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17. Understanding Islam
13.1. Belief in the preservation of the Qur’an and the corruption of the original Bible

13.1.6. Is the Qur’an superior to other scriptures because they all have been changed, while the Qur’an alone has been preserved?

The claim that the Qur’an is superior to other scriptures because they all have been changed is a slightly different claim because now it is an accusation of the corruption of the text of other books to the extent that we don’t know what they originally said. This claim isn’t supported at all by manuscript evidence, the text of the Bible, or even the Qur’an. The Bible clearly put the preservation of God’s word in God’s own hand and not humans:

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
“I am watching over my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:12)

David in the Psalms says:

“Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)

Christ in the Gospel says:

“I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)
“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (Matthew 24:35)
“The word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)

We also have the clear warning from God to his people:

“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

And the warning is repeated in the book of Revelation:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

With all these promises and all the warnings, there is no way a believer would even contemplate the idea of changing a single letter, and if a Muslim says those who change it are not believers, then how could the believers let it happen without doing anything about it? The interesting thing here is that the Qur’an itself doesn’t claim the textual change of the Bible. To the contrary, the Qur’an says:

“Surely We sent down the Torah, wherein is guidance and light; thereby the Prophets who had surrendered themselves gave judgment for those of Jewry, as did the masters and the rabbis, following such portion of God’s Book as they were given to keep and were witnesses to. So fear not men, but fear you Me; and sell not My signs for a little price. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down ‒ they are the unbelievers. And therein We prescribed for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation’; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down ‒ they are the evildoers. And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus son of Mary, confirming the Torah before him and We gave to him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and confirming the Torah before it, as a guidance and an admonition unto the god fearing. So let the People of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down therein. Whosoever judges not according to what God has sent down ‒ they are the ungodly. And We have sent down to thee the Book with the truth, confirming the Book that was before it, and assuring it. So judge between them according to what God has sent down, and do not follow their caprices, to forsake the truth that has come to thee. To every one of you We have appointed a right way and an open road. If God had willed, He would have made you one nation; but that He may try you in what has come to you. So be you forward in good works; unto God shall you return, all together; and He will tell you of that whereon you were at variance.” (Qur’an 5:44-48, Arberry translation).

We note a few things in this section of the Qur’an:

  • According to the Qur’an Allah has sent the Torah and the Gospel wherein is guidance and light.
  • It was given to the prophets, masters, and Rabbis to keep.
  • Christ has confirmed the Torah that came before him.
  • Both Jews and Christians are asked according to the Qur’an to judge according to what was given to them.
  • The Qur’an confirms the Injeel and says that it protects it.
  • The phrase which Arberry translates as “wherein is guidance and light” is actually ambiguous in Arabic in terms of tense (in fact the phrase has no actual verb). However, in an attempt to suggest that while this might have been true in the past, the Injeel has now been corrupted, some modern Muslim translations say “in which was guidance and light” or “contained guidance and light” implying the guidance was there but it is no more which is a translation not explicitly supported by the Arabic. Even if we take the past tense translation, it still doesn’t make the text confident or consistent. According to the Qur’anic text Christ confirmed what was before him, and Mohammed confirmed what was before him, so if we have any text from the time of Mohammed or Christ then we have the confirmed text. If the text at the time of Christ or Mohammed was not correct then the Qur’an’s claim of confirmation is false, and it also means the Qur’an failed at guarding the scriptures. We currently have the Biblical text before Christ in the Dead Sea scrolls and we have tens of thousands of Bible manuscripts from before the time of Mohammed.

At this point Muslims usually try to point to some textual variant and claim that proves their point, but that is not the case at all. There is a difference between having a variant in a text and not knowing what the text says. For example, if we say “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus,” those will be counted as variants but no one thinks we don’t know what the text says. Furthermore the Qur’an asks Jews and Christian to judge according to what they have. How come the Qur’an asks them to judge according to a book that is supposedly corrupted? We read elsewhere in the Qur’an:

“We sent not before you (Mohammed) any but men, whom We inspired, so ask of those who know the Scripture [learned men of the Torah and the Gospel], if you know not.” (Qur’an 16:43)

The Qur’an thus tells people to ask Jews and Christians about things they don’t know. It even tells Mohammed to ask them if he is in doubt:

“So if you are in doubt, [O Mohammed], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you.” (Qur’an 10:94).

Are we supposed to believe the Qur’an tells Mohammed to ask the people of the Book (Jews and Christian) if he is in doubt and at the same time accuses them of corruption?

I am here not trying to confirm the truth of the Bible from the Qur’an, rather I am trying to distinguish between what Islam claims in its founding documents and what Muslims in general believe. The strange thing is that such an accusation only arose among Muslims hundreds of years after the death of Mohammed. The early Muslims and the Qur’an accused Jews of taking certain words out of context and by twisting their tongues to make a jest out of the true religion (Qur’an 4:46). They did not claim that the Jews changed the text itself. This is not the claim made today, and in any case this is common to any text; where you have someone who for whatever reason tries to distort the meaning of the text, we just have to go back to the text to understand the clear meaning. Both Christian and Muslim cults and heretics do that all the time. But as changing what the text says, nowhere is this claimed in any early Islamic sources. The Qur’an does not say that Jews or Christians wrote down in their holy books anything not revealed from Allah; what it does say is that they keep secrets (Qur’an 2:77), they conceal a testimony (Qur’an 2:140), they distort the book with their tongues (Qur’an 3:78), they cast the book behind their back (Qur’an 3:187), and they forget parts of the message (Qur’an 5:13). And so we see that the Qur’an does charge the Jews and Christians with corruption of their scriptures but only in their oral recitations or in their interpretation and not in the text itself. Muslims scholars agree. For example, Ar-Razi writes:

“Change here means misinterpreting the text, using false interpretation, taking words out of context, taking a word to untrue meaning, which is the same thing heretics do today and this is the correct meaning of corruption.”

Thus the accusation of corruption without evidence can’t even be taken seriously. It is an accusation not only against the Bible as Muslims might think, but against the Qur’an as well, for the Qur’an claims:

“No man can change the words of God” (Qur’an 6:34),

and the Qur’an claims that the Bible as revealed was indeed the words of God! Also the Qur’an, as we saw, says it was sent as a guard over the scriptures (5:48), which means:

  1. Allah failed to preserve his word.
  2. Jews and Christians managed to corrupt Allah’s words and he couldn’t do anything about it.
  3. Mohammed failed to keep a single copy of the Bible which was available at his time as we were told in a Hadith: “A group of Jews came and invited the Messenger of Allah to Quff. So he visited them in their school. They said: Abul-Qasim, one of our men has committed adultery with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them. They placed a cushion for the Messenger of Allah who sat on it and said: Bring the Torah. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee.” (Sunan Abi Dawud ‒ 4449).
  4. Muslims after Mohammed failed to keep a copy of the Book that was available in their time and which Mohammed swore by.

Basically this accusation lays blame on everyone. It also requires other questions to be addressed, namely when did the alleged corruption happen, and at whose hands? Let us look at the first question. Here we have three possibilities:

  1. At the time of writing them ‒ meaning at the time of Moses and Jesus. Such a possibility destroys the whole idea of prophethood in Islam as it admits the prophets themselves were not trustworthy (as Islam teaches them to be). It also means Allah failed to choose one single trustworthy prophet, and the Qur’an is a false book for claiming the prophets were infallible and trustworthy.
  2. The Book was changed sometime between Jesus and Mohammed. That option doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as we have thousands of copies from that time and we have the Dead Sea scrolls which date back to before Christ. It also means Mohammed and Muslims failed to do the job they were given in the Qur’an to guard over Scriptures.
  3. It happened after Mohammed. Again that doesn’t work for the same reasons: the existence of manuscripts, the existence of translations in several languages.

The only available option is that such corruption never happened in the first place, as it is not supported by evidence and is countered by much evidence to the contrary.

Now let us consider the question of who is supposed to have changed the Bible. Islam does not offer an answer to this, so let us look at the options.

a) Jews: If Jewish people changed the text to deny or change the prophecies about Jesus or Mohammed, why didn’t Christians of the first century say anything about it? To the contrary, Christians accused the Jews of many things, but changing the Scriptures wasn’t one of them. The Apostle Paul says:

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” (Romans 9:4)

The early church depended on the Old Testament. When Christ said:

“[y]ou search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39),

he was talking about the Old Testament. When Peter said:

“[s]o we have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19),

he was talking about the Old Testament; when Luke wrote:

“these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11),

he was talking about the Old Testament. In fact when the New Testament talks about the scriptures it is almost always talking about the Old Testament. We also still have over three hundred prophecies concerning Christ in the Old Testament; the Jews deny what they mean or try to explain them away but they are still there in their book.

Finally, if the Jews changed their book, why did they leave all the embarrassing shameful acts of their forefathers in there? Compare what you read in the Old Testament and what you read in most Islamic writings about Mohammed, and you’ll see the difference. Muslim writers try very hard to remove or deny anything that might be embarrassing and emphasise his praiseworthy actions to the point of embellishment. So why didn’t the Jews do something similar with what is written in the Bible about the sins of the prophets and the evil of the kings of Judea and Samaria?

b) Christians: Maybe Christians changed the Bible. But if so, how could both Christians and Jews have the same Old Testament even though they disagree what it means? And if they did, why didn’t first century Jews expose them and kill the new religion in its cradle? In which language did they do it? In Hebrew and Aramaic or in Greek? How come the text we have from before Christianity agrees with what we have after?

c) Both: Maybe both Jews and Christian did it together. Well, when did they agree about that before Christianity started? That is not possible, because we have almost all the Old Testament dating back hundreds of years before Christianity in the Dead Sea scrolls. Why didn’t the Romans expose both Jews and Christians and thus get rid of both their enemies at once?

d) All the nations of the earth: This is basically the only option available if we agree with Muslims that the Biblical text was changed to the extent that we don’t know what was in the original. Every nation on Earth before Islam in all languages and locations wherever there was a copy of the Bible agreed to change certain verses of the Jewish book and of the Christian books, and add other verses, in order to deny a prophet that will come few centuries later. They must also have agreed to rewrite the old manuscripts and translations, burn the originals, and never write or say a word about what they did. Such an absurd option is what Muslims are left with, and maybe the reason they might think of it is because that is exactly what Uthman did with the Qur’an as described above.

So then maybe because that is the history of the Qur’an, Muslims think it is the same case with other books. But there is a huge difference between the Qur’an and the Bible.

  1. The Qur’an is in one language written over 23 years in one location by one person. The Bible on the other hand was written over 2000 years by forty people in three languages over three continents.
  2. The Qur’an is a Book belonging to one group of people (Muslims), whereas the Bible belongs to different groups of people that were not in agreement with each other about what it means, nor what it is.

Finally, although we do agree with Muslims about the need for infallible scriptures, it doesn’t really make sense that Islam teaches the abrogation of other religions. So even if we have the original autograph, Muslims could still claim (as they do) that it was abrogated (abolished and replaced) by the Qur’an.

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