Myth of Islam

The Story of Islam's Origins

Milestones’ by Sayyid Qutb – A Guest Review by Guy Otten —

Milestones’ by Sayyid Qutb – A review by Guy Otten[1]

 This book, first published in 1964, is known as one of the most influential Islamist tracts[2]. Most modern Islamist fundamentalist and terrorist groups owe something of an ‘intellectual’ debt to Sayyid Qutb’s thinking and inspiration[3]. The threat to civil society posed by his influence was recognised at the time by the Egyptian Government which had him tried and he was then executed in 1966. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the state, and the evidence for this included passages from Milestones.[4]

The book strikes you immediately for its black and white simplistic approach. Every Western, non Muslim and even every Muslim regime[5] are categorised as jahili, that is they are backward societies which belong to the age of ‘pre-Islamic ignorance’, the so called jahiliyah. The writing is dominated by a narrow and conservative Islamic approach based in an absolute faith, and prejudiced against every other system.

Yet Qutb was an educated man; he wrote 24 books including a 30 volume commentary of the Qur’an called ‘In the shade of the Quran’. He spent 2 years in the United States from 1948-1950, but there he failed to get to grips with the essence of  Western societies or see beyond the surface; instead he reacted against what he saw as its materialism, its capitalism, its superficiality in friendships, its racism and the mixing of men and women. He refers to the emancipation of women as ‘vulgarity’.

This experience in the USA only strengthened his pre-conceived conservative Islamism and rejection of Western values including its imperialism. He was equally critical of communism. He wrote his books at a time when Communist and Western imperialism were still the main ideological players in the world (although the British state was already dismantling its empire, a point he does not acknowledge). He was clearly unable to appreciate the advantages for Islam of a secular society – he was thinking in terms of Islam being in charge.

Instead he argued for a renewal and extension of Islam’s own imperialist past, almost as if he is trying to emulate capitalist and communist imperialism. For him the truth is all about dedication and subservience to God and his prophet Muhammad, and without any apparent embarrassment he calls this submission a ‘declaration of freedom’ – freedom, that is, from rule by men. (The possibility of women as leaders does not cross his mind). He criticises Western style democracies as oppression because they are rule by men, which he regards as illegitimate.


  1. The only legitimate rule Qutb recognises is rule by God and his law as found in the Qur’an, Muhammad’s reported sayings and the shariah. He criticises Western style democracies as oppression because they are rule by men, not God.  He makes no reference to the histories of religious wars and the discovery of the vital need for tolerance of religious beliefs. He sees no irony in the reality that ‘God’s law’ has to be interpreted and enforced by people (invariably men). It would have been interesting to discover whether or how far he would have supported the outworking of his ideas in the oppressive and barbarous behaviour of Islamist groups which we have witnessed in recent years – behaviour which outdoes that of the Inquisition as far as cruelty is concerned. He justifies Jihad against every jahili state (i.e. every state) in order to advance ‘God’s cause’.

The dismissal of every system other than the Islamist one is accompanied by openly expressed feelings of superiority and supremacy, which come over as arrogance. He cites the Qur’an 3.139 “Do not be dejected nor grieve. You shall be the uppermost if you are believers”.[6]

He summarily dismisses the European scientific movement saying it ‘started with Godlessness’[7] He shows a degree of ignorance about the history of science and of the West throughout the book, while summarily dismissing both. He also makes a number of mistakes about Arab history, for instance on page 25 he states that Syria which up to the 7th century CE had been under ‘Roman’, (i.e. Byzantine) rule, was part of the land of the Arabs. He correctly refers to local Arab rulers which had been appointed by the Byzantine empire, but Syria in the 7th century CE was not an Arab speaking area. The people there at that time mainly spoke Aramaic, with which Arabic is related as a language. Aramaic culture at that time had a long literary tradition going back nearly 1000 years while Arabic had only just acquired a primitive written script. There is no evidence that the Aramaic speakers saw themselves as part of the world of the Arabs, whom they saw as desert nomads.The Islamic story is peppered with mythology[8], and Qutb is not free of it. He states[9] that the Arab society at the time of Muhammad’s messengership was ‘devoid of proper distribution of wealth and devoid of justice’, but fails to explain how pillaging other tribes and the Middle East, and then setting up an empire with much greater differences in wealth and instituting shariah law either advances justice or solves the distribution of wealth problem.

He spends pages attacking Islamic reformers who want to modernise Islam or find an Islam which can live peacefully in the world; he says they have not freed themselves of jahili concepts and ways of thinking. He attacks similarly those who want to ‘reduce Islam’ to the level of ordinary human theories, for him it is superior: ‘It cannot be other than what God intends, no matter what people desire’[10]. He calls man-made theories valueless.He delivers these dangerous ideas in a clear and matter of fact prose which is easy to read. He favours a totalitarian utopianism redolent of fascism and communism: ‘Islam is the only Divine way of life which brings out the noblest human characteristics, developing and using them for the construction of a human society’[11]. Our experience of those who follow his teachings – IS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and others – is not convincing.Qutb spends a whole chapter on Jihad[12], chapter 4. He is critical of Muslims who argue that Jihad is purely defensive ‘thus depriving it ( i.e. Islam) of its method (i.e. aggressive jihad)[13] to abolish injustice from the earth to bring them to the worship of God alone’.[14] He recognises that the world’s governments, whom he describes as having ‘usurped the authority of God and are oppressing God’s creatures, are not going to give up their power merely through preaching’[15]. Islam must, he says, ‘strive from the beginning to abolish all those systems and governments which are based on the rule of man over man’. This has been taken by many of his followers as a call for revolution and insurgency, ie aggressive jihad.

He attempts to distinguish his Islamic utopia from a theocracy, but he omits to explain how the religious authority of ‘God’s law’ is actually imposed on the people. He also disingenuously claims that it is not his intention to force people to believe in Islam. They are free not to accept Islam, he says, ‘However this freedom does not mean that they can make their desires their gods, or can choose to remain in the servitude of other humans’. This is code (in my view) for ‘there must be only totalitarian style Islamic rule’. We have seen recently what IS mean by this kind of thinking. Qutb is clear that fighting is required in jihad and that this is not defensive[16]. The world is divided, he says, into three categories: Muslims, People who fight against Islam and ‘Dhimmis’ (i.e. Jews and Christians who are allowed to remain subservient to Muslim rulers).

The reasons he gives for Jihad are to ‘establish God’s authority in the earth; to arrange human affairs according to the true guidance provided by God; to end the lordship of one man over others’.[17]

Jihad involves not just ‘fighting in the cause of God, those who fight you’, but also fighting polytheists and the people of the Book (Jews and Christians).[18]

He states that Islam wants ‘to bring back (my italics) the whole world to its Sustainer’.[19] This is a piece of Islamic make-believe – that the world has deviated from the one true and original monotheistic religion. Following this myth, converts to Islam are called ‘reverts’ that is they have returned to the original true faith. The fact that history, anthropology and the study of religions do not confirm this idea is not a problem for a man for whom his faith tells him what to believe.

He advocates bringing people from the ‘tyranny’ of other religions to the ‘justice of Islam’[20], that is his version of jihadist Salafist Sunni Islam. In this way what we have is a drive to establish a new Islamic imperialism, to take further the achievements of the original Arabs and subsequent victors over non-believers. He states Islam has the right to take the initiative[21]. This, it seems to me, amounts to a declaration of war against the rest of the world. Jahili societies, he says, are unislamic and therefore ‘illegal’. ‘Illegal’ in this sense simply means they are not authorised under Islamic law, implying there is no other source of authority.

All Jewish and Christian societies, he says, are Jahili because they have distorted the message given to them by Allah, including by ‘associating partners with Allah’. In the case of the Christians this is a reference to the Trinity which Muslims regard (perhaps with reason) as polytheistic. In the case of the Jews the Quran in Surah 9 verse 30 states that the Jews claim that Ezra is the son of God. I believe this claim is generally disputed by Jews. It is recorded however that in Mohammed’s time a limited number of Yemeni Jews thought Ezra was the messiah and a title ‘son of God’ has been used to denote closeness in a person’s relationship with God, and perhaps this has been misunderstood by Muhammad.[22]

My objections to Milestones go further. Qutb reveals an Islamic conservative morality which belongs to the past. In a way mirroring Christian missionaries, he claims that when Islam entered central Africa, it clothed the natives, socialised them and brought them out of isolation. He does not mention Islamic society’s interest in securing African slaves, another parallel with other, including Western, imperialisms.

Qutb betrays his anti-semitism on p111 referring to the ‘tricks of world Jewry’ who wish to ‘perpetrate their evil designs’.[23] Such thinking feeds into a paranoid approach seen in much Islamic thinking.He claims that Islam establishes a high moral order and contrasts this with jahili societies where ‘homosexuality and illegitimate sexual relationships are permitted’. Although he is writing in 1964, he appears to be unaware of human rights standards and movements to develop equality between people of different ethnic origins or sexual orientation. But even if he had been he would doubtless have preferred ‘Islamic morals’, in which the idea of social equality is not valued, gay people and apostates are murdered, women are discriminated against, Jews and Christians and non believers are vilified, and a man may have up to 4 wives and as many slave girls as he wants.[24]



The Egyptian Government at the time recognised Milestones as a dangerous book; it is no less dangerous today. From a secular humanist point of view, Milestones is not just dangerous; it is also just about as mistaken as it is possible to be about how to build a peaceful and just society. The conduct in recent years of Islamist extremists only reinforces for many of us the vital need not only for a strong ideological struggle against the theocratic fascism of Islamism but also for a society where people’s diverse beliefs are tolerated (within limits) and their consent sought by governments through democratic means rather than imposing on them a theocratic rule with its concomitant violence and barbarism. The book needs to be exposed for what it is, and those of us able to draw this to the attention of young Muslims need to understand it.

Guy Otten

20th October 2014




[1] I acknowledge the helpful comments of Graham Connell, Amir Ghorbani and others in this article


[2]              I am using a 160 page edition published by Islamic Book Service (P) Ltd New Delhi, reprinted 2014






[5]              P82 Milestones


[6]              P139 Milestones


[7]              P115


[8] See for instance

[9]              P26


[10]           P34


[11]           P51


[12] ‘Jihad’ can mean both the military struggle by Islam against the infidel world and a mental struggle to abide by God’s laws

[13]           The words in my brackets are my explanation


[14]           P50


[15]           P58-9


[16]           P61-2


[17]           P70


[18]           P64


[19]           P60


[20]           P71


[21]           P73


[22]           See and


[23] Books like the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ are reportedly taken seriously among some Islamist quarters


[24] See the discussion in ‘Islam Question and Answer’ at


17. The Hadith and Sharia —

Hadith are important sources of Tradition about Muhammad and his close companions; they generally purport to record sayings and observations of the prophet which go beyond the Koran. They include occasions where Muhammad’s approval is assumed because he appears to have tolerated a state of affairs and did not intervene to change it.

Tradition holds that the hadith had been passed down the years in the form of an oral Tradition until finally in the 9th century Muslim scholars began to collect and record them. This of course is already 200 years after the period which the hadith report. A good question is why it took so long for these stories to be written down when the importance of Muhammad to Islam is considered,

There is no wholesale contemporary evidence of the Hadith and Sira being in existence before the 9th century; the only evidence is internal to Islam and is contained in the Tradition itself. Scholars suspect there has been retrospective attribution at work.

Muslims claim that there are four hadith collections of reliable hadith that have been preserved accurately in the memory of the faithful. The faithful were they state used to the oral tradition, so that this was a reliable and accurate way of transmission, but familiarity with human nature and the way other similar Traditions were handed down (eg the Christian stories) show that oral transmission is unreliable.

The most well known hadith are those collected by (Bukhari whose full name was Abi Abdullah Bin Ismaiel Al-Bukhari). His collection runs to 9 volumes in the edition published by the Islamic Book Service in 1995 and reprinted since then.

Other renowned collections of Hadith in the 9th century were made by Muslim, Abu Dawud, and Malik. In addition reference is sometimes made to collections by Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibban, Hakim al-Nishaburi and Diya al-Din al-Maqdisi.

Unlike the Koran which Tradition alleges is perfect and unchanged since it was handed down as revelation (although some suras may have been lost when early followers who had memorised passages were killed in battle), the Hadiths have always been recognised to be of varying reliability. Early collectors went to some trouble to try to identify reliable hadiths and there is Islamic scholarship which focuses on the authenticity, and degree of authority of different hadith. Among the Hadith for example are the Hadith Qudsi which are sayings of Muhammad which have the status of the words of God.

Subject to an assessment of their reliability, hadiths are used by the Traditional Islamic schools of jurisprudence as means of understanding the Koran, giving parts of it the context which the Koran itself lacks, and of developing an authoritative account of the guidance and rules that apply in Islam.

There were huge numbers of Hadith circulating in the 9th century. Some reports suggest as many as 600,000 were in circulation, although many were similar to each other. Bukhari himself is reported to have collected some 300,000 hadith, but he authenticated only 7563, a mere 2.5% of those he collected. He therefore decided that 97.5% of the hadith he found were unreliable, which in turn is a testament to the existence of a large scale hadith fabrication industry. His method of authentication was to check the chain of transmission from Muhammad’s times to the time of the hadith’s collection by him. If he considered that each link in the chain of transmitters over the centuries (called the Isnad) was reliable, he approved the Hadith. However even early Western scientific scholars such as Weil already in 1843 considered that this approach was flawed and that a further 2000 should be rejected[1]. The great German Scholar Joseph Schacht examined the Hadith and criticised the ‘gratuitous assumption that there was ever an authentic core of information about the prophet’ which went back to the traditional time of his life[2]. He said ‘the more perfect the isnad, the later the tradition’. The method of verification of the isnad is therefore found wanting.

Other scholars such as Goldziher, Wansbrough, Crone and Cook have been equally or more sceptical about the authenticity of the hadiths in general. In particular it is obvious that there was nothing to prevent a chain of transmission being fabricated alongside the Hadith it purports to authenticate.

The great scientific scholar John Wansbrough considered that even if it were possible to accept the accuracy and authenticity of the Isnads (which he considered doubtful):

There would nevertheless be little possibility of assessing the transformation of the accompanying traditions as they were subject to the vicissitudes of transmission over many generations. Variant wording, the introduction of glosses, the removal of material from its original context, abbreviation, summary and expansion, incomplete transmission and other features can all be assumed to have taken place. Above all, even though our earliest Muslim  literature undoubtedly recycles and reworks material which originated much earlier, that material exists because it answers to the needs of the generation in whose work we find it.[3]

Modern standards of scholarship therefore in effect question the reliability of all the Hadith as likely to have been fabricated, or at least distorted. And this is a pattern that is consistent with the findings by scientific scholars reported in this book that the Koran itself has been subject to a creative process many decades after the traditional date for Muhammad’s death in 632. Similarly the Sira did not emerge until the early 9th century (although the first account was claimed then to have been based on a (conveniently?) lost manuscript from the middle of the eighth century). Even the middle of the 8th century was 120 years after 632. The Sira along with the hadith and the Koran itself are all affected by the criticism that they have been developed or created over time and are not what the Tradition presents them to be.

It is not necessary to look far to find hadith that are obviously later fabrications. In the collection of Abu Dawud for instance we find in the Kitab al Malashim (Book of Battles) a hadith (chapter 1595) in which the prophet reportedly predicted warfare with the Turks and he predicts the Turks will be extirpated. When the prophet traditionally lived (pre 632), the Turks were a far off tribal people who were gradually unifying politically. In 720 that there was a battle between the Arab caliphate and the Turks of Transoxiana and from this point of time (a time even before the time when the hadith were ‘appearing’) that the Turks began to pose a threat to the Arab controlled empire which was later to result in the victory of Turkic peoples over the Arabs. The hadith bears the hallmarks of having been invented when the danger was real and to reassure Muslims of their eventual victory.

In a way similar to the research which has shown a process of development of the traditions of Christianity through various texts and scriptures, the same can be seen in Islam, with the Koran first then the Sira and finally the hadith, each building on and expanding what went before in a continuous creative process.


Islam is a rule based system rather like Judaism. A prominent feature of interactions that can be witnessed in Islamic websites and TV channels is the request for guidance or a ruling on some issue of life.[4]

Sharia law is the set of laws and regulations concerning many areas of life which are in part derived from the Islamic Tradition, but which may also contain other rules which predate the development of the Tradition. They cover a very wide range of conduct, not just the criminal and barbaric punishments prescribed that Sharia is notorious for. There are also provisions regulating trade, loans and business relations, weights and measures, religious observance, ritual and prayer, family law, menstruation, sexual intercourse, homosexuality, dress, unbelievers, property and land, travelling, slavery, schools, prisoners of war, a tax that non-Muslims are supposed to pay in a Muslim state and many many others.

There is even in Sharia a provision making philosophy unlawful! This places philosophy alongside sorcery, magic, the ‘science of the materialists’, astrology and ‘anything that is a means to create doubts’.[5]

Interestingly there is very little about rape, but rather more on fornication, which may explain why women who are the victims of rape sometimes find themselves punished in Islamic countries. An example of this was reported on 22/09/13 by the Clarion project[6] which reported that a 19 year old gang rape victim was sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison for the crime of indecency! Such products of sharia law are not alone in highlighting the unethical nature of the Islamic Tradition.

There has been concern in the UK that Sharia Councils, which are effectively a way in which Muslims can consent to a sharia based dispute resolution process, are becoming an alternative system of courts which hand down rulings that may be contrary to essential human rights (such as gender equality) and common law standards. Concerns also exist that the consent of some parties in these councils might not be free.

David Green of Civitas goes further and says “equality under the law, regardless of race, gender or religion, is the bedrock of Western civilisation: take it away and you disrupt the whole edifice. Women are not equal in sharia law and, for many Muslims, sharia courts are in practice part of an institutionalised atmosphere of intimidation, backed up by the ultimate sanction of a death threat”[7]

This debate is simply noted here; it is outside the scope of this book, but see my ‘Ethical Challenges Faced by islam’ (available on Kindle).

Sharia’s origins are an interesting area of study in their own right and also outside the scope of this book. While Sharia is clearly overwhelmingly designed to regulate the minutiae of a Muslim’s life, scholars believe parts of sharia may have started to develop at a time in the decades after 632, when Arab leaders were assuming control of territories which they had to administer, but before the main body of Islam started to emerge.


This chapter has discussed the lack of authenticity of the hadith, which continued the creative process of the Islamic mythology. It has then looked briefly at Sharia and Sharia Councils.


[1] G.Weil Muhammad Der Prophet, Sein Leben und seine Lehre, Stuttgart 1843.

[3] Quoted in Virgins What Virgins p189

[4] See for instance the Islamic TV Channels obtainable on line via

[5] Reliance of The Traveller at a7.2

[7]  In his introduction to ‘Sharia law or One law for All’ by Denis Martin MacEoin (pub 2009 by Civitas)

Ethical Challenges Faced by Islam —

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It analyses islamic ethics from a secular standppint that is sympathetic to that of a Muslim troubled by the activities and pronouncements of IS etc

It is fully referenced with Islamic scrioptures and texts and includes consideration of more moderate Muslim traditions


It is available throughout the world on at price $1.55

and at Price 93p

16. Was there a person named Muhammad? —

 The focus of this book has not been on the question whether Muhammad existed but on the origins of Islam. It has also focussed on the Koran and whether the Koran can be logically accepted as the word of God. In the process the Traditional account for the Koran’s origins have been questioned. Readers will have noted however that the Traditional account of Muhammad has also been questioned.

The same difficulty for Muslim apologists arises with Muhammad as with the Koran: that the definite and reliable contemporary evidence for his very existence is near non-existent. The Tradition suggests that Muhammad was an inspiring leader who effectively motivated his Arab followers with his religion of Islam, and who gave them the leadership and ideology to make the victories that they did make before and after his death.

But there is no evidence that the words Islam or Muslim were used until near the end of the 7th century and most commentators were unaware the Saracens (or whatever they called them) had a prophet or book.

There are however some tantalising bits of evidence which might point to the existence of a person named Muhammad, which have been considered in Chapter 5. The reliability of the few mentions of Muhammad or of words that might refer to a prophet or to Muhammad is complicated by the fact that the word Muhammad means ‘praiseworthy’ and was used as a title of leaders and it was also used referring to Christ (eg on the Dome of the Rock inscription). The reference to the Tayyaye-d-Mhmt might therefore be a reference to a leader called Muhammad or a leader who was given the title of Muhammad (if the Mhmt refers to Muhammad at all).

Bishop Sebo’s reference to Mahmet as a preacher seems more promising , but it is not contemporary with the events it describes – it was written 40 years later – and it describes events that are not confirmed in the Koran or elsewhere. Its reliability is therefore in doubt.

Sophronius the Patriarch of Jerusalem does not mention Muhammad as the prophet of the Saracens who took over Jerusalem; he saw the Saracens as godless, but then he had just witnessed their pillaging and had had to surrender to them.

Later (in the 680s) we have references to Muhammad as a general, but others writing later still do not mention Muhammad at all. His profile therefore cannot have been so great or significant up to the end of the 7th century.

The question therefore remains open; whether a person named Muhammad existed at all. It seems unlikely based on the contemporary evidence that the Muhammad of Tradition existed, but there may have been leaders, a general and or a preacher who were called Muhammad or who were given the title Muhammad.

What is clear is that the earliest Islamic sources for Muhammad’s life appear much later and show signs of legendary development, and the lack of documents from the very earliest period suggests that any documents that might have earlier existed may have been destroyed as a deliberate policy of early Caliphs. The probable conclusion can therefore be drawn that whatever the truth was about Muhammad at the time of his alleged revelations, it was not a story which later Caliphs approved. They preferred a different religious history for the successful nation they were leading and made sure that their preferred account prevailed, by destroying the records they thought contradicted it.

However research by scientific experts has shown that this account – the Traditional account – is not correct. Historical analysis, consideration of the religious background, archaeology, coins and inscriptions have all contributed to an emerging different picture.

This different picture also affects the traditional histories of the early Caliphs themselves: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Mu’awiya and Abd-al Malik. In particular the traditional accounts of the first four (so called rightly guided caliphs) is placed in doubt. The Tradition about the other two are subject to revision. More research is necessary before a clearer picture can be gained of the early Caliphs but it is clear that the Traditions of all of them have been affected by later ‘development’ away from the historical truth. Meantime the reasonable approach to them is one of scepticism.

Muslims point to the Koran and the Sira (life) of Muhammad as proving Muhammad’s existence and his importance as the messenger of God, but, these documents were written well after the time Muhammad is supposed to have lived, and it is remarkable given the Tradition’s story of Muhammad’s fame being spread far and wide how his existence as an inspiring leader is hardly mentioned by contemporary sources.

Readers may recall the inspiration Mao Ze Dong appeared to give the Chinese people. Every news report showed Chinese people waving their little red book of Mao’s Thoughts, so that the world was left in no doubt about Mao Ze Dong’s existence, his importance and the reality of his little red book as well as its claimed. But the Koran’s existence was never even noted by the people of the Middle East who were, the Tradition states, conquered by the Arabs, and existence of Muhammad was barely mentioned.

The only reasonable position to take now as regards the reality of the existence of the Muhammad of Tradition is one of scepticism.



This chapter building on the evidence summarised throughout the book briefly considers whether there is sufficient reliable evidence for the existence of the Muhammad of Tradition.

15. The Koran: a Literary Masterpiece Unequalled and a Miracle? —

Say: Verily, though mankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Koran, they could not produce the like of it though they were helpers of one another (17.88)

Islamic Tradition claims that the Koran contains not only the words of God, but also that the Koran is unequalled, miraculous and perfect in its nature, that it is a literary masterpiece, and itself proof of Islam. As Muslims claim God is the author of the Koran, such claims are considered to be consistent with its divine authorship.

This chapter consider whether the evidence is sufficient to justify these beliefs and how reasonable they are.

The topic covered by this chapter is a large one and can usefully be divided into three separate questions, namely:

  • Is the Koran a literary masterpiece?
  • Can the Koran be equalled?
  • Is the Koran a miracle and is it itself proof of Islam?


Other areas of relevance to these issues which have been dealt with in other chapters including:

  • Has the Koran remained unchanged since it was handed down to Muhammad?
  • Does the Koran contain contradictions or mistakes or other evidence suggestive of human rather divine authorship
  • Does the Koran contain incredible, magical or mythological material?
  • Does the Koran make statements about matters which scientific advances have only recently discovered to be true, thereby proving divine authorship?

But first we will consider:

The experience of reading the Koran


Many authors on reading the Koran find it quite otherwise than as Muslims claim. Bill Warner for instance in ‘A Two Hour Koran’[1] comments:

“1. It is arranged from the longest chapter to the shortest chapter. This destroyed the story of the Koran.

2. Each chapter has a bewildering array of topics.

3. It is very repetitive. The story of Moses is told 39 times.

4. There is no context to many verses. This is very confusing.

5. It is contradictory.”

Others have read the Qur’an and have commented how poor it is as literature, contrary to its self proclaimed perfection. For ex Muslims, re-reading the Koran with open eyes is often experienced as an ‘The Emperor has no clothes’ moment. By way of example here is what a lady called Ishina says about the Qur’an in a piece in which she is giving reasons for leaving Islam on the Council of Ex-Muslims website[2]:


“Simply by its own internal inconsistencies and fallacies as a work of literature, the Quran is self-refuting. Poorly written, poorly structured, profoundly lacking in original insight and depth, contradictory to the point of needing its own ad hoc system of abrogation, it is a featherweight compared to equivalent works in other traditions. Keep in mind that the Quran is allegedly the unaltered words of a god, verbatim. So sure are Muslims of this that they have fetishised the Quran to the point of becoming a self-parody. To the point of having an existential crisis (and sometimes even to the point of violence) if it is defaced or disrespected. 

The Quran only makes matters worse for itself by being such an arrogant work. Making bold claims of perfection, challenging its reader to find better; “Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one.” The human authors of Islam painted themselves into a corner by proclaiming it to be no less than the Final Testament from the God of Abraham, and further, that Mohammed was the seal of the prophets, appointed to confirm, correct, complete and give closure to the prophesies that came before. It’s an incredibly conceited and short-sighted thing to do, but quite understandable when you take into account the apocalyptic doomsayer culture it was born from, authored by those who thought the world would end ages ago, perhaps even in their own lifetime. And of course, it didn’t end. And so, the supposed measure of divine wisdom revealed in the Quran uncannily resembles the superstitious and ignorant views of the men of that period, frozen in time.” 


For a document with an allegedly divine origin, the Koran when read by a critically aware and objective reader appears remarkably repetitive, rambling and disorganised. It is also replete with threats, curses and rhetoric. The dominant theme is the insistent call to belief in Muhammad’s message of Islamic monotheism coupled with threats uttered to those who dare to think otherwise.


The Koran is written in a polemic style and appears addressed to those who disagreed with Muhammad or with doubters or disputers among whom Muhammad or the Koran’s creators lived. There are many verses addressed to Christians and Jews seeking to persuade them to accept Muhammad’s new religion as well as passages addressed to the adherents of the old polytheistic religion of the surrounding tribes. Some of these verses could have been taken by those addressed as amounting to bullying; they are nothing if not forthright. We have seen above that there was at the inception of Islam an atmosphere of religious ferment between multiple sects which no doubt explains the polemical style.


It is full of verses which purport to be proofs of Allah’s claim to be the one and only God. It sees no incongruity or logical difficulty in claiming itself as proof of its own claim. Even though the Koran is clear that there is only one God, it also reveals belief in the existence of other supernatural beings such as Satan (Shaitan), angels and jinn. See for example 35.1 where angels who have two, three or four wings are referred to as having been appointed by Allah[3].


There are the expected self-serving claims that the Koran is true (eg 35.31). Maulana Wahiduddin Khan sees no difficulty with the Koran claiming itself to be true. But very striking are the often repeated passages devoted to cajoling the immediate audience to surrender themselves fully to Islam and not even think of deviating from it.  An example of cajoling is 57.10:


‘And what is the matter with you that you spend not in the cause of Allah?’


This looks more like a very human and impatient Muhammad (or leader) being impatient with his recalcitrant followers; the context was fighting.[4]


The cajoling includes attempts to persuade but also dire warnings, abuse and threats are used. I have given the references in the footnotes for a large number but the reality is that the text is permeated with such verbal abuse[5]. I set out here just three examples (King Fahd translation) to give the flavour of these passages:


But those who reject our ayat (ie proofs, evidence, verses, lessons, signs, revelations etc), the torment will touch them for their disbelief (and for their belying the Message of Muhammad (6:49)[6]

“But those who disbelieve (in the oneness of Allah) for them will be the fire of Hell. Neither will it have a complete killing effect on them so that they die, nor shall its torment be lightened for them. Thus do we requite every disbeliever” (35:36)

“Verily we have prepared for disbelievers iron chairs, iron collars and a blazing fire”  (76:4)

Often criminals and sinners are equated and condemned equally with polytheists and disbelievers in Islamic monotheism[7], so that a thoughtful atheist or agnostic would be treated on the same basis as a professional criminal. The text lacks any notions of freedoms of expression, belief and conscience, which we now value as foundational ethical norms in a modern society.


But the Koran is not all like this.  One passage 39.7 seems inconsistently moderate in comparison (Allah ‘does not like disbelief’). Other passages promise paradise to the believers[8], or rain to those who accept Islam.

On the other hand more verses are threatening: 72.15 states that those who deviate from the right path shall be firewood in hell.


The Tradition implicitly explains that the Suras were issued originally as a means of propaganda to those Muhammad wanted to influence.

A dispassionate reader might conclude that the Koran’s hectoring style justifies the description of the Koran as repetitive or even obsessive.


At the heart of Islam is the idea of submission, submission to Allah as interpreted by Muhammad. The idea of submission is accompanied by, and reinforces, the obsession with stamping out disbelief. Believers must submit themselves to ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching and a level of mind-control reminiscent of the ‘Wee Frees’[9], some extremist sects which have been reported in recent decades (Jonestown, Scientology, Moonies etc), or some totalitarian regimes (Nazism, Communism).


Not many non-Muslims have taken the trouble to read the Koran, but it is a revelation (pun intended) to read it. A surprising number of Muslims have not read it either! If it is read without the prejudice of being totally committed to everything it says as being God’s word, but with simple common sense and awareness, it is a rewarding read: it shows the naked truth about Islam and will assist the reader assess the claims it makes.



  1. 1.  Is the Koran a literary masterpiece?

Many independent commentators have noted that the Koran is not the perfect piece of writing the Islamic tradition repeatedly asserts it to be. This was noted by early non-Muslim commentators such as the Christian Al-Kindi[10] writing about 830.  Christoph Luxenberg remarks that the Koran contains much ambiguous and even inexplicable language. He asserts that even Muslim scholars find some passages difficult to parse and have written reams of Koranic commentary in attempts to clarify its meaning.[11]

The noted 20th century traditional Koranic commentator Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi  (1903-79) in the introduction to his commentary to Sura1-3[12] candidly states about the Koran (page 8):

The reader …also encounters abrupt transitions between one subject matter and another. Audience and speaker constantly change as the message is directed now to one and now to another group of people. There is no trace of the familiar division into chapters and sections. Likewise, the treatment of different subjects is unique. If an historical subject is raised, the narrative does not follow the pattern familiar in historical accounts. In discussions of philosophical or metaphysical questions, we miss the familiar expressions and terminology of formal logic and philosophy. Cultural and political matters or questions pertaining to man’s social and economic life are discussed in a way very different from that usual in works of social sciences.

He continues:

The reader may find all this so foreign to his notion of what a book should be that he may become so confused as to feel that the Qur’an is a piece of disorganised, incoherent and unsystematic writing, comprising nothing but a disjointed conglomeration of comments of varying lengths put together arbitrarily.

I am grateful to Mawdudi because in these passages he concedes the truth of the criticism of the lack of literary quality of the Koran, but he goes on to explain the fundamental claims the Koran makes for itself. If these are accepted then the credulity of the faithful is such that explanations are found for the presentation of the Koran which appear consistent with its claimed divine authorship.

Many other experts have also noted what they saw as defects in the Koran. The noted Arabist and scientific scholar of the Koran Theodor Noldeke compared the Koran unfavourably with the pre-Koranic Arabic poetry which he considered to be free of the shortcomings evident in the Koran[13].

The noted Arabist and scientific Koranic scholar Dr Puin in a critical assessment of the Koran’s comprehensibility in a 1999 Atlantic Monthly article wrote that:[14]

…. the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants. The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or ‘clear,’ but if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims — and Orientalists — will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can’t even be understood in Arabic — then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not — as even speakers of Arabic will tell you — there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.

The great scientific scholar and Arabist John Wansbrough says of the Koran that it: strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content. Perfunctory in its linking of disparate materials and given to repetition of whole passages in variant versions. On this basis it can be plausibly argued that the book (Koran) is the product of the belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions.[15]

Ibn Warraq noted that Westerners reading the Koran have reacted in different even more critical ways.

It is not neccessary to rely on experts to evaluate the Koran. Take 33.37 for instance;

And when you said to him on whom Allah has conferred favour and you have conferred favour : Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah. And you hid in your mind that which Allah was bringing to light, and you feared mankind whereas Allah has a better right that you should fear Him. So when Zeyd had performed that necessary formality (of divorce) from her, We gave her to you in marriage, so that (from thereon) there may be no sin for believers in respect of wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have performed the necessary formality (of release) from them. The commandment f Allah must be fulfilled.

You see here an example of Koranic text which contains both an ungrammatical structure and an unstable subject. The first sentence is a subordinate clause which ends before the main clause. Indeed the following sentence also appears to be a continuation of the same subordinated concept and it is only in the third sentence that we reach what should be the main concept of the verse.

At the beginning of the verse Allah is referred to in the third person, then in the third sentence the subject shifts to ‘We’ as if Allah is speaking himself, and the final sentence again refers to Allah in the third person.

I have quoted Arabist scholars who have assessed the Koran in its original language. While other commentators have been reading the Koran in translation, it is fair to recall that one thing a translation has to do is to render a text into another language so as to show meaning. Translators cannot translate into incomprehensible language even where the original meaning is obscure! Therefore, if the original text is partly unintelligible, the translations are likely to be an improvement on the original level of intelligibility, not the reverse (as Muslims frequently suggest).

When putting these points to Muslim advocates of the Koran, one is left listening to further assertions of the miraculous nature of the Koran as a masterpiece of literature. Simply repeating such assertions however is no argument whatsoever.


  1. 2.   Can the Koran be equalled?

The Koran itself lays down a challenge in 17.88 quoted above: “Say, verily though mankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Koran, they could not produce the like of it though they were helpers of one another”. Similar challenges are laid down in 10.38, 25.23, 28.49 and 52.34.


But even when the Muhammad was publishing his revelations, his audiences were not impressed. See 8.31 This is nothing but fables of the men of old, which candidly records people saying that he was just telling ancient stories, thereby implying that the old stories could match the Koran.


The challenge did not go unheeded. The famous poet Bashar ibn Burd (died783) having heard poems of some contemporary poets in Basra is reported to have said that “These poems are better than any Sura of the Koran.”[16]


Often a Muslim today will repeat the challenge to produce the like of the Koran, thinking that it is a conclusive argument. Neither Muslims nor non-Muslims spend the time to consider the claim realistically, but the challenge is easily answered by anyone who has the benefit of being reasonably well read in the ancient and modern classics of poetry, religion, philosophy, history and fiction.


While any comparisons with the Koran will inevitably involve a strong subjective judgement, it is possible to compare the text of the Koran with the Bible, especially the King James Bible, with the works of Marcus Aurelius, the speeches of Demosthenes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Lucretius, Plato, or Cicero, and fair comparison shows that that the Koran is by no means superior. Those prose texts in my judgement show much clearer composition, flow of argument, clarity of narrative and story. Or choose a modern text like ‘The Good Book’ by AC Grayling[17] or any modern philosophical work such as Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy: these also demonstrate clearly the same qualities lacking in the Koran.


The poetry of Ovid or Homer is easily comparable as is the poetry of more modern poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, Carol Ann Duffy etc – and in the judgement of many, better. The Arabic text of the Koran is claimed to be poetic in its own way, a claim that cannot be judged by those who cannot read the original, although some of the descriptions especially of paradise reflect a poetic quality that does come through translation. But much of the remaining alleged poetic quality is sadly lost in translation, if indeed it was ever there. The impression is gained of a ‘poetry’ common to many of the religious scriptures of the ancient world[18] and indeed of some of the modern world.


Some passages may well have been poetry to an Arab’s ear at the time, but when Muhammad makes repeated references to the sea and the day and night eg in 35.12 and 13, the impact in translation is regrettably more banal to the modern ear. Or the poetic effect may be similar to the impact of archaic language, like the King James Bible can have on English listeners.


Other religions also claim their scriptures to be divinely inspired and of high quality. Sikhism’s first scriptures emerged over 500 years ago and the Baha’i‘s first scriptures first came to light in the nineteenth century. Both attracted Muslims converts in large numbers who were presumably impressed by these scriptures over against the Koran.


Perhaps the best test is for the reader to read the Koran for him or herself. When the Koran is read in translation by an intelligent and objectively minded reader, the impression gained is that it is far from the literary masterpiece claimed. Muslims commentators are quick to quote selectively from non-Muslims who have made appreciative comments about the Koran.


Perhaps one should blame the compilers of the Koran for the jumbling together of revelations without adequate editing, context or chronology. Research suggests that this task was probably done in a hurried manner in the eighth century.


The Traditional account implicitly suggests that once Muhammad had died his companions may have regarded the revelations as too sacred for them to be overtly edited to the point of clarity without adding or altering them. Modern research into the origins of the Koran however suggests that the revelations were far from sacrosanct and that much ambiguity in the Koran may flow from the fact that sections of it have been translated from earlier documents written in Aramaic.


Devout Muslims will also argue that you cannot appreciate the Koran unless you understand classical Arabic, but this is only an argument for the Koran being inaccessible to the majority of humankind, suggesting that God is partisan towards classical Arabic speakers and so discriminatory towards the rest of the human race.


In any event the challenge to produce material like the Koran has been met directly in a website:  – a website devoted specifically to writing Suras in Arabic that compare with the originals.


Whilst reading a translation cannot reveal the alleged beautiful poetic quality of the Koran, expert Arabists such as Noldeke have criticised the Koran for irregular and incorrect language, unexplained breaks in rhyme and meaning, and repetitiveness, and have compared the Koran unfavourably with classical Arabic poetry.


Wikipedia has a page entitled ‘Great Books of the World’. The page lists many books written before the Koran as well as many written since. They are of high literary quality. The reader is invited to assess whether any or all are of a higher quality than the Koran.


The Salafist preacher and Islamic debater Hamza Andreas Tzortis in his website[19] states that anyone trying to match the Koran must do the following:

Replicate the Qur’an’s literary form
Match the unique linguistic nature of the Qur’an
Select and arrange words like that of the Qur’an
Select and arrange similar grammatical particles
Match the Qur’an’s superior eloquence and sound
Equal the frequency of rhetorical devices
Match the level of content and informativeness

Equal the Qur’an’s conciseness and flexibility


He states that those attempting to match it against these criteria have so far failed. But this is like one side of a contest deciding what the rules should be for both sides. The criteria he sets out may have little to do with literary merit, but more to do with replicating the Koran’s eccentricities. For instance he refers to the Koran’s superior eloquence and sound. However for many the sound of the Arabic language appears harsh, and cannot compare with more mellifluous languages like Italian and Finnish.


The truth is that something better than the Koran in any reasonable and widely recognised test of quality you care to mention can be created and already exists in just about every type of literature, in all the major literary languages of the world. The reader can easily judge this for him or herself.


In the final analysis the judgement of a work as an unequalled or unequallable literary masterpiece is subjective. Therefore Muslims arguing the point are really seeking to impose on others their own partial and faith-based judgement.



  1. 3.   Is the Koran a Miracle?

The Islamic position in brief

A remarkable feature of Islam is the claim its adherents make that the Koran itself is a literary miracle and itself constitutes proof of the correctness of Islam and even of God’s existence. Its language and poetry is said to be so profound and beautiful that it cannot be translated adequately. Its language is also said to be precise and intricate.[20]

The Koran is held to be the word of Allah himself, usually dictated to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel, and then memorised by Muhammad and passed on to his followers.

Muslims believe the Koran was made easy to memorise by Allah, even for non- Arabic speakers, and many millions of Muslims have in fact committed the Koran to memory, of whom many have memorised it even without knowing the meaning of the words. It is said as a result that even if the written word were lost the Koran would still be available in their memories. The Koran is claimed to be the most recited book ever.

Muslims also believe the Koran has been miraculously preserved: it is, they say, exactly the same as it was when it was first handed down to Muhammad.  The traditional scholar Mawdudi (1903-1979) wrote

“The Koran that we possess today corresponds exactly to the edition which was prepared on the orders of Abu Bakr”[21]

A contemporary Muslim preacher Nouman Ali Khan says that if the Koran had not been given by Allah it would contain a lot of contradictions; he implicitly denies it contains contradictions. Even the word for contradiction, he says, does not appear more than once in the Koran.

Nouman Ali Khan refers to the middle verse of the second Sura Al-Baqarah – ayah 143 in which Allah is said to say that he has ‘appointed you a middle nation’ (Pickthall translation). That verse is also the middle one in the Sura. He suggests that this is an example of the way the Koran is miraculous.

The Koran is claimed to be a revolutionary book, producing more significant and complete change in seventh century Arabia than other revolutions for instance the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Nouman Ali Khan explains that what are noted as breaks in rhyme in the Koranic text are really clever ways of noting a change of paragraph or a footnote within the text.

As we have seen above the Koran itself issues a challenge – that if anyone doubts the Koran, he should bring something similar. Implicitly that is said to be impossible, so wonderful is the Koran.

For Muslims the Koran further proves its divine origin because it makes statements about matters that were not understood by humans at the time the Koran was revealed 1400 years ago, but which have only more recently been shown by scientific advance to be correct. [22]

Nouman Ali Khan states that the Koran is central to Muslim faith: if you are satisfied that the Koran is the word of Allah, then all other doubts about Islam are resolved.  Inevitably if a person accepts this claim it follows that the whole package of Islamic beliefs is taken on board.

One of the purposes of this book is to address these various claims and to assist Muslims and non Muslims in assessing whether the Koran is worthy of such faith.

For the claim that the Koran is itself a miracle, it is useful first to consider what a miracle is by definition. The classical definition of a miracle is an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all human and natural powers and is attributed to supernatural causes. It therefore comes to be seen as a sign of God’s existence.

Alternatively a miracle is simply something wonderful or marvellous. In this last sense anyone can subjectively regard something as wonderful.

Hamza Andreas Tzortis in his website[23] has an article devoted to the alleged literary and linguistic miracle of the Koran, in which I note he prefers the definition that a miracle is an event that lies outside the productive capacity of nature. This seems to be another way of suggesting supernatural intervention.

If we take Tzortis’s meaning and the usual definition together – of an event which is outside the productive capacity of nature and/or which surpasses the laws of physics and is ascribed to supernatural powers, it is hard to see on what evidence the claim that the Koran is a Miracle can be made. There is nothing obviously miraculous about it, other than that it does contain fables which relate miraculous stories. Whether a miraculous story is evidence of fabrication and mythology or evidence of the supernatural is a matter for the reader’s common sense.

Generally the more extraordinary and incredible a story, the stronger and clearer the evidence needed to justify belief. Simple assertions of the miraculous are nowhere near enough, but this is all we get in the Koran.

The Koran is a very imperfect and human book,  full of errors, contradictions and indications that it has been created by human beings.


Is the Koran itself proof of Islam?


The claim that the Koran is a miracle and itself ‘proof’ is linked to the belief that the Koran is the very word of Allah sent down to Muhammad. This claim contrasts with the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, for which the usual claim is that they were merely divinely inspired. The Islamic tradition that the Koran is the very word of God claim may explain the fact that the Koran has amongst its followers such a status that there has been with Islam itself very limited tradition or tolerance of the kind of textual criticism that has been so useful in helping both believers (and sceptics) understand the bible (and its defects). However this has been changing: the amount of critical examination of the Koran is on the increase.[24]


Sura 98 is entitled ‘The Clear Evidence’ and picks up a constant theme[25] that the Koran constitutes proof of the oneness of God and the correctness of Islam. The text shows Muhammad’s constant repetition of his call to belief is noted, coupled by references to the munificence of God in providing rain, the sun, etc and these are presented as proof of his message. Our knowledge of meteorology makes these claims look thin. In any event the mere constant repetition of assertions is not proof of their truth and cannot withstand fair minded objective analysis today.


The Koran’s claim that it itself constitutes proof of what it proclaims is a circular and illogical claim, because the Koran could only be valid if it was revealed by God. The existence of God has to be proved first by means outside the Koran before it is reasonable to consider the Koran as a possible revelation from God. And even then it would also have to compete with the scriptures of other religions.


The Koran does itself no favours in making such claims: the first trick of an intellectual fraud is to avoid exposing his basic thesis to critical examination and to assume the truth of his argument as a precondition to debate, as this seeks to preclude further or indeed any criticism. Any criticism or doubt of the Koran is thereby categorised automatically as disbelief, and was so categorised by the authors of the Koran – and is still being so categorised today.


Looking at the Koran from an objective point of analysis the reader is asked to consider whether the claim that Allah sent the Koran down to the world via Muhammad is just such a fraudulent claim.




This chapter has looked at the questions whether the Koran can be fairly considered a Literary Masterpiece which cannot be equalled and a Miracle.

Reasons are offered to find that the Islamic Traditions about the Koran are unsupported not only by the historical evidence but also by the evidence that can be gleaned by reading the text today and comparing it to other literary works. The Koran cannot therefore be fairly judged as unequalled, let alone a miracle, or a literary masterpiece.


[1] Published by CSPI 2010


[3]  See also 8.50. 8.9, 2.98-99, 2.34, 2.30-31, 15.27 and 55.15

[4]  eg 57.10

[5] See for example 6.39, 6.49, 7.40, 9.68, 13.18, 16.01, 17.105, 18.02, 18.29, 22.57, 27.90, 35.36, 40.4, 40.7, 40.60, 40.70-76, 41.4, 41.41, 46.20, 48.13, 57.19, 76.4, 78.21-27,

[6] King Fahd translation

[7] This comes out for example in 36.59 the King Fahd translation but not in Pickthall

[8]  eg 35.33

[9] A fundamentalist and puritanical Presbyterian sect in Scotland

[10] See The Origins of the Koran ed Ibn Warraq p 17

[11] This is part of his theme in The Syro-Aramaean Reading of the Koran pub Schiler 2007

[12] English translation by Tafhim al-Qur’an pub The Islamic Foundation UK 1988

[13] Which Koran? (Ed Ibn Warraq) p87


[15] Quoted by Ibn Warraq in his Introduction to The Origins of the Koran pub 1998 Prometheus

[16] Source Alternative Commentary on the Quran by Akshin Sultanov pub Raider 2011 p184

[17] Pub 2011

[18] Readers can compare the translations for their various poetic qualities. The translation emanating from the King Fahd Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques is probably the least poetic, in its anxiety for accuracy.



[20] I have checked Islamic beliefs set out in this part in and from Prof Tariq Ramadan’s book ‘The Messenger’ (pub penguin)

[21] Abul Ala Mawdudi Towards Understanding the Qur’an vol 1 ed Zafar Ansari (Leicester, UK: Islamic Foundation, 1988) p22

[22] This claim is considered in the chapter on Scientific Errors


[24]  See the bibliography. A useful starting point are the works of Ibn Warraq.

[25] Eg represented in 10.37

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.


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 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. 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. 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 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, 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. 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: ‘ 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.


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.




[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.



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

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