Early Review of QuranGateway.Org
Developed in tandem by Dr. Andy Bannister and Dr. Daniel Brubaker, QuranGateway.Org aims to be an educational and research based resource for the study of manuscripts of the Qur’an. Several months ago I was able to view the website as it developed and have since been following its updates. What makes QuranGateway unique is that it provides a searchable database based on Daniel Brubaker’s PhD thesis about variants in the Qur’anic manuscript tradition. The website is also based on Dr. Bannister’s research from a few years ago on the oral formulations of the Qur’anic narratives that correlate with Biblical narratives. In the image below, we can take a quick preview of the interface and the information generally provided on the “Browsing Surah List” help page (click to enlarge):
Based on Dr. Bannister’s analysis of themes in the Qur’an, various charts and infographs have been generated using his primary research data (click to enlarge):
One of the main features of the website, though the functionality is erratic at times (I am not sure if it is based on incorrect data from Brubaker’s thesis or website database issues), is the ability to view some scribal changes in some early manuscripts of the Qur’an. One will note however, that the reason for such scribal changes and errors is not explicitly explained in pages that list the changes themselves. This is obviously an issue, as one has to ask, why would they list the changes without using the entirety of Brubaker’s data where it is explained that these were largely either scribal mistakes, or due to the orthographic development of the Arabic language? Hidden away on a largely obscure page, we are eventually told that the vast majority of these variants are in and of themselves, irrelevant (click to enlarge):
The purpose of the website therefore seems to be confusing. On the one hand, its main emphasis seems to be twofold, themes in the Qur’an based on Dr. Bannister’s research and scribal changes based on Dr. Brubaker’s research, yet when it comes to the latter the data seems to be largely incomplete. Most of Dr. Brubaker’s analysis in his PhD thesis indicates that almost all the scribal changes cannot be found in the Qira’at literature, meaning then that they are unique issues delimited only to single manuscripts themselves, most of which were the use of the Arabic letter alif as it pertains to early Arabic orthography (see pages 29 to 30 here). This information however, seems not to have made its way to the website which is perhaps the most important information that should be included. This is because Dr. Brubaker painstakingly compared the lapsus calami and scribal idiosyncrasies with the vast array of Qira’at literature and documented his results in his thesis, which is one of the two main sources for the dataset on the website. On the one hand we are being told, here is a tool where you can search for these scribal differences, but on the other hand, here’s no contextual information based on a comparative analysis with the rest of the documented information about the varying readings in the Qur’anic tradition that we’ve already done, but we won’t give it to you.
Similarly, while the website aims to be a hub for research, it lacks on its team of scholars any Muslim scholar on the Qur’an. One of the issues here is that if the website is aiming to be a hub for objective academic research and study, and is not meant to be a polemical based Christian apologetics website, then shouldn’t there be a panel of scholars rather than merely two Christian apologists? Dr. Bannister is a Christian apologist, he leads the SOLAS CPC organization in the UK. Dr. Brubaker is also active in Christian apologetics, having used his research to help Joseph Jay Smith in a debate with Dr. Shabir Ally. This issue therefore takes credibility away from the objective based research facade that has been presented. As far as I am aware, no Muslim has been invited to preview the website itself, though the website has been previewed with various Christian groups, most recently in Toronto in December of 2017 (could’ve been November, I can’t seem to recall at this moment).
While I do look forward to using the website, the incomplete data, and lack of diverse scholarship on the panel beyond two Christian apologists presents with it serious credibility issues that need be attended to. One area of possible issue is legally, where some of the facsimiles of early manuscripts have been used without permission from their copyright holders and the rights that were allowed by atleast two organizations are now under reconsideration due to the other facsimiles being used without expressed permission and also due to the Christian apologetics inclination on the website which rather than being viewed as an objective research tool, lends credence to the website being merely a polemical tool for a specific religious group. Despite these issues, I do hope to see further development done to the website. For further information and to see the website in action, here are three videos:
and God knows best.