Saifullah and Co.'s article on Al-`Azīz & Potiphar is probably the most brutal attack on a "straw man" argument that I have ever seen. In their never ending task of extricating the Qur'an from its many inaccuracies, contradictions, and inconsistencies, our brothers at Islamic Awareness have, once again, created more questions and problems that they have answered or solved.
Mohammad relates the story of Joseph, whom Potiphar and the men of his city imprisoned out of jealousy. In the Quranic version of the story, Mohammad gives the name of the master of the house as "Aziz." Aside from the variations between the Biblical and Quranic versions, it is important to note that the name Aziz is uniquely Arabic. In fact, the name Aziz was not Egyptian, nor is it known to have been in use by any Egyptian during the period Joseph lived.
Honestly, I have never heard of this argument. Dr. Saifullah apparently found this quote on a webpage which no longer exists, therefore, I will take him at his word. Let us now examine how Dr. Saifullah makes a major issue out of a fairly minor statement.
I doubt that the name Aziz or the title al-Aziz were common among the ancient Egyptians! These are Arabic terms. Addressing someone with this name [Aziz], or title [al-Aziz], would probably have elicited nothing more than a blank stare in ancient Egypt.
The Qur'an does not supercede the Bible in historical accuracy, or in any other area. One of Dr. Saifullah's favorite arguments is that the Biblical usage of the term Pharaoh is anachronistic, being used long before the title was applied to the King of Egypt.
In an earlier article on the subject, Dr. Saifullah presented us with a self-annihilating argument concerning the historical usage of the term Pharaoh:
Since it is "incorrect" to call the King of Egypt "Pharaoh", both the Bible and the Qur'an would be in error according to Saifullah's argument.
Apparently, Dr. Saifullah has "abrogated" [or contradicted] his earlier article with his more extensive Qur'ānic Accuracy Vs. Biblical Error: The Kings & Pharaohs Of Egypt which tells us:
The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:
(The king) said (to the ladies): "What was your affair when ye did seek to seduce Joseph from his (true) self?" The ladies said: "Allah preserve us! no evil know we against him!" Said the `Aziz's wife: "Now is the truth manifest (to all): it was I who sought to seduce him from his (true) self: He is indeed of those who are (ever) true (and virtuous). [Qur'ān 12:51]
In the quotation above, we have underlined the Qur'ānic word used to describe the historical character otherwise referred to as 'Potiphar' in the Bible. The word used is al-`Azīz, not `Azīz as incorrectly understood by the Christian missionaries. Even the translation reads the `Azīz, and not simply `Azīz. Moreover, when we read Islamic literature (see below) on this matter, nowhere can one find the assertion that `Azīz was believed to be this individual's actual name. Clearly, the presence of the definite article "al" before `Aziz is a strong indication that it was a title not a name. Even in modern times, Christian and Jewish Arabs might call themselves `Azīz (e.g., Tarek `Azīz, the Iraqi minister) but none calls himself al-`Azīz.
Yes, "al" makes al-`Azīz a title. Yusuf Ali translates this as "(great) 'Aziz" while Pickthall translates the term as "ruler" and Shakir translates it as "chief". The question is : would Potiphar have been given such a title in ancient Egypt, or is this the title that Muhammad wished to impose upon him? Incidentally, the traditions do record a man named Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz [son of the slave of the master].
Treachery? Let's not be overly dramatic about this! The claim that Aziz was Potiphar's proper name is as absurd as the claim that al-Aziz [or the Egyptian equivalent of this] was his, or anyone else's, title in ancient Egypt. This still presents a problem for the Qur'an and its claims.
Briefly, Dr. Saifullah tells us that the Qur'an commentators agree that al-Aziz is a title and not a proper name. But does this observation save the Qur'an in any way from the discussed problem?
Potiphar is the one to whom Joseph(P) was sold and mentioned in the following verses:
Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. [Genesis 39:4]
From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. [Genesis 39:5]
From the verses in Genesis 39:1-2 it is clear that Potiphar was an officer of the Pharaoh and when we browse Strong's Concordance for terms and phrases like "Potiphar", "captain of the guard" and "his master", we see something really interesting.
Dr. Saifullah then uses a series of Biblical definitions to build his case. First, he correctly cites the meaning of Potiphar - which signifies one "devoted to the sun" - the local deity of On or Heliopolis. He then sites the term for officer [cariyc] and captain [sar] and concludes that Potiphar was a powerful man. This is hardly a surprise to Jews or Christians since the term for captain means, literally, "prince of the Pharaoh" - that is, a civil servant of the Egyptian government. The original term for "captain of the guard" has been interpreted in various ways. Some consider it to mean "chief cook," others, "chief inspector of plantations". However, the term which seems best founded is "chief of the executioners," the same as the captain of the watch, or the zabut of modern Egypt.
Yes, Potiphar was a powerful man, but would he have been known as al-Aziz, or a similar Egyptian term, in those days? Why did the Qur'an call him al-Aziz instead of his proper Egyptian name or title? This presents us with a problem, which we will soon discuss.
Allah, indeed, knows best, but I am shocked at the "Islamic unawareness" of the statement:
The Qur'an DOES mention Pagan deities:
Sura 37:125 :
Sura 53:19-20 :
The attempts made by Dr. Saifullah to extricate the Qur'an from its difficulties raises some interesting problems. The Qur'an, according to Sunni Muslims, is considered to be the uncreated and eternal speech of a transcendent, non-contingent, self-sufficient, and self-reliant God. However, the self-reliant God apparently must rely on human terms which are not transcendent, but are set in the framework of human history and culture, and are separated by a large span of time from the events in question. The Qur'an could have avoided this problem if it had called Potiphar by his Egyptian name, or title, or at least used an approximate Arabic equivalent of his title, rather than imposing a generic Arabic title which neither he, nor the people of his day, would have recognized. By its use of the generic Arabic term al-Aziz, the Qur'an negates its claim to be the eternal and uncreated Word of God.
Saifullah continues to say:
In most academic disciplines, the older, or "established" body of knowledge [or paradigm] is challenged by a new paradigm which must conclusively demonstrate that it is a better explanation than the old paradigm in order to be accepted. We do not judge an entire corpus of knowledge by the newest hypothesis or theory put forth. The Bible, in this case, is the older document and the Qur'an provides us with absolutely no proper evidence that the Bible is incorrect. I would never judge the Bible by the claims of any "would be" Prophet, I would judge the "would be" Prophet according to the teachings of the established Prophets of the Bible. If this is circular reasoning, according to Dr. Saifullah's definition, I wonder if he would ever evaluate the Qur'an and Muhammad according to the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Bah'a'ullah, or Elijah Muhammad? Or would Dr. Saifullah tell us that Muhammad said so, therefore it is so? Also, have Muslim scholars conducted any research in order to verify the historicity of a person with the title al-Aziz, or its Egyptian equivalent, in ancient Egypt, or is this question, along with many others, covered by the intellectual embargo on the Qur'an?
After all the noise about the issue, it still remains that "Potiphar", the name reported in the Bible, is unmistakably Egyptian and likely authentic, while the title "al-`Aziz" used by the Qur'an is Arabic, and certainly not authentic.
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