The book by “Christoph Luxenberg” came out in in Germany with the title ” Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran” (“A Syro-Aramaic Reading of the. Understandably the author’s name ‘Christoph Luxenberg’ is a nom de plume of a professor in Semitic languages at a German university, according to articles in. Christoph Luxenberg: “Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache” [“The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: a .

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The source of this surprising statement is the book under review. Understandably the author’s name ‘Christoph Luxenberg’ is a nom de plume of a professor in Semitic languages at a German university, according to articles in the press.

The statement ‘not virgins but grapes’ is only a small side step in a book that argues a theory that reaches much further, this theory has hardly enjoyed any attention in the press. According to Luxenberg, the Qur’an was not written in classical Crhistoph but in a mixed Arabic-Syriac language, the traders’ language of Mecca and it was based on Christian liturgical texts.

When the final text of the Qur’an was codified, those working on it did not understand the original sense and meaning of this hybrid trading language any more, and they forcefully and randomly turned it into classical Arabic.

This gave rise to a lot of misinterpretations. Something like this can only have happened if there was a gap in the oral transmission of the Qur’anic text. That idea is in serious disagreement with the views of both traditional Muslims and western scholars of Islam. Muslims see the Qur’an as insurpassable and inimitable. The language of luxenbsrg Qur’an is poetic, terse and sometimes extremely difficult to interpret.

During the first centuries of Islam many scholars studied its text, vocabulary, grammar, style and historical and biographical background in order to estabish how the Qur’an had to be understood.

Christoph Luxenberg (Author of The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran)

These activities resulted luxenebrg numerous dictionaries, grammars and extended commentaries, tafsir. In the al-Azhar university in Egypt issued a standard text that is now used worldwide.

This standardisation too had its reasons because despite Uthman’s standardisation, several versions of the text of the Luxenberrg developed. Discussions between traditional Muslims and western scholars of Islam on this topic can run high.

On the side of the faithful it is claimed that these only represent the various Arabic dialects or modes of recitation, the qira’at. All 7 or 10, or 14 are considered canonical. On the side of scholarship however, differences at the level of meaning are recognised. A good example are the last three words of Q 2: In the Egyptian standard edition these are: It is used in the whole Islamic world, except in North Africa.

In the latter, the same passage runs like this: Not all Luenberg deny the existence of these differences. A very charming christopph of the way these are dealt with is Q 5: You who believe, when you are about to pray, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbow, wipe your heads, wash your feet up to the ankles. This means the same, but is in the genitive case, just like the word for ‘head’. In this version the genitive case is luxenbrg because of the preposition ‘over’ your heads and because ‘feet’ has the same case a silent ‘over’ needs to be lusenberg with ‘ and wipe over your feet’.

Now the question is: According to some Islamic interpreters both texts are correct, since under normal circumstances people will wash their feet before prayer, but where there is no water, wiping them suffices.


The combination of the two different transmissions thus delivers lluxenberg full revelation as intended by Allah. Besides these variants early Islamic literature also mentions a lot of alternative readings that do not belong to the canonical texts.

According to our sources these are all from Qur’anic texts that were destroyed in the wake of Uthman’s standardisation. Early Islamic linguists, and since the 19 th century also western scholars of Islam, have discovered loanwords in the Qur’an derived from various languages, mainly from Syriac. In the 7 th century this was the lingua franca of the Middle East, besides Greek, that was mainly spoken in the Byzantine empire.

Mecca, Muhammad’s home city was a christph settlement and Muhammad himself worked in the caravan trade for years. It is unthinkable that he had no knowledge of Syriac.

So it is not surprising that Syriac loanwords are present in the Qur’an. As ‘difficult’ he defines those passages that have been recognised as such by western translators or that have been called so by Tabari AD in his extensive tafsir.

Review of Ch. Luxenberg, ‘Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Qur’an’

That thesis can hardly be summarised in short, but the type of reasoning that Luxenberg uses, can be illustrated with a few examples that the interested layman can follow. This is translated in various ways: The same Arabic word, or derivations of it, occur elsewhere in the Qur’an They are translated as ‘domineering’, ‘arrogance’, ‘high and mighty’ and ‘tyrant’.

This was not understood in later times and the dots were added, so it became a ‘t’. Luxenberg suggests two mistakes: In the oldest script that was used for the Qur’an, hidjazithis is a very likely mistake.

This latter christopph we have seen twice before. Thus the word becomes: Luxenberg proposes a Syriac reading: This means ‘which he has demarcated’. When this is written in Arabic letters in rasmso without the diacritical dots: This would indeed give a translation that seems more logical: The first House of worship to be established for mankind luxenbedg the one which He has demarcated.

It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people. The changes that Luxenberg suggests, aren’t limited to single words. Sometimes he rereads entire phrases and comes up with a reading that is more closely related to chriztoph non-Muslims often consider ‘the sources of the Qur’an’. The word aslama is explained by Tabari in three different ways: This already indicates a problem.

A wide spectrum of possibilities can be found in various translations: Now, the previous verse already states that Ishmael submits himself and it sounds a bit odd to repeat that in this one.

To complete the problem other, non-canonical, variants have been recorded in early Islamic literature: But the reinterpretation isn’t done yet, because li-l-jabini ‘on chrishoph forehead’ also has its difficulties. Tabari reads jabinan ‘two temples’ and concludes the forehead must be meant, since that is in between the two.

This however seems a funny way to indicate a forehead. Luxenberg’s rereading is completed when he translates the preposition li- as ‘upon’, ‘on top of’: When they were finished, and he had tied him down on the firewood. This reading doesn’t differ vastly from the classical one, but it does have one important advantage: It fits the biblical story, as it was known in the 7 th century Syriac version, much better.

A lot of Luxenberg’s arguments are built up like dominoes.

luxdnberg If the first one falls, the rest has to come down with it. That is a weakness on the one hand, but on the other hand this type of domino-reasoning consistently delivers a reading that agrees much better with what are sometimes regarded as the Christian sources of the Qur’an. If this reading is accepted, hur ‘in cannot refer to virgins any more. Furthermore, the way in which hur ‘in is traditionally translated requires some idiomatic chriwtoph.


So it could refer to white women, but the object might just as well be a female word in the grammatical sense only. The word ‘in is traditionally seen as the plural of chrisotph word for ‘eye’ and is translated by ‘wide-eyed’. It is however not a usual plural and it only occurs in the phrase hur ‘in. So in a sense it is a hapax.

The literal translation ‘wide-eyed whites’ would then be a description of the virgins in paradise. In English translations this rather too literal choice of words is rendered as ‘fair ones with wide, lovely eyes’ Pickthal’fair women with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes’ Yusufali and even just ‘Houris pure, beautiful ones’ Shakir.

Luxenberg doesn’t deny that hur can mean ‘white’ and ‘in ‘eye’, but he proposes, through Syriac, a different reading of bi hur ‘in as a consequence of the changed context: That cryptic phrase works more or less in the same way that ‘big cheese’ can describe an important person in English.

Luxenberg finds parallels for the metonymic use of the word ‘white’ in the sense of ‘grape’, both in Arabic and in Syriac. The curistoph in his view is a metaphor to describe ‘the appearance’ of something. For this too he manages to find expressions in both lxuenberg, like ‘the “eye” of a man’ meaning ‘his appearance’ and ‘the “eye” of something’ in the sense of ‘its preciousness’. This reading too requires some acrobatics in vocabulary, but Luxenberg succeeds in reinterpreting all 8 other passages in which the virgins feature, as well as the 3 passages that deal with the male youths in paradise Q All these other 11 reinterpretations are consistent with his first rereading of Q Luxenberg reinterprets about 57 passages in his book.

The conclusion he draws from luxehberg has several ‘layers’:. The first reactions on Islamic sites on the internet were exclusively based on the article in Newsweek. So only the virgins or grapes figured in them. Mostly these reactions were rather polemic and generally lacked any solid reasoning.

Missionary, dilettante or visionary?

The widespread notion among Muslims that ‘the west’ or ‘the orientalists’ were just out to slander Islam and ideas about ‘anti-Islamic propaganda’ played a more important role than the simple facts.

He emphatically proves that the literal meaning of the word hur is ‘white’ and chritsoph means ‘eye’ and that they don’t mean ‘grapes’. He doesn’t realise however lxenberg Luxenberg doesn’t deny these literal meanings at all.

Zaman clearly didn’t read the book. Only much later western scholars of Islam entrusted their ideas on the subject to paper and these are not all positive. Luxenberg is not a professor at a German university, he is a Lebanese Christian. This would explain Luxenberg’s ‘Christian agenda’: Christians from the Middle East have been involved in harsh religious debates with Muslims for centuries.

Angelika Christlph, a scholar of Islam from Berlin, dedicates a few words to Luxenberg in an article and mainly emphasises the lack of interdisciplinary research.