Qualification: This essay is not a derogatory attack on Islam as is so often seen on the internet. Rather, it is a genuine attempt to find the true roots of the religion using linguistic clues and insights. The ideas presented are the product of careful consideration by leading secular academics in their fields who have great insight into the history of late antiquity, the many Semitic languages of the Middle East, and the religion of Islam, people from whom I have merely gleaned and summarised.
Particular thanks go to Ibin Warraq, who has edited the two main source books used in this essay; “What the Koran Really Says” and “Which Koran?”. These are voluminous collections of academic essays written over the last hundred years by many of the world’s leading Semitic language experts. I will elaborate further on these texts later in the essay.
This essay will examine and investigate the following topics:
- The evolution of Arabic.
- The structure of Arabic writing
- The impact and significance of foreign loan words in the Qur’an
- The evolution of Arabic’s diacritical aids
- The theory of pre-Islamic poetry as the source of the Arabic language
- The existence of pre-Islamic rhythmic hymns in the Qur’an.
About 420 million people around the world speak Arabic, making it the sixth most spoken language on the planet. Its rise from the deserts of Arabia to superstar status as the world’s fifth most spoken language is entirely due to the existence of the religion of Islam. Arabic is their holy language, so it was no accident that Arabic rose to prominence with the rise of Islam.
Therefore, to understand the origins of Arabic is to also understand the origins of Islam, and vice-versa. That is the purpose of this essay. Linguistics is a powerful key to unlocking a difficult historical door. To that end I will try to answer the following questions: When did Arabic emerge? Where and how did it emerge? What influence did the Qur’an have on Arabic’s development? What influence did Arabic have on the Qur’an’s development? What did Arabic borrow from other languages? Was Arabic divinely ordained as claimed by some? Did it really evolve from pre-Islamic poetry?
Muslims claim that Islam, the Qur’an, and the Arabic language that conveys them both, were born in the clear light of history deep in the heart of Arabia around Mecca and Medina. They claim that theirs is the original pure religion and that all others originally expressed it too, but deviated from it through their history. They claim that the Arabic language emerged fully formed as a divine gift for all mankind.
In addition, the Qur’an claims over and over again that it came to us in pure Arabic (surah 16:103, surah 41:44) and can therefore only be fully understood when read in Arabic. Such are the depths of understanding and insight that can only be unearthed via that beautiful language. To the Muslim, to understand Islam you must understand the Qur’an, and to understand the Qur’an you must read it in Arabic. Hence Arabic is central to Islam, as attested by surah 12.1-3: These are the Verses of the Clear Book. We have revealed it an Arabic Quran, so that you may understand. We narrate to you the most accurate history, by revealing to you this Quran. Although, prior to it, you were of the unaware. This is why Millions of non-Arabic Muslims the world over memorise the Qur’an in Arabic without ever knowing what it means.
The official story of Islam is that the religion was revealed to a prophet called Muhammad in and around Mecca and Medina, deep in the heart of Arabia, in the years between 610 and 632AD. The revelations were memorised by his followers and later written down as a perfect copy of the divine original in heaven.
Digging further, the Islamic traditions claim that the Arabic of the Qur’an is a pure language, the Qur’an was written in the dialect of the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, and what we now know as Classical Arabic was born out of that Meccan dialect. It is also claimed that this Classical Arabic was born out of the pre-Islamic poetry of the nomadic Bedouin Arabs. All of these claims come from the large body of literature generated between 800 and 950AD mentioned above. Sadly, this whole narrative is taken at face value by many Western historians.
Unfortunately there is a problem with this official story of the birth of Islam and the Qur’an. And it is this: The only sources for every one of those claims, claims so often accepted by academics and journalists the world over, are exclusively Muslim, exclusively literary and suspiciously late. All we know about Muhammad, Islam and the Qur’an, if we do not do some independent digging, is what we have been told by an Islamic body politic with a religious and political agenda. We also now know that the Qur’an is full of foreign loan words from Syriac.
If Islamic sources are accurate and their history accurate, then the entire Islamic civilisation is the only one in all of antiquity to have begun in the mind of a single man with no collaborating objective evidence from history. This would be a unique and most unusual sociological event. Our acceptance of these claims is the equivalent of accepting at face value all the New Testament claims of Christianity without any of the benefits of the historical analysis of the last 250 years, something no academic would ever do! It is also the equivalent of every single historian only beginning to write the history of the American War of Independence from the year 1990AD onwards, and using oral history passed down through many generations as their only guide!
Sadly, political correctness, post-colonial guilt and dogmatic fear of being labelled as Islamophobic keep most Western scholars from digging deeper and questioning these narratives using the tools of historical criticism that have already been applied to the New Testament. So where should we look to find the truth of what really happened?
We must do what all good researchers do. We must disregard all religious polemic and only look at objective evidence from outside the Islamic narrative to find out what really unfolded in those formative first 200 years of the Arab Empire and Islam. We must look at historical manuscripts, rock inscriptions, coins, foreign loan words hiding inside Arabic, nearby religious theology of the time, Middle Eastern church records, Byzantine and Persian imperial records, archaeology, graffiti, building inscriptions, proto-Arabic scripts and any other primary source that we have from late antiquity.
For the religion of Islam this is not an easy task as there is very little to work with. All other religions are birthed with an abundance of external confirming or non-confirming evidence that tells us what really happened. Islam was born into a virtual vacuum of collaborating evidence, especially within the Arabian Peninsula itself. This alone is cause for suspicion. Finding clues as to what really happened has taken many researchers many decades. But a clear picture is finally starting to emerge thanks to a dedicated group of expert revisionist scholars, and linguistic experts, many of whom are German. Fortunately for the world, they are bucking the trend of an increasingly acquiescent Western academia.
As mentioned above, this essay will concentrate specifically on linguistics as a tool for unearthing what really happened in that era. Most of my research comes from the following books:
- What the Qur’an Really Says, which runs to 750 pages and is a collection of old and new research essays reprinted and edited by Ibn Warraq.
- Which Qur’an?, also a lengthy reprint of scholarly research articles edited by Ibn Warraq that stretches to another 600 pages.
3 The Hidden Origins of Islam, an investigation by some half dozen German scholars into objective evidences concerning early Islam. It is edited by Karl Ohlig and Gerd Puin, which comes in at a mere 400 pages!
Consider yourself lucky you didn’t have to read these books like I did! The gems of information I have found inside their pages are my gift to you. Other essays on my website in this series on Islam delve into the world of archaeology, inscriptions and graffiti, history, theology, geography and politics to find out what they say about the Arab Empire and the rise of Islam. Here are their links:
1. THE EVOLUTION OF ARABIC
All the world’s languages can be classified into language families, of which there about twenty, give or take a few depending on definitions. Arabic belongs to the family of languages now known as Afro-Asiatic. This family has six branches, descended from a single original language.
(Footnote: The fact that the different language families can be traced back to a single original mother language, and that there are about twenty of these families, is strong linguistic proof that the story of the Tower of Babel has a lot of credibility. If the evolutionary tale is correct then there would be either hundreds of language families or a single language family.)
Semitic is one of the branches of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Semitic languages comprise three branches: Central Semitic, East Semitic and South Semitic. Central Semitic languages include the ancient language Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Nabataean and Aramaic. Aramaic was the lingua-franca of the Middle East for a thousand years and became the imperial language of the mighty Sasanian Persian Empire. It is generally agreed that Jesus spoke Aramaic.
Aramaic’s daughter languages are Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic. Arabic was the last to develop, between the 4th and 9th Centuries. Syriac is the closest daughter language to Aramaic as it originally developed as an Aramaic dialect. This is why some references to Middle Eastern languages of late antiquity will often refer to Aramaic and Syriac interchangeably.
These two languages evolved to became the languages of all non-Greek, non-European Christianity and they were eventually found right across the Middle East, Central Asia, India and even into Mongolia as Christianity spread rapidly into those areas in the early Middle Ages, a fact lost to most Western Christians. In fact the Mongolian script is derived from Aramaic. Late antiquity, which roughly runs from the 3rd to the 8th Centuries, was an era when religions had to have its own ecclesiastical language. The Persians Zoroastrians had Avestan, the Byzantine Christians had Latin, The Middle Eastern Church had Syriac, the Jews had Hebrew and to the east the Hindus had Sanskrit. Eventually Islam would create its own ecclesiastical language as well, taking most of its religious terminology from Syriac.
As we shall see later, Arabic is the grandchild of Aramaic via its Syriac mother and Nabataean father. The Qur’an was birthed through the vehicle of Syrian Christian liturgy while Arabic writing was birthed in the Nabataean trading centre of Petra. Nabataean is viewed by most academics as the original proto-Arabic alphabet.
Little is known about Nabataea’s proto-Arabic as it evolved from the 3rd to the 6th Centuries. Before Islam, Arabic writing was known from a scattering of inscriptions and graffiti. The oldest inscriptions we know of that are written in Arabic and precisely datable come from thousands of rock inscriptions written in the 6th Century in Jordan and Syria, just before the rise of the Arab Empire. We find them being written at Zabad in 512AD, at Harran in 568AD, at Al-Hirah between 561-569AD as well as other locations.
We also know that the Arabs did not like to write. Theirs was an oral language and the written form of it was considered a castrated version of a rich oral tradition. Written Arabic was perceived as inferior to the spoken word because it was missing the tone, rhyme, mood, context and the emotion of the oral traditions. Writing was seen as a theft of the imagination.
Three streams of historical events changed all that. One was sacred and two secular.
The first was the growth of Christianity across the Middle East coming via the Nestorian and Syriac churches. The written scriptures were a focal point of their message and the Arabs received Christianity in large numbers, especially in the Byzantine sphere of influence around Palestine, Nabataea and Syria. The vassal kingdom of the Ghassanids of Syria and Palestine were used by the Byzantines as an armed buffer state against the Persians. (insert picture of the empires) These were traders who had moved up from Arabia and Yemen some centuries before and become part of the Byzantine aristocracy. They would also become the first leaders of the Arab Empire when the Byzantines withdrew from the region in the 7th Century. We have independent records of the leaders of the Arab Empire basing themselves first in Damascus and then Jerusalem. Records of early leaders arising from Mecca only come from the Islamic traditions.
In opposition to the Ghassanids, another Arab vassal kingdom called the Lakhmids, served the Persian Empire. They rejected Christianity far longer than the Ghassanids. However, the Nestorian church was all around them and became increasingly influential among their Persian masters in late antiquity. Nestorian Christianity would turn many domestic oral languages into written languages as it moved across the Middle East, Central Asia, Mongolia and into China. Islamic tradition, for what it is worth, even talks about some Christians from the Tayy tribe, meeting at Baqqah (near Al-Hirah), and teaching the Arabs how to write by adopting and modifying the Syriac script. In time the Arabs would see that all the surrounding empires with religions had a sacred book. This would be the catalyst for them to also have a religion and book of their own. The Qur’an would be a first draft of a brand new style of writing for the Arabs, a mixture of poetry and prose, but all of it rhyming at every fifth line, and in places awkwardly so. Because of the need to read the new holy book, the Arabic language spread rapidly throughout the Middle East.
The second reason why Arabic writing took off on a large scale was the need to translate many imperial documents of importance into Arabic. These were documents that came from Byzantine capital Constantinople through the chain of command to the Ghassanid leadership and troops. Likewise, commands and decrees would come down from Ctesiphon, capital of Sasanian Persia, to the Lakhmid leadership and their troops. As decrees flowed, the need for skilled scribes, translators and interpreters increased. In both imperial bureaucracies, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the entire region while Syriac developed as the Ecclesiastical language of the increasingly influential Syrian Orthodox Christians. It is not by accident that Classical Arabic, with its addition of diacritical dots and the strokes was finalised in what was once Imperial Persia under the Abbasid Caliphate after they wrestled control of the empire from the Jerusalem-based Umayyads in 750AD.
The third reason why Arabic took off was the rise of the wealthy Nabataean trading kingdom based in Petra in the centuries before and after the birth of Christ. Several Arab tribes had migrated up into the area of lower Jordan in the centuries before the Common Era. There they settled and adopted the Aramaic alphabet for trade purposes while still speaking a dialect of proto-Arabic. The Nabataea were one of those tribes and gave their name to the civilisation that grew up around the now famous city of Petra. The Nabataeans used the Aramaic alphabet for their extensive trade connections because it was in widespread use across the entire region in that era. Over time the Nabataeans changed Aramaic into two forms of writing, formal for inscriptions and informal for trade. The informal script was more rounded and hurried. This script gradually began to dominate all documents and inscriptions, evolving into the Arabic script we know today.
These three reasons explain why hundreds of words from Syriac and Aramaic entered Nabataean proto-Arabic during these formative centuries. Here is but one of many examples to follow shortly: The word Qur’an is actually not Arabic at all but the Syriac Christian word Qiryana, meaning religious liturgy or religious recitation. The earliest known Arabic inscriptions are also Christian in nature, suggesting Arabic could have been first put on paper by Christians trying to reach the Arabs from the great Christian strongholds of Al-Hirah or Anbar in what is now modern day Iraq. Muslim tradition agrees with this theory.
2. THE STRUCTURE OF ARABIC WRITING
Colloquial Arabic is spoken in very different ways in 30 or more dialects across the world. Modern Standard Arabic is the literary expectation and is leant once school begins. It is derived from the ancient Classical Arabic but has been simplified for modern use.
Linguists can easily see that ten of Arabic’s 28 letters definitely come from Nabataean, while a further eleven could have come from either Syriac, Aramaic or Nabataean. The final six letters come from other sources and represent sounds not made in the two mother languages. The Nabataean and Aramaic origin for Arabic letters once again negates an origin for Arabic from deep in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula around Mecca.
All modern Arabic letters represent consonants and long vowels, but not short vowels. Short vowels are represented by strokes as pronunciation aids. This is because Arabic originally developed as an oral language and the speakers knew how to say the word precisely. To confuse matters further, the shape of each letter differs according to its position in a word.
No distinction is made between upper and lower case in Arabic, and the rules for punctuation are much looser than in English. Because they come from different language families, the differences between English and Arabic are so vast that it is exceedingly difficult for speakers of one to learn the others language. It’s a completely different way of thinking, stemming from a completely different worldview.
For example, a defining feature of all Semitic languages is that the root words nearly always comprise three consonants, while branch words separate them with different vowels or vowel strokes. So, Qur’an comes from the root qrn. The same root words can appear across Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac. In all Arabic dictionaries the words are classified in order of their root, not the final form as in English. Thus Arabs are far more familiar with the foundations and grammatical rules of their language, whereas for a person who reads English most of the root words are in Latin or Greek. For the Arab, a root word doesn’t grow up into stem and branch words, the root is at the top of the metaphorical linguistic tree and devolves down into stem words.
Arabic is one of several languages that do not write the short vowels. We call this an abjad writing system. In ancient Arabic the only way to understand the vowels was to listen to the tone, mood and rhythm of the spoken word. If an uninformed person had the written text alone, words could be misinterpreted in many different ways. This is of crucial importance when interpreting the earliest Qur’ans which were devoid of any method of finding the correct short vowel sounds for those unfamiliar with the text. Strokes to denote short vowels, called harakat, came along in about the 8th Century in order to standardise the language and enhance the spread of the Qur’an.
Other diacritic aids include the famous dots in Arabic writing. They are always used in important works like the Qur’an and poetry. There is an average of 11 different vocalisations for any given word in Arabic if the dots and diacritics are not used. This is because a whopping 22 of the 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet are identical to two, three or four other letters except for the dots and strokes. However, with much training, an adult mind can work out the correct pronunciation from the context, so most writing leaves them out. That is the magic of Arabic.
Arabic was still a work in progress for hundreds of years after the emergence of the Arab Empire. For the first few centuries of the Imperial era, both short and long vowels were not written and many consonant letters were also ambiguous. The grammar (rules of sentence structure), the syntax (the arrangement and ordering of words and phrases), the vocabulary and literary uses of what we now call Classical Arabic were only defined through intense research and work sometime in the 8th and 9th Centuries. Classical Arabic has an almost perfect relationship between root, stem and pattern morphology in its grammar. This has enabled it to create a vast number of subtle syntactic distinctions that are developed to a far higher level than most languages, and have become more precise than surrounding Semitic languages. This makes Arabic unique in that most languages go through this process organically over a long period of time. This strongly suggests intense academic research at the highest levels; a language by committee rather than commoners. It was the danger of miss-understanding the Qur’an that gave birth to the grammar of Classical Arabic, not the other way around.
Although it has a precise grammar and syntax, Classical Arabic has suffered from a dearth of analytical vocabulary. Shabbir Akhtar, who taught at the Malaysian Islamic University, says: Owing to the grammatical limitations of Arabic, it is impossible to express most philosophical claims with an acceptable degree of rigour and clarity. Moreover, Arabic is a devotional language lacking the vocabulary requisite for detached discussion of controversial matters. The academic “committee” that systemised the grammar of Arabic for some reason allowed the development of verbs to remain very stunted.
The background information for the above notes can be found here.
3. THE IMPACT OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES, CHIEFLY SYRIAC
The fact that the Qur’an says so frequently that it is a clear Arabic Qur’an (surah 12:1, surah 13:37, surah 16:103, surah 20:113, surah 26:192-195, surah 39:28, surah 41:3, 44, surah 42:7, surah 43:3) raises serious questions. If it was clear, pure and easily understood in Arabic, why the anxious need to push the point so many times? If Allah understands all languages then why is one far superior to all others? Perhaps it is a self-consciousness of a foreign origin for the book that has to be quashed, or was it a concerted effort to lock down an Arab meta-narrative for a once foreign document? If you say something too many times it simply breeds doubts about your claims. A doctrine doesn’t need to be articulated unless it is under challenge.
The influence of Syriac on the construction of the Qur’an speaks eloquently of its influence on the beliefs of the Qur’an’s original authors. It also tells us the location of the Qur’ans inception and the original purpose of its message. Contrary to Islamic tradition, the linguistics and context of the Qur’an clearly declares a Judeo-Christian sectarian theological environment. This conclusion is strengthened by the absence of any external and objective mention of both the Qur’an or Muhammad anywhere in the Middle East in the five decades after Muhammad’s alleged ministry ended and the Qur’an’s alleged revelation to him. Ponder that last sentence for a minute before continuing. The Qur’an and Muhammad only appear in the few years leading up the polemical inscription on the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem in 691AD, and in the case of the word Muhammad, the meaning in that inscription is ambiguous, referring to a title, not a person.
As noted previously, Syriac was the ecclesiastical language for the entire region and had been for centuries while Aramaic was the language for the common person and trade throughout the Middle East. In fact it was in Syria’s capital Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Syriac speaking Christians encircled the Arabs in all directions and many surahs in the Qur’an were directed specifically to them as people of the book, this probably meant the Peshitta, the Syriac Bible, or the Diatessaron, a harmony gospel compiled from the four gospels of the New Testament.
This influence of a foreign language has even been acknowledged within the realm of Muslim scholarship. In the late 15th Century Jalal ad-Din Suyuti wrote an excellent chapter in his Itqan on this topic, coming up with 107 foreign words. He also wrote a short treatise addressing the subject called Mutawakkili. However, our knowledge of foreign words in the Qur’an has exploded over the last 150 years via the academic study of comparative linguistics under the leadership of scholars who speak dozens of Middle Eastern languages. Arthur Jeffery in his classic work The Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran found about 275 words in the Koran that can be considered foreign: words from Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopic, Persian, and Greek. To understand Arabic one needs to have intimate knowledge of these other Semitic branch languages. Alphonse Mingana was another such scholar and the list below comes mainly from his excellent article called Syriac Influence on the Style of the Koran. His conclusion is that, of the foreign words in the Qur’an, about 10% are Hebrew, another 10% are Greeko-Roman, 5% are Persian, Ethiopic comprises another 5%, with Syriac constituting around 70%. That last figure is highly significant in regards to the origins of the Qur’an, its author and its theology.
We will now delve into some of these foreign words. This list below is not exhaustive but representative of the foreign words in the Qur’an and comes from research undertaken by Alphonse Mingana, David Margoliouth and Arthur Jeffrey as written up in the two books of research monographs edited by Ibn Warraq mentioned above in the introduction.
This fascinating list of Syriac words leads to some awkward truths. It is the source of many theological terms used by Islam today which we will examine in detail after you read the list:
|Holy Spirit||Rwh Qwds||Ruh al-Qudas|
|He sinned||Ht’||Khat i ‘a|
|Mt of Noah||Qrdw||Judi|
There are several issues in the above list that need further explanation:
First; as mentioned earlier, the word Qur’an itself is a Christian Syriac word derived from Qiryan, meaning a scripture lesson or recitation. In the oldest Qur’anic manuscripts it appears simply as qrn, which is much closer to the Syriac. This is a hugely significant choice of a name and religious word for the greatest revelation in Islam. If it was the beginning of a new religion then why did it choose a Christian word for its most important revelation?
Second; the Syriac language gave the Qur’an its words for God, soul, last judgement, salvation, sacrifice, resurrection, heaven, angel, priest, Christ, prayer, Holy Spirit, Mt Ararat and pagan. Again, if Islam it was the beginning of a new religion then why did it choose Christian words for its most important theological terminology?
Third; the very word Allah is also the Syriac Ilah. The term Allah is not a contraction of the Arabic Al-ilah meaning the god, but the proper Syriac name used by the Syriac Church for hundreds of years before Islam. It is also the term used by the Nabataeans and other north-Arabian inscription writers for God the creator of the universe. The Nestorian Christian pronunciation is Allaha.
Fourth; the word Isa, meaning Jesus, is only found in Syriac literature, and nowhere else, being dated to at least 571AD and to a monastery in South Syria.
Fifth; the Qur’anic term for the resting place of Noah’s Ark, Mt of Noah, is not related to normal translations that call it Mt Ararat. This is because it is taken directly from Syriac Peshitta version of the Bible which disagrees with all other versions on this issue.
Sixth; use of the term Nasara, referring to Christians, is taken from the Syriac church’s own description of themselves. It is a term used by no other group. This is the term used by Islam to describe Christians to this day. They argue that it is the true name for the Christians simply because it is the only one found in the Qur’an, and the Qur’an is the ultimate authority. A classic circular argument!
The influence of the Syriac church did not stop with religious words. It extended to theological positions that became core Islamic beliefs. The Syriac church regarded itself as descended from Thomas instead of Peter as well as both geographically and theologically closer to the real Jesus and his true teachings. It emphasised the unity of God. It steadfastly rejected the concept of the trinity taught by the Byzantine Catholic Church. It taught that God was one not three, and He, Allah, sent Christ as a lower messenger. Jesus was the son of God, not God. In effect the Syriac Church was the first Jehovah’s Witnesses!
This theological position came about through the teachings of Arius of Alexandria, who was exiled to Palestine by the by Emperor Constantine. The famous Council of Nicaea of 321AD was actually called because of the teachings of Arius. Arius’ two theological doctrines; that Jesus was a messenger and not a messiah, and that God is one not three are now the core of the Qur’an and Islam’s differentiation from modern Christianity (Surah 5:73). Islam acquired these doctrines from the Syriac Church as it was to Syria that Arius was exiled and gained great status.
Another Arian doctrine that has become embedded Islamic theology is the understanding that the Holy Spirit is a high ranking angel. The archangel Gabriel, called Jibra’il in the Qur’an, is responsible for carrying the revelations to the prophets, thus the Holy Spirit and Gabriel are often used interchangeably.
In 541AD the Byzantine Council of Chalcedon was called to sort out what was considered new false teachings about the nature of Christ in the Eastern Church. It resulted in a lasting split to this day and the creation of the Eastern Orthodox Churches of Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, Syria, Eritrea and India. This was because they were Monophysites. They believed that Christ had one nature, not two as determined by Chalcedon.
Some theologians in the Middle East, in an attempt to compromise with the Trinitarian doctrines of Constantinople preached that there were in fact three gods making up the Trinity. This error was stubbornly held by many Middle Eastern churches and later became a major point of attack in the development of Islam as it stuck to its Arian roots.
Why did all these theological positions either transfer seamlessly from Syriac Christianity to become Qur’anic and Islamic orthodoxy, or become a fighting point considered to be false theology by Islam? This speaks of a Christian sectarian war, not a new religion. It makes a mockery of the claim that the Qur’an arose independently in splendid isolation from all other religions as a direct revelation from heaven some 1,500 kilometres away from the influence of the Syriac church deep in the Arabian Peninsula. The question is especially pertinent since most of the early Arab leadership actually inhabited Palestine and Syria, not Mecca or Medina. These men had embraced Syriac Christianity some centuries before, and had prospered as part of the proxy defence system used by the Byzantine Empire to contain the Persians across a featureless imperial border of deserts. The largely Christian empire they inherited when both the Persian and Byzantine Empires exited their space is the true beginning of their slow evolution toward Islam a hundred and fifty years later.
Here are the links to my three essays called Islam’s Theological Evolution, Islam’s Christian Roots, and Islam’s Pagan Roots that will flesh out these last few paragraphs in much more detail, showing the slow development over time from Christian to Islamic theology and practice.
Greek and Roman words:
Greek and Roman words are of little theological significance in the Qur’an. They appear as borrowed trade and administrative words which would have been universal throughout the domain of the Byzantine Empire.
There are surprisingly few Old Testament words in the Qur’an with an exclusively Hebrew pronunciation. This tells us that the Jewish influence on the writers of the original Qur’anic manuscripts was negligible; it was influenced far more by the Christian ecclesiastical language of Syriac, as demonstrated. Most of the words below are shared in common with Aramaic and Syriac.
|Sayings, Scripture||Matnita, Misnah||Matanin|
What is significant about this tiny list is that Mecca and Medina, the traditional cities of Islam’s origin, lay right next to Ethiopia. Yet so few words from their language have found their way into the Qur’an. This suggests an origin for the Qur’an that is nowhere near that part of the world.
Some of the Aramaic words below may be Syriac but are listed here as this is how they appear in my research. Religious words are once again prominent indicating the close ties between Christianity and the emerging theology of the Arabs.
An example of the confusion that has crept into the Qur’an as a result of the borrowing words from Syriac is the story of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac in surah 37. In ayat 103 we see Abraham flinging Isaac down on his forehead. The original word for forehead is jabin and it is used only once in the Qur’an, which in itself suggests it might be a loan word. Christoph Luxenberg sees Jabin as a corruption of the Syriac word habbin, meaning firewood. The j in jabin and the h in habbin differ only by a dot, and we know the dots came later. This new interpretation makes the passage far more consistent with the Biblical original.
Finally, there are the words that have no meaning at all. Yes you heard me correctly! Kalala (surah 4:12) is one such word. Qur’anic scholar Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d. 923AD) tried to find a meaning with three possible definitions. Then there are the Sabean people (surah 2:62), who are promised salvation along with the Christians and Jews. No-one knows who they are. Sijjin (surah 83:7-9) is not an Arabic word and is from no other language. Then there is the term Allahu as-samad in surah 112:2. No one knows what as-samad means either. It is translated as refuge but this is just a convention to make sense of the unknown word.
4. THE EVOLUTION OF ARABIC DIACRITICS
As already alluded to, another feature of all Central Semitic languages is the absence of vowels and diacritic dots in the earliest known manuscripts. Symbols to denote vowels in Arabic only came along in about the 8th Century AD. Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad, who died in 786AD, was the first to write a dictionary of Arabic. He was also the first to see the need to systematise the representation of short vowel sounds, the doubling of consonants and standardising the length of consonants. These diacritic aids are called Tashkil. As mentioned previously, they are used in both the Qur’an and poetry where correct pronunciation is vital. They are also used in children’s books as an aid to correct reading.
Footnote: It is significant that Al-Khalil lived and worked in the middle of the 8th Century and came from one of three Iraqi academic schools that were based in Kufa, Basrah and Baghdad. It is highly significant that they are very close to the old capital of Persian power and not deep in Arabia. These became the academic centers of learning after the Abbasids usurped the leadership of the Arab Empire from the Jerusalem-based Umayyads in 750AD. This is when we see a sharp shift away from a quasi-Christian Arabic empire to a distinctly Islamic Arabic Imperialism. That this took place in Iraq, where the Arabs had resisted Christianity so much longer than their Ghassanid cousins, is no accident of history. The fact that Muhammad’s life story so closely mirrors the life of the founder of the once great Persian religion of Zoroastrianism is an exclamation mark on this point.
It is only once we see this shift to the east that much of what we now know as Islam: Islamic law, the systemisation of the Arabic language, the first known copies of the Qur’an, the first editions of the sayings of Muhammad (the Hadith), the universal building of mosques that face Mecca instead of Petra, and the first biography of Muhammad (the Al-Sira) emerge. These combine to complete the narrative of modern Islam. While based in Jerusalem, the Arab Empire exhibited many indications of still being inside the Syrian Christian worldview. Empires of that era needed a justifying religion, and that religion needed a holy language. It was in Basrah, deep in Iraq and not Arabia, that the significance of the Arabic language evolved into the hardened doctrines we see today about its divine origin and religious significance.
All of this historical and linguistic evolutionary evidence poses a huge problem for Islam, which claims Arabic is a heavenly and pure language, sent from above with the arrival of the Qur’an, and utterly sacred. Islam also claims the Qur’an is perfect and clear. But in the manuscripts of the oldest known Qur’ans, there are few if any diacritics. These ancient scripts only had the Rasm, which is the letters themselves without the added diacritic dots and strokes to help read each word correctly. Islamic scholars were well aware of the problem and even wrote an eight volume encyclopaedia of over 10,000 words that could be miss-interpreted in the oldest manuscripts. It is called Mujam al-qir’at al-quranyyah. These differences are now known as variants or deviations. Islamic tradition says they go all the way back to Uthman and his elimination of competing Quranic manuscripts from the one version he chose as divine and authentic.
Western researchers, led by German linguist Gerd Puin and Islamic art historian H.C. Graf Von Bothmer have now analysed a few of the recently discovered Qur’anic manuscripts found at Sana’a in Yemen. These date to the early 8th Century and are the oldest in existence. Puin found a great many more variants and deviations than had been recorded even by Muslim scholars in the encyclopaedia mentioned above. Some words had up to 30 possible meanings, and these words appeared not just once, but often. He even found differences in the counting systems of the early manuscripts to the modern Quran, and many verses written over older verses, but written differently.
When these manuscripts were first written, Arabic was obviously still a scripta defectiva. For the first few centuries of the Arab Empire, both short and long vowels were not written and many consonants were ambiguous as well, being identical in shape. In addition, the earliest manuscripts had few diacritical aids to help pronunciation. The later insertion of diacritical dots allowed editors to create new meanings if so desired.
Puin and Von Bothmer have now brought digital copies of all the manuscripts back to Germany and over the next decade will progressively publish the results of a mountain of research into these gems of history. Andrew Rippin from Calgary University agrees that these manuscripts will prove that the Qur’an text was unstable at its inception, and therefore carried far less authority than now claimed. This is dangerous work as it carries the possibility of de-legitimizing the whole historical narrative of Islam, of making 1,400 years of history meaningless. So I now quote directly from the one man who knows more about the early Sana’a manuscripts than any other, Gerd Puin:
My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants. The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or ‘clear,’ but if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims, and Orientalists, will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible, if it can’t even be understood in Arabic, then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not, as even speakers of Arabic will tell you, there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.
We will examine that something else a little later on.
So, where did the Arabs get the idea of diacritic dots and dashes? Originally, like Arabic, Syriac also didn’t have any signs to mark vowels. However, the potential for confusion and ambiguous reading was rampant, and this became enough of a nuisance that not one but two systems of marking vowels appeared. Around 700 AD, the Serto script adopted Greek vowel letters, and modified them into vowel diacritics. A Serto vowel diacritic is usually written above the consonant letter that the vowel follows. However, if a consonant letter takes up a lot of vertical space, the vowel diacritic can occur under it. Another system, located in the East where the Nestorian script was in use, appeared earlier during the 4th Century. In this system, modified versions of the letters Y and W were used for the I, U and O sounds, while new diacritics were created to spell the A and E sounds. It is thought that this method of vowel marking influenced how vowels are represented in Hebrew and Arabic.
As you can now see, Arabic was a language undergoing major change around the time of the composition of the Qur’an and it looked to nearby languages of guidance. At that time its written form was very fluid as it was predominantly an oral language that had emerged some centuries earlier. It was the existence of the Qur’an itself that forced the language into a mould. The oddities in the Sana’a manuscripts suggest that the final version of the Qur’an itself came quite late and does not follow the story told to us by Islamic tradition and the hadith. This view is strengthened by the fact that the Qur’an is not mentioned in the polemic discourse on the inside of the Dome of the Rock Mosque built in 691AD, and that quotes from the Qur’an only exist in brief and scattered sentences before that date, on rock graffiti, not as a coherent whole.
5. PRE-ISLAMIC POETRY AND THE QUR’AN
Now, let’s talk about that something else mentioned above. Islamic tradition says that the Arabic dialect we know today as Classical Arabic came from Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh of Mecca, and that they developed it from an earlier pan-Arabic poetic language, which in turn came from an older oral poetic tradition.
However, once again we have no evidence of this history outside what Islamic tradition tells us. This raises several questions. How did a nomadic people spread over a vast area develop and keep a common oral language when short distances back then could result in great differences in dialect? This could only have come about if there were two distinct languages, one ceremonial and the other common. Compounding the issue is the total lack of evidence outside Muslim tradition as to the existence of Mecca any time before 740AD, some 110 years after Muhammad is said to have died as the leader of a religious empire based in that city.
Many modern scholars now doubt the whole story of a pre-Islamic poetic language because we have no original examples to examine from the era before the time of the Arab Empire. There is no primary source material The earliest copies we have come from the 8th and 9th Centuries, the very era when Islam and its language were being codified in Iraq by people like Al-Khalil, mentioned above. Nabataean, which gave so much of its alphabet to Arabic, is a far more likely contender for the origin of Arabic, both spoken and written.
John Wansbrough in his seminal book Quranic Studies suggests the tradition of a pre-Islamic poetry was designed to create a fictitious origin for Islam that was deep in the Arabian Peninsula instead of the regions of Nabataea, Palestine and Syria. He cites 8th and 9th Century Basra-based scholars like Abu Amr b Ala and Al Mubarrad who claimed that pre-Islamic poetry was their authority in linguistic matters. Wansbrough challenges this claim by pointing out that this poetry was purely oral and therefore lacks the very evidence needed to be such an authority hundreds of years later. He also points out that before this late period of time there are no records outside of Islamic tradition of Arabic poetry enjoying any type of status as linguistic cannon in any Qur’anic exegesis. Several scholars from the Middle East; Alphonse Mingana, the influential Egyptian Taha Hussein, the Iranian diplomat Ali Dashti and Nasr Abu Zaid, are among a growing list of Middle Eastern and Western academics who claim that nearly all so called pre-Islamic poetry is forged.
And here’s another something else; rhyming prose. If the above scenario is correct and pre-Islamic poetry is a fiction, then this suggests the rhyming prose found throughout the Qur’an is definitely a late editorial addition. Rhyming prose by its very definition presents the Qur’an with an internal literary tension between its prose and its poetry. Theodore Noldeke explains in his essay called On the Language of The Koran, that the need for some revelations to be in prose is compromised by the need for rhyme. This is especially the case with the latter surahs such as surah 12. The more the author speaks in prose the poorer the style becomes. The need for rhythm results in a great many words being repeated, such as the word say which is used 42 times in surah 6. The insertion of forced rhyming words, the disfigurement of words and the altering of word order for the sake of rhyme often destroy the sense of the passage. The closing sentence of a verse often serves only to fill out the rhyme.
Noldeke also sees many inconsistencies in the use of the first and third person when Allah is speaking and in a few places the second and third person change abruptly. He also notes that the Qur’an often leaves out words and phrases that would be difficult to omit in common language. He concludes with the eloquent statement that Muhammad employs rhyme in dealing with the most prosaic subjects, and thus produces the disagreeable effect of incongruity between style and matter.
Christoph Luxenberg, an expert in ancient Semitic languages, has also found that a fifth of the Qur’an is unintelligible because of the need for every fifth line to be a forced rhyming of the prose. Thinking outside the box, he found that some of this confusion disappears if you either: 1. Use an ancient Syriac word of the same sound instead of the Qur’anic Arabic word. 2. Move the possibly misplaced diacritic dots to see if a more logical Arabic sentence eventuates. 3. Proceed to a second round of diacritic movements to see if a Syriac sentence emerges. 4. Finally retranslate an incoherent and nonsense Arabic word back into Syriac to find a more semantically solid sentence.
Using this system Luxenberg has been able to explain many passages that until now have baffled all attempts at deciphering, including the famous passage about virgins awaiting those who die in Jihad. His discoveries also suggest parts of the Qur’an pre-dates Islam and originated as a Syriac religious book, hence is Syriac Christian name: Qur’an!
6. DOES THE QUR’AN HAVE A PRE-ISLAMIC CHRISTIAN HISTORY?
Now for the third something else. It comes as no surprise that more and more scholars believe that parts of the Qur’an pre-date Islam itself. It is also well known that rhythmic hymns were a major part of religious practice throughout the Middle East in the ancient world, from the Greek and Roman period, to early Christianity, to Jewish religious practices, and especially in the Coptic and Ethiopian churches. So to search for them in the Qur’an is a legitimate linguistic endeavour.
However, before we search for pre-Islamic hymns in the Qur’an, we have to work out which part to look into. Many surahs in the Qur’an have a distinct rhythm and refrain embedded in them, while others are almost completely comprised of prose. It’s as if there are two books in one, an earlier and a latter version, which even Muslims acknowledge and call the Meccan and Medinan surahs. The earlier Meccan surahs are prophetic in nature while the latter Medinan surahs are legalistic. The Meccan surahs are shorter and more striking. The longer, somewhat cumbersome passages of the later surahs always date from the Medinan period. The early Meccan surahs are all somewhat similar and concentrate on the issues of the waywardness of people, the judgment to come, and the destiny of all men to heaven or to hell. The word Allah is missing from the earliest of the Meccan surahs, as well as the Arian anti-Trinitarian doctrine of the unity of God. In contrast, Medinan surahs concern themselves with the followers of Islam and topics include politics, campaigns, confiscations, customs, relationships and behaviour. They are much more uninspiring. Something is going on here.
The earlier poetic surahs are sharp and pithy and contain a more natural rhythm. Yet they are often considered al-mutashabihat, or unclear in meaning. The Qur’an itself says not to worry about reading them, and if you start asking too many questions about them you are not a good obedient Muslim! The Latter Medinan surahs lean much more heavily toward prose and are therefore called al-muhkamat, or clear and unambiguous. This is a huge clue that the origins of the two styles of surah differed in time, place and purpose. Intriguingly, in those earlier surahs which have rhyme and refrain, the refrain should but doesn’t follow a strict pattern. This is another clue that there has been some editing after composition. The rhyming of every fifth line in the Qur’an is where we get the unique and hybrid term rhymed prose, or saj in Arabic, to describe the genre of the Qur’an.
German scholar, Gunter Luling, spent decades trying to see if the earliest rhythmic surahs in the oldest Qur’anic texts could be reconstructed back into pre-Islamic religious hymns without change to the original letters, called the rasm. He did so by either removing the diacritic aids (which as we now know were not present in the earliest manuscripts) and thereby re-interpreting the vowels and consonants, or taking advantage of different spellings of a word, and/or taking advantage of different meanings for the same word. Finally, he followed orthodox Arabic grammar and not the sometimes odd grammar found in some parts of the Qur’an.
Below is one result of what he found in a surah where he didn’t change a single letter in the underlying rasm! Through this link is the background information for what I have summarised, as well as a second example of his findings. I find the differences below to be astounding given he didn’t change a single letter of the rasm. On the right is surah 96 of today’s Qur’an which is said by Muslim tradition to be the oldest and thereby most likely to be a per-Islamic hymn. It is in the simplified English of Rudy Paret’s translation of today’s Qur’an. On the left is Luling’s conclusion as to what the original probably was.
On its own, without Hadith commentaries to help, today’s reading of Surah 96 is very obscure and incoherent, which suggests a heavy editorial process. This link takes you to an English translation of the surah which contains in brackets all the extraneous information supplied by the Hadith commentators to make sense of the surah according to Islamic orthodoxy. As you can see, the narrative they have created for this piece of writing has no basis within the text itself.
|Surah 96: standard Qur’an||Surah 96: Reconstruction with stanzas|
|1||Recite in the Name of your Lord who has created||1. Invoke the Name of your Lord|
|2||Has created man out of an embryo!
|2. Who created
3. created man from the clay
|3||Recite! Your Lord is magnanimous as nobody else in the world||1. Invoke! For thy Lord is the most generous|
|4||[He] who has taught the use of the writing cane||2. Who taught by the writing cane|
|5||Has taught unto man what he didn’t know||3. Taught man what he didn’t know.|
|6||Not at all! Man is really rebellious
|1. Not at all that man should be presumptuous|
|7||Since he considers himself independent
|2. Whenever he sees Him overbearingly independent|
|8||However, to your Lord everything returns.||3. Behold, to God is the recourse|
|9||What do you think about him who restrains||1. Have you ever seen
2. that he denies
|10||a slave when he performs the ritual prayer||3. a servant when he prays|
|11||Do you believe that he is following the guidance||1. Have you ever seen
2. when he clung firmly to the creed?
|12||Or gives the order to be god-fearing.
|3. or spoke as a God knower|
|13||Do you believe that he pronounces lies and turns away.||1. Have you ever seen
2. that he betrayed and turned away?
|14||Does he not know what God sees.
|3. Have you not learned what God does?|
|15||Not at all! If he doesn’t cease we shall definitely grab him by the forelock||1. Not at all!
2. If he had not given peace truly he would have been seized
3. by his forelock
|16||A forelock full of lies and sinful.
|(Added by later editors, see notes below)|
|17||May he then call for his clique
|1. So call for His high council!|
|18||We will call up the bailiffs
|2. You will then call upon the High Angel ship!|
|19||Not at all! Do not obey him! Prostrate and approach.||3. Not at all! Be you not presumptuous against Him
Prostrate and approach!
Points to consider concerning the two versions are as follows:
- The poetic and rhythmic nature of Luling’s version is far stronger.
- The meaning of the surah is coherent, with a common theme instead of three disjointed parts (being ayats 1-5, 6-8, 9-19).
- Recite becomes invoke, more closely related to prayer, the theme of the surah.
- Not at all (6, 15, 19) is redirected from the preceding sentence to the next sentence. The Arabic grammatical rule that it must address the preceding sentence was invented in later centuries.
- Without changing the rasm, Have you ever seen now introduces ayats 9, 11 and 13, which become stand-alone stanzas of the hymn.
- Seizing God by the forelock is an anathema in Muslim theology, so ayat 16 was added. In the hymn version it is another picture of earnest, struggling prayer.
- The final statement Prostrate and approach is the heading for the hymn announced at the end instead of the beginning, as is our modern Western custom.
- The Christian nature of the hymn becomes obvious and makes far more sense than the convoluted Islamic version and its commentary.
Christoph Luxenberg has pushed even further into this surah. He suggested that the last ayat of the surah, Prostrate and approach, can be interpreted as a call to participate in Holy Communion. Arabic uses the word Iqtarib for approach, and in Arabic it means draw nigh. Luxenberg claims this word is Arabic in from only. In Syriac the word for the Eucharist is Eqtarrab, which means take part in the liturgical service as well as to receive the Eucharist.
This interpretation is confirmed by surah 5:114-115 which reads: Said Jesus, the son of Mary, “O Allah, our Lord, send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven to be for us a festival for the first of us and the last of us and a sign from You. And provide for us, and You are the best of providers. Allah said, “Indeed, I will sent it down to you, but whoever disbelieves afterwards from among you – then indeed will I punish him with a punishment by which I have not punished anyone among the worlds. Stern words indeed for whoever mocks the Christian communion table. Clearly the first readers of the Qur’an were still celebrating the Christian Eucharist.
Others have provided further evidence of the pre-Islamic Christian nature of the earliest unclear al-mutashabihat surahs. Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an under the non-Arabic and uniquely Syriac Christian term Isa. He is mentioned as the Messiah another 11 times. However, Muhammad is mentioned four times. It is therefore only logical to search for a Christian substrate to the Qur’an. Surah 25:1 says Blessed is he who has revealed unto his slave the criterion of right and wrong, that he may be a warner to the peoples. Robert Spencer notes that the term for right and wrong is al-furqan, which is in the original Arabic but not in the web link I just provided. Islam interprets al-furqan as the Qur’an. Furqan in Syriac is salvation and redemption. The word warner is nadhir which is traditionally interpreted as Muhammad. However, in Hebrew, Syriac and Aramaic it means votive gift or sacrifice. So the surah could be just as easily read as Blessed is he who has revealed to his servant salvation that he might be a votive gift/sacrifice for the peoples. This suggests Jesus (John 1:1, Ephesians 1:7), not Muhammad.
Qur’an. Surah 19:1-36 has a long passage that very poorly reinterprets the Biblical story of Zacharias, the birth of John, the story of Mary, the angels, her virgin pregnancy, Jesus’ birth and community reaction to it, all mixed in with some anti-Trinitarian theology. In ayat 21 the angel says to Mary Thus your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed. Note the elevation of Christ and curious use of the plural pronoun Us used in this ayat when referring to Allah. Plural pronouns for Allah are found all through the Qur’an, another legacy of its pre-Islamic Christian roots dating back to even before the Arian division. In the Qur’an Jesus is the only sinless man. He is the only person to have a virgin birth (surah 3:45-47). Jesus was sent from Allah and went straight back to heaven (surah 3:55). Jesus died and is the only person who rose from the dead (surah 19:33).
Finally, here is a classic example of Islamic editing of a far older surah. Surah 74 consists of 56 ayats, 55 of which average around six to seven words. Then we have ayat 31 which is over 100 words long and is clearly out of place. It has been used by later editors to reinterpret ayat 30 so it conforms to the Islamic position.
I think Luling and Luxenberg are on to something and the door they have opened is a very dangerous one for Islam.
In examining the history of the Arabic language we have now touched upon the links between the Nabataean alphabet and proto-Arabic, Syriac Christianity and early Arabic theological loan words including the words Qur’an and Allah, the ambiguity embedded in the earliest Qur’anic texts due to the lack of diacritic aids as well as the foreign origin of these aids, the lateness and academic nature of the systemisation of the Arabic language, the utter confusion one is left with after reading the Qur’an alone, the absence of the Qur’an from the era when it was supposed to have been in circulation and also from the Dome of the Mosque inscription, the possibility of a pre-Islamic Qur’an consisting of Christian hymns, the lack of loan words from Egypt and Ethiopia, the suspicion that surrounds the so-called pre-Islamic poetry, the difficulty presented by the need for rhyme on every fifth line of the Qur’an and the split nature of the Qur’an itself suggesting two eras of construction.
In addition to these linguistic difficulties, we have also touched upon the lateness and confusion generated by the official commentaries on the meaning of the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad, the absence of Muhammad and Mecca in all external source material for decades after their alleged existence as told by Islamic tradition, the possibility of a sectarian war with Christianity as the origin of Islam, and the rise of Islam being subsequent rather than previous to the rise of the Arab Empire.
All of this points to a language and book that evolved from an oral to a written religious script that lacked authority for some time, then the morphing of that script into an imperial religious tradition that was still unstable for hundreds of years and subject to systematic review by scholars in later centuries who were desperate to stabilise the language and the religious traditions that went with it. All of this occurred in the wake of the sudden and dramatic rise of the Arab empire in the 7th Century and its two competing dynasties.
I will finish this essay with the full text from the inscription inside the Dome of the Rock Mosque, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is the third most holy site in Islam. This text is the earliest accurately datable inscription belonging to the new religious movement, being unchanged since it was written in 691AD. It is therefore the only statement from that century that we can trust as it is outside Muslim tradition. Note as you read once again that the term Muhammad simply means praised be and the term Islam simply means submit, obey. All I ask is that you count the number of times Jesus is mentioned and/or proclaimed the messenger of God, note also the distinctive anti-Trinitarian Arian theology as you read, try to find any reference to the Qur’an and note the many references to the Christian scriptures.
In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no associate. Unto Him belongeth sovereignity and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He has power over all things. Muḥammad is the servant of God and His Messenger. Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. The blessing of God be on him and peace be on him, and may God have mercy. O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease! (it is) better for you! – God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is sufficient as Defender. The Messiah will never scorn to be a servant unto God, nor will the favoured angels. Whoso scorneth His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him. Oh God, bless Your Messenger and Your servant Jesus son of Mary. Peace be on him the day he was born, and the day he dies, and the day he shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary, (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) God that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. Lo! God is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. God (Himself) is witness that there is no God save Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him, the Almighty, the Wise. Lo! religion with God (is) Islam. Those who (formerly) received the Book differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso disbelieveth the revelations of God (will find that) Lo! God is swift at reckoning!