10 Myths About Islam - Knowledge is Power
Study to Answer
By Timothy W. Dunkin
It has been said that knowledge is power. Certainly, we can know that ignorance (the lack of knowledge) renders one absolutely powerless.
The truth of the Word of God shines out on American Christendom in the light of Hosea 4:6, "... my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...", indicting us for our complacency and laziness in educating ourselves about the trends that present themselves in these latter days. One of these is the rise of Islam in the United States and the Western world.
How much does your average professing Christian even know about the religion of Mohammed?
How can church-goers know how to sort through the varying images and claims which present themselves to us about Islam? What is truth, and what is falsehood, as far as is being told to us about the Muslim religion? How can we know the lies that will invariably be told to us, and avoid them?
I submit this work below as a means of enlightening us all; my fellow Americans and others, Christians or not; concerning the religion of Islam and its implications for America and the West. I have attempted to debunk many of the common myths which are taught about Islam, and to expose them in the blinding light of truth.
I apologise for variant spellings of Arabic words which may appear in this work. I have attempted to standardise my spellings, but have retained variant spellings in quotations made from other works.
Explanation of terms:
Qur'an - The primary religious text in Islam. It is held by Muslims to be perfect, complete, and heavenly. The Qur'an forms the primary and most important source of authoritative doctrine in orthodox Islam.
Ahadith (sing. Hadith) - Collections of sayings, teachings, and doctrines formulated attributed to Mohammed, narrated by several of his companions, and collated by various compilers. Also considered a source of authority for doctrine, as they contain the sayings of Allah's prophet, Mohammed. Many Muslim scholars even refer to several of what are widely held to be authentic ahadith as "second inspiration", and place them nearly on par with the Qur'an as sources of doctrine and practice. Among this body of hadithic literature, the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Malik, Tirmzi, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah are the most widely viewed as authentic, and therefore canonical. However, examination of the ahadith and the sunnat (below) over the past few decades have cast serious doubt onto the absolute authenticity of these traditional records and commandments.
The evidence put forth by scholarship suggests that at least a large portion even of the canonical collections listed above were probably invented, or at least embellished, during the socio-political struggles between Muslim factions which occurred in the two centuries following Mohammed's death. Therefore, when the records of the ahadith are used to support a point made about Islamic dogma or practice, it must be implicitly understood that this work does not rely on these sources for their absolute authenticity. Rather, they are looked to because they serve as a record of what the views, beliefs, and actions of Muslim tradition were ideally meant to be in the eyes of the Muslim reciters and collectors who attempted to give their creations added legitimacy through appeal to the authority of Mohammed and/or his Companions.
Sunnah (pl. Sunnat) - Very similar to the ahadith, these are collections of rules which were said to be laid down by Mohammed, and which he lived his life by. The ahadith, on the other hand, are narrations about Mohammed's life which provide object examples for Muslims. The Sunnah are very important to most orthodox Muslims, and they are also considered to be a prime source of Islamic jurisprudence. Most orthodox Muslim teachers consider both the Qu'ran and the sunnah/ahadith to be indispensable in the lives of good Muslims.
Surah (pl. Suwar) - A division of the Quranic text which most closely approximates the concept of "chapter" in Western literature. There are 114 suwar in the Qur'an as it now exists. Each surah is named after a different topical heading, though this is not necessarily related to the main point of the surah.
Ayah (pl. Ayat) - A subdivision of the suwar, an ayah is approximate to a verse as found in the Bible. Together, references in the Qur'an are most commonly given in the form of (Surah number:ayah number)
By Timothy W. Dunkin
Send email to the author firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
A wise man named Francis Bacon once said that knowledge is power. Certainly this is true when dealing with foreign, and often hostile, ideologies that confront our Western civilization and way of life. One of these ideologies is Islam. Americans, and Westerners in general, whether Christian or not, are all too often still dangerously ill-informed about Islam. Many people in the West hear and believe the propaganda promoted by various Muslim groups, but fail to search out the facts about the history, theology, and psychology of the Islamic phenomenon.
While knowledge may be power, ignorance can render a person, a nation, or an entire civilization absolutely powerless. It is the intention of this book to dispel ignorance about Islam and to expose it to the light of open and honest investigation. How much does your average Westerner, your average American, your average churchgoer, or your average secularist, know about Islam? How can we sort through the varying images and claims made by and about Islam? What is truth, and what is falsehood, as far as what we are being told about the religion of Islam? Are we being lied to, and if so, then how can we detect these falsehoods and avoid them?
I submit this work as an effort at enlightening all who are faced with the challenge of Islam concerning its implications for America and the West. I have attempted to discredit many of the common myths that are taught about Islam, and to expose them to the blinding light of fact, reason, and ultimately, truth. My objective, in some of the chapters of this book, is to distill the discoveries and ideas of modern scholarly investigation into the nature, origins, and history of Islam into a form accessible to the average reader who does not have the time, or perhaps the interest, to become familiar with the somewhat insular body of academic literature available on the subject. By bringing to the reader's attention what I view to be the important highlights of what scholarly investigation has said about the subject, I hope to inform my readers about these important points, and hopefully excite their interests in pursuing further study. As such, I would consider myself to be filling the role of a "transmitter" rather than an "originator" of knowledge. In other chapters, especially those dealing with the sociological impact of Islam, my desire is to systematically present the evidences vis-â-vis the claims of Muslim apologists, and demonstrate to the reader where the weight of facts, and from these truth, resides.
I make no apologies for presenting this work from a scholarly Christian perspective. There are portions of this book that will be of interest to all, regardless of creed. There are other parts that will be of more specific concern to my fellow Christians, though even these may contain information that non-Christians will find instructive. Ultimately, I hope that the entire work will be of use to any who are open-minded enough to receive it and evaluate it fairly.
At this point, I would also like to forewarn the reader that I have prepared this work without any malice towards Muslims. This may come as a disappointment to some, and as a shock to others, but it is nevertheless true. This book is for the purpose of approaching the question of Islam from the standpoint of historical, evidential, and theological inquiry. As such, its motive is not emotional. It is not about painting all Muslims as evil or violent or dangerous, as some recent works have tried to do. It is the system of Islam itself, not individual Muslims, that comes under critique in this work. In some small way, I am hoping to move our civilizational discourse about Islam away from the realm of emotional response to world events which have happened in comparatively recent decades, and approach Islam from a perspective that spans the centuries. We must approach the Islamic worldview, not in reaction, but with initiative and proactivity. As an American and a Westerner who believes that our civilization, based as it is upon the Judaeo-Christian worldview, the rule of law, and the Baconian approach to objective knowledge and progress, is superior to those civilizations which are not (and who obviously rejects postmodern multicultural relativism in toto), I make no apologies for the arguments that I put forward in this book.
Please note that there will be variant spellings of Arabic words appearing in this work. I have attempted to standardize my own orthography, but have retained the transliterations that appear in quotations made from other works.
* Chapter 1 -
The Qur'an is Preserved and Unchanged Revelation from Allah
The Qur‘an is Preserved and Unchanged Revelation from Allah
“Verum nil securius est malo poeta.” (“But truly, there is no one more confident than a bad poet.”)
- Martial, Epigrams
* The Tangible Evidences
* Evolving into Scripture
* Manufacturing the Qur'an
* Garbled in Transmission
* Homegrown Inspiration
Most people are probably familiar with the place given to the Qur'an in Islam, that it is the "holy book" of the Muslim religion. This is an accurate assessment, for Muslims grant a very high place of honor to the Qur’an in their minds, hearts, and lives. As we would expect, Muslims hold to a very exalted view of the Qur’an. Foremost among Muslim beliefs about the Qur'an is that it was given to Mohammed by direct revelation from Allah. The traditional Muslim histories affirm this by stating that the angel Gabriel transmitted the Qur'an word for word to Mohammed from Allah, and that Mohammed then recited these words to his Companions, who memorized, and sometimes transcribed, these qira‘ (recitations) that form the Qur'an 1. Further, this revelation from Allah has remained the same, word for word, never changing through all the intervening centuries of copying and transmission. A typical presentation of the orthodox Muslim position can be found in the statement below from the Pakistani revivalist and religious authority Syed Maududi,
“The original texts of most of the former divine Books were lost altogether, and only their translations exist today. The Qur’an, on the other hand, exists exactly as it had been revealed to the Prophet; not a word - nay, not a dot of it - has been changed. It is available in its original text and the Word of God has been preserved for all times to come.” 2
“So well has it [the Qur'an] been preserved both in memory and in writing, that the Arabic text we have today is identical to the text as it was revealed to the Prophet. Not even a single letter has yielded to corruption during the passage of the centuries. And so it will remain forever, by the consent of Allah."3
Yet, even within the general Muslim tradition, all is not well for these sorts of assertions. Certain traditions suggest, with several of the ahadith as their authority, that after Mohammed's death, the fear that portions of these teachings of Allah would be lost due to battle and the deaths of Mohammed’s companions motivated early Muslim rulers to begin the compilation of the revelations that Mohammed claimed to have received. The end result of this compilation, began by Mohammed's successor Abu Bakr, and finished by Caliph Uthman (traditionally 644-656 AD), is said to be the Qur'an in its present form, perfect copies of which were sent out to every province of the new Muslim Empire 4 (though what usually remains unmentioned is that the traditions also report that Uthman carried out the destruction by fire of all variant readings and texts that did not conform to his compilation.)
The Tangible Evidences
Textual and archaeological evidences do not support the traditional views about the formation and preservation of the quranic text. All of the ancient manuscriptual evidence that has been found post-dates Uthman by at least a century, and differs from the present “standard” version of the Arabic Qur’an at a number of points. This divergence is true even for those manuscripts and other evidences that are dated closer to the time of Uthman’s life.
Some Muslim scholars claim to have uncovered 7th century copies of the original quranic manuscript, sent throughout the newly formed Arab Empire by Uthman. The texts that form the basis for this claim are the Topkapi MSS in Istanbul, and the Samarkand MSS in Tashkent. Despite the assertions, manuscript experts have ruled out the possibility that these are first-generation copies of Uthman‘s text, and instead date these manuscripts from the late 8th century, at the earliest. The reason for doing so is because these two manuscripts were copied in what is known as the Kufic script, a style which originated in the Iraqi city of Kufah and was largely used from the late 8th to the 11th centuries, only gradually finding widespread use in the rest of the Muslim world, until it was replaced by a different style of script called the Naskh script5.
In addition to the anachronistic Kufic script that was used, other evidence from the examination of the Samarkand codex suggests a later date. This manuscript bears artistic ornamentation between many of the suwar, as well as medallions containing kufic-style numerals that gauge progress through each individual surah, all of which suggests an 8th or 9th century age for the manuscript. Islamic calligraphy expert Safadi says,
“It is significant that, until the beginning of the 9th century, Kufic Qur'ans received little illumination, but once this initial reluctance was overcome, various ornamental devices were evolved, many of which served necessary functions. Notable among these were the Unwan (title pages), Surah (chapter) headings, verse divisions, verse counts, section indicators, and colophons.”6
The Samarkand manuscripts show exactly these types of adornment, which tells us that they were copied much later than the time of Uthman. The same sort of ornamentation appears in the Topkapi codex as well, likewise indicating its later date.
Additional evidence calls into question the claim that the Samarkand codex is one of the original copies sent out by Uthman to the various Muslim centers in the mid-7th century. This manuscript is very eclectic, with the text from page to page alternating between careful copying and hasty, untidy transmission. Some pages contain broad and flowing text, while on others the text is cramped and compressed. This evidence seems to discount the notion that a single scribe copied the entire manuscript, and even calls into question whether the whole manuscript would have been copied at one time.
Further, and most importantly, there are several differences in reading that exist between the Samarkand codex and the “standard” quranic text as it exists today. A prominent example is found in Surah 37:103. In the Samarkand manuscript, the relevant portion of this ayah reads wa ma 'aslamaa, which translated means “and they did not submit” (i.e. become Muslims). Yet, the present Arabic “standard” Qur’an reads Falammaa 'aslamaa, which when translated means “when they submitted”7. Thus, the change of one word alters the meaning of the passage to one that is exactly the opposite! Numerous additional differences between the Samarkand codex and the present Arabic version had been noted by the Sherif and Elhennawy, who show that the quranic text has undergone a number of alterations. They amount to the same sort of changes in consonantal readings (the Samarkand is without vowel pointings) and even the changing of whole words, in Suwar 2:15, 2:57, 2:284, 5:99, 6:11, 7:27, 7:69, 18:83, 19:72, 20:3, 20:79, 20:108, 36:20-21, 38:26, as well as other ayat8. This shows us that, despite the claims made by many Muslim scholars and theologians (those quoted above, for instance) that no changes were ever introduced into the quranic manuscript history and that the Arabic Qur'an has always remained the same, there were indeed alterations in quranic manuscripts during the early years of Islam and that the original Arabic readings have not been preserved intact in each daughter manuscript.
Some Muslim apologists have argued that these differences are only a matter of a different dialect of Arabic being used in this text. This argument must be considered unsound if the apologists wish to keep their position on the Qur’an and its history internally consistent with the claims for which they are attempting to argue in support. If the apologists are correct, and the Samarkand manuscript really is a 7th century first-generation daughter manuscript of the originally compiled Uthman text, then it should be in the same Arabic dialect as the original revelation (which is presumably, per the apologetic claims, the Classical Arabic used in the Qur'an today). Even if the differences are due to the use of diverging dialects in Arabic, this does not alter the fact that the words themselves, regardless of the dialect, still mean different things. As a Semitic language, Arabic dialects diverge comparatively little from one another, and the consonantal bases of words in that idiom will not vary as greatly between dialects as the apologists would need for their argument to have any validity. The differences seen between the Samarkand text and the codified Arabic Qur’an of today, as mentioned above, are changes in consonants. This means that words and concepts have changed, since Semitic languages like Arabic rely upon triconsonantal roots which have a basic meaning, and which are modified by vowel pointings, prefixes, suffixes and so forth to provide the variety of gender, number, verb tense, etc. necessary to make a language intelligible. For example, in Arabic, the root 'mh has the basic idea of "togetherness, community", while the root 'md means "period of time". Making such a consonantal change in a manuscript would obviously alter the understanding of the word being transcribed, and would change the perceived meaning of the entire ayah in which it appears. The differing words found between the two text-types have different meanings that cannot be accounted for by mere appeal to disparity of dialect. You can say “elevator” in American English and “boot” (automobile trunk) in British English, and the difference in dialect does not account for the difference in meaning between those two words.
Further, given the emphasis on Classical Arabic as the “only” language in which the Qur’an can truly be said to be “Allah’s Word” (more will be said about this later), it seems highly unlikely that early Muslims, having freshly compiled and codified the revelation of their holy book, would then set about to make copies of it in another dialect, and send these out to all the places where they had conquered and settled for use as the official codices of their holy text. Thus, we can see that the Muslim apologetic arguments that point to the "perfect and uncorrupted" nature of each individual manuscript of the Qur'an as a proof of the finality and truth of Islam, since Allah has "obviously" protected it throughout its history, rest on shaky ground.
It is notable that as yet, no such in-depth study has been allowed on the Topkapi codex, which has been kept under wraps except for brief glimpses. Even photographic record of this codex is forbidden, which has made objective analysis of the text of this document impossible.
A very ancient manuscript, perhaps slightly older than the previously mentioned codices, was housed in the British Museum in London. This text was written in the Ma’il style of script, used indigenously in the Hijaz region of Arabia, which includes Mecca and Medina. This manuscript, however, has been dated by Dr. Martin Lings (himself a practicing Muslim) to around the end of the 8th century, and is said to be one of the two oldest known quranic texts9. In fact, only the Sana’a manuscripts, a cache of ancient quranic leaves found in a sealed room of an antiquated Yemen mosque, seem to date earlier than the first quarter of the 8th century10. These leaves and fragments are dated towards the end of the 7th century, but also contain several readings that differ from the standardized text used today, as was reported in The Atlantic Online 11. The evidences from these texts are important for two reasons. First, they falsify the Muslim claims to having found the “original” copies made of Uthman’s recension, and thus cannot be used as a proof for the early uniformity of the quranic text. Second, the readily apparent divergences from the present standard text show that such uniformity did not even exist in the early Qur’an in the first place.
Other tangible evidence for the Qur’an’s mutability exists. Cook discusses the existence of quranic quotations on early Muslim coins that differ from the present Qur’an,
"Equally, when the first Koranic quotations appear on coins and inscriptions towards the end of the seventh century, they show divergences from the canonical text. These appear trivial from the point of view of content, but the fact that they appear in such formal contexts as these goes badly with the notion that the text had already been frozen." 12
Essentially, he is saying that the appearance of divergent readings on what are really official, state-sponsored documents, indicates that the quranic text was still in a state of flux, even well into the Umayyad dynasty (661-750 AD). This lack of uniformity likewise implies to scholars that the Qur’an was not invested with the same air of authority that Muslims in our day give to it. As we will see, there is not any really solid evidence that the Qur'an existed in its final, edited form for over a century or more after the rise of the Arab Empire. It can perhaps be rightly suggested that rather than the Qur'an being the beginning of Islam (as Muslims claim), Islam was the finisher of the Qur'an.
"And yet, Schacht's studies of the early development of legal doctrine within the community demonstrate that with very few exceptions, Muslim jurisprudence was not derived from the contents of the Qur'an. It may be added that those few exceptions are themselves hardly evidence for the existence of the canon, and further observed that even where doctrine was alleged to draw upon scripture, such is not necessarily evidence of the scriptural source. Derivation of law from scripture (halakhic exegesis) was a phenomenon of the third/ninth century, and while the obvious inference is admittedly an argumentum e silentio, the chronology of the source material demands that it be mentioned. A similar kind of negative evidence is absence of any reference to the Qur'an in the Fiqh Akbar."13
The fiqh al-akbar is one of the earliest extant works of Muslim jurisprudence, produced by the jurist Abu Hanifa (699-767 AD). We can see that from the evidence of this 8th century legal creed, with its lack of reference to the Qur'an, the Qur'an probably had minimal to no impact on early Muslim society. Indeed, if the Qur'an had existed in its present form, and was imbued with the gravitas of authority as the perfect revelation of God's law, it seems very strange that it would not have been mentioned in a foundational legal standard for the Muslim community. Only over time did it develop sufficient status to become a source of law and practice.
Schacht further states in this vein,
"...the first considerable body of legal traditions from the Prophet originated towards the middle of the second [Islamic] century, in opposition to slightly earlier traditions from Companions and other authorities and to the "living tradition" of the ancient schools of law....the evidence of legal traditions carries us back to about the year 100 A.H. only; at that time Islamic legal thought started from late Umaiyad administrative and popular practice."14
"Muhammedan law did not derive directly from the Koran but developed as we saw out of popular and administrative practice under the Umaiyads, and this practice often diverged from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran....apart from the most elementary rules, norms derived from the Koran were introduced into Muhammedan law almost invariably at a secondary stage. This applies not only to those branches of law that are not covered in detail by the Koranic legislation - if we may use this term of the essentially ethical and only incidentally legal body of maxims contained in the Koran - but to family law, the law of inheritance, and even cult and ritual."15
Hinds and Crone also note that the early caliphs were more or less free to make and unmake the Sunnat, doing so under their own authority as "God's representative", not because of any traditions stemming from the Qur'an or from the example set by Mohammed or his companions16. Only later, as they have argued, did the religious elite of the second or third Islamic centuries lend a divine authority to this body of Sunnat. Indeed, in another work, Crone points out that, far from being handed down by Allah in the Qur'an, the Islamic shari'a is merely a reshaped version of the provincial law that existed in the Near East from Hellenistic times right down to the Byzantine period preceding the Arab Empire17. In effect, Islamic law was built on the substrate of the laws that had been found in the Middle East for a millennium. This law was adjusted according to the custom and preference of the early caliphs, and finally set it in stone at the behest of the Muslim ulama (theologians) as the veritable edicts of Allah, not to be questioned, only to be obeyed.
Evolving into Scripture
Thus, the Qur'an appears to have had only a marginal effect on the body of Islamic law that was being built in the first centuries of the Arab Empire. Of much greater impact were the popular practices of the people themselves and the expedients of governing needed to manage the new order. These helped to mold the legal system of Islam in preparation for the eventual quranic overlay that was to be superimposed onto the earlier foundation. In other words, the Qur'an was developed and invested with its authority as "scripture" through a process of evolution in Muslim culture, instead of the traditional view that the Qur'an laid the foundation for Muslim society in the ummah. It was not until near the end of the 8th century that the Qur’an began to be truly considered to have the authority to which later Islam would give it.
It is apparent that until the first half of the 8th century AD, those non-Muslims who interacted with them seem not to have had any understanding of an established, canonical "holy book" among the Arabs. Mingana observed,
"....the Christian historians of the whole of the seventh century had no idea that the "Hagarian" conquerors had any sacred book; similar is the case among historians and theologians of the beginning of the eighth century."18
Correlating with this are the evidences from non-Muslim sources that were contemporary to the rise of Islam, from which we can surmise that the Qur'an, at least to the extent and in the format which it presently has, was not known to those who interacted with the early Muslims. For instance, in a debate between an Arab noble and a Christian monk from a town called Beth Hale, dated to sometime after 710 AD, we see an interesting bit of information. In reply to a question about commandments given to Christians by Christ, the monk observes to the Arab that "not all your laws and commandments are in the Qur'an which Muhammad taught you", and then proceeds to list other sources for the laws of the Arabs - surat albaqrah (now Surah 2 in the Qur'an as it presently stands), the gygy (the euaggelion, the Gospels), and the twrh (the Torah)19. This evidence suggests that at this time, Surah al-baqarah was not part of the Qur'an, but was a viewed as a separate work, on par with the Qur'an, the Gospels, and the Torah. Crone and Cook note that this dialog is the first reference to a book called the "Qur'an", but that this evidence does not necessarily argue for the Qur'an as it presently is since the monk's dialog indicates a content and extent for this "Qur'an" that is different from the present one20.
Similarly, later contemporary sources show knowledge of the existence of only a part of the Qur'an. John of Damascus was a Syriac Christian priest who lived in the 8th century, during and after the Arab takeover of Syria. In his work De Haeresibus (c. 750 AD), John reveals that he had an intimate familiarity with many Arab traditions. Among these traditions are certain books that he attributes to "this Mohammed". From John's apologetic defenses, it has become apparent to scholars that he was only familiar with Suwar 2-5 of what is presently the Qur'an, plus a few other Islamic oral traditions21, some of which eventually found their way into the Qur'an, such as a variant story similar to Surah 33:37, an allusion to the three rivers flowing with water, milk, and wine (Surah 47:15), and a story similar to that of Salih's camel (Suwar 7:77, 91:11-14)22. In addition, John deals at length with another book, which he describes by its title as the "book on the Camel of God", which does not appear in the present Qur'an, but which he yet refers to as one of the books of the "Ishmaelites". He lists this book in parallel with "the book of the Table" (Surah 5), "the book of the Heifer" (Surah 2), and the "book of the Woman" (Surah 4), dealing with them in the same way to refute the heresy taught within them23. This suggests that “the Book of the Camel of God” was viewed by the "Ishmaelites" with whom he was dealing as equally authoritative as the other books that do now appear in the Qur'an. The Qur'an also makes passing references to this Book of the Camel of God (see Suwar 7:73,77; 91:13-14), but this book failed to make it into the final compilation of the Arab holy writings.
Another witness to the status of the Arab religious texts in the 8th century would be the Emperor Leo III of Byzantium (r. 717-741 AD). Leo was in a position to be familiar with the religious status of the Syria-Palestine area, as he was raised on the frontier of Syria, and was even reputed to be bilingual in Greek and Arabic. Thus, he would almost surely have become acquainted, either orally or from a holy book, with the religious teachings of the Arabs who were placing increasing pressure onto what was left of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor. In a correspondence that he wrote to the Caliph Umar II (r. 717-720 AD), he issued a defense of Christianity against the doctrines of the particular Arab monotheism that was developing. In this apologetic, he does not mention the Qur'an as a specific corpus of material (indeed, in the older text of his letter, an Armenian text dating from somewhere in the late 9th century24, the Qur'an is not even quoted)25. In his letter, Leo refers primarily to Suwar 2-5, while making a handful of scattered references that can be interpreted as pointing to other suwar of what is now the Qur'an. Overall, however, the impression is that Leo knew of written compilations of Suwar 2-5, but was relying upon oral tradition and/or other more unofficial writings, which had either not yet been assembled into a form of religious compilation by the Arabs, or else had only very recently been assembled and was still in a state of flux as far as their form and order were concerned26.
Another interesting piece of evidence from Leo's letter to Umar is the assertion which Leo makes that the texts of the Arab holy books were redacted, replaced, or otherwise altered by al-Hajjaj, an Umayyad administrator who died in 714 AD, saying that al-Hajjaj "....had men gather up your ancient books, which he replaced by others composed by himself, according to his taste...."27. Jeffrey discusses this accusation as it appears in Leo's letter and as it reappears in later Christian writings against Islam, noting that this argument cannot merely be chalked up to religious polemicism,
"....we know from Ibn 'Asakir that one of al-Hajjaj's claims to fame was his being instrumental in giving the Qur'an to the people, and from Ibn Duqmaq we know of the commotion in Egypt when a Codex from those which al-Hajjaj had had officially written out to be sent to the chief cities of the Muslim Empire, reached that country. As there were stories about al-Hajjaj being connected with the earliest attempts at putting diacritical marks in the Qur'anic text to make its readings more certain (Ibn Khallikan I, 183 quoting Abu Ahmad al-'Askari), and also with the earliest attempts at dividing the text into sections (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif), it might be suggested that this recension of his was merely an improved edition of the Uthmanic text, which he had had sent out as the edition to be officially used. Such a suggestion would also suit the story in the as yet unprinted Mushkil of Ibn Qutaiba, that he ordered the destruction of all the Codices representing a text earlier than that canonized by Uthman, and with his well-known enmity towards the famous text of Ibn Masud (Ibn Asakir, IV, 69; Ibn al-Athir, Chronicon, IV, 463). In Ibn Abi Dawud (pp. 49, 117), however, we have a list of eleven passages, on the authority of no less a person than Abu Hatim as-Sijistani, where our present text is said to be that of al-Hajjaj, arrived at by tampering with the earlier text. It would thus seem that some revision of the text, as well as clarification by division and pointing, was undertaken by al-Hajjaj, and that this was known to the Christians of that day, and naturally exaggerated by them for polemical purposes. As this work would seem to have been done by al-Hajjaj during his period of office under the Caliph 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan, who died in 86 A.H./ 705 C.E., there is no difficulty in supposing that Leo may have heard of it during his official life in Syria."28
We should note here that some of Jeffrey's Arabic sources actually suggest that al-Hajjaj went beyond merely adding diacritical marks and the like to the quranic text - they assert that al-Hajjaj actually changed the text itself, and that some readings which appear in the present Arabic Qur'an are the result of al-Hajjaj's creativity. This is interesting in light of the textual history which has been demonstrated above for the Qur'an through the manuscripts, and which will be seen below in further detail. Included in this history are traditions which actually affirm readings now appearing in the Qur'an as not being the originals.
Crone and Cook summarize the evident situation found by examination of the contemporary evidences,
"On the Christian side, the monk of Bet Hale distinguishes pointedly between the Koran and the Surat al-baqara as sources of law, while Levond has the emperor Leo describe how Hajjaj destroyed the old Hagarene 'writings'. Secondly, there is the internal evidence of the literary character of the Koran. The book is strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content, perfunctory in its linking of disparate materials, and given to repetition of whole passages in variant versions. On this basis it can plausibly be argued that the book is the product of the belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions."29
Scholars have also observed the great amount of influence that Judaeo-Christianity had upon the initial development of Islam, Judaeo-Christianity being here defined as those sects who were present in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq and who accepted Christ as a Messianic figure, but who rejected His deity (e.g. the Nazoreans, Ebionites, etc.). Indeed, many beliefs of these groups coincide with those later held by Islam, including a belief that Jesus Christ was not a member of the Godhead, but was instead a subordinated prophet of God, and the emphasis upon Abraham as the first "man of knowledge" who had the knowledge of God conferred upon him by an angel30. Other aspects of the theology of these Judaeo-Christian groups were later adopted by the Arabs into their developing monotheism after their military expansion into these regions. These include the denial of the crucifixion, the obligation to observe the sabbath and other elements of the Mosaic law, and the qiblah (direction of prayer) towards Jerusalem, which was the initial direction recorded in Islamic tradition before it was changed to Mecca. The Arabs, of course, would have been exposed to the religious beliefs of these groups, as well as those of the Jews and the various Christian sects, due to the presence of some of these groups in Arabia, as well as through trade relations. After the Arabs expanded their conquests into Persia/Mesopotamia and the eastern end of the Byzantine Empire, it would not be surprising that these doctrines were accepted into the larger aegis of the developing state monotheism, especially as the Arabs sought to distinguish themselves from both the Jews and the Christians of the Byzantine Empire.
All of this helps to explain the great amount of quranic borrowing from Christian, Jewish, and especially Judaeo-Christian sources. It is likely that the Arabs developed the belief system of Islam only after leaving the Arabian desert and coming into contact with these Judaeo-Christian groups (primarily) and other belief systems outside of Arabia. A striking evidence of the influence of Judaeo-Christianity on the early development of Islam is found in an early Syrian variant of the shahada (the Muslim “witness” or profession of their core belief in Allah and Mohammed as his prophet) that included a belief in Jesus in its statement. Bashear summarizes the significance of this evidence,
“Essentially, the scheme of Islam’s self perception vis-à-vis the issue of belief in Jesus, outlined above, conveys a sense of dependence upon and continuity of a certain Judaeo-Christian legacy that ran much deeper than the general notion of accepting Jesus only as one of several other pre-Islamic prophets and saintly figures. A close examination of the material on Qur’an 3:55 and 4:159 clearly shows the existence of a second century current which presented the roots of Islam as going back to a certain Judaeo-Christian group whose basic feature was the belief in Jesus. Though being the word (or will) of God personified, and in spite of being raised up to him once his mission was complete, Jesus himself was only human and, so to speak, earthly. This belief, we are told, was suppressed by mainstream Christianity and Judaism until it was regenerated by Islam.”31
As such, Bashear bases the origin of Islamic thought about Jesus, as it would later appear in the Qur’an, upon the foundation of earlier Judaeo-Christian groups who rejected the deity of Jesus Christ while yet according Him a high position in their systems of thought as a prophet and conduit of God’s revelation and will. Wansbrough also points out that the internal allusions in the Qur'an itself seem to indicate that it arose against the backdrop of sectarian strife with other religious groups found in Syria-Palestine and Iraq (and thus, was not a product of central Arabian revelation),
"Quranic allusion presupposes familiarity with the narrative material of Judaeo-Christian scripture32, which was not so much reformulated as merely referred to....But taken together, the quantity of reference, the mechanically repetitious employment of rhetorical convention, and the stridently polemical style, all suggest a strongly sectarian atmosphere in which the corpus of familiar scripture was being pressed into the service of as yet unfamiliar doctrine." 33
Thus, these Judaeo-Christian scriptures were relied upon to formulate and validate the new Arab monotheism, and the evolution of the Qur’an as a body of scripture was influenced by the traditions and teachings of the Judaeo-Christian world that existed outside of Arabia. These traditions and knowledge entered into the consciousness of the Arabs' new religion from the conquered Christian lands (along with the large Jewish populations) taken in Yemen, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Likewise, the trace of Zoroastrian tales in the Qur’an most likely entered the Islamic realm after the subjugation of the revived Persian Empire under Yazdegird III, the last Sassanid Shah. Coming into contact with the higher civilizations of Constantinople and Ctesiphon, each with their own established monotheistic religion, it is not surprising that the Arabs would desire to invest their new religion with the same sort of traditions. As Wansbrough pointed out, the Qur'an was likely formed because of a desire to provide Mohammed, said to be a prophet of the Mosaic model, with his very own Holy Writ. Just as Moses received the Word from God, so must Mohammed, to legitimize the Arab claims about his prophethood. In fact, it has been pointed out that Muslim philologists have systematically tried to manipulate the evidence from Arabian poetry so as to give a pre-Islamic appearance for such poetry (patterned along the lines of the Qur'an), for the purpose of giving the Qur’an a more Arabian flavor and thus supporting the claim that the Qur'an was given to an Arabian prophet in pure Arabic, from God34.
In fact, the very importance of Mohammed as the true moving force behind the original Arab religion is questionable. Scholarly investigation has shown that pretty much all of the biographical information about Mohammed presented by early Islamic tradition is of questionable trustworthiness. As Cook states,
"The other view is that false ascription was rife among the eighth-century scholars, and that in any case Ibn Ishaq and his contemporaries were drawing on oral tradition. Neither of these propositions is as arbitrary as it sounds. We have reason to believe that numerous traditions on questions of dogma and law were provided with spurious chains of authorities by those who put them into circulation; and at the same time we have much evidence of controversy in the eighth century as to whether it was permissible to reduce oral tradition to writing. The implications of this view for the reliability of our sources are clearly rather negative. If we cannot trust the chains of authorities, we can no longer claim to know that we have before us the separately transmitted accounts of independent witnesses; and if knowledge of the life of Muhammed was transmitted orally for a century before it was reduced to writing, then the chances are that the material will have undergone considerable alteration in the process."35
Two eminent scholars of Islam, Michael Cook and Patricia Crone, on very valid logical and evidential grounds, reject the whole Islamic history of Mohammed which was supposedly presented "in the clear light of history",
"They regard the whole established version of Islamic history down to at least the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) as a later fabrication, and reconstruct the Arab Conquests and the formation of the Caliphate as a movement of peninsular Arabs who had been inspired by Jewish messianism to try to reclaim the Promised Land. In this interpretation, Islam emerged as an autonomous religion and culture only within the process of a long struggle for identity among the disparate peoples yoked together by the Conquests: Jacobite Syrians, Nestorian Aramaeans in Iraq, Copts, Jews, and (finally) peninsular Arabs."36
Thus, there is a strong and growing scholarly contention against the traditional (and uncritically accepted) view of Mohammed and very early Islamic history, including the origins of the Qur'an. Concerning Mohammed specifically, this will be revisited in chapter 5.
Manufacturing the Qur'an
Moving on to a later age, the earliest tangible appearance of the complete Qur'an in its present form dates from the 10th century, when the text as it now stands was compiled from seven different versions of the quranic text to form an amalgamated, mutually acceptable text made easier to understand by the addition of vowel and diacritical marks to the Arabic script (where they had previously been lacking37, and hence made the texts harder to read).
Many Muslim apologists claim, however, that Mohammed had already compiled a complete quranic manuscript before his death in 632 AD, and that following manuscripts (as was seen above) agreed with this first text perfectly. The claim is made that there were no conflicting manuscripts produced. These assertions are contradicted both by evidence from scholarly study and by variant Muslim assertions, mentioned above and articulated more fully below, which claim that Mohammed's followers compiled the quranic teachings after his death.
"One thing only is certain and is openly recognized by tradition, namely, that there was not in existence any collection of revelations in final form, because, as long as he was alive, new revelations were being added to the earlier ones." 38
Scholars understand that at Mohammed's death, there was no singular codex for the Qur'an 39. Indeed, as has been noted above, there probably was not even a codex of the Qur'an until at or after the middle part of the 8th century (the leaves mentioned earlier are single pages, not comprising a whole collection of writings). Given the late appearance of complete quranic texts, this appears to bear witness to the truth. However, as was seen above, many Muslim scholars make the claim that the Qur'an has existed exactly as it was handed down to Mohammed, even to this day.
Yet, scholarship finds that there was no single copy of the Qur'an even in existence until long after the time of Mohammed's death according to the traditional history. There may have been portions of the Qur'an that had been written down at various points, even in the very early years of Islam (most likely the Suwar 2-5 observed by John and Leo, as well as a few others). However, not all Muslim traditions teach that the Qur'an was completed in codex form at the time of Mohammed's death. Indeed, one of the more prominent traditions records the compilation of the Qur'an (assumed, of course, to be the whole Qur'an) from various sources upon which the recitations has been inscribed, including bones and palm fronds. According to the Muslim traditions themselves, these were the parts that, along with the portions of the Qur'an present in the memories of various companions of Mohammed, Zaid ibn Thabit (a companion of Mohammed who produced a compilation of the Qur'an) sought out to make his compilation of the Qur'an codex for Abu Bakr, the first Caliph and successor of Mohammed.
As was mentioned before, many Muslims will claim that the Qur'an was handed down in its present and complete form to Mohammed and has remained unchanged since. However, if such were the case, there would have been no need for the collection of the texts and recitations that Zaid performed for Abu Bakr as indicated in the most well-known of the hadith traditions (a collection and collation which other close companions of Mohammed had also been doing, independently). Why send out a man to make the compilation if you already have the complete and perfect text before you? If nothing else, this affirms the notion, articulated by Cook above, that the body of early Muslim traditions, usually set down in writing over a century and a half after the events that they purport to chronicle, are very untrustworthy as sources for drawing up an historical reconstruction of the early Muslim era. It shows that these traditions can portray events or storylines that may be completely at odds with other sources within the body of historiographic material. These traditional sources, produced as they were within the framework of internecine fighting amongst different factions hoping to gain ascendancy in the Arab Empire, are naturally polemical and written with the aim of bolstering the positions and legitimacy of the factions. Hence, there can be several different versions of the same story or set of events, each one placing a different general or other important person with whom the faction wishes to identify, at the site of an important event40.
Let us now look at the most generally accepted tradition about the compilation of the Qur‘an, which I will relate in its details. Note that even this tradition seems to contain contradictory teachings, as well as some conceptual flaws. The discussion that follows will be framed so as to address this tradition as Muslim scholars understood it, even though I do not consider the traditional account of the compilation of the Qur’an to be historically accurate or reliable. I will deal with it here so as to highlight the conceptual flaws and problems with the traditional account.
Muslims will often claim that the memories of several hundreds of the close companions of Mohammed were all supernaturally enhanced so as to allow them all to memorize the quranic recitations, so that the Qur'an was preserved perfectly in their witness as well. But again, this begs the question of why Zaid would have to range far and wide to search out every last ayat if they were readily available in the memories of any one of hundreds of companions who were readily on hand? The fact that these men did NOT have the Qur'an memorized, and that the recitations were scattered all over the place seems evident from the hadith literature itself.
Narrated Zaid bin Thabit:
So I started compiling the Quran by collecting it from the leafless stalks of the date-palm tree and from the pieces of leather and hides and from the stones, and from the chests of men (who had memorized the Quran). I found the last verses of Sirat-at-Tauba: ("Verily there has come unto you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves--' (9.128-129)) from Khuzaima or Abi Khuzaima and I added to it the rest of the Sura. 41
Let us take note of two things that this tradition says: That Zaid had to scrounge up portions of the Qur'an from all over the place (palm leaves, stones, etc.) as well as from the memories of men. Also, it says that Zaid found a verse of the Qur'an that was known by only ONE companion. Thus, the idea that hundreds of companions knew the Qur'an perfectly by heart is not supported even by this tradition. In addition to these two ayat (9:128-129), other traditions record yet another verse which was found with only one Companion,
Narrated Kharija bin Zaid: Zaid bin Thabit said, "When the Quran was compiled from various written manuscripts, one of the Verses of Surat Al-Ahzab was missing which I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting. I could not find it except with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari, whose witness Allah's Apostle regarded as equal to the witness of two men. And the Verse was:-- "Among the believers are men who have been true to what they covenanted with Allah." (33.23)42
The truth is that Zaid probably did not get the entirety of the original quranic recitations into his compilation. Hadithic tradition demonstrates this by informing us that many of the reciters were killed at the battle of Yamama (a battle waged to re-subdue several Arab tribes who revolted from Islam following Mohammed's death) and that many portions of the Qur'an were irretrievably lost.
"Many (of the passages) of the Qur'an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama....but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman (by that time) collected the Qur'an, nor were they found with even one (person) after them." 43
Abi Dawud elsewhere expresses the same concern,
"'Umar b. al-Khattab enquired about a verse of the Book of God. On being informed that it had been in the possession of so-and-so who had been killed in the Yemama wars, 'Umar exclaimed the formula expressing loss, 'We are God's and unto Him is our return.' 'Umar gave the command and the Qur'an was collected. He was the first to collect the Qur'an."44
Hence, possibly large portions of the original revelation attributed to Mohammed simply ceased to exist (perhaps the Book of the Camel of God would be included in this category?) It was, in fact, the knowledge of this that prompted Abu Bakr (or Uthman, or Ali, or 'Umar, depending on the tradition) to initiate Zaid's mission to compile the Qur'an.
In addition to losing parts of the Qur'an due to battle losses, the traditions report that both Mohammed and his Companions would simply forget various of the revealed recitations. Mohammed would forget recitations from the Qur'an,
"Allah's Apostle heard a man reciting the Qur'an at night, and said, "May Allah bestow His Mercy on him, as he has reminded me of such-and-such Verses of such-and-such Suras, which I was caused to forget."45
Similar lapses of memory are recorded for Companions as well, such as the case of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, who confessed to forgetting practically an entire surah of recitations.
"Abu Harb b. Abu al-Aswad reported on the authority of his father that Abu Musa al-Ash'ari sent for the reciters of Basra. They came to him and they were three hundred in number. They recited the Qur'an and he said: You are the best among the inhabitants of Basra, for you are the reciters among them. So continue to recite it. (But bear in mind) that your reciting for a long time may not harden your hearts as were hardened the hearts of those before you. We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it:" If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust." And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it:" Oh people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise" (lxi 2.) and "that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection" (xvii. 13). 46
Indeed, the traditions suggest that it is Allah himself who made Mohammed and his Companions forget portions of the Qur'an!
"'Abdullah reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: What a wretched person is he amongst them who says: I have forgotten such and such a verse. (He should instead of using this expression say): I have been made to forget it. Try to remember the Qur'an for it is more apt to escape from men's minds than a hobbled camel." 47
None of this bodes well for giving an assurance of the integrity of the quranic revelations. That the state of the quranic compilation was a shambles is seen from traditional statements as well. As-Suyuti records a tradition in which Muslims are positively discouraged from claiming that they have the entire Qur'an,
"'Abdullah b. 'Umar reported said, 'Let none of you say, "I have got the whole Koran." How does he know what all of it is? Much of the Koran has gone. Let him say instead, "I have got what has survived."'" 48
Eventually, Zaid got as much of the Qur'an as he could find compiled together. Once this happened, as Gilchrist reports, the compilation was concealed, receiving no publicity for several years 49. Then a crisis arose. Nineteen years after Mohammed's death, a Muslim general, Hudhayfah, campaigning in northern Syria, reported back to Caliph Uthman that the troops in his army, some from Syria and some from Iraq, were using different readings of the Qur'an. The reason for this was because two other companions of Mohammed, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, had each prepared their own compilations of the Qur'an independently of each other and of Zaid. They were also close companions of Mohammed who knew much of the Qur'an and had found much of the rest. The problem was that each was propagating a different text from the other.
Caliph Uthman's solution to this problem was to bring the Zaid codex out of hiding, establish IT as the "standard" quranic text for all Muslims, and he then tried to burn all other codices that differed from the Zaid text. He also had the Zaid text standardized to conform to Quraishi Arabic (spoken around Mecca, and the dialect Mohammed is said to have used). Zaid himself was from Medina, and his dialect was slightly different from that of the Quraish.
Narrated Anas: Uthman called Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Said bin Al-'As and 'AbdurRahman bin Al-Harith bin Hisham, and then they wrote the manuscripts of the Holy Qur'an in the form of book in several copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi persons. " If you differ with Zaid bin Thabit on any point of the Quran, then write it in the language of Quraish, as the Quran was revealed in their language." So they acted accordingly. 50
Thus, these three Quraishis went over Zaid's text, and altered it at any point at which it was not conformable to the Quraishi dialect. Further Muslim historiography reports,
"Abu Amr states that he received the following relation from Katada as-Sadusi: "When the first copy of the Koran was written out and presented to (the khalif) Othman Ibn Affan, he said: ‘There are faults of language in it, and let the Arabs of the desert rectify them with their tongues.'"51
It appears then that Uthman was still not satisfied with the purity of the language, and relied upon the Bedouin to resolve some of the issues (the Bedouin were traditionally said to be arbiters on questions of Arabic grammar, both before and after the advent of Islam, due to the prestige of the Bedouin speech and its place as the pure language of poetry)52 . In relating the above tradition from Muslim sources, the general sense of unreliability for these traditions must again be emphasized. However, in a garbled form and fashion, the traditions may relate legitimate details about the collection of the Qur'an. While it may not have happened in the manner described by the historiographers, the details of the collation and correction of the Qur'an may well reflect analogous events occurring during the solidification of the Arab Empire and the development of the Arab monotheism, especially from the tumultuous years of the early civil wars. Indeed, the kernel of truth most likely is there, surrounded by the shuck of later literary exaggeration and ornamentation.
Many Muslim apologists will argue that the differences mentioned above between the various compilations, were due to pronunciation differences, and that no difference in the actual text existed. One Muslim apologist with whom I have had much discussion said it this way, "Although minor in nature, yet the differences in the pronunciation were seen with concern by the cautious Caliph who feared they could develop into different versions with the possibility of different meanings. It was required that just like a standard text, a standard pronunciation should also be decided."
The problem with this argument is that differences in pronunciation between various compilations would not APPEAR in the text, as the use of pointing to mark vowels was not yet in use for the quranic text. This is because Arabic is a language, like all Semitic languages, based on consonantal word roots, with the weak vowels supplied either by tacit knowledge and context, or (as in later times) by diacritical marks called "pointing", that indicate which vowel is used in each syllable. The same basic consonantal root can be used, but have different pointing marks to indicate different verb tenses, number, gender, etc. Hence, it would be possible to have different pronunciations, yes, based upon regional accents and dialects. BUT, these differences in pronunciation would not appear in the various texts. The texts could all say the same thing as far as the actual consonants that were written down, and still be pronounced differently. The fact that there were significant enough differences in the texts themselves (which would be INDEPENDENT of pronunciation) to cause Uthman to seek to eliminate all competitors to the Zaid text immediately tells us that these readings, the actual WORDS, represented significant differences between the words of the texts themselves.
And differences there were between the texts. For instance, the hadithic tradition records the following:
Narrated Ibrahim: "The companions of 'Abdullah (bin Mas'ud) came to Abi Darda', (and before they arrived at his home), he looked for them and found them. Then he asked them,: "Who among you can recite (Qur'an) as 'Abdullah recites it?" They replied, "All of us." He asked, "Who among you knows it by heart?" They pointed at 'Alqama. Then he asked Alqama. "How did you hear 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud reciting Surat Al-Lail (The Night)?" Alqama recited:
'By the male and the female.'
Abu Ad-Darda said, "I testify that I heard me Prophet reciting it likewise, but these people want me to recite it:--
'And by Him Who created male and female.' But by Allah, I will not follow them." 53
Thus, we see that the text of Surah 92:3 taught and recited by Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud differed from that used by certain other Muslims, not just in pronunciation, but in the words themselves, in a way which changes the meaning of the verse (in this case, eliminating a reference to Allah). Note also, the reading which is claimed to have been spoken by Mohammed himself is not the one presently found in the Qur'an.
Gilchrist and others report likewise that much controversy was generated through the years by reports that ibn Mas'ud left out Suwar numbers 1, 113, and 114 from his compilation.
Four notable differences between the Zaid text and the ibn Mas'ud text are detailed by Gilchrist 54:
Surah 2:275 - Zaid text - Allathiina yaakuluunar-ribaa laa yaquumuun - "those that devour usury will not stand"
Mas'ud text - Allathiina yaakuluunar-ribaa laa yaquumuun yawmal qiyaamati - "those that devour usury will not stand IN THE RESURRECTION DAY."
Surah 5:89 (listed as 5:91 by Gilchrist) - Zaid text - Fasiyaamu thalaathati ayyaamin - "fast for three days"
Mas'ud text - Fasiyaamu thalaathati ayyaamin mutataabi'aatin - "fast for three SUCCESSIVE days"
Surah 6:153 - Zaid text - Wa anna haathaa siraatii - "Verily this is my path"
Mas'ud text - Wa haathaa siraatu rabbakum - "This is the path OF YOUR LORD"
Incidentally, the text of Ubayy ibn Ka'b also has this reading, except that the word rabbakum is replaced with rabbika.
Surah 33:6 - Zaid text - Wa azwaajuhuu ummahaatuhuu - "and his wives are their mothers"
Mas'ud text - Wa azwaajuhuu ummahaatuhuu wa huwa abuu laahum - "and his wives are their mothers AND HE IS THEIR FATHER."
The Ibn Ka'b text has these same words, but reverses the statements about Mohammed's wives being mothers and he being a father to the Muslim community, placing the statement about Mohammed first.
The traditions provide a number of examples of other alterations and/or versions in the Arabic textual history of the Qur'an besides those of men like Mas'ud and Ibn Ka'b. For instance,
"Narrated Anas bin Malik:
(The tribes of) Ril, Dhakwan, 'Usaiya and Bani Lihyan asked Allah's Apostle to provide them with some men to support them against their enemy. He therefore provided them with seventy men from the Ansar whom we used to call Al-Qurra' in their lifetime. They used to collect wood by daytime and pray at night. When they were at the well of Ma'una, the infidels killed them by betraying them. When this news reached the Prophet , he said Al-Qunut for one month In the morning prayer, invoking evil upon some of the 'Arab tribes, upon Ril, Dhakwan, 'Usaiya and Bani Libyan. We used to read a verse of the Qur'an revealed in their connection, but later the verse was cancelled. It was: "convey to our people on our behalf the information that we have met our Lord, and He is pleased with us, and has made us pleased." (Anas bin Malik added:) Allah's Prophet said Qunut for one month in the morning prayer, invoking evil upon some of the 'Arab tribes (namely), Ril, Dhakwan, Usaiya, and Bani Libyan. (Anas added:) Those seventy Ansari men were killed at the well of Mauna."55
Per this tradition, a part of the Qur'an was "cancelled", though the usual process of abrogation (mansukh) does not see to be in view here. Other examples of the liberty which the early Muslims apparently took with the quranic text is seen in the tradition relating Aisha's command to her freedman to change a reading in a copy of the Qur'an which he was transcribing.
"Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam from al-Qaqa ibn Hakim that Abu Yunus, the mawla of A'isha, umm al-muminin [Mother of the Believers] said, ''A'isha ordered me to write out a Qur'an for her. She said, 'When you reach this ayat [2:238), let me know, "Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and stand obedient to Allah.[hafiz 'ala s-salawati wa-s-salati l-wusta wa qumu li-l-lahi qanitin]" ' When I reached it I told her, and she dictated to me, 'Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and the asr prayer and stand obedient to Allah. [hafiz 'ala s-salawati wa-s-salati l-wusta wa-s-salati l-'asri wa qumu li-l-lahi qanitin]' A'isha said, 'I heard it from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.'" 56
Though the change itself is minor, this again provides proof from the Muslim traditions themselves as to the fluidity of the quranic text before it was fixed. As with the example from Surah al-Lail (92:3), the reading which is said to have been heard from Mohammed himself is not the reading found in the present Qur'an. Further, we see the disappearance of the "stoning verse" from the Qur'an documented in the traditions,
"'Umar said, "I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, "We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book," and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession." Sufyan added, "I have memorized this narration in this way." 'Umar added, "Surely Allah's Apostle carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him."57
Again, a narration obtained from Mohammed has disappeared from the present version of the Qur'an.
Hence, there WERE very definite differences between these early versions of the Qur'an, which cannot be explained away by appeals to pronunciation. These that I have mentioned are only four of the differences between early compilations of the Qur'an. Arthur Jeffery's book, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, contains over 350 pages of details concerning variant readings between early quranic compilations of the time. Further, the eminent scholar of Islam, W. Montgomery Watt, makes this remark,
"No copies exist of any of the early codices, but the list of variant readings from the two just mentioned is extensive [Ed. note - obtained from the various works of early Muslim historiographers who quote these variants], running to a thousand or more items in both cases." 58
Thus, there appear to have been MANY variations in early quranic texts, despite the claims of perfection and invariance that are made for the Qur'an.
We must understand the place and significance of all that has been said above. Christianity, once it reached a position to be able to investigate this type of field with evidence and scientific methodology, has been able to investigate the textual history of the Bible in a systematic way. This has enabled Christians to ascertain what were the readings of the original biblical autographs, even though said autographs no longer exist today. This has also allowed Christianity to detect and eliminate spurious alterations or omissions made from individual manuscripts, thus maintaining a pure text while yet acknowledging the obvious presence of disparate readings between individual manuscripts. Thus, through recourse to the examination of the sum total of the manuscript evidence, along with concurrent evidence from other ancient versions and the quotations of patristic writers from the early years of the faith, Christians can be certain that the words of God have been preserved for them throughout the ages and are available to them today, even without having the original autographs.
The same assurance cannot be had by the Muslim, who has been barricaded into accepting as the “orthodox” position the view that the Qur’an has never once changed since its original inception, and that the Qur’an does not even HAVE a textual history. Whether a Muslim believes that the Qur’an was handed down intact and whole to Mohammed and has not changed since, or that the Qur’an was preserved in the compilation of Zaid and Uthman and has not changed since, he or she is still placed into the same logically and factually untenable position. Whereas Christianity has been realistic about the matter, has accepted that individual manuscripts can and will become altered over time (whether accidental or purposeful makes no difference), and has developed a fairly simple yet scientific method for discerning the true from the false59, Islam does not have this recourse. Because of the record of Uthman’s destruction and suppression of alternate quranic versions, the Muslim has no means by which to truly and scientifically determine whether the readings in his present Qur’an are REALLY the original readings. All that can be truthfully said (if one accepts the history presented in the traditions) is that the present readings were those of Uthman’s purported version. Yet, because of the destruction of so much authentic source material, there is no way to judge to what extent, numerically and geographically, the variant Qur’ans of ibn Ka'b, ibn Mas’ud, and other compilers were found. The Muslim cannot in any rational way state that certain readings found, for instance, in the Mas’ud version were definitely not the true revelation received by Mohammed. As noted above, the Mas’ud reading of Al-Lail 92:3 as recorded in the hadithic record is said to be that which was obtained from Mohammed himself. YET, this reading does not appear in the present Qur’an, which suggests that an authentic pronouncement of the prophet of Islam was lost in Uthman’s zeal to establish a uniform standard. How can the Muslim EVER know (aside from blind faith) that the current reading of 92:3 is the right one? Islam, with its untenable approach to the textual issue coupled with the artificial standardization of a pre-approved text, has trapped itself into a seemingly inescapable conundrum.
Garbled in Transmission
Thus, from what we have seen above, the text of the Qur'an cannot rationally be considered to have arrived in its present form without any changes from when Mohammed claimed to have received it from Allah. Portions of the Qur'an were lost forever at Yamama (according to Muslim tradition itself), there were variant readings all over the Muslim world until Uthman reined them in and established the Zaid/Abu Bakr text (after Quraishi revision) as the "standard" text for all Muslims. In such a situation, it is inevitable that confusion must reign. Even now, many Shi'ite Muslims will maintain that Caliph Uthman had up to a quarter of the original Qur'an removed for political reasons: the ayat spoke of Ali, with whom Uthman had a personal grudge.
But then, what of the other major claim made by many Muslims concerning the Qur'an, which relates to its present perfection and divine authorship? The same Muslim apologist who I quoted earlier had this to say, "That Qur'an is authoritative in Islam, which you'll find in your nearest bookstore. The presence of a SINGLE text of the Qur'an in the whole Muslim world is the proof of this." This claim is the standard view of orthodox Islam. But is this true? Is there a single text of the Qur'an in Arabic used today the world over?
The answer is, of course, no. The Arabic Qur'ans have come to the present day through a series of what are called "transmissions". Essentially, there were in the 2nd-3rd centuries AH (roughly the 8th-9th centuries) seven men who were considered authoritative "readers" of the Qur'an, and their recitations were written down (transmitted) by other scholars, and these readings have come down to us today as the various transmissions. Properly speaking, the two main transmissions used today are those transmitted by Hafs (d. 805) and Warsh (d. 812), though two others (ad-Duri, d. 860, and Qalun, d. 835, he being a secondary transmitter of Warsh) are also in print. The Hafs is the most commonly used transmission, though the Warsh is (or at least used to be until recently) the most common in North Africa.
For the Muslim assertion to be true, it would have to be shown that there are NO differences between these various transmissions. It would have to be true that even though there were seven different reciters and several different transmitters, they all recited and wrote the same text with no variance, and this would transmit to us today. Hence, the Hafs and Warsh ought to be identical.
Yet, they are not. Samuel Green, in his work, The Different Arabic Versions of the Qur'an60, makes a note of many of the differences in reading between these two particular transmissions, some of which I will give below. Please note, the difference in ayat references are due to the difference in the numbering systems between the two Qur'ans, but they refer to the words in question from the same passages:
Surah 3:133 (Hafs) - wasaari'uu
Surah 3:133 (Warsh) - saari‘uu
Surah 2:140 (Hafs) - taquluna
Surah 2:139 (Warsh) - yaquluna
Surah 3:81 (Hafs) - ataytukum
Surah 3:80 (Warsh) - ataynakum
Surah 2:259 (Hafs) - nunshizuhaa
Surah 2:258 (Warsh) - nunshiruhaa
Surah 2:10 (Hafs) - yakdhibuuna
Surah 2:9 (Warsh) - yukadhdhibuuna
Surah 2:184 (Hafs) - ta'aamu miskiinin
Surah 2:183 (Warsh) - ta'aami masakiina
These are not merely differences in pronunciation, but instead differences between transmissions both in diacritical marks (for vowels) and also consonantal sounds61. So, no, the Muslim claim that there is a single quranic text used the world over is not substantiated by fact. In short, if the question is asked: Is the Qur'an unchanged and uniform, we would have to answer with a negative in both cases.
Home Grown Inspiration
As was mentioned earlier, after the establishment of the Zaid text as the standard canon across Islam, Caliph Uthman attempted to carry out the complete destruction of all variant readings by fire. Why did Caliph Uthman feel the need to carry out the destruction of manuscripts that conflicted with his compilation? Was Uthman afraid that earlier copies of the Qur'an contradicted his and would reveal his own text to be deficient in authority because of the addition and subtraction of material?
Addition and subtraction to the quranic text there seems to have been, too. Guillaume reports that many of the original verses of the Qur'an were lost, either to deliberate removal, or to accidents. One surah originally had 200 verses in the time of Ayesha (one of Mohammed's wives), but by the time of Uthman's recension, it had only 73 verses, for a total of 127 verses subtracted 62. In fact, in the scholarly realm, that verses have been removed from the Qur'an throughout its history is almost universally accepted. Many of the quranic renderings that Uthman destroyed contained verses that Uthman did not approve of, probably indicating an overall tendency towards early addition to and subtraction from what was supposed to be the final, complete word of Allah (which would be in line with what was shown earlier about the authority of the early Caliphs to alter legal tradition to suit their own purposes).
Further, there is evidence from the traditions that indicates to us that Mohammed himself made, or at least allowed, direct alteration of the revelation that supposedly came from Allah. The dissident Iranian scholar Ali Dashti related one such tradition, about one of Mohammed's scribes in Medina, a man by the name of Abdollah Abi Sahr. This account relates that Abi Sahr had,
"....with the Prophet's consent, changed the closing words of verses. For example when the Prophet had said 'And God is mighty and wise' ('aziz, hakim), 'Abdollah b. Abi Sarh suggested writing down 'knowing and wise' ('alim, hakim), and the Prophet answered that there was no objection. Having observed a succession of changes of this type, 'Abdollah renounced Islam on the ground that revelations, if from God, could not be changed at the prompting of a scribe...." 63
It is not surprising to find out that the tradition records that Abi Sahr was one of the first men whom Mohammed condemned to die after Mecca was conquered (though he pardoned him because of the intercession of Abi Sahr’s uncle Uthman, and upon Abi Sahr‘s reversion back to Islam).
There is evidence that suggests that the Hijaz, the region in the Arabian peninsula that includes Mecca, was not even the site of origin for the new Arab monotheistic religion that developed into Islam. Nevo and Koren note that the earliest appearance of classical Arabic (the Arabic in which the Qur'an was supposed to have been handed down - the pure language of Allah) in the Hijaz dates to around the 40s AH (~660s AD), found near Ta'if64. They further argue, on the basis of archaeological findings in the Hijaz and surrounding regions which show no evidence for the many pagan Jahiliyya cults attributed to the area by Muslim tradition in the 6th and 7th centuries, that the point of origin for the Arab monotheism was not in the Hijaz, but elsewhere65. The conclusion they draw from their investigations is that the point of origin for this new religion was in the conquered lands of Syria-Palestine, where the most interaction between the Arab invaders and the Christian/Jewish/Judaeo-Christian subjects would take place. Later, the Arabs sought to establish a more independent identity for their new monotheism, thus creating a biography for Islam based in the Hijaz, the idealized Arab heartland. The information from the Muslim traditional historiography concerning the pre-Islamic pagan system in Mecca and the Hijaz might well have been "imported" from the pagan Arabs living in the frontier regions of Syria and Palestine, and transposed backwards as a programmatic example of the pagan systems that Islam was meant to root out, just as was done in the ideal history of Mecca.
The positive argument from the appearance of Classical Arabic in the area nearly four decades AFTER the Qur'an was supposedly handed down and Islam started, is very convincing. It suggests that this quranic language was brought into the region from the northern areas in Syria and Iraq, regions conquered and occupied by the Arabs, and which had the necessary ferment of religious interaction to cause the Arabs to desire a defining monotheism of their own. This perhaps complements the already present trend towards monotheism which was growing stronger in Arabia at this time, and which would have flowed out of the peninsula with the migrating tribes. Thus, the many high gods of the various Arab tribes would each be folded into the supreme god of the new monotheism, subjugated and assimilated into the developing state religion. The early holy books of the Arabs to which John of Damascus and Leo III allude may have originated in the area of Syria-Palestine, and the dialect began to be recognized more widely as the Arabic of the holy books of the state religion. However, caution must be employed, for we must again recognize that the Islamic traditions often are mutually contradictory and it is a difficult task to piece any coherent chain or chronology of events from them. It is best to draw general inferences of the sort of events that took place, and let archaeology and epigraphy fill in the details. As for the particulars of the development of Islam in the Syro-Palestinian environment, more will be said of this in the discussion about Mohammed in Chapter 5.
The early evolution of Muslim doctrine and practice suggests that present quranic and hadithic statements were not always viewed as inspired or received from Allah. Additionally, they do not all seem to have existed in Uthman's compilation. Instead, this phenomenon suggests the constant addition to and taking away from the Muslim holy books, and the end result is likely that several different authors over at least two centuries were responsible for the production of the Qur'an. This is entirely within the realm of possibility, given that the first verifiable full texts of the Qur'an conformable to the reading of one of today's transmissions dates at its earliest back to the 10th century, while earlier available manuscripts (such as the Yemeni) contain variant readings and omissions. In short, the Qur'an appears to be a work which was authored and edited by the Arabs in Syria and/or Iraq which had several variant readings that were destroyed, and which took several centuries to appear in the final form available today.
* Chapter 2 -
The Qur'an is Allah's Perfect and Complete Word
* Chapter 3 -
Allah is the Same as the God of the Bible
* Chapter 4 -
Muslims Reverence Jesus Christ
The Qur'an is Allah's Perfect and Complete Word
“When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre,
He’d ‘eard men sing by land and sea;
An’ what ‘e thought ‘e might require,
‘E went an’ took - the same as me!”
- Rudyard Kipling, Barrack-Room Ballads
* What Does the Qur'an Say About the Bible?
* God's Evident Preservation of the Bible
* Various Types of Pre-Islamic Source Materials Used in the Qur'an
* The Qur'an is in Pure Arabic?
* Mistakes, Inconsistencies, and Imperfections in the Qur'an
As one would expect, Islam teaches that the Qur'an is perfect, the complete revelation of Allah to mankind. The Qur'an is held to be flawless, completely unassailable in what it says, both in fact and doctrine. Because of this perceived completeness and perfection, Islam is viewed to be the ultimate religion, the final religious revelation from Allah to man, superseding all previous belief systems. With the completion of the Qur'an, Muslims believe, the need for revelation ended and Allah's message to man was concluded.
"The guidance he has shown unto mankind is complete and flawless, and is enshrined in the Holy Qur'an....Secondly, God has completed His revealed guidance through Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and Islam is the complete religion for mankind. God has said that, 'Today I have perfected your Faith - religion - for you, and have completed my bounty upon you,' and a thorough study of Islam as a way of life proves the truth of these Quranic words." 1
Concurrently, Muslims believe that the Gospels and the Torah are also revelations to man from Allah, but that these revelations were corrupted, changed by Jews and Christians who tried to hide the original and true meanings of those texts. They believe that the Bible and Torah contain God's Word, but are thoroughly mixed with the words and thoughts of men, and are thus corrupted and superseded by the Qur‘an.
What Does the Qur'an Say About the Bible?
However, Islam has always taken a somewhat double-minded position on the Bible. While teaching that the Bible is flawed, incomplete, and untrustworthy, Islam at the same time teaches that the Bible is to be followed by Muslims as a means of finding the truth. "And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers." (Pickthal translation, Surah 10:94) Thus, we see supposed divine revelation from Allah directing Mohammed and his followers to seek truth as a final authority from the Bible, from Jews and Christians who "read the Scripture before thee", as a means of clearing up misunderstandings and doubts about quranic revelation. It is from this that the strange paradox arises whereby Muslims must teach that the Bible is corrupted by man, yet at the same time accept what it teaches (more or less) as being from God.
Further, a question which then arises is this: If Allah is directing Mohammed (and therefore Muslims in general) to seek guidance from the Bible, then did the early Muslims really consider the Bible to be corrupted in and of itself? As will be seen below, the proof texts from the Qur'an that Muslims use to maintain the teaching of biblical corruption are less decisive on this point than Muslims believe. Further, if they wish to press the issue, then a problem remains for Muslims. When do they suppose the Bible to have been corrupted? Was it BEFORE Allah told Mohammed to seek out guidance from the biblical Scriptures through Christians and Jews, in which case Allah told Mohammed to seek spiritual wisdom from corrupt sources? Or was it AFTER Allah told Mohammed to seek Biblical guidance from earlier peoples of the Book, a fact that is refuted by the evidence from biblical manuscripts in several languages that are dated from both before and after the rise of Islam, that show textual continuity throughout this period (indicating that the text was fundamentally the same throughout)?
The corruption lies not with the Bible, but rather with the Qur'an - the creation of Arabs in need of a religious text to substantiate their developing monotheistic religion. Many storied in the Qur'an were directly (though imperfectly) transferred from the Bible, containing stories about personalities from the Bible, but often the stories are incorrect. The Qur'an states that Haman was a servant of Pharaoh, that Moses was adopted by Pharaoh's wife rather than his daughter, that the great Flood of Noah occurred during the time of Moses, and that Joseph was bought as a slave by an Egyptian named Aziz (instead of Potiphar), to name a few. The evidence seems to point to a rudimentary acquaintance with the biblical Scriptures during the early years of the Arab Empire, with a concomitant misunderstanding of much of what they heard and saw in them. The Arabs merely cobbled together their various impressions of what they had heard from various religious sources, and made them a part of the Qur'an.
Further, it ought to be noted that passages in the Qur'an which Muslims point to as "proof" of the corruption of earlier texts do not necessarily teach the corruption of the texts themselves. Two primary quranic passages used by Muslims to claim Biblical corruption are these:
"And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture. Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: "This is from Allah," to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby." (Surah 2:78-79)
"Can ye (O ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you?- Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it." (Surah 2:75)
Neither of these passages indicate textual corruption. The first passage refers to illiterates (defined by the context as those ignorant of the quranic revelation, which explains how an "illiterate" could write a book) who act upon their own accord to create their own scriptures, and then try to pass them off as sacred writings. This does not refer to the corruption of the words of God, but rather to the production of competitors to the words of God, false teachings and new books. The second passage refers to people who heard preaching, and knowingly perverted what they had heard, teaching that it means something else. As Parrinder has noted, early Muslim claims of corruption (tahrif) generally refer to misinterpreting scripture, and passing off something which is not scripture as if it were so, but say nothing about the text of the previous scriptures being corrupted 2. He further states in reference to Muslim commentary on the Bible,
"Another writer says: 'In the Koran tahrif means either false interpretation of the passage bearing upon Mohammed or non-enforcement of the explicit laws of the Pentateuch. As for the text of the Bible, it had not been altered....No rival text is assumed."3
As we see, traditional Muslim claims about "corruption" in the Bible revolve around suggested false interpretations, not actual alteration of the text itself. More will be said about this subject in Chapter 6, with particular regard to the issue of the charge made by Muslims that Jews and Christians “concealed“ prophetic references to Mohammed appearing in their scriptures.
God's Evident Preservation of the Bible
While the falsity of Muslim claims for the revelation of the Qur'an and its subsequent lack of change have been previously exposed, the Muslim charges concerning the corruption of the Bible ought to be addressed briefly. Islam has yet to produce any textual evidence to demonstrate the corruption of the Biblical texts as a whole. Often, Muslims will try to point to differences in readings between individual manuscripts, and use this to support their assertion. However, the science of textual criticism, as applied to the task of systematically examining the manuscript evidence, provides Christian scholars with the ability to distinguish between true and spurious readings in individual manuscripts. The body of evidence from Greek manuscripts, the manuscripts of other ancient versions (Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Latin Vulgate, etc.), and the quotations of early Christian writers allows us to determine the content of the original autographic texts with as yet unassailed certainty. It should be noted (as shown earlier) that Islam cannot truthfully make the same claim, and in fact is unable logistically to even make the attempt because of the artificial standardization of the Arabic quranic text by the early caliphs, and the subsequent destruction of nearly all contrary quranic manuscriptual evidence. Thus, the Muslim assertion rests entirely on blind faith in what amounts to a tradition handed down through Islam for roughly 1300 years. Facts show, however, that the texts used to produce the King James Bible in English, and its analogs in other languages, are the preserved, uncorrupted words of God.
Let us briefly trace the history of the preservation of the Scriptures. Beginning with the Old Testament, we see that it was written originally in Hebrew (except for certain portions of Daniel and Ezra, which were in Aramaic). Therefore, we must look at the history of the Hebrew texts when addressing any suggested corruption of these Old Testament scriptures. The Scriptures reiterate to us time and time again the promise that God has made concerning the preservation of His Words. For example,
“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (Psalm 12:6-7)4
“The grass withered, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
It is perfectly logical to suggest that God who gave His Words to man would then preserve those Words. Indeed, what logical purpose is there for the inspiration of Scripture, if there is no subsequent preservation? The Lord Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated a complete trust that the Word of God was available in His day, even centuries after the original autographs had been penned and lost. Whether He was quoting scripture to refute Satan’s temptations, or reading from a scroll of Isaiah to announce the first advent of His messianic ministry, Jesus never indicated any belief that the copies of the Word which He read or remembered were anything less than the Words of God - not “reconstructed”, not 95% recovered, but the Words of God preserved in His day. These Words were in the Hebrew, as well, for He used the Hebrew Bible, not the Greek Septuagint translation. In Luke 11:51, Jesus, speaking of the blood of God’s martyrs shed through the entire Old Testament period, said this,
“From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.”
What Jesus did here was to encapsulate the entire history of the persecution of those who trust in the Lord by those who do not - beginning with Abel in Genesis 4:8, and ending with Zechariah in II Chronicles 24:21. This is of interest to our present discussion because this “first and last” refer to passages in the first and last books of the Old Testament - as they appear in the traditional ordering of the Hebrew scriptures among the Jews, an order that differs from the arrangement of the Old Testament books in the Septuagint. Evidently, when Jesus thought about the Old Testament Scriptures, He had the Hebrew, not the Greek Septuagint, in mind5. God promised to preserve His Words for us, and God in human flesh gave every indication of fully trusting in His own promise. So, how does this apply to our present discussion concerning Biblical preservation versus corruption? What evidences, and in what way do we see that the Scriptures were preserved, contra the Muslim allegations?
Romans 3:1-2 tells us, "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." This passage clearly illustrates to us that it was the Jews who had been given the responsibility and privilege of passing on and protecting God's Word. This they did, too, through their Masoretic school. From 500-1500 AD, there existed throughout the Jewish Diaspora a school of dedicated copyists known as the Masoretes. The Hebrew Masoretes followed thoroughly prescribed and very rigorous methods for transcribing copies of the Hebrew scriptures 6. Among other things, they had to have an authentic copy of the texts before them when copying. They could not copy anything from memory, but had to have a bona fide copy in front of them, sounding out each word before copying it. The copyist had to have the word on his lips, not just in his mind. Rules governed everything involved with the copying, even the color of the ink used, the number of lines per column of text, the preparation of the parchment skins used, etc. Strict standards were followed that governed the style of letter formation, space between letters, the handling of the pen used to copy. Care was taken not just to transfer words, but to standardize them so rigorously that the copy was as nearly a perfect replica of the original as was humanly possible. The quality of copying from this method would approach that obtained with a modern copying machine. Further, if one mistake was found on a sheet of parchment, the sheet was laid to rest and the work started over. If three mistakes were found on any one page, the entire manuscript was thrown out and copying anew. Thus, if a Masorete who was copying the entire text of the Hebrew Bible started in Genesis and got all the way to the end of II Chronicles and made three mistakes on a page, the entire document was thrown out, along with weeks of work, and started over.
This is well and good for showing that the Hebrew scriptures were preserved as they were transcribed from after 500 AD. But what about before this time? As was alluded earlier, the evidence from Jesus’ use of the Scriptures seems to show that He was using Hebrew texts that were Masoretic in type, at least for the portions of Scripture which He was citing or reading. This contention is well supported by evidences that go back to, and indeed predate, the Lord’s earthly ministry. For many decades, biblical scholars called into question the antiquity and authenticity of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible. As noted above, the Masoretic schools only began to operate in the 6th century AD. But, it was said, there is no evidence for the Masoretic Hebrew from before this time, and because the Septuagint - a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures usually considered to date from around 250 BC - was older, this text-type was considered to be more “authentic” or “closer to the original”. This all changed beginning in 1947 with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a series of caves near Qumran, near the Dead Sea in Israel.
The Dead Sea Scrolls profoundly changed the way scholars looked at the textual issue. This is because the large majority of the hundreds of Hebrew manuscripts found at Qumran are Masoretic-style texts. Among the biblical manuscripts from Qumran, 60% are Proto-Masoretic texts, 20% Qumran style manuscripts, 10% nonaligned texts, 5% Proto-Samaritan texts, and 5% Septuagintal-type texts. Furthermore, the Qumran-style manuscripts have their basis in the proto-Masoretic texts, as do the proto-Samaritan texts. The Masoretic-type texts were dominant in the time of the Hasmonean period (about 160 BC)7. Hence, around 85% of the biblical texts in Hebrew that were found at Qumran are Masoretic in type (the term “proto-Masoretic” is used by many scholars to denote the fact that these are Masoretic texts that existed long before the Masoretic was “supposed” to have existed). This pushed back the evidence for the Masoretic text to a couple of centuries before Jesus. There was even found at Qumran an exemplary Isaiah scroll of the Masoretic type, dating to 150-100 BC, which compared quite closely to the Masoretic Isaiah underlying that book in our English Bible today. This manuscript proved to be practically identical with the later Masoretic text in more than 95% of its text. The remaining 5%, the variant readings, was made up of obvious scribal slips of the pen and spelling differences that do not affect the teaching contained therein8. Geisler and Nix observe that of the 166 words in the Hebrew of Isaiah 53, only 17 letters in the Dead Sea Scroll Isaiah exemplar 1QIsb differ from the Masoretic text of today - 10 letters constitute spelling variations, 4 letters demonstrated stylistic changes, and 3 letters represented the addition of the word for “light” in verse 119. Among these slight variances, there is no effect on the doctrines contained therein.
Still, as seen above, there were other types of texts as well - a small number of Hebrew texts that agree with the Septuagint, and then a somewhat larger grab-bag of eclectic texts that do not lend themselves to categorization. Cross hypothesized that there were three “families” of texts at Qumran. He suggests a Masoretic family, a “Palestinian” family (which developed into the Samaritan version of the Hebrew scriptures that we saw above had its basis in the proto-Masoretic text-type), and an “Egyptian” family, which became the basis for the Septuagintal type of Hebrew texts, and which was used by the Jews in Alexandria10. The existence of these other text-types has led scholars to believe that the Masoretic was only one type among many of the Hebrew Bible, and that the text of the Bible was hardly settled during the time in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were being compiled and stored away in the caves at Qumran. By noting that the probable origin of the proto-Samaritan and Qumran-style texts was in the proto-Masoretic family, Schiffman largely dispensed with the "three families" theory, though the presence of the other, minority text-types has kept alive the basic thesis of an unsettled text.
There is absolutely no reason to believe this understanding of the evidences, however. There is no need to believe that the Masoretic was just “one among many” until it was standardized (and presumably “accredited”) by Masoretes starting around 500 AD. The circumstances surrounding the evidences obtained from Qumran need not be interpreted so as to arrive at the particular conclusions that many textual scholars have. One understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls that is finding increasing currency in recent years is the view that at least some of the caves at Qumran were not used to store valuable and treasured texts, but instead were used as a type of genizah. A genizah is a Jewish repository for manuscripts that can no longer be used, or never were used, because they are passul - unfit for ritual use in the synagogue. These types of texts would be set aside as shemos, stored away in some place where they would not be used, but yet would not be destroyed because they contained the name of the Lord on them. With regards to the Septuagintal type manuscripts in particular, we see that the large majority of texts bearing Septuagintal-type readings were stored in one particular cave - Cave 4. Using data from R. Grant Jones11, a compilation of the discovery locations of manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls containing textual variances between the Masoretic and the Septuagintal readings in the Pentateuch shows that 34 out of 45 manuscripts, with 196 out of 221 total variant readings, were found in Cave 4 - accounting for 75.6% of the texts and 88.7% of the variances. The remaining texts were scattered between 6 other caves at the Qumran complex. Jones’ selection of variant readings in the rest of the Hebrew Bible shows that, from the selected texts, 33 out of 42 Septuagintal readings, or 78.6%, were from manuscripts found in Cave 4. Because of the overwhelming selection of Cave 4 for this particular text type, as well as the fact that the manuscripts in Cave 4 were not stored in jars as were the manuscripts in the other caves, Cave 4 has a definite appearance of being a genizah, a place where old, damaged, or textually corrupt manuscripts were laid to rest after being removed from circulation.
Indeed, the entirety of the Qumran cave complex might be a genizah, as was originally postulated by the late E.L. Sukenik. Recent scholarship surrounding the study of the Scrolls has moved increasingly towards the view that the Qumran community was not necessary made up of Essenes, and that the repository of manuscripts may not even be associated directly with the community at Qumran, whoever they were. Golb has theorized that the Qumran caves complex was instead a depository of texts serving as a sort of “safe house” for the personal libraries of Jews who escaped from Jerusalem before the Roman destruction of that city in 70 AD. He points to the fact that the manuscripts contained at Qumran were copied by well over 500 different hands12, far more copyists than would have been needed or used in a small community such as the Essene complex, even over the course of a few centuries13. This multitude of copyists suggests that the manuscripts were simply produced independently of each other by scribes all over Israel, rather than by those of one closed community. This theory has evidence to commend it, but it seems unnecessary to theorize that these scripts were stored by Jews escaping the Romans, since if one is fleeing for one’s life, why take the time to travel to a remote location in the desert to store away portable scrolls when you could simply take them with you while getting out of the country?
Rather, I suggest that the evidences of the plethora of scribes, as well, as the peculiarity of storing these scrolls away in remote caves, suggests that the complex was a genizah. ALL the scrolls there were essentially “throwaways”, even such nearly perfect specimens as the Isaiah exemplar, and were laid to rest respectfully over the decades and centuries. This suggests, then, that far from being a valuable repository of knowledge about the “development of the Hebrew Bible”, the Dead Sea Scrolls show what was NOT used. The preponderance of Masoretic manuscripts demonstrates that the Masoretic was the Hebrew Bible in use during this time period, but the fact that the Masoretic texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls have even minor textual variances with the “established” Masoretic texts could indicate that even at this early date, there was a purposeful selection against these corrupted manuscripts. Perhaps there were “proto-Masoretes” who were copying the Hebrew scriptures, and whose copyist errors would be treated much the same way as those of the later Masoretes were - by trashing the manuscript and starting over. In the very least, we see that there is the definite possibility that non-Masoretic and Masoretic texts with copyist errors were “laid to rest” in the Qumran caves, even if a specifically Masoretic process of copying was not in operation. This then would suggest that the Masoretic text, same as today’s, was the “gold standard” even back in that day, the rule by which all manuscripts were judged.
Efforts at accurate and reliable transmission, perpetuated by the Masoretes, and likely originating long before 500 AD, protected God's Word in Hebrew from any sort of corruption. Islam cannot even begin to make the same sort of claim for the Arabic texts of the Qur'an, which the evidences show had already been corrupted, altered, and then artificially standardized by the early caliphs. The result of the Masoretes' work was what was used to translate the Old Testament in the King James. The King James translators used the Ben Chayyim Masoretic text, produced by Rabbi Abraham ben Chayyim iben Adonijah, and published by Daniel Bomberg in 1524 14. Thus, the King James Old Testament comes from a text that can be considered completely trustworthy and a preserved replica of the originals.
Likewise, the Greek New Testament underlying the King James remained uncorrupted. There are currently in the possession of scholars over 5300 copies, either partial or full, of the Greek New Testament, in various forms such as uncials, lectionaries, papyrus fragments, and cursive texts. Of these, more than 5200 most generally agree with the Traditional Text (also called the “Syrian” or “Byzantine”), the text type underlying the Greek text from which the King James New Testament was translated 15. Hence, more than 98% of all existing Greek New Testament texts are in general agreement with one another and with the Textus Receptus which Beza edited in 1598. What this means is that the vast bulk of Greek manuscripts for the New Testament were transmitted accurately down throughout the entire Church Age, right up to the time when Beza collated his complete Greek text. Further evidence for the accuracy of their transmission is the fact that around 2,630 out of 4,383 (60%) of the New Testament quotations from early church fathers who died before 400 AD were in the form of distinctive Byzantine readings (i.e. the writer chose the Byzantine reading when the Byzantine and Alexandrian texts differed on a verse)16. As Kenyon pointed out in his survey of Miller and Burgon‘s analysis, this preference for the Traditional Text increases to around 64% (151 of 235) if the writers from the first three centuries are considered, and this further rises to 76% (530 of 700) when a list of thirty highly important passages are considered from this group of patristics, chosen for their frequency of quotation and theological importance 17.
The tiny remaining number of Greek texts (less than 2%, or between 50-100 manuscripts, depending on how one classifies individual manuscripts) all bear evidence of having been little used by the churches of God. The two primary manuscripts of this class, Codex Aleph (aka “Sinaiticus”) and Codex B (aka “Vaticanus“), both have earmarks of Gnostic corruption18. Further, not only do they differ from the vast body of manuscript and patristic evidence against them, they also are so eclectic that they contradict each other in reading nearly as much as they agree. Pickering notes,
"The variation between two 'Byzantine' MSS will be found to differ both in number and severity from that between two 'Western' MSS or two 'Alexandrian' MSS -- the number and nature of the disagreements between two 'Byzantine' MSS throughout the Gospels will seem trivial compared to the number (over 3,000) and nature (many serious) of the disagreements between Aleph and B, the chief 'Alexandrian' MSS, in the same space."19
Nevertheless, they are touted by most textual critics as being the most trustworthy manuscripts. This is because of their greater age. Both date from the middle to latter part of the 4th century, exceeding the age of the oldest extant Traditional manuscript by at least three centuries. However, one fact that needs to kept in mind is this: When a text written on vellum is used constantly, it wears out and needs to be recopied. Conversely, when a text is never used, it remains in a much better condition. Further, there is much evidence to suggest that when the worn out vellum manuscripts reached the point where they could not be used, they were “put to rest” through honorable destruction. This general point was first suggested over a century ago by Burgon, but was independently articulated by Lake, et al. nearly 50 years later20. These two points combined would explain the lack of very ancient Byzantine manuscripts, and concurrently provide a reasonable explanation for the continued existence of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Given that the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus texts are the oldest, the obvious point is then that they were never used, and thus never had to be recopied. This doubly supports the notion that the Traditional texts have been preserved uncorrupted in that it tells us the early churches and men of God through the ages recognized them, and not the small minority of corrupted texts, as being the authentic readings (in other words, an incipient form of textual criticism appears to have been at work). It also tells us that few significant mistakes were made throughout the course of transcribing and re-transcribing the Traditional texts over the centuries, for them to all agree as substantially with each other as they do, across the thousands of manuscripts spread across the old Roman world and Medieval Europe. Even "indefensible" readings in the Traditional text-based Textus Receptus need not be considered "inauthentic", such as the Johannine Comma in I John 5:7-8, which survived the attempt by ancient Arian heretics to purge it from the Scriptures21. A point that must be made is that the small number of corrupted texts are those from which the 'modern' versions of the Bible like the NIV, NASB, RV, Berkeley, ESV, etc. are translated. The textual support for these modern versions is very small, and certainly does not outweigh the vast textual support which the King James enjoys. These modern versions carry through many of the “theological difficulties” that their parent manuscripts contained, such as removing or downplaying important doctrines like the efficacy of Christ's blood, His virgin birth, His resurrection, etc. Christians interested in having and studying the true Word of God would do well stay away from the “modern” versions and stick with the King James Version.
God has again preserved His Word, by retaining for us a text in Greek, the Traditional text which eventually culminated in the collation of the Textus Receptus, which has been copied and carried through for centuries without error. Combined with the protection He afforded to the Hebrew Masoretic texts, we see that God has preserved and protected His Word through the ages. This is not surprising though, as God has promised to us to preserve His Word. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8). Truly He has done this with His Word, the Bible, and truly the same cannot be said for the Qur'an!
Various Types of Pre-Islamic Source Materials Used in the Qur'an
Now let us turn to an examination of the "perfect and heavenly" Qur'an. Islam's claim that the revelation of the Qur'an was handed down from Allah to Mohammed in complete and final form does not seem to be possible, given the large amount of "borrowing" which is evident in the Qur'an. Many of the stories and teachings of the Qur'an originally were taught in a variety of pre-Islamic writings and among various pre-Islamic groups. To begin, there seems to have been a large amount of pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and legend that found its way into the Qur'an. This is not surprising as the Qur'an was, of course, developed by Arabs who lived in an evolving pre-Islamic Arabian society. This understanding has been sustained by many scholars who have studied Islam, and much of what was included in the Qur'an came from apocryphal or/and fanciful sources:
- The story of the she-camel which leapt out of a rock and became a prophet was known in Arabia long before Muhammad (Suwar 7:73-77; 54:27-29; 91:13-14).
- The story of an entire village of people who were turned into apes because they broke the sabbath by fishing was a popular legend in Muhammad's day (Suwar 2:65; 7:163-166).
- The story of Moses and the gushing twelve springs is found in Surah 2:60ff and comes from pre-Islamic Arabian legends.
- In what is called the "Rip Van Winkle" story, seven men and their animals slept in a cave for 309 years and then woke up perfectly fine (Surah 18:9-26)! This was also a popular story in Arabia at and before Mohammed's time. This legend was also found in Greek and Christian folks fables from that time and before.
- The fable of the pieces of four dead, cut-up birds getting up and flying was well known in Muhammad's time (Surah 2:260).
- The story about the birth of Mary in Surah 3:35-37 appears to be loosely based off of an apocryphal 2nd century work, The Protevangelion of James the Lesser.
Additionally, there appear to be several Jewish sources that were used when developing the quranic revelation22:
- The Second Targum of the Book of Esther supplied the non-biblical details of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon (Surah 27:17-44).
- The Testament of Abraham provided the teachings of the Qur'an found in Surah 42:17 and Surah 101:6-9, which relate that on the judgment day, a scale of balance will be used to weigh good and bad deeds, and to make the determination of whether people will be sent to heaven or hell. This Jewish work is also apparently quoted in Surah 87:19.
- The story of murderous Cain and the raven (Surah 5:30-31) is found in several Jewish writings, such as the Pirqe of Rabbi Eleazer and the Targum of Jerusalem, both of which pre-date the Qur'an.
- The tale of Abraham being delivered from Nimrod's fire (Suwar 21:51-71; 37:97-98) originated in the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis.
- The Talmud provided the Qur'an with the story of Moses' resurrection (Surah 2:55-57)
- The story of the golden calf which was made by Israel in the wilderness, in which the image actually leaps out of the fire and moos (Surah 20:80-98), comes from the Pirqe of Rabbi Eleazer.
- Lastly, the seven heavens and hells described at various points in the Qur'an can also be found in the Zohar and the Hagigah, and the hells are further described in the Midrash on the Psalms.
Heretical Christian sources also provided a source of inspiration to Mohammed. The fingerprints of Gnostic and heretical sects can be seen at several points in the teachings of Mohammed. For example, the quranic definition of the Trinity, consisting of God, Jesus, and Mary (Surah 5:116), was a doctrine held by a small Arabian pseudo-Christian group known as the Collyridians, with whom the early Muslims apparently had some contact. That heretical Christian groups exerted a strong influence on the developing Arab theology and beliefs has been demonstrated repeatedly by scholars of Islam 23. Two examples of fanciful stories that were taught by heretical groups and that found their way into the Qur'an are the story of Jesus' speaking from the cradle as an infant (Surah 19:29-30) and the story of Jesus molding a bird from clay and then breathing life into it (Suwar 3:49, 5:110). These were stories passed down from various Gnostic sources.
Related to what was said above, we must also note that many pagan rituals and activities were introduced into the developing Arab religion, the large share of these having their roots in the pagan pre-Islamic days of ancient Arabia. This included such well-known Muslim worship activities as worshipping at sacred stones (the Ka'bah, for Islam), praying five times a day towards a sacred geographical location (Mecca, for Islam), and fasting for part of a day for an entire month (Ramadan, for Islam). As an example of this, Wensick observes that the Ka'bah is not unique to Mecca, but instead, there is evidence for various holy precincts - Ka'bahs - some of which housed sacred stones, prior to the rise of Islam24, just as the Ka'bah in Mecca houses the sacred meteorite venerated by Muslims.
Less certain, but also suspected, is that the Muslim cult practice of throwing stones at Satan finds its origins in a pre-Islamic pagan ritual in which stones were thrown to symbolically drive away jinn and other evil spirits. Muslim tradition itself indicates to us that Mohammed could communicate with spirits and jinn, on one occasion it is recorded that a tree spoke to Mohammed and informed him about the activities of a group of jinn, suggesting a shamanistic ability to communicate with the spirits that are often believed by primitive peoples to reside in trees, rivers, and other natural features 25. Mohammed himself was even said to have been at various times bewitched by magic spells26. Even the traditional account of the beginning of Mohammed's reception of the quranic revelations seems to betray a demonic origin, as he is said to have been "pressed" by the angel that came to him to the point where he could barely stand it27. This description is very similar to that reported by many people who claim to be the targets of paranormal activity or alien abductions, and who will often say that they were physically "pressed" while lying in bed, or otherwise rendered unable to move28. These evidences provide additional support to the contention that much of Islam is repackaged pre-Islamic Arabian paganism.
The Qur'an is in Pure Arabic?
Any book making the claim to be God's Word ought therefore to be free from demonstrable error. The Bible has withstood every test of literary, logical, historical, archaeological, and scientific truth and accuracy brought against it by skeptics and unbelievers. Can the same be said for the Qur'an?
The answer as can be shown is no. Muslims claim that the Qur'an is preserved and inspired, and point to Surah 85:21-22 as proof, "Nay, this is a Glorious Qurán, (Inscribed) in a Tablet Preserved!" It is claimed for the Qur'an as an impregnable dogma that it is written in perfect Arabic, said to be "Allah's language", providing a basis for its absence of error. This claim is made in Surah 13:37,
"Thus have We revealed it to be a judgment of authority in Arabic. Wert thou to follow their (vain) desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither protector nor defender against Allah."
This claim is further refined,
"We know indeed that they say, "It is a man that teaches him." The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear." (Surah 16:103)
Surah 12:2 and Surah 41:41,44 are also often used to support this dogma, with the logic being that if Allah does something, it must be perfect, so his revelation of the Qur'an in Arabic means that the text in Arabic must be perfect. Traditional Muslim scholarship has since affirmed this dogma. One such example, drawn from the writings of the classical Islamic scholar as-Suyuti, is cited by Burton,
"The Companions, the very models of correct Arabic usage, would not have made errors in ordinary speech, let alone in the recitation of the Holy Qur'an which they had received orally from the very lips of the Prophet as it was revealed and which they promptly, accurately, and expertly committed to memory. Can one suppose them to have collectively committed errors, not merely in reciting, but also in writing the texts? And to have failed to draw people's attention to such errors and order the immediate abandonment of whatever was incorrect? Can one imagine 'Uthman's actually forbidding that the errors be put right? Can one conceive that the nation-wide (tawatur) transmission of the texts would not only fail to expose but would even perpetuate errors, generation after generation? Reason, religion, and normal human behavior combine to militate against such reports. The first impulse is to reject them as unsound. Had there been anything in the reports, the Companions would have corrected the texts without further ado. They would not have delegated the correction of errors to folk whose Arabic could not match their own. In any case, 'Uthman had ordered not one, but several copies. It is highly improbable that all the copies would be afflicted with precisely the same errors, yet no-one has ever reported that only some of the copies were seen to be faulty. Apart from the minutiae of consonant- or vowel-resolution (which has nothing to do with errors in language), all the copies were identical."29
However, analysis of the quranic Arabic and associated evidences shows this not to be true. Burton points out30 that the traditions themselves reported linguistic problems with the Arabic in the Qur'an. These were recognized by many of the commentators and were dealt with by subjecting the passages in question to ta'wil, reinterpretation. Burton then proceeds in his article to demonstrate in grinding detail quite a number of instances where the quranic Arabic is incorrect according to widely known rules of Arabic grammar. Likewise, the critical (and most would say apostate) Iranian scholar Ali Dashti made this comment concerning the quranic text,
"The Qor'an contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concords of number and number; illogically and ungrammatically applied pronouns which sometimes have no referent; and predicates which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects 31.....To sum up, more than one hundred Qor'anic aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic have been noted 32."
The Qur'an has many grammatical errors in the Arabic, a partial listing being errors in Suwar 2:177, 3:59, 4:162, 5:69, 7:160, and 63:10. An exposition of some of the errors in the Arabic has been provided by Dr. Anis Shorrosh, a Palestinian Christian and native Arabic speaker 33. These errors demonstrate the fallibility of the Arabic text of the Qur'an. In a further exposition on the subject, Rafiqul-Haqq and Newton have provided detailed demonstrations of how the Qur'an uses grammatically unsound Arabic on many occasions (Suwar 2:177, 3:59, 4:162, 5:69, 7:56, 7:160, 21:3, 22:19, 41:11, 49:9, 63:10, and 91:5) and provide the correct readings according to standard rules of classical Arabic grammar34. Bellamy notes twelve instances in the Qur'an where the language of the text appears to be incorrect, where words make no sense in the context in which they appear. If these words are emended as Bellamy suggests, they make sense. He also demonstrates scientifically why his emendations make sense per grammatical and textual-critical reasonings35.
A couple of examples from Bellamy’s suggestions will suffice. In 21:98, an ayah about false teachers and their idols being *fuel* for the fires of hell, the text uses the word has.ab, a word that literally means "pebbles", and which Islamic commentators have usually explained away by expanding the meaning of the word to include the false teachers as "pebbles of fuel" for the fires of Jahannum. Bellamy proposes to emend has.ab with hat.ab, a word in Arabic that commonly means "firewood", and that makes perfect sense in the passage. In 11:8 and 12:45, the Qur'an uses ummah, and the word is said to mean "time, a while", though this is not the usual meaning of that word. Bellamy proposes to emend this to amad (replacing the h with a d), a word which means "time, a period of time" and which, again, makes perfect sense in context. Bellamy later proposed a further set of nine emendations to copyist errors in the quranic text36. For example, in 11:111, the Qur'an says wa-inna kullan lamma". The lamma is "meaningless" and is likely an error due to copyist insertion. The passage makes better sense if it is removed entirely. Then, it becomes "good grammatical Arabic". Likewise, in 26:177-189, the Qur'an talks about the prophet Shu'ayb. This name has no sound etymology in Arabic - it appears to be meaningless, lexicologically. It is a corruption in the text, and if the name is replaced by Sha'ya (Arabic form of Isaiah), the passage both makes sense AND has a sound Arabic foundation. Also, in various places, the Qur'an mentions the Sabians (al-sabi'una) - a group of people whom both Western scholars and Islamic commentators are at pains to identify conclusively, even to this day. Bellamy proposes that the term originated as a corruption, and was propagated throughout the other places it appears in the text. He proposes to emend s.bwn/s.byn to mnwn/mnyn, a term referring to the Manichaeans. This would resolve the apparent problem with identification, and cause the passage to refer to a definite, historical group of people. These "Sabians" (really Manichaeans or similar Gnostic groups) were accepted by the early Muslims as a "people of the book" because they did indeed have their own religious books, mostly authored by Mani, their founder. Also worthy of noting is that several of Bellamy’s examples show the influence of Judaic and Christian thought on the text.
Additionally, the quranic Arabic cannot be considered "pure" because of the inclusion of many foreign words into the text. These words include "Pharaoh" (Egyptian, repeated 84 times), "Haroot, Maroot, sirat, hoor, tilmeeth, jinn, and firdaus" (Farsi words), "heber, sakinah, maoon, turat, and jehannim" (Hebrew words), "taboot, taghouth, zakat, and malakout" (Syriac words), and "injil" (Arabization of eua[n]ggelion, Greek word for “good news“, referring to the Gospels) 37. In his foundational study of Syriac influences on the Qur’an, Mingana noted several points where the Qur’an had either directly borrowed words from Syriac (a Christian liturgical tongue used throughout Syria, Mesopotamia, and Northern Arabia at the time), or else adopted foreign meanings for native words which were derived from their cognate usage in Syriac38. Many of these words that entered into the Qur’an were drawn directly from Christian usage, including terms such as “resurrection” and “Messiah”. Despite the age of Dr. Mingana’s research, it still remains foundational to understanding this point, as his evidences and conclusions have been little assailed by the intervening decades of quranic research.
Further investigations have revealed more evidence of reliance upon Syriac for many terms in the Qur’an, especially terms associated with cult and theology. Watt discusses the use of the word rijz, denoting God’s wrath and anger in the Qur‘an, and demonstrates it to be the likely carryover of a Syriac term into the Qur’an. Indeed, Watt suggests that the linguistic tradition of Christian Arabs “influenced the language of the Qur’an in certain points",39
“The conclusion now seems unavoidable that, always leaving out of account 8.11, rijz no less than rujz represents the Syriac rugza. It has suffered slight transformation of meaning - if indeed it is a transformation - by coming to denote the outward expression of anger rather than the feeling itself, and by being used on occasion indefinitely; this is only a very slight change.40
An interesting and similar case is that of the term hanif, used in the Qur’an to denote one who was a monotheist, one who was turned “the right way”. Bashear notes that this term also originated from Christian Syriac use, informing us that the term hanif and the Syriac term hanpé appear to have a close affinity. The latter term was used in the Jahilliya period to denote those who deviated from Christianity, and had the meaning of “heathen”, even having been applied to those who venerated the Ka’bah, prayed toward it, and performed the hajj. This was an use for the term which appeared in Christian writings even after the rise of Islam, such as John of Damascus’ polemic against the “Ishmaelite” religion, and Ghevond’s record of the letters between Umar II and Leo III. It also seems to have initially had this sense in Arabic as well. However, as the pilgrimage to Mecca and other beliefs and practices of the Jahilliya hanifiyya were adopted into Islam, this meaning gave way to a much more positive meaning of “turning towards” and “one who is upright”41.
The Syriac origin of hanifiyya was showed by the Arab historian al-Mascudi (d. 345/956) who pointed it out in his al-Tanbih wa-l-ishraf. The occurrence of hanpe in a Syriac text by Daniel, Bishop of Edessa (665-684 AD) as someone who “does not believe the Messiah to be God” and its use by the Jacobite Athanasius of Balad (684 AD), in the same sense, were noted by Crone and Cook 42. Thus, the term originally seems to have meant a person who had rejected Christianity, especially one who remained involved in pagan worship. The term, as we saw, was even applied to those who engaged in the pre-Islamic worship at the Ka’bah. As such worship became incorporated into the evolving and expanding Islamic religion, the term was carried over, retaining perhaps some of its original force (with respect to venerating the Ka'bah), but was relieved of its negative overtones, eventually developing the positive connotations of monotheism and “right religion”, as found in Islam. Hence, when Muslims would refer to Abraham as a hanif, the term was meant to be complimentary, since he was a monotheist who rejected idols and worshipped Allah only.
Perhaps most troublesome for the traditional Muslim position of perfect quranic Arabic is the possibility that the Qur’an (or at least the earlier parts of it) was not even originally in Arabic. While the evidence above, beginning with Mingana and continuing to the present, would logically seem to suggest that the Syriac language played a large role in influencing the early writing of the Arab texts that became the Qur’an, current scholarly work suggests that Syriac may well have been the original language of the quranic recitations. A recent work by the pseudonymous Christoph Luxenberg, Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran43, probes this question. Luxenberg’s reanalysis of many quranic passages that have historically mystified even Arab Muslim commentators suggests that these passages are more coherent and better understood if they are approached from the vantage point of having originally been written in Syriac and then translated into Arabic, with the corresponding problems of misunderstanding that can arise from such translation. One such possible alternative meaning has to do with the well-known quranic promise of virgins for those who give their lives for the propagation of Islam. Luxenberg’s work casts doubt on this promise of “perpetual young dark-eyed virgins”, suggesting instead that the original Qur'an documents may have been promising "raisins" of "crystal clarity"44. This claim is made because the word in the Qur’an which is translated as “dark-eyed virgins” is huri, which is cognate with the word hur in Syriac, a feminine plural adjective which literally means “white”, and is implicitly understood to be referring to young or new raisins in Syriac texts. The reading of “raisins” also, actually, makes much more contextual sense in those quranic passages where this word appears, since they deal with the pleasures of food and drink in Paradise. It is perhaps fortunate that the “pearl-like young boys” also promised to faithful Muslim warriors in Paradise (as we will see later) may also be based upon a mistranslation, as the Arabic word could come from a Syriac term which refers to “chilled drinks” (also in line with the “food and drink” context of these verses)45. These and other contextually relevant re-appraisals of quranic passages strengthen the thesis that the Qur‘an was originally written in Syriac.
In light of the claims made by Muslims versus the evidence seen above, questions remain. If the Arabic of the Qur'an is perfect, why is there so much evidence for grammatical errors and scribal corruptions? If Arabic is the language of Allah, and therefore perfect, than why the need for the inclusion of words from other languages, when there are perfectly viable Arabic alternatives for each word listed above that could have been used? Further, how do we even know that the Qur‘an originally was in Arabic?
Mistakes, Inconsistencies, and Imperfections in the Qur'an
Beyond the problems of language, the Qur’an also contains many problems of fact. The Qur'an includes several outright scientific errors:
* In Surah 23:14, the embryo is said to be formed by turning a sperm into a clot of blood, which then continues to grow into the embryo. This incorrect view entirely ignores the equally important presence of the female ovum (egg), and the process of fertilization which occurs between the egg and the sperm, as well as the simple medical fact that spermatozoa do not "turn into" blood at all. The traditions add detail to the quranic teaching,
"Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mus'ud:
"Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, '(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period....'46
These embryological teachings from the Qur'an and the traditional material are quite at odds with what modern science has observed47. Further, in Surah 86:6-7, the Qur‘an also informs us that semen originates in a region of the body between the kidneys and the spine, which is obviously wrong, but which yet reflects the widespread belief of the time that originated with the Greek physician Hippocrates in the 5th century BC and continued to be accepted until the rise of modern, scientific medical investigation. Relatedly, while the Qur'an is silent regarding the subject, the ahadith give us some insights into Islamic genetics,
"As for the resemblance of the child to its parents: If a man has sexual intercourse with his wife and gets discharge first, the child will resemble the father, and if the woman gets discharge first, the child will resemble her."48
Even ignoring the somewhat odd view of intercourse presented in this tradition, this statement obviously runs counter to everything we know about the science of genetics and heredity.
* In Surah 18:86, the Qur'an says that a traveler sees the sun set in a spring of murky water, and in 18:90 this same traveler finds the specific point at which the sun rises. We know, of course, that the sun does not set into a murky spring of water, and further that the earth is not flat, which is presupposed by the finding of specific places where it rises and sets.
While modern Muslim apologists argue that these verses do not teach a flat earth, traditions and commentaries on the Qur'an indicate that the literal, flat-earth cosmology is the understanding that Muslims had about these verses. Al-Tabari, one of the most famous commentators on the Qur'an, stated,
"Then he said: For the sun and the moon, He created easts and wests (positions to rise and set) on the two sides of the earth and the two rims of heaven, 180 springs in the west of black clay - this is (meant by) God's word: 'He found it setting in a muddy spring [18:86],' meaning by 'muddy (hami'ah)' black clay - and 180 springs in the east likewise of black clay, bubbling and boiling like a pot when it boils furiously. He continued. Every day and night, the sun has a new place where it rises and a new place where it sets. The interval between them from beginning to end is longest for the days in summer and shortest for winter."49
Hence, al-Tabari clearly understood the quranic statement in 18:86 literally to be saying that the sun sets in a muddy spring found at the edge of the earth. He elsewhere stated,
"God created two cities, one in the east, and the other in the west....Were those people not so many and so noisy, all the inhabitants of this world would hear the loud crash made by the sun falling when it rises and when it sets."50
The hadithic traditions records a similar sentiment from Mohammed's cosmology,
"Narrated Abu Dhar:
"The Prophet asked me at sunset, 'Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?' I replied, 'Allah and His Apostle know better.' He said, 'It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: 'And the sun Runs its fixed course For a term (decreed). that is The Decree of (Allah) The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing.' (36.38)"51
This tradition refers to a portion of the Qur'an where the sun and the moon are shown to travel a fixed path around the earth,
"And the sun runs his course for a period determined for him: that is the decree of (Him), the Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing. And the Moon,- We have measured for her mansions (to traverse) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk. It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law)." (Surah 36:38-40)
Clearly, the Muslim understanding of quranic cosmology was that of a flat earth around which the sun and moon circled.
* In Surah 51:49, the Qur'an claims that Allah made everything in pairs. However, we know that there are several species of plants, animals, and monerons that reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis, and that have only one gender, or really no gender at all.
* Suwar 16:15, 21:31 and 31:10 all claim that mountains exist to prevent earthquakes, something which both science and simple observation demonstrate to be false. In commenting on this peculiar teaching in Surah 16:15, al-Tabari stated,
"When He wanted to create the creation, He brought forth smoke from the water. The smoke rose above the water amd hovered loftily over it. He therefore called it 'heaven'. Then He dried out the water, and thus made it one earth. He split it and made seven earths on Sunday and Monday. He created the earth upon a (big) fish (hut), that being the fish (nun) mentioned by God in the Qur'an: 'Nun. By the Pen.' [68.1] The fish was in the water. The water was upon the back of a (small) rock. The rock was upon the back of an angel. The angel was upon a (big) rock. The (big) rock - The one mentioned by Luqman [31:16] - was in the wind, neither in heaven nor in earth. The fish moved and became agitated. As a result, the earth quaked, whereupon He firmly anchored the mountains on it, and it was stable. The mountains proudly (tower) over the earth. This is stated in God's word that He made for the earth 'firmly anchored (mountains), lest it shake you up.' [16:15]." 52
While the notion of the earth resting upon a fish is obviously foreign to the findings of modern science, this cosmology is in line with many traditional pagan cosmologies from around the world, such as the ancient Egyptian belief that the world rested on the back of a giant turtle, the Hindu belief that it rested on the back of an elephant which in turn stood on the back of a turtle, or the traditional Japanese idea that the world rested upon the back of a giant catfish.
* In Surah 25:61, the Qur’an intimates that the moon gives its own light. In this verse, the word muneer is used to describe the light of the moon. The phrase used here in the Arabic is feeha sirajan waqamaran muneeran. It appears as the bold portion of the verse, “Blessed is He Who made constellations in the skies, and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light“. In this verse, the sun is referred to as the siraj, a word meaning “a bright lamp or light”. However, muneer is an adjective which describes the light produced by an object, and is applied to both the sun (siraj) and the moon. Four times in the Qur’an, the word muneer is used to describe the light of illumination or enlightenment provided by the Qur’an itself (in a figurative sense, of course), in Suwar 3:184; 22:8, 31:20, and 35:25. Would Muslims suggest that the Qur’an reflects the enlightenment from another, or rather that it is the source of enlightenment? The latter, of course. Further, in Surah 33:46, the enlightenment which Mohammed was said to bring is described as wasirajan muneeran, thus demonstrating that muneer is an adjective describing what a siraj produces. Thus, the muneer of the moon, from the way these words are used elsewhere in the Qur’an as well as the reading of this specific ayah, is seen to originate from the moon itself, an obvious scientific error.
Al-Tabari seems to support this view of the sun and moon when he wrote,
"He said: When the Messenger of God was asked about that, he replied: When God was done with His creation and only Adam remained to be created, He created two suns from the light of His throne. His foreknowledge told Him that He would leave here one sun, so He created is as (large as) this world is from east to west. His foreknowledge also told Him that He would efface it and change it to a moon; so the moon is smaller in size than the sun. But both are seen as small because of the sun's altitude and remoteness from the earth....The Lord was too concerned with His servants and too merciful to them (to do such a thing). He thus sent Gabriel to drag his wing three times over the face of the moon, which at the time was a sun. He effaced its luminosity and left the light in it. This is (meant by) God's Word, 'And We have made the night and the day two signs. We have blotted out the sign of the night, and We have made the sign of the day something to see by.' [17:12] He continued. The blackness you can see as lines on the moon is a trace of the blotting."53
This commentator's understanding of the Qur'an was that the sun and the moon were both created as bodies giving light. The moon was "effaced", or darkened, but all the same, He "left the light in it". Clearly, the idea that the moon produces its own light is presented in the traditional Muslim writings. While this is taught in the Qur'an and supported by traditional commentary, it is contrary to what we actually know to be the case.
While not appearing in the Qur'an itself, traditional Islamic teaching from the ahadith and respected commentary provides a few other examples of "weird science" appearing in the traditional Islamic worldview.
* Mohammed apparently had some interesting ideas about the cause of weather. He is reported to have said,
"Allah's Apostle said, 'The (Hell) Fire complained to its Lord saying, 'O my Lord! My different parts eat up each other.' So, He allowed it to take two breaths, one in the winter and the other in summer, and this is the reason for the severe heat and the bitter cold you find (in weather).'"54
Never mind all that rubbish about meteorology and the effects of the tilt in the earth's axis, cold winters and hot summers are caused by an anthropomorphic hell breathing on us.
* The traditions also record some teaching about the cause and spread of disease.
"I heard the Prophet saying, "Fever is from the heat of the (Hell) Fire; so cool it with water."55
"Allah's Apostle said, '(There is) no 'Adwa (no contagious disease is conveyed without Allah's permission)."56
We now know that fever is a response by the body to the introduction of infectious pathogens, and that the spread of contagious disease is due to being exposed to those pathogens from another person.
* Al-Tabari, in his exposition of the quranic version of the Adam and Eve story, relates the following reason why women menstruate,
"Eve cut the tree, and it bled. The feathers [cf. 7:26] that covered Adam and Eve dropped off, 'and they started to cover themselves with leaves of Paradise stitched together. Their Lord called out to them: Did I not forbid you this tree, and did I not tell you that Satan is for you a clear enemy?' Why did you eat of it, when I have forbidden it to you....Now, you, Eve, as you caused the tree to bleed, you will bleed every new moon...."57
Rather than being a natural part of a woman's reproductive cycle, menstruation is said to be a curse placed upon women for cutting a tree, which seems to ignore the very necessary role that it plays in the positive and God-given gift of reproduction.
However, these and other errors have not stopped Muslim apologists from trying to “prove” miraculously prognostic scientific knowledge in the Qur’an. Nearly all of these claims are so tendentious and strained in their exegesis that the average reader could easily see through the arguments. Some of the more modern claims, in fact, rely on blatant misunderstanding of science, or misinterpretation of science to make it appear to correlate with the Qur’an. A couple of these are presented for the reader’s examination below:
* Certain Muslim apologists will claim that Surah 79:30 (based upon what has been shown to be a mistranslation of the word dahaha) states that the earth is egg-shaped. The claim put forward by the apologists is that this statement shows that the Qur’an gave advanced knowledge of the slightly imperfect shape of the earth's sphere. However, the earth is an oblate spheroid (having an equatorial radius greater than the polar radius, i.e. a “squashed” sphere). Eggs, however, are prolate spheroids (having an equatorial radius less than the polar radius, i.e. an “elongated” sphere). Thus, the earth’s shape actually departs from the shape of a true sphere in the opposite direction from what is claimed by these apologists.
What is especially ironic about this claim, however, is that the Qur'an itself does not make the claim that the earth is egg-shaped. Ayat 79:30 reads, "And the earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse)". The apologists draw the "egg-shaped argument" from the use of dahaha in the verse, but the translators of the Qur'an do not translate it as such, and show no evidence of thinking that this is what the Qur'an is trying to say at this point. The apologists are apparently inventing this claim out of whole cloth.
* In Surah 57:25, many Muslim apologists will claim that the reference to Allah “sending down iron” is a miraculous foreknowledge of modern scientific understanding concerning the appearance of iron in the solar system. Since some of the latest cosmological theories state that iron entered the solar system from outside, as the sun is not hot enough to produce iron in situ, the “sending down” of iron reflects this. Of course, such an interpretation, which presupposes that the evolutionary bases that underlie the cosmological theories are true, flatly contradicts the instantaneous creation taught by the Qur’an (Surah 2:117) where Allah says, “Be! And it is.” Even disregarding this, the argument is flawed if we assume the cosmological theories to be true. These theories state that the solar system formed from the gravitationally-induced aggregation of pre-existing elements (from the Big Bang, previous supernovae, take your pick) that over time formed the planets, moons, the sun, etc. Now, if iron were present in the solar system at the time of its theoretical formation, then it would have been incorporated into the earth at that time. Yet, the phrase “we sent down” (using the Arabic term nazal, meaning “to bring down, to cast down”) presupposes that the earth was already in existence at the time of the sending down of iron (else there would be nothing to send it down to, as the plain understanding of the Arabic clearly says). Hence, the apologists’ argument is an attempt to ingratiate Islam to modern science which does not stand firm in the face of reasoned investigation.
Further, I have actually seen some Muslim apologists go beyond this and claim that it is miraculous that the surah containing this verse (entitled Al-Hadid, “The Iron”) is numbered (per the present arrangement of the suwar) the same as the atomic weight of iron. However, since Al-Hadid is the 57th surah in the current arrangement, and the atomic weight of iron is 55.847 AMU (atomic mass units), which we can charitably round to 56, the argument seems to be mooted. Even in the face of this, some apologists will yet argue that, if one does not count Al-Fatiha (the opening surah of the Qur’an, Surah 1), then Al-Hadid is number 56 and thus falls into line with the atomic weight of iron. I find this interesting because at no other time would any sort of modern orthodox Muslim suggest ignoring or removing any surah of the Qur’an!
Interestingly, this claim that Allah (or other deity) sent down iron to mankind did not originate in the Qur'an. Instead, this belief that iron was sent down from heaven has a long history among many ancient peoples all around the Mediterranean and the Near East. This belief, as pointed out by Bauval58, likely originated from the meteoritic origin of the iron which probably formed the first major sources of iron for ancient man. Among the ancient Egyptians, iron was known by the word Bja, a word which also had the meaning "material of which heaven was made", indicating a belief on the part of the Egyptians of a divine origin for iron59. McCall tells us that the Phrygians of the 7th century BC worshipped a cone-shaped iron meteorite60, and Bauval also gives several examples of stones that "fell to earth" that were venerated by ancient peoples, including the black meteorite enshrined in the Muslim Ka'bah. Hence, this story in the Qur'an has clear pre-Islamic pagan origins.
The Qur'an holds within its pages a few historical inaccuracies, as well:
* In Surah 28:38, Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) orders Haman(?) to begin making baked bricks in a kiln out of clay for the purpose of building a "lofty tower" so that Pharaoh can "survey the god of Moses" and "deem him of the liars" (in a story somewhat reminiscent of Nimrod's rebellion and the building of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11). This is said to take place during the time of Moses (Haman also appears associated with Pharaoh in Suwar 28:6,8 and 40:24,36). Aside from the fact that Haman was a Persian noble who lived a millennium after Moses, there are other errors in this account. Historical evidence demonstrates that the Egyptians at the time of Moses built their buildings out of two materials: cut stone and sun-dried bricks. Lucas and Harris note that with the early advent of stone as a building material in Egypt (there is evidence of stone being used all the way back to the First Dynasty), monumental architecture such as tombs and temples began to be built out of stone instead of the less durable sun-dried bricks61. They also point out that, despite some very few possible exceptions, burnt bricks were practically unknown in Egypt until the time of the Romans. For a grandiose piece of monumental architecture such as a "lofty tower" reaching up to heaven, the Egyptians would not have used bricks, period, and if they had, they almost certainly would not have used burnt bricks. They would have used stone, which lends itself more readily to the larger sizes needed for such buildings, and which is far more durable.
* In Surah 20:87 and 20:95, the Jews are said to have made the golden calf idol at the behest of the Samaritans, a group of people who did not exist until the Post-Exilic period, nearly ten centuries after the Exodus.
At several points, the Qur'an also makes mistakes regarding the beliefs of non-Muslims groups with whom the early Arab Muslims had contact. One example which was mentioned above (and will be examined in much greater detail in Chapter 4) is the erroneous quranic teaching on the Trinity, or more properly, what Christian beliefs about the Trinity supposedly are. The Qur'an says that Christians join two gods with Allah, and that the Trinity is composed of God, Jesus, and Mary. This composition is not the historic Trinity which was accepted by the vast bulk of Christendom for centuries before Islam appeared. Instead, this "Trinity" which the Qur’an rails against was a heretical construction of the Collyridians, who were steeped in Mariolatry. The historical trinitarian understanding of the Trinity (as was later defined in the Athanasian Creed) was quite broadly established throughout Christendom for several centuries before Mohammed, and evidence for the trinitarian belief exists from the very start of the churches. However, Allah somehow missed the teaching of the vast bulk of the early churches, which was that the Trinity is God being one in essence while three in persons, and instead revealed to Mohammed that Christians believed the Trinity to be God, Jesus, and Mary. In other words, Allah apparently made a mistake, and did not understand what was the true teaching of Christianity, and what was the false teaching of heretics.
Further, we note that in Surah 9:30, the Qur'an attributes to the Jews the belief that Ezra (Uzair) was the son of God. This is not a belief which has been expounded by Jewish theologians and teachers, however, and is thus another error which Allah purportedly made concerning the beliefs of a non-Muslim group.
Also, we must note the quranic fascination with referring to Jesus as "Isa". Muslims maintain, based upon the authority of the Qur'an, that Isa is the true name for Jesus in the Arabic language. However, this is not the case. Instead, Yasu is the Arabic form of Jesus, (the name "Jesus" itself being a Hellenization of the Hebrew Yeshua). The Arabic form of Jesus is clearly shown to us to have been Yasu among Arabians who lived even before Mohammed's time:
"Mr. G. Lankaster Harding, Chief Curator of Antiquities Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan, kindly sent me copies of a little more than five hundred Thamudic inscriptions....It is the inscription [Harding No. 476] that interests us here. Below the circle there are four letters: a y, a sh, a c, and again a y. These letters are so placed that they can be read from right to left or from left to right y-sh-c, probably pronounced Yashûc, and this name is the same as Yêshûac, the Hebrew form of the name of Christ. It is known that Yêshûac, is the later pronunciation of Yêhôshûac or Joshua; it was used after the Exile in order to avoid the immediate sequence of two dark vowels (o and u). Of course, it is well known that the Christians whose language is Arabic commonly use the form Yasûc...." 62
Further on in this article, Littman says that the form "Yasuc" represents "the ancient Arabic name of Jesus", and "Inscription Harding No. 476 is the oldest native document of Christianity of Northern Arabia known so far." 63
What this means to us is that this form, "Yasuc"64, is the name by which Jesus was known in the most ancient inscriptions in an Arabic language, of which Thamudic is an archaic example. This construction appears amazingly similar to the Hebrew "Yeshua" or "Yehoshua", and the Aramaic "Yeshua" (seen in Ezra 5:1, a passage written in Aramaic, which appears in the English Bible as Jeshua, and is the same name with the same meaning, "Jehovah saves"). Hence, the Arabs initially appear to have referred to Jesus with the name Yasu, not Isa as Muslims and the Qur'an claim.
Where did the name "Isa" come from then? Isa is the Arabic form of the name "Esau". That this is true is even admitted by Muslim apologists:
"The Holy Quran refers to Jesus as "Eesa", and this name is used more times than any other title, because this was his "Christian" name. Actually, his proper name was "Eesa" (Arabic), or "Esau". (Hebrew); classical "Yeheshua", which the Christian nations of the West Latinized as Jesus. Neither the "J" nor the second "s" in the name Jesus is to be found in the original tongue - they are not found in the Semitic language.
"The word is very simply - "E S A U" - a very common Jewish name, used more than sixty times in the very first booklet alone of the Bible, in the part called "Genesis". There was at least one "Jesus" sitting on the "bench" at the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Josephus the Jewish historian mentions some twenty five Jesus' in his "Book of Antiquities". The New Testament speaks of "Bar-Jesus"- a magician and a sorcerer, a false prophet (Act 13:6); and also "Jesus-Justus" - a Christian missionary, a contemporary of Paul (Colossians 4:11). These are distinct from Jesus the son of Mary. Transforming "Esau" to (J)esu(s) - Jesus - makes it unique. This unique (?) name has gone out of currency among the Jews and the Christians from the 2nd century after Christ. Among the Jews, because it came to be the proper name of their God(?) - their God incarnate. The Muslim will not hesitate to name his son - "Eesa" - because it is an honored name, the name of a righteous servant of the Lord." 65
While Deedat makes some mistakes in his analysis above, such as claiming that Esau is a "common Jewish name" (the sixty times that the name is used in the Old Testament all refer to one individual, the brother of Jacob), the essential point of his writing is evident -- Isa is the name for Esau. The rest of his analysis is inaccurate, as he is trying to show that the name "Esau" was the name which Jesus came from in the New Testament. Both the Greek "Jesus" and the Hebrew/Aramaic "Yeshua" mean "Jehovah saves", while Esau means "hairy". However, his admission to the truth of Isa equaling Esau speaks volumes.
What was the source of Isa being applied to Jesus in the Qur'an? Nobody knows for sure, though the most plausible explanation to date is that certain Jews with whom the Arabs had contact, in an effort to insult the Lord Jesus, told them that the Son of God worshipped by Christians was "Isa", thereby applying the name of Jacob's hated brother Esau to the hated Christian Savior. This claim, however, rests on much hearsay, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps the Arabs at the time of the infiltrations into Syria-Palestine simply misunderstood the hearing or reading of the name, and began to refer to Jesus as "Isa" out of simple mistaken understanding. What should be clear to us, though, is that the quranic use of "Isa" rests upon a name for Christ which was NOT His name, even in the Arabic. Is it really likely that an omnipotent, omniscient deity such as Allah is claimed to be would make such a simple error as to misname one of his prophets?
The Qur'an also contains several internal self-contradictions and logically problematic statements, a few of which are listed below:
* The heavens and the earth were created by Allah in six days, according to 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59; but it took eight days, according to Surah 41:9-12.
* In 22:47, Allah's day equals 1000 human years, but in 70:4, a day to Allah is reckoned as 50,000 human years.
* The punishment for adultery is flogging with 100 stripes for both sexes in 24:2, versus lifelong house arrest for the woman and no punishment upon repentance for the man in 4:15-16.
* 2:256 claims that there must be no compulsion in religion, yet 8:38-39 commands Muslims to fight until all religion but Islam is done away with. Similarly, 45:14 tells Muslims to forgive unbelievers, while 9:29 commands them to fight unbelievers.
In addition to this short list, there are dozens of other contradictions that point to the Qur'an as being a flawed book. See a more complete discussion of quranic contradictions at Answering Islam's treatment of the subject66.
In conclusion, we see that the Qur'an cannot legitimately claim divine inspiration and/or preservation. It has many errors, inconsistencies, and a history of corruptions. The Qur'an is an imperfect book, and cannot be claimed as the work of a perfect and complete God. The same charges cannot be made against the Bible, however, which has withstood every attack upon it made by unbelievers.
* Chapter 5 -
Mohammed was a Prophet of Allah
* Chapter 6 -
Mohammed was the Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecies
* Chapter 7 -
Islam is a Peaceful Religion
* Chapter 8 -
Islam is a Tolerant Religion
* Chapter 9 -
Women are Respected and Equal in Islam
* Chapter 10 -
Islam is a Religion Which Can Offer Eternal Salvation
Note to Viewers - Ten Myths About Islam is currently undergoing an extensive off-line revision. This revision will be available soon (by late January 2008). Please keep this site bookmarked, as there is going to be a lot of new information added to every chapter! Thank you - Tim Dunkin
End Notes Myth #1
(1) - S.N. Fisher, The Middle East: A History, p. 59
(2) - S.A.A. Maudadi, Towards Understanding Islam, p. 109
(3) - The Holy Qur'an, English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex, p. v
(4) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 61, No. 510
(5) - J. Gilchrist, Jam’ Al-Qur’an: The Codification of the Qur’an Text, p. 144
(6) - Y.H. Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, pp. 10-11; see also M. Lings and Y.H. Safadi, The Qur’an, p. 17
(7) - "Brother Mark", A Perfect Qur’an, p. 67
(8) - O.E. Sherif and M.A. Elhennawy, "Preserving and Protecting the Qur’an", published at http://www.submission.org/quran/protect.html
(9) - M. Lings and Y.H. Safadi, op. cit., pp. 17, 20
(10) - A. Schimmel, Calligraphy and Islamic Culture, p. 4
(11) - T. Lester, "What is the Koran?", The Atlantic Monthly Online, January 1999
(12) - M. Cook, Muhammad, p. 74
(13) - J. Wansbrough, Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, p. 44
(14) - J. Schacht, The Origins of Muhammedan Jurisprudence, pp. 4-5
(15) - Ibid., pp. 224-225
(16) - P. Crone and M. Hinds, God's Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam, p. 52
(17) - P. Crone, Roman, Provincial, and Islamic Law: The Origins of the Islamic Patronate, p. 99
(18) - A. Mingana, "The Transmission of the Koran", The Moslem World, Vol. 7 (1917), pp. 223-232, 402-414
(19) - R. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, p. 471
(20) - See P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism, p. 18
(21) - See e.g. J. Meyendorff, "Byzantine Views of Islam", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 18 (1964), p. 118
(22) - Hoyland, op. cit., p. 486
(23) - See Saint John of Damascus: Writings, trans. F.H. Chase, pp. 157-159
(24) - Per A. Jeffry, "Ghevond's Text of the Correspondence between 'Umar II and Leo III.", Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 37 (1944), esp. pp. 275-276; see Hoyland, op. cit., pp. 490-494 for his discussion supporting a late 8th century origin for the text.
(25) - Y.D. Nevo and J. Koren, Crossroads to Islam, p. 239
(26) - Ibid., pp. 240-241
(27) - See Jeffrey, op. cit., p. 298
(28) - Ibid, n. 48
(29) - Crone and Cook, op. cit., pp. 17-18
(30) - Nevo and Koren, op. cit., p. 193
(31) - S. Bashear, “Jesus in an Early Muslim Shahada and Related Issues: A New Perspective”, Studies in Early Islamic Tradition, Ch. 15, pp. 17-18; presented as a paper at the fourth Hadith Colloquium held in Amsterdam, August 1991
(32) - Wansbrough here uses the term in the sense of Judaism and Christianity
(33) - Wansbrough, op. cit., p. 20
(34) - Ibid., p. 97
(35) - Cook, op. cit., p. 65
(36) - R.S. Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry, pp. 84-85
(37) - Fisher, loc. cit.
(38) - F. Buhl, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, p. 277
(39) - E.g. C. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p. 95
(40) - See Nevo and Koren, op. cit., pp. 87-168 for some examples of this phenomenon, as well as a general reconstruction of the events of the Arab takeover of Syria-Palestine as derived from contemporary literary sources and archaeological discoveries
(41) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 9, Bk. 89, No. 301; also Vol. 6, Bk. 61, No. 511
(42) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 52, No. 62; also Vol. 5, Bk. 59, No. 379 and Vol. 6, Bk. 60, No. 307
(43) - Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 23
(44) - Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 10
(45) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 61, No. 558
(46) - Sahih Muslim, Bk. 5, No. 2286
(47) - Sahih Muslim, Bk. 4, No. 1724; see also Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 61, No. 559
(48) - As-Suyuti, Itqan fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, Pt. 2, p. 25, cited in J. Burton, The Collection of the Qur'an, p. 117
(49) - Gilchrist, op. cit., p. 41
(50) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 56, No. 709; also Vol. 6, Bk. 61, No. 507
(51) - Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-Ayan, trans. B.M. de Slane, Vol. 2, p. 401
(52) - See G.E. von Grunebaum, "The Nature of Arab Unity Before Islam", Arabica, Vol. 10 (1963), No. 1, p. 14
(53) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 60, No. 468
(54) - Gilchrist, op.cit., pp. 69-71
(55) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Bk. 59, No. 416
(56) - Muwatta of Malik, Bk. 8, Sect. 8, No. 26; the hadith following immediately after (No. 27) relates the same story, except that it is Amr ibn Rafi making this same change for Hafsah, another wife of Mohammed
(57) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, Bk. 82, No. 816; see also Sahih Muslim, Bk. 17, Nos. 4194 and 4209; Muwatta of Malik, Bk. 41, Sect. 1, No. 2
(58) - W.M. Watt and R. Bell, Introduction to the Qur'an, p. 45
(59) - Even if this method has been abused by those seeking to promote the spurious Alexandrian manuscripts over and above the vast majority of Byzantine/Traditional Text manuscripts.
(60) - This resource can be found online at http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/seven.htm
(61) - For a more in-depth investigation into the history and significance of variations, both textual and transmissional, see Ibn Warraq's essays Which Koran? and Which Koran? (Part II)
(62) - A. Guillaume, Islam, p. 191
(63) - Ali Dashti, Twenty-Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammed, p. 98
(64) - Nevo and Koren, op. cit., p. 174
(65) - Ibid., pp. 173-174
End Notes Myth #2
(1) - S.A.A. Maudadi, Toward Understanding Islam, pp. 81-82
(2) - E.G. Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p. 147
(3) - Ibid., citing M.H. Ananikian, The Reforms and Religious Ideals of Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan, p.78, appearing in The Moslem World, Vol. 14 (1924), pp. 61ff
(4) - See T.M. Strouse, "The Permanent Preservation of God‘s Words: Psalm 12:6,7", in Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, Ed. K. Brandenburg, pp. 29-33, where Strouse ably demonstrates through a careful exegesis of the Hebrew passage that the “them“ in v. 7 refers back to “the words of the LORD“ as their antecedent, not to “the needy“ in v. 5, as is often contended by those seeking to deny the clear promise of scriptural preservation in this passage.
(5) - We should also note that, whatever else may be said about the proposed uses of the Septuagint in New Testament quotations of the Old Testament, when the Lord dealt with the actual written text of the Old Testament, either in referring to its order as He did here, or when He was reading from it, as is the case in Luke 4:18-19, He provided distinctive Masoretic readings over and against the LXX.
(6) - D.A. Waite, Defending the King James Bible, pp. 24-25
(7) - L.H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 171-172
(8) - G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 25
(9) - N. Geisler and W. Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, p. 382
(10) - See G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, p. 206; F.M. Cross, The Ancient Library at Qumran, pp. 121-142
(11) - See http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pines/7224/Rick/Septuagint/spappendix..., this data was generated using the footnotes in M.G. Abegg, P. Flint, and E. Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible
(12) - N. Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?: The Search for the Secret of Qumran, p. 332
(13) - See ibid., pp. 97-98, for his discussion of evidences from a similar cache of ancient manuscripts from Elephantine, in Egypt. This community is estimated to have been fifty times more populous than the one at Qumran, yet the texts show far fewer scribes in use, estimated at 4-5 per generation. In contrast, Cave 1 alone contained texts prepared by more than fifty different scribes.
(14) - Waite, op. cit., p. 27
(15) - Ibid., p. 56
(16) - J.W. Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established, pp. ix-x
(17) - F.G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, pp. 321-322; Kenyon then attempts to argue against these evidences, but relies upon the same outdated arguments drawn from the traditional Hortian methodological apparatus that Pickering has more recently refuted.
(18) - See T. Holland, Crowned with Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version, pp. 21-28, for an introductory discussion of the question of Gnostic corruptions of the critical or Alexandrian texts. See also http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/gnostic.html
(19) - W.N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text, p. 54
(20) - K. Lake, R.P. Blake, and S. New, "The Caesarian Text of the Gospel of Mark," Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 21 (1928), p. 348-349
(21) - E.g., see http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/1john5n7.html
(22) - See e.g. C. Glassé, The New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 264; J. Jomier, The Bible and the Quran, pp. 49-52; E. Sell, Studies in Islam, pp. 210-216; A. Guillaume, Islam, p. 13; for much more in-depth discussions of this, see A. Geiger, Judaism and Islam and A.I. Katsh, Judaism in Islam: Biblical and Talmudic Backgrounds of the Koran and its Commentaries, two classic works on the subject.
(23) - E.g., R. Bell, The Origin of Islam in Its Christian Environment, p. 110; Sell, op. cit., pp. 216-221
(24) - A.J. Wensinck, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. H.A.R. Gibb and J.A. Kramers, p. 197; Wensinck notes the report of Epiphanius (ca. 310-403) that Dhu 'l-shara (Dushara) was worshipped through a caabou (kaabou) located in Petra, "in which word Ka'ba is also probably concealed", and that it is unclear whether the term refers to the temple itself, or to the black stone contained therein. He also notes that certain pre-Islamic Arabian tribes worshipped at a sacred precinct in Sindad called Dhat al-Ka'abat
(25) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Bk. 58, No. 199; see also Vol. 1, Bk. 12, No. 740, where Mohammed is enabled to perceive and understand the conversation which some devils have with each other.
(26) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 53, No. 400 and Vol. 4, Bk. 54, No. 490
(27) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Bk. 1, No. 3
(28) - See http://www.answer-islam.org/Muhammad.html for a detailed investigation of the similarities between Mohammed's experiences and those of shamans in many pagan cultures.
(29) - J. Burton, "Linguistic Errors in the Qur'an", Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 33 (1988), Autumn, p. 182, citing Jalal al-Din as-Suyuti, al-Itqan fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, 2 pts in 1 (Cairo, 1354), Vol. I, pp. 183-184
(30) - Ibid.
(31) - A. Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammed, p. 48
(32) - Ibid., p. 50
(33) - A.A. Shorrosh, Islam Revealed: A Christian Arab's View of Islam, pp. 199-200
(34) - M. Rafiqul-Haqq and P. Newton, "The Qur’an: Grammatical Errors", currently found at Answering Islam
(35) - See J.A. Bellamy, "Some Proposed Emendations to the Text of the Koran", Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 113 (1993), No. 4, pp. 562-573
(36) - J.A. Bellamy, "More Proposed Emendations to the Text of the Koran", Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 116 (1996), No. 2, pp. 196-204
(37) - Shorrosh, op. cit., p. 199, citing Pfander, Mizan-ul-Haqq: The Balance of Truth, trans. W.S. Tisdall, p. 263
(38) - See A. Mingana, "Syriac Influence on the Style of the Koran", Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol. 11 (1927), pp. 77-98 - A detailing of these can be found in my essay specifically addressing this issue at http://www.studytoanswer.net/islam/purearabic.html
(39) - W.M. Watt, “Two Interesting Christian-Arabic Usages”, Early Islam: Collected Articles, p. 74
(40) - Ibid., p. 73
(41) - S. Bashear, “Hanifiyya and Hajj”, Studies in Early Islamic Tradition, Ch. 14, pp. 19-20
(42) - P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism, p. 164, n.35 and pp.162-163, n.14
(43) - This was recently translated into English as The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran
(44) - See C. Luxenberg, The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran, pp. 253-283, esp. pp. 262-264
(45) - Ibid, pp. 284-291
(46) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 54, No. 430
(47) - For a more in-depth look at the quranic errors in embyrology, see http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Science/alaqa.html and http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Science/embryo.html on the Answering Islam website.
(48) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 55, No. 546
(49) - Al-Tabari, Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk: The History of al-Tabari, trans. F. Rosenthal, Vol. 1, p. 234
(50) - Ibid., pp. 237-238
(51) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 54, No. 421
(52) - Al-Tabari, op. cit., p. 220
(53) - Ibid., pp. 233-234
(54) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 54, No. 482
(55) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Bk. 54, No. 484
(56) - Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 7, Bk. 71, No. 608
(57) - Al-Tabari, op. cit., p. 278
(58) - R. Bauval, "Investigation on the Origins of the Benben Stone: Was It An Iron Meteorite?", Discussions in Egyptology, Vol. 14 (1989), pp. 5-16
(59) - See G.A. Wainwright, "Iron in Egypt", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 18 (1932), p. 11
(60) - G.J.H. McCall, Meteorites and Their Origins, p. 17
(61) - A. Lucas and J. Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, p. 50
(62) - E. Littman, "Jesus in a Pre-Islamic Arabic Inscription," The Muslim World, Vol. 40 (1950), p. 16.
(63) - Ibid., p. 18.
(64) - The c used above is a graphical representation of the “ayin“, a voiced pharyngeal fricative found in most Semitic languages, but which is very difficult for Westerners to imitate as there is no real analogue in most European languages. It can be approximated by elongating an “ahh“ sound in the back of the throat.
(65) - A. Deedat, Christ in Islam, Ch. 2, found online at http://www.jamaat.net/cis/ChristinIslam.html
(66) - http://answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/#internal
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