Higher Criticism Meets Mohammed

Higher criticism or the historical-critical method has long been used by skeptics to tear apart the Bible. Or, in the words of one definition:

Higher criticism treats the Bible as a text created by human beings at a particular historical time and for various human motives, in contrast with the treatment of the Bible as the inerrant word of God.

Numerous academic careers have been enhanced by teaching and writing about higher criticism. In fact, in many ecclesiastical circles, it is de rigueur to be versed in the topic, even if one is not a hard-core adherent to the extrapolations of the discipline.

Now, we are seeing what happens when the tenets of higher criticism are applied to a book which is usually treated with greater respect than deity itself:

[I]t came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.

Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged. Even Danish cartoonists who triggered global protests a couple of years ago didn’t portray the Prophet as fictional. German police, worried about a violent backlash, told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises.

The authorities whose job is to protect the peace are so “worried about a violent backlash” to this gentleman’s research that they have told him, in essence, that they cannot protect him where he currently works.

A convert to Islam at age 15, Prof. Kalisch says he was drawn to the faith because it seemed more rational than others. He embraced a branch of Shiite Islam noted for its skeptical bent. After working briefly as a lawyer, he began work in 2001 on a postdoctoral thesis in Islamic law in Hamburg, to go through the elaborate process required to become a professor in Germany.

Ahh. I see. Islam was selected because it was rational. Therefore, it must be examined to prove that it was selected for proper reasons. Now that he has determined that it is not rational (well, maybe not true when it comes to the person known as the Prophet) is he going to cast about for other possibilities?

No, not exactly:

Prof. Kalisch says he “never told students ‘just believe what Kalisch thinks’ ” but seeks to teach them to think independently. Religions, he says, are “crutches” that help believers get to “the spiritual truth behind them.” To him, what matters isn’t whether Muhammad actually lived but the philosophy presented in his name.

Having determined that this particular crutch is broken, the good professor is perfectly happy to stick with the underlying philosophy–whatever that may mean. I am not a Muslim, though I have read the Koran. However, if one does away with a historical Mohammed, is not one left with a number of theological holes which defy filling?

Meanwhile, the powers that be at Münster University are upholding a centuries-old tradition of scholarship and academic inquiry:

Alarmed that a pioneering effort at Muslim outreach was only stoking antagonism, Münster University decided to douse the flames. Prof. Kalisch was told he could keep his professorship but must stop teaching Islam to future school teachers.

Oh. Sorry. I must have misread that a bit.


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