Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran by C.Luxenberg

Book Review:

Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran

C.Luxenberg Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran , Verlag: Das Arabische Buch :Berlin, 2000, pp.311

If sound in its methodology, Luxenberg’s study  will prove the single most important book to be written on the Koran in the last hundred years. Even if his conclusions are only 50% correct, they will totally demolish all the previous Western scholarship on the Koran. The impact on Islamic belief will be profound. The book has been out only a few months and there have been no detailed published reviews in the Academic press yet, although a sympathetic review did appear in a Swiss newspaper (written by a Syrian woman. Some of the world’s leading Koranic scholars such as Claude Gilliot think that Luxenberg is on to something.  There have been some hostile reactions too, because Luxenberg’s ideas are bound to disturb the Islamophile scholars (incidentally, no different than the Muslim fundamentalists in their dogmatic belief in the perfection of the Koran) who dominate, even monopolize, the field of Islamic Studies in the West. 

Christoph Luxenberg tries to show that  many of the obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic . In order to elucidate  passages in the Koran that had baffled generations of scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim,  Luxenberg  used the following  method:

 1)   He went carefully through $abar¥’s great commentary on the Koran , and also consulted Ibn al –Man½´r  celebrated dictionary of the Arabic language, LisŒn al->Arab , in order to see if Western scholars of the Koran had not omitted any of  the plausible explanations  proposed by the Muslim  commentators and philologists . If this preliminary search did not yield any solutions, then 

2)      he tried to replace the  obscure Arabic word in a phrase or sentence that had hitherto mystified the Muslim commentators , or which had resulted in unconvincing , strained or far-fetched explantions  with a Syriac homonym , which had a different  meaning ( though the same sound ), but which made more sense in the context.If this step did not yield a comprehensible sentence  then,

3)      he proceeded to the first round of changes of  the diacritical points which , according to Luxenberg’s theory , must have been badly placed by the Arabic readers  or whoever was the original redactor or copier of the Koran , and which had resulted in the actual obscurity of the  Koranic passage  concerned .In this way , he hoped to obtain another more logical reading of the Arabic . If this also failed to give any results, Luxenberg 

4)      then proceeded to the second round of changes of the diacritical points in order to eventually obtain  a  more coherent SYRIAC reading , and not an Arabic one .If all these attempts still did not yield any positive results,

5)      then he tried to decipher the real meaning of the  Arabic word , which did not make any sense in its present context , by retranslating it into Syriac to deduce from the semantic contents of the Syriac root the meaning best suited to the Koranic context. 

 In this way, Luxenberg was able to explain not only the so-called obscure passages, but a certain number of passages which he considers were were  misunderstood , and whose meaning up to now no one had doubted .He was also able explain certain orthographic and grammatical analomies which abound in the Koran.

 This method  allows  Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of perpetual erections and eternal orgasms in the Muslim hereafter that resembles a Bangkok bordello, to conjure away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54  and LII .20 .According to Luxenberg , the new analysis yields ‘ white raisins ’  of ‘crystal clarity ’ rather than doe-eyed , and ever  willing virgins . Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offerred , and not unsullied maidens, with appetising vaginas as al-Suy´‹¥   insists. * Similarly , the immortal , pearl-like ephebes or youths of suras such as LXXVI. 19 are really a misreading of a Syriac expression meaning «chilled  raisins (or drinks) that the Just will have the pleasure of tasting in contrast to the « boiling drinks »  promised the unfaithful and damned.

Luxenberg’s  work has only recently been published in Germany , and we must await its scholarly assessment before we can pass any judgements.


Quoted in A.Bouhdiba , La Sexualité en Islam , Paris , 1975 ,   pp.95-96