Sunday, 23 October 2011


Because the ideas presented in the book "Good Bye Mohammed: How Islam Really Came Into Being" are revolutionary in their implications - overturning centuries of (even western) historiography and destroying some of the intellectual foundations of Islam - I think it's appropriate to take advantage of whatever supplementary information can be found to evaluate its credibility. That means, first of all, reviewing Pressburg's academic credentials and looking at the reception the book has received by others knowledgeable in the field.

Regarding Norbert G. Pressburg himself, I can't find anything. There seem to be no references to him other than in connection with this book. Either he has come out of nowhere or he is using a pseudonym.

There is a critical review of the book on the website Kopten Ohne Grenzen (Copts Without Borders), a website run by Copts living in Germany. This is an anti-jihad site with broadly the same outlook on Islam you find on sites like JihadWatch, although with a Coptish tinge and a focus on events in Egypt. Here are some extracts from the review:
Reading it, it becomes clear that the author is not only not a competent researcher in the field (he admits himself on page 19 that he does not know Arabic), but that he has mainly collected his knowledge second-hand. So, for example, when discussing Luxenberg's results, he discusses only the examples (the Huris, the Christmas legend, the Islamic veil) that are now available in various internet articles - apparently Luxenberg's book was only opened up to look up the right page numbers. Various passages have also been copied straight from the internet (always without appropriate references)... Various factual errors are also painful (e.g. the wrong sequence of ruling dynasties in Egypt) or dilettantish explanations (for example, concerning the Crusades) - was there no proofreading?

Summary: the book is unserious. Its intention is not to represent an academic controversy but to instrumentalise it for a political discussion. The results of the new directions in Koran research are certainly extremely interesting: whoever wants to know more about them, though, would be better off reading the few articles that are available on the subject in the press (the author doesn't offer much more) - or dig deep into their pockets and buy some of Ohlig's volumes. Books like the one discussed here can only damage Islamic research.

I don't recall coming across the part in the book where Pressburg said he didn't know Arabic. Also, it has to be borne in mind that some of the material in the book may be in conflict with the traditional Coptish view of history as well as that of the Muslims.

The Ohlig referred to in the review is Karl-Heinz Ohlig, who, along with Christoph Luxenberg, is one of the key German academics pushing the Koranic origins research forward. This group of scholars, based mainly around Saarland University in Germany, has formed the association Inârah (Enlightenment in Arabic) to promote and present their research to the world. Their website contains a very favourable review of the Pressburg book, apparently written by Ohlig himself.

Karl-Heinz Ohlig

Discerning, but at the same time readable and exciting
Regarding: Norbert G. Pressburg, Good Bye Mohammed. Wie der Islam wirklich entstand, Books on Demand, Hamburg 2009, 167 S. (ISBN 978-3-8391-9203-0)

The book of the probably pseudonymous author is apparently based on the first two collected volumes that Inârah published before 2007, and incorporates additional literature. It tells the story of the beginnings of Islam according to traditional Islamic studies - heavily criticised by the author - (see the remark: "Islam studies have only just begun") and according to the sequences of events that emerge when historical-critical methods are applied.

In addition to its beginnings, the book explores the "Golden Age" of Islam, its intellectual ossification since the 12th century and the situation today, which he analyses pointedly.

The text is written in a very comprehensible way, exciting in parts; even complex matters are presented in a few simple sentences, but still accurately nonetheless - often with a touch of irony; the term and the topic of monophysitism are the only things he hasn't properly understood. The book is highly recommended to everyone who wants to quickly get up to speed on the current state of affairs.

If this really is Ohlig's opinion, it counts for a lot. Although Christoph Luxenberg is better known in English-language circles, Ohlig seems to be at least as substantially involved in this research. He appears as author or editor of most of the books the Inârah researchers have published.

There is a lot of interesting material on the Inârah website. I may translate and post bits of it here when I have time.


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