KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — Muslim theologian Mun’im Sirry said today he was merely challenging the mainstream belief that the Quran had emerged in a pagan and polytheistic environment, claiming the Arabic civilisation may have been more advanced than thought.

Amid controversy over his remarks on the origin of the holy book in Mesopotamia, the assistant professor of theology from the University of Notre Dame said he was referring to the late scholar John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

“I myself expressed that I don’t agree with Wansbrough, saying that in my view, Mecca and Medina was not as isolated as many people usually assume,” Mun’im told Malay Mail Online.

“My view is that the Quran presents a different picture about its audience than it is presented in the Muslim sources. I would argue that Mecca and Medina were more advanced and less isolated than is commonly assumed,” he added.

Mun’im said the text of the Quran seemed to assume that its readers were familiar with Biblical narratives and even theology polemics between the monotheistic Jews and Christians.

In comparison, Wansbrough had argued that the Quran might have emerged in Mesopotamia instead where such theological debates took place in the sixth or seventh century.

Muslims believe that God delivered the Quran over a period of time through the Angel Gabriel orally to the Prophet Muhammad in his birth place in Mecca, and later in Medina after he migrated.

Mun’im stressed that he believed the Quran did indeed originate from Mecca despite the monotheistic themes in the Muslim holy book, as he believed that the birthplace of Islam in the western Arabian city of Mecca was not as primitive and pagan as originally believed.

Muslim group Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) had invited Mun’im, an academic and expert on Quran, on a series of event last week.

This included a symposium on moderation in Quran co-organised with pro-moderation group G25, where Perlis mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin had delivered a keynote speech.

However, Jakim director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha had accused IRF and G25 yesterday of trying to bring in liberal and deviant ideas into the country, highlighting Mun’im’s purported remarks on the origins of the Quran.

Mun’im said he did not think that the origins of the Quran were such a controversial topic.

“I have published a book on this in Indonesian language, the Indonesian response has been constructive. They may disagree with my views but they express their differences intellectually,” he said.