Dr Brubaker’s work has caused something of a minor stir in the centuries-old arena that is Christian-Muslim dialogue. While the world waits for publication of his more technical doctorate-level work, he’s given us laypeople a taster in this short introduction to the subject.
Coming in at just over 100 pages, Brubaker’s book is not intended to be exhaustive. Instead, the idea is that anyone with even passing interest in how the Qur’an came to be how it is today can get some insights into the process through the study of corrections to early manuscripts. The book is very clearly laid out, the discussion is easy to follow and his main aim is to question what the corrections show. He states the importance of this early on:
… many of the thousands of corrections I have documented appear to have nothing to do with the readings attested in the secondary literature. So, corrections must represent in at least some cases another phenomenon, such as perhaps a greater degree of perceived flexibility of the Qur’an text in its early centuries … than is documented in the qira’at literature [i.e. the literature describing acceptable variations in reading the Qur’an].page 9
Now, those of you who have no idea why this might even be relevant will be asking what the point of doing this is. Well, Muslims today will tell you that the Qur’an has never varied in so much as a single dot since it was given to Muhammad back in the day. This claim is a little less watertight than it first appears when you consider the traditional history, and it is telling that unlike other religious texts, no one has been able to produce a critical edition of the Qur’an that takes all the extant scholarship into account.
Therefore, when someone comes along who isn’t a Muslim and starts poking around in early manuscripts saying that there have been changes, it gets a reaction. The first written reaction to Brubaker was from the unlikely source of molecular engineer Hythem Sydky. Brubaker quickly showed that this particular emperor was wearing no clothes in his response.
There have been other much less erudite and certainly less verbose responses online, but all responses so far have a common theme: Brubaker is an amateur scholar who has no grasp of Arabic and is clearly mistaken in arguing that the Qur’an has been changed in some significant way. The fact that the guy could have got a PhD out of the application of his theory seems to have eluded them all.
There are however clues on the Interwebs as to why some are out to discredit Brubaker. Online voices such as Al Fadi and Jay Smith seem to find this text extremely valuable for polemical purposes, using it to boldly claim that here is finally evidence that the Qur’an has not been preserved as claimed. Despite the accusations, and having watched pretty much all of Brubaker’s YouTube channel, Brubaker has never once said that his purpose is polemical. He’s a scholar of early Qur’an manuscripts and this is his work. Make of it what you will.
To be honest, I’m not altogether convinced by what I hear from Al Fadi, Smith, David Wood, Islam Critiqued, etc. and I don’t share their excitement about the value of Brubaker’s work for the polemical cause. However, it’s an interesting space to watch as the debate continues to unfold.