Most ordinary people, I suspect, would be reluctant to advise a neurosurgeon on how to do his job, or to take it upon themselves to explain quantum theory to a mathematical physicist. They don’t typically think themselves better carpenters than the master cabinetmaker working in their new kitchen, or dismiss the training of their accountant.
Lots of people, though, whose only acquaintance with Islam and/or the Middle East comes from surfing the web or listening to a radio talk show, feel entirely qualified to lecture me on Islamic history and doctrine. Obviously, the years I’ve put into study and research and reflection on the topic, the graduate schooling and the Ph.D., the effort of studying the relevant languages, and so forth, have been wasted. A few minutes with the right website would have sufficed.
“You should read the Qur’an,” they often tell me — though I suspect that, in almost every case, they themselves actually haven’t. They’ll sometimes go to the trouble of providing me with several Qur’anic passages (virtually always the same ones) that, they assure me, command all Muslims to kill all non-Muslims, and so forth. Sometimes, they tell me about Qur’an 9:11 (note the uncannily appropriate chapter and verse), with its eerily accurate prediction of “a son of Arabia” who “would awaken a fearsome Eagle” whose “wrath . . . would be felt throughout the lands of Allah.” And, when I tell them that no such passage exists in the Qur’an, anywhere, they respond, typically in a rather condescending tone, that I need to read a better, more accurate translation.
I know the passages (and the non-passage) well. I read in the Qur’an virtually every day in Arabic, and have done so for years. I teach the Qur’an twice each year, one semester in English translation and the next semester in Arabic. (I’ve also read it in French and German, in a number of different translations.) I’ve published a number of articles on themes in the Qur’an and on particular Qur’anic passages.
“You should learn something about Muhammad’s life,” they frequently tell me. And I’ve tried to do that, of course. I’ve even published a biography of Muhammad. But, obviously, this did me no good, because what I have to say isn’t consistent with their favorite websites.
When, in turn, I suggest that they need to read more about the history of Islam and the Middle East, about the biography of Muhammad, and about the historical context of his life and his claimed revelations, some of them charge me with lying.
Worse still, one or two accuse me of being a “liberal” — which is really difficult for somebody to take who, while still a young boy and against the views of his parents, campaigned for Barry Goldwater; who twice voted for Ronald Reagan; who has subscribed to National Review since his thirteenth year and who helped to host William F. Buckley, Jr., when Buckley spoke at BYU; who spent two weeks in England and Scotland in the summer of 1976, hobnobbing with George Stigler, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Friedrich von Hayek when the Mont Pelerin Society held its annual meeting at the University of St. Andrews; and who, whenever he can schedule it, not only attends but participates in the big annual libertarian FreedomFest in Las Vegas. Some liberal.
(For an earlier meditation on this remarkable accusation, see this prior blog post.)
“Unlike you,” one zealous Mormon anti-Muslim once told me, “I support God’s modern prophets, not that mass murdering Arabian pedophile, Muhammad.” And yet, when I mentioned the positive statement about Muhammad issued in February 1978 by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this self-proclaimed supporter of “God’s modern prophets” immediately dismissed it. “Spencer Kimball was deceived by Satan,” he replied.