On Saturday April 23, 2016 I had the great pleasure of engaging with my good friend Sadat Anwar of the Muslim Debate Initiative on the topic of the Bible and the Qur’an at the Toronto Thinking Conference 2016. The event was hosted by the Network of Christian Scholars, Apologetics Canada and a number of other Christian ministry groups. To view the debate see here.
I began by listing a number of points regarding the Bible, its textual history, the different types of genres that it contains (narrative, prophecy, poetry, apocalyptic, etc) and most importantly that the Bible is not just one book. Rather, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, a divine encyclopedia if you will of 66 volumes. It was written during a 1600 year period by over 40 different authors, some were contemporaneous with each other, others were not, and that the Bible came down to us in 3 languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Bible was not written in one place, but in different geographical locations (Babylon, Persia, Israel, Greece, to name a few). The amazing reality about the Bible is how all these various texts came together under the one rubric of “the Bible”. The ultimate focus of the Bible is Jesus Christ, thus the Bible is Christocentric and also Christotelic (having Christ as its goal and end). Jesus Himself recognized this when He said,
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27, 44-45 ESV; bold italics mine)
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47 ESV)
In contrast to this, the Qur’an is a very different text. While the Bible comes to us from the period of classical history, the Qur’an is a medieval text and comes 600 years after the Bible. It was written in one location, Saudi Arabia, written in one language, Arabic, and written during a 23 year period. The authorship of the Qur’an is taken by Muslims to be Allah.From a human perspective the traditional view holds that Muhammad was illiterate, although there are a number of scholars who would dispute this claim (see Was Muhammad Illiterate?) The traditional view holds that several scribes wrote down the revelations as Muhammad receive them on any materials that were available (palm leaves, shoulder blades of sheep, stones, bark, etc). The focal point of the Qur’an is not Jesus, bur rather Muhammad (Q 3:81). The narratives of both books are very different as is their focal points.
In this article I will address some of Sadat’s claims in the debate as it would be redundant to repeat all my arguments which can be seen on the video. One point however which I would like to mention and focus on because of its vital importance, is the issue that I raised as I drew my opening statement to an end. One of the signs of a false prophet according to the biblical paradigm is outlined in the following passage:
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20).
What is interesting is that many Muslims claim that Deuteronomy 18:15 is a prophetic passage pointing to Muhammad (on the refutation of this claim and other alleged biblical passages see my article ‘Does the Bible Predict the Coming of Muhammad?). In this passage a false prophet is said to do 2 things. One, he will speak something which God has not commanded, and secondly, he will speak in the name of other gods. The penalty for such an offense is death. The story of the ‘Satanic Verses’ is should be noted is does not come from Western academia. The story comes from the Islamic sources themselves. We learn about these incident from the following sources (1) Ibn Ishaq, (2) al-Wakidi, (3) Ibn Sa’d, (4) al-Tabari, (5) Ibn Abi Hatim, (6) Ibn al-Mundhir, (7) Ibn Mardauyah, (8) Musa ibn ‘Uqba, and (9) Abu Ma’shar. The Hadith collector al-Bukhari also gives a partial account of this event. A very important doctoral dissertation from Princeton University written by a Muslim scholar (1999), the late Dr. Mohammed Shahab Ahmed, argues that the event of the ‘Satanic Verses’ did actually happen as a historical part of Muhammad’s career and was alive and well in the memory of Muslim scholars for the first 150 years of Islamic history. For an abstract of the dissertation see here. With the development of the idea of isma, that is, the impeccability of the prophets in Islam (that the prophets were sinless), the idea eventually gained wide acceptance that Muhammad was impeccable and therefore he could not have committed such an act as speaking in the name of other gods and prostrating to them. This development in Islam was also believed to be due to a polemical response to the Christian claim for the sinlessness of Jesus as Ignaz Goldziher noted:
“An unconscious tendency prevailed to draw a picture of Muhammed that should not be inferior to the Christian picture of Jesus.” (Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies (edited by S. M. Stern; trans. by C. R. Barber and S.M. Stern), London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971. Vol 2., p. 346)
A key text for our consideration is that found in the Qur’an 53:19-22 (Surat an-Najm; Pickthall) which states,
Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza
And Manat, the third, the other?
Are yours the males and His the females?
That indeed were an unfair division!
Who are these three, Al-Lat, Al-‘Uzza and Manat? They are 3 Arabic goddesses believed to have been the 3 daughters of Allah. Al-Lat is actually the feminine form of ‘Al-ilah’ or ‘Allah’. What are these goddesses doing in the Qur’an? According to Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad felt under pressure by the people of Mecca, the Quraysh, to appease them and ingratiate himself to them as a prophet by reciting the verses this way before they were later changed:
“Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third … these are the exalted Gharaniq [cranes] (a high flying bird) whose intercession is approved…When (the) Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him …and when he reached the prostration and the end of the Sura in which he prostrated himself the Muslims prostrated themselves when their prophet prostrated confirming what he brought and obeying his command, and the polytheists of Quraysh and others who were in the mosque prostrated when they heard the mention of their gods, so that everyone in the mosque believer and unbeliever prostrated…Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, ‘Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion‘”. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated as, The Life of Muhammad, (translator: A. Guillaume), Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998. pp.165- 166; bold italics mine).
Note what happens next:
“Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said , ‘What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He [God] did not say to you.‘” (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 166; bold italics mine).
Muhammad even confessed he spoke what God had not commanded at this point:
“I ascribed to Allah, what He had not said.” (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir (translator: S. Moinul Haq) New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 2 volumes, no date., vol. 1, p. 237; bold italics mine).
“ I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken.” (Al-Tabari, The History of Al-Tabari, “Muhammad at Mecca” (trans. W. Montgomery Watt & M.V. McDonald), Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988. vol. vi, p. 111; bold italics mine).
The Qur’an shows evidence of this event in Q22:52 (Pickthall):
“Never sent We a messenger or a prophet before thee but when He recited (the message) Satan proposed (opposition) in respect of that which he recited thereof. But Allah abolisheth that which Satan proposeth. Then Allah establisheth His revelations. Allah is Knower, Wise”.
Note that Muhammad did a number of troubling things. He spoke of these goddesses as intercessors with Allah by naming them, and then he prostrated with the pagan Arabs (unbelievers) in an act of worship which amounts to the sin of shirk,the unpardonable sin of associating partners with Allah:
“Lo! Allah forgiveth not that a partner should be ascribed unto Him. He forgiveth (all) save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribeth partners to Allah, he hath indeed invented a tremendous sin….Lo! Allah pardoneth not that partners should be ascribed unto Him. He pardoneth all save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah hath wandered far astray” (Q 4:48, 116; Pickthall; bold italics mine).
“Yet they ascribe as partners unto Him the jinn, although He did create them, and impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and High Exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him)” (Q 6:100; Pickthal; bold italics mine).
If we recall Deuteronomy 18:20 above, there were two things in particular that God established as earmarks of a false prophet. They will speak something which God has not commanded, and, they will speak in the name of other gods. After examining the source materials above on the ‘Satanic Verses’, did Muhammad admit that he spoke something what God had not commanded him to speak? Did Muhammad speak “in the name of other gods”? The answers to these questions are in the affirmative. If Satan misled Muhammad in surah 53, how do we know he did not also do it elsewhere? These are tremendously important questions that need to be considered. For a fuller treatment on the Satanic verses see The Satanic Verses and Their Implications.
Further Response to Sadat’s Opening Statement
I will enumerate Sadat’s arguments and provide some remarks to them.
- In his opening statements Sadat argued that we should trust the Qur’an because it makes the claim that it is from God. He said the Bible does not make that claim which is untrue. There are over 3800 references alone in the Old Testament that the writers are transmitting the very words of God. Phrases such as “Thus says the Lord,” “The Lord spoke to Moses,” “the word of the Lord came to the prophet,” etc. Scores of passages makes this claim which too voluminous to mention (see Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21-23 to name a few). Many religious books claim to be from God such as the Book of Mormon. A claim does not merely make something the word of God. Believing something to be true does not make it true, we should believe it if it’s true. Sadat quotes Q 15:9 that God will preserve the Qur’an. There is only one Arabic Qur’an. United on same Scripture.Sadat quoted Q 15:9 that Allah is the one who will preserve the Qur’an. Q 15:9 states, “Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian” (Shakir). Some English translations like Yusuf Ali, Hilali-Khan and Sale add the phrase in parenthesis “from corruption” but these words are not in the original Arabic text. Many Muslims take this to mean that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved and free from any and all error. However, textual scholarship of the Qur’an has shown that the transmission of the Qur’an has suffered the same transmissional corruption as any other texts including the Bible. The idea that the Qur’an we possess today is the same one in Muhammad’s time is a faith statement and not based on actual history and facts. For more on the alleged preservation of the Qur’an see here. There were different textual readings of the Qur’an after Muhammad’s death. These were not mere pronunciation differences as we often hear today (such as pronouncing the letter ‘z’ as “zed” (English / Canadian style) or “zee” (American style). If this were the case, there would not have been a need for a standardization of the Qur’an made in the time of Uthman (circa 650 A.D), and the wholesale destruction of other Qur’anic texts by burning them. Sadat admitted that Uthman’s text was a “standardized” text.
“when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. …” (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 510; bold italics mine)
Why did Uthman have to burn “the other Qur’anic materials, whether written or in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies”? Would not such an act be considered grossly sacrilegious today? It seems that Uthman was trying to destroy evidence.
The Qur’an was not even collected after Muhammad’s death. Sadat claimed that there is only one Arabic Qur’an and that only Christians argue over their canon. However, in Islamic history there was not always wide acceptance over the collection of the Qur’an. Ibn Masud and Ubay bin Kaab, who were companions of Muhammad and two of the best reciters of the Qur’an according to Muhammad’s own admission:
” I heard the Prophet saying, “Take (learn) the Qur’an from four (men): `Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu’adh and Ubai bin Ka’b.” (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 521)
Both Ibn Masud and Ubay bin Kaab differed in the number of the surahs in their Qur’ans. Ibn Masud had 111 surahs, and Ubay bin Kaab had 116 surahs. Where are Ubay bin Kaab’s two extra surahs today? An example of a textual variant between the modern Qur’an and that of for example, Ubay bin Kaab can be seen in Q 33: 6,
“The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers (Yusuf Ali)”.
However, in a footnote to this verse, Yusuf Ali in his English translation of the Qur’an makes this note:
“In spiritual relationship the Prophet is entitled to more respect and consideration than blood-relations. The Believers should follow him rather than their fathers or mothers or brothers, where there is conflict of duties. He is even nearer – closer to our real interests – than our own selves. IN SOME QIRAATS, LIKE THAT OF UBAI IBN KA’B, occur also the words ‘and he is a father to them,’ which imply his spiritual relationship and connect on with the words, ‘and his wives are their mothers.’ Thus his spiritual fatherhood would be contrasted pointedly with the repudiation of the vulgar superstition of calling any one like Zaid ibn Haritha by the appellation Zaid ibn Muhammad (xxxiii. 40): such an appellation is really disrespectful to the Prophet.” (Ali, The Holy Qur’an, p. 1104, fn. 3674; bold and capital emphasis mine)
This reading was well known to Ibn Masud as well, but does not appear in the modern Qur’an Muslims use. Ibn Masud also rejected surahs 1, 113-114 as inspired. In fact Ibn Masud opposed Uthman’s standardization of the Qur’an:
“Az-Zuhri said: ‘Ubaidullah bin Abdullah bin Utbah informed me that Abdullah bin Mas’ud [Ibn Masud] disliked Zaid bin Thabit copying the Musahif, and he said: ‘O you Muslim people! Avoid copying the Mushaf and recitation of this man. By Allah! When I accepted Islam he was but in the loins of a disbelieving man’–meaning Zaid bin Thabit–and it was regarding this that Abdullah bin Mas’ud said: ‘O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them. For indeed Allah said: And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement. So meet Allah with the Musahif.'” (Jami At-Tirmidhi 3104; bold italics mine)
This certainly does not sound like Muslims enjoyed an unchanged and set “canon” of the Qur’an. What does it tell us when one of the the Qur’an’s best reciters (endorsed by Muhammad himself) opposes Uthman and Zaid bin Thabit’s version of the Qur’an and tells the Muslims to keep his version of the Qur’an. There are also a number of different editions of the Qura’n today. The one that most Muslims are accustomed to is the Hafs edition of 1924 published in Cairo, Egypt and revised in 1936. The other edition is the Warsh edition which is predominant in North Africa. There are differences between these two editions.In terms of textual variants, Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds of the University of Notre Dame says the following:
“Before the Sanaa palimpsest, no early manuscript was known to vary significantly in terms of that skeleton. The basic form of the Qur’anic text, in other words, was thought to have been more or less perfectly preserved. Yet the Sanaa manuscript, which is almost certainly the most ancient Qur’an manuscript known to us, contains a surprising number of variants, including completely different words, and presents the chapters (known as suras) of the Qur’an in a different order… For now all we know is that our most ancient manuscript of the Qur’an does not agree with the standard text read around the world today.”
“Indeed, throughout most of Islamic history there were open discussions about variant readings of the Qur’an. Things changed only in the early twentieth century. In 1924 a committee organized by the Egyptian ministry of education produced a text of the Qur’an for use within the country (and had competing editions sunk in the Nile River). This Egyptian text (slightly revised later in 1924, and again in 1936, the first year of King Farouk’s reign, for which reason it became known as the King Farouk Qur’an) has now become the standard Qur’an text.” (Gabriel Said Reynolds, “Variant Readings,” in The Times Literary Supplement; August 5, 2015)
Notice that “competing editions” of text of the Qur’an were “sunk in the Nile River”. Like Uthman who burned competing documents, the Egyptian ministry submerged “competing editions” of the Qur’an. Why is there an attempt to destroy textual materials which differ?
2.Sadat argued that Islam presents a pure and easy concept of the oneness of God and he quotes from Q 112 that Allah begets not and is not begotten. However, the doctrine of tawhid (oneness of God) in Islam is Unitarian in nature while Christianity is Trinitarian. Christians are also monotheists. The Qur’an misrepresents Christian theology in terms of the Sonship of Jesus. The Qur’an assumes that to claim God has son means He has a consort (Q 6:101). I deal with the issue of the Son of God and its meaning in two articles that are available in two parts. See Part 1 and Part 2. Another issue of course is that of the Trinity. Muslims will sometimes cite Judaism as anti-Trinitarian, but the fact of the matter is that at least until the end of the second century A.D., Jews had an idea of plurality within God. In reaction to the spread of Christianity, Judaism retreated from this position to a strictly Unitarian position which is solidified by Maimonides. The concept of the Trinity however is not contrary to ancient Judaism. Professor Benjamin Sommer, a Jewish scholar with the Jewish Theological Seminary comments regarding the Trinity and Judaism:
“Some Jews regard Christianity’s claim to be a monotheistic religion with grave suspicion, both because of the doctrine of the trinity (how can three equal one?) and because of Christianity’s core belief that God took bodily form. . . . No Jew sensitive to Judaism’s own classical sources, however, can fault the theological model Christianity employs when it avows belief in a God who has an earthly body as well as a Holy Spirit
and a heavenly manifestation, for that model, we have seen, is a perfectly Jewish one. A religion whose scripture contains the fluidity traditions [meaning God appearing in bodily form at different times and places], whose teachings emphasize the multiplicity of the shekhinah, and whose thinkers speak of the sephirot does not differ in its theological essentials from a religion that adores the triune God.” (Benjamin Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009], p. 135).
3. Sadat then addressed the issue of divine justice. He argued that God can forgive without blood atonement. No one has to die. An animal doesn’t have to die, God’s Son doesn’t have to die. The issue here of course is what I mentioned in my opening statement. The Qur’an rewrites the biblical narrative and casts it in a new light. In doing so, it detaches itself (contrary to its own claims) from the biblical witness.Here is one of the strongest indications that the God who inspired the Bible (Old and New Testament is not the god who inspired the Qur’an. Muslims are commanded to say that they believe in what has been sent down to Jews and Christians, and what has been sent down to them, and that their God and our God is one (Q 29:46). The issue here is that there is no concord between the Bible and the Qur’an. This is something that Muslims and Christians must recognize. We do not have the same God, we do not have the same Jesus, we do not have the same view of inspiration. The view of divine justice in the Bible is based on the holiness, a prominent theme throughout the Bible while the Qur’an, Allah is called “holy” only twice (Q 59:23; 62:1). God’s mercy is meaningless without His justice. In Christianity, the mercy and justice of God are displayed most powerfully at the cross. The concept of one bearing another’s burdens is not necessarily absent in Islam. While the Qur’an asserts, “No bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another (Q 17:15; Yusuf Ali), Jesus does not bear the burden of sin, and thus He can bear the burdens of another. However notice in these Hadith that Jews and Christians end up bearing the sins of Muslims on the day of judgment:
Sahih Muslim 6666—Allah’s Apostle said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire.
Sahih Muslim 6668—Allah’s Messenger [said]: There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians.
110 Hadith Qudsi—Allah’s Messenger said: On the Day of Resurrection, my Ummah (nation) will be gathered into three groups. One sort will enter Paradise without rendering an account (of their deeds). Another sort will be reckoned an easy account and admitted into Paradise. Yet another sort will come bearing on their backs heaps of sins like great mountains. Allah will ask the angels though He knows best about them: Who are these people? They will reply: They are humble slaves of yours. He will say: Unload the sins from them and put the same over the Jews and Christians: then let the humble slaves get into Paradise by virtue of My Mercy.
4. Sadat then proceeded to argue that one of the signs of the Qur’an’s divine origins is that it is inimitable and cannot be reproduced. The problem with this claim and I think Sadat recognized this, is that this claim is a merely subjective one. If I were to write a book and that no one could reproduce would that prove that my book was inspired? No English writer has been able to rival the writings of William Shakespeare, does that mean the writings of Shakespeare are inspired and from God? Was William Shakespeare a prophet? The Qur’an does offer a number of challenges but note this one in particular,
Say: Verily, though mankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers one of another (17:88; Pickthall; bold italics mine)
Here we see another subjective element. The Qur’an poses a challenge, but then states from the start that it cannot be done. Here we are presented with a circular argument:
Muslim: The Qur’an cannot be imitated or reproduced, it can’t be done.
Critic: I have a written book that is better and more beautiful in recitation than the Qur’an.
Muslim: No you don’t.
Muslims: Because the Qur’an cannot be imitated or reproduced, it can’t be done.
The argument ultimately rests on a logical fallacy of ‘begging the question,’ you end where you began.
5. Sadat then proceeded to argue that the Qur’an is of divine origin because God has made it easy to memorize. Like the argument above, this is also highly subjective. Does the ability to memorize a book make it the word of God? Let us assume for the sake of argument if someone was able to memorize Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol would it follow that this book is the word of God? How is the memorizing of a text, a proof of divine inspiration? Sadat also argued that many non-Arabs have memorized the Qur’an. About 85% of Muslims today are non-Arabs and do not know Arabic. Most of them do not know what they are memorizing. If someone can memorize a substantial text in Latin without knowing Latin, does it logically follow that such a text is the word of God? I think this argument is not very convincing at all.
6. Sadat then argued from Q 11:49 that Allah brings news to Muhammad that was not known at time of revelation. As an example of this Sadat cited Q 10:90-92 regarding Pharaoh, that Allah would save his body so that it may be a sign to future generations.The Qur’an states,
“This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!” (10:92; Yusuf Ali).
Sadat then proceeded to note that the mummy of Ramses is still in the Cairo Museum thus vindicating the Qur’an. There are several problems with this argument. First, the Bible never says that Pharaoh’s body went missing after God drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In fact there is clear evidence that Pharaoh’s body was in fact retrieved,
“The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (Exodus 14:28-30; ESV, bold italics mine)
Another biblical text implies this as well,
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:13-15; ESV, bold italics mine)
Now the Bible does not say that God would preserve Pharaoh’s body as the Qur’an says, so where did this idea come from? Is this idea unique to the Qur’an? Did such an idea exist prior to the Qur’an? In fact it did. This idea was already found in Jewish rabbinic literature, particularly in Pirke Rabbi Elieser. Note the following reference:
“Perceive the great power of repentance! Pharaoh, king of Egypt, uttered very wicked words — ‘Who is the god whose voice I shall obey?’ (Exod. 5:2). Yet as he repented, saying, ‘Who is like unto thee among the gods?’ (Exod. 15:2). God saved him from death; for it saith; Almost had I stretched out my hands and destroyed; but God let him live, that he might declare his power and strength.” (Pirke Rabbi Elieser, xliii; Midrash Yalkut, ccxxxviii, as cited in T.P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam [Kazi Publications Inc., Chicago Il. 1994], p. 241; bold italics mine)
Even the late Muslim scholar, Syed Abu-Ala’ Maududi candidly admitted,
“… Though this [story of Pharaoh being preserved] is not mentioned in the Bible, it is explicitly recorded in the Talmud” (Towards Understanding the Qur’an – Volume IV, Surahs 10-16, an English translation of Tafhim al-Qur’an by Zafar Ishaq, assisted by A.R. Kidwai [The Islamic Foundation (printed and bound in Great Britain by the Cromwell Press), rpt. 1999], p. 63, n. 91; bold italics mine)
This is very important. The story of Pharaoh being preserved is pre-Islamic as the rabbinic source from whence it comes is pre-Islamic. The Jews of Medina would have been familiar with these rabbinic stores and most likely Muhammad would have heard such a story from them. One of the charges that the unbelievers brought against Muhammad in Q 25:4-6 was that he was not telling them anything that they had not known. They basically told Muhammad that all he was reciting to them was noting but tales or stories of the ancients that they were already familiar with. The Qur’an has many stories that predate Islam from various sources, and the story of Pharaoh being preserved as a sign, was one of them as we have seen by its appearance in the rabbinic literature before Muhammad’s time. In addition, the idea of mummification was well known in Muhammad’s day. The Greek writer Herodotus (484 B.C. – 425 B.C.) considered “the father of history” was not only aware of mummification, but even wrote about the process. He did get some of the details wrong, but he was aware of the practice nonetheless. There is nothing extraordinary here that would not have been known prior to Muhammad and even during his time.
7. Another example of a fulfilled prophecy which Sadat cited was Q 110:2 which speaks of people entering Islam in “crowds”. He argued that Islam is the fastest growing religion today. Having a large following of people does not logically infer that you have the truth. This is an example of the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum which is an appeal to the majority or numbers to establish a truth claim. The fact that the majority believe x to be true, does not make x true. The majority of Germany was pro-Nazi during WWII, but that does not mean that Nazism was true. If one argued that since the majority of people in the world are atheists, therefore atheism is true, this would not logically follow either. Numbers do not determine truth. There are sociological factors for the large number of Muslims in the world including larger birth rates and the fact that many women in the Muslim world cannot go to school and work and are stay at home moms with a large number of children. This has been well documented with actual statistics from pew forums that have corroborated these high numbers. For more on this see here .The law of apostasy in Islam has also been a great inhibitor from Muslims wishing to leave or convert to another faith from Islam. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, of the Muslim Brotherhood openly admitted that were it not for the law apostasy (“rida”) in Islam, Islam would have ceased to exist even after the death of Muhammad. To see and hear Qaradawi on this point see here.
8. In his last point, Sadat argued that the Qur’an claims to bring truth about Jesus. It clears false conceptions of Jesus, that He is not Son of God, nor God in the flesh, or even that He died by crucifixion. This is a purely theological statement and is not corroborated by the actual evidence of history. The earliest documents on the life of Jesus are the first century texts known as the New Testament, and in particular the biographies of Jesus known as the gospels. All scholars working in the field go to these texts to rediscover the historical Jesus. No serious biblical scholar consults the Qur’an to examine the life of Jesus because it is a seventh century text, written in another country, in a different language, dictated by someone who had no accurate knowledge of what Christians believed. All historians disciplined in the New Testament believe that Jesus made extraordinary claims about Himself, that He was brought up on trumped up charges of blasphemy by the Jewish Sanhedrin, and accused of treason under Roman law. He died on a Roman cross, was buried. On the third day His tomb was discovered empty and Jesus’ earliest followers claimed to have seen post-mortem appearances of Jesus alive again. This led to the origin of Christianity. These points are accepted as sound by the vast majority of scholars in the field. The irony about Islam is that it appears late on the scene of world history, and then proceeds to inform Judaism and Christianity that they are in error. Instead of judging the alleged new revelation of the Qur’an by the Bible (compare the biblical methodology of comparing the message of the apostle with the Old Testament in Acts 17:11), the judge the older revelation by the alleged new revelation. This would be like the followers of the Baha’i faith judging the Qur’an by the sacred writings of their founder Baha’u’llah, and telling Muslims to accept the writings of Baha’u’llah as a corrector over the Qur’an! Of course, no Muslim would accept this line of reasoning.
The other claim by Sadat that many New Testament scholars have brought into question the divinity of Jesus especially in the gospel of John was quite surprising. Moreover he claimed that these scholars argue that the historical Jesus did not make claims found in John such as ” I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), “I AM” (John 8:58), etc. Who are these scholars who make these claims? Sadat did not give any examples. Were they conservative scholars who believe like Muslims that God has spoken and revealed Himself? Or, are they liberal scholars who deny a supernatural worldview and so would also dismiss the Qur’an with the same brush as they dismiss the Bible. There are liberals scholars in the biblical studies camp….just as there are liberal scholars in the Islamic studies camp as well. Did Jesus speak words as we find such as “I and the Father are one”? Is this language unique only to John? Definitely not. Let’s look and see what Jesus said in Matthew 11:27 ESV (also found in Luke 10:22),
” All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Did you notice the use of “Father” and “Son” language? In addition, even liberal critics would admit that this saying of Jesus (also Luke 10:22) is part of Q, the hypothetical sayings source believe to date to the 50’s A.D. and they argue it is an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. Thus, even liberal scholars would argue that Jesus spoke of Himself as Son of God. The Qur’an has not corrected anything, it has rewritten the story to fit its own agenda. One of the sharpest critics against conservative orthodox Christianity is Professor Bart Ehrman. Notice what he says in his most recent book on the identity of Jesus in the first century A.D.:
“The idea that Jesus is God is not an invention of modern times…it was the view of the very earliest Christians soon after Jesus’s death. (Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 2014], p. 3; cf. p. 83; bold italics mine).
Further Response to Sadat’s Rebuttal
In Sadat’s rebuttal period he addressed the issue of the Incarnation. Since I addressed in the debate I will not elaborate here. He did mention the medieval philosopher Maimonides referring to churches as places of idolatry because of the worship of Jesus. That is correct, but Maimonides misunderstood Incarnational theology just as our Muslim friends do. In fact, Maimonides opposed Islam as well, and referred to Muhammad as “the Madman” (Moses Maimonides, Epistle to Yemen, 4, 8, 15, 18). He also disparaged Jesus with these words, ” Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust” (Maimonides, Epistle to Yemen, 3). So in short, Maimonides dismissed both Christianity and Islam. He believed that Providence nevertheless insured that Jesus and Muhammad came to actually pave the way for the coming of the Jewish Messiah (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, 11:4).
Sadat asked about the fact that the Bible quotes other sources that are deemed apocryphal or non-canonical since I criticized the Qur’an for citing pre-Islamic sources. Firstly, it is the Qur’an that makes the claim that all of its contents are heavenly in origin and not earthly as we saw above (Q 25:4-6). The Bible does not make that claim. The Bible quotes other sources when they are consistent with its own divine worldview. God is sovereign over history in such a way that He works through history and uses human language and idioms to communicate His words. Thus for Paul to quote Greek poets and philosophers in Acts 17 is not a problem because what these writers said is in conformity with holy Scripture. The same applies to the other examples Sadat provided.
When I addressed the Infancy Gospel of Jesus as one of the sources the Qur’an utilized Sadat said that I was engaging in the fallacy of false cause where someone thinks on mere perception alone that x causes y. An example of this would be a farmer who reasons that every time the rooster crows the sun rises, therefore the crowing of the rooster causes the sun to rise. This a false cause. However, this fallacy is not committed If there is a common cause. The stories in the Qur’an of Jesus speaking from cradle, making clay birds and animating does appear in the Infancy Gospel and there was an Arabic translation of this gospel known to the Arabs of Muhammad’s day. Nevertheless, the Infancy Gospel is a second century document that has no historical worth for discovering Jesus. It is a fanciful collection of stories which do not meet the criterion of embarrassment because they are not historical. No serious scholar takes this document as historically relevant in historic Jesus studies.
Further Response to Sadat’s Concluding Remarks
In thing that Sadat mentioned in his concluding statements that I found quite surprising was the assertion that Dr. Keith Small, author of the book, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham, MD; Lexington Books, 2011) did not know Arabic. That is quite a bold claim in light of the fact that Dr. Small received his Ph.D in Islamic studies especially dealing with the Qur’an which would involve knowing the language of the Qur’an, namely Arabic. Dr. Small is also the research scholar at the Bodleian library at Oxford University who is responsible for the cataloging of manuscripts of the Qur’an which again would presuppose the ability to read the manuscripts. This involves the ability to read the Arabic text and understanding the text in the manuscripts and producing a good translation to the best of one’s abilities.
I think Sadat may have misunderstood my reference to Allah being the “best of creators” (Q 23:14). I was not referring to henotheism at all. What I was referring to was that there were a number of sayings of the Caliph Umar which made their way into the Qur’an after he had said them. If the Qur’an is a purely heavenly text with no human fingerprints, then how is it that the sayings of one of Muhammad’s companions who became the second Caliph became scripture? If this is the case, then would that not entail that Umar was also a prophet? Notice Umar’s comments in the following Islamic sources and how they were added later to the Qur’an. Notice in the last quote from Sahih Bukhari that Umar said Allah “agreed” with his statements:
“Ibn Abi Hatim relates on the authority of Anas that Umar said: ‘My view on four matters turned out to be in conformity with the intention of my Lord. When the verse, ‘Verily we created man from a quintessence of clay…’ [Q 23:12] was revealed, I said, ‘Glorified be God, the best of creators,’ and the verse, ‘Glorified be God, the best of creators,’ [Q23:14] was revealed.” (Jalal-Al-Din Al-Suyuti,The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’an. Reading, U.K.: Garnet Publishing, 2011. Vol. 1, p. 71.)
“A Jew encountered ’Umar ibn al-Khattab and told him, ‘This Gabriel, whom your friend [Muhammad] mentions, is an enemy of ours.’ Then ’Umar said, ‘Whoever is an enemy to God, His angels and His messengers, to Gabriel and Michael – God is an enemy to unbelievers.’ Abd- al-Rahman then adds: God thereupon revealed verse 97 and 98 of surat al-Baqara [surah 2] (which contain an identical wording).” (Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 72).
“My Lord agreed with me in three things: 1. I said,”O Allah’s Apostle, I wish we took the station of Abraham as our praying place (for some of our prayers). So came the Divine Inspiration: And take you (people) the station of Abraham as a place of prayer (for some of your prayers e.g. two Rakat of Tawaf of Ka’ba)”. (2.125) 2. And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I wish you ordered . your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.’ So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed. 3. Once the wives of the Prophet made a united front against the Prophet and I said to them, ‘It may be if he (the Prophet) divorced you, (all) that his Lord (Allah) will give him instead of you wives better than you.’ So this verse (the same as I had said) was revealed.” (66.5). (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Number 395; Kahn).
This debate was very profitable and served as an opportunity to further open up the lines of communication between us and our Muslim friends. We need to try to understand each other, but at the same time we need to be honest with where we stand. I think in this debate with my good friend Sadat, we tried to fulfill this mandate. The regrettable part in many debates is that people tend to talk past each other, rather than to each other. We don’t have to agree with each other, but can we not at least respect one another at the end of the day as brothers and sisters in Adam? God’s truth must be defended at all costs, and we must make it our endeavor to understand that truth, no matter what the cost, and ultimately truth will prevail