@shadihamid @rezaaslan @AkyolinEnglish @mehdirhasan
Shadi Hamid of Brookings recently gave a talk at Harvard called "Islamic Exceptionalism." As a PhD candidate in the Study of Religion at said university, I attended this talk ready to give my input & pushback. 1/
Not called upon to respond, I decided to make a short video response. Once I got going, the response turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, since I had been taking notes during Shadi's talk. Here is my video response: 2/
The admittedly acrimonious nature of my response is based on the fact that Shadi Hamid is well-known in our community as a tokenized "Brookings Muslim," used to put a brown Muslim face to the ugly work of think tank policy work. 3/
Shadi reinforces the sweeping & sensationalist bigotry of Islamophobes, & then hides behind the cover of his brown Muslim face. As an Islamic liberal myself, I know how easy & lucrative it would be for me to be this useful Muslim tool. 4/
No surprise that Shadi appeared on the racist, bigotted, & Islamophobic Sam Harris's podcast, an episode that one colleague of mine described as a "dumpster fire." 5/
Shadi criticized me for not reading his book that by his own admission was written years ago. Shadi, are you still just giving book talks? You were invited to Harvard to give a talk, which stands on its own. When criticized, you can't hide behind "it's in my book years ago!" 6/
A talk several years later should actually be the most up-to-date iteration of your thesis & argument. In fact, by this time you may even have changed or at least refined some of your views. People who attend your talk are not expected to have read your book. 7/
As to your book, Islamic Exceptionalism, I mentioned the fact that it was sent to a non-academic book press. You did this so you could avoid getting your claims peer-reviewed. You knew you were making reductionist & essentialist claims that would not pass peer-review. 8/
So, you went the way of a popular press to bypass having your claims peer-reviewed & were thus able to publish your sensationalist, reductionist, & essentialist tropes against Islam/Muslims, knowing it would be published because you have brown Muslim immunity. 9/
I never got around to reading your book because I did not take you or your work seriously. Why should I when there are so many qualified scholars publishing serious works of scholarship & subjecting them to peer-review? 10/
This is not to say that there aren't reasons to publish in a popular press. Usually, this is done after one has already published the theory & findings in an academic study, defended it in this way, & now you want to popularize it. 11/
Your thesis is so offensive, objectionable, & controversial that you should have absolutely first proved its merit by first subjecting it to peer review. It would not, of course, have withstood the test, at least not without major revisions. 12/
Fortunately, I have your book & can show you how even a small section of it would not pass rigorous peer-review, as it is riddled with mistakes. I will tie these mistakes to your recent tweets, which reveal your knowledge gap even more. 13/
You write: "Perhaps the biggest distortion is your misunderstanding of what I mean by Muslims taking the Quran as 'literal word of God.' You say that's Hanbali. I don't even know where to begin... I don't mean literalist. I mean literal." 14/
You don't even know where to begin? The fact that you don't reveals the depth of your deficit. As a budding scholar of Islamic studies, let me then educate you. You fundamentally misunderstood the critique due to how little you know. I was *not* saying literalist. 15/
Let's see if going to your book helps your defense at all. This is a central argument of your book: "As a creedal requirement, Muslims believe that the Quran is not just divinely inspired but that it is God's actual direct & literal speech" (49)... 16/
You then contrast that with Christians, saying that not even "evangelicals believe that the Bible is the word of God, at least not in the literal sense of every letter & word being directly from God" (50). 17/
You are obviously not even aware--as evidenced by your tweet follow-up to me!--of a debate that raged & continues to rage in Islamic discourse, which any beginning student of Islamic history knows. 18/
The idea of the Qur'an being the "literal word of God"--"in the literal sense of every letter & word being directly from God"--is a hotly contested minority Ḥanbalī view. 19/
The historically dominant "mainstream" Islam, i.e. Ashʿarism (try Wikipedia if you don't know what that is), does not hold this position. You write that Muslims believe "The Quran...is God's actual direct & literal speech [kalām]" (49). Yet, the mainstream view is not this. 20/
Ashʿarīs believe that God's speech (kalām) does NOT consist of letters, words, & sounds. To simplify a bit, for them it consists of universal meanings in God's mind, very different than the letters, words, & sounds found in the Qur'an. 21/
Some Ashʿarīs even held that God inspired Gabriel with these meanings & then Gabriel composed the actual words. Again, this speaks to the internal diversity of religious views (principle 1 of religious literacy), which your work lacks. 22/
Other Islamic views even had it that God inspired the Prophet with universal meanings & he then composed the actual words. This was a view held by Islamic philosophers, Shīʿī Ismāʿīlīs, & now by Islamic Sunnī & Shīʿī modernists. 23/
Some modern Sunnī scholars have, in fact, been at great pains to stress that the Qur'an has both a divine component & a human aspect (Naṣr Abū Zayd & Fazlur Rahman, for instance). Your book elides all of this internal diversity, in medieval & modern Islamic thought. 24/
But, your Tweet itself shows that you were simply ignorant of this difference, such that you foolishly thought I was talking about literalist interpretation instead of ontological status. 25/
So, this was half of my argument: that your book fails to appreciate the internal diversity of Islamic thought & also the idea that religious thought evolves with time, i.e. the views towards a less "literal" understanding of it being God's word is being revived. 26/
This is what it means when scholars call your work essentialist & reductionist. Now, let's turn to the other side of the argument: your far more gracious & charitable understanding of Christianity & the Bible. Again: you are being the every helpful tokenized Muslim. 27/
In your Tweet, you said: "When evangelicals say the New Testament is 'inerrant,' this has nothing to do with God's direct authorship." 28/
In your book, your argument reaches its crescendo: "Even the most liberal Muslims believe things about the Quran--direct & total divine authorship--that even the most fundamentalist Christians don't believe about the Bible" (51). This jaundiced comparison is the crux... 29/
Once again, your claims would not pass through peer review. I'm not a biblical scholar but even I know what you are saying is wrong. As I said in my video response, both the Muslim & Christian sides are full of internal diversity of views in their conception of scripture. 30/
In the 1908 work by the theologian Francis Joseph Hall, "Theories of Inspiration," the author explains that there are various theories (just as Muslims have, by the way). He writes: "The Church does not define the methods of inspiration... 31/
"...but leaves her scholars free to ascertain what they can in this direction by a critical examination of the Scriptures themselves. Such study has caused the adoption of various theories..." The first of these is the VERBAL DICTATION THEORY. 32/
Hall writes, "The verbal theory has been widely held; and has often been thought to be essential to a belief in the plenary inspiration of the Bible... The verbal theory...describes it as determining WORD BY WORD THE LANGUAGE CHOSEN BY THE SACRED WRITERS... 33/
"SO THAT, IN EFFECT, EVERY WORD WAS DICTATED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. The writers were mere secretaries, or, as CERTAIN ANCIENT FATHERS PUT IT, harps or lyres, the music of which was determined by the Holy Spirit" (202). Sound familiar, Shadi? 34/
Our author argues against this view & towards that of verbal plenary inspiration, which has now become the more standard view, as expressed by Pope Benedict. You skip over all of that & wrongfully portray it as the *only* view. 35/
You then take this view, now widely accepted thanks to modern critical scholarship bearing down on the Bible (as it is now bearing down on the Qur'an), & cite the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (in 1978!)... 36/
...to say that Christians believe that "God 'utilized distinctive personalities & literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen" (50). You don't think that this "consensus" view emerged in the backdrop of the modern scholarly efforts bearing down on the Bible? 37/
So, as is standard fare with Islamophobes, you pit the *modern* view of Christians in contemporary first-world United States against *one* medieval (Ḥanbalī) view, & think that this is a fair comparison. 38/
This is to say nothing of the fact that none of these ontological views have any direct relation to the fact that--whichever view one takes on this issue (verbal dictation or plenary inspiration)--you still equally have to follow the Bible, just as a Muslim with the Qur'an. 39/
You then uncritically repeat Christian apologetic/theological claims that are meant to diminish the status of the Prophet, by saying that the equivalent of the Qur'an for the Christians is Jesus & not the Qur'an. 40/
You write, "God's ultimate revelation in Christianity is a man & not a book" (51). Once again, you have an essentialist & reductionist view of both sides. Leaving aside the fact that there are absolutely Christians who would take the Bible in the same way is the fact that... 41/
The exact same can be said of Muslims: Muslims throughout history have mediated the Qur'an through a divine personality. The Prophet Muḥammad was/is called the "walking Qur'an" & the "speaking Qur'an." Prophet's Sunna is said to govern the Qur'an, not the other way around. 42/
For Shīʿa Muslims the Qur'an is mediated through the infallible imām & for Ismāʿīlīs this is a living imām who can freely interpret God's book. In fact, one can make the exact opposite argument if one wanted to: Muslims have *more* operative freedom with their scripture. 43/
The best I can say is that you are a political scientist & your knowledge is limited to Islamists, so you view things in their lenses (even when you try to take them off). But, you have no deep knowledge of Islamic theology, philosophy, or intellectual history. 44/
I taught a whole course on Islamic intellectual history. It's available on YouTube for free. I advise you to watch it & educate yourself so you don't continue to embarrass yourself, getting corrected by a lowly PhD student. 45/
More to the point, none of this even matters: whether one takes a verbal dictation or plenary inspiration view (& its Islamic equivalents) does not really have any direct or automatic effect. 46/
This is another mistake non-specialists make. For example, people think that the Muʿtazilī view that the Qur'an is created means that they are automatically less Qur'an dogmatic than other groups that said the Qur'an is uncreated. 47/
But, the authority of the Qur'an is unchanged in both views. Or, at least, there is no reason to automatically assume that it must change. Similarly, whether a Christian takes the verbal dictation or plenary inspiration view, does not automatically change anything. 48/
Either way, the view is affirmed, in the words of a biblical scholar (T Longman), "inerrancy [means] the idea that Scripture is 'without error'" (COTC 7). Longman takes the plenary inspiration view & yet writes, "ultimately the author of the Bible is God" (14). 49/
Longman writes further: "Since the Bible is the revelation of God, we put ourselves under its authority. There is no ethical basis outside of the Bible by which we should evaluate the Bible" (145). 50/
No less than a Muslim does such a Christian believer have to follow the Bible. Either way, the text is an "obstacle" to be overcome in certain situations, i.e. compatibility with modern, liberal ideals. This, after all, is the crux of the issue. 51/
All in all, your writing is unsophisticated & could not pass peer review. It not only gets the two "sides" wrong, it also misses the big picture, which is that believers of all sides have to decide how to interpret their scriptures & reconcile them (or not) with modern needs. 52/
I might write more but I'll let you absorb this first. I think I have made my point perfectly well that your book, thesis, & talk are all sophomoric & could only see the light of day in a non-academic press & a think tank looking to hire a token Muslim to push this vile. 53/
P.S. Shadi, you should also read the much more sophisticated work of @AbbasiRushain, who has published work on the religion-secular divide in Islamic thought. His work will at least let you move past simple reproduction of tropes by Robert Spencer & Sam Harris. 54/

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More from @DrJavadTHashmi

20 Feb
As with medieval Christiandom, the post-classical Islamic period is often wrongfully considered a period of intellectual stagnation. Fortunately, Western scholarly interest in this period has piqued, with one name rising to the top: the great Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d.1210). 1/
In this tweet storm, I will quote Ayman Shihadeh's "From al-Ghazālī to al-Rāzī," inserting my own commentary in between. I will try to highlight many of the narrative myths that often surround Islamic intellectual history, some of which I, as a modernist, have been guilty of. 2/
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19 Feb
Adis Duderija: "[Fazlur] Rahman has made a clear conceptual difference between sunna & ḥadīth... He conceptualizes sunna in the form of a general normative moral law & an ethico-religious behavioral system, giving rise to a normative practice that cannot be textually fixed... 1/
"Rahman also conceptualizes sunna as a concept that allows for interpretation & adaptation. This is so, argues Rahman, because sunna, as a concept, was inclusive of the Prophet's own raʾy & qiyās as well as those of the companions, which gave rise to ijmāʿ... 2/
"As such, Rahman argues that sunna, as a normative ethico-religious behavioral system, was not large in quantity & was not meant to be something specific because 'no two cases in practice are identical in their moral, psychological or material settings.' ... 3/
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