of unbridled New York Times front page enthusiasm warrants closer examination. Clearly mainstream media outlets see this as a chance to write positively about Islam — a chance they seldom, if ever, pass up — and to present their favorite religion in a favorable light, and so who cares if the story is full of holes? Obviously they don’t, as you will see below.

“A Find in Britain: Quran Fragments Perhaps as Old as Islam,” by Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, July 22, 2015:

…The ancient pieces of manuscript, estimated to be at least 1,370 years old, offered a moment of unity, and insight, for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Professor Thomas said it provided tantalizing clues to help settle a scholarly dispute about whether the holy text was actually written down at the time of the prophet, or compiled years later after being passed down by word of mouth. The discovery also offered a joyful moment for a faith that has struggled with internal divisions and external pressures.

Oh, and international jihad terrorism carried out in its name and in accord with its teachings, but the Times doesn’t see fit to mention that.

Muslims believe Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran, the scripture of Islam, between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Professor Thomas said tests by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit indicated with a probability of more than 94 percent that the parchment dated from 568 to 645….

568 to 645. Muhammad is supposed to have lived between 570 and 632, and as the Times says, to have received the Qur’anic “revelations” between 610 and 632. So if this fragment dates from between 568 and 645, it could just as easily be part of a pre-Islamic source of the Qur’an as of the Qur’an itself — particularly because suras 18-20, the portion covered in this fragment, contain a great deal of material derived from the Jewish and Christian traditions, and from other sources as well. This is an extraordinarily intriguing and important possibility, but the Times gives no hint of it whatsoever.

Tom Holland, the author of “In the Shadow of the Sword,” which charts the origins of Islam, said the discovery in Birmingham bolstered scholarly conclusions that the Quran attained something close to its final form during Muhammad’s lifetime.

No, it doesn’t. The only thing it actually establishes is that this portion of suras 18-20 existed near or during the time Muhammad is supposed to have lived. That it was part of the Qur’an at that time is taken for granted by Holland and the Times, but there is actually no evidence for it: there isn’t even any mention of the Qur’an’s existence in the contemporary literature until some fifty years after the outer-limit date of 645 for this fragment — a fact that is extremely uncomfortable for those who accept the canonical Islamic account that has the Qur’an complete by 632 and collected and circulating by 653. If it was known in this period, why does no one ever quote or even refer to it?

He said the fragments did not resolve the controversial questions of where, why and how the manuscript was compiled, or how its various suras, or chapters, came to be combined in a single volume.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the manuscript in Birmingham contains parts of what are now Chapters 18 to 20. For years, the manuscript had been mistakenly bound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript.

Saud al-Sarhan, the director of research at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said he doubted that the manuscript found in Birmingham was as old as the researchers claimed, noting that its Arabic script included dots and separated chapters — features that were introduced later. He also said that dating the skin on which the text was written did not prove when it was written. Manuscript skins were sometimes washed clean and reused later, he said.

This is one of the very few dissenting notes in the entire Times piece. It is exactly the point I made yesterday: the parchment could have been reused, so that it dates from between 568 and 645 but the writing on it doesn’t. And we learn here another salient detail: “its Arabic script included dots and separated chapters — features that were introduced later.” The Guardian reported yesterday that “the significance of Birmingham’s leaves, which hold part of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, was missed because they were bound together with another text, in a very similar hand but written almost 200 years later.”

A very similar hand. What is the likelihood of this: that these manuscript pages get bound up with another text, and that text is not only written in a “very similar hand,” but the ancient pages contain features that weren’t introduced until later? Handwriting styles change over time; how likely is it that this text from the seventh century that was so far-seeing as to contain features that weren’t introduced until the ninth century was also written in a handwriting style that was for years taken as coming from 200 years later?

Professor Thomas said the text of the two folio pages studied by Ms. Fedeli, who received her doctorate this month, corresponded closely to the text of the modern Quran. But he cautioned that the manuscript was only a small portion of the Quran and therefore did not offer conclusive proof.

“Corresponded closely” — that is, the correspondence is not exact. That again calls into question whether this is really a Qur’an manuscript at all, and not that of a source of the Qur’an, but the Times barrels on, quoting Omid Safi, an extremely arrogant and puffed-up pseudo-academic who once stooped so low as to claim I threatened to kill him and his family (have me arrested if what you say is true, Omid):

Omid Safi, the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and the author of “Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters,” said that the discovery of the manuscript provided “further evidence for the position of the classical Islamic tradition that the Quran as it exists today is a seventh-century document.”

Once again, this is assuming that the fragment came from a Qur’an, and not from a source of the Qur’an. But don’t expect as dishonest an Islamic supremacist ideologue as Safi to acknowledge that.

The manuscript is in Hijazi script, an early form of written Arabic, and researchers said the fragments could be among the earliest textual evidence of the holy book known to survive.

A manuscript from the University of Tübingen Library in Germany was found last year and sourced to the seventh century, 20 to 40 years after the death of the prophet. Fragments from Tübingen were radiocarbon-tested by a lab in Zurich and determined with 95 percent certainty to have originated from 649 to 675, making the Birmingham text a few years older.

The Tübingen manuscript shows signs of heavy editing; see the photo here.

…Graham Bench, director of the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, concurred, and added a caveat: “You’re dating the parchment,” he said. “You’re not dating the ink. You’re making the assumption that the parchment or vellum was used within years of it being made, which is probably a reasonable assumption, but it’s not watertight.”


…Professor Thomas said that the discovery could make Birmingham a draw for Muslims and scholars. But he noted that Muslims did not require a text to feel close to the Quran because for many, it was essentially an oral experience to be recited, memorized and revered.

“The Quran,” he said, “is already present in the minds of Muslims.”

And for those who take seriously it commands to kill or subjugate unbelievers, beat disobedient women, take Infidel sex slaves, etc., that’s precisely the problem.


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