C. THE TESTIMONY OF THE QUR'AN TO THE BIBLE.
1. The Qur'anic Witness to the Christian Bible.
No one can read through the Qur'an without being struck by the attention it pays to the scriptures that preceded it. The Jews and the Christians are constantly described as Ahlal -Kitab ("People of the Book") and their scriptures are called the Tawruat and Injil respectively. Although the Qur'an speaks of the Zabur of David (presumably the Psalms, though once again said to be a book revealed to the prophet - Surah 17.55) so that Muslims generally believe that there were four major books (the Tawraat, Zabur, Injil and Qur'an), nevertheless the Jewish Scripture is universally described in the Qur'an as the Tawraat and the Christian Scripture as the Injil. Throughout the book the two former scriptures are always very highly regarded.
We have already seen that no other scriptures existed at that time except the Old and New Testaments respectively and that these were spread universally throughout the known world When the Qur'an speaks of the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians there can be little doubt that it is actually the Old and New Testaments that are being spoken of, even if the Qur'an shows that Muhammad believed that these books had a different form and were scriptures directly revealed by Allah to Moses and Jesus respectively.
Let us consider some of the verses of the Qur'an that speak of the former scriptures to see just how valid Muir's assessment of its teaching in this respect is. We begin with the following text which speaks of the Jews and says:
This passage teaches quite plainly that the Jews (named in Surah 5.44) "have the Torah" (inda hum - "with them"), a statement which can yield only one possible interpretation - the book was in their possession at the time of Muhammad and, as the verse also states that it was these same Jews who were coming to Muhammad for judgment, it is clear that it speaks of the Jews who lived in the environment of Medina. This means that the scripture of the Jews of Medina, which they had in their possession at the time of Muhammad, was the true Torah and the same as that which was possessed by all the Jews of the world. Now throughout their history the Jews have known only one Scripture - the books of the Old Testament as we know them today. From centuries before the time of Jesus Christ, when the Septuagint translation was done, down to this very day (and therefore right throughout the lifetime of Muhammad), the Kitab of the Jews has always been nothing other than the Old Testament as we know it.
The Qur'an nowhere suggests that the Torah is any book other than that which the Jews themselves accept as the Torah and, although Muhammad obviously assumed that the Jewish Scripture had the form of a book revealed to Moses by God, he nonetheless confirmed that this Scripture was indeed that which the Jews themselves regarded as the Torah. The Qur'an thus, perhaps unintentionally but nevertheless quite specifically, confirms that the Old Testament is the genuine Word of God and the authentic scripture of the Jews. A Syrian Christian convert from Islam, in his excellent work Minarul Haqq, says of Surah 5.47 quoted above:
The same principles apply to the New Testament. In this case the Qur'an describes the Christian Scriptures as the Injil, meaning the Gospel. Once again it has used a title which the possessors of that scripture also use for it. The Christian world knows the whole of the New Testament and the sum of its teaching as the Gospel (Mark 1.1, Romans 1.1). The Qur'an also admits that the Injil was in the possession of the Christians at the time of Muhammad:
The Ahlul-Injil are obviously intended to be the Christians who are here commanded, like the Jews, to decide matters according to what Allah has revealed in their scriptures, As this passage is likewise clearly addressed to Muhammad's Christian contemporaries, its teaching begs the question: how could the Christians be expected to judge by the Injil unless they had it in their possession? Once again, as with the Jewish Scripture, the Christian world has known only one scripture from centuries before Muhammad down to this very day. The Kitab of the Christian Church throughout its history has also been only one book - the New Testament as we know it.
By admitting that the revealed Gospel (the Injil) is in the possession of the Christians and that it is the book which the Christians themselves accept as the Gospel (for the Qur'an again nowhere suggests that the Injil is any other scripture than the one in the custody of the Christians at Muhammad's time), the Qur'an is giving frank witness to the New Testament as the revealed Word of God. The author of the famous sixteenth-century apologetic, Quadruplex Reprobatio, said to be John of Wales but more probably a Spaniard, quoting the previous verse which states that the Gospel by which the Christians were to judge contained hudaan and nuurun - "a guidance and light" (Surah 5.49), also reasoned that the I scripture of the Christians in their possession at the time of Muhammad must have been the authentic Word of God.
Yet another verse from the same Surah appeals to both the Jews and the Christians to observe the Tawraat and Injil, an exhortation that would be meaningless if they did not possess these two books in their original form respectively:
We have seen earlier in this chapter that the Old and New Testaments both date back to centuries before Muhammad and that there is no historical evidence of any kind to support the claim that they have been changed, or that the original scriptures of the Jews and the Christians were something else. As the Qur'an clearly regards the scriptures of these two groups as they existed in Muhammad's time to be the exact revelations of God, it therefore testifies not only to the authenticity of the Old and New Testaments but also to their divine origin. The Qur'an thus incontrovertibly testifies to the whole Bible as the unchanged Word of God. In another similar verse the Qur'an says that the Jews and the Christians will find Muhammad mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel which, it again says, are inda hum - "amongst them" (Surah 7.157). How could such a mention in any event be found if such scriptures no longer existed? Once again the Qur'an testifies to the authenticity of the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians which they had in their possession at the time, and such scriptures could only be the Old and New Testaments as we know them.
Another writer likewise concludes that the Qur'an "seems to assume that the real Torah and the real Evangel were in the hands of contemporary Jews and Christians" (Jeffery, Islam: Muhammad and his Religion, p. 122). In another place the Qur'an plainly says of the Jews that they "study the Scripture" (Surah 2.44) and in the same Surah the Qur'an itself is said to be the Truth "confirming what is with them" (Surah 2. 91). The only scripture which the Jews were studying, which was in their possession, and which the Qur'an here plainly professes to confirm, was the Old Testament just as we know it today. An even more striking text says to Muhammad:
Not only does this text yet again confirm that the Jews and the Christians of Muhammad's time were indeed reading the true Scripture but it even commands Muhammad to consult them if he was in any doubt about what was coming to him in the Qur'an. If the original Torah and Gospel had been corrupted or replaced, would the Qur'an direct Muhammad to consult the readers of these Scriptures? There can be only one possible conclusion from a study of all the texts we have quoted. Even though Muhammad may have believed that the Torah and the Gospel were books revealed to Moses and Jesus respectively, by confirming that the Torah and the Gospel were the scriptures in the possession of their followers at that time and were duly read and studied by them, the Qur'an has given an unequivocal testimony to the Old and New Testaments as the genuine Word of God. This is the indisputable witness of the Qur'an to the Bible.
To sum up the evidence presented above, the Koran clearly implies the existence and currency of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures in the time of the prophet of Islam. It attests their authenticity and inspired character. They are appealed to by the prophet and their observance inculcated. (Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, p. 25).
2. Tahrif - The Charge of Distorting the Scriptures.
The result of these positive testimonies to the earlier scriptures in the Qur'an was that the early Muslims did not query the authenticity of the text of the Bible. The differences between them and the Jews and the Christians were ascribed to a perversion of the meaning of the scriptures by the latter but not of the text itself. This became known as tahri fi-manawi, a "corruption of the meaning" of the words. It was only much later that the doctrine of tahrifi-lafzi, "corruption of the text", developed. In the early days, however, it was presumed that the Jews and Christians were only guilty of misrepresenting the meaning of their scriptures.
Imam Muhammad Ismail Bokhari writes in his book that "the word Tahrif (corruption) signifies to change a~ thing from its original nature; and that there is no man who could corrupt a single word from what proceeded from God, so that the Jews and Christians could corrupt only by misrepresenting the meaning of the words of God". (Hughes, Notes on Muhammadanism, p. 198).
The Muslims of those early days were only following the Qur'an which, as we have seen, testifies to the authenticity of the Bible and which only accuses the Jews on a few occasions of distorting the meaning of words and of concealing truths contained in their scripture. It was only much later that Muslim writers claimed that the Qur'an teaches that the Bible itself has been corrupted, but such claims were rarely made by Muhammad's immediate successors.
Let us consider briefly some of the passages of the Qur'an which speak on this subject and see whether they teach that the scriptures themselves have been changed or corrupted in any way. A typical text is this one:
On two occasions in this verse we read that the Jews had the habit of changing the true meaning of words. The inclusion of the Arabic word ra'inaa, upon which the Jews of Medina played to mislead the Muslims (it means in principle "please assist us" but, by a subtle twist, it can be turned into an insult), shows that the only Jews being spoken of here were Muhammad's contemporaries in his own environment. The text clearly refers to nothing more than the manners of those Jews with whom Muhammad had some contact and cannot be made to apply to all Jews throughout history, least of all can it be used to support an argument that the Jews had corrupted their scriptures. They "displace words" and use a "twist of their tongues" and the Qur'an shows how they did this. There is not even a hint here of an alteration of their scriptures.
The charge against the Jews of "changing words from their places" and of misrepresenting their context appears again in Surah 5.14 and Surah 5.44. The latter verse makes it plain that the Qur'an is speaking purely of Muhammad's experiences with the Jews of his day in the environment of Medina for it bids him not to grieve over them and the next verse tells him what to do if they should come to him.
A noteworthy fact at this point is the identification of the Jews alone as the culprits who twisted the meaning of words out of their context. Nowhere in these passages is such a charge laid against the Christians. A Christian writer observes that "the accusation is addressed to the Jews of Medina alone. Whatever else may be its scope, it does not extend beyond them. For instance, no such imputation is, in any verse of the Coran, ever hinted against the Christians, or their Scriptures" (Muir, The Coran: Its Composition and Teaching, p. 144). Another passage sometimes quoted to support the charge that the Bible has been changed is this one:
The charge of concealing the truth and covering it with falsehood led early Muslim writers to the conclusion that the Jews and Christians were misrepresenting or suppressing what was written in their scriptures. They did not claim that this verse taught that the scriptures themselves had been changed. No such specific charge appears in it, only a somewhat general claim that the truth was being concealed and suppressed. A Western scholar, speaking of the later Muslim claim that the tahrif has occurred in the scriptures themselves, says that it "is allegedly based on some verses of the Qur'an; but on examination these prove to deal with minor matters, or else to be altogether vague" (Watt, Islam and Christianity Today, p. 2), and it is out of this vagueness that Muslim writers today attempt to formulate a charge that the Qur'an teaches that the Bible itself has been changed. The text says no such thing, however, not even mentioning the Scriptures.
Another verse often appealed to by those who wish to discredit the Bible as it exists today is this one:
The charge that the Word of God had been knowingly perverted appears to modern Muslim writers to be just the sort of evidence they are looking for to create a case against the authenticity of the Bible based on the Qur'an. One says that "the Qur'an charges the people of the book of habitual tahrif in the pre-Islamic past and is not merely talking of the generation of Jews and Christians contemporary with the Prophet misinterpreting the existing Bible" (Shafaat, The Question of Authenticity and Authority of the Bible, p. 35), and goes on to claim that the verse teaches that "the people of the book used to listen to the word of God and then pervert it" and he concludes that such tahrif "took place during the making of the Bible" (op. cit., p. 36). Here one gets a good example of how Muslim writers of the present day endeavour to apply Qur'anic verses with a limited and, at times, vague import to their cherished supposition that the Bible has been altered. Such was not the attitude of the great early Muslim commentators.
Furthermore the charge is once again only levelled at the Jews, is clearly limited to "a party of them", and speaks only of the kalaamallaah, the spoken Word of God which they "heard" as the verse states. There is no suggestion here whatsoever that the Scripture, the kitaabullaah, has been altered. There is also nothing to support Shafaat's statement that this verse teaches that it was a habitual corruption that was taking place, or that it refers to pre-Islamic times. Such claims are purely presumptuous. He is reading his own preferred interpretation into the text to force it to yield the meaning he would like to obtain from it.
There is not even a hint in this passage that the Bible is being referred to and the very next verse shows quite plainly that it was a party of the Jews at the time of Muhammad that was being spoken of, for it calls on Muhammad to understand their aim when they engage in argument with him. The obvious interpretation of the passage is that a group of Jews in Medina were hearing the Qur'an recited verbally, distorted its meaning consciously after understanding it, and thereafter sought to argue with Muhammad about it. It takes a very fertile imagination to make the text teach that the Bible was being changed in pre-Islamic times!
Another text quoted by Muslims as an alleged proof that the Qur'an charges the People of the Book with having changed their scripture reads as follows:
Once again, however, the charge is clearly of distorting with their tongues, it is laid only against a group of the People of the Book, and obviously refers to the manner of those with whom Muhammad had come into direct contact. There is no verse in the Qur'an that specifically teaches that the Jews and the Christians throughout the whole world (and not just a group contemporary with Muhammad) have actually falsified their scriptures. Furthermore, as Watt says, such verses as those quoted by the Muslims are considerably vague. Nowhere does the Qur'an state specifically what was being changed, precisely who was changing it, or exactly when such changes were taking place. The Syrian Christian referred to earlier says of the above verse:
The last verse generally quoted by modern Muslim writers in this connection which we shall consider reads:
Yet again there is no hint that the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians are under consideration. The text speaks purely of a group who write something out and claim it is from God. Once again the vagueness of the text precludes any certainty as to its application. The verse makes no mention of what was actually being written as scripture, precisely who was writing it, or when it was taking place. The great Muslim commentator Al-Baidawi, quoted in the following book, says of this text:
Note the speculative nature of his interpretation, introduced with the word "perhaps". Furthermore he clearly did not regard this as a corruption of the actual scriptures. It is also pure speculation that makes any Muslim writer seek to turn this text, so obviously lacking in detail, into one which supposedly shows how "the Holy Qur'an has repeatedly exposed the corruption of the Biblical texts" (Ahmad, Jesus in Heaven on Earth, p. 21). It clearly refers, on the contrary, to other writings which some Jews were producing during Muhammad's time and which they were selling as if they were a revelation from God. If they were actually corrupting the Tawraat itself, the Qur'an would have said so.
The verses we have considered are all considerably vague and lacking in detail, refer invariably only to parties and groups with whom Muhammad came into contact, and, with the exception of the last verse, speak purely of a distortion of the meaning of words in verbal discussion and conversation. Modern Muslim writers would like to find texts in the Qur'an which plainly state that the Jews and Christians throughout their histories have actually falsified their scriptures but, failing in the search, have been obliged to quote these texts instead, placing on them imagined interpretations out of all proportion to their original import. There is no verse in the Qur'an, however, which specifically charges the Jews and the Christians with actually perverting their scriptures, let alone one which sets out to show what has been distorted, by whom it was actually done, and at what time in history it supposedly took place.
3. The Genuineness of the Old and New Testaments.
Let us summarise the teaching of the Qur'an insofar as it relates to the Bible. We have seen that it confirms that the Tawraat and Injil, which it describes as the scriptures of the Jews and Christians respectively, are the genuine Word of God. It collectively describes these two religious groups as the ahlal-Kitab - "People of the Scripture" - and it states on more than one occasion that the Tawraat and Injil are with them and that they should judge by them. There is no suggestion whatsoever that these Scriptures have ever been corrupted, altered or replaced.
On a very few occasions, as we have also seen, the Qur'an takes a party of the Jews of Muhammad's time and environment to task for distorting the meaning of their scriptures as well as the Qur'an itself, "twisting with their tongues" to mislead him and his followers. On just one occasion it vaguely speaks of some Jews who were writing something out as the supposed Word of God and selling it as such. Apart from these personal experiences which Muhammad had of some of the Jews in and around Medina, nothing else is said on the subject. There is nothing to justify the attempts of modern Muslim writers to take these few passages wholly out of context and make them teach that the actual scriptures of the Jews and Christians, spread as they were throughout the world over many centuries, had ever been corrupted or falsified. Not only so but, as we have seen, such was never the attitude of the early commentators to the former scriptures.
Even the polemicist Ali Tabari, who wrote a semi-official defence of Islam against the Jews and the Christians while he was at Baghdad during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Mutawakkil (AD 847-861), at no time charged them with corrupting their scriptures. Instead he says that the first religious book in history to name "and the first one which came into existence, is the Torah, which is in the hands of the People of the Book" (Tabari, The Book of Religion and Empire, p. 51). He goes on to say "As to the Gospel which is in the hands of the Christians, the greater part of it is the history of the Christ, His birth and His life" (op. cit.). He thus openly acknowledged that the authentic Torah and Gospel remained in the hands of the Jews and the Christians and, in going on to speak of their contents, he outlined the contents of the Old and New Testaments respectively. His only charge against them was that they did not always understand or accept the true meaning of their teachings and often appealed to the Old and New Testaments to make his point.
It should be borne in mind that Ali Tabari wrote his defence in the capital of the Muslim world of his time and at the direction of the reigning caliph himself, and that it was written more than two hundred years after the death of Muhammad. During those early centuries Muslim commentators remained faithful to the teaching of the Qur'an that the authentic Torah and Gospel were still in the hands of the Jews and Christians and were, in fact, those Scriptures which these two groups respectively regarded as their scriptures, namely the Old and New Testaments.
Al-Ghazzali, one of the greatest Muslim theologians in the history of Islam who lived even later than Ali Tabari, also never doubted the integrity of the Bible.
Speaking of a leading French scholar's essay on the works of Al-Ghazzali in his annotated bibliography, Wismer says: "Massignon points out that Al-Ghazali did not accuse the Christians of altering their texts, but rather of misinterpreting them" (The Islamic Jesus, p. 165). By his time some commentators, such as the radical Ibn Hasm, had begun to argue against the authenticity of the Bible but when Al-Ghazzali himself endeavoured to prove Islam against the two former religions, he never questioned the genuineness of their respective Scriptures.
Even as late as the sixth century after Muhammad leading commentators still accepted the integrity of the Old and New Testaments on the basis of the Qur'an's teaching about the former Scriptures. Fakhruddin Razi, who died in AD 1209, "besides affirming categorically that the Biblical text has not been changed, says that the narratives of the Koran concerning Biblical events are in perfect harmony with those of the Bible" (Ananikian, "Tahrif or the Alteration of the Bible According to the Moslems", The Muslim World, Vol. 14, p. 77).
About a century ago a leading maulana in India, Moulvie Safdar Ali, became a Christian and wrote a series of letters to his Muslim relatives explaining why he had abandoned Islam and become a Christian. These letters were later published in a volume titled Niaz Namah and in them he gave attention to the claims of his contemporaries that the Bible has been corrupted and changed.
It is only because modern Muslim writers are so conversant with the Bible and realise its teaching is fundamentally Christian and cannot be reconciled with the Qur'an that they claim it has been corrupted. There can be no doubt, however, that the Qur'an confirms the Old and New Testaments as the genuine, unaltered Word of God and the only explanation there can be for the Qur'an's open witness to the integrity of the former Scriptures which contradict it on such vital matters as the crucifixion and deity of Jesus Christ is that Muhammad was ignorant of the contents of the Bible and presumed they agreed with his teaching in the Qur'an.
Ultimately, however, the Qur'an's testimony to the authenticity of the former Scriptures, being precisely those that were in the possession of the Jews and Christians at Muhammad's time, must stand by itself. The Qur'an will ever remain a striking witness to the integrity of the Christian Bible as it has been preserved down to this very day.
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