"The Qur'an, according to the author, neither reflects an Arabian background nor was it produced in inner Arabia as the tradition claims. The author argues that "the polemic of the Koran against the mushrikun reflects disputes among monotheists rather than pagans and that Muslim tradition does not display much substantial knowledge of Arab pagan religion. There is no compelling reason to situate either the polemic or the tradition within Arabia"
Of course. But Hawting is totally lost when he tries to dig, as he he can't figure out what he's dealing with. : G.R. Hawting, « ‘‘Has God sent a mortal as a messenger ?’’ (Q 17 :95) Messengers and angels in the Qur'ān », dans New Perspectives on the Qur'ān, The Qur'ān in its historical context 2, G.S Reynolds éd, Routledge, 2011, p.372-389.
"The whole of the monograph is dedicated to proving that the Qur'an is not arguing against "real" pagans when it argues with the group it calls mushrikun, those who practice shirk or associationism, that is, worshiping other deities in addition to Allah. Rather, the author claims, the Qur'an is adopting a rhetorical stratagem that is very common to monotheistic traditions. To call someone a "pagan" or "idolater" was to label them as less Christian or less Jewish than the accusing faction. The same should be held true for the arguments in the Qur'an. "
Yes, Hawting is correct.
"Hawting squarely places his work in the scholarly tradition of John Wansbrough's Quranic Studies (1977) and The Sectarian Milieu (1979), but this claim of methodological affinity with Wansbrough's method undermines the author's entire effort in this monograph (pp. 16-17). For in a Wansbroughian paradigm the problem raised by Hawting is not a problem. The prime thrust of Wansbrough's approach, as far as one can summarize it, is that the whole edifice of what we now call Islam is the product of a long historical development that included the formation of the Qur'an. [...] Hawting is claiming that the Qur'an was the only document that somehow mysteriously escaped the Wansbroughian paradigm, a paradigm that Hawting declares nevertheless to be the key to understanding Islam, and we are not told why this is so. Thus it is not clear how and to what degree Hawting's method purports to be a continuation or a refinement of Wansbrough's method. To treat the Qur'an apart from the tradition is to undo Wansbrough's fundamental methodological axiom. Hawting's own account of how his method both follows and diverges from Wansbrough's is untenable. One cannot follow "Wansbrough's general approach, and not necessarily his tentative suggestions about absolute or relative chronology," as Hawting states, without fundamentally shifting the whole paradigm (p. 17). It is precisely the chronological implications of Wansbrough's method that are the heart of the matter. For if the Qur'an's canonization (and thus stabilization) was a belated event contemporaneous with other Muslim literature, why did the tradition not see to it that the Qur'an also reflected what was to become the fundamental claim of the new religion? To separate the Qur'an from the other Muslim traditional literature is to fall back on the method of the German school of quranic studies, from which Hawting is so adamant in differentiating himself. One cannot both invoke Wansbrough and work within the parameters of the German school. We have thus no minor methodological problem here but a major flaw that vitiates the entire work. To a Wansbroughian the issue could not be simpler: the Qur'an has material that claims to reflect an Arabian pagan past because the tradition wanted to create such an image of this past. The material in the Qur'an is thus ahistorical in so far as it does not reflect anything historical about seventh-century Arabia, but historical in so far as it reflects what Muslims wanted to project about their new religion and its origins. ect."
Saleh is right but it is (for me...) a detail. Hawting, as an academic, thought that he needed to be located for his readers in a scholarship tradition : in his case the Wansbrough one. It does not necessitate that he has to be stuck on it. This stuff is a kind of trap that he could have been avoided if he had been astute. However he is lost (like Crone) as his next works on the Quran will show.