Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Part 1: U Of Michigan Prof Juan Cole Plays "Fantasy Islam" Promotes Muhammad As "Prophet Of Peace"
Part 1: U Of Michigan Prof Juan Cole Plays "Fantasy Islam" Promotes Muhammad As "Prophet Of Peace"
New Book Lauded By Islamist Apologists Whitewashes Islam's History Of Violence And Destruction
The Fantasy Islam of the University of Michigan's Juan Cole (Part 1)BY STEPHEN M. KIRBY
In October 2018 we saw the release of Juan Cole's new book: Muhammad, Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, and he is a "Renowned Middle East Expert." His new book received rave reviews; here are some that are on the book cover:
A brilliant and original book destined to challenge many Western preconceptions about Islam. Eugene Rogan, author of The Arabs: A History
Filled with astute observations at every turn. Fred M. Donner, University of Chicago
Cole's thoroughly original and firmly rooted scholarship challenges long established Western narratives of Islam as a religion of violence, war, and intolerance. A brilliant reconstruction of early Islamic history. John L. Esposito, Georgetown University (Esposito has his own version of Fantasy Islam.)
In spite of Cole's academic standing at the University of Michigan and the rave reviews, this book is largely a work of fiction based on Cole's personal interpretation of the Koran and his selective approach to Islamic Doctrine and 7th Century Islamic history.
Cole and the Umayyad/Abbasid Scholars
Cole was very critical of the Muslim scholars who wrote about the Koran and Muhammad during the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750) and the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258). He accused these scholars of "inventing exploits for the glory of an ancestor" and creating the appearance of more violence during the time of Muhammad than actually occurred; Cole even wrote that some of the "major battles appear to be fiction" (pp. 145 and 200-1). For example, Cole wrote that the Koran had mentioned the Battle of Hunayn, but not the siege of Taif, therefore that siege "may be a later fiction" (p. 175); and he wrote that the Koran made no reference to the Battle of Tabuk, and consequently that battle was "likely a later fiction" (p. 185).
The basis of Cole's criticism was that these Umayyad/Abbasid era scholars had written about events that could not be found in the Koran (see also. pp. 3-4). Based on this standard, Cole had "disregarded most such later material" and even categorically rejected The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi because it was "obviously very distant from the Qur'anic primary source" (Endnote 7, p. 228). In this book Al-Waqidi (747-823) had written about the military campaigns of Muhammad, including the siege of Taif and the Battle of Tabuk.
But in his book Cole did rely selectively on some Umayyad/Abbasid era scholars: ibn Ishaq (704-768), ibn Rashid (714-770), ibn Sa'd (784-845), al-Bukhari (810-870), and al-Tabari (839-923). It is interesting to note that in the writings of these five scholars the siege of Taif, the Battle of Tabuk, and many, if not all, of the military campaigns written about by al-Waqidi were included.
Whether Cole knew it or not, Islamic Doctrine inadvertently provided an advantage to him in terms of his arbitrary rejection of events not mentioned in the Koran. Islamic Doctrine teaches that the verses of the Koran can be divided into two categories:
Since most verses in the Koran were not connected to a particular incident, that means that many, if not most of the events that occurred during the time of Muhammad had no direct connection to verses in the Koran. Since inclusion in the Koran was Cole's standard for determining whether or not an event had really occurred, and, as we shall see below, Cole provided his own interpretation of Koran verses, he had carte blanche to pick and choose what events during the time of Muhammad to include in his book, and how to report these events. We shall see that he was enthusiastic in exercising this freedom.
Cole and the Koran
Cole based his book on the Koran. And he wrote that his "major arguments about the theme of peace are built on the Qur'an itself" (Endnote 8, p. 230). But Cole had an interesting approach to understanding the Koran; on p. 1 he wrote:
This book studies the Qur'an in its historical context rather than trying to explain what Muslims believe about their scripture.
And he stated that he had provided his own "interpretations" of Koran verses (p. 210).
So in terms of his book, Cole was not only not concerned with what Muslims believed about their own holy scripture, but he was going to interpret that scripture as he saw fit.
Muslims believe that the Koran consists of the timeless, perfect and unchangeable words of Allah; and the Koran in Arabic is an exact copy of the Koran that is at Allah's side in paradise. On the other hand, Cole appeared to believe there was some human involvement in the writing of the Koran.
Cole wrote that the Koran used techniques of Greek rhetoric to draw powerful word pictures (p. 54). He went on even further about Greek influence when talking about Koran 53:19-23 on pp. 60-61:
The Qur'an says that the pagans believed the goddesses were the daughters of God, but this belief is unknown in the North Arabian inscriptions. Since many had identified Allat [a pagan Arabian goddess] with the Greek Athena, however, and since Athena was held to spring from the brain of Zeus, the motif of the daughters of God may derive from Hellenistic influence.
17:42 of the Koran dealt with the belief by polytheists that there had been other gods besides Allah, and the verse stated that those gods would have sought a way of being nearer to Allah and worshipping him. On p. 60 Cole said this verse was
probably referring to the generational war of the Olympians with the Titans in Greek mythology, in which Zeus and his siblings deprived their father, Kronos, of the throne…
Unfortunately for Cole, three post-Abbasid period Koran commentaries (tafsirs) made no reference to Greek mythology in discussing this verse. Nevertheless, according to Cole, the contents of the Koran had been influenced by the Greeks.
Here is how Cole explained the nature of the "sophisticated vocabulary" in the Koran (Endnote 33, p. 239):
I am hypothesizing that although the Qur'an is grammatically in the Hejazi dialect, its more sophisticated vocabulary derives from urban Arabs in and around Damascus, Bostra, and Petra, who also knew Greek and Aramaic and had created neologisms for theological and philosophical discourse over the centuries…[there was] Greek and Arabic bilinguality in Petra of a sort I suspect Muhammad shared…
So the vocabulary of the Koran derived "from urban Arabs" who also knew Greek and Aramaic, and an "Arab bilinguality" which Cole suspected that Muhammad "shared."
Linking Muhammad even more to the wording of the Koran, on pp. 69-70 Cole wrote:
Muhammad clearly knew the Palestinian Talmud, and it has been argued that the middle chapters of the Qur'an show knowledge of rabbinical forms of argumentation, suggesting dialogue and discussion with learned Jews.
And on p. 188 Cole stated that Muhammad had criticized some Jewish beliefs, then Cole immediately provided Koran verse 9:30 as an example of that criticism, followed by how Muhammad thought the Jews and Christians reacted to that criticism:
Muhammad, toward the end of his life, in 630-632, admittedly criticized some Arabian Jewish beliefs. Repentance 9:30 complains, "Jews say, ‘Ezra is the Son of God'; Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the Son of God'…How they are perverted!" Muhammad appears to have assumed that Jews and Christians took this diction literally…
Muslims believe that the Koran consists of words sent down from Allah. Cole believes that the wording of the Koran was influenced by the Greeks, multi-lingual "urban Arabs" such as Muhammad, and "rabbinical forms of argumentation."
The fact that Cole saw human influence in the writing of the Koran and his indifference to Muslim beliefs indicates that he thought the Koran was more man-made than being the timeless, perfect and unchangeable words of Allah. Based on his free-wheeling approach to providing new meanings to Koran verses, he apparently believed that what man had largely created, another man could largely recreate.
Cole is not supported by some of his own sources
The endnotes for Cole's book covered about 85 pages (the text itself is only 210 pages). Included in these endnotes were a multitude of sources. However, as the result of Cole's rejection of numerous early Muslim scholars, the sources about Islam in his endnotes consisted largely of 20th Century academic articles and books.
There are too many sources to individually check, but as I studied his book I came across some interesting disconnects between what Cole wrote and what his endnote sources really said.
It has long been recognized that this account of the interchange between the angel and Muhammad is patterned on Isaiah 29:11-12.
Cole then proceeded to quote those particular verses from Isaiah 29.
Endnote 15, on p. 247 provided the source for Cole's claim that this interchange was patterned on Isaiah 29. That source was pp. 41-42 in Michael Bonner's book Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice (2006). I looked at my copy of Bonner's book and found that on those pages Bonner is actually connecting this incident to Isaiah 40:6-8 and quoting those particular verses, instead of Isaiah 29:11-12.
There is one text known as the Sahrestaniha i Eransahr (The Provincial Capitals of Iranshahr) which discusses the different capital cities in the different regions. All the cities are mentioned as part of the Sasanian Empire, which include Mecca, Medina and parts of Africa…The text is not an exact geographical-administrative history but contains an imperial outlook which is enforced by Zoroastrian dogma.
So according to the source cited by Cole, Mecca would have also been a Persian Empire "vassal state" in Muhammad's youth. There is no historical evidence of such a status for Mecca during Muhammad's youth, so it is curious that Cole decided to give credit to only the part of this statement mentioning Medina while ignoring the inclusion of Mecca that would have thrown into question Cole's claim about Medina's "vassal" relationship. On top of which, the original source for Cole's claim was not even "an exact geographical-administrative history."
However, in Griffith's article, on p. 118 of The Qur'an in Its Historical Context, Griffith actually refuted Cole's claim that Chapter (Sura) 18 had been "redated" to the Medinan period. Here is what Griffith wrote in his article:
To begin with, it is the received wisdom among both Muslim commentators and western scholars that the sura in which the legend is evoked is, with the exception of just a few verses, "Meccan"…the warning against "those who say God has gotten a child" (18:4) was not in the first place addressed to Christians but to Meccan polytheists… the fact remains that it is in this largely Meccan sura that the Qur'an evokes the memory of the Christian legend of the "Sleepers"…
The Meccan time period was 610-622. Cole took great freedom in his book in reinterpreting Koran verses, and as we shall see later, to assigning new time periods to other chapters of the Koran. The question here is why he would provide a source for his re-dating of Chapter 18 that actually refuted his claim?
Having written numerous books and articles about Islam, I know how easy it can be to overlook an occasional, minor typographical error until after a work is published. But these four examples go well beyond such minor errors. If one had the time to check Cole's multitude of sources, would there be more such discoveries?
Cole and the Doctrine of Abrogation
The Doctrine of Abrogation is fundamental to understanding Islam. Here is how Cole briefly, and somewhat dismissively, addressed the topic on p. 203:
One reason the peace verses of the Qur'an and its condemnation of aggressive war have been slighted in later Muslim intellectual history is that medieval Muslim clerics developed, and many misused, a theory of abrogation.
So according to Cole, the "theory of abrogation" had been developed by "medieval Muslim clerics." Cole was wrong on both counts: Abrogation is a doctrine based on a verse of the Koran revealed to Muhammad and then expanded upon by the 8th and 9th Century founders of the four major schools of Sunni Sharia Law.
In order to understand abrogation we must first get a basic understanding of the Koran. The verses of the Koran were delivered to Muhammad through the angel Jibril (Gabriel) in a series of "revelations." Muhammad started receiving these "revelations" in Mecca in 610; they continued through his emigration to Medina in 622, and ended only with his death in Medina in 632.
Translations of the Koran usually indicate whether a chapter was revealed in Mecca or in Medina, but the chapters are not organized chronologically. The location of "revelation" does not automatically mean that the verse was revealed when Muhammad was physically in Mecca or physically in Medina. It is rather a common shorthand approach that refers to the Meccan time period (610-622) and the Medinan time period (622-632), because Muhammad received "revelations" even when he was not physically in either one of those two cities.
There is an important significance to when a verse or chapter was "revealed." While in Mecca, the religion of Islam was just starting and it was generally not well received. Perhaps as a result of this, the verses of the Koran revealed during the Meccan period were generally more peaceful and accommodating toward non-Muslims than the verses revealed later in the Medinan period. The verses from the Medinan period had a general tendency to be more belligerent and intolerant, and more inclined to make sharp differentiations between Muslims (believers) and non-Muslims (disbelievers/unbelievers).
However, this can lead to an irreconcilable contradiction between the message of a Meccan verse and that of a Medinan verse addressing the same topic. But how can there be such a contradiction when the Koran is believed to be the timeless, perfect, and unchangeable word of Allah?
This was covered in a Medinan verse in the Koran that introduced the concept of "abrogation"; that is Chapter 2, Verse 106:
Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is Able to do all things?
So if there is an irreconcilable contradiction between the messages of two "revelations" in the Koran, then the most recent "revelation" abrogates (supersedes) the earlier one and is now the one to be followed.
Consequently, a "revelation" made in the Medinan period would supersede a similar, earlier "revelation" made in the Meccan period if there was an irreconcilable conflict between the two. And if there was such a conflict between two Medinan verses, then the one revealed later would supersede the earlier one. Both verses remain in the Koran because they are considered the words of Allah, but it is the most recent "revelation" that now carries the doctrinal authority.
In terms of the application of the Doctrine of Abrogation, Cole cryptically wrote on p. 204: "Tabari pointed out that only a command can be abrogated." Actually, there is more to it than that.
Among the founders of the four major schools of Sunni Sharia Law there were four ways in which abrogation could occur:
The Doctrine of Abrogation is fundamental to understanding the Koran. Cole completely ignored this doctrine when writing about verses of the Koran, thus allowing him a free hand when talking about the relevance and doctrinal authority of individual Koran verses.
Cole, God, and Righteous Monotheists
On pp. 113-114 Cole explained that Judaism, Christianity, "and the faith of Muhammad" are monotheistic beliefs and "forms" of the "philosophy of Abraham," and the Koran stated "that living in accord with the monotheistic philosophy of Abraham suffices for salvation."
On p. 2 Cole wrote that the Koran "promises salvation to all righteous monotheists and not just to followers of the prophet [sic] Muhammad." He repeated this idea again on p. 139 where he wrote that the Koran "pledged entry into paradise" to those "scriptural communities" who "lived a righteous life."
Throughout his book Cole carried on with the theme about the commonality of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and he used the word "God" to indicate that Jews, Christians and Muslims all believed in the same God. Is this so?
The god of Islam is Allah. What does Allah say in the Koran about Jews and Christians?
Allah states that he is angry with the Jews, and the Christians are misguided in their beliefs (1:7). Allah specifically states that the Jews are among the worst enemies of Muslims (5:82). Allah curses the Jews and Christians (9:30). He states that the Jews and Christians are among the worst of creatures who "will abide in the fire of Hell" (98:6), while Muslims are the best of creatures (3:110 and 98:7). He forbids Muslims from being friends with Jews and Christians (5:51). Instead, Allah commands Muslims to fight the Jews and Christians until those Jews and Christians pay the jizyah (protection tax) with willing submission and feeling themselves subdued (9:29).
Allah states that Christianity is a false religion. Allah says that Jesus was not crucified, but it only appeared so (4:157-158). Allah states that he took Jesus bodily into paradise and made one of Jesus' disciples look like Jesus; it was that disciple who was crucified. So Muslims who know their religion look at a crucifix or a painting of the Crucifixion and see an imposter hanging on the cross. And of course, if there was no Crucifixion, there was no Resurrection. So Islam teaches that Christianity is based on a fraud.
Allah is not the God of Jews and Christians.
Cole wrote about the "righteous" Jews and Christians being guaranteed salvation and paradise. And he referred to a number of Koran verses that he claimed showed respect for Christianity and Judaism (e.g. 28:52-54 – p. 78; 2:62 – p. 109; 7:159 – p. 114; 3:113 – p. 115; 5:51 – pp. 183-184, 5:69 – p. 186; 5:12-13 – pp. 187-188; and 5:48, p. 192). In making this claim Cole took advantage of providing his own explanation for the meanings of these verses and ignoring the doctrine of abrogation and the commentaries of authoritative Muslim scholars. The reality is that these verses have either been abrogated or are antagonistic toward Jews and Christians who retained their faith, while praising Jews and Christians who converted to Islam (thus making them "righteous" and "God-fearing").
On p. 99 Cole provided his own wording for 3:85, which he claimed did not refer specifically to "the religion of Muhammad":
Whoever follows a religion other than the monotheistic tradition (islam), it shall not be accepted, and that one will be among the losers in the hereafter.
Cole used the word "islam" because he believed it was "the general term…which the Qur'an had used to refer to the perennial tradition of all the monotheistic prophets" (p. 204). In support of this idea, Cole wrote on p. 79:
All those who submit to the one God and accept the Word or tradition of Abraham about his unicity are thus muslims, with a small m, from Solomon to the disciples of Jesus.
The reality of 3:85 is completely different. In English translations of the Koran, the word "Islam" is used in place of Cole's phrase "other than the monotheistic tradition (islam)"; e.g.
And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
And over the centuries authoritative Koran commentators have explained that this verse meant that only the religion of Islam was acceptable to Allah.
The meaning of the 3:85 was best summed up by Muhammad:
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: By Him in whose hand is the life of Muhammad, he who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state (of disbelief), he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire.
So in spite of what Cole believed, the prophet of Allah said that Jews and Christians were going to Hell if they did not convert to Islam.
Here is another example of how Cole provided his own interpretation of a Koran verse and changed its meaning to support his ideas. On pp. 192-193 Cole wrote about how the Koran "points to the need of the very different people down on earth again [sic] to learn to live in peace." He then referred to 49:13, which he wrote in this manner:
People, we have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another. The noblest of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. God is knowing and aware.
The significance of this is that where Cole wrote "the most pious of you," the Koran actually refers to those who have At-Taqwa. What is Taqwa?
Taqwa is defined as fearing Allah when a person fears from Almighty Allah then he will not commit sins. Taqwa incorporates consciousness and fear of Allah as well as piety. Piety is basically righteousness that can be only obtained by the obedience of Almighty Allah and refrain from His prohibitions… In Holy Quran and Sunnah Taqwa is define [sic] as the concept of protecting oneself from the Hellfire by following the orders of Allah Almighty, by doing what He (SWT) has commanded and by avoiding what He (SWT) has forbidden. 
So in spite of what Cole believed, the focus of 49:13 had nothing to do with different people learning to live together in peace; this verse simply stated that of all the people created, the Muslims were the "noblest" in the eyes of Allah.
On to Part 2
In this first part we have seen that Cole had a selective approach to Islamic Doctrine and 7thCentury Muslim history, believed that there was human involvement in the writing of the Koran, had a certain amount of disconnect between what he wrote and sources he claimed showed support of that writing, and exercised great freedom in determining the meaning of Koran verses because he was not concerned about what Muslims believed about their holy scripture.
In Part 2 we will look at how Cole arbitrarily provided new time frames for when Koran chapters were "revealed," likened Muhammad to "the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount," and took liberties with major historical events in Islam.
Dr. Stephen M. Kirby is the author of five books about Islam. His latest book is The Lure of Fantasy Islam: Exposing the Myths and Myth Makers.
 I wrote some time back about Esposito's own version of Fantasy Islam: "Fantasy Islam (Kafir Edition) – John Esposito's fairy tale version of Islam," Frontpage Mag, December 22, 2016; accessible at http://www.frontpagemag.com
 Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan (Birmingham, UK: Al-Hidaayah Publishing, 1999), p. 107.
 Abu al-Fida' ‘Imad Ad-Din Isma'il bin ‘Umar bin Kathir al-Qurashi Al-Busrawi, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), abr. Shaykh Safiur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, trans. Jalal Abualrub, et al. (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2000), Vol. 6, pp. 19-20; Jalalu'd-Din al-Mahalli and Jalalu'd-Din as-Suyuti, Tafsir Al-Jalalayn, trans. Aisha Bewley (London: Dar Al Taqwa Ltkd., 2007), p. 600; and Salahuddin Yusuf, Tafsir Ahsanul-Bayan, trans. Mohammad Kamal Myshkat (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2010), Vol. 3, pp. 288-289.
 An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan, pp. 238-240. This list of the four ways in which abrogation can occur was also noted in Ahmad Von Denffer, ‘Ulum al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an (Leicestershire, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1994), p. 82.
 Those founders were Imam Abu Hanifah (699-767) – Hanafi School, Imam Malik (711-795) – Maliki School, and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (780-855) – Hanbali School.
Imam al-Shafi'i (767-820), the founder of the fourth major Sunni school (the Shafi'i School), believed that the Koran could only abrogate the Koran, and the Sunnah could only abrogate theSunnah. Al-Shafi'i's position was also noted in ‘Ulum al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an, p. 82.
 For an in-depth look at the Doctrine of Abrogation, and the related concept of Takhsees(Specification), see An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan, pp. 232-256.
 For details about the actual meanings and relevance of these Koran verses, see my articles: 1) "Jewish-Muslim coexistence through the Koran? Wishful thinking," Arutz Sheva 7/Israel National News, January 13, 2016; accessible athttp://www.israelnationalnew
 Interpretation of the Meanings of The Noble Qur'an, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2007), p. 95. For similar Koran translations using the word "Islam" instead of Cole's phrase, see, for example: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, trans. Marmaduke Pickthall (1930; rpt. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), pp. 76-77; The Noble Qur'an, A New Rendering of its Meaning in English, trans. Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley (London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 2011), p. 53; and The Qur'an, English Meanings and Notes by Saheeh International (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust, 2010), p. 79.
 E.g., Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 2, pp. 202-204; and ‘Abd ar-Rahman b. Nasir as-Sa'di, Tafsir As-Sa'di, trans. S. Abd al-Hamid, Vol. 1 (Floral Park, New York: The Islamic Literary Foundation: 2012), p. 258.
 Abu'l Hussain ‘Asakir-ud-Din Muslim bin Hajjaj al-Qushayri al-Naisaburi, Sahih Muslim, trans. ‘Abdul Hamid Siddiqi (New Delhi, India: Adam Publishers and Distributors, 2008), Vol. 1, No. 153, p. 103.
 E.g., Interpretation of the Meanings of The Noble Qur'an, p. 695; Tafsir Ahsanul-Bayan, Vol. 5, p. 210; and Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 9, pp. 206-208.
 "Importance of Taqwa in Islam and its Benefits from Quran," Quran Reading, January 2, 2018: accessible at http://www.quranreading.com