Some thoughts on the Quran from the blog Answering Muslims blog

The Quran vs. the Bible: A Comparison of Textual Integrity

We’ve all seen it, and we’ve seen it all too often.  The topic of discussion might be Muhammad, Islamic theology, or the Quran.  When evidence that challenges the Muslim position is proffered, a regular response is: “But your Bible is corrupt…”.  For examples of Muslims committing the tu quoquefallacy, you can click here, here, here, or here.  (All of these occurred on this blog in the last 10 days).

The Muslims who do this, though logically fallacious, do ultimately have a good point.  The New Testament and the Quran are the holy scriptures of Christianity and Islam, and as such they merit some degree of comparison. This article compares the basics of textual integrity.  I will attempt to be as unbiased in my presentation as possible before concluding.  (+ or – denotes years from either Muhammad’s death or Jesus’ death).  NOTE: Detailed discussions concerning canonicity and inspiration are out of the scope of this article.
Inception of scripture:
Quran: -23 years (Recorded during Muhammad’s life)
NT: +2 years (Creed from 1 Cor 15:3-8)
Number of Divinely Sanctioned Forms:
Quran: 7 ahruf (Sahih Bukhari 3.601)
NT: 1 form
Earliest Records of Corruption:
Quran: +0 (Some verses eaten by a goat; Ibn Majah, Book of Nikah, p.39)
+12 (Umar records the missing verses; Bukhari 8.82.816 & 817)
NT: Uncertain, but late
State-Controlled Recension (revision) of All Manuscripts:
Quran: +20 (Uthman)
NT: Never
State-Controlled Destruction of All Manuscripts:
Quran: +20 (Uthman)
NT: Never
Importance of Textual Preservation for the Religion’s Truth Claims:
Quran: Extreme importance (Muhammad’s one sign for his truth)
NT: Peripheral importance (Jesus’ main sign was his resurrection)
Discussion:
The New Testament had a period of about 3 centuries when it was not openly proliferating throughout the Roman empire.  This was because of edicts issued by Roman authorities which persecuted Christians and/or called for the destruction of the Bible (e.g. the Diocletian Edict).  During this time, a core of books was well known throughout Christendom while the rest of the books were better known in various regions.
In addition to this, no one person controlled the manuscripts.  They were in the possession of individuals and churches who revered these scriptures and saw to their safe-keeping.  Later, when Constantine’s Edict of Milan legalized Christianity in 313 AD, people began openly assembling to officially discuss and agree upon the finer points of the Christian faith.  Thus the Council of Nicaea in 325, and later the Council of Hippo in 393 (which officially canonized the books of the NT).
Though at first glance this seems to be a mark against New Testament integrity, one thing is certain:there is extremely low possibility for textually undetectable corruption in the New Testament.  Here are the reasons:
  1. If any errors crept into a manuscript being copied in, for example, Asia Minor, a manuscript from Rome would not contain those errors. Comparing the two (along with other manuscripts) would rectify the mistakes.
  2. Since no one person controlled all the manuscripts, it would be impossible to uniformly corrupt all the manuscripts.
  3. Since there was no uniform revision of the all the manuscripts, surviving manuscripts can help us piece together the original text, not a revised version of that text.
  4. There was no universal destruction of all the texts.  Though many attempted this, such as Diocletian, surviving manuscripts and historical accounts are proof that these attempts were unsuccessful.
The Quran, on the other hand, suffers severely on all four above counts:
  1. It was controlled by one person, the khalifa (as evidenced by Uthman’s ability to recall all the manuscripts).
  2. It was uniformly revised by Uthman.
  3. During this time, if any error crept into the manuscript which would serve as the official text, this error would only be detectable by comparing it to previous manuscripts.
  4. Unfortunately, all the previous manuscripts were put to the flames.
Thus, we can conclude the following:

  • It is virtually impossible for the New Testament to have been uniformly corrupted in a textually undetectable manner.
  1. It is extremely easy for the Quran to have been uniformly corrupted in a textually undetectable manner.
Of course, this does not necessitate that the Quran was corrupt, it just means that it was extremely prone to textually undetectable corruption.
But when historical data indicates missing verses as early as the death of Muhammad and the reign of Umar, the argument that the Quran has been corrupted becomes extremely plausible.
When we add to this that Muhammad’s chosen teachers of the Quran disagreed with Uthman’s final product, the argument that the Quran has been corrupted becomes extremely likely.
When topped off by quotations from early Muslims which say that “much of the Quran has been lost”, the argument that the Quran has been corrupted becomes incontrovertible.
The coup de grace occurs when we realize that the Quran’s textual integrity is central to the truth of Islam.  Muhammad offered the Quran as his most miraculous sign to vindicate his truth.  If the Quran is false about its protection from Allah (15:9), then Islam is false.  This is in contrast to the NT, which does not rely on its textual integrity as a sign for us.
Conclusion:
The history of the New Testament allows its text to be investigated and verified. The Quran cannot allow us to come any closer to the original text than the Uthmanic Revised Standard Version 20 years removed from Muhammad. Any errors which found their way into the URSV would be permanent and uncorrectable. And, unfortunately, historical accounts from early Islam tell us such errors exist.
When pitting the New Testament against the Quran, at least in terms of textual integrity, there is no possible way to vindicate the Quran.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Ibn Masud Problem: Muslims’ Flawed Responses

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you must be very familiar with Ibn Masud and the arguments that issue forth from him against the modern Quran (i.e. the Zaid Standard Version, or ZSV). If you are new to this blog, welcome! Allow me to recap some of the information for you.
Ibn Masud and the Corruption of the ZSV
Ibn Masud is Muhammad’s first choice of Quran teachers for his people:
Narrated Masruq: Abdullah bin Mas’ud was mentioned before Abdullah bin Amr who said, “That is a man I still love, as I heard the Prophet (saw) saying, ‘Learn the recitation of the Qur’an from four: from Abdullah bin Mas’ud – he started with him – Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Mu’adh bin Jabal and Ubai bin Ka’b”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, p.96).
Notice Muhammad starts by naming Ibn Masud, and the narrator emphasizes this fact. Indeed, the narrator goes on to say that he loves Ibn Masud. We can safely infer that this hadith intends to convey Ibn Masud as the best teacher of the Quran.
Being a proud expert of the Quran, Ibn Masud would agree that his mastery of the Quran was unrivaled. Of his own prowess, he says:
”Narrated Abdullah (bin Mas’ud) (ra): By Allah other than Whom none has the right to be worshipped! There is no Sura revealed in Allah’s Book but I know at what place it was revealed; and there is no verse revealed in Allah’s Book but I know about whom it was revealed. And if I know that there is somebody who knows Allah’s Book better than I, and he is at a place that camels can reach, I would go to him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.488). ”
However, Ibn Masud does not think highly of today’s Quran, the one collected by Zaid. In comparing himself to Zaid, he says:
”The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth”. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p.444)
As we can see, the differences between Ibn Masud’s Quran and Zaid’s Quran were not minor. Before even examining them, we can know that they were big enough for Ibn Masud to call the reading of Zaid’s Quran “deceit”. But when we examine the evidence, we find out why.
According to Ibn Abi Daud’s Kitab al-Masahif, we find out that Ibn Masud only includes 111 surahs in his Quran (as opposed to the ZSV’s 114). In addition, chapters that were found in both codices often had many variants; within surat al-Baqara alone, 101 variants exist. Not all of these variants are differences in spelling. For example:
Surah 2:275 begins with the words Allathiina yaakuluunar-ribaa laa yaquumuuna – “those who devour usury will not stand”. Ibn Mas’ud’s text had the same introduction but after the last word there was added the expression yawmal qiyaamati, that is, they would not be able to stand on the “Day of Resurrection”.
Naturally, since Muhammad told people to go to Ibn Masud if they wanted to learn the Quran, many Muslims studied under Ibn Masud. Ibn Masud’s version of the Quran was thus perpetuated to his students. The aforementioned variant, for example, was included in the codex of Talha ibn Musarrif, one of Ibn Masud’s students in Kufa.
The Muslim Responses
So far, there have been three Muslim responses on this blog to the above case.
1 – “Ibn Masud’s codex was his own personal notebook; it is not to be taken as a variant codex of the Quran!”
The desperate nature of this response is so obvious I am amazed anyone would even utter it. But alas, this is the most common response I have seen so far.
The main problem with this is that it is demonstrably false! We know historically that Ibn Masud taught his version of the Quran to his students (as mentioned above). Therefore, we cannot possibly say that he just considered it his own personal notebook.
Another problem with this response is that it goes against the supporting evidence; we know that Ibn Masud did not want to give up his codex when it came time to burn the variants. Why would Uthman want a notebook to be burnt when everything else he was burning were manuscripts? Clearly, if Quranic manuscripts were what was being burnt, and Uthman wanted Ibn Masud’s book burnt, it was probably not just a notebook!
But let’s give the Muslim response the benefit of the doubt. We may just happen to find something like this in an archaeological dig:
 
Uthman’s List of Things to Burn
1 – All Quranic manuscripts
2 – Ibn Masud’s notebook, which is definitely not a manuscript…
Even after finding such a chit, the Muslim response still has a huge problem: why on earth would Ibn Masud be so hesitant to give up his “notebook”, even resisting the command of the khalifa? I doubt he would do so without good reason.
And this brings me to my final point: the supporting evidence from Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir makes the pieces fit. Ibn Masud must have considered Zaid’s Quran such a deceit that he was willing to resist the command of the khalifa. Not only does this supporting evidence pass the historial method’s criterion of embarrassing admission, it also makes all the pieces fit (i.e. the criterion of illumination). The Muslim response, on the other hand, makes no sense, ignores the criteria of historical investigation, and indeed just throws out historical evidence on a whim.
2 – “Ibn Masud was just one of many teachers of the Quran!”
This is true, but it’s a distortion. At the very least, he was one of the top four teachers of the Quran. But if we are to trust Masruq (which we should, since he must be trustworthy if he is capable of transmitting a hadith graded sahih) then we would conclude that Ibn Masud is the best teacher of the Quran.
But again, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend he’s just as good as the other 3 that Muhammad mentioned. We know that at least one of those other 3 teachers also had many variants in his Quran (Ubay ibn Kab)! So at least half of Muhammad’s top 4 teachers of the Quran disagree with Zaid! And it’s quite possible that the other 2 did as well, we just can’t verify their codices since the variants were all burnt by Uthman.
Best case scenario? Even if the implications of the hadith are wrong and Ibn Masud is just one of the four best teachers of the Quran, we can be certain that half of Muhammad’s top teachers of the Quran disagree with the ZSV. These disagreements include different whole chapters as well as different verses and different words.
3 – “The ‘variants’ in Ibn Masud’s codex were no variants at all! They were part of the 7 ahruf, or perhaps just differences in qirrat!”
This, too, is a horridly desperate effort to save the Quran from having variants. No reasonable definition of ahruf or qirrat, no matter how broad, can encompass whole missing chapters! Ibn Masud had 111 chapters in his Quran, leaving out chapters 1, 113, and 114. He considered these to be prayers revealed by God for the benefit of Muslims, but not surahs intended for the Quran. (As a side note, Ubay ibn Kab included these 3 surahs in his codex, along with 2 others. The additional 2 surahs are prayers recited by Muslims even today which many believe to be divinely revealed, but not part of the Quran).
If Muslims continue providing this as a response to the Ibn Masud problem, I would simply have to ask “What is the definition of ahruf or qirrat?” Even while ignoring the abysmal failure of anyone in history to ever provide a good definition of ahruf, (a fact that even Muslim theologians have noted) there simply can be no reasonable definition which can include missing chapters.
As it stands, all Muslim responses to the Ibn Masud problem fail, and fail miserably. There is no solid Muslim response. If you think you have one, my Muslim friends, I’d love to hear it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seven Ahruf: The Qur’anic Escape Clause

Here is a simple question for Muslims: What does it mean to say that the Qur’an has been “perfectly preserved”?

I asked my friend this question last weekend, and his first response was that there have never been any changes in the text of the Qur’an. From an earlier post, we know that this claim is not verifiable: the earliest Quranic manuscripts were all systematically destroyed by Uthman. Beyond that, we know that this claim misses the point: there was plenty of controversy amongst the earliest Quranic scholars over what should even be considered “Quran”. The Quran was not even a solid enough concept to be changable!

But there’s more. When I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there were differences in the manuscripts that Uthman sent out to the provinces and that there were variations in word usage, my reference was made to the hadith in which Muhammad says that there were seven ahruf.

Narrated by Umar bin Al Khattab: I heard Hisham bin Hakim bin Hizam reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to that of mine. Allah’s Apostle had taught it to me (in a different way). So, I was about to quarrel with him (during the prayer) but I waited till he finished, then I tied his garment round his neck and seized him by it and brought him to Allah’s Apostle and said, “I have heard him reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to the way you taught it to me.” The Prophet ordered me to release him and asked Hisham to recite it. When he recited it, Allah’s Apostle said, “It was revealed in this way.” He then asked me to recite it. When I recited it, he said, “It was revealed in this way. The Qur’an has been revealed in seven ahruf, so recite it in the way that is easier for you.

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith #3.601

Letting aside Umar’s temperament, we see that he is shocked to find out that the Qur’an has been revealed in more ways than one. Indeed, the great Quran teacher Ubay b. Kaab had a similar response to this news, momentarily even doubting the Truth of Islam! (Until Muhammad punched him, that is):

Ubay: “…there occurred in my mind a sort of denial and doubt that did not exist even in the time of Jaahilliyah (before Islaam)! When the Messenger (PBUH) saw how I was affected, he struck my chest, whereupon I started sweating, and felt as though I were looking at Allaah in fear! Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘O Ubay! A message was sent to me to recite the Qur’aan in one harf, but I requested (Allaah) to make things easy on my nation. A second message came that I should recite the Qur’aan in two ahruf, but I again made the same request. I was then ordered to recite the Qur’aan in seven ahruf.’”

Narrated by Muslim.

But what exactly is meant by the term “ahruf“? Let’s turn to Muhammad for an answer:

…unfortunately, Muhammad does not elaborate on what the ahruf exactly are. So let’s turn to his companions for more details:

…it seems none of his companions shares details on this concept of ahruf, either. If we are to gain any valid, non-speculative information about the ahruf, we should turn to the first three generations of Muslims, known as the salaf:

…as it turns out, no one in the salaf era actually expounded upon the concept of ahruf. Muslim scholars have wrestled with the concept of the seven ahruf for centuries, often concluding that no one knows exactly what they are except Allah!

We must conclude, then, Muhammad essentially said the following: there are seven ways in which the Quran was revealed, and there’s no explicit limit to these differences. I posit that this ahruf clause allows so much elasticity for Muslims that they would use it to justify 7 entirely different Qurans if they were to exist! Indeed, we do see Muslims trying to explain the variants in the earliest Quranic manuscripts with this concept.

To summarize some of the past 2 weeks’ blogs on the Quran:

  1. There really is no actual difference between the “perfectly preserved” Quran and an un-preserved book from antiquity. Both have been through sifting, sorting, variations, missing passages, editions, etc.
  2. The Quranic text can never be shown to be “perfectly preserved” because the crucial evidence was systematically destroyed by Uthman.
  3. The scholars Muhammad chose to teach the Quran disagreed on the contents of the Quran, including which words, verses, and even chapters to include.
  4. The earliest manuscripts in our posession do not indicate “perfect preservation”; they have variants in each one of them.
  5. Some of the variants match the opinion of Quran teachers who stood against Zaid as he compiled the predecessor of today’s Quran.
  6. Even if it can be proven that there were up to seven different readings of the Quran, Muhammad’s concept of the seven ahruf will provide an escape clause for Muslims.

O Muslim friends! Do ye say “perfect preservation?” Then explain this claim if ye be of those who pursue truth! And if ye cannot do it, and ye will never be able to do it, then desist from your baseless assumptions. And Jesus is most forgiving, ever-merciful.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Muslim Debate Tricks

In the comments section, Yohannes posted ten rules of Muslim debate. Since we see these tricks being implemented again and again, they deserve special attention.

WINNING DEBATES FOR DUMMIES: A Guide for Muslims to Win Debates with Ten Easy Tricks

1. Always keep your CAPS Lock on. This way your post will be difficult to read and no one will be able to answer.

2. Whenever someone comes up with a verse from the Quran that you are unable to defend, say that it is taken out of CONTEXT.

3. Whenever someone comes up with a Hadith that you are unable to answer, say that Hadiths are not reliable.

4. When someone comes to you with both the Quran and the Hadith, say that the Quran and the Hadith can only be understood in Arabic.

5. When someone comes to you with the Quran and the Hadith and also proves that he/she understands Arabic, say that these verses are for a specific time period and could not be applied today.

6. When you cannot answer any questions, say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and soon the entire world will believe.

7. When someone comes up with proofs that Islam is not the fastest growing religion, say that these figures are biased and compiled by Christians.

8. Paste some YouTube videos about the Quran’s scientific miracles. When someone proves that these videos are stupid, shout that they are biased.

9. Keep on pasting random verses from the Quran to divert attention.

10. Finally, when you are totally on the run, curse and threaten people with Hell fire and say that they are not worthy of Islam.

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One Response to Some thoughts on the Quran from the blog Answering Muslims blog

  1. θ says:

    Madmanna says: The Qur’an has been revealed in seven ahruf, so recite it in the way that is easier for you.” Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith #3.601″

    There’s no sin whatsoever for us Moslems and Uthman to entirely dismiss or forget other six ahrufs. One ahfruf of Qur’an suffices. Prophet Muhammad allows us to * not recite * six other ahrufs any longer. De facto, since that is what remains with us, the most easiest ahruf is that one which Uthman and early Moslems wrote using a dialect of Quraysh only.

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