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BERNARD LEWIS’ STUBBORN HOPE
Lewis, that is, acknowledges that the received history of Islam might be an invention of whole cloth, but he declines to discuss the matter further. One wishes he were more candid. It is a career-killer (and perhaps a killer of more than a career) to challenge the authenticity of the Quran and the received story of the Muslim conquests, yet a vast body of research over the last several decades makes it impossible for a rational observer to accept the Muslim account at face value. Unlike the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Gospels, the Muslim accounts are close enough to modernity to stand scrutiny against known facts, and on many accounts they fail basic tests of credibility. The German Muslim scholar Sven Muhammed Kalisch of the University of Münster surveyed the evidence in 2008 and concluded that no one resembling the Prophet Mohammed ever existed, and that the figure was concocted to serve the notion that the Arabs rather than the Jews were the chosen people.
If the critics are correct, then Islam cannot coexist with rational inquiry and has no future in modernity. The distinguished Georgetown University political philosopher Fr. James V. Schall wrote last year, “Scholars, mostly German, have been working quietly for many decades to produce a critical edition of the Koran that takes into consideration the ‘pre-history’ of the Koran. Due to the Muslim belief that any effort to question the Koran’s text is blasphemy, the enterprise is fraught with personal risk to the researchers. … The fragility of Islam, as I see it, lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism.”