The Qur’an is different things to different people:
To the pious Muslim it is the very words of Allah and the core of their worldview.
To early Muslim scholars it was a political battleground.
To the average Western Liberal it is it is the holy book of an oppressed ethnic minority.
To Western academics it is an early 8th Century polemic for the supremacy of an expanding Arab Empire over recently conquered Jews and Christians
To professional linguists it is a treasure trove of evidence into what really happened.
To the modern scientist it is a load of rubbish.
To the evangelical Christian it is full of contradictions, fables and twisted use of older theology.
To the fundamentalist Jihadi it is a call to war and global hegemony
To the philosopher it is a book full of logical fallacies and contradictions
So, who is right?
This essay will explain most of these points of view one by one. We will start with the Islamic view of the Qur’an, a view that you will be familiar with and will finish with my personal book review after having read the Qur’an.
1. THE ORTHODOX MUSLIM’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
Islamic doctrine holds that the Qur’an is the exact copy of an original, errorless, uncreated prototype kept on tablets in heaven (Q 5:15, 16:89, 25:1) that is an extension of Allah himself. In Christianity the Word became flesh, inseparable from Yahweh. In Islam the Word became a book, inseparable from Allah. The Qur’an claims this heavenly errorless prototype was transmitted to a prophet called Muhammad via angels, chiefly Gabriel (Q 16:2 16:102 26:192-200). The transmission process remains a mystery of course, which serves both to enhance its reputation in the Islamic world, and scepticism outside it.
According to Islamic tradition the Qur’an was the first major book ever published in the Arabic language and previous to the Qur’an Arabic was essentially a poetic oral language only. It is also claimed that Muhammad, like most of his countrymen, was illiterate, which greatly enhances the miraculous nature of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is said to have been revealed to Muhammad in three stages over 23 years. Stages one and two were during the Meccan years of hardship. Stage three was in Medina, which were the militarily years. These Medinan sections of the Qur’an are the easiest to find and understand as they often give divine approval to Muhammad’s leadership and appear as prose rather than poetry. They are also dotted with revelations that justify violence and they contain frequent curses aimed at the Jews who refused to acknowledge his authority.
The Qur’an is structurally organised into 114 Surahs. Surah means step. Within each Surah are a number of verses called ayats, which means sign. Just think chapters and verses. Surah’s do not follow chronology, tell stories or explain events. Within the Qur’an’s amalgam of theology, sermons, polemic attacks on other religions and legal decrees there is no obvious progression of thought. Topics, events, revelations and thoughts appear randomly. In addition, the same idea is often repeated. Meccan and Medinian Surah’s are also jumbled to the point that even within a surah revelations could be years apart
Large slabs of the Old Testament, New Testament, and early Christian era apocryphal writings appear as well, but are altered to suit Islam’s unique theological perspective and message. Passages appear and disappear haphazardly from line to line right through the Qur’an. In addition, Surahs were ordered according to their length, as was the custom of the day for all books, including the New Testament. A huge amount of skill is therefore needed to piece together the alleged flow of revelation in the Qur’an. Because of these formidable exegetical obstacles, ordinary Muslims often know very little of the contents of the Qur’an and rely on the early Jurists who wrote the Hadith commentaries on the Qur’an, and on modern day Imams who interpret the Hadith for them.
The relationship between the Qur’an and the Arabic language has been symbiotic ever since the Qur’an first declared its revelations sacred. Because the Qur’an is divine (Q 2:23, 10:37-38), by extension the Arabic language is also divine (Q 26: 194-5). The perfect Arabic Qur’an was the ultimate miracle and the basis of all authority for all matters on earth. (Q 2:23). In declaring the book itself as the authority, Muhammad forever elevated the Qur’an to the very core of Islamic culture (Q 4:163-6). This is why Islam’s prophet performed no miracles, the Qur’an was the miracle.
This also is why you will find Islamic scholars falling over themselves today with claims that the Qur’an was revealed in the most eloquent, articulate, and elaborate style that the Arabic language and the world has ever known. This, in their minds, is the ultimate proof of its divine origin. The Qur’an to them is the greatest miracle in the history of the world and is therefore beyond culture, question and translation. It is also why so much ceremonial ritual surrounds the reading and physical location of the Qur’an in a mosque.
Islamic history says the original revelations from Muhammad were committed to memory. But after many of his followers were killed in battle, large segments of those revelations were lost forever. This drove the second generation of Muslim leaders to record the revelations into a single book. The initial desire of Muslims to write and share the Qur’anic revelations drove the spread of Arabic throughout the Middle East, embedding the Qur’an’s centrality in Arabic culture. The two became deeply entwined over the next two centuries.
2. THE ANCIENT ISLAMIC SCHOLAR’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
So what exactly is this Islamic history that gave us all the above information about the Qur’an? It will surprise most readers to find that none of it comes from the Qur’an itself as it is something of an enigma, lacking references to places, people and history. Instead it comes purely from a body of literature called the Hadith and the Sira which were written two to three hundred years after the Qur’an itself by Persian scholars in the Abbasid Caliphate in Iraq. This Caliphate controlled the Arab Empire and its emerging religion.
The Sira is the official biographical history of Muhammad. The Hadith literature are the official commentaries that provide us with the words, actions and approvals of Muhammad in the years when he was supposed to have received the Qur’an. Together they rank second only to the Qur’an in Islamic theological and political authority. They encompass a vast amount of clarification and traditional history interpreting the confusion that is the Qur’an, the mystery that is the life of Muhammad, and the otherwise missing history of Islam.
It is only the Hadith and Sira that create the above narrative built around the Qur’an that everyone is familiar with. It is the Hadith and Sira that most people, including most Western textbook writers, rely on as authentic history about early Islam and the history of Mecca. It is the Hadith and Sira that tries to bring logic to the utter confusion most people are left with after reading the Qur’an on its own. Because of this confusion the Hadith and Sira are the de-facto primary sources of authority in the entire religion of Islam, over and above the Qur’an itself!
In those restive first two to three centuries early days of the Arab Empire anybody could write a Hadith or Sira. Write they did and hundreds of thousands of sayings of Muhammad emerged! They were quotes recalled from a trusted chain of oral authorities, the famous Isnad sources, about the words, actions and life of Muhammad. However, it turned out that the vast majority were only written to justify factional rivalries or theological and political disputes. It didn’t matter if a Hadith contradicted another. It mattered more that the claimed chain of Isnad was pure. The Hadith eventually became a laughing stock, the original fake news story.
Hadith sayings and Sira biographies contradicted each other to the point that one dedicated scholar, Muhammad al-Bakhari, another Abbasid scholar from Iraq (d. 870AD), decided to find them all, ditch the fakes and compile a trusted history of the past. He aspired to creating an authentic exegesis of the Qur’an, Muhammad and Mecca. He travelled far and wide, collected some 600,000 alleged sayings of the prophet, and then ditched all but 7,225 that he believed could be trusted. He is today revered as the most trustworthy source of Islamic history and the Qur’an. Five other collectors of Hadith sayings are also canonised along with him, including his disciple Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj who collected hundreds of thousands more Hadiths and discarded all but around 4,000. So can we trust these few sayings that remain? The problem is that they still contradict each other and we can’t find near-original copies of these scholar’s writings. The oldest surviving copy of any piece of al-Bakhari’s works is from 400 hundred years after the founding of the Arab Empire. In the end it took 600 years before the orthodox understanding of the Qur’an was finally nailed down.
With the recent application of the tools of secular higher criticism to the story of Islam, more and more scholars are delivering body blows to the credibility of the Hadith writings. New discoveries and cold hard theological objectivity has allowed a much more rigorous search for fakes than al-Bakhari religious sensitivities allowed for. The world’s leading 20th Century academic on Islam, Joseph Schacht, called the Hadith and Sira literature a fiction perhaps unequalled in the history of human thought. Ouch! Schacht also argued that the fabrication of the Hadith came from a literary convention, which found particular favor in Iraq, whereby Abbasid authors/scholars would put their own doctrine or work under the aegis of an ancient authority. The ultimate prestigious ancient authority in this context was Muhammad and around 750 AD scholars in Kufa, followed in a few years by the Medinese began falsely ascribing their new doctrines back to earlier jurists, and over time extended them back to Muhammad (In The Shadow of the Sword p.36). In other words they fabricated all the words, life and actions of Muhammad to justify their own agenda. Many other scholars have now come to the same conclusion.
The Hadith and Sira fabrications are relatively easy to spot. The amazing detail in the Hadith, the exact words spoken, the time of day, what they ate, how they travelled, who was present, the theological disputes they were defending and much more, all combine to give the Hadith far too much authenticity. They are too precise, lacking in context and often contradictory. What mattered most was the air of authenticity given by the alleged chain of oral authorities. The motivation for fabrication was simple. These were very clever legal scholars living hundreds of years late and geographically distant from the facts, who were designing a chain of historical transmission that, in the words of Dr Umar Bashear, grow backwards to justify their own new legal code for a brand new empire, one that would also wrestle power from their political masters, the Caliphs, the Qur’an (Abraham’s Sacrifice of His Son and Related Issues p. 277) and give it to themselves.
The creation of a religious prophet, a religious city, a religious text, a religious holy language, a religious history and a religious destiny via the Hadith and Sira literature gave these Persian religious scholars the upper hand in the eternal power struggle that was Middle Eastern Imperial politics. Supreme power within the realm of Islam would, from the mid 8th Century on, rest with the religious scholars, not their political masters or the Qur’an. The evidence and legacy of their work can be seen in the modern Imam’s call to Jihad and the dread of it within the political ruling elite of most Islamic countries.
3. THE WESTERN LIBERAL’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
On April 10th 2006 at the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University a question was put to President George W Bush that claimed Muhammad was the champion of the underprivileged, women, children and the poor, that all were equal and all had rights within his realm. The suggestion was that America combine its views with Muhammad’s. Sadly, President Bush agreed with the sentiment regarding Muhammad without questioning its historical accuracy. The Muslim singer and writer Farida Khanam also portrays Muhammad as meek and mild, full of love and compassion. Secular Islamic scholar Carl Ernst said that Muhammad was a Charismatic person known for his integrity. Such views are rapidly gaining the ascendency in the world of media and higher education in the Western world.
The Qur’an is therefore now seen by Western liberals as a benign book of religious piety which is being miss-interpreted by a radical minority. Western academics are quick to draw a distinction between Islam and Islamism. The former being a garden variety religion on par with Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism. The latter being a fanatical form of religious fascism foreign to the original teachings of the Qur’an. Islamic extremists, such as the 9/11 terrorists are seen as an aberration, completely misinterpreting the Qur’an, a book of peace spawning a religion of peace.
The clash of civilisations rhetoric between Islam and the West is increasingly being seen as fraudulent extremist right-wing propaganda. Criticism of the religion of Islam and Muslims is now seen as hate-filled bigotry to the extent most western European countries have enacted hate laws to eliminate negative attitudes toward Muslims and their religion. Muslim immigrants are seen as misunderstood vulnerable people in need of state protection.
These liberal ideas have even become the mainstream attitude of the Catholic Church as seen from the following quote: “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” This idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same god has strong traction in the Western secular media. It is now anathema to publically declare otherwise, even if you are a conservative Christian university.
Thus the Western liberal new orthodoxy concerning the Qur’an and Islam is presenting a view of reality that will literally determine the future of its own civilisation. For 1,400 years Christendom fought to keep Islam and its armies at bay. Now it is no longer Christian but secular/atheistic, it welcomes Islam with open arms. If the liberal view of reality is right the next hundred years will be just fine. If it is a case of intellectual denial and pacifism then the next hundred years will be fascinating to say the least!
4. THE WESTERN ACADEMIC’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
Because of the lack of historical evidence inside the Hadith and Sira cited previously, there is now much debate among scholars as to the true origin of the Qur’an. The word Qur’an is actually derived from qiryana, a Syriac Christian term which means to read or recite a religious passage. Thus the word itself opens a Pandora’s Box of theological intrigue. The idea that the Qur’an appeared fully formed in one human life span is now questioned in many academic faculties. Fewer and fewer scholars are treating the Hadith and Sirah literature as primary historical evidence.
The objective evidence from the following western scholars has shown that linguistics, rock inscriptions, trade notes, secular historical accounts, religious records, imperial records, geography and archaeology, as well as the internal statements contained within the Qur’an itself, all point to a far later Qur’anic origin to that described in Islamic traditions. Many of these findings have only emerged in the last forty years as the academic tools of higher criticism once applied the Bible were finally turned on the Qur’an.
Palestinian professor, Dr Sulimon Bashear, spent a lifetime studying the Qur’an and in so doing he found that the interpretation of various Qur’anic passages evolved from anti-Byzantine to pro-Meccan sentiment and origin, and that the story of Muhammad evolved rapidly into legend. John Wansbrough’s ground-breaking theories, now being confirmed by many researchers, suggests the Arab Empire had to hurriedly rework its origins, its theological books and even its geography to give itself legitimacy in the eyes of neighbouring civilizations. Ibin Warraq’s studies confirm that there was no evidence that the Qur’an had authority in the early Arabic Empire. Semitic language specialist Gunter Luling asserts that up to a third of the Qur’an may in fact predate the Islamic timeline and Arabic language, being material used in Syrian church liturgy. This, he says, is why the hadiths struggle to make sense of much of the Qur’an. Cristoph Luxenberg confirms his conclusions. Professor M J Kister, co-founder of the Arabic departments of Israel’s two major universities, found that there was meagre and scanty real information on the life of Muhammad to be found in any Hadith. French Islamologist Henri Lammens, concluded that large parts of the hadiths were invented to account for the obscurities found in the Qur’an, with the theory of abrogation aiding the commentators for the contradictory passages. Andrew Rippin concludes that in no sense can the Qur’an be assumed to be a primary document in constructing the life of Muhammad. Gerald Hawting points out that One often feels that meaning and context supplied for a particular verse or passage of the Qur’an is not based on any historical memory. Even Fred Donner concedes that the language of the hadiths and the Qur’an are different, pointing to a lapse in time between the two. And we haven’t even touched on the works of Patricia Crone, Robert Hoyland, Yehuda Nevo, Gerd Piun and Tom Holland, all of which have contributed greatly to our current understanding of the true origins of the Qur’an.
Below are some more of their findings in point form:
- All mosques faced Petra, not Mecca for the first hundred years after Muhammad’s death. You can see them here.
- The existence of Mecca is unknown in any ancient writings or records until at least a hundred years after Muhammad’s death.
- Muhammad describes his location as having olive groves and vineyards. These cannot grow in the Meccan climate, so he must have lived elsewhere.
- Arabic is actually a Nabataean language, the language of Petra, not Mecca.
- All major theological terminology in the Qur’an derives from the Syriac language, as does the word Qur’an itself.
- The most important theological beliefs of Islam come from Arian and Monarchian Christian theology.
- There is no mention of the Qur’an anywhere in the Arab Empire until 690 AD, some 70 years after it was supposed to have been revealed, recorded and disseminated throughout the new empire. Ditto for the words Islam, Muslim and Muhammad.
If you join these dots you can see that these facts all lead to lower Jordan, Israel and Syria, not Saudi Arabia. The research is suggesting that this area is where Islam really began, and if so then everything you have ever read about a man called Muhammad living in a city called Mecca and starting a religion called Islam with a book called the Qur’an is fiction.
5. THE SCIENTIST’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
Unfortunately scientific as well as historical error also abounds in the Qur’an. Islam’s religious book claims the sun sets in a spring of murky water (Q 18:86). This idea comes from known folktales of that era. It also says stars and meteorites are missiles fired at evil spirits who try to eavesdrop on the Qur’an in heaven (Q 67:5, Q 72:6-9). The Qur’an claims mountains were giant tent pegs that stop the earth from shaking (Q 16:15, Q 21:31). Surah 105 claims birds dropped clay stones on General Abraha’s army, but history records he withdrew because of smallpox. Fishermen are said to have turned into apes because they broke the Jewish Sabbath (Q 2:65-66). In addition to the Qur’an’s scientific errors, the hadiths (Sahih Bukhari 6:60:7) record an event where Muhammad was asked why children look like their father or mother. Muhammad’s reply, which he said came from Gabriel, was that the child resembled the father if he orgasmed first, and the mother if she orgasmed first.
6. THE LINGUIST’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
Linguists from the world’s leading universities can see strong links between the Qur’an, Nabataean culture and Arabic’s mother language, Syriac, even though the Qur’an itself claims to be in a pure Arabic language (surah 16:103, surah 41:44). They also see great semantic ambiguity embedded in the earliest Qur’anic texts due to the lack of diacritic aids. These are the dots and strokes that tell you how to pronounce an Arabic word because so many Arabic letters are the same shape. Linguists also worry over the lateness of the systemisation of the Arabic language, the lateness and confusion generated by the official Hadith and Sira literature’s version of the meaning of the Qur’an, the linguistic confusion one is left with after reading the Qur’an, and the absence of both the Qur’an and Muhammad in early Islamic history.
Given all of the above pointers, it comes as no surprise that some linguists believe that parts of the Qur’an and its theology pre-date both Arabic and Islam. Not only that, but could in fact come from local Christianity which was communicated in the mother language of Arabic which was Syriac. Syriac speaking Christians encircled the Arabs in all directions and many of their unique theological words, such as those for prayer (Slwt to Salawat), salvation (Pwrqn to Furqan), Jesus, (Isaniyah to Isa), God (Ilah to Allah), Christian (Nasraya to Nasara), and recitation (Qiryan to Qur’an) found their way into the…Qur’an! There are hundreds more examples of such words.
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.
It is also well known that rhythmic hymns were a major part of religious practice throughout the Middle East in late antiquity, especially in the Coptic and Ethiopian churches, so to search for them in the Qur’an is a more recent but growing linguistic endeavour.
If the Qur’an needs diacritic dots and strokes to give it its meaning, then it is quite possible, indeed probable, that the original text without these aids could have had a completely different meaning. Without todays guiding dots and strokes the text becomes something of a lottery. In addition, many of the oldest suras in the Qur’an have a distinct rhythm and refrain embedded in them, while others are almost completely comprised of prose. Those that contain rhythm are often considered al-mutashabihat, or unclear in meaning, while those that are prose are called al-muhkamat, or clear and unambiguous. This is a huge clue that the origins of the two styles of sura differed in time, place and purpose, a fact acknowledged by Muslims, but given a very religiously correct explanation. For those older suras with rhyme and refrain, the refrain doesn’t follow a strict pattern as it should. This is another clue that there has been some editing after composition and it is where we get the hybrid term rhymed prose, or saj in Arabic, to describe the genre of the Qur’an.
Christoph Luxenberg, an expert in ancient Semitic languages, has 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 its Syriac Christian name: Qur’an!
German scholar, Gunter Luling, spent decades trying to see if the earliest rhythmic suras in the oldest Qur’anic texts could be reconstructed back into religious hymns without changing the original letters (the rasm) but by removing the diacritic aids, allowing a re-interpreting the vowels and consonants, taking advantage of different known spellings of a word, taking advantage of different meanings for the same word, and following orthodox Arabic grammar instead of the odd grammar found in some parts of the Qur’an.
Below, and through this link, is one result of what he found in a sura where he didn’t change a single letter in the underlying rasm! On the right is surah 96 of today’s Qur’an which is said by Muslim tradition to be the oldest, in the simplified English of Rudy Paret’s translation. On the left is Luling’s conclusion as to what the original was. On its own the sura is very obscure and incoherent, which suggests a heavy editorial process. This link takes you to an English translation of the sura from the internet which contains in brackets all the extraneous information needed by the Hadith commentators to make orthodox sense of the sura. As you can see, the narrative they have created has no basis within the text itself.
|Sura 96: standard Qur’an||Sura 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 Angelship!|
|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 nature of Luling’s version is far stronger.
- The meaning of the sura is coherent, with a common theme instead of three separate parts (1-5, 6-8, 9-19).
- Recite becomes invoke, more closely related to prayer, the theme of the sura.
- Not at all (6, 15, 19) is redirected from the preceding sentence to the next sentence. The 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 new (old?) version it is another picture of earnest, struggling prayer.
- The final statement Prostrate and approach is the heading for the hymn given at the end instead of the beginning, which is Western custom.
- The Christian nature of the hymn becomes obvious and makes far more sense than the convoluted Islamic version and commentary.
7. THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
To the informed Christian the writer of the Qur’an misrepresented historical fact on many occasions. The writer of the Qur’an incorrectly claimed Christians worshipped Mary as well as Jesus in the trinity (Q 5:116). He also claimed that Mary was the sister of Aaron (the brother of Moses) as well as the mother of Jesus (Q 19:27-28). He claimed that Haman (Q 28:38, Q29:39, Q 40: 24) was employed by Pharaoh to build a great tower, thus mixing the books of Genesis with Exodus and Esther. The writer also believed that the golden calf of Exodus (Q 20:85-87) was made by a Samaritan, but this ethnic group did not exist at that time. The Qur’an has King David making chain mail armour (Q 34:10-11), but this technology was not invented for 1,000 years after David lived.
Regarding the person of Jesus, extra-biblical evidence never records him being called Isa outside the Syriac language. All other objective historical sources agree with the name used in the Christian gospels. Likewise there is absolutely no historical evidence that Jesus received a special a proto-Qur’anic book called the Injil. There are ten known non-Christian sources of insight into the life of Jesus and they all agree with the New Testament, and disagree with the Qur’an.
Even though the Qur’an claims Jesus as its own prophet, it never tolerates the teachings of Jesus as they diametrically opposed the very core of Islam. Muhammad was to be the true oracle. This is why none of his teachings are ever mentioned in the Qur’an and he is quoted briefly only once. In fact the following quote is the only one from the entire Bible that found its way into the Qur’an: the land [of Paradise] is inherited by My righteous servants (surah 21:105). It is the Qur’anic version of The meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) If the Qur’an really did confirm the Christian scriptures that went before it one would expect a lot more than 8 words out of the Qur’an’s 77,449.
The Qur’an accuses the Jews of killing the apostle Jesus (Q 4:157), as well as the other of Allah’s Old Testament prophets. However, in contrast to this claim, the Qur’an then says he wasn’t killed by the Jews nor was he resurrected from the dead as claimed by Christians (surah 4:157-158). Puzzlingly, in still other Qur’anic passages it actually does say he was resurrected (surah 3:35, surah 19:33). These three opposing versions of the one event are another example of muddled Qur’anic exegesis. A likely explanation for the contradictions is that they are the product of a book slowly being pieced together over many decades as the empire’s theology evolved away from its Arian/Monarchian/Ebionite Christian roots, roots that are clearly on display on the inscription inside the 691 AD Dome of the Rock Mosque. When the Qur’an claims Jesus did not die on the cross it is disagreeing with all known secular historical sources such as Celsus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion and Josephus.
The Qur’an also declares boldly that Christians and Jews corrupted their own scriptures (Q 2:75 Q 2:79) which originally were pure Islamic in teaching. However, Christians have accurate manuscripts dating to within a hundred years of the originals, far earlier than the originals for the Hadith and Sirah literature which tell the story of the life of Muhammad. These Qur’anic Biblical fabrications tell us that the writers had very little understanding of what is actually in the Bible, exposing their book to grave, errors of judgement and history, a fact not lost on the early Jews and Christians who laughed at the new book (Surah 2:13, surah 6:25, surah 8:31, surah 16:24, surah 46:17, surah 68:15, surah 83:13).
8. THE ISIS VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
No investigation of the Qur’an is complete without a discussion of Jihad. Pages 397-398 of The Encyclopaedia of Islam describes jihad as follows: “Literally, the Arabic word jihad means to strive or struggle (in the path of God); it often refers to religiously sanctioned warfare. The Qur’an advocates jihad to extend God’s rule (Q 2:192, 8:39), promising reward in the afterlife for those who are killed in battle (Q 3:157–158, 169–172) and punishment for those who do not participate (Q 9:81–82, 48:16)”. This is a pretty standard definition of jihad. Jihad simply means violent war for the advancement of Islam, or holy war.
This definition flies in the face of recent attempts by Western liberals, both secular and religious, to redefine jihad as an inner struggle for holiness, that’s actually putting a distinctly Christian slant to the term that is offensive to most Muslims. The very DNA of the Qur’an is one long and heated argument for Islamic political expansion and global religious domination via a worldwide caliphate. In this respect the Muslim disdain for the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages is fundamentally hypocritical. Crusading is the very heart of Islam. Consider the following verses from the Qur’an itself:
Q 2:190-191 Fight in the cause of Allah those that fight you…slay them wherever you find them. Idolatry is more grievous than bloodshed.
Q 2:216-218 Fighting is obligatory for you, as much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you…those who believe, have emigrated and fought for the cause of Allah may hope for Allah’s mercy.
This next ayat gives you an insight into the mindset of ISIS…
Q 47:4 So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens. That [is the command]. And if Allah had willed, He could have taken vengeance upon them [Himself], but [He ordered armed struggle] to test some of you by means of others.
The list of such statements extends to over 100, here are some more (Q 8:39, 9: 29-30, 36, 73, 123, Q 48:28, Q 61:9). They are chilling in their thirst for bloodshed.
Whoever wrote the Qur’an even had the audacity to teach that any follower who refused to engage in war was not a true Muslim (Q 9:44-52). They saw it as one of the core tests of loyalty to the religion, its god of war and the newly minted Arab Imperial war machine in its never-ending war against the Byzantine Catholics.
Therefore, any belief, person, religion, empire or cause that opposes Islam is setting itself and themselves up for perpetual war with Islamic armies or dedicated fundamentalists who truly believe the Qur’an. This was true not long after the beginning, was true in the 1,000 year Islamic expansion until the era of European colonial subjugation, and again true today as a more accurate and fundamentalist understanding of the Qur’an takes hold across the Islamic world through organisations such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, ISIS and Hamas. No state needs to sanction these organisations, the Qur’an is their only authority and governing constitution.
The Hadiths also frequently refer to jihad as a form of holy war. The earliest hadiths refer to jihad straight after explaining the five pillars of Islam so many Islamic jurists call jihad the sixth pillar of Islam. In Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.220 Muhammad is quoted as saying “I have been made victorious with terror.”
Within 200 years of Muhammad’s death Muslim armies had penetrated European Christendom three times in attempts to conquer the Byzantine Christians, through Spain, Constantinople, and then through southern Italy. The fourth attempt through Constantinople in 800 years into the Islamic Empire succeeded. Within another 230 years Jihad had taken Islam to the gates of Vienna only to be pushed back to the Balkans. The fifth attempt, via immigration, demographics and legal manipulation is currently in play today.
It’s a good thing most Muslims do not follow the Qur’an seriously, but more and more do as they experience and ongoing Reformation back to its original teachings. The Qur’an’s teachings guarantee future conflict.
9. THE PHILOSOPHER’S VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
The Qur’an in Surah 2:23 makes no reference to external proof of its divine origins. Instead it appeals to its alleged eloquence as its proof of divine origin. The Qur’an is saying that the ultimate proof that this book is divine is simply because it looks good and claims to be divine. You need go nowhere else for evidence, if you do, you are a doubter. This unconfirmed claim to Qur’anic divinity becomes one of the prime presuppositions of the Islamic worldview. If it falls, so does Islam.
However, every aspect of a coherent and plausible worldview must be consistent with external reality and with its other internal teachings. That’s why most fail in history. Logical analysis of the Qur’an by a small army of analysts, academics and critics over the last 200 years has unearthed a huge amount of inconsistency, logical fallacy, circular argument, historical implausibility’s and obvious lies within the Qur’an. Here are just a few:
Let’s start with the theory of dealing with contradictions called abrogation, or nasikh in Arabic. Abrogation solves the many contradictions within the Qur’an and between the Qur’an and the Hadith and Sira by saying that later revelations supersede previous revelations (mansukh). An equally valid analysis would suggest the author or authors of the Qur’an were either simply changing their mind and conveniently claiming divine authority to do so. Alternatively, the document could have evolved over decades and needed a theory to account for the changing circumstances of the Empire for which it was being written. A final theory is that much of it was originally Christian liturgy and had to be changed into an Islamic document. It is probably all three reasons combined.
If the Qur’an was indeed divinely inspired then the many contradictions also suggest the god of Islam, Allah, is inconsistent and self-contradicting, changing his mind on a whim. If his words and decrees are eternal and unchangeable when being handed down from prophet to prophet in the Old Testament then why does he suddenly change them in the last miracle book, the Qur’an? Even the Qur’an itself claims that if it is self-contradictory then it could not be divine (Q 4:82). Case closed.
Complicating the theory of abrogation is the problem of which Surah’s and ayats came first chronologically. No clues are given in the text itself. Here are a few examples of the hundreds of contradictions/abrogations in the Qur’an:
- Days of creation changes from six (Q 7:54) to two (Q 41:9-12) then four (Q 41:10)
- Previous prophets were supposedly Muslims, but Muhammad was the first to bow to Allah
- Allah cursed all liars, but Muhammad was allowed to break his own oath
- In one place Pharaoh was killed (Q 17:102-3), but in another he was rescued (Q 10:90-92)
- In one passage Muslims, Christians and Sabeans are saved (Q 2:62), but then in another only Muslims are saved (Q 3:85)
- In one passage Jesus died on the cross and rose again (Q 19:33), but then in another he did not die on the cross (Q 4:157)
- In another passage it says there is no compulsion in religion (Q 2:83) but later this became war and death to infidels (Q 9:5)
This last abrogation comes from Surah 9, the final surah and the call to war against infidels. This Surah alone abrogates over 100 previous more peaceful revelations. So many inconsistencies and changes within just a few decades tell us a great deal about the character of the writers and the believability of the message. Qur’anic abrogations, by their existence, undermine the logical consistency of the entire Islamic worldview.
Use of Inaccurate Apocryphal Writings
By the 3rd Century of the Christian era there were literally hundreds of fanciful versions of the Bible and New Testament in circulation. There were also fanciful folktales about the life of Jesus in circulation around the edges of the Roman Empire and beyond. The writer of the Qur’an actually used many of these fakes, folktales and fables to help him compile the Qur’an. From the 2nd Century Talmudic writings comes Surah 2:30-38 where we find all angels except Satan worshipping Adam. Surah 21:51-71 has Abraham destroying idols. This fable is borrowed from another Second Century collection of Jewish folktales called The Midrash Rabbath. From the second century fable of Abodah Sarah we find Allah threatening to drop Mt Sinai on the Jews (Q 7:171). The story of the prophet known as The Two Horned One (Q 18:82-101) is derived from the Romance of Alexander (the Great), but Alexander was no Muslim.
The story of a talking baby Jesus (Q 19:29-33) comes from a Second Century Egyptian tale called The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ. In fact nearly everything said in the Qur’an about Jesus that is not in the New Testament comes directly from Second Century fables. The late second century Infancy Gospel of Thomas, has Jesus being born under a palm tree (Q 19:22-23) and making clay birds come to life (Q 3:49). This type of ignorant inaccuracy riddles the Qur’an. Unfortunately, the writer equated any fanciful writings about history as valid revelation from Allah for his Qur’an. In his mind it all came from heaven and was historical fact.
All of these known folktales are presented as the divine revelations of the creator of the universe. This means that either he was absent minded, or the Qur’an is nothing but the writings of semi-ignorant and easily-led people. This is also why it was ridiculed as soon as it began to circulate (surah 6:25, surah 8:31, surah 16:24, surah 46:17, surah 68:15, surah 83:13).
Double standards abound in the Qur’an. The eternal word of Allah frequently gives just-so revelation to a single man in 7th Century Arabia that seems to fit that one man’s personal desires and whims? For example, other Muslim men could have only (…!?) four wives (Q 4:3), but Allah just happened to reveal that Muhammad could have as many as he wanted (Q 43:50), as well as any slave girl and any woman that offered herself to him. After Muhammad took a shine to his daughter-in-law, His god suddenly revealed to him that he could have her as another wife even though this violated the most sacred of family bonds in that society (Q 33:37). In ancient Arabia fighting was prohibited during four holy months. However, apparently when some of his men raided a Meccan caravan on the last day of a holy month, Muhammad suddenly received a new revelation justifying the raid (Q 2:217 Q 2:194). Further examples can be found in this link.
In Surah 2:159-161 the Qur’an turns to the topic of severe judgement against the Christians and Jews with a circular argument. The writer declares that those that hide the clear proofs and the guidance We have revealed after We have proclaimed them in the Book shall be cursed. “Clear proofs” being the book itself, not a reference to objective historical proofs. What we are hearing is that if the Qur’an says Jews and Christians corrupted their scriptures, then it has to be true. The simple fact of saying it makes it unquestionable. This logic is proving the Qur’an by the Qur’an, which means proving Islam by the Qur’an and then proving the Qur’an by Islam. The normal rules of proof, that is, forensically examining ancient manuscripts to demonstrate this alleged deceit, are completely absent. This theology has contributed to the closing of the minds of so many radical young jihadists down through history and around the world today.
Why is the Qur’anic God so Evil
The Qur’an alleges that Allah is the creator of the universe, that Allah is also the custodian of the Qur’anic tablets in heaven and that Allah spoke only through Muhammad to give the true revelation of his nature, will and the purpose of life itself. However, this makes Allah look like a very morally evil, scheming god (Q 3:54) because the Qur’an justifies gruesome violence on many occasions (Q 2:216, all of Surah 9). It justifies religious killing (Q 2:190-193). It justifies deception and lying (Q 16:106). It justifies the suppression of human rights and slavery (Q 16:75). It demands the economic and legal subjugation of other faiths (Q 9:29). It encourages religious arrogance (Q 3:110) and religious vilification (Q 2:89-2:90) It encourages genocide (Bukhari vol 5, book 58, No 148). It allows for adultery (Q 4:24, Kitab Al-Nikah 711). It condones theft (Q 8:69). It encourages sexual slavery (Q 23:5-6, Q 70:29-30). It allows Muslims to torture people (Q 24:2, Q 22:19-22). It even encourages the murder of any Muslims who turn away from the religion (Q 4:89). All of this is the perfect will of the Muslim god.
This quality of Allah is confirmed in surah 4:142, surah 3:54 (planner is deceiver in the Arabic) surah 8:30 (planner is deceiver in the Arabic), surah 27:50 (plan is scheme in the Arabic), and surah 91:7-8. To cap this roll call off, the Qur’an says that it is Allah himself who causes this unbelief in humans (Surah 2:6-7). Even the angels wondered why your Lord would put there (on earth) one who would do evil and shed blood (Surah 2:30). Thus, according to the Qur’an, Allah is an encourager of violence and bloodshed, a schemer, a deceiver and hypocritically placed wickedness in the human heart before judging humanity.
10. MY VIEW OF THE QUR’AN
I have read and studied the Qur’an in English and as an outsider. It is some 400 pages long, but from start to finish it repetitively and relentlessly hammers the one single polemic argument. It is aggressive, confrontational and very assertive. It’s argument can be summed up as follows:
Allah is a unity, not a Trinity. He is a both a merciful and a vengeful god to be feared. He is like a medieval Religious monarch who is deeply offended at his imperial rejection by his two wayward subjects; Christianity and Judaism. So he is taking revenge on anyone who follow these two religions, which are considered idol worshiping and their followers are therefore unbelievers. Christians and Jews are terrible sinners who will be punished severely in this world via calamity, earthquake, or by the sword of the true believers in battles which will always be won by the faithful Muslim. In the next world these unbelievers will be punished inside an eternal, agonising, skin melting, pain-inflicting fiery torture chamber. This central theme of curse on Christians and Jews and blessing on faithful Muslims is repeated well over a thousand times in short bursts of direct, blunt, fear-based threats.
To give credibility to this single over-arching theme, the Qur’an is filled with warped and repetitive stories of previous Biblical prophets, often called Apostles, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Lot, Enoch, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Zachariah, David and Jesus. Moses is the most commonly mentioned, followed by Abraham. Knowledge of both the Old and the New Testaments is very scant. The Qur’an claims, without one speck of proof, that these fictitious Jewish apostles/prophets preached the above Islamic theme of curses, vengeance and blessings to their respective communities throughout history, preaching from the original Qur’an, which was given to each community individually but then twisted or lost by the nasty Jews and Christians. The Islamic preaching of these apostles/prophet’s preaching was somehow always rejected, so severe punishments such as the flooding of the earth, judgement on Pharaoh, curses on Abraham’s family, the death of Goliath, and many other catastrophes fell on those unbelievers in times past. These strange and warped Old Testament stories are repeated scores of times throughout the Qur’an to reinforce the principle of punishment for not following Allah’s newly anointed and final apostle, Muhammad, who has now brought that eternal book, the Qur’an, one final and successful time to the whole world.
In addition to the Old Testament Prophets and judgement stories, two other Arab judgement stories are added with regularity, the judgement of the civilisations of Ad and Thamud. The stories of both are mentioned over 20 times. These people likewise rejected the apostle/prophets sent to them so one was destroyed by a mighty wind while the other was destroyed by an earthquake. Point made.
In contrast to all this judgement, obedient followers of the perfect, eternal and divinely inspired Qur’an and its alleged prophet are by default morally and spiritually superior to all others on earth and will be blessed, both in this life with material prosperity, and then in the next life with a leafy garden paradise complete with eternal virgins. Intriguingly Mecca is missing from the Qur’an and Muhammad only gets a mention 4 times in contrast to Moses 136 times, Abraham over 60 times and Jesus over 100 times. In another twist, the Qur’an expects the end of the world and the final great judgement of all unbelievers and believers to take place soon after the time it was written.
There is very little else in the entire book; very little in the way of life stories, biographies, sermons, political intrigue, history, poetry, dialogue between people, culture or geography. It seems to sit inside a historical vacuum. There is a small amount of teaching on social rules for crimes and marriage that come from Arabic custom. Generally speaking all content is haphazardly organised, jumping from topic to topic at will, but all designed to reinforce the one single argument.