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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Islam Scholar Stephen M. Kirby Debunks U Of Michigan's Juan Cole's Pseudo Scholarship Once Again

Islam Scholar Stephen M. Kirby Debunks U Of Michigan's Juan Cole's Pseudo Scholarship Once Again

Cole Undermines His Own Arguments - Launches Ad Hominem Attacks
February 25, 2019

The University of Michigan's Juan Cole and the "Anonymous Troll": the "Troll" Responds


A great university is defined in large part by its outstanding faculty. The University of Michigan attracts faculty members with commitment to excellence in both teaching and research, as shown by the high quality of its graduates and the superior research and scholarship by its faculty.[1]

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan (U-M), and he is a "Renowned Middle East Expert."[2] In October 2018, Cole's book Muhammad, Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires was released. In December 2018, Jihad Watchpublished my three-part article that was very critical about the information in, and the overall quality of Cole's book.[3]

I was recently advised that Cole had responded to my article with three entries in his blog, posted a few days after my article had been published.[4] His responses were replete with ad hominem attacks (including calling me an "anonymous troll"), addressed very few of the issues I had raised about his book, and actually provided two more examples of Cole using sources that actually undermined his claims!

This article looks at Cole's three entries, and while you read it keep in mind that U-M brags about "the superior research and scholarship" of its "outstanding" faculty.

That which must not be named

Cole wrote that:

…an anonymous operative going by "Stephen M. Kirby"…attacked my book at a major hate site directed against Muslims (I won't link precisely because it is a hate site).

So Cole made the absurd claim that Jihad Watch is "a major hate site directed against Muslims," but for some reason he wouldn't actually mention its name or web address.

One would think that Cole would want his readers to become aware of such "a major hate site." After all, U-M faculty members reportedly have a commitment to excellence in research, and encouraging others to research a "hate site" would be a worthy endeavor. So why didn't Cole identify Jihad Watch and encourage his readers to research it and decide for themselves?

Perhaps the answer lies in the last three words of the above sentence. By not identifying the "hate site," Cole has the classroom podium, so to speak, when it comes to information, and in this way he alone can decide what the nature of a website is.

In theory, an internet search would allow one to find my article and the fact that it was published at Jihad Watch, which would allow the searcher to judge both my article and the overall content of Jihad Watch. On the other hand, perhaps there are many of Cole's readers who are not interested in taking such an initiative and just passively accept what he has to say.

But with U-M's reported commitment to excellence in teaching and research, would Cole really allow a student in his classroom to make such a sweeping statement about a website without having to actually identify that website and support that claim? The answer is of course, no. But for some reason, Cole considered himself exempt from such a requirement.

Cole believes he engages in logical fallacies that reflect poorly on his intelligence or integrity?

In his three entries, Cole made frequent use of ad hominem attacks against me, e.g.:

  1. …an anonymous operative going by "Stephen M. Kirby" who is otherwise a ghost on the internet…
  2. …an anonymous troll going by "Kirby"…
  3. As to "Kirby," I will begin by addressing some of his substantive critiques, which may seem minor, and don't involve hate speech the way much of his screed does…
  4. "Kirby" doesn't know how to read texts.
  5. …just the polemics of someone who would flunk one of my courses at the University of Michigan proving himself a poor reader of texts, who does not understand academic scholarship, and who is frustrated that his hate-speech talking points are being challenged.

It is interesting that Cole referred to me as "a ghost on the internet." Simply doing an internet search of my name would show my website, and my books and numerous published articles. Furthermore, at the conclusion of every article I have had published over the years I have noted that I have written a number of books about Islam and list my latest book.

On December 16, 2018, I posted three tweets on Cole's Twitter page regarding my article about his book.[5] By going to my Twitter page, Cole would be able to see a brief biography, the address of my webpage, and numerous tweets about the articles and books I have written over the years.

Either Cole intentionally chose not to look at my Twitter page and intentionally made no effort to find out about me on the internet, or he is aware of the above information. Either way, he is simply being disingenuous in his effort to portray me as nothing more than an "anonymous troll" who appeared out of nowhere.

It is interesting that Cole took a similar ad hominem approach when he branched off in one of his responses to explain the popularity of books about Islam written by those who are "unqualified":

The Islamophobic industry attempting to spread hate of Muslims in the United States and Europe is extremely well funded…That so many of the books on Islam at the top of the Amazon bestseller lists are by unqualified preachers of hate suggests to me that behind the scenes the white supremacist wealthy have had employees steadily purchase copies, keeping them visible on the front pages of the subject lists. Amazon should look into these practices if it wants to avoid being complicit in this hate campaign.

I have grown accustomed to ad hominem attacks by those I identify as making up their own version of Fantasy Islam. But Cole is of particular interest. His responses with ad hominem attacks against me and the "unqualified preachers of hate" were posted on December 19-23, 2018. But there were other recipients of such attacks by Cole. Here are six of his Twitter postings between January 11 and February 5, 2019:[6]

  1. "70% of US Evangelicalism is a form of latent white supremacism."
  2. Squirrels run through President Trump's head.
  3. Was British Prime Minister Theresa May dropped on her head?
  4. Fox News is generally obligated to lie.
  5. U.S. Congressman Steve King is a war criminal.
  6. Robert Spencer and Congressman Steve King are white supremacists

Yet on February 8, 2019, Cole tweeted this about "ad hominem arguments":

Ad hominem arguments are a logical fallacy and reflect poorly on the intelligence or integrity of those who trot them out.[7]

Judging Cole by his own criteria, we can see that he has frequently engaged in logical fallacies which reflect poorly on his intelligence or integrity.

Cole and the Koran

Kirby accuses me of interpreting Qur'an verses. I plead guilty. Interpreting texts is what historians do…The Qur'an remains my primary source, against which later sources are weighed. I admit later accounts only if they do not contradict what is in the Qur'an.

There are three issues to be considered here:

  1. Cole admits to providing his own interpretation of Koran verses; after all, that "is what historians do." As I pointed out in Part 1 of my article, by taking this approach, Cole was showing his indifference to how Muslims interpreted their own holy scriptures and instead, interpreting these scriptures as he saw fit.
  2. As I also pointed out in Part 1, most of the events that occurred during the time of Muhammad had no direct connection to verses in the Koran.
  3. If Cole's interpretation of the Koran did not mention, or contradicted, an incident, then Cole did not give credibility to that incident. This allowed Cole to omit aspects of Islamic history that did not fit with his claim that Muhammad was the "Prophet of Peace."

This is a wonderful approach if a student wants to learn about the Islam of Juan Cole. But it is a travesty if a student wants to learn about the Islam of Muhammad, because for centuries Muslim scholars have known that they must look at more than just the Koran itself in order to understand the meanings and messages of its verses.

Over the centuries, Muslim scholars have relied on the Principles of Tafsir (Koran commentary) to understand the Koran. These principles are based first on consulting the Koran, then second, consulting the Sunnah (the teachings and example of Muhammad), and then third, consulting the statements of Muhammad's Companions. The Muslim scholar al-Suyuti explained the Principles of Tafsir in this manner:

The scholars have said: Whoever wishes to interpret the Qur'aan, he should first turn to the Qur'aan itself. This is because what has been narrated succinctly in one place might be expounded upon in another place, and what is summarized in one place might be explained in another…

If he has done that, then he turns to the Sunnah, for it is the explainer of the Qur'aan, and a clarifier to it. Imaam as-Shaafi'ee said, "All that the Prophet said is based on his understanding of the Qur'aan…

If he does not find it (the tafseer) in the Sunnah, he turns to the statements of the Companions, for they are the most knowledgeable of it, since they witnessed the circumstances and situations the Qur'aan was revealed in…[8]

The Koran itself states the one must look beyond it and study the Sunnah. Here are some of the Koran verses that stress the importance of the Sunnah of Muhammad:

He who obeys the Messenger (Muhammad), has indeed obeyed Allah… (4:80)

Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much. (33:21)

…And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it; and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it). And fear Allah; verily, Allah is Severe in punishment. (59:7)

So we can see that the Koran specifically commands Muslims to also obey and follow the teachings and example of Muhammad.

Cole's approach not only ignores what the Koran states (or he has egregiously misinterpreted those particular verses), but it also ignores the words of Muhammad:

Yahya related to me from Malik that he heard that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "I have left two things with you. As long as you hold fast to them, you will not go astray. They are the Book of Allah and the sunna [sic] of His Prophet.[9]

And where does one learn about the Sunnah? That information is found in the Sound Sixcollections of hadiths and in the authoritative biography (Sira) and histories of Muhammad, the very works that Cole casts doubt on and, for the most part, arbitrarily dismisses.

Muslims believe that the Sunnah of Muhammad is the "explainer" of the Koran; in the non-Muslim world, Cole believes that he himself is that "explainer."

Cole is not supported by some of his own sources (two additional examples!)

In Part 1 of my article, I presented four examples where sources cited by Cole to support his claims actually refuted or did not support what he had claimed. For some reason, Cole stated that I had found only three. Cole wrote:

"Kirby" claimed to find three errors in my 87 pages of footnotes. He hasn't actually found any at all, but is confused by his own poor reading abilities.

In another part of his response, he wrote:

"Kirby" claims to find three errors in my 87 pages of footnotes. He has found none. He then goes on to say, quite dishonestly, that if he has found three (he has not), there must be many more (he does not know that). This is a well-known propaganda technique.

As Cole should know, I did not state that "there must be many more" such examples. Here is what I had written about that:

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?

It is interesting that Cole did not dispute the fourth example I had noted about his sources not supporting his claim that "Muhammad had allied with Constantinople and went to his grave that way in 632." In his responses, he just ignored this inconvenient revelation.

So let's look at his responses to the other three errors I had identified. His responses consisted largely of ad hominem attacks on me, going off on tangents, sleight-of-hand, a "straw man," and, surprisingly, two additional examples where his source actually refuted what Cole had written!

  1. I had written:

"On p. 38 Cole wrote about Muhammad having received his first ‘revelation' and returning in terror to his wife Khadija. Cole continued:

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.

In his book, 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 actually connected this incident to Isaiah 40:6-8 and quoted those particular verses, instead of Isaiah 29:11-12.

So I had simply pointed out the curious fact that although Cole had claimed that "it had long been recognized" that this incident was "patterned" on verses in Isaiah 29, his source for this claim had actually connected this incident to verses in Isaiah 40!

Cole started his response with this:

I show that one of the early sayings about the Prophet Muhammad first receiving revelation makes a veiled reference to saiah chapter [sic] 29, which is about the encroachment of Assyrian ruler Sennacherib on Jerusalem.

Cole proceeded to provide more information about Sennacherib, and then went into a lengthy explanation about why he thought Isaiah 29 was the appropriate Bible chapter. He then concluded:

I note that I am hardly the first to see Isaiah in this story, and cite my colleague Michael Bonner, who had also noted that it has been recognized that the anecdote has antecedents in Isaiah. "Kirby" is exercised that Bonner sees the parallel as being to Isaiah 40:6-8. "Kirby" implies that I make my argument dependent on Bonner's authority. But Bonner simply noted the Isaiah parallel in passing and I was not making an argument from authority. My argument is original. Moreover, Isaiah 40:6-8, which is much later than chapter 29 and by a different author, "Deutero-Isaiah," is a restatement of the sentiments in Isaiah 29:11-12…My citation of Bonner is not a mistake, but a reference to an agreement on a principle; the detail of precisely which verse is referenced is immaterial since they are so similar. "Kirby" doesn't know how to read texts.

In his book, Cole had cited Michael Bonner as the source for his claim that, "It has long been recognized that this account of the interchange between the angel and Muhammad is patterned on Isaiah 29:11-12." Cole provided no information in that endnote to indicate that Bonner actually differed with him in the choice of chapters in Isaiah, leaving the unaware reader the impression that Cole's claim was supported by Bonner. Cole knew it was not, but for some reason decided to leave that crucial fact out of the endnote.

  1. I had noted that on p. 160 Cole claimed that Chapter 18 of the Koran (The Chapter of the Cave) had "recently been redated [sic] to 629 or 630," making it a later Medinan chapter. At the end of the sentence containing this claim was Endnote 21. This endnote referred to a particular article by Sidney Griffith in which, as I pointed out, Griffith stated that Chapter 18 was, on the contrary, a Meccan chapter.

Cole wrote that I had been confused by my "own poor reading abilities," and the source for this claim that Chapter 18 had been re-dated was actually in Endnote 17 on p. 158.

I guess I'm old-fashioned, because many decades ago I was taught that the source for a claim comes at the conclusion of the sentence actually containing that claim, and the source is expected to actually support the claim being made.

In this same posting, Cole continued on by writing that Verses 83-101 of Chapter 18 were about Alexander the Great. He then included Verses 83-101 from Muhammad Asad's translation of the Koran to explain the "episode of Alexander."[10]

Cole apparently did not read Asad's footnotes in this Koran translation, because Asad said that it was "impossible" to identify Alexander the Great as the subject of these verses. In Footnote 81 on p. 503, Asad wrote that:

Within the context of our Qur'anic allegory, the "two horns" may be taken to denote the two sources of power with which Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn [the Two-Horned One] is said to have been endowed: namely, the worldly might and prestige of kingship as well as the spiritual strength resulting from his faith in God. This last point is extremely important – for it is precisely the Qur'anic stress on his faith in God that makes it impossible to identify Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn, as most commentators do, with Alexander the Great…All those historic personages were pagans and worshipped a plurality of deities as a matter of course, whereas our Dhu ‘l-Aranayn is depicted as a firm believer in the One God…

Cole then continued on with the "parable of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus" (the Men of the Cave) found in Verses 13-21 of Chapter 18; Cole wrote that this parable made

an allegorical reference to the restoration of the Christian Roman Empire in the Near East after the defeat of Iran. The Qur'an is urging believers to wake from the slumber of Zoroastrian rule.

Cole then quoted those particular verses from Asad's Koran translation (Asad, pp. 490-492).

However, Asad did not support this claim by Cole. In Endnote 7 on p. 488 Asad wrote:

As regards the story of the Men of the Cave as such, most of the commentators incline to the view that it relates to a phase in early Christian history – namely, the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Decius in the third century…the majority of the classical commentators rely on this Christian legend in their endeavor to interpret the Qur'anic reference (in verses 9-26) to the Men of the Cave. It seems, however, that the Christian formulation of this theme is a later development of a much older oral tradition – a tradition which, in fact, goes back to pre-Christian, Jewish sources…We may, therefore, safely assume that the legend of the Men of the Cave – stripped of its Christian garb and the superimposed Christian background – is, substantially, of Jewish origin.

So here we have two more examples of sources used by Cole that actually undermine his claims. Cole seems to have an uncanny knack for using such sources.

  1. Cole also engaged in a little sleight-of-hand. In Part 1 of my article, I had written the following three paragraphs:

"On p. 65 Cole wrote that ‘the Iranians had made Medina a vassal state in Muhammad's youth.' The source for this statement (Endnote 17, p. 262) referred to ‘chap. 4' in Touraj Daryaee's bookSasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (2009)…I looked at my copy of Daryaee's book. In Chapter 4, on p. 113, I found this statement:

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.'"

In the above three paragraphs I had simply pointed out that Cole's statement about Medina being such a vassal state in Muhammad's youth was based on cherry-picking the source he listed.

Cole made an interesting diversion in his response to this. Here is what he wrote:

I described an alleged trade journey of the young Muhammad in the 590s, in which he first made his way from his hometown of Mecca up to nearby Medina on his way to Damascus in the Roman Near East. "Kirby" complains that I said that "the Iranians had made Medina a vassal state in Muhammad's youth." but that I cited as a source for this statement Touraj Daryaee's book on Sasanian Iran, which says an Iranian geographical manual maintained that the Iranians claimed both Mecca and Medina.

"Kirby" isn't paying attention. My statement that Medina was an indirect vassal of Iran in Muhammad's youth is made on pp. 8-9 and the footnote goes to Michael Lecker, "The Levying of Taxes for the Sassanians in Pre-Islamic Medina (Yathrib)," JSAI 27 (2002): 109–126, which says exactly that.

Sasanian Iran's claims of long-term sovereignty over the entire Hejaz are not credible and I never suggested that they were.

Cole diverted attention from the issue by talking about his description of Muhammad's trade journey on pp. 8-9 of his book, claiming that I wasn't "paying attention" because his statement that Medina had been an "indirect" vassal of Iran was supported by Endnote 7 on p. 9. But in my article, I was quite clear that I was talking about Cole's statement on p. 65 that "the Iranians had made Medina a vassal state in Muhammad's youth," and how Cole had to cherry-pick his source to support that statement. Cole did not address the issue of why he cherry-picked his source, preferring to divert attention to a statement on pages of his book that I had not even mentioned.

It's also interesting that Cole stated that he had never suggested that Iran had "long-term sovereignty over the entire Hejaz." This is a "straw man," because I never claimed that he had made such a suggestion.

So after reviewing Cole's responses, instead of the four examples I had originally given of Cole's sources refuting or not supporting what he had claimed, we now have six such examples!


Cole felt quite burdened in having to respond to my critique of his book:

Thus, an anonymous operative going by "Stephen M. Kirby" who is otherwise a ghost on the internet attacked my book at a major hate site directed against Muslims (I won't link precisely because it is a hate site). I think it is important for me to reply to some of "Kirby's" points…The great scientist and science popularizer Carl Sagan once wrote a chapter disproving crackpot theorist Immanuel Velikovsky. He complained that just doing the math took away from his own science work, but he felt it important to spend the time doing this. So I have to refute the Velikovskys of Islamic Studies.

So apparently Cole had to take time away from his own work on Fantasy Islam to respond to my "Velikovsky"-like comments. Distracting Cole away from his Fantasy Islam is something I consider to be advantageous for his students.

But it is interesting to realize what information in my article Cole did not respond to, e.g.:

  1. The Koran verses he had so blatantly misinterpreted and for which he had invented new timelines.
  2. Why he had claimed the "theory of abrogation" was developed by "medieval Muslim clerics" when in fact the Doctrine of Abrogation is found in Cole's "primary source": the Koran (2:106).
  3. My evidence that Jews, Christians and Muslims do not have the same "God," which undermined his contention about the commonality of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
  4. His arbitrary rewriting of Islamic history to fit his own narrative, e.g.: the Battle of Badr; the attack on the Banu Qurayzah and the beheading of the adult male captives; the Conquest of Mecca; and the Wars of Apostasy.
  5. His unsupported claim that the penalty of stoning for adultery was based on a false saying of Muhammad.

After looking at Cole's responses, the conclusion of my earlier article about his book is even more fitting:

His book is an example of Fantasy Islam par excellence and it is quite fitting that Cole's book received a positive review by the Historical Novel Society, an organization for people "who love historical fiction."[11]

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.

[1] The Michigan Almanac, September 2018, "Faculty and Staff," p. 73; accessible athttp://obp.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/almanac/Almanac_Ch6_Sept2018.pdf.

[2] https://www.macmillanspeakers.com/juancole

[3] The Fantasy Islam of the University of Michigan's Juan Cole: Part 1 – December 14, 2018: https://www.jihadwatch.org/2018/12/the-fantasy-islam-of-the-university-of-michigans-juan-cole-part-1; Part 2 – December 15, 2018: https://www.jihadwatch.org/2018/12/the-fantasy-islam-of-the-university-of-michigans-juan-cole-part-2; Part 3 – December 16, 2018:https://www.jihadwatch.org/2018/12/the-fantasy-islam-of-the-university-of-michigans-juan-cole-part-3.

[4] History and Essentializing Muslims as Violent: More on "Kirby's" attack on my "Muhammad, Prophet of Peace, December 19, 2018, accessible athttps://www.juancole.com/2018/12/history-essentializing-muhammad.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=linkedin; Islamophobia & the Misuse of History: Isaiah 29 and Attacks on my Muhammad: Prophet of Peace, December 20, 2018, accessible at https://www.juancole.com/2018/12/islamophobia-the-misuse-of-history-isaiah-29-and-attacks-on-my-muhammad-prophet-of-peace.html; and Islamophobia and the Misuse of History: Iran, Alexander the Great and the Qur'an, December 23, 2018, accessible athttps://www.juancole.com/2018/12/islamophobia-history-alexander.html.

[5] A screenshot of these three Tweets is athttps://islamseries.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/tweeting-my-article-to-cole-12-16-2018.jpg.

[6] https://islamseries.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/cole-and-ad-hominem-attacks.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'aan (Birmingham, UK: Al-Hidaayah Publishing, 1999), pp. 299-300.

[9] Malik ibn Anas ibn Malik ibn Abi ‘Amir al-Asbahi, Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas: The First Formulation of Islamic Law, trans. Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley (Inverness, Scotland: Madinah Press, 2004), 46.3.

[10] The Message of the Qur'an, trans. Muhammad Asad, (Bristol, England: The Book Foundation, 2003), pp. 502-506.

[11] https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/muhammad-prophet-of-peace-amid-the-clash-of-empires/


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