Summary of All 3 Sections
The Qur’an Part I The Qur’an Part II The Qur’an Part III
B. The Authority of the Qur'an
C. The Revelation of the Qur'an
D. The Inspiration of the Qur'an
E. The Qur'an's Supposed Distinctive Qualities
E1. Its Holiness
E2. Its Superior Style
E3. Its Literary Qualities
E4. Its Pure Arabic
F. The Qur'an's Supposed Universal Qualities
F1. The Inferiority of Women in the Qur'an
F2. The "Sword" found in the Qur'an
How many of you have been in a conversation with a Muslim, and you find that soon there are irreconcilable differences between you? You ask the Muslim why he or she says the things they do, and they respond that they only repeat what they have learned from the Qur'an. In reply you claim that what you believe also comes from the Word of God, the Bible. It doesn't take long before you realize that neither side can agree because the authority for what you believe and say is at a variance to what they believe and say. Our Bible contradicts much of what their Qur'an says, and this fact alone will continue to negate many worthwhile conversations which we may wish to indulge in.
So, what is the solution? If two documents are in contradiction, the first thing to do is ascertain whether the contradictions can be explained adequately. And if not, then we must conclude that one of the two documents is false. Therefore, before we get into serious dialogue with a Muslim we must ask the question of whether the authority for our respective beliefs (the Qur'an and the Bible) can stand up to verification, and whether they can stand up to a critical analysis of their authenticity.
This is an immensely complex and difficult subject. Both Islam and Christianity claim to receive their beliefs from revealed truth, which they find in their respective scriptures. Consequently, to suspect the source for revealed truth, the scriptures for each faith, is to put the integrity of both Christianity and Islam on trial.
Obviously this is a task that no-one should take lightly, and I don't intend to do so here. For that reason, I have decided not to attempt a simplistic analysis concerning the authority of the Qur'an and the Bible in one single paper. Instead I will begin by dealing with the authority of the Qur'an in this paper and then turn my attention to the authority for our own scriptures, the Bible, in a follow-up paper.
In no way do I claim to know all the answers, nor will I be so pretentious as to assume that I can exhaustively argue the question of authority for both the Qur'an and the Bible in these two papers. These studies are nothing more than mere "overviews," with the hope that they will stimulate you to continue studying these very important areas in your own time, so that you too will "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).
When we observe the two faiths, we see immediately that they are in conflict with one another concerning their scriptures. Muslims believe that their scripture, the Qur'an, is the 'final revelation,' while Christians believe only the Bible (including the Old and New Testaments) can claim true authority. (See The Claims of The Bible Concerning Itself)
If we were to delve into the contents of each scripture we would find that the two are at variance with one another in a number of areas: stories have changed, characters are missing and entire sections do not exist in one but do in the other.
In order to delineate which is correct, we will need to take each revelation separately and ask whether it can stand up to scrutiny, whether it can hold firm under critical analysis, and whether it can claim to be indeed the true revelation from God. Let us then start with the authority for the Qur'an.
Normally when one begins any research into the Qur'an, the first question which should be asked is how we know that it is what it claims to be, the final word of God? In order to answer that question we would need to go to the sources of the Qur'an to ascertain its authenticity.
As you well know, going to the sources of the Qur'an is much more difficult then one would usually assume, as we have so little data with which to use. In another paper (The problems with Sources of Islam) I have dealt with the problems which exist when confronted by the dearth of material on the sources of the Qur'an, so I won't repeat those arguments here.
Suffice it to say, that the only real source we have for the Qur'an is the book itself, and what Muslim Traditions tell us concerning how that book came to be created. Because of their late compilations (200-300 years after the event), and the contradicting documentation which we now possess prior to 750 C.E., I find it difficult to consider either of them as valid or authentic as source material.
However, since we are attempting to compare the Qur'an with our own scriptures, I will, for the time being, set aside my prejudices, and assume, for argument's sake, that the traditions are correct. In other words, I will take the position of current orthodox Muslim scholarship and presume that the Qur'an was compiled in the years 646-650 C.E., from material which originated with the man Muhammad before his death in 632 C.E.
It is from this premise that I will attempt to respond to the question of whether the Qur'an can claim to be the final and most perfect revelation of God's word to humanity. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
B: The Authority for the Qur'an
The Arabic word 'Qur'an' is derived from the root 'qara'a', which means "to read" or "to recite." This was the command which the angel Gabriel supposedly asked Muhammad three times to do when he confronted him in July or August 610 C.E. in the Hira cave, situated three miles north-east of Mecca (Mishkat IV p.354).
According to Muslims the Qur'an is the final revelation from Allah. In Arabic the Qur'an is also referred to as 'Al-Kitab' (the book), 'Al-furkan' (the distinction), 'Al-mas'haf' (the scroll), and 'Al-dikhr' (the warning), as well as other names.
For those who like statistics, you may be interested to know that the Qur'an consists of 114 chapters (suras), made up of 30 parts, 6,616 verses (ayas), 77,943 words, and 338,606 letters. According to Islamic scholars 86 of the suras were revealed in Mecca, while 28 suras were revealed at Medina. Yet, as portions of some suras were recited in both places, you will continue to find a few of the scholars still debating the origins for a number of them. The suras vary in length and are known by a name or title, which are taken from the general theme of that sura, or a particular subject, person or event mentioned in it. This theme may not necessarily appear at the beginning of the sura, however.
Each verse or portion of the sura is known as an 'aya', which means "miracle" in Arabic. Muhammad claimed that the Qur'an was his sole miracle, though the Qur'an did not exist in its written form during his lifetime. In fact much of the controversy concerning the chronology of the Qur'an can be blamed on the fact that he was not around to verify its final collation. But more about that later. To begin with, let's start with the question of revelation: how does Islam understand this concept, and could their view on it be one of the reasons we don't see eye-to-eye concerning our two scriptures? [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
C: The Revelation of the Qur'an
Islam, like Christianity, believes that God (Allah) desires to communicate with humanity. But, unlike Christianity, Islam tells us that Allah is remote, so he must not reveal himself to humanity at a personal level. It is for that reason that Allah is forced to employ appointed prophets, who are known as, rasul, meaning "the sent one." These prophets are mere humans and so finite, though they are given a special status, and consequently protected by God.
Because Allah is so transcendent and unapproachable, revelation in Islam is simply one-way: from God to humanity, via the prophets. While each prophet supposedly fulfilled his mission by producing a book, the final revelation, and therefore the most important, according to Muslims, is that given to the final prophet Muhammad: the Qur'an.
The Qur'an, Muslims believe, is an exact word-for-word copy of God's final revelation, which are found on the original tablets that have always existed in heaven. Muslims point to sura 85:21-22 which says "Nay this is a glorious Qur'an, (inscribed) in a tablet preserved." Islamic scholars contend that this passage refers to the tablets which were never created. They believe that the Qur'an is an absolutely identical copy of the eternal heavenly book, even so far as the punctuation, titles and divisions of chapters is concerned (why modern translations still can't agree what those divisions are is evident when trying to refer to an aya for comparison between one version and another).
According to Muslim tradition, these 'revelations' were sent down (Tanzil or Nazil) (sura 17:85), to the lowest of the seven heavens at the time of the month of Ramadan, during the night of power or destiny ('lailat al Qadr') (Pfander, 1910:262). From there it was revealed to Muhammad in instalments, as need arose, via the angel Gabriel (sura 25:32). Consequently, every letter and every word is free from any human influence, which gives the Qur'an an aura of authority, even holiness, and must be revered as such.
Left unsaid is the glaring irony that the claim for nazil revelation of the Qur'an, comes from one source alone, the man to which it was supposedly revealed, Muhammad. There are no outside witnesses before or at the time who can corroborate Muhammad's testimony; nor are miracles provided to substantiate his claims.
In fact, the evidences for the authority of God's revelation, which the Bible emphatically produces are completely absent in the Qur'an, namely, that the revelation of God must speak in the name of God, Yahweh, that the message must conform to revelation which has gone before, that it must make predictions which are verifiable, and that the revelation must be accompanied by signs and wonders in order to give it authority as having come from God. Because these are missing in the case of the prophet Muhammad and of the Qur'an, for those of us who are Christians, it seems indeed that it is the Qur'an and not the Bible which turns out to be the most human of documents.
Yet, Muslims continue to believe that the exact Arabic words which we find in the Qur'an are those which exist eternally on the original stone tablets, in heaven. This, according to them, makes the Qur'an the "Mother of books" (refer to sura 43:3). Muslims believe there is no other book or revelation which can compare. In fact, in both suras 2:23 and 10:37-38 we find the challenge to, "Present some other book of equal beauty," (a challenge which we will deal with later).
This final revelation, according to Islam, is transcendent, and consequently, beyond the capacity for conjecture, or criticism. What this means is that the Qur'an which we possess today is and has always been final and pure, which prohibits any possibility for verification or falsification of the text.
Because Allah is revered much as a master is to a slave, so his word is to be revered likewise. One does not question its pronouncements any more than one would question a masters pronouncements.
What then are we to do with the problems which do exist in the Qur'an? If it is such a transcendent book, as Muslims claim, then it should stand up to any criticism. Yet, what are we to do with the many contradictions, the factual errors and bizarre claims it makes? Furthermore, when we look more carefully at the text that we have in our possession today, which is supposedly that of Uthman's final codification of the Qur'an, compiled by Zaid ibn Thabit, from a copy of Hafsah's manuscript, we are puzzled by the differences between it and the four co-existing codices of Abdullah Masoud, Abu Musa, and Ubayy, all of which have deviations and deletions between them.
Another problem concerns its very pronouncements. Because of its seeming transcendency we may not question its content, much of which, according to Muslim Tradition, originates from the later Medinan period of Muhammad's life (the last 10 years), and so consists of basic rules and regulations for social, economical, and political structures, many of which have been borrowed from existing legal traditions of the Byzantine and Persian cultures, leaving us with a seventh-ninth century document which has not been easily adapted to the twentieth century.
As Christians, this question is important. The Bible, by contrast is not simply a book of rigid rules and regulations which takes a particular historical context and absolutizes it for all ages and all peoples. Instead, we find in the Bible broad principles with which we can apply to each age and each culture (such as worship styles, music, dress, all of which can and are being contextualized in the variety of cultures which the church finds itself today).
As a result the Bible is much more adaptable and constructive for our societies. Since we do not have a concept of Nazil revelation, we have no fear of delving into and trying to understand the context of what the author was trying to say (the process of historical analysis). But one would expect such from a revelation provided by a personal God who intended to be actively involved in the transmission of His revelation.
This, I feel is the crux of the problem between Islam's and Christianity's views on revelation.
Christians believe that God is interested in revealing Himself to His creation. Since the time of creation He has continued to do so in various ways. His beauty, power and intricate wisdom is displayed in the universe all around us, so that humanity cannot say that they have never known God. That is what some theologians like to call "general revelation."
But God also chooses to reveal Himself more specifically; what those same scholars call "special revelation." This He does by means of prophets, who are sent with a specific word for a specific time, a specific place, and a specific people. Unfortunately, much of what was revealed to those people was quickly forgotten. The human mind has a remarkable capacity to be completely independent of God, and will only take the time to think of Him (if at all) when they are in a crisis, or near to death.
Therefore, God saw the plight of His creation and in His love and compassion for His creation, decided to do something about it.
God decided to reveal Himself directly, without any intervening agent, to His creation. He did this also to correct that relationship which had been broken with humanity at the very beginning, in the garden of Eden. This is consistent with a God who is personally involved with His creation.
Simply speaking, God Himself came to reveal Himself to humanity. He took upon Himself the form of a human, spoke our language, used our forms of expression, and became an example of His truth to those who were His witnesses, so that we who are finite and human would better understand Him who is infinite and divine and beyond all human understanding.
As we read in Hebrews 1:1-2:
"God, who at various times and in diverse ways spoke in past times to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds."
In Jesus Christ we see God perfectly revealed to humanity. This goes beyond special revelation. This is revelation personified!
The Bible, therefore, introduces the world to Jesus Christ. It is, for all practical purposes, a secondary revelation. It is simply the witness to the revelation of God. The Bible tells us about His life, mentioning what He said and did, and then expounds these teachings for the world today. It is merely a book which points to a person. Therefore, we can use the book to learn about the person, but ultimately, we will need to go to the final revelation, Jesus Himself to truly understand who God is.
And here is where revelation becomes specific for us today, because God did not simply stop revealing Himself with Jesus Christ. He still desires to be in relationship with His creation, and has continued to reveal Himself in an incarnational way. His ongoing revelation continues from that time right up until the present as He reveals Himself by means of Himself, the Holy Spirit, the comforter, convicting us of guilt in regard to sin, guiding us into all truth, telling us what is yet to come, and bringing glory to Jesus (John 16:7-15).
Jesus is the truest revelation. We find out about Him in the Bible. Yet, that is not all, for the Holy Spirit continues to make Him known to us even today, and that is why the scriptures become alive and meaningful for us.
For Muslims this must sound confusing, and possibly threatening, as it brings God's infinite revelation down from its transcendent pedestal, and presents it within the context of finite humanity. Perhaps to better explain this truth to them we may want to change tactics somewhat. Instead of comparing the Qur'an with the Bible, as most apologists tend to do, it might be helpful to compare the Qur'an with Jesus, as they are both considered to be the Word of God, and stand as God's truest revelation to humanity.
The Bible (especially the New Testament), consequently, is the testimony of Jesus's companions, testifying about what He said and did. To take this a step further, we could possibly compare the Bible with their Hadiths, or the Tarikh, the Sira of the prophet and the Tafsir, all of which comment upon the history and teachings of the prophet and the Qur'an. While this may help us explain the Bible to a Muslim we must be careful to underline that though the New Testament speaks mostly about what Jesus said, about His message, it has little to say concerning how He lived. On the other hand the Hadiths and such talk primarily about the life of Muhammad, what he did, with here and there interpretations of what he said.
In this light there is no comparison between the two revelations, Jesus and the Qur'an. The Qur'an, a mere book with all its faults and inadequacies, its very authenticity weakly resting on the shoulders of one finite man, who himself has few credentials as a prophet, is no match against Jesus, the man, revered by Muslims and Christians alike as sinless, who, according to His sinless Word is God Himself, and therefore, the perfect revelation.
It may be helpful to use this argument to introduce Jesus to a Muslim, rather then begin with His deity, as it explains the purpose of Jesus before attempting to define who He is; in other words explaining the why before the how. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
D: The Inspiration of the Qur'an
That then leads us into the question of inspiration. We have already said that God (or Allah) requires agents in the form of prophets to communicate his truth to his creation. Yet how does Allah communicate his thoughts and will to these prophets? How is revelation carried out?
The Arabic term which best explains the process of revelation is the word 'Wahy', which can mean 'divine inspiration.' According to the Qur'an the primary aim of Wahy is two fold:
to prove Muhammad's call to prophet-hood (according to suras 13:30 and 34:50), and
to give him authority to warn people (according to sura 6:19).
Concerning the inspiration of the previous prophets, we are told very little.
In sura 42:51 we find Wahy explained as such:
"It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a Messenger to reveal, with Allah's permission, what Allah wills, for He is most high, most wise."
According to the above sura there are three methods by which Allah communicates to his creation:
Since the Qur'an tells us little concerning how Muhammad received his revelations, we refer to those who compiled the Sira of the prophet, men like Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, Ibn Athir, and the Turkish writer Ali Halabi to get a clearer insight. Their writings list seven forms of the experience of Wahy by Muhammad, some of which are quite revealing:
While the Wahy (inspiration) lasted, according to his wife Aisha, there were the sounds of bells ringing as he sweated profusely. He would become greatly perturbed and his face would change (Sahih Muslim). Muslim Tradition tells us that sometimes he would shiver and swoon, his mouth would foam, and he would roar like a camel (Mishkat IV p.359). At other times when the inspiration descended there was the sound near his face like the buzzing of bees (from 'Umar ibnu'l Khattab), while at other times he felt a tremendous headache (from Abu Hurairah). Many times it seemed to his friends that he swooned and looked like someone intoxicated (Pfander 1910:346).
Wahy came to him in dreams.
Inspiration also came to him in visions while he was awake.
At times he saw an angel in the form of a young man (Pfander 1910:345).
At other times he saw angels in angelic form (sura 42:51).
During one evening (known as the Mi'raj) he was raptured through the Seven Heavens (according to the Hadith, Muhammad was taken to the highest heaven where he received the command to pray five times a day).
Allah spoke to him from behind a veil (sura 42:51).
When we look at all these examples of inspiration a picture begins to form, of a man who either had a vivid imagination, or was possessed, or suffered from a disease such as epilepsy. Muhammad, according to 'Amr ibn Sharhabil, mentioned to his wife Khadijah that he feared he was possessed by demons and wondered whether others might consider him possessed by jinn (Pfander 1910:345).
Even during his childhood Muhammad was afflicted with similar problems, causing concern to his friends who felt he had "become afflicted" (Pfander 1910:347).
Anyone acquainted with occult phenomena would be aware of the conditions of those who participate in seances. Occult phenomena in childhood, daydreams, the hearing of voices and calls, nightly meditations, excessive perspiration during trances and the subsequent exhaustion and swoon-like condition; as well as the ringing of bells are quite common. Even the intoxicated condition resembles someone who is in a reasonably deep trance.
Also revealing is the report by Al Waqidi that Muhammad had such an aversion to the form of the cross that he would break everything brought into the house with a shape of the cross on it (Nehls 1990:61).
What we must ask is whether these manifestations point to true occurrences of inspiration, or whether they were simply a disease, or a condition of demonization? Historians inform us that certain great men (many of whom tended to be great warriors, such as Julius Caesar, the great Roman general, as well as the emperor Peter the Great of Russia, and Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor), all exhibited the same symptoms mentioned above. But none of them claimed to be prophets or apostles of God, nor did their followers offer them such status.
While we want to be careful not to revel in trivial speculation, we must remember that the above statements concerning Muhammad's condition did not originate from sources outside of Islam. These were statements by his friends and relatives, and those who most firmly believed in his claim to be the seal of the prophets. I am not an expert on these matters, so I leave it to you to decide whether the facts which we have learned concerning the condition of Muhammad at the time he received his revelations, can lead us to the conclusion that what he received were truly inspired. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
E: The Qur'an's Supposed Distinctive Qualities
Moving on, we now tackle the book itself, and ask whether its supposed qualities give it the right to claim a unique position alongside those of the previous scriptures.
E1: Its Holiness
While Muslims hold a high view for all Scriptures, including the Old and New Testaments, they demand a unique and supreme position for the Qur'an, claiming its ascendancy over all other scriptures, because, according to them, "initially, it was never written down by men and so was never tainted with men's thoughts or styles." As we mentioned earlier, it is often referred to as the "Mother of Books" (taken from sura 43:3). transcendent, and consequently, beyond the capacity for conjecture, or criticism
Since the Qur'an is such a highly honoured book, it therefore is treated as if it, in itself, is holy. To enquire into its source is considered blasphemy. In most mosques which I have attended, no one would be permitted to let their Qur'an touch the floor. Instead, every individual was urged to use ornately decorated book-stands to rest their Qur'an on while reading from its contents. My Muslim friends were horrified to learn that Christians not only stacked Bibles alongside other lesser books, but that they wrote notes in the margins as well.
The function of the Qur'an, then, seems to be in opposition to that of the Bible. This points out another clear distinction between the two faiths view on revelation.
Take the example of an old man I met in a Pennsylvania mosque, who was highly revered due to his ability to quote, by memory, any passage from the Qur'an (and thus had the title of Hafiz). Yet, I never saw him lead any discussions on the Qur'an. A young Saudi Arabian man was given that responsibility. When I asked, "Why?" I was told that the old gentleman didn't understand Arabic well (memorizing thus doesn't command understanding).
It shocked me to find a man who had spent years memorizing the Qur'an, yet had no yearning to understand the content of its message. Is it no wonder, then, that Muslims find little desire to translate their most holy book? Merit is found in the rote reading of the Qur'an in Arabic, and not in its message.
Another example is that of a friend of mine here in London who considered the Qur'an the epitome of beauty, and offered me certain suras as examples. Yet, when I asked him to translate the texts he could not.
Some of the Pakistani students at the university I attend who could quote certain passages, admired the beauty of the text, but had great difficulty in explaining the meaning. I found it disconcerting that the "beauty of the Qur'an" had such an influence, yet its "beauty" seemed, in fact, to discourage its understanding, which becomes an enemy to its mystique.
Here then is the key which points to the difference between the scriptures of the Christians and that of the Muslims. The fact that Muslims accord the Qur'an a place of reverence and worship, while memorizing its contents without necessarily understanding it, sparks of idolatry, the very sin ("Shirk") which the Qur'an itself warns against, as it elevates an object to the same level of reverence as Allah (suras 4:48; 5:75-76; 41:6).
In much of the Muslim world leather amulets worn on the body are sold outside the mosques (sometimes called Giri-giri). Within these amulets one can find folded pieces of paper with an aya, or verse from the Qur'an written on them. These verses supposedly have power to ward off evil spirits and diseases. For these Muslims the very letters of the Qur'an are imbued with supernatural power.
Christianity stands against this view of God's written word. We believe that the power and authority for the scriptures comes not from the paper it is written on, but from the words it expresses. We believe that the Bible is merely the testimony of God's revelation to humanity, and so is not holy in and of itself. It is a text which must be read and studied, much as a textbook is read and studied in school. Therefore, its importance lies in its content, rather than in its physical pages, just as a newspaper is read and thrown away, though the news it holds may remain imprinted on the readers mind for years to come.
Perhaps, the criticism by Muslims that Christians abuse the Bible is a result of this misunderstanding of its purpose. Once we understand the significance of the scriptures as nothing more than a repository of God's word, we can then understand why Christians feel no injunction against writing in its margins, or against laying it on the floor (though most of the Christians I know would not do so out of respect for its message).
The high regard for the Qur'an carries over into other areas as well, some of which need to be discussed at this time. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
E2: Its Superior Style
Many Muslims claim that the superiority of the Qur'an over all other revelations is due to its sophisticated literary style. They quote suras 10:37-38, or 2:23, or 17:88, which say: "Will they say 'Muhammad hath forged it? Answer: "Bring therefore a chapter like unto it, and call whom ye may to your assistance, besides Allah, if ye speak truth."
This boast is echoed in the Hadith (Mishkat III, pg.664), which says:
"The Qur'an is the greatest wonder among the wonders of the world... This book is second to none in the world according to the unanimous decision of the learned men in points of diction, style, rhetoric, thoughts and soundness of laws and regulations to shape the destinies of mankind."
Muslims conclude that since there is no literary equivalent in existence, this proves that the Qur'an is a "miracle sent down from God, and not simply written by any one man."
Ironically, we now know that many stories and passages in the Qur'an were borrowed, sometimes word-for-word, and sometimes idea-for-idea, from Second century apocryphal documents of Jewish and Zoroastrian origin (to be discussed later in this paper).
To support this elevated belief in their scripture, many Muslim Qur'anic translators have an inclination to clothe their translations in a style that is rather archaic and 'wordy,' so that the average person must run to the dictionary to enquire their meanings. Yet, these translations were not conceived hundreds of years ago. This is merely a ploy by the translators to give the text an appearance of dignity and age which, they hope, will in turn inspire trustworthiness.
In response, we must begin by asking whether the Qur'an can be considered a miracle written by one man, when we know from Muslim Tradition that the Qur'an which we have today was not written by Muhammad but was collated and then copied by a group of men who, fourteen to twenty years after the fact, took what they found from the memory of others, as well as verses which had been written on bones, leaves and stones and then burned all evidence of any other copies. Where is the miracle in that?
More current research is now eradicating even this theory. According to the latest data, the Qur'an was not a document which was even given to Muhammad. Much of what is included in the Qur'an were additions which slowly evolved over a period of 150-200 years, until they were made a canon sometime in the eighth or ninth century. If this is true, and it looks to be the best theory which we have to date, then the authority for the Qur'an as a miracle sent down from heaven is indeed very slim.
But, for the sake of argument, let's ask whether the Qur'an can be considered unique in its style and makeup.
The logic of the claim to its uniqueness, according to Dr. Anis Shorrosh, is spurious as:
"... It no more proves its inspiration than a man's strength demonstrates his wisdom, or a woman's beauty, her virtue. Only by its teachings, its principles, and content can a book be judged rightly; not by its eloquence, elegance, or poetic strength" (Shorrosh 1988:192).
Furthermore, one must ask what criteria is used for measuring one literary piece against the other. In every written language there must be a "best piece" of literature. Take for example the: Rig-Veda of India (1,000- 1,500 B.C.), or the eloquent poems in Greek, the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer, or the Gilgamesh Epic, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Book of the Dead from Egypt, all which are considered classic masterpieces, and all of which predate the Qur'an.
Closer to home: would we compare Shakespeare's works against that of the Qur'an? No! They are completely different genres. Yet, while few people today dispute the fact that Shakespeare's plays and sonnets are the best written in the English language, no-one would claim they were therefore divine.
To show the futility of such an argument, it would not take a very brilliant person to quote from classical pieces of literature in rebuttal. They could use such examples as the prayer written by Francis of Assisi (from the 12th century), or the prayer of Thomas Aquinas (in the 13th century), or portions of our own scripture, such as the 23rd Psalm and other Psalms, or even point to the imagery found in the gospel of John, or the sophistication evidenced in the letter to the Romans, or the chapter on Love in 1 Corinthians 13. These could all make the claim to be superior to the Qur'an and some of them definitely are, but that is not the point. We know the authors of each of these pieces of literature, humble men all; men who would shudder if we would consider their writings somehow elevated to that of the divine.
To make this distinction more clear, compare for example:
sura 76:29-30 (sura or 16:93) and I Timothy 2:4, Luke 15:3-4, John 10:14,18.
sura 111 and Francis of Assisi's prayer (see Nehls, Christians Ask Muslims, example no.11, pg.75).
suras 4:74,84; 5:33; 48:16-17 and Matthew 5:3-12.
sura 109 and Psalm 23.
sura 24:2 and John 8:3-12.
suras 2:222-223; 4:11,24,34,176 and Ephesians 5:22-25.
sura 9:29 and I Corinthians 13:4-7.
sura 33:53, 56-57 and Matthew 20:25-28.
suras 55:46-60; 56:22-26,35-38 and Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27; 22:1-6.
You may feel that the selection of the suras has been unfavorable in contrast to the quotations from the Bible and the prayer, and you are correct. But you must remember that the claim of the Qur'an is to "produce a chapter like it." A chapter would mean any chapter, and certainly, as I have done here, those chapters which are similar in kind and content.
I am aware that the reverse could be done, that Biblical texts could be taken and opposed in similar fashion, but for what purpose? We make no claim, as has the Qur'an, that the Bible is superior to all pieces of literature.
In fact many statements and events described in the Bible are historical records, including quotations uttered by opponents of God, which do not necessarily reflect the consent, thought and will of God. Taken out of context such texts can and frequently are abused to support just about any view or opinion. Our intent here is to consider whether indeed the Qur'an has a superior style, such that it is unique among the scriptures of God. From what you now know, you, then, must decide. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
E3: Its Literary Qualities
But what about the Qur'an's supposed literary qualities?
While Christian or secular Arabic speakers are likely to appreciate the Qur'an's poetic qualities, when anyone who is familiar with the Bible picks up a Qur'an and begins to read it through, there is the immediate recognition that he or she is dealing with an entirely different kind of literature than what is found in the Bible.
Whereas the Bible contains much historical narrative, the Qur'an contains very little. Whereas the Bible goes out of its way to explain unfamiliar terminology or territory, the Qur'an remains silent. In fact, the very structure of the Bible, consisting of a library of 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, reveals that it is ordered according to chronology, subject and theme.
The Qur'an, on the other hand, reads more like a jumbled and confused collection of statements and ideas, interposed many times with little relationship to the preceding chapters and verses. Many scholars admit that it is so haphazard in its make-up that it requires the utmost sense of duty for anyone to plow through it!
The German secular scholar Salomon Reinach in his harsh analysis, states that:
"From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time in absorbing it."(Reinach 1932:176)
McClintock and Strong's encyclopedia concludes that:
The matter of the [Koran] is exceedingly incoherent and sententious, the book evidently being without any logical order of thought either as a whole or in its parts. This agrees with the desultory and incidental manner in which it is said to have been delivered. (McClintock and Strong 1981:151)
Even the Muslim scholar Dashti laments the literary defects of the Qur'an, saying:
He concludes that:
"All students of the Qur'an wonder why the editors did not use the natural and logical method of ordering by date of revelation, as in 'Ali ibn Taleb's lost copy of the text" [Dashti 1985:28].
When reading a Qur'an, you will discover that the 114 suras not only have odd names for titles (such as the Cow, the Spoils, the Bee, or the Cave), but their layout is not at all in a chronological order. Size or length had more to do with the sequence of the suras than any other factor, starting with the longer suras and ending with the shortest. Even within the suras we find a mixed chronology. At times there is a mixture of Meccan and Medinan revelations within the same sura, so that even size is not an infallible guide in dating them.
Another problem is that of repetition. The Qur'an was intended to be memorized by those who were illiterate and uneducated since they could not read it. It therefore engages in the principal of endless repetition of the same material over and over again [Morey 1991:110]. This all leads to a good bit of confusion for the novice reader, and gives rise to much suspicion concerning its vaunted literary qualities.
In contrast to the Bible, which was written over several hundred years by a variety of authors, and flows easily from the creation of the world right through to the prophecies concerning the end of the universe; the Qur'an, supposedly written by just one man, Muhammad, during a span of a mere 20 years, seems to go nowhere and say little outside of the personal and political affairs of himself and his companions at one particular time in history.
With no logical connection from one sura to the next, one is left with a feeling of incompleteness, waiting for the story to give some meaning. Is it no wonder that many find it difficult to take seriously the claim by the Hadith that the Qur'an is "a book second to none in the world," worthy of divine inspiration? [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
E4: Its Pure Arabic
Muslims believe that the Arabic language is the language of Allah. They also believe that the Qur'an, because it is perfect, is the exact representation of Allah's words. For that reason only the Arabic Qur'an can be considered as authoritative. It, therefore, follows that those who do not know Arabic are still required to read and memorize the Qur'an in the Arabic language, as translations can never replace the language of Allah. Yet, is the Qur'an the Arabic document which Muslims claim it to be?
The answer is unequivocally "NO!" There are many foreign words or phrases which are employed in the Qur'an, some of which have no Arabic equivalent, and others which do.
Arthur Jeffrey, in his book Foreign Vocabulary of the [Koran], has gathered some 300 pages dealing with foreign words in the Qur'an, many of which must have been used in pre-Qur'anic Arabic, but quite a number also which must have been used little or not at all before they were included in the Qur'an. One must wonder why these words were borrowed, as it puts doubt on whether "Allah's language" is sufficient enough to explain and reveal all that Allah had intended. Some of the foreign words include:
Pharaoh: an Egyptian word which means king or potentate, which is repeated in the Qur'an 84 times.
Adam and Eden: Accadian words which are repeated 24 times. A more correct term for "Adam" in Arabic would be basharan or insan, meaning "mankind." "Eden" would be the word janna in Arabic, which means "garden."
Abraham (sometimes recorded as Ibrahim): comes from the Assyrian language. The correct Arabic equivalent would be Abu Raheem.
Haroot and Maroot are Persian names for angels.
Sirat meaning "the path" has the Arabic equivalent, Altareeq.
Hoor meaning "disciple" has the Arabic equivalent, Tilmeeth.
Jinn meaning "good or evil demons" has the Arabic equivalent, Ruh.
Firdaus meaning "the highest or seventh heaven" has the Arabic equivalent, Jannah.
Syriac words: Taboot, Taghouth, Zakat, Malakout are all Syriac words which have been borrowed and included in the 'Arabic' Qur'an.
Hebrew words: Heber, Sakinah, Maoon, Taurat, Jehannim, Tufan (deluge) are all Hebrew words which have been borrowed and included in the 'Arabic' Qur'an.
Greek words: Injil, which means "gospel" was borrowed, yet it has the Arabic equivalent, Bisharah. Iblis is not Arabic, but a corruption of the Greek word Diabolos.
Christian Aramaic: Qiyama is the Aramaic word for resurrection.
Christian Ethiopic: Malak (2:33) is the Ethiopic word for angel. TABLE OF CONTENTS]
F: The Qur'an's Supposed Universal Qualities
Another claim by Muslims for the authority of the Qur'an is its universal application for all people and for all time. Yet is this the case?
There are many who believe that the Qur'an follows so closely the life and thought of the Arab world during the 7th-9th centuries, that indeed it was written for that specific environment, and not as a universal document for all peoples. suras 16:103; 26:195; and 42:7 point to its uniquely Arabic character.
In fact, the Qur'an, rather than being a universal document served to provide personal advantages for Muhammad. Examples of this can be found in suras: 33:36-38 (Zayd and Zaynab), 50-52 (rotation of wives and special privilege of Muhammad), 53-54 (privacy of Muhammad, and non marriage to his widows) and 66:1 (abstaining from wives or honey?-see Yusuf Ali's note no.5529). Why would a document written for the benefit of all of humanity refer to personal incidents of one man? Do we find similar examples in the previous scriptures and prophets?
Indeed, it seems that Muhammad was the right prophet for the Arabs. He took their culture and universalized it. Take for instance these three examples:
The Arabs gloried in their language; Muhammad declared it the divine language, maintaining that the everlasting tablets in heaven recorded the original revelations in the Arabic script. Yet, he seemed to forget the fact that all the previous scriptures were written in Hebrew and Greek and not Arabic.
The Arabs gloried in their traditional practices and customs of the desert; practices such as predatory war, slavery, polygamy, and concubinage. Muhammad impressed upon all these usages the seal of a divine sanction. Yet it is these very areas which have proved such a stumbling-block to the western world ever since, as they reflect little of the ethos of the preceding scriptures; an ethos which guides the laws and practices of much of the modern world today.
The Arabs gloried in the holiness of Mecca. Muhammad made it the only portal whereby men could enter paradise. Yet there is no extra-Qur'anic documentation that Mecca was much more than a small nondescript hamlet until well into the 7th century. It was not situated on the coast, nor did it have an adequate water supply, like its neighbour Taif, which, unlike Mecca, was well-known as a rest-stop on the caravan routes.
Therefore, one can say that Muhammad took the Arab people just as he found them, and while he applied some new direction, he declared much that they did to be very good and sacred from change (Shorrosh 1988:180).
There are other examples of a specific Arabic influence on the Qur'an; two of which are the status of women, and the use of the sword. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
F1: The Inferiority of Women in the Qur'an
Women in the Qur'an have an inferior status to that of men. While the Qur'an permits women to participate in battle, it also allows a Muslim husband to cast his wife adrift without giving a single reason or notice, while the same right is not reserved for the woman. The husband possesses absolute, immediate, and unquestioned power of divorce (suras 2:224-230 and 33:49).
Women are to be absolutely obedient, and can be beaten (or scourged) for being rebellious in sura 4:34 (Yusuf Ali adds "lightly," yet the Arabic does not allow this inclusion). No privilege of a corresponding nature is reserved for the wife. Men have double the inheritance of women (sura 4:11,176). In addition to the four wives allowed by law, a Muslim man can have an unlimited number of slave girls as concubines (or sexual partners) according to sura al-Nisa 4:24-25.
Even paradise creates inequalities for women. suras 55:56; 56:36 and 78:33 state that paradise is a place where there are beautiful young virgins waiting to serve the "righteous" (sura 78:31). These virgins, we are told, will have beautiful, big, lustrous eyes (sura 56:22); they will be Maidens who are chaste, who avert their eyes out of purity (sura 55:56, Yusuf Ali's note no.5210), and have a delicate pink complexion (sura 55:58, Yusuf Ali's note no.5211). Nowhere are we told what awaits the Muslim women of this world in paradise: the Muslim mothers and sisters. One wonders who these virgin maidens are, and where they come from?
With Qur'anic pronouncements such as we have read in the preceding chapters it is not surprising that much of the Muslim world today reflects in its laws and societal makeup such a total bias against women?
Though statistics are hard to find, we do know that, currently, of the twenty-three countries with the worst records of jobs for women (women making up only ten to twenty percent of all workers), seventeen are Muslim countries (Kidron 1991:96-97). Similarly, of the eleven countries with the worst record for disparagement of opportunity between men and women, ten are Muslim states. The widest gaps were found in three Muslim countries: Bangla Desh, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (Kidron 1991:57).
Another revealing statistic shows that of the twelve states with the worst records for unequal treatment of girls, seven are Muslim states. The bottom three listed are UAE, Bahrain, and Brunei (Kidron 1991:56).
While one may justifiably argue that this is not representative of true Islamic teaching, it does show us how those in Muslim countries, using the Qur'an as their foundation treat their women, and what we might expect if we were living in that type of environment.
With this kind of data before us we need to ask whether the Qur'an is God's absolute word for all people for all time, and if so, then why only half of the world's population (its males) receive full benefit from its laws, while the other half (its women) continue in an unequal relationship?
Does not the previous revelation, the Bible, have a more universalistic and wholesome concern for women? Take for instance Ephesians 5:22-25 where we find the true ideal for a relationship, saying: "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her." This scripture demands a sacrificial love by the husband, one which puts the interests of the loved one before that of his own. This sacrificial love is best explained in 1 Corinthians 13:1,4-8. (See Women in The Heart of God)
It is understandable, then, why so many people in the West see Islam as an archaic and barbaric religion, which forces people back into the mentality of the middle ages, where women had no rights or freedoms to create their own destiny, and where men could do with their wives as they pleased. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
F2: The "Sword" Found in the Qur'an
Concerning the 'sword' in the Qur'an, the testimony of Islam today is that of a religion which condones violence for the sake of Allah.
Though many Muslims try to deny this, they have to agree that there are ample examples of violence found not only within the Qur'an, but also exemplified within the life of the prophet Muhammad.
While in Mecca, Muhammad was surrounded by enemies, and while there he taught his followers toleration, according to sura 2:256, which says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error..." As a minor player, surrounded by enemies he did well to receive this 'convenient' revelation. But the call for toleration changed when his power was established in Medina, once the charter had been written which regulated life between the various differing groups.
Muhammad needed a livelihood for himself and those who had come with him from Mecca. Thus he undertook a number of "expeditions," sending groups of his soldiers out to raid Meccan caravans in order to find booty.
Though there was a rule in the Hijaz at that time not to fight during the "holy month," Muhammad, nonetheless sent a number of his troops to raid an unsuspecting trading caravan. This caused havoc in his own camp because a Meccan had been killed in the month in which bloodshed was forbidden. Promptly another 'convenient revelation' came which authorized the attack (read sura 2:217).
Later on, in 624 C.E., after having been in Medina for two years, a Meccan caravan of 1,000 men was passing close to the south-west of Medina. Muhammad, with only 300 men went out to attack it at the battle of Badr. He defeated the Meccans, and consequently received tremendous status, which helped his army grow.
The Medinans participated in further battles, some of which they won (i.e. the battle of the trenches) and others which they lost (the battle of Uhud). In fact, Muhammad himself is known to have conducted 27 battles and planned 39 others.
Muslims, however, continue to downplay any emphasis on violence within the Qur'an, and they emphatically insist that the Jihad, or Holy War was only a means of defence, and was never used as an offensive act. Sahih Muslim III makes this point, saying, "the sword has not been used recklessly by the Muslims; it has been wielded purely with humane feelings in the wider interest of humanity" (Sahih Muslim III, pg.938).
In the Mishkat II we find an explanation for Jihad:
"[Jihad] is the best method of earning both spiritual and temporal. If victory is won, there is enormous booty and conquest of a country which cannot be equaled to any other source of earnings. If there is defeat or death, there is ever-lasting Paradise and a great spiritual benefit. This sort of Jihad is conditional upon pure motive, i.e. for establishing the kingdom of Allah on earth (Mishkat II, pg.253) Also in Mishkat II we learn with regard to Jihad, that: Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: To whichever village you go and settle therein, there is your share therein, and whichever village disobeys Allah and His Messenger, its one-fifth is for Allah and His Messenger, and the remainder is for you (Muslim, Mishkat II, pg.412)."
The claim that Muslims acted only in self-defense is simply untrue. What were Muslims defending in North Africa, or Spain, France, India, Persia, Syria, Anatolia or the Balkans? These countries all had previous civilizations, many of which were more sophisticated than that of Islam, yet they all (outside of France) fell during the conquests of Islam in the first few hundred years, and their cultures were soon eradicated by that of Islam. Does that not evidence a rather offensive interpretation for Jihad?
We can understand the authority for this history when we read certain passages from the Qur'an, which, itself stipulates a particularly strong use of violence. The full impact of invective against the unbeliever can be found in sura 9:5 which says, "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush..." Of like nature is sura 47:4 which says, "When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them..."
Similarly sura 9:29 states: "...Make war upon such of those to whom the scriptures have been given as believe not in Allah, or in the last day, and who forbid not what Allah and his apostle have forbidden... until they pay tribute..." And in sura 8:39 we find, "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression. And there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do."
The murder of between 600-700 Banu Kuraiza Medinan Jewish males by the sword, and the slavery of their women give testimony to this sura (Nehls pg.117)
According to the Dictionary of Islam we read:
"When an infidel's country is conquered by a Muslim ruler, its inhabitants are offered three alternatives:
the reception of Islam, in which case the conquered became enfranchised citizens of the Muslim state
the payment of Jizya tax, by which unbelievers obtained "protection" and became Dhimmis, provided they were not idolaters, and
death by the sword to those who would not pay the Jizya tax."
(Dictionary of Islam, pg.243).
War is sanctioned in Islam, with enormous rewards promised to those who fight for Allah, according to sura 4:74. Later in verse 84, Muhammad gives himself the divine order to fight. This is the verse which is the basis for calling Islam "the religion of the sword" (Shorrosh 1988:174).
In sura 5:33 the Qur'an orders those who fight Allah and his messenger to be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off; or they can be expelled out of the land. In sura 48:16-17, we read that all who die "fighting in the ways of the Lord" (Jihad) are richly rewarded, but those who retreat are sorely punished.
The first blood shed under Muhammad was carried out by a blind disciple named Umair, who stabbed and killed a woman named Asma while she slept suckling her baby because she had criticized Muhammad with poetic verses. Upon hearing of this Muhammad said "Behold a man that hath assisted the Lord and His prophet. Call him not blind, call him rather 'Umair,' the seeing." (Nehls pg.122).
Therefore, when those of us who are Christians read these suras, and see the example of the prophet himself, we find a total rejection of the previous teachings of Jesus who calls us to live in peace and put away the sword. We then are incredulous when we hear Muslims claim that Islam is the religion of peace. The record speaks for itself.
For those countries who aspire to use Islamic law, statistics prove revealing. According to the 1994 State of the World Atlas, while only five northern countries (i.e. western) are categorized as "Terror States" (those involved in using assassination, disappearances and torture), twenty-eight of the thirty-two Muslim states fall into this category (except UAE, Qatar and Mali) (Kidron 1991:62-63).
Furthermore, it seems that most Muslim countries today are following the example of their prophet and are involved in some sort of armed conflict. It is difficult to know where the truth lies. While the West documents and publishes its criminal activities openly, the Muslim countries say very little. Lists which delineate where each country stands in relation to murders, sex offenses and criminality include most of the western countries, yet only four Muslim countries out of the thirty-two have offered statistics for the number of internal murders, while only six out of the thirty-two have offered a list of sex offenses, and only four of the thirty-two have divulged their level of criminality. Therefore, until more Muslim countries are willing to come forward with statistics, it is impossible to evaluate the claim which they make: that western states have a higher degree of degradation and criminality than that of Muslim states.
We do know, however, that in the 1980's, of the fourteen countries who were involved in ongoing "general wars," nine of them were Muslim countries, while only one was a non-western Christian country.
Why, we wonder, are so many Muslim countries embroiled in so many wars, many of which are against other Muslims? Muslims answer that these are not good examples because they are not authentic Muslim states. Yet, can we not say that to the contrary, these countries do indeed follow the examples which we find so readily not only within the text of the Qur'an, but within the life of the prophet, and in the history of the first few centuries of Islam. Muhammad's life, and the Qur'an which he gave to the world, both give sufficient authority for the sword in Islam. While this may cause the 20th century western Muslim to squirm uncomfortably, it cannot be denied that there is ample precedent for violence within their scriptures and within their own history. What we choose to ask, however, is whether the witness of violence within Islam exemplifies the heart of a loving and compassionate God, one who calls Himself merciful; or whether it rather exemplifies the character of 7th century Arabia, with all its brutal desert tribal disputes and warfare?
Compare the opposing concept of Jesus:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one kilometre, go with him two kilometres. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:38-44)
So what can we say about the authority of the Qur'an? Can we say it is a divinely inspired book sent by Allah for all of humanity, for all time? Can it claim supernatural as well as literary qualities, which not only place it above other revelations, but point to its divine origins? Much of what I have offered you here points to the fact that the Qur'an lacks in all three qualities, and seems to reflect more the life and times of its supposed mediator than that of the heart of a universal God. The idolatrous tendency of Muslims towards the Qur'an, as well as the confusion of its literary makeup, and the special conditions given to Muhammad, point to a book put together by one man, or as we now know, a group of much later men, than an inspired piece of God's revealed word.
If one were to contrast the 66 books of the Bible written over hundreds of years by at least 40 different authors, with the Qur'an which came through one man, Muhammad, during his lifetime, there would be no contest as to which was the superior literature. In the final analysis, the Qur'an simply does not fit the breadth of vision, nor the literary style or structure of that found in the Old and New Testament. To go from the Bible to the Qur'an is to go from the superior to the inferior, from the authentic to the counterfeit, from God's perspective to that of an individual, caught up and controlled by his own world and times.
I end this section with a quote from an expert on the Qur'an, Dr. Tisdall, who says:
"The Qur'an breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet's followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad's own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious imposter and open sensualist." (Tisdall 27)
Continued In Part II