10. The Bible & the Qur’an: a question of integrity

10. The Bible & the Qur’an: a question of integrity

Muslims are very familiar with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses under their Arabic names. They also know about Job, Jonah, David, John the Baptist and Jesus. The Qur’an acknowledges all these prophets. Muslims believe that 124,000 prophets have come to this world, of whom the last was Muhammad. In their view, he was the greatest prophet, superior to all the others. They also believe that, by revelation, God sent down specific books to several of the prophets, the Torah was given to Moses; the Zabur (Psalms) to David: the Injil (Gospel), given to Jesus and at last the Qur’an was given to Muhammad.

The distinction

The Qur’an asks Muslims to confirm their faith in the following words:

Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered (Surah 2:137).

Despite such instructions, Muslims do differentiate; not only between Muhammad and other prophets, but also between the Qur’an and the Bible. Most maintain that the Bible has been corrupted, while the Qur’an is ‘perfectly preserved and protected from human tampering’.1

On the question of the integrity of the Qur’an, the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam holds the same belief as orthodox Muslims:

Among all the religious books of the world, the Holy Qur’an is the only Book which enjoys the distinction of having pure text. Every word and letter of the Holy Book, as we have it to-day, is as it left the lips of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, to whom the Book was revealed.2

Mirza Ahmad argued that the Bible was a "dead book" and that the Gospel of Jesus was full of countless absurdities.3 He claimed that the Torah and the Gospel had been corrupted to such an extent that they could not be counted as the words of God.4 On the other hand, he used these very books extensively to back up his own theories.

Integrity of the Bible

It is hard to accept that God was capable of protecting the Qur’an from alteration and yet powerless to preserve his earlier books, the Torah, the Zabur, the Injil and the books of the prophets. Muslims, in believing that the Bible once was Allah’s word, but is no longer, in fact contradict the Qur’an which says: "There is none who can change His words" (Surah 6:116; 6:34; 10:64). Several centuries before Muhammad, the Bible stated: "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25).

In the Qur’an we do not find any suggestion whatsoever that the text of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures had been altered at the time of Muhammad. Indeed Muhammad himself trusted these Scriptures so much that we find verses in the Qur’an which instruct Christians and Jews to follow their own Scriptures. How could the Qur’an say such things if the Bible were corrupted?

Let the people of the Gospel judge according to what has been revealed in it ... (Sura 5:47).

Say O People of the Scriptures, Ye have naught of guidance till ye observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord (Surah 5:68).

The immediate followers of Muhammad were so busy in establishing a Muslim community, that they did not have much time to read and compare the earlier Scriptures. When the next generation of Muslims after Muhammad came into regular contact with Jews and Christians, they found certain difficulties in reconciling the Qur’an with the Bible. First, Jesus did not prophesy about Muhammad and secondly, the Gospel narrative that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose again. If, in the light of what the Qur’an said, they accepted that the Bible was a guide and light from God, then they would have had to accept the supremacy of Jesus. This would not only have led to the absorption of Islam into Christianity, but would also have diminished their political power. Since, in their opinion, the Qur’an could not be wrong, they were forced to discredit the text of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures by claiming that they had been changed.

Missing verses

Both orthodox and Ahmadi Muslims refer to certain variations they find in different translations of the Bible. To prove the Bible fallible, in their discussion with Christians, they compare certain passages from the Authorised Version with the Revised Standard Version and then argue that a certain verse is found in one copy and is missing in others, proving that the original text has been tampered with.5

Typical examples are John 5:2-4 and 1 John 5:7. Some translations have added brackets to such verses while other recent translations in English have included them in the margins or footnotes, stating that this portion of the text is not found in some of the earlier manuscripts discovered recently. However Bashir-ud-din, Mirza’s son has this to say:

When the Christians entered into conflict with the Muslims and the latter began to hurl attacks at such passages, the former altered the text of their sacred Scriptures and the words within brackets were expunged .6

In recent translations, only the first sentence of 1 John 5:7 is found compared with a long verse in the Authorised Version. Thus Bashir claims that it was simply done, ‘out of fear of Muslim criticism’.7 In endeavouring to discredit the Bible, other Muslim writers claim that by taking out most of 1 John 5:7 from the present day translations, the doctrine of the Trinity has been removed. This was the main passage that represented the ‘nearest thing to the Christian Trinity in the whole of the Bible’.8

If this were all the evidence, the doctrine of the Trinity would be in serious doubt. However there are other passages which provide evidence about the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 2:18 and 2 Corinthians 13:14).

The standard in question

The irony is that the Qur’an has also suffered from variant readings, and thus the above argument can be used against the Qur’an, or any other book claiming to be inspired or revealed. Variant readings are not found in the present Qur’an simply because the Caliph Uthman (the third successor after Muhammad) ordered that the version codified by his commission should be treated as the official text. All other copies, even those of the most prominent Qurra, Qur’an reciters and the nearest companions of Muhammad, were ordered to be burnt.9 If the Bible had been rectified in such a way, we also would have had the one and only text available to us.

If our leading men had burnt all the ancient MSS. of the Bible and compelled all copies to be made from one which they had caused to be written, we too should have but few varied readings in our Bible, but all men of learning would feel that no reliance whatever was to be placed upon the text thus produced.10

The drastic action on the part of Uthman is itself evidence that major textual differences existed between various copies of the Qur’an. These differences were not only affecting the qira, recitation of the Qur’an, but also its form and content. Both orthodox and Ahmadi Muslims claim that the differences between these Qur’ans were only to be found in the pronunciation and in the recitation of the text:

The variations which have become the subject-matter of discussion were not variations either of the text or verse or even variations of a word. They were all cases of enunciation of vowel points which did not in any way alter the meaning or significance of a word.11

One wonders how anyone can accept the idea that the differences could appear only in the verbal recital of the text, without appearing in the written text and would not alter the meaning of a word. The unifying fact was the destruction of the written text that Uthman ordered. Furthermore, there were no vowel points in the early written text of the Qur’an. Therefore the difference in recital would never have appeared in the written manuscript. Thus Uthman was standardising one text of the Qur’an at the expense of all other Qur’ans with variant texts.

Although these major early Qur’anic manuscripts were destroyed, we have come to know about them and their variants from Muslim traditions, classical commentaries such as those of At-Tabari and Az-Zamakhsheri, and Islamic books written by respected and eminent Muslim divines. Such works as Jalaldin Sayyuti’s ‘Itaqan’ and Ibn-Abi Dawood’s ‘Kitab al-Masahif’ still survive. The latter contains the most information about differences that existed between the pre-Uthmanic codices. In the records of these early Muslim writers, we find many indications, from first hand sources, that the present Qur’an is incomplete. Abdullah ibn Umar, for example, is quoted as saying:

Let no man say, ‘I have learned the whole of the Qur’an!’ How can he have learned the whole of it when much of it has been lost? Let him say, ‘I have learned what is extant of it.’12

Like other Muslims, Ahmadiyya authors, in spite of strong proof, boldly allege that the Qur’an text "has been preserved absolutely pure and entire, down to the last vowel point".13 This is just exaggeration, because the history of the Qur’an text shows that diacritical marks and vowel points were only fully introduced at least two hundred years after Muhammad’s death.

Alleged Contradictions

To prove that the Bible has been corrupted, many Muslims and Ahmadis refer to parallel passages in the Old Testament and Synoptic Gospels where the same event is recounted with differing details. In their writings and conversations with Christians they use such arguments, but they can be levelled against the Qur’an too.

For example, in Matthew we find Jesus saying: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’" (Matthew 5:43). Mirza Ahmad thought Jesus was quoting word for word from the ten commandments, so he accused the narrator Matthew of being a liar, just because Mirza could not find the words ‘hate your enemy’ which are not found in the Old Testament passage.14

In another place Mirza refers to Jesus’ command to love each other (John 13:34). He comments that this command can be found in Leviticus 19:18, so how can Jesus claim it as ‘a new commandment’?15 Mirza gives a list of such cases.16 However he misses the crucial difference - to love others as you love yourself. Here Jesus asks us to love as he loved, i.e. be prepared to die for friends.

Following similar methods, an orthodox Muslim, Bashir Ahmad Ansari of the UK Islamic centre, in his booklet, Kitab-e- Muqaddes main Tahrif ke matni Saboot, (The textual evidence of alteration in the Holy Scriptures) accuses the Gospel narrators of their lack of knowledge. He refers to the texts of the four Gospels, where the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey is found (Matthew 21:7; Luke 19:35; Mark 11:7; John 12:14). Bashir questions how it comes about that these inspired narrators did not know if Jesus sat on a donkey himself to enter Jerusalem, or other people helped him to sit on it.17

Another Muslim critic Ihsan-ul-Haq gives no less than 20 examples of such minor difference in the accounts.18 In one such case, Mark 10:46-52 and Matthew 20:29-34, one narrator mentions one blind man, the other makes it two. The argument is that if these passages were inspired, it would have the exact number. Muslims say that such contradictions cannot be tolerated. They insist that this type of error means that the Bible is not the word of God.

Many of the orthodox Muslims in their accusations against the Christian faith have followed the Ahmadiyya route so much that they use Ahmadi propaganda material as their own. Some writers have gone to the length of being dishonest and plagiarist. For example the book, ‘Myth of the Cross’, written by a Sunni Muslim and published by an Islamic organisation, has literally copied page after page from an Ahmadi publication, with no reference or credit to the actual author.19

Muslim and Ahmadiyya Muslims both ignore the fact that the Qur’an also contains many passages that are repeated several times and yet their details differ. Now if we were to use this type of pedantic criticism it would provide similar problems for the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an states that God created man from dust (Surah 35:11). At another place it says that he created him of potter’s clay and at yet other place it says from sticky clay (Surah 15:26; 55:13; 37;11).

Another example of such "contradiction" in the Qur’an is the story of Lot. At one place the text says that Allah saved Lot and every member of his family (Surah 54:34). Yet in another place there is an exception; it says: "except his wife" (Surah 11:81; 15:60).

Let one other example be sufficient. In one narrative the angels visit Abraham and say: "Salamen " - peace. Abraham receives them with the same salutation, saying, "salamun- peace" (Surah 11:69). Yet in another narrative his reply, ‘Salamun’ is not mentioned. Instead he is quoted as saying, "We feel afraid of you" (Surah 15:52). In one statement it is reported as a dialogue but in the other case it is reported as unspoken feelings, "He mistrusted them and conceived a fear of them" (Surah 11:70).

The dialogue between Adam and God (Surah 20:123 versus Surah 2:38); the discourse between Noah and God (Surah 26:117:-118 versus Surah 71:21-22) and the debate between Satan and God (Surah 7:12-13 versus Surah 38:75-78) are a few more examples among many one could look at. We believe that such variations do not invalidate the account, but rather they compliment and enhance each other. The only reason for mentioning the above references is to show that the criterion Muslims use for the Bible could equally be used to bring the Qur’anic text into question.

Interestingly the Qur’an does admit that it has such changes in it and makes no excuse for it, only that: "God knows best what He reveals" (Surah 16:101-102). One wonders if a Christian replied in a similar way to the Muslim objections, "God knows best," would a Muslim accept such a reply?

The fact is that both the Qur’an and the Bible are well preserved but neither book has been preserved totally without textual defect. Both books have suffered from variant readings. While Christians preserved also the variant readings, Muslims at the time of Uthman considered it wise to destroy all evidences of different readings of the Qur’an to standardise into one universal text.

AL-NASIKH WA AL-MANSUKH: The doctrine of abrogation

Following the early Islamic commentators and schools of thought, conservative Muslims believe that some verses in the present Qur’an have been abrogated (mansukh). The simple version of this is that earlier verses have been superseded by verses revealed later and found in the received text. This doctrine is based on the teaching of the Qur’an itself, in particular the following verse:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God hath power over all things? (Surah 2:106).

Other versions of abrogation suggest that certain verses have been abrogated but no replacement verse has been revealed or recorded. The extent of this is the subject of much controversy, varying from five verses to several hundred!

The Ahmadiyya view, however is that no part of the Qur’an has been abrogated. Instead they maintain that it is the Bible, the earlier Scripture, that is abrogated.20 A similar line is adopted by other Muslim scholars, who claim that the above verse and similar ones (Surah 13:39;16:101) refer to the abrogation of the Tawrat of Moses and the Injil of Jesus.21

This interpretation cannot be accepted, as the Qur’an does not suggest that the previous Scriptures were ever abrogated. Instead, we see that it claims to be, ‘musadiqallima bayna yadayhi - confirming what was before it’ (Surah 3:3), namely the Tawrat and Injil. In another place, Jews and Christians are instructed to obey the Tawrat and Injil respectively and judge by what is written in them, rather than come to Muhammad for judgement (Surah 5:47, 71).

Therefore, the abrogation of which the Qur’an speaks cannot refer to the previous Scriptures but only to the text of the Qur’an itself. Other passages in the Qur’an support this idea, such as the following verse:

When we substitute one revelation for another - and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), - they say, Thou art but a forger: but most of them understand not (Surah 16:101).

This verse clearly speaks of the replacement of one part of the Qur’anic text by another. Muhammad was accused by his opponents of giving contradictory statements in the Qur’an. As a result, he is said to have received a revelation that Allah replaced some of the text with a later text. However this verse does not state that Allah replaced one ‘Kitab’ (book) with another but rather that he substituted one ‘aya’ for another. The word ‘aya’ principally means ‘sign’. However in the context of Muhammad’s revelation, this refers only to the verses of the Qur’an and not the book of the Christians or the Jews.

Notes on Chapter 10:

  1. Deedat, Is the Bible God’s Word, p.7.
  2. Muhammad Ali, The Holy Qur’an, p. XXXV
  3. Ahmad, Fountain of Christianity, pp. 13,26.
  4. Ahmad, Tazkira-tus-shahadatain, p.2.
  5. Bashir-ud-din, Introduction to the Study of the Holy Qur’an, p. 35.
  6. ibid., p.55.
  7. ibid., p.54.
  8. Shafaat, The question of authenticity and authority of the Bible, p.16.
  9. Sahih Bukhari, Vol..6, p.479.
  10. Tisdall, Muhammadan Objections to Christianity, p.62.
  11. Bashir-ud-din, Introduction to the Study of the Holy Qur’an, p.359.
  12. as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, p.524.
  13. Zafrullah, Islam: Its meaning for modern man, p.89.
  14. Ahmad, Kitabul Bariah, p.68.
  15. ibid., p.72.
  16. ibid., pp. 57-72.
  17. Bashir Ansari, Kitab-e- Muqaddes main Tahrif ke matni Saboot, p.19
  18. Ihsan-ul-Haq, Yahudiat wa Masihiat, pp.327-332. Muslim Academy, Lahore. 1981.
  19. Ajijola, The Myth of the Cross, pp.85-88; 114-126; 133-138 & 140. Compare with, Bashir-ud-din, Introduction to the Study of the Holy Qur’an, pp.47-51; 59-68; 17-19,7; 30-31,37,40,44; 46-47. Page numbers of Ajijola’s book are of the first edition, 1975. Pages numbers of Bashir-ud-din’s book are of the 1985 edition. First edition of his work appeared around 1948 and subsequently in 1961.]
  20. Muhammad Ali, The Holy Qur’an, p.48.
  21. Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, p.23.