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Offline Zafreen

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Critique of Br J Islam's article on Baca and Makka
« on: September 05, 2014, 07:00:26 AM »
Dialogues – Biblical Quranism – Joseph Islam’s Mecca/Becca Article
Posted on June 22, 2013 by Farouk A. Peru
I will begin the dialogue with Biblical Quranism with a critique of Joseph Islam’s article entitled Prophet Abraham’s Original Sanctuary – At Makkah (Mecca) or Bakkah (Baca) . I chose this particular article for a number of reasons, most notably because I see it as a prime of example of how Quranic discourse is taken along a different path (that is adopting the ideas of the Tri-Religious Myth) that what is in my reading the intent of the text. This happens once the presumptions of the Bible are accepted without question. Another notable reason for choosing this article is that I have a deep admiration for Joseph Islam’s work. His critique of Traditional Islam is outstanding indeed. His attitude is also very positive  as he states that he categorically denounces all forms of extremism. He is therefore unlike the QF I mentioned in the introduction. Such is the humility of this man, masha Allah. May Allah reward him for his pursuit of truth without ego.

In Joseph’s article, how loudly does Quran speak?  Joseph makes a good point at first by saying
It is asserted by the majority of Muslims that both Bakkah and Makkah are a reference to the same place. This argument is difficult to accept as there is no proof that this is the case from a Quranic scrutiny. The Quran is fully conversant with the term ‘Makkah’ as a place and refers to it. There is no support for the claim in the Quran that ‘Bakkah’ is an old name for ‘Makkah’ or another name for it.

This shows that Joseph does indeed employ the Quran as a criteria in his analyses. I fully support this. The Quran simply does not link makkah with bakkah. Joseph’s awareness of this shows that he does use the Quran as criteria. He continues to say:

The Quran makes use of the word ‘Makkah’. So why did not it use it in verse 3.96?

Again, I fully agree. The Quran should be a consistent book. Allah does not use words haphazardly as those who claim synonyms in the Quran exist would have us believe (this is due to Lingocentricism – dictionaries claim different words can mean the exact same thing and when you don’t use Quran as criteria, you would accept these propositions). If the Quran uses bakkah in 3/96, it would not use makkah in 48/24 to mean the exact same thing. Once again I applaud Joseph’s reasoning. This also proves Joseph’s defiance of Arabic language resources which claim Bakkah is simply the ancient name for Makkah. Joseph firmly sticks to Quran as criteria and this is very laudable.

However, he then goes on to say:

‘Bakkah’ (or Baca) was a place known to the People of the Book as is evidenced from their scriptures and in the dialogue captured above. What is meant by ‘Baca’ in the Hebrew text (i.e. weeping etc) does not deter from the point that this valley (Hebrew: emeq {ay-mek} valley / lowland / open country or vale) within Palestine was known to the People of the Book at the time of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) preaching

There are so many assumptions in the above passage, all of which cannot be confirmed by Quran! It is at this point in Joseph’s analysis that Quran becomes a client text to the Bible (and more inexplicably, hadith literature). It is really no different from Traditionalist Islam where Quran is interrupted mid sentence and its ‘explanation’ completed by another text. Lets examine Joseph’s assumptions:

1. In the article, he started by quoting 3/93 and implies that the ‘children of israel’ refers to the Jews of the time. This is evident from his identification of the ‘people of the book’ from 3/98 and then the quotation of the Psalms. There is no evidence from Quran at all about this. This equivocation is made from the Bible and more interestingly, from hadith. This racialist (not racist but racialist because it pegs bani israil to a race of people as per the Bible, please take note) interpretation of bani israil is not backed by Quran itself. We must remember that the Quranic personality *musa* called for the liberation of bani israil and *firauns* magicians themselves came to believe in him. This for a start shows that bani israil was never a racial trait. Once again, it is the Bible and the Hadith which shows that bani israil is a race rather than a movement for all human beings. *bani israil* is identified as the ‘muslimeen’ (Quran 10/90) and muslimeen have never been a racial concept. The sayings of the messengers have never changed through the ages as The Reader was told (41/43).

2. In Joseph’s quote of 3/93, he implies that ‘the Law’ refers to the Torah. This is again evident from his quotation of the Psalms to explain where Baca is. If we used his principle above (makkah is not bakkah because the wording is different), then why does he not ask why the word ‘hukm’ isn’t used. Quran uses the word ‘hukm’ (law), ‘yahkum’ (governs), ‘hakeem’ (judicious), ‘hukkam’ (judges) yet doesn’t use it here. Why does Joseph not raise this question but rather accepts that ‘tawraat’ refers to the ‘Torah’? Furthermore, there are ayat in Quran which explain the concept of ‘tawraat (such as 9/111 and 48/29) ’. Why aren’t these repeated in the Torah thus showing unequivocally that Torah is indeed tawraat?

3. Joseph quotes the Psalms to characterise ‘Baca’ as a valley as told by the ‘Hebrew scriptures (which again has no Quranic validation).  Once again if we employ Joseph’s principle above, why doesn’t Quran simply say ‘in the valley of bakkah’. In truth, Quran doesn’t even say ‘IN’ (fee bakkah) but rather ‘with bakkah’ (bi bakkata).  If Joseph rightly demands of Quran precision of language use (and it should meet this demand as it comes from Allah), then why not take into account that ‘in’ is not even used in this aya (3/96)?

4. The ‘people of the book’ concept. Once again Joseph pegs this idea to the Jews (hence his mention of the non-existent ‘Hebrew scriptures’). Once again, if we employ his own principle of precision in Quranic terminology, we will see that ‘al-kitab’ has never referred to another book. It can refer to Quran itself (al-kitab wa quranun mubeen – 15/1), it can refer to the system of the Prophets (al-kitab bil haqq – 2/213) and even to natural systems (6/38). It does not refer to any external book. The notion that ahl al-kitab refers to Jews and Christians comes from Traditional literature and is very politically (and racially) motivated.

These are just some of the critiques I have for Joseph’s reasoning with regards to the issue of *bakkah*. I feel that with the use of the Bible, Quran’s own intent becomes subverted. Rather than establishing a system of peace and justice (as my reading of the context suggests), Quran is used to find some ancient shrine in the manner told by the Bible. If Hadith literature is to be questioned thoroughly for its veracity (and it should be), then the Bible must be subject to double the scrutiny because its historical distance is even further. Even if Quran approves of another text as an authoritative explanation, then it must retain its place as ‘guardian over it’ (5/48). If this is the case, how can we accept ideas like ‘valley of Bakkah’ when Quran makes no mention of it? These are only a few of the problems which makes Biblical Quranism a sub optimal method, in my opinion.

I hope to continue this critique next month where I will analyse the concept of Hebrew Prophet and Mecca.

By Farouk A Peru

Offline Joseph Islam

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Re: Critique of Br J Islam's article on Baca and Makka
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2015, 02:14:04 AM »
Dear Readers,

As-salamu alaykum

I am very humbled and appreciative at the author's respectful manner and approach to sharing his differences of opinion. This is very commendable.

However, notwithstanding the many concerns I have with which the author has erroneously insinuated that my Quranic interpretation is based innately on secondary sources (which avid readers of my site / articles will no doubt testify as false), the author's article above also epitomises (in my humble view) the fundamental differences in my approach to the Quran and his. Two main differences are highlighted in the following post which I feel go to the crux of the contentions that he has raised.

Although it is not my intention to compartmentalise the author's approach as 'Quranist' (a nuanced term), I do feel that the contentions I have raised in the post below do apply to the author's approach in general. It is left with the respected readership to assess the credibility of the fundamental problems that I raise with what I respectfully feel, are inherent flaws in the author's approach to the Quran and his contentions that have stemmed from them.




The term 'Quranist' (or Quranism) often has a nuanced understanding amongst its adherents. It can imply different notions to different people.

For the purposes of this short post, 'Quranism' (and by virtue who follows the approach - ‘The Quranist’), is understood as someone that rejects all sources of authority and interpretation bar the Quranic text.

This approach arguably fails in two key areas:


A question begs to be asked: ‘If no 'outside' sources are to be admitted whilst interpreting the Quran, then how is one expected to understand the Arabic language and grammar of the Quran and subsequently, its message?’

The Quran is not a dictionary or lexicon (nor does it intend to be), which is the impression some Quranists may portray during their discourses on various platforms (a general sentiment, not directed at a particular group or individual).

In fact, there are words in the Quran that are only used once in the entire Quran (hapax legomenon). The word 'al-tara'ib' (86:7) is one example. The word 'Eid' (5:114) is another example. With such words, how can one ever begin to understand the meaning of the words without an appreciation of the general Arabic language which has reached us through various secondary sources? After all, it is to be noted that such ‘language sources’ are also ‘hadith’ based and reside outside the Quranic text.

Yes indeed, the Quran can be used as a reference or criterion, but the contention remains that the Quran also expects that the audience is familiar with the Arabic language for them to be able to grasp its message. Hence the Quran is ‘prima facie’ dependant on an understanding of the language via all sources necessary. Otherwise, the Quranic language (and its message) will end up becoming nothing more than Egyptian Hieroglyphics without the Rosetta stone to assist.

Even the question of the authenticity of the Ahadith corpus is not founded on the unreliability of the classical Arabic language in which it is transmitted. Rather, it is founded on questionable content (matn) and transmission. The mere fact that the veracity of a particular hadith can be ‘questioned’ is proof that the ancient Arabic language in which the Ahadith is transmitted is accepted as reliable.

As an example, if a hadith mentions 'nisa' implying women, it is accepted that the Hadith means 'women'. However, it may be rejected because the content of the hadith about women is not reliable. One simply cannot reject a particular hadith if the language that underpins it, remains questionable. [1]

This remains noteworthy.

It is also important to remember that 'Arabic' is not a dead / defunct language, nor is it nearly obsolete like the language of Prophet Jesus (Aramaic). Arabic is a thriving language throughout the world with many words of the Quran still in everyday use today as they were in the Quran, ancient literature and the vernacular of the Arab ancients of yore.

Therefore, it can be argued as intellectually disingenuous, that whilst arguing for a 'Quran-only' / ‘Quranist’ approach where often outlandish, alien meanings and interpretations are given to well attested Arabic words, these approaches still often refer to 'Arabic grammar' and 'meanings' from the very ‘secondary sources’ (lexicon etc), which they claim to reject in the first place.

Once the stable platform of the Arabic language is removed, dictionaries simply become a tool to argue for the most 'fantastic' interpretations, aided by the result of cherry picking definitions at will, to suit personal world-views, often by those not proficient with Arabic. Arguably, no language proficiency has ever been acquired simply by consulting dictionaries and a Scripture as archaic and fundamental to belief as the Quran, simply cannot be subjected to such an unwarranted and insidious approach.


An approach that argues for the wholesale rejection of previous Scriptures for insights is also wholly unsupportable from the Quran.

It remains an undisputable fact, that the Quran dedicates a plethora of verses to support Biblical narratives and identities (musaddiqan). It clearly expects its audience to be familiar with Biblical notions and goes out of its way to ratify the general integrity of the Torah and the Books of the prophets (Tanakh) (2:136).

For example, the narratives in the Quran concerning prophet 'Job' are extremely succinct and brief (21:83-84; 38:41-43). However, the Quran expects familiarity from the previous Scriptures of the identity and subject overview of what it refers to in those succinct verses. Certainly, the Hebrew Tanakh is familiar with the 'Book of Job' (Ketuvim), which details God's justice in the midst of human suffering and trials. In doing so, the Quran almost acts as a pointer by its succinct narrative, for readers to gain deeper familiarity (if otherwise unknown), in order to understand the context better.

Similarly, 'Michael' who is mentioned along with 'Gabriel', is only mentioned once in the entire Quran (2:98). If the narrative is studied, it is clear that the Quran once again, expects some familiarity.

As another example, one only needs to compare the Biblical story of Prophet Joseph with the Quran’s portrayal to note the stark similarities.

It is important to remember that the Quran's purpose is not to rewrite the Bible (5:15) but to confirm and also act as a 'furqan' (25:1). It protects the essence of the message of the previous scriptures, whilst also acting as a discerner of its truth (muhayminan).

Thus the blanket rejection of any source ‘Biblical’ is wholly unsupportable from a Quran's perspective. It serves no other purpose but to precariously dismiss a large portion of the Quran’s verses which contain tremendous wisdom. Such an approach is not only intellectually and academically unwarranted, it can also be argued as disingenuous.

Such an oft dismissive ‘Quranist’ approach, has often fuelled the most outlandish concepts and interpretations to be conceived where well understood /attested Arabic words and Biblical concepts are wrought into completely nonsensical, far-fetched understandings.

The net result is no different from the extreme traditional understanding which also, cannot be genuinely supported by the Scripture.


This approach, whilst arguing that the primary source of interpretation and the sole criterion to judge with central religious authority remains the Quran, genuinely allows for other vestiges of knowledge to be studied from the ‘lens’ of the Quran. This is particularly true of any writings or literature that the Quran implicitly supports such as the Biblical narratives or any resources required to understand the Arabic language of the Quran. Thus the approach is inherently 'engaging' as opposed to being unduly 'restrictive' without warrant. It has the capacity to reject or accept any notion once studied from the Quran as central criterion and authority.

This is arguably the only approach the Quran itself sanctions, whilst unequivocally calling itself the 'furqan' (the 'criterion' between right and wrong and to make judgements from) [2].


[1] Islamic Secondary Sources and Lexicons
[2] Quran-centric - A powerful position indeed!
[3] Does Allah Change His Laws?
'During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act' 
George Orwell