Myth of Islam

The Story of Islam's Origins

14. Who is speaking? God or Muhammad? —

Muslims insist that the Koran is the word of God and that it has remained unchanged.

But the very first Sura shows this is not the case. That Sura is called the Fatiha; it is short and is plainly a prayer addressed to Allah by humans, not something Allah is revealing to humans. It runs as follows (in the King Fahd translation):

  1. In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.
  2. All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists)
  3. The most gracious, the Most merciful
  4. The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (ie the day of resurrection)
  5. You (Alone) we worship, and You (alone) we ask for help (for each and everything)
  6. Guide us to the Straight Way
  7. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not the way of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians)

While Maulana Wahiduddin Khan does not comment, the common explanation offered for the fact that the Fatiha is a prayer addressed to Allah is that the word ‘Say’ is to be understood at the beginning, so that the Fatiha then becomes a prayer taught by Allah to humans.

However, there is evidence for early versions of the Koran in which the Fatiha was not considered part of the text of the Koran at all. The evidence is in the lists of the Suras included in these early variant versions. The versions themselves were suppressed, so we do not have copies, but the oldest commentators on the Koran had these versions before them, and their Koran began with Sura 2 (al-Baqara)[1]. Other ancient manuscripts are understood either to have the Fatiha written on the cover at the beginning as an introductory prayer but not as part of the Koran, or else it has been inscribed at the end of the text[2].

A similar argument applies for the last two Suras 113 and 114. Both these are in the form of prayer to Allah, but in these cases the word ‘Say’ has been placed at the beginning of the Sura, so as to make it plausibly the word of Allah. The word ‘Say’ is suspected of having been added to the text in a number of other places too by later editors in an attempt to ensure the text conformed to the Tradition that the Koran is the word of Allah.

The fact of the suppression of earlier versions of the Koran is itself an indication that the Koran has not always been as it is now.

Who actually is speaking?

The reader of the Koran is not always sure who is speaking: God or Muhammad. It seems as if it is Muhammad who is speaking much of the time.

Some verses look like Muhammad describing God eg 6.100ff, especially when he says in 6.102 “Such is Allah your Lord. There is no God except Him..”

Others like 6.114 are clearly Muhammad talking about God:

Shall I seek other than Allah for judge when it is he Who has revealed to you this scripture, fully explained?

And in 19.64 it is clearly the Angel speaking not God, so that the word ‘angels’ is placed in the text by translators to explain:

We (angels) come not down except by commandment of your Lord..

Other verses reflect or record debates and arguments Muhammad or those who created the Koran must have had. For example:

(a)  With the Bedouins. See 9.97 where Muhammad singles out the Bedouins for their disbelief: ‘The Bedouins are the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy…

(b) With the Jews of Medina, eg 2.88-91.

(c)  With adherents of other sects (as seen throughout this book)

Verses 9.97 and 2.88-91 refer to Allah throughout in the third person, as if Muhammad (or an unidentified preacher) is speaking about God, and he gives the impression of speaking in a single historical context, not God speaking a universal truth.

There are plenty of other verses where Muhammad refers to Allah in the third person as 2.15 and 64.9 – like a preacher talking about Allah.

Sometimes the Koran shows Allah speaking as “I” and “Me” (eg 51.56, 2.40-41) while at other times he refers to himself as “We”(such as in 4.31). In 51.58 he starts in the third person ‘He’ just two verses from the use of “I” in 51.56.

 

Compare other verses such as 3.195 where Allah speaks as ‘I’ until the end of the verse when he is referred to as Allah.

Muhammad appears to associate himself so closely with Allah that at one moment he is speaking as if he is uttering Allah’s words while even in the same verse or making the same point, he is talking about Allah.

Sura 6.97 has the same mix:

 

It is He who has set the stars for you, so that you may guide your course with their help through the darkness of the land and sea. We have (indeed) explained in detail in Our Ayat for people who know.

 

This gives the impression of Muhammad introducing a point referring to Allah in the third person, and then backing it up with the same message as if delivered by Allah, either alone or as Allah’s partner. (Associating partners with Allah is a major issue within Islam!). Maulana Wahiduddin Khandoes not notice any incongruity.

 

The impression, that we are listening to Muhammad, not Allah, is shown also by some verses which reveal what appears to be uncertainty in the mind of the speaker. Can this really be God?

 

Examples are 17.50-51

 

Say “Be you stones or iron or some created thing that is greater (or harder) in your breasts (thoughts to be resurrected, even then you shall be resurrected). Then they will say “Who shall bring us back (to life)?” Say: “He who created you first!” Then they will shake their heads at you and say: “when will that be?” Say “Perhaps it is near”.  (King Fahd translation).

 

Why would an all-knowing God not tell them when it will be (if he were straight-dealing)? Muhammad himself of course as a mere human would not know when.

 

Again 5.108 apparently shows ‘Allah’ unsure of himself in promulgating rules about wills.

Thus it is more likely that they will bear witness all clear that after their oaths, the oaths of others will be taken (Pickthall translation)

That should make it closer…(King Fahd)

Again Maulana Wahiduddin Khan does not see any issue. Trying to assess the result of a law is a very human activity, not one you would expect of an all-knowing God. These verses are more consistent with the theme that the Koran does not have a divine origin, but that it was created by Muhammad or whoever the true authors of the Koran were.

Other verses show Muhammad identifying himself with Allah in his arguments: 9.63 is an example:

Know they not that who opposes Allah and his messenger his portion verily is Hell, to remain in it? That is the extreme humiliation.

Muslims feel comfortable with such a close identification of the messenger with his God and see nothing wrong. But a more sceptical reading picks up on such a close identification, because they give the impression that Muhammad constantly forgets whether he is addressing his followers as himself, or as a mouthpiece of God. And this is more consistent with a human origin than a divine origin.

One has to bear in mind that the Koran by Tradition is a series of revelations given over a period of 22 years, so that some stylistic variation is not unreasonable between revelations given at different periods, and that Muhammad was supposed to be remembering what had been revealed and transmitting the material to his followers. While one might not expect God’s words to vary in style, those of a mere human might do so. The problem with this possible explanation for the Tradition is that it is consistent with the Koran not being exactly as God revealed it.

Another plausible explanation is that the Koran is composed of different scriptures and texts from different sources composed by different people which were combined without meticulous concern for editing or consistency. Tradition suggests the work was done hurriedly.

Having read this far the attentive reader will have gathered that a more likely time for the gathering of texts into the Koran is the 8th century, and that much of the material may have been recycled scripture or prayers and other material, specifically polemical material directed against competing sects, or justifying theological points of view against those of the Byzantine Church.

The claim however that the Koran is the word of God looks unsupported by the evidence of simply reading the text.

Summary

This section looks at further evidence from the text of the Koran suggesting human rather than divine authorship, namely what the text reveals about the identity of who is speaking.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] See Arthur Jeffery in The Origins of the Koran  pub Prometheus New York 1998 page 145-6 and page 126ff

[2] Ibid page 145ff


13 Scientific Errors in the Koran —

Islam or at any rate science written in Arabic made major contributions to scientific progress in the 9th to 12th centuries, often called the Golden Age of Arabic Science , but for interesting reasons outside the scope of this text, this golden age came to an end. Nowadays Islam presents an image for the moist part as hopelessly unscientific. Innovation is opposed as a threat to the complete truth contained in the Qur’an. Notwithstanding tghis groups like Boko haram who oppose western Education are still happy to use modern technology in the form of guns, personnel carriers and video technology, all of which depends on the very education and science they seem to want to destroy. I now look at a range of areas in which some mainstream Muslims maintain beliefs at variance with scientific facts that have been well established and agreed. First a few quotations to set the scene Gynaecology “Women who drive cars suffer from ovarian problems and ‘rolled up’ pelvises giving rise to congeniality defective babies” (Sheik Salah al-Luhaidan, Saudi ‘psychologist’) Geology “If the earth is rotating as they claim, the countries, the mountains, the trees, the rivers and the oceans will have no bottom and the people will see the eastern countries move the west and the eastern countries move to the West. The earth is flat and anyone claiming it is round is an atheist deserving punishment (1993 Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baaz, Supreme authority of Islam in Saudi Arabia, called the ‘walking Quran’) Forensic Science “DNA test should not be used as evidence in rape cases” (Maulana Mohammed Khan Sherani, Head of Council for Islamic ideology) Seismology “Many women who do not dress modestly, lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in the society, which increases earthquakes” (Hajatosalem Kazem Sedighi, Iranian Islamic Scholar) And finally “The earth is flat. Whoever claims it is round is an atheist deserving of punishment.” —Sheik Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baaz, supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, 1993 How could the conclusion that the earth is flat be drawn by a religious authority? (The reference to ‘an atheist deserving of punishment’ we pass by for the moment as an example of failure to respect freedom of thought and speech). Bin Baaz comes to this idea quite simply because the Koran suggests the world is flat, and that is the end of the matter according to him. He is no doubt interpreting the many Koranic verses which speak of Allah spreading out the earth (in some translations like a bed or carpet), which he and others think implies flatness. An example is 20.53: (Allah) has appointed the earth as a bed… These verses include: 15.19, 50.7, 51.48, 71.19, 78.6, 79.30. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan does not comment on the obvious factual error by Bin Baaz of suggesting the earth is flat. Indeed in his own translation of 20.53 he avoids the problem by not mentioning the word ‘bed’. He does however discuss the Arabic word used ‘dahaha’ which he says means ‘spread out’ or cast like a stone. It would have been helpful if Maulana Wahiduddin Khan had at least referred to this belief as a myth or dealt with it as an obviously incorrect statement. Attempts have been made by some Muslims to save the Koran from the error of suggesting the world is flat by seeking to interpret the word dahaha to mean ostrich egg or egg shaped, but these have not found favour with most translators nor did they find favour with Sheik Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baaz, supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam. Indeed one Islamic theologian Rashad Khalifa who sought to translate this word to mean egg shaped was murdered in Arizona by Jihadists in 1990 for his pains. The Koran also states that Allah created the earth and the heavens, suggesting they are fixed with only the sun and moon in orbit around the earth and suggesting the sun is a lamp and the sky a canopy . He can make the heavens fall upon humankind if he decides to: 34.9 ….If We Will We can make the earth swallow them (the disbeliever) or cause obliteration from the Sky to fall upon them….. The ancient belief that the earth and heavens were created by God is not of course exclusive to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Simon Dubov in the History of the Jews demonstrated that these ideas were current in the Middle East in the centuries prior to the development of Judaism. The Epic of Gilgamesh contains a similar basic creation account. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan shows no embarrassment at verse 34.9 in his commentary and states that the verse reflects a regular theme in the Koran. These false beliefs derived directly from the a literal reading of the Koran are still evident today. For instance a follower emailed the Manchester Salafi Centre in May 2013 with the following query: In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful The Bestower of Mercy Imaam Muhammad Bin Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen was asked: ”The astrologers hold that the earth rotates; is there a legislated proof to establish that?” The response was as follows: Answer: They do not have a legislated proof for that; Their statement that the earth rotates and that the sun is stationary is in opposition to what is witnessed, and (it is in opposition to) the legislated texts. Allaah (The Most High) said concerning what Ibraaheem said: ‘’Verily! Allah causes the sun to rise from the east; then cause it you to rise from the west.” [Soorah al-Baqarah Ayah2:258] And Allaah (The Most High) said: ‘’And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term (appointed).’’ [Soorah Yaaseen: Ayah: 38]. And He (The Most High) said about the moon: ‘’and has subjected the sun and the moon, each running its course for a term appointed; and that Allah is All-Aware of what you do.’’ [Soorah Luqmaan: Ayah: 29] The truth is that these kinds of statements are just the kind one would not be surprised to find in a text created by human beings during the period when the Koran was actually created. The Koran is more obviously reflective of the state of limited scientific knowledge of its age, than of divine and scientifically well informed pronouncements, as would have been expected of an all-knowing God had he been the Koran’s author. It is logical for Muslims to suggest that divine authorship of the Koran means that it should reveal scientific knowledge which the people of the 7th century lacked. The problem with this suggestion is that the Koran overall shows no such knowledge. It may come as a surprise therefore to non-Muslims to find that there are Muslims today who claim that the Koran in fact is full of scientific facts that are supported by modern findings, which could not have been within the knowledge of Muhammad. They claim that there is no conflict between Islam and modern scientific knowledge. They imply therefore that it must have been God who was the author of the Koran. This chapter considers this claim. There are many fields of modern science which could be considered, but three areas are examined here: (a) The creation of humans (b) Evolution (c) Cosmology (a) The creation of humans The Koran shows a considerable confusion on this point. If the question is what did God make man from is considered, the Koran contains a range of answers: (i) Water And He it is Who hath created man from water… (25.54) (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment on the idea of man being made from water under this verse) Allah hath created every animal of water. (24.45) (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan comments that elsewhere (21.30) it is said that all animal and plant life has been made from water) (ii) A Clot In the name of thy Lord Who createth … man from a clot. (96.1-2) (iii) Clay or Mud He it is Who hath created you from clay. (6.2) We created man of potter’s clay of black mud altered…. (15.26) He began the creation of man from clay. (32.7) (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment on any of these) When thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to create a mortal out of mire. (38.71) He created man of clay like the potter’s. (55.14) Man We did create from a quintessence of clay. Then we placed him as a drop of sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood. Then out of that clot We made a fetus lump. Then We made out of that lump bones, and clothed the bones with flesh. Then We developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the Best to create! (23:12-14). (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment) (iv) Dust He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he is.(3.59) And of His signs is this: He created you of dust, and behold you human beings, ranging widely! (30.20) Allah created you from dust….(35.11) (v) A drop of fluid He hath created man from a drop of fluid. (16.4) (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment) (vi) Sperm That He did create the pairs, male and female, from a sperm-drop when lodged in its place (53:45-46). Was he not a drop of sperm emitted, then did he become a leach-like clot. Then did Allah make and fashion him in due proportion. And of him He made two sexes, male and female (75:37-39). (vii) Nothing Doth not man remember that We created him before, when he was naught? (19.67) Maulana Wahiduddin Khan does not notice any discrepancy in these verses and makes no comment. He seems unembarrassed by the wide range of discrepancies both internally and also with scientific facts. Some of the discrepancies may be explained by translations which differ in small ways. But this still leaves major inconsistencies. What is the cause for such inconsistency on the point? Are we dealing with different traditions being combined, or loose talk with each verse focussing on a different aspect of the act of creation? Whatever it is, it cannot be said to reveal scientifically accurate knowledge being slipped into the Koran and waiting to be confirmed by discoveries hundreds of years later. Further misconceptions are seen in 77.20 (King Fahd) where Allah refers to semen as a ‘despised water’! Pickthall’s rendering is ‘base fluid’. However these quotations are considered, whether they reflect cultural ideas or not, they cannot be seen as reflecting any modern scientific knowledge, which an all knowing God would have always possessed. (b) Evolution Views on Evolution vary among Muslims. Some like Harun Yahya (alias Adnan Oktar) are simple creationists while others believe there is no contradiction between Islam and evolution. Those who accept Evolution give in support the views of the great 14th century scholar Ibn Khaldun: We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection. Following this tradition, the website About.com.Islam puts forward the view that Islam does not exclude evolution. The impression however given by other verses is more creationist: 7.54: “Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in six days”. Verse 10.3 says the same thing while (as we saw above) 41.9-12 states God took eight days to create everything. While on the surface this might seem similar to the account related in the Bible, there are some important explanations advanced by Muslims. About.com.Islam explains: The verses that mention “six days” use the Arabic word “youm” (day). This word appears several other times in the Koran, each denoting a different measurement of time. In one case, the measure of a day is equated with 50,000 years (70:4), whereas another verse states that “a day in the sight of your Lord is like 1,000 years of your reckoning” (22:47). The word “youm” is thus understood, within the Koran, to be a long period of time — an era or eon. Therefore, Muslims interpret the description of a “six day” creation as six distinct periods or eons. The length of these periods is not precisely defined, nor are the specific developments that took place during each period. These verses are not consistent with the claim for clarity in the Koran. If the Koran were of divine origin, why did Allah not make the position entirely clear? Instead he used a word with a range of meanings when he could have used more precise terms, and so he left humanity struggling for the answer for 13 centuries. Indeed if God is omnipotent why did he need six or eight days to create the cosmos? This Islamic view of evolution focuses on creation but leaves room for Allah’s further interventions. About.com.Islam explains Allah’s continuing interventions as follows: Allah is never “done” with His work, because the process of creation is ongoing. Each new child who is born, every seed that sprouts into a sapling, every new species that appears on earth, is part of the ongoing process of Allah’s creation: “He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then established Himself on the Throne. He knows what enters within the heart of the earth, and what comes forth out of it, what comes down from heaven, and what mounts up to it. And He is with you wherever you may be. And Allah sees well all that you do” (57:4). This idea of Allah’s constant creative process in the sense of evolution is not revealed by this verse, as implied by the Muslim evolutionist. While science does not yet claim to understand definitely how life was formed or how the universe came into being, (so that a possible divine element cannot be excluded besides other possible scenarios), no divine involvement in evolution is necessary to or confirmed by the scientific law of Evolution, which provides for the slow emergence of new species over very long periods of time by way of natural selection. (c) Cosmology and Astronomy An interesting question to ask here is whether the Koran exhibits scientifically correct material as compared to what was generally accepted at the time. What was thought might be shown by the Hebrew Bible’s understanding: According to the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, “The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round, covered by the great solid dome of the firmament which was held up by mountain pillars (Job 26:11; 37:18). The blue color of the sky was attributed to the chaotic waters that the firmament separated from the earth (Gen. 1:7). The earth was thus surrounded by waters above and below (Gen. 1:6,7; cf. Psalms 24:2; 148:4, Deut. 5:8). The firmament was thought to be substantial; it had pillars (Job 26:11) and foundations (2 Sam. 22:8). When the windows of it were opened, rain fell (Gen. 7:11-12; 8:2). The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:4,6). It was also the abode of the birds (Gen. 1:20; Deut. 4:17). Within the earth lay Sheol, the realm of the dead (Num. 16:30-33; Isa. 14:9,15).” We have seen references above to verses which reflect this biblical view: Allah spreading the earth and fixing hills, creating heavens with the nearer one having lamps etc. However About.com.Islam quotes two verses in support of their theme that the Koran contains accurate scientific information. The site argues that when describing the creation of the “heavens and the earth,” the Koran does not discount the theory of a “Big Bang” explosion at the start of it all. In fact, the Qur’an says that “the heavens and the earth were joined together as one unit, before We clove them asunder” (21:30). Following this big explosion, Allah “turned to the sky, and it had been (as) smoke. He said to it and to the earth: ‘Come together, willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We come (together) in willing obedience’” (41:11). In this way the site claims that the elements and what was to become the planets and stars began to cool, come together, and form into shape, following the natural laws that Allah established in the universe. If we ignore for the moment the miraculous phenomenon of the earth and heaven talking to Allah, About.com.Islam here argues that the reference to smoke and cleaving of the heavens and the earth shows that the Koran is talking about the Big Bang. There are problems with this view however. Firstly 21.30 is contradictory to 41.9-12 which we saw above. In 41.9-12, Allah is described making the earth first and then turned to the heavens (contrary to the Big Bang theory in which no planets are created until well after the Big Bang). We also saw that 79.27-30 conflicts with 2.29 as to the order in which the heavens and earth were made; 21.30 implies the earth existed before the heavens were made. What the site About.Islam are doing is picking verses that (fortuitously) support their theme that the Koran predicts scientific knowledge while ignoring those verses which clearly show the Koran is a text of its time with the limitations of knowledge that went with it. In the Koran it may sometimes be possible with effort or luck to read into some verses a reflection of modern scientific knowledge, but then in all fairness it is necessary to compare verses like 41.12: “Then He ordained seven heavens in two days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We adorned the nearer heaven with lamps and rendered it inviolable…..” This verse is more revealing of the true beliefs held by humans at the time: that the stars were lamps in the sky placed there by God. About.com.Islam also quotes: “It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. All (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course” (21:33). “It is not permitted for the sun to catch up to the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day. Each just swims along in its own orbit” (36:40). “He created the heavens and the earth in true proportions. He makes the night overlap the day, and the day overlap the night. He has subjected the sun and the moon to His law; each one follows a course for a time appointed…” (39:5). “The sun and the moon follow courses exactly computed” (55:5). If Allah had chosen he could have told Muhammad about the heliocentric nature of our star system. That would have been remarkable. The second quotation fails to explain eclipses where the sun can be said to ‘catch up with the moon’. These quotations do nothing to undermine the fact that the understanding of Muhammad’s day was that the earth is at the centre of a system and that the moon and sun orbit round the earth under the canopy of the sky. Muslims who advance that the Koran is well informed about science also have to contend with verses such as 18.86 where the sun is described as setting in a muddy spring “…when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people there.” It is difficult to see how these verses can be claimed as revealing that the Koran was possessed of any scientific knowledge which was unknown at the time. On a charitable view they appear to be more poetic than scientific. Science has explained how these orbits have come about without reference to Allah. Expanding Universe The About.Islam site quotes 51.47 as: “The Heaven, we have built it with power. Verily We are expanding it”. This passage, the site claims, shows that the Koran contained knowledge that the universe is expanding, something only discovered in the 20th century. However I have checked three translations: Pickthall, Dawood and the King Fahd versions and none of them translate the text to suggest ongoing expansion. Pickthall for instance gives “We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent of it”. The claim therefore appears to depend on an irregular translation, cherrypicked by About.Islam to support their argument. The Question of Smoke ‘And when He turned to the heavens when it was smoke…’ (41.11). Some Muslims believe that the science of modern cosmology, observational and theoretical, clearly indicates that, at one point in time, the whole universe was nothing but a cloud of ‘smoke’ (i.e. an opaque highly dense and hot gaseous composition). This, they say, is one of the undisputed principles of standard modern cosmology. Scientists now can observe new stars forming out of the remnants of that ‘smoke’. The illuminating stars we see at night were, just as was the whole universe, in that ‘smoke’ material. The word smoke is a loose unscientific term. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s translation gives ‘vapour’ not smoke. Modern cosmology talks of dust not smoke nor vapour, although smoke may have been thrown out of exploding stars and at root may be composed of dust. Muslims believe that because the earth and the heavens above (the sun, moon, stars, planets, galaxies) have been formed from this same ‘smoke’, therefore the Koran shows that the earth and the heavens were one connected entity. Then out of this homogeneous ‘smoke’ they were formed and separated from each other. This is contrary to the Big Bang theory which has stars forming first and later planets in a constant cycle. Stars Where are they and what are they for? According to Bukhari 3198, Abu Qatada referred to the Koran 67.5 as meaning that Allah created stars for three purposes: (1) to decorate the sky, (2) as missiles to hit the devils and as signs for travellers. He continues “So if anybody tries to find a different interpretation, he is mistaken and just wastes his efforts and troubles himself with what is beyond his limited knowledge.” There are two Koranic passages on this subject: Koran 37. 6-10 We have adorned the lowest heaven with an ornament, the stars; With security from every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the Highest Chiefs for they are pelted from every side, Outcast, and theirs is a perpetual torment; Except him who snatches a fragment, and there pursues him a piercing flame Koran 67.5 And verily we have beautified the world’s heaven with lamps, and We have made them missiles for the devils, and for them we have prepared the doom of flame. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translates the first reference to stars as planets, and does not remark on the reference to lamps in 67.5. He also translates the phase ‘Highest Chiefs’ as the ‘Higher Assembly’. The meaning conveyed is that devils are trying to get into heaven or to listen in on what is said there. The understanding of stars as lamps was a common understanding in the period of the Koran’s creation, and the suggestion that there are different levels of heaven was also part of the mythology of the period. There is also confusion between shooting stars and stars (or planets) in so far as the reference to stars pelting devils to keep them out of heaven could only mean a reference to shooting stars. Shooting stars are of course not stars at all, but just debris. The Fixing of Hills Whilst on the subject of creation, 79:32 reads ‘And he made firm the hills’. This quote is claimed to show that Allah made mountains firmly fixed in the earth and that this is a fact confirmed by geologists many centuries later. However geology does not advance that hills and mountains are fixed but that they have been created by strong geological processes and are subject to erosion and tectonic forces. A divinely authored Koran could have explained this, but did not. Circuitous Proof Sura 2.29 says that the proofs of Allah include his creation of the heavens and the earth. Allah is purporting to prove he is God by his own claim that he created the universe. Such a claim is open to any god – and has been made by others. Further he is excepting himself from this creation. If he is eternal, then why cannot the universe be eternal? Logically, this idea that Allah can claim he is God by his own statement that he created the universe, has to be rejected, because the claim is circuitous (quite apart from the reasoned rejection by many Western philosophers of the argument for the existence of God that he was the first cause of creation). Muslims who believe that the Koran predicts modern scientific discoveries have to force their Koranic quotations and interpretations to fit the facts. But consider the full range of modern technology based on scientific discoveries over the last few hundred years. Did the Koran predict any or all of the following: electricity, computers, the internal combustion engine, cars, trains, mobile phones, air and space travel, nuclear fission, modern medicine, DNA, or even watches, steam engines, vacuum cleaners and washing machines? Muslim exponents of the wonders of the Koran’s scientific predictions might ask themselves why the Koran lacks any references to these. Summary This chapter examines the scientific errors found in the Koran and considers the claims of those Muslims who allege that the Koran actually predicts scientific discoveries that have been made since the Koran was revealed.


12. Myth, Magic and the Bizarre —

The Koran contains stories, claims and statements which seem strange, mythological, plainly contrary to the laws of physics or simply incredible. Within Islam. Many are seen as miracles, but the absence of blind faith enables the cold light of reason see them for what they are! Some of these have already been encountered (eg heaven and earth talking to God). Many More can be easily found throughout the Koran by simply reading the text with an open Mind.

Some commentators have described a certain poetic quality in the Koran and this could be an explanation for what otherwise can only be interpreted as mythological notions. What follows is one description of the Koran, among many:

The Holy Qur’an has its own style, which is different from that of both poetry and prose. It is not poetry because it is neither rhymed, nor has it a metrical rhythm. Moreover, poetry entails a sort of imagery called poetic fancy. It is interwoven with exaggeration which amounts to telling a lie. The Holy Qur’an has no poetic imagery nor fanciful similes and Metaphors. At the same time it is no ordinary prose, for it is characterized by a kind of harmonious flow and cadence not found in any other prose work. The Muslims have always recited the Holy Qur’an with a particular harmonic tune.[1]

The recitation of the Koran which is considered beautiful does not of course make up for what the text actually says if this contains mythological or magical ideas. Here is a selection of fantastic ideas. Some we have already encountered in other chapters. In each case I have given the comment of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan:

(1)             According to 19.23-25 when Mary is giving birth to Jesus under a palm tree, she complains to a palm tree about the pains of childbirth. A voice (perhaps the tree?) responds by talking, telling her to shake its trunk and ripe dates will fall.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan comments that this was an angel who spoke to her –

(2)             In 19.30ff Jesus as a baby in the cradle starts talking and professes he is the slave of God and a prophet. Further in 19.33 he refers to the fact that he will be raised from the dead (although the fact of crucifixion is denied in 4.157).

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan mentions the miraculous nature of the event but does not comment on the inconsistency with Islamic doctrine that Christ was not actually crucified with the baby Jesus’ prediction that he will be raised from the dead. He does however focus on 19.35: ‘..it does not befit the majesty of God that he should beget a son’, to emphasise the Islamic doctrine that begetting a son conflicts with the unity of God principle.

(3)             In 2.31 Allah taught Adam all the names (it appears) of the plants and animals, which Must have taken a while since there are an estimated 1.7 million species that are known today, with probably another 10 million or so that are yet to be discovered. And this does not include species that have gone extinct since the (Mythological) time of Adam.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no relevant comment

(4)             According to 2.65-6 Allah turned Jews who break the Sabbath into apes to be despised and hated. According to this should we have to accept that all modern non-practising Jews are descendants of apes or that some modern apes are descendants of Sabbath-breaking Jews?

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan naturally does not criticise of this piece of anti-semitisim, but comments that the audacity of the Jews in violating the Sabbath incurred God’s displeasure, and that ‘whenever one turns against the law of God one puts oneself on a par with animals’.

(5)             This theme is pursued in 5.60: Allah has turned some Christians and Jews into apes and swine.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan expresses no surprise but simply supports the polemical nature of the verse

(6)             In 2.67-9 Allah tells the Jews to sacrifice a bright yellow cow.[2]

The whole passage shows the Israelites wrangling with Moses rather than simply obeying him. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan criticises them for this. No comment is made about the colour of the cow.

(7)             In 2.74 it states there are rocks that fall down for fear of Allah.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s comment suggests landslides are meant

(8)             In 2.243 Allah is said to have told thousands of soldiers to die. Then after they died, Allah brought them back to life.

M in a long comment finally sums up: ‘Abandoning the path of trust in God leads to the Moral death of nations and communities, while opting for the path of trust in God leads to their regeneration.’

(9)             In 2.259 Allah Makes a man “die” for 100 years, and then brings him back to life.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment

(10)                                In 2.260, to show how he gives life to the dead, Allah tells Abraham to cut up the bodies of four birds, scatter their remains on four hills, and then call to them. Allah says that the dead birds will come quickly to Abraham.

I note Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translates this verse differently so as not to suggest the birds are cut up

(11)                    In 5.111, the disciples of Jesus are said to have described themselves as Muslims! (A term not known for at least 6 decades after 632)

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan avoids this difficulty as he translates the word ‘Muslims’ (as appears in Pickthall) with the phrase: ‘We have submitted’

(12)                    Belief in demons, angels or Jinns[3] : 6.100; Allah created the jinn but he is not in partnership with them. 15.27: Allah created the jinn from fire. 6.112: He appointed jinns to be the adversaries of prophets. 6.128: Jinns have led many humans astray and 6.130: The jinn were disbelievers. . See also 55.33, 67.6 and surah 72 (naMed ‘The Jinn’)

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan interestingly comments on 6.100 that ‘Since ancient times it has been a weakness on the part of man to find some distinction or mysticism in a thing and then to consider that thing to be a partner of God and start worshipping it..’

(13)                       When Allah revealed himself to Moses, the Mountain came crashing down. (7.143)

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translates this passage differently to show that God split the mountain in two. He Makes no comment about this Miracle

(14)                    In 7.148 the Golden Calf made by the tribes of Israel while Moses was on Mount Sinai gave a lowing sound!

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment about the lowing sound emanating from a statue.

(15)                     9.40: Allah is said to have supported Muhammad with armies that no one else could see.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment on this miracle

(16)                    27.18-19 Solomon and the ants talk to each other.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan cmments that Solomon’s army included birds and ants

(17)                    27.20-21: Solomon is concerned that the hoopee is not among the birds in his army, and says he will kill the hoopee unless he has a good excuse for his absence.

As above. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan sees no incongruity

(18)                    65.12 shows Allah has created seven Heavens

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translation continues .. ‘and the same number of earths’. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan candidly comments that astronomy has not been able to discover the other 6 earths, so that only God knows the meaning of this verse. Maybe now that planets in other solar systems are being found Muslims will claim this passage predicted them.

Those who are Muslims and who have been taught not just to read or memorise the Koran but also to understand the Arabic, say they do not notice the magical and mythological elements in their reading because they experience the Koranic language as poetic and beautiful.

It takes therefore a translation to reveal just how incredible and legendary some of the Koran appears to a sceptical reader. It is readily understandable that some poetic metaphors to explain a religious point is useful, but what is the significance of ants talking, statues lowing or hoopees being part of Solomon’s army?

What is the explanation for the presence of this material? We have to make allowances for the culture and mindset of the people in whose time the Koran was created; they were a people who found belief in jinns normal. They had a culture centring around stories and memories. Legends and poetry were their culture and the stuff of entertainment. This of course again places the Koran firmly in a historical context, and makes its human origin more likely. If God were issuing revelations why would he have resorted to such material, which he would have known was not true? A devout Muslim will respond that the Koran is the word of God and therefore whatever it says is true.

Having considered a sampling of incredible, mythological and magical material in the Koran, the reader will judge how far how the Traditional claim for the Koran stands up and whether the idea that it is a perfect book and that God authored it is believable.

Summary

This section explores the mythical and bizarre material found in the Koran which places it firmly in its historical period and suggest human rather than divine authorship.

 

 



[1] http://www.najaf.org/english/book/19/19.htM

[2] Pickthall translation

[3] Supernatural beings that could be good or evil, believed in by Middle East folklore


11.2 Mistakes and Misunderstandings in the Koran —

There are passages in the Koran which contain clear mistakes, or contradictions with facts contained in other traditions, established mythologies, anachronisms or apparent examples of ignorance (short of scientific errors). While Tradition claims that the Koran is the correct version, such passages reinforce the impression of the Koran’s human rather than divine authorship.

Examples of contradictions, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other difficulties are:

 

(a)  In 3.31-36 and 19.28:  Miriam, the sister of Aaron (brother of Moses) is confused with the Virgin Mary (who lived about 1000 years later).

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan seeks to explain this by saying that the verses actually mean that Mary is descended from the House of Aaron.

 

(b) A theme of the Koran is that Muhammad received his book of revelations from God – the Koran – in a similar way in which previous prophets received their book: Jesus (called Isa in the Koran) is said to have received the gospels (called the ‘Injil’ in the Koran)(5.46 and 19.30), Moses is said to have received the Torah (6.91) and David was said to have been given the Psalms (4.163). All these books are held to have actually revealed Islam (3.19).

But there is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus received a book, a revelation or a text from God. The Gospels are biographies of Jesus’ life written decades after his death. No reference to any book they have been given is made by Jesus, Moses or David in any accounts (except perhaps for the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone).  No attempts were recorded to write an account of Christ’s life in the early years after the crucifixion because at that time Christians thought the world would end imminently with a Second Coming.

The Tora and story of Moses were written centuries after the events described, although these did contain the 10 commandments and the Jewish laws.

As far as concerns the Psalms of David, The Psalms are not a book revealing Islam, as the Koran claims, but a collection of songs of worship, only some of which are David’s. There is no evidence in the Bible’s account of David that he received a book of laws or revelation for the Israelites. They already had the Tora to follow. So David was not a prophet in the Koran’s sense of this word.

The Arabs who came into contact with the Christians and Jews in the Middle East called them the People of the Book, because they did have written scriptures which the Arabs at that time did not have. The earliest records we have of these Arabs (set out in Chapters 3-5 above) show the Ishmaelities or Hagarians etc had no sacred book. The subsequent creation of Islam could be described as a ‘catch-up exercise’, developing their own ‘book’, with their own theology and expressing it in Arabic.

(c)  According to Sura 28:35-42 and 40:36-37, Haman was a minister or official of the Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt) who lived in the same time as Moses. However according to the already existing Jewish history (Book of Esther 3.1-2) Haman served as the minister of Ahasuerus (ie Xerxes 1), king of Persia. These appear to be both errors in the place, but also in chronology in placing Pharaoh (Moses) and Haman in the same story although they lived 1,000 years apart.

 

(d) Again in the Koran Haman is ordered by the Pharaoh to build a lofty building or tower reaching into heaven. This appears to be a mixing in of material from “the Tower of Babel” a well known story of an event that took place in Babylon, long before Abraham, who lived at least 400 years before Moses. (Genesis 11:1-9, especially the verses 3-4, Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly. … and build a … tower that reaches to the heavens.)

 

(e)  In 7.124 the Koran is talking about threats made by the Pharoah: “Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off on alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you, every one.” However crucifixion was a Roman punishment, for which there is no evidence that it was used by the ancient Egyptians. (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment).

 

(f)   In 28.9 the Pharaoh’s wife is shown as adopting Moses, where as in Exodus 2.10 the story shows it was the Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him.

 

(g)  What happened to the Pharaoh who pursued the Israelites through the Red Sea? 10.92 says he survived but 28.40, 17.103 and 43.55 all say he drowned.

 

(h) How many angels attended Mary? It is one in 19.17-21 but several in 3.42-45

 

 

(i)    9.30 claims that Jews say that Ezra is the son of God. Jewish sources deny that Jews have ever believed that Ezra was the son of God.[1] The only evidence for there being Jews who held the belief comes from within Islam. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in his commentary quotes Qastalani who states there was a party of Jews who held this belief in his Kitab al-Nikah. He also refers to religious controversies at the time, thereby supporting the alternative view that this verse probably emerged out of that controversy, and that the Koran may have been created as a polemic against the other sects who opposed it.

 

(j)    Was Noah and all his family saved? Surah 21.76 says they were but 11.42-3 shows a son was drowned.

 

(k)  9.36 “The number of months with Allah is twelve by Allah’s ordinance on the day He created the heavens and the earth.” The calendar of 12 months is understood to have been invented by the Babylonians (not God) well before the traditional dates for Muhammad’s life. It is thought the pre-Islamic calendar used by the Arabs had been taken from the Jews (who probably derived it from the Babylonians). It had 12 months and included an extra month every 3 years to ensure the calendar approximated to the solar year). In this verse Muhammad declares that there are just 12 months and in the following verse 9.36 he effectively outlaws the intercalation of the additional month. This intercalation was already a feature of the pre-Islamic calendar, but Muhammad regarded it as interfering with the routine of sacred and ordinary months. As a result the Islamic year is not a solar year.

 

In this way the Koran takes Islam backwards to a more primitive and erroneous calendar that is less consonant with the seasons: the Islamic calendar is some 10-11 days out every year. These verses are understood to have been handed down in 627, five years before the date given for Muhammad’s death. The later legendary development of the Islamic myth is revealed because (scholars have noted) nothing is ever reported in Muhammad’s life before 627, to have taken place in a leap month, the existence of which was forgotten by the time the later stories about his life were composed.

 

Devout Muslims insist that their scripture is correct and other scriptures false, corrupted and changed. But these examples of evidence for mistakes, inconsistencies, incoherence, contradictions and anachronisms better support human origins for the Koran, rather than what would be expected if the Koran were the word of an all-knowing God. It would be extraordinary if an all wise and all knowing God was so inconsistent or committed anachronisms and apparent errors.

Better explanations lie in such factors as the gnostic sources used for the creation of the Koran, in the religious context in which the Koran was created, and in the need for Arabs to have a book of their own so as to catch up with, and compete with, other sects. Readers will judge for themselves these arguments in the light of the evidence presented in this and other chapters.

 

Summary

This section has pursued the theme of finding material in the Koran inconsistent with the Traditional claims the Koran is clear and free of errors.

 

 

 



[1] See http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/ezra.htm


11.1 Revealing Contradictions and Incoherence in the Koran —

 

For a scripture that claims to be perfect, the Koran presents as remarkably full of both errors and contradictions. In the last section on Abrogation the most famous contradiction has been discussed, namely that between tolerance and Jihad. Scientific errors are considered in a chapter specific to that subject. This chapter considers a range of examples of the appearance of other contradictions, errors and of incoherence. Perhaps the word appearance is key because often these difficulties can be better understood as pointing to interesting information about the origins and development of the Koran.

(a)  Alcohol

The prohibition against drinking wine is contained in 2.219, but 16.67 refers to wine as some of the blessings of Allah. Different translators have translated this as wine (Rodwell), inebriating liquor (Sale), intoxicants (Dawood), strong drink (Pickthall), while Yusuf Ali claims the word means wholesome drink, and in a footnote concedes that if fermented liquor is meant then the later verse is a Meccan Sura which is abrogated by 2.219, a Medinan Sura.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan explains the inconsistent statements about alcohol in various passages in the Koran, as a gradual process designed to prepare the minds of the people for the eventual prohibition of alcohol. He refers to 4.43 (which prohibits prayer when intoxicated) and 5.90 (which urges his followers to shun intoxicants and games of chance) as part of this process.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s explanation reflects the Koran as a kind of work in progress in which, he implies, God felt he had to bring a reluctant people forward step by step. Could this not equally or better reveal a human ruler’s approach to trying to solve a social problem of drunkenness? Indeed would not one expect a divine revelation to reveal the truth in one clear revelation?

The inconsistencies on this point may actually be related to the genesis of the Koran from earlier material created before the injunction against alcohol was finally introduced. There are indications that the Encratites (regarded as heretics by Basil the Great who died in 379) were opposed to wine (and other things).[2] The problem of drunkenness was therefore not just a social problem, but it had also had a place within religious controversy, and we know that religious controversy between different sects was strong in the birth area of Islam. These Koranic verses could reflect the way this controversy was handled within early Islam.

 

(b) Free Will and Predestination

There are contradictory statements on free will and predestination. In 87.2-3  it is written: “The lord has created and balanced all things and has fixed their destinies and guided them”. See also 2.142: Allah guides whoever He will he wants on a straight path. Other examples of predestination are found in 54.49, 3.145, 8.17, 9.51, 13.31, 14.4, 18.101, 22.13, 45.26 and 57.22.

However there are passages that suggest that humans have free will. 76.29 states “Surely this is a reminder: so whoever will, let him take a way to the Lord”. Other examples are found in 74.54-5, 76.3, 12.17 and 18.29.

These different verses are reflected in debates in modern Islam about predestination and free will. Those who know Muslims will note how frequently they say ‘Insh’Allah’ which means ‘If God Wills’, impliedly suggesting that whatever happens will only happen because of God’s will. In the light of what we have seen about the probable development and creation of the Koran, the range of its apparently contradictory verses on this topic look like a reflection of religious controversies raging at the time. If God had revealed the Koran however, we might have expected a more authoritative and clear statement concerning the matter.

(c)  Merciful or Severe?

Throughout the Koran, Allah is described as merciful, for example in the second verse of the first Surah, and at the end of 2.173 and of 2.182 “Allah is forgiving, merciful.”[3] However there are plenty of verses where Allah shows himself unforgiving. An example is 4.168-9: “Those who disbelieve and deal wrong, Allah will never forgive them, neither will He guide them unto a road, except the road of hell, wherein they will abide for ever. And that is ever easy for Allah.” Other examples can be found in 2.7, 2.17, 4.56, 5.33.

Sura 5.98 shows this contradiction within the same sentence:

Know that Allah is severe in punishment and that Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.

 

Mercy is normally understood as giving punishment less than deserved while severe in punishment means at least not giving punishment less that deserved, and may mean giving greater punishment than is deserved.  The claim ‘he is oft-forgiving and severe in punishment’ tries to have it both ways and is both unclear and incoherent.

 

Politicians often try to present their policies with different elements combined and presented in such a way as to appear both balanced and to appeal to different constituencies. But on a close analysis there are contradictions – something more human than divine.

 

(d) What can Allah do or not do?

The Koran is inconsistent about whether Allah can do anything he wishes or not. For example: Can Allah have a child? Compare 35.1 “Praise be to Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Who appointeth the angels messengers having wings two, three and four. He multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is able to do all things”  with 6.100-101 “Yet they … impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. … The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child?”

This is on the face of it a straight contradiction. Muslims commentators confirm[4] that Allah can do anything and point out that he is not subject to the physical laws of his creation. But the more likely explanation for this discrepancy lies in the religious controversies between the different Christian sects present in Islam’s ‘birth room’. Byzantine Christians believed in the Trinity and that Christ was the son of God while other sects denied this and saw Christ as just a prophet, who had been born of Mary but whose father was not God. Hence the polemic: How can he have a Child? The obvious contradiction is not noticed (by God?) in the heat of the polemic.

 

(e)  How Long did it Take Allah to Create the Universe?

In 32.4 it is six days, but in 41.9-12 the total is eight days.

32.4 reads:

Allah it is who created the heavens and the earth and that which is between them, in six days…

41.9-12 however reads:

9. Say (O Muhammad to the idolaters): Do you disbelieve in Him who created the earth in two days, and you ascribe rivals to Him? He (and none else) is the Lord of the Worlds.

10. He placed it in firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and measured in it its sustenance in four days, alike for all who ask.  

11.Then he turned to the heavens when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth: Come both of you willingly or reluctantly. They said: We come , obedient.

12. The he ordained them seven heavens in two days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and we adorned the nearer heaven with lamps and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower.

This is a total of eight days. Readers will note references to the earth and heaven also talking and to the stars being lamps.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan explains that days mean stages, which is the standard Muslim way of trying to explain these inconsistencies, and some modern Muslims think that stages might not be inconsistent with the history of the cosmos and evolution.

A simpler explanation might be that the Koran was gathered together from different scriptures or legends, which were not harmonious, and not harmonised – there has not been the editing necessary.

 

(f)   Was Earth or Heaven Created First?

The Koran contains inconsistent statements about this.  79.27-30 states the earth came after the heavens

“Are ye the harder to create, or is the heaven that He built? He raised the height thereof and ordered it; And He made dark the night thereof, and He brought forth the morn thereof. And after that He spread the earth…. 

But in 2.29 the Koran states the earth came first

“He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens.”

And similarly 41.9-12 the Koran states

“Say (O Muhammad, unto the idolaters): Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days … Then turned He to the heaven … Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days ….”

 

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in his commentary on 79.27-30 confirms that the Koran is clear that Allah made the heavens first, but fails to deal with the discrepancy in his commentaries on 2.29 or on 41.9-12.

Again another explanation might be that we are encountering disparate traditions being welded together during the creation of the Koran by humans, in a way similar to the impression that there are two accounts of the Creation at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible.

 



[1] One of the sources for this chapter is Ibn Warraq’s Introduction to ‘What the Koran really says’

[2] The State of the New Testament Canon in the second Century: Putting Tatian’s Diatessaron in Perspective in the Bulletin for Biblical Research (9) p5

[3] Pickthall

[4] Eg at http://www.islamtomorrow.com/allah.asp#3


10.3 Mistakes or Misunderstandings in the Koran —

There are passages in the Koran which contain clear mistakes, or contradictions with facts contained in other traditions, established mythologies, anachronisms or apparent examples of ignorance (short of scientific errors). These reinforce the impression of the Koran’s human rather than divine authorship.

Examples of contradictions, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other difficulties are:

 

(a)  In 3.31-36 and 19.28:  Miriam, the sister of Aaron (brother of Moses) is confused with the Virgin Mary (who lived about 1000 years later).

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan seeks to explain this by saying that the verses actually mean that Mary is descended from the House of Aaron.

 

(b) A theme of the Koran is that Muhammad received his book of revelations from God – the Koran – in a similar way in which previous prophets received their book: Jesus (called Isa in the Koran) is said to have received the gospels (called the ‘Injil’ in the Koran)(5.46 and 19.30), Moses is said to have received the Torah (6.91) and David was said to have been given the Psalms (4.163). All these books are held to have actually revealed Islam (3.19).

But there is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus received a book, text from God. The Gospels are biographies of Jesus’ life written decades after his death. No reference to any book they have been given is made by Jesus, Moses or David in any accounts (except perhaps for the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone).  No attempts were recorded to write an account of Christ’s life in the early years after the crucifixion because at that time Christians thought the world would end imminently with a Second Coming.

The Tora and story of Moses was written many years after the events described, although these did contain the 10 commandments and the Jewish laws.

As far as concerns the Psalms of David, The Psalms are not a book revealing Islam, as the Koran claims, but a collection of songs of worship, only some of which are David’s. There is no evidence in the Bible’s account of David that he received a book of laws for the Israelites. They already had the Tora to follow. So David was not a prophet in the Koran’s sense of this word.

The Arabs who came into contact with the Christians and Jews in the Middle East called them the People of the Book, because they did have written scriptures which the Arabs at that time did not have. The earliest records we have of these Arabs (set out in Chapters 3-5 above) show the Ishmaelities or Hagarians etc had no sacred book. The subsequent creation of Islam could be described as a ‘catch-up exercise’, developing their own ‘book’, with their own theology and expressing it in Arabic.

(c)  According to Sura 28:35-42 and 40:36-37, Haman was a minister or official of the Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt) who lived in the same time as Moses. However according to the already existing Jewish history (Book of Esther 3.1-2) Haman served as the minister of Ahasuerus (ie Xerxes 1), king of Persia. The Quranic reference therefore is inconsistent and appears to be erroneous both in place, but also in chronology in placing Pharaoh (Moses) and Haman in the same story although they lived 1,000 years apart.

 

(d) Again in the Koran Haman is ordered by the Pharaoh to build a lofty building or tower reaching into heaven. This appears to be a mixing in of material from “the Tower of Babel” a well known story of an event that took place in Babylon, long before Abraham, who lived at least 400 years before Moses. (Genesis 11:1-9, especially the verses 3-4, Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly. … and build a … tower that reaches to the heavens.)

 

(e)  In 7.124 the Koran is talking about threats made by the Pharoah: “Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off on alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you, every one.” However crucifixion was a Roman punishment, for which there is no evidence that it was used by the ancient Egyptians. (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan makes no comment).

 

(f)   In 28.9 the Pharaoh’s wife is shown as adopting Moses, whereas in Exodus 2.10 the story gives the Pharaoh’s daughter as the person who adopted him.

 

(g)  What happened to the Pharaoh who pursued the Israelites through the red sea? 10.92 says he survived but 28.40, 17.103 and 43.55 all say he drowned

 

(h) How many angels attended Mary? It is one in 19.17-21 but several in 3.42-45

 

(i)    9.30 claims that Jews say that Ezra is the son of God. Jewish sources deny that Jews have ever believed that Ezra was the son of God.[1] The only evidence for there being Jews who held the belief comes from within Islam. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in his commentary quotes Qastalani who states there was a party of Jews who held this belief in his Kitab al-Nikah. He also refers to religious controversies at the time, thereby supporting the alternative view that this verse probably emerged out of that controversy because the Koran was created as a polemic against the other sects who opposed it.

 

(j)    Was Noah and all his family saved? Surah 21.76 says they were but 11.42-3 shows a son was drowned.

 

(k)  9.36 “The number of months with Allah is twelve by Allah’s ordinance on the day He created the heavens and the earth.” The calendar of 12 months is understood to have been invented by the Babylonians (not God) well before the traditional dates for Muhammad’s life. It is thought the pre-Islamic calendar used by the Arabs had been taken from the Jews (who probably derived it from the Babylonians). It had 12 months and included an extra month every 3 years to ensure the calendar approximated to the solar year). In this verse Muhammad declares that there are just 12 months and in the following verse 9.36 he effectively outlaws the intercalation of the additional month thereby preventing the approximate solar accuracy of the calendar. This intercalation was already a feature of the pre-Islamic calendar, but Muhammad regarded it as interfering with the routine of sacred and ordinary months.

 

In this way the Koran takes Islam backwards to a more primitive and erroneous calendar that is less consonant with the seasons: the Islamic calendar is some 10-11 days out every year. These verses are understood to have been handed down in 627, five years before the date given for Muhammad’s death. The later legendary development of the Islamic myth is revealed because (scholars have noted) nothing is ever reported in Muhammad’s life, to have taken place in an intercalated month, the existence of which was by then forgotten.

 

Devout Muslims insist that their scripture is correct and other scriptures false, corrupted and changed. But these examples of evidence for mistakes, inconsistencies, incoherence, contradictions and anachronisms better support human origins for the Koran, rather than what would be expected if the Koran were the word of an all-knowing God. It would be extraordinary if an all wise and all knowing God was so inconsistent or committed anachronisms or apparent errors.

Better explanations lie in such factors as the gnostic sources used for the creation of the Koran, in the religious context in which the Koran was created, and in the need for Arabs to have a book of their own so as to catch up with, and compete with, other sects. Readers will judge for themselves these arguments in the light of the evidence presented in this and other chapters.

 

Summary

This chapter has pursued the theme of finding material in the Koran inconsistent with the Traditional claims the Koran is clear and free of errors.

 

 

 



[1] See http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/ezra.htm


10.2 Contradictions etc contd —

(a) How Long did it Take Allah to Create the Universe?

In 32.4 it is six days, but in 41.9-12 the total is eight days.

32.4 reads:

Allah it is who created the heavens and the earth and that which is between them, in six days…

41.9-12 however reads:

9. Say (O Muhammad to the idolaters): Do you disbelieve in Him who created the earth in two days, and you ascribe rivals to Him? He (and none else) is the Lord of the Worlds.

10. He placed it in firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and measured in it its sustenance in four days, alike for all who ask.  

11.Then he turned to the heavens when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth: Come both of you willingly or reluctantly. They said: We come, obedient.

12. The he ordained them seven heavens in two days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and we adorned the nearer heaven with lamps and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower.

This is a total of eight days. Readers will note references to the earth and heaven also talking and to the stars being lamps.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan explains that days mean stages, which is the standard Muslim way of trying to explain what otherwise would be contradictions, and some modern Muslims think that stages might not be inconsistent with the history of the cosmos and evolution.

A simpler explanation might be that the Koran was gathered together from different scriptures or legends, which were not harmonious, and not harmonised – there has not been the editing necessary.

 

(b) Was Earth or Heaven Created First?

The Koran contains inconsistent statements about this.  79.27-30 states the earth came after the heavens

“Are ye the harder to create, or is the heaven that He built? He raised the height thereof and ordered it; And He made dark the night thereof, and He brought forth the morn thereof. And after that He spread the earth…. 

But in 2.29 the Koran states the earth came first

“He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens.”

And similarly 41.9-12 the Koran states

“Say (O Muhammad, unto the idolaters): Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days … Then turned He to the heaven … Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days ….”

 

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in his commentary on 79.27-30 confirms that the Koran is clear that Allah made the heavens first, but fails to deal with the discrepancy in his commentaries on 2.29 or on 41.9-12 .

Again a better explanation might be that we are encountering disparate traditions being welded together during the creation of the Koran by humans, in a way similar to the impression that there are two accounts of the Creation at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible.


10.1 Revealing Contradictions and Incoherence in the Koran [1] —

For a scripture that claims to be perfect, the Koran presents as remarkably full of both errors and contradictions. In the section on Abrogation the most famous contradiction has been discussed, namely that between tolerance and Jihad. Scientific errors are considered in a section specific to that subject. This section considers a range of examples of the appearance of other contradictions, errors and of incoherence. Perhaps the word appearance is key because often these difficulties can be better understood as pointing to interesting information about the origins and development of the Koran.

(a)  Alcohol

The prohibition against drinking wine is contained in 2.219, but 16.67 refers to wine as some of the blessings of Allah. Different translators have translated this as wine (Rodwell), inebriating liquor (Sale), intoxicants (Dawood), strong drink (Pickthall), while Yusuf Ali claims the word means wholesome drink, and in a footnote concedes that if fermented liquor is meant then the later verse is a Meccan Sura which is abrogated by 2.219, a Medinan Sura.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan explains the inconsistent statements about alcohol in various passages in the Koran, as a gradual process designed to prepare the minds of the people for the eventual prohibition of alcohol. He refers to 4.43 (which prohibits prayer when intoxicated) and 5.90 (which urges his followers to shun intoxicants and games of chance) as part of this process.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s explanation reflects the Koran as a kind of work in progress in which, he implies, God felt he had to bring a reluctant people forward step by step. Could this not equally or better reveal a human ruler’s approach to trying to solve a social problem of drunkenness? Indeed would not one expect a divine revelation to reveal the truth in one clear revelation?

The inconsistencies on this point may actually be related to the genesis of the Koran from earlier material created before the injunction against alcohol was finally introduced. There are indications that Encratites (regarded as heretics by Basil the Great who died in 379) were opposed to wine (and other things).[2] The problem of drunkenness was therefore not just a social problem, but it had also had a place within religious controversy, and we know that religious controversy between different sects was strong in the birth area of Islam. These Koranic verses could reflect the way this controversy was handled within early Islam.

 

(b) Free Will and Predestination

There are contradictory statements on free will and predestination. In 87.2-3  it is written: “The lord has created and balanced all things and has fixed their destinies and guided them”. See also 2.142: Allah guides whoever He will he wants on a straight path. Other examples of predestination are found in 54.49, 3.145, 8.17, 9.51, 13.31, 14.4, 18.10122.13, 45.26 and 57.22.

However there are passages that suggest that humans have free will. 76.29 states “Surely this is a reminder: so whoever will, let him take a way to the Lord” Other examples are found in 74.54-5, 76.3, 12.17 and 18.29.

These different verses are reflected in debates in modern Islam about predestination and free will. Those who know Muslims will note how frequently they say ‘Insh’Allah’ which means ‘If God Wills’, impliedly suggesting that whatever happens will only happen because of God’s will. In the light of what we have seen about the probable development and creation of the Koran, the range of its apparently contradictory verses on this topic look like a reflection of religious controversies raging at the time. If God had revealed the Koran however, we might have expected a more authoritative and clear statement concerning the matter.

(c)  Merciful or Severe?

Throughout the Koran, Allah is described as merciful, for example at the end of 2,173 and of 2.182 “Allah is forgiving, merciful.”[3] However there are plenty of verses where Allah shows himself unforgiving. An example is 4.168-9: “Those who disbelieve and deal wrong, Allah will never forgive them, neither will He guide them unto a road, except the road of hell, wherein they will abide for ever. And that is ever easy for Allah.” Other examples can be found in 2.7, 2.17, 4.56, 5.33.

Sura 5.98 shows this contradiction within the same sentence:

Know that Allah is severe in punishment and that Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.

 

Mercy is normally understood as giving punishment less than deserved while severe in punishment means at least not giving punishment less that deserved, and may mean giving greater punishment than is deserved.  The claim ‘he is oft-forgiving and severe in punishment’ tries to have it both ways and is both unclear and incoherent.

 

Politicians often try to present their policies with different elements combined and presented in such a way as to appear both balanced and to appeal to different constituencies. But on a close analysis there are contradictions – something more human than divine.

 

(d) What can Allah do or not do?

The Koran is inconsistent about whether Allah can do anything he wishes or not. For example: Can Allah have a child? Compare 35.1 “Praise be to Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Who appointeth the angels messengers having wings two, three and four. He multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is able to do all things”  with 6.100-101 “Yet they … impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. … The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child?”

This is on the face of it a straight contradiction. Muslims commentators confirm[4] that Allah can do anything and point out that he is not subject to the physical laws of his creation. But the more likely explanation for this discrepancy lies in the religious controversies between the different Christian sects present in Islam’s ‘birth room’. Byzantine Christians believed in the Trinity and that Christ was the son of God while other sects denied this and saw Christ as just a prophet, who had been born of Mary but whose father was not God. Hence the polemic: How can he have a Child? The obvious contradiction is not noticed (by God?) in the heat of the polemic.

 



[1] One of the sources for this chapter is Ibn Warraq’s Introduction to ‘What the Koran really says’

[2] The State of the New Testament Canon in the second Century: Putting Tatian’s Diatessaron in Perspective in the Bulletin for Biblical Research (9) p5

[3] Pickthall

[4] Eg at http://www.islamtomorrow.com/allah.asp#3


9.3 Human Origin? —

The claim that the Koran is the perfect unchanging word of God begins to look uncertain, even on its own Tradition, when considering abrogation and the apparent readiness of God to adjust his ethical commands to the situation. Muslims may argue that this is all within the power of God; the reader is asked to consider whether this evidence points rather to a more human origin of the Koran.

Summary

This section has looked at the doctrine of abrogation and the most famous of the inconsistencies in the Koran, namely that between the command to jihad and the advice of tolerance


9.2 Tolerance or Jihad —

Probably the most famous and significant contradictions are those that prescribe toleration to non-Muslims against those that mandate the slaying and subjection of unbelievers.

There is the well known early verse preaching tolerance 2.256 (‘There is no compulsion in religion’). Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s commentary does not mention the abrogation of 2.256. This verse however is understood by Tradition to have been delivered when Muhammad was still in Mecca, before his escape to Medina in 622.

Although Traditional scholars have considered 2.256 abrogated by the more violent verses 9.5 and 9.29, some have recently argued that it remains a valid verse. This potentially welcome development however reveals lack of agreement within Islam. There are risks are always present for Muslims when disagreement can be viewed as evidence for apostasy, and the punishment for apostasy is death. In most Muslims countries the propagation of non Muslim faiths is prohibited.

Other scholars say it depends on the context: in a war situation 9.5 applies but in a non-war context 2.256 applies. This smacks of expediency rather than principle. Observers note that where Muslims become powerful in a country they think of compulsion and they start forcing Islam through threat of sword, but where they were powerless they talked of peace and non-compulsion. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been accompanied by calls for greater Islamicisation with consequential discrimination against minorities such as Coptic Christians.

In Mecca Muhammad was very much a minority figure, under pressure and without power. He was subject to persecution from the polytheistic religious authorities of Mecca. It was clearly in his interests at that time to try to emphasise toleration and peaceful co-existence. Nowadays too Muslims living in non Muslim dominated societies quote these verses when talking to non- Muslims to try to show how peaceful and tolerant they are.[1]

By contrast when (according to Tradition) the Muslims moved to Medina, Tradition admits that they became a powerful body that gradually fought their way to dominance there and in the rest of Arabia.

It is thought that in phase with the more warlike activities of the Medinan period, the peaceful Meccan period verses were replaced with more warlike revelations which are in conflict with the Meccan verses. But as they postdate the Meccan verses, they are taken to have abrogated the more peaceful and tolerant guidance given in Mecca. The Koran is not set out in chronological order, so in order to determine which are the later verses which have abrogated earlier ones, we turn to the Tradition in the form of a Hadith. According to Bukhari (number 4364):[2]

Al-Bara..narrated: The last Sura which was revealed in full was Bar’a (ie Sura-at-Tauba and the last Sura (ie part of a Sura) which was revealed was the last verses of Sura-an-Nisi.

Sura-at-Tauba is Sura 9 which contains the clearest expression of the Koranic command to Muslims to fight and kill unbelievers. These commands therefore abrogate and replace any previous verses counselling peaceful co-existence with, and tolerance of, other religions.

9.5 is the famous verse which orders Muslims to ‘Slay the idolaters wherever you find them’. In addition 9.29 reads:

Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the last day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and his Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of Truth among the people of the scripture, until they pay the jizya[3] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.[4]

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan defends the peaceful nature of Islam in his commentary on 9.29. He emphasises the tolerance implied in subjugation the people of the book (ie Jews and Christians) by imposing the jizya tax on them instead of killing them. He sees no incongruity in this Islamic supremacist attitude towards the people of other faiths.

9.29 and 9.5 are not isolated examples of the same murderous and oppressive message: There are further examples of verses enjoining Muslims to fight and kill non-believers: 2.191, 47.4, 4.76, 8.12, 8.38-39. The context around these ???verses makes very clear that these are not metaphorical commands but real and practical orders. Indeed it is a grave sin for a Muslim to avoid battle: 9.39 “If you do not fight, He will punish you severely, and put others in your place”.

Further many[5] other verses make clear that the Koran is meant to be followed by Muslims and further claim that the Koran is perfectly understandable. Consider for instance the second part of 16.89[6]:

And we reveal the scripture to you as an exposition of all things, and as a guidance and mercy and good tidings for those who have surrendered to Allah.

It is reasonable to query therefore why Muslims quote ‘There is no tolerance in religion’ when that verse and others like it have been abrogated by the clear order to ‘slay the unbelievers wherever you find them’ (9.5). The term the Koran uses to describe those who should be slain is al-mushrikun which is explained in the King Fahd translation[7] as including  idolaters, polytheists, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, pagans etc.

Some Muslims argue that many of these warlike Suras were delivered to the beleaguered band of Muhammad’s followers at a crucial time when they needed to fight to survive. The verses are therefore to be understood as restricted in their application to the time they were revealed and do not apply today. Unfortunately this enlightened view is far from universal. And even if it is accepted it depends on interpretation as to when Muslims need to fight to survive. Osama bin Laden took this view merely because of the presence of Western troops in Saudi Arabia, which hardly threatened his or anyone else’s survival except Saddam Hussain who had invaded a Muslim country.

The doctrine of abrogation – taking it on the Tradition – not only shows a God who changes his mind, but those changes that are made also open questions about what, if any, is the underlying moral principle behind these inconsistent Koranic commands? In so far as the historical context appears to have determined the revelation, one is led to query whether there is anything beyond expediency motivating Koranic guidance: the expediency of a group fighting to advance its interests by any means available to it at the time. This impression is only enhanced by verses such as 3.54: Allah is the best of schemers.

Indeed expediency is easily suspected when reading the Koran or the Life of Muhammad. It is remarkable how many revelations appear to have been received by Muhammad just when he needed them to address some specific problem he was facing. His favourite wife Aysha is reported to have remarked about the timely convenience revelations received by Muhammad: ‘Even thy Lord makes haste to do thy bidding.’[8]

Indeed this message of amoral convenience has been picked up in Islam and there is even a term to describe it: Taqiyya.

Taqiyya originally referred to the practice of Shi’a Muslims pretending not to be Shi’a in order to avoid being persecuted by Sunnis. It was understood as a legal and religious dispensation whereby an individual can deny his faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts while exposed to risk[9].

Nowadays taqiyya is used by some Western Muslims to pretend that Islam is a peaceful religion when at the same time they know perfectly well that violent Jihad is mandated of them and privately they support terrorism. For more on this readers are referred to Caroline Fourest’s insightful book Brother Tariq – The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan[10] exposing taqiyya on the part of Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic leader and Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University .

Examples of taqiyya are not hard for a close observer to spot. One example of taqiyya by the Muslim Brotherhood[11] was shown in on 11/09/2012  (significantly on the anniversary of ‘9/11’)when the US Embassy in Cairo was under attack by an Islamist mob protesting at a badly made and obscure American film which was said to defame the Prophet. The group’s Arabic newsfeed praised the protests saying’ Egyptians rise to defend the prophet’ while their English language feed simultaneously said ‘We’re relieved none of the US Embassy Cairo staff were harmed and hope that US Egyptian relations will sustain (despite the) turbulence of Tuesday’s events.’

Although shortcomings in Islamic ethics may be relevant in motivating Muslims to review their faith, discussion of this topic is not within the main scope of this work. It would be a worthy topic for a work on its own.  (I have included an appendix on the subject). It is however noteworthy that there is in Islam a marked absence of the sort of ethic of loving one’s enemies found in other religions. Rather the Koran mandates that its enemies are to be fought and killed.

 



[1] An example was on 1st April 2012 on the Big Questions on BBC1 by Muhammad Ansar when he said ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’

 

[2] Volume 5 p533 of first edition printed by Islamic Book Service 1995

[3] Jizya is a tax payable by non-Muslims under Muslim rule

[4] King Fahd translation

[5] For example 11.1, 12,1, 27.1, 41.3 and 57.9

[6] Pickthall

[7] See the explanation in verse 2.105 of that translation

[8] See The Truth about Muhammad by Robert Spencer p70

[9] Wikipedia

[10] Published by the Social Affairs Unit 2008