Louay Fatoohi obtained a BSc in Physics from the College of Sciences, University of Baghdad, in 1984. He received a PhD in Astronomy from the Physics Department, Durham University, UK, in 1998. The title of his thesis was “First Visibility of the Lunar Crescent and Other Problems in Historical Astronomy.”
He has been working in IT publishing since 1999. He worked at Wrox Press until 2003. He is a co-founder of Packt Publishing where he has been working since 2003. He is the Operations Director of Packt Birmingham and the Managing Director of Packt Mumbai.
He loves publishing, technology, and management, which is why he feels fortunate and grateful to have this job.
He reverted from Christianity to Islam in his early twenties.
He has been particularly interested in studying the Qur’an.
For more details about how he developed interest in Islam, see the Introduction to his book about the historical Jesus.
He has written several books and over forty scientific and general articles in Arabic and English.
He is particularly interested in studying historical characters and events that are mentioned in the Qur’an and comparing the Qur’anic account with the Biblical narratives, other Jewish and Christian writings, and historical sources. These are his most recent books:
1) Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law. (2012)
2) Jesus The Muslim Prophet: History Speaks of a Human Messiah Not a Divine Christ. (2010)
3) Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source (third edition). (2009)
4) The Mystery of the Messiah: The Messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an, New Testament, Old Testament, and Other Sources. (2009)
5) The Mystery of the Crucifixion: The Attempt to Kill Jesus in the Qur’an, the New Testament, and Historical Sources. (2008)
6) The Mystery of Israel in Ancient Egypt: The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Old Testament, Archaeological Finds, and Historical Sources. (co-authored with Shetha Al-Dargazelli) (2008)
7) The Mystery of the Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible, and Historical Sources. (2007) (Re-published in Malaysia by IBT in 2009)
8) The Prophet Joseph in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History: A new detailed commentary on the Qur’anic Chapter of Joseph. (2005) (Re-published in 2007)
He has also co-translated with his wife Shetha Al-Dargazelli the book Purification of the Mind (Jila’ Al-Khatir) by Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jili, which is currently in its second edition.
Q: First of all I wonder what made you focus on the Qur'an?
Dr. Fatoohi: There are three different documentary sources on Islam: the Qur’an, the ḥadīth, and various ancient writings on the history and creeds of Islam.
All these sources are important, but they do not have the same level of significance.
The Qur’an contains the message of Islam at its most fundamental level.
The ḥadīth of the Prophet interprets and extends this message, but it operates within the framework of principles and tenets of the Qur’an.
Ancient writings, on the other hand, try to understand the Qur’an and ḥadīth, link the two, and describe their historical contexts.
The Qur’an was documented before the ḥadīth and the other ancient sources. It obviously appeared a long time before the latter. But it has two other unique qualities that distinguish it from the other sources.
First, it is the literal Word of Allah. Not even the Qudsi ḥadīth, which is believed to have been inspired to the Prophet by God, is expressed in God’s exact words. Second, the Qur’an has been preserved as it was revealed, so it did not suffer any deliberate or unwitting changes at the hands of those who transmitted or copied it. This is not something that can be said about the other sources. The ancient sources were written by various scholars and historians who, despite their best effort, must have made mistakes. This is the nature of any human effort. The same applies to the literature of ḥadīth which has been the subject of disagreement among Muslim scholars and which required scholars to develop an elaborate system to verify the authenticity of the individual narratives.
More importantly, the Qur’an tells us that God has protected it from any change:
Verily, it is We who revealed the Remembrance (the Qur’an), and verily We are its Guardian. (15.9)
Surely, those who disbelieved in the Remembrance (the Qur’an) when it came to them [were wrong]. Surely, it is an impregnable Book. (41.41) Falsehood cannot come to it from anywhere; [it is] a revelation from One who is Wise and Praised. (41.42)
The Qur’an does not make such a statement about any other source of Islam. In fact, this quality is unique to the Qur’an even among other divine books. The Qur’an tells us that even the books that were revealed to Prophets before Muhammad were tampered with by people so their original forms did not survive. For instance, the Qur’an talks in more than one verse about People of the Book who “have altered words from their contexts.”
We should also remember that, unlike the other sources, the Qur’an is the text that Muslims read in their prayer and worshipping practices.
So while the hadith and other ancient sources are important for studying Islam, the Qur’an occupies a unique status in a number of ways.
Q: I would like to know what “Qur'anic studies” means.
Dr. Fatoohi: The technical term under which various Qur’anic studies are included is “Ulum al-Qur’an” or the “Sciences of the Qur’an.” This term was coined after the development of various disciplines that focus on the Qur’an, although Muslims showed a lot of interest in studying all aspects of the Qur’an from the early days of Islam, that is before this term was coined. Some of the subjects covered by this term include compiling the Qur’an, the organization of the Qur’an, the classification of its chapters and verses into Meccan and Medinese and other grouping systems, the chronology of the chapters and verses, the interpretation (tafsir) of the Qur’an, the doctrine of abrogation (naskh), the vocabulary of the Qur’an, the script of the Qur’an, and many other topics. In other words, the term “Qur’anic studies” covers every discipline that deals with any aspect of the Book of Allah. So “sciences of the Qur’an” or “Qur’anic studies” are very broad terms, covering a large number of disciplines.
While most writings on the sciences of the Qur’an focus on specific areas, some works have tried to give an overview of the topics covered by the term “sciences of the Qur’an.” One famous classical work is al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur’an by Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi (d. 794 H/ 1391 CE), and another is al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 H/ 1505 CE). One modern work is Manahil al-‘Irfan fi Ulum al-Qur’an by Muhammad al-Zarqani.
Q: Is the term “Qur’anic studies” used in the same way by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars?
Dr. Fatoohi: As I have already mentioned, Muslim scholars have used this term to cover a large number of fields of study that relate to the Qur’an.
This interest is reflective of the veneration with which Muslims hold the Qur’an. Western scholars have shown very little interest in some of these areas.
For example, Muslim scholars have published numerous studies of the subject of abrogation.
In fact, the oldest works go back to the second half of the second century and the third century of Hijra. Yet only one scholarly book dedicated to abrogation has been published in English, which was written by a non-Muslim scholar. My book on abrogation, which has just come out, is the second such work and the first in English by a Muslim scholar.
The interest of Western scholars in the Qur’an has often focused on the history of the text, with scholars proposing various theories about how the text of the Qur’an developed.
Not surprising, in the same way they do not accept the divine origin of the Qur’an, these studies do not agree that the text of the Qur’an has been preserved.
Q: What is your main area of interest in Qur’anic studies?
Dr. Fatoohi: I am particularly interested in comparative religious studies, i.e. comparing the Qur’an with non-Islamic religious texts, namely the Old Testament, New Testament, and secondary Jewish and Christian sources.
This is partly due to my own background, having been brought up in a Christian family until my revert to Islam in my early twenties, but also as a result of living in the West which identifies itself with the Judeo-Christian culture.
Of course, any religious system of belief has faith as one of its foundations. There are always things that we have to believe in but which we cannot test.
For instance, “the Day of Resurrection,” “Paradise,” and “Hell” are concepts that we have to accept and believe in but we would never be able to verify and experience until they take place. Yet comparative religious studies at times ignore this fact, thus trying to show that the faith-based elements of one religion are stronger than others.
The reality is that because these elements of any faith are not open to test, there is no way to “prove” that some of these are more “true” than the others.
This is why I prefer to shift my attention to two approaches that allow a comparison to be convincingly established.
First, looking at the internal coherence of the elements of any one faith. For instance, the image of Jesus that you get from the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew is fundamentally different from the one you get from the fourth Gospel, i.e. the one attributed to John.
John draws an image of Jesus that all but removes all differences between him and God. Yet the first three Gospels paint a picture of Jesus that shows him as a human being, no more.
This is one example of the incoherence that permeates Christian sources, including the twenty seven books of the New Testament.
Furthermore, such Christian beliefs are incompatible with the Old Testament, even though Christians proclaim belief in both the New and Old Testaments.
The second approach is looking for information that can be tested against external data. This is where scientific and historical claims can be used, because these are not supposed to be faith-based but reflect objective, external facts.
Q: You might have read Dr Laurence Brown’s book “Bearing True Witness” who I think deal with the same area?
Dr. Fatoohi: With the loosening of the grip of the Church over the minds of people and its losing of control over them in the Renaissance, researches started to examine more closely and critically the Jewish and Christian sources, including the Old and New Testaments.
This research gradually led them to the identification of various flaws and contradictions in these books.
There are countless Western studies and books that addressed critically and in detail the internal problems in the Old and New Testaments, others that focused on the conflicts between the growing scientific and historical knowledge and the accounts of these books, and yet other works that examined how the texts of these books were put together and changed over time.
For instance, without implying these works are more important than others, the writings of Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are good sources on the latter type of research. In fields such as examining the historical accounts in the Bible, and in particular Moses’ story in the Old Testament, archaeologist Professor William Dever has done extensive work. Professor Ed Parish Sanders has written extensively on the historical Jesus.
As I said, there are numerous works, but no serious researcher today takes the stories in the Old and New Testaments as accurate historical accounts or thinks that these books are the Word of God.
Q: Could you further elaborate on your studies of the Qur'an.
I have two main area of interest. The first is what I call “al-i’jaz al-tarikhi” or “the historical miraculousness” of the Qur’an. Unlike “al-i’jaz al-‘ilmi (the scientific miraculousness)” and “al-I’jaz al-lughawi (linguistic miraculousness),” the historical miracles of the Qur’an has barely been touched by researchers and historians. This is the new area of Qur’anic studies that I have been trying to establish and encourage other academics and scholars of the Qur’an to take up.
Muslim scholars have studied extensively the accounts of the Qur’an and other Islamic sources, as well as the accounts in Jewish and Christian sources.
But the scope of such studies has been limited, as scholars looked at these accounts within the religious text without trying to link them to what we have come to know about history from independent sources, both documents and artifacts.
This means that such studies cannot be used to tell which account is more historically accurate.
My methodology is not only to compare the historical accounts reported in the Qur’an with their equivalents in the Old and New Testaments, but also evaluate all using independent historical sources.
I have studied extensively the stories and historical accounts of Prophets Jesus, Moses, and Joseph.
The subject of the historical Jesus has been an established research area in Western scholarship for centuries but my study is the first that offers an Islamic perspective and introduces the subject to Islamic research.
My contribution has been to examine the consistency and coherence of each account and, more importantly, contrast these accounts with established historical facts.
This way I have been able to show that the Qur’an’s accounts differ significantly from those found in Jewish and Christian sources, and that what the Qur’an says is consistent with what we know from history.
Jewish and Christian accounts, on the other hand, are riddled with internal contradictions as well as conflicts with known historical facts. Such findings refute the common view among Western scholars and critics of the Qur’an that it was partly copied from Jewish and Christian sources.
While similarities do exist between the Qur’anic narratives and its equivalents in those sources, there are more significant differences. The Qur’anic stories are free of all those historical mistakes and internal discrepancies that the Jewish and Christian accounts have.
No process of copying from the Jewish and Christian sources could have completely avoided those mistakes, because some of these mistakes came to light centuries after the revelation of the Qur’an, and some only a couple of centuries ago as a result of archaeological excavations and finds.
Another field that I have been focusing on more recently is the history of the Qur’anic text. My research in this area has led to my latest book Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law, which has just been published by Routledge.
This is only the second book on abrogation to appear in the English language, after John Burton’s book which is over 20 years old. The reason for choosing to conduct a very detailed study of the concept of “abrogation (naskh)” is that it has profound implications for the history of the Qur’anic text.
This has always been recognized by Western scholars, many of whom used it to question the integrity of the Qur’anic text. But Muslim scholars have not done enough to deal with these implications.
In fact, these implications are often not even acknowledged, so scholars usually write about the history of the Qur’anic text without even explaining their understanding of abrogation and how this understanding affects their views about the process of compiling the text of the Qur’an. The integrity of the Qur’anic text is one major area that I am interested in.
But abrogation is also very much at the heart of Islamic law. So my interest in the history of the text of the Qur’an has led me to study abrogation which itself has made me take more interest in the meaning, history, and development of Islamic law.
Q: What do you think of John Burton’s book on abrogation?
Dr. Fatoohi: While comprehensive, detailed, and worthy of praise for at least being the first book in English on abrogation, Burton’s book has major limitations. First , it is too technical to be accessible to those who do not have a good background in the history of Islamic law, let alone the more general reader.
It reads like a lengthy technical paper written for a small group of scholars . Second, its highly technical nature was not helped by the author’s less-than friendly writing style and convoluted presentation of the material. Indeed , reading Burton’s book can be a challenge even for the expert.
Third, it puts too much emphasis on reconstructing the history of the development of the abrogation theories, using specific claims of abrogation as a tool for this purpose. Reconstruction of this history was always going to involve a good deal of speculation; studying the credibility of any specific instance of abrogation, on the other hand, can be done with far more certainty and clarity using available sources.
Fourth, Burton’s book fails to quote some of the earliest sources on abrogation , which are necessary for understanding the early development of this doctrine.
My book addresses the four issues.
First, I have written the book to be readable by the general intellectual, as well as the expert. The book studies all aspects of abrogation in the depth required to develop a full picture of the nature of this phenomenon and determine whether it is a genuine Qur’anic principle.
The reader is given all the required information and is carefully guided through the subject matter so that no prior knowledge or external readings are needed .
Second, the book is structured in a logical way that makes it easy for the reader to see at any point where they are in the overall journey through the subject. Third, I focus on examining the credibility of abrogation by studying the concepts behind its various forms and how they were applied .
I have avoided trying to reconstruct the history of the development of these theories by trying to draw their timelines in detail or define the role played by specific scholars in the emergence of these theories.
The conclusions of such attempts would have been fraught with too much uncertainty and
are of little relevance to the question of the veracity of abrogation and the implications of the answer for Islamic law.
I have confined myself to identifying the chronological order of the three modes of abrogation, which can be concluded with relative ease from the available sources.
This would not be possible without consulting the earliest sources on abrogation, which addresses the fourth shortcoming of Burton’s book.
Q: What audience do you target with your writings?
Dr. Fatoohi: I try and target both the informed general reader and the expert in my areas of research.
This is not easy, as making any book of value to the academic researcher and the expert can make it less readable by the non-specialist. But I dedicate quite a lot of effort in making my writings accessible to the informed general reader.
The reason for the academic nature of my writings is that I am trying to establish and show the historical miraculosusness of the Qur’an as a credible area of Qur’anic studies at the highest levels.
I write mainly in English because I focus on the Western, non-Muslim reader. Addressing the non-Muslim reader means taking into account how such readers think and presenting information and arguments in a way that is appropriate to them.
The fact that I have been living in the UK for twenty years makes me feel a special sense of duty toward the non-Muslim audience in the West.
But I think Muslim scholars who are based in Muslim countries, and in particular in the Arab world, need to pay more attention to their non-Muslim peers in non-Muslim countries.
I should point out that the topics I write about are of equal interest to Muslims. Some of my writings have also been translated into Arabic, Indonesian, and Portuguese.
Q: What are you currently working on?
There are a few projects I am working on. I am currently translating my book on abrogation into Arabic. This is the only work in Arabic that I am currently involved in. I have also started work on two books that deal with certain concepts in the Qur’an. God willing, the history of the Qur’anic text will be the subject of a future work.
Q: How do you see the future of Qur'anic studies?
Dr. Fatoohi: The Qur’an was and will always be the heart of Islam and its most studied text. So the amount of interest in this Book will not reduce. But I would like to see more versatility and innovation in the topics being studied.
Human knowledge in natural sciences and social sciences in particular have been developing at an immense rate, and I would like to see this reflected more and better in the way the Qur’an is studied. Similarly, there is much more to be done in terms of studying the historical accounts in the Qur’an and linking them to our increasing understanding of relevant places and times.
This effort needs to be driven by universities, research centers, and educational institutions.
It requires coordination between scholars in various disciplines. Individuals can help initiate the interest in the historical miraculousness of the Qur’an, but giving it enough momentum to become an established field of Qur’anic studies require coordinated and sustained efforts and resources that only institutions can provide.
Q: Why do you think some Christian writers on Islam and the Qur'an often have negative views of both?
Dr. Fatoohi: Holding and presenting a distorted picture of Islam and the Qur’an is nothing new. This phenomenon is as old as the oldest references to Islam and its Book in Jewish and Christian sources, although the language used reflects the thinking and values of the time.
In its early years and decades, Islam was perceived as a threat to Judaism and Christianity because while it confirmed that both of these religions came from the same source of the Qur’an, it openly and directly rejected how they had been developed by people over time. For instance, the Qur’an completely rejects the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and the related doctrine of redemption.
Yet these are at the heart of the kind of Christianity that St. Paul developed and which became the official version of this religion.
But of course the spread of Islam into various lands, its becoming a state religion, and the political and military conflicts with other nations meant that animosity toward Islam was bound to continue and grow.
Indeed, we know that even during the lifetime of the Prophet, Jewish tribes in Medina conspired with the polytheists of Mecca to eliminate the danger they saw in the new religion.
The spread of Islam only made it a bigger target for bigger foes.
In modern times Islam and the Qur’an have been attacked on bases that reflect the spirit of the time.
For instance, in this age where democracy, human rights, and tolerance are highly valued, Islam, and of course its Book, has been presented as a backward religion whose teachings go against all such values. This distortion has taken its most stark form in the way the concept of “jihad” has been presented in international media and by politicians.
Admittedly, misguided Muslim groups and individuals have given pretexts to such distortion, but it is not difficult to see that such a small minority of poorly educated groups are not representative of Islam, the Qur’an, and the over two billions of Muslim in the world.
Of course, Muslims living in the West have a particular contribution to make to dispel the distorted image of their religion. I remember how the media in the USA, UK, and the West in general started to examine every aspect of Islam and make all kinds of offensive claims after the terrorist attack of 11th/September/2001.
Some media almost completely lost the ability and willingness to distinguish between Muslims and that small group of terrorists, and between Islam and the political agenda of that group. This is what led me to write a book on the concept of Jihad in the Qur’an.
Q: The books of Dr Jerald Dirks and Dr Laurence Brown have helped in converting people to Islam. Do you think your writing have done the same?
Dr. Fatoohi: The various works of Drs Dirks and Brown have probably reached more people than my writings.
But I hope that my books have helped some non-Muslims appreciate the miraculous signs that Allah has embedded in the Qur’an and attract them to Islam, make others at least consider Islam seriously, and help Muslims also learn more about the miraculousness of the Book of Allah. The Prophet one day told ‘Ali bin Abi Talib “If Allah guides even one man through you then that would be better for you [that getting] red camels (these are the most valuable camels).” If guiding one person was good enough for a great person such as ‘Ali, then it surely is good enough for me.
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you for your studies of the Qur’an, your work on documenting the historical miraculousness of the Qur’an, and for finding the time to conduct this interview despite your busy schedule.
Dr. Fatoohi: Thank you very much for this generous opportunity to speak about my works and thinking and introduce them to more people.
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