Chapter 4
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Click here to purchase a printed copy of this bookChapter 4: An Analysis of the Qur’an

by Gleason Archer


s a work of literature, the Qur’an is without question one of the finest examples of Arabic language poetry and imagery ever written. The Qur’an, which means “Recital,”[1] consists of 114 suras which vary in length from a few verses to hundreds of verses. The Qur’an says, about itself, that it is the inspired eternal revelation of God (Allah) to mankind, that there is no secret in heaven that is not recorded within its pages, and that anyone who truly believes in God will follow its teachings.

There is no secret in heaven or earth but is recorded in His glorious book. This Qur’an declares to the Israelites most of that concerning which they disagree. It is a guide and a blessing to true believers.[2]

Muslims claim that the Qur’an is a document co-eternal with God Himself, everlasting in its existence from before the beginning of time, but finally dictated to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel (or Jibril) in the seventh century A.D.

Focus on Period History

A careful study of the contents of the Qur’an leads quite compellingly to the conclusion that the essential focus of the Qur’an is centered on the period of Mohammed himself. Whereas the Hebrew Bible covers the history of Israel from the time of Abraham before 2000 B.C. to the period of Malachi in 430 BC, addressing the contemporary issues and challenges of each successive generation, the Qur’an relates just a few episodes in the life of the patriarchs and Moses in order to bring out a few of their prophetic utterances as traditions hallowed through the centuries intervening between the time of Moses and the lifetime of Mohammed. Not until Mohammed’s time do we find references to contemporary events and places that have a bearing upon Mohammed’s career.

In other words, the atmosphere of the Qur’an is saturated with the atmosphere and historical setting of Mohammed’s own time. This seems to be hardly compatible with a holy revelation of God composed before the beginning of time and co-eternal with God Himself. It is, of course, compatible with divine foreknowledge of all future events in the history of mankind, but the fact that it is so focused on the lifetime of Mohammed himself strongly suggests that it was actually Mohammed who composed the book himself, rather than its being dictated to him by some angelic spokesman of Allah.

God Changes His Mind

This impression is greatly strengthened by the frequency with which God is said to have changed His mind and abrogated verses previously revealed to Mohammed. One notable example has to do with Qibla, or the direction which the worshiper should face during times of prayer (salla). During his earlier years when Mohammed was making overtures to the Jews (as Yusuf Ali points out in footnote 141, commenting on Sura 2:142), he chose Jerusalem for this purpose, but later on, when they proved stubborn in rejecting his apostleship, he came up with a complete change in the direction of prayer; that is, towards Mecca rather than Jerusalem. The Qur’an quotes God as saying:

We appointed the Qibla you were used to only to test the faith of those who followed the Apostle from those who would turn away on their heels….[3]

This certainly sounds like a change of direction resorted to only after the Arabian Jews had decided against Mohammed’s claims to supersede Moses and change some of the regulations in the Torah pertaining to the diet.

Another striking example of an abrogated verse can be found in Sura 9:29, where we read:

Kill those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day… nor acknowledge the religion of truth (even if they are) the people of the Book, until they pay the Jiza ya tax with willing submission.[4]

But earlier in verse 5 of the same sura, we see the regulation as far more severe:

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the polytheists (mushrikina) wher­ever you find them… But if they repent and maintain regular prayers and regular charities, then open the way for them, since God is oft-forgiving and very merciful.[5]

This can be explained as referring only to the incorrigible unbelievers who alone have to be killed—unless they are willing to move out of Islamic territory, as Sura 5:6 provides.

The striking fact emerges, however, that the Qur’an itself freely admits that some of its scriptures have been superseded by others. In Sura 16:101 we read:

When We substitute one revelation for another—and God knows best what He reveals—they say, “You are only a forger.” But most of them do not understand.

Even plainer is the dictum in Sura 2:106:

Whatever verse We cancel or cause thee to forget, We bring in a better one or one like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?

This apparently means that Allah has authority to change His mind or contradict Himself. If so, this precludes the Muslim critique from attacking the credibility of the Bible itself on the basis of alleged contradictions between different passages. Yet we hasten to add that two propositions that contradict each other cannot both be true. A credible defense of Scripture must deal with alleged contradictions in such a way as to show that they are only apparent, not real—even though the Qur’an does not regard this defense as necessary.

Inaccuracies in Transmittal

So far as the inscripturation of the “revelations” of the Qur’an is concerned, we must take careful note of the claim of Muslim apologists that the Qur’an itself, in contradistinction to the Bible, has been faithfully and accurately written down and inerrantly transmitted. This claim is, however, very difficult to sustain in the light of the account given by Muslim authors concerning the standardizing of the text of the Qur’an. In the Mishtatu ‘lMasabih, chapter 3, we are informed that by the command of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, the text of the Qur’an was “collected” by Zaid ibn Thabit “from palm leaves and stones and from the breasts of those who had learned by heart” the various revelations. This earliest collection took place in A.H. 14,[6] or A.D. 636.

Abu Bakr’s copy was taken over by Caliph ‘Umar after the former had died, according to Al Bukhari. Later it came into the possession of Hafsah, one of Mohammed’s widows. Some time afterward the next Caliph, ‘Uthman, commissioned Zaid to make fresh copies of Hafsah’s manuscript and send it out to various centers of the Caliphate as the only authoritative text. The reason for this was that there were by his time so many discordant forms of various suras, even among the Hafizun disciples of the Prophet who had learned it by heart, that standardization was absolutely necessary if later schisms were to be avoided within the Muslim community. Qustalani even states that after Hafsah’s death her copy was torn to pieces by Mirwan, who was governor of Medina, and so the identity of ‘Uthman’s text with that of Abu Bakr is called into question. The only motive for Hafsah’s text to be destroyed could have been that it was believed to be dangerously deviant or defective from the standpoint of Governor Mirwan. The reason why no other early texts of the Qur’an have survived from the time of ‘Uthman is that he, as Caliph, commanded all other copies to be destroyed by fire. Only the men of Kufa refused to burn their own cherished version, and as Alfred Guillaume states, their version was certainly extant at late as 1000 A.D.[7]

It should be added that the old Cuphic script in which Arabic was then written was of rather uncertain interpretation. Not only did it lack any vocalization, but far more serious was the lack of diacritical dots to distinguish consonants like b, t, th, and even y, all of which were written as a single vertical jog. Needless to say, the fact that active verbs and passive verbs are often identically written made for a good deal of disagreement as to what the written text really meant, until such time as the vowel points were added at some later period.[8]

In the light of the foregoing data, the problem of establishing the original, supposedly inspired, text of the Qur’an is far more serious than is the case with the Hebrew Old Testament, for which thousands of manuscript copies are available for textual criticism, ranging in age from the second century B.C. to the eleventh century A.D.

Similarities between the Qur’an and the Bible

In this connection it ought to be recognized that the Qur’an contains much that is sound and true from the standpoint of Holy Scripture.

·        The Qur’an teaches that there is only one God, the absolute Sovereign over all of creation, which He alone brought into being.

·        The Qur’an rightly assumes that no accurate knowledge of God is attainable to mortal man except through special revelation. God has to tell us all about Himself if we are to know anything for certain about His will for our life, or the meaning of our existence as His children.

·        Like the Scripture, the Qur’an affirms that God has revealed authoritative guidelines for our moral behavior and holds us fully accountable for their observance.

·        The Qur’an also teaches that human existence goes right on after death, either in a never-ending heaven or in a never-ending hell.

·        Like the Bible the Qur’an insists that only through recognition and acceptance of these revealed truths can any man be saved, and therefore the knowledge of this salvation is the only hope of the world.

These convictions we hold in common with the Muslim community, even though we are scarcely in agreement with their doctrine of God and of salvation.

Furthermore, it should be added that there are numerous references in the text of the Qur’an to personalities and episodes in the Bible. The Pentateuch is often referred to as al-Tawratu, the Prophets as al-Nabiyunu or al-Anbiya’u, the Psalms as al-Zaburu, and the Gospel as al-Injilu. Other Biblical names mentioned in the Qur’an include Abraham, Adam, Amram, David, Ishmael, Issac, Jacob, Jesus, Job, John, Joseph, Miriam, Moses, Noah, King Saul, Solomon, Zecharias, and various others such as the angel Gabriel, who allegedly dictated the whole text of the Qur’an to Mohammed himself.

The account given of some of these personalities, however, does not always agree with the account in the Bible. King Saul is credited with Gideon’s test in choosing out the soldiers for his army:

When Talût[9] set forth with the armies, he said: “God will test you at the stream: if any drinks of its water, he goes not with my army. Only those who taste not of it go with me. A mere sip out of the hand is excused.”[10]

In another sura, one of Noah’s three sons is said to have perished in the Flood.

The son replied: “I will betake myself to some mountain. It will save me from the water.” Noah said: “This day nothing can save, from the Command of God, any but those on whom He hath mercy!” And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the flood. [11]

Nevertheless, the inclusion of the events in the Exodus and of the birth and subsequent career of John the Baptist and of Mary and Jesus make it clear that much information about the Bible reached the Arabian prophet through oral tradition.[12] Mohammed’s first wife Khadiyah is reported to have become well acquainted with the doctrines of both the Jews and the Christians; the same is true of her cousin Waraka. Some of the Arab tribes in the neighborhood of Mecca had actually converted to the Christian faith, and so it was only natural that Mohammed would have obtained definite information about their sacred scriptures, even though he was unable to read them for himself, being nearly illiterate.

The Qur’an’s High View of the Bible

Mohammed’s high regard for the Sacred Scriptures was strikingly evidenced by his appeal to their authority as a confirmation of his own doctrines and revelations set forth in the Qur’an. Perhaps the most significant passage along this line is found in Sura 5:44-48, which reads as follows:

It was We who revealed the Law; therein was guidance and light. By its standards have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to God’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of the Laws; for to them was entrusted the pro­tection of God’s book, and they were witnesses thereto. Therefore do not fear man but fear Me… If any fail to judge by the light of what God has revealed, they are un­be­lievers. We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth…. And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law [Torah] that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel (Injil); therein was guidance and light, and con­firmation of the Law that had come before him, as a guidance and admonition to those who fear God. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed therein. If any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are no better than rebels. To thee we sent the Scripture in truth [i.e., the Qur’an], con­firming the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety. So judge between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their vain desires, diverging from truth that has come to thee.

Later in this same sura, the Qur’an affirms that those who truly believe the Bible and live according to its teachings are sure of heaven when they die.

But if the people of the Book had believed and had the fear of God, We would surely have put away their sins from them and would bring them into gardens of delight; and had they observed the Law and the Gospel and what had been sent down to them from the Lord, they would surely have had their fill of good things from above them and from beneath their feet. Say: “O people of the Book, you have no ground to stand on until you observe the Law (Torah) and the Gospel, and that which has been sent down to you from your Lord.”[13]

In this connection, note the dictum laid down in Sura 4:136:

O you who believe! Believe in God and His apostle, and the Book which He sent down aforetime. Whoever does not believe in God and His angels and His Books and His apostles and in the Last Day, he truly has erred a grievous error.

There are various other passages besides these which could be cited in this connection, but those quoted above are amply sufficient to prove that the author of the Qur’an firmly believed in the full inspiration of the Old Testament, that the Gospels of the New Testament contain the authoritative word of God, and that the Hebrew-Christian Bible should be appealed to in confirmation of the fact that what is revealed in the Qur’an is the very truth of God.

Correspondingly, the Qur’an is said to be a verification of the contents and teaching of the Bible itself. From this it follows that all of the current efforts of present-day Muslim advocates to discredit the records or teaching of the Bible puts them in the impossible position of contradicting the Qur’an itself. In Sura 5 they are commanded to consult the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures for confirmation of Mohammed’s revelations, and yet they are found to be ridiculing and reviling and casting all manner of discreditation upon the very Scriptures which their Qur’an really affirms to be the sure word of God. In this sense, therefore, they seem to be rejecting the authority of the very Qur’an which they profess to uphold!

The Bible of Mohammed’s Time

How, then, can this reproach be lifted from them? Only if it turns out that the text of the Old and New Testament as we now have it is radically different from that which existed in Mohammed’s time. Only this could account for the fact that the Bible teaches a far different doctrine of God, that He is Trinitarian rather than Unitarian; and of Jesus, as being both God and man in two distinct natures within one person; and of salvation, as received by faith alone on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for those who truly repent and believe in him and becomes new creatures by the transforming power of His Holy Spirit. Since these doctrines permeate the entire Scripture as we now have it, no reconciliation can be found with a Qur’an which essentially teaches salvation by faith plus good works. Only if these elements were somehow introduced into the text of the Old and New Testaments after the time when the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed could the Qur’an’s blanket endorsement of the Bible be justified.

In point of fact, however, it is completely out of the question to discredit the text of Holy Scripture as no longer conforming to what was current in Mohammed’s time, that is A.D. 610-632. Entire manuscripts of the New Testament which must on paleographic grounds have been copied out in the fourth century (Codex Vaticanus) and fifth century (Codex Alexandrinus), antedate the revelation of the Qur’an by at least three centuries. The Bodmer Papyrus of John’s Gospel even dates back to about A.D. 200, judging by the style of handwriting in which it was copied out.

As for the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament, numerous texts discovered in the Dead Sea Caves date back to copies made as early as the second century B.C. all the way to first century A.D. This makes them contemporaneous with Jesus and His apostles who composed the New Testament. All of these manuscripts date back more than a thousand years before the Leningrad manuscript of the tenth century A.D. on which our present day Hebrew text is based.

One striking testimony to the faithful preservation of the original wording of Isaiah is found in the fragmentary manuscript known as IQIsb, which preserves many columns of the text of the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s of Isaiah with almost identical spelling, word for word correspondence, with the text of Isaiah in the Leningrad. There is no way that a text thus attested more than seven centuries before the Qur’an was revealed could have been changed after Mohammed’s time.

In view of this universally acknowledged evidence of the antiquity of the text of Scripture, the same Scripture which we now have with us in the scholarly editions of the Bible in its original languages, it is completely out of the question that the Qur’an could have been referring to any other text than that which has been preserved to us down to the present time. No other conclusion can be drawn from these data but that the Qur’an certified the accuracy and binding authority of the Bible, even though in point of fact it differs from it essentially in its doctrine of God and of salvation. Any Muslim apologist, therefore, who seeks to discredit the text of the Bible in any way puts himself in rejection of the authority of the Qur’an itself, for he implies the Qur’an is in error in regard to the Holy Bible! There is no way in which he can evade the charge of imputing error to the very Qur’an which he professes to uphold.

A Paradox Resolved

If, then, the Qur’an in point of fact teaches a different theology (that God is a single person rather than the three Persons taught by the Bible), and that Jesus was only a human, Virgin-born prophet rather than the incarnate Word of God, and that salvation is to be earned by accepting the Muslim creed and by maintaining the stated prayer-times and pilgrimages and the fast of Ramadan, and all the other cultic requirements of that faith—then we must honestly recognize that despite the endorsement of the Bible by the Qur’an, these two documents actually teach different religions which cannot be reconciled with each other.

There remains only one credible explanation of this paradox: the author of the Qur’an did not really know the full, or indeed the essential, teaching of the Bible as it existed in his time, in the early seventh century A.D. This ignorance betrayed in the Qur’an would seem fatal to its claims of inerrant authority, and makes it clear that the Qur’an was indeed composed by Mohammed himself rather than having been revealed to him by God. The omniscient Lord of the universe could never have dictated the statements cited in the suras above quoted, since they imply a harmony of doctrine between Bible and Qur’an which simply does not exist.

[1]Literally, “reading aloud.”

[2]Sura 27:75-77.

[3]Sura 2:143.

[4]He then goes on to say, “The Jews call ‘Uzair (Ezra) the son of God (‘ibnu ‘llahi) and the Christians call Christ the Son of God.” This statement is true of Christians but utterly false in regard to the Jews, who never regarded Ezra as divine.

[5]Sura 9:5.

[6]Anno Hegiræ or “Year of the Hijra.”

[7]Islam, Penguin Books, 1954, p. 58.

[8]These factors made for a great deal of disagreement far more serious than was the disagreement over the Sopherim text of the Old Testament. The Sopherim text also lacked vowel points until the advent of the Massoretes around 800 A.D., but the Massoretes did accurately distinguish the consonants in their writing system.

[9]I.e., Saul.

[10]Sura 2:249.

[11]Sura 11:43.

[12]Much of the stories of Jesus recorded in the Qur’an reflect influences of the New Testament Apocryphal tales, such as the miracle allegedly performed by the child Jesus in changing clay pigeons into real birds that flew away, and his speaking up in defense of His mother’s chastity when He was but a new-born infant (Sura 3:46-49).

[13]Sura 5:65-68.

Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Appendix

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