Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Rebuttal to Bassam Zawadi on “Allah’s Words do not Change”

By Keith Thompson

Bassam Zawadi has written an article in which he responds to the following Christian argument:

Surah 6:115 and 18:27 state that no one can change the words of Allah. The Torah and Gospel were the words of Allah. Since they couldn't have changed that means that Islam testifies to the incorruptibility of the text of the Bible.

The passages read as follows:

The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. (S. 6:115 Pickthall)

And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. (S. 18:27 Pickthall)

Zawadi’s response is that these verses do not necessarily speak of corrupting texts, but rather, they refer to no one being able to “stop Allah’s promises from being fulfilled.” He then quotes al-Tabari’s commentary on 6:115 as stating, “no one who could change what He has informed in His books about anything which is bound to happen,”(1) and Al-Qurtubi on the same verse saying, “Al Ramaani narrated on the authority of Qataadah who said: There is no change in the judgment of God. Even if one were to change and substitute the words just as the people of the book did with the Torah and Gospel, God doesn't consider this.”(2)

Zawadi’s thesis, based on these two commentaries and his own reasoning, is that 6:115, and thus 18:27, are in no way affirming to the Muslims that the words of Allah (the Quran, Torah and Injil) would be preserved textually. However, such an interpretation of 6:115 is countermanded by Muhammad’s cousin Ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas gives three interpretations of this text and the first one he offers is the one Zawadi emphatically denies:

(Perfected is the Word of thy Lord) the Qur'an, detailing the commands and prohibitions (in truth) in His speech (and justice) from Him. (There is naught that can change His words) the Qur'an…(3)

If Ibn Abbas is correct and the emphasis is on the literal words of the Quran never being changed, in contrast to Allah’s promises always being fulfilled, then that would affirm that words of the Torah and Injil would likewise never be changed since Islam teaches they also are the words of Allah. Ibn Abbas, without question, refers to the text of the Quran never being changed because this first interpretation is given in contrast to the others he goes on to list which are more in line with Zawadi’s view:

… it is also said that this means: the Word of your Lord has prescribed that His friends shall triumph. He is truthful in His speech and just in that which shall come. Nothing can change His words about His giving help to His friend. It is also said that this means: the religion of your Lord is now manifest, people truthfully believe that it is Allah's religion.(4)

Hence, Ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin, offers early Muslim attestation to 6:115 referring to the words of the Quran never being changed and therefore since Islam asserts that the Torah and Injil were originally Allah’s words then that, logically and in principle, clearly means they could never be changed either. Therefore, Muslims must now accept the Bible as the word of God and receive the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have been helpful if Zawadi included Ibn Abbas’ remarks instead of omitting them. After all, I assume he is interested in all of what his sources say and not just selective snippets.

Commenting on 6:115 Zawadi asserts:

It seems quite clear just from reading the context alone that what is meant by "none change His words" is that no one could stop Allah's promises from being fulfilled. Reading Surah 6:115 alone makes that very clear.

This is merely an assertion, not an exegetical argument. I could easily say that a clear reading of the text shows that there are two themes present; Allah’s promises being fulfilled and Allah’s word (Quran) never changing, in agreement with Ibn Abbas.

It seems very clear that Zawadi realizes that if the Quran says Allah’s words can never be textually corrupted then that means that the texts of the Torah and Injil could never be changed and so therefore he is trying to save face. If Zawadi is correct in his thesis that the two Quranic verses do not refer to Allah’s words never literally being corrupted, he would have to affirm that any Muslim who does interpret these passages in this manner is simply in error. By extension he also has to affirm that the Quran nowhere teaches that Allah’s words, with respect to manuscript transmission, will never be corrupted because if it did say that, then that would validate the Torah and Injil.

Zawadi’s comments also mean that two of his colleague’s, namely Sami Zaatari and Walid of Answering-Christianity.com, who both interpret 6:115 differently than him, and differently than each other (showing just how confused they all are on this issue), are mistaken. Zaatari states:

Yes none can change HIS WORDS. What they can do is copy his words and with that add their own lies to the text. For instance God's original scripture stated that: Jews are good people but there are bad ones among them. A person can corrupt this by copying it down and writing it with his own hands and say: Jews are good people but there are NO bad ones among them. He has added his own words, his own desire, his own lie, he has not changed THE ORIGINAL MESSAGE, he now has his own corrupted message which is not from God. No one can ever change Allah's words, they can make copies of the original book and write their own lies to it and say it is from Allah. That is a different story.(5)

In responding to a critic who cites 6:115 and argues that Allah’s words cannot change Walid claims:

True, but show us where in most of the Bible's books and gospels it is claimed that the book was written by GOD Almighty's Prophet and was inspired by GOD Almighty Himself?(6)

Notice, both Zaatari and Walid disagree with Zawadi and affirm that 6:115 is literally talking about not being able to change the words of Allah as opposed to no one being able to stop Allah’s promises being fulfilled – although they add their own contradictory untenable eisegetical mishandlings of the text in trying to answer this problem. For example Zaatari would need to show textually that everything in the Bible that does not agree with the Quran is a later addition and not found in the earliest manuscripts. Walid would need to refute both the existing case for the internal witness to the inspiration of the Bible as well as the external historical attestation to its divine apostolic inspiration. Merely making bold claims without engaging Christian scholarship that has already made such a case on this subject will not get very far with anyone seriously studying these issues. But that is off topic. Why should someone listen to Zawadi and his two sources over against Zaatari, Walid and Ibn Abbas? In fact, Zawadi claims to present al-Tabari’s position but omits these comments from him which destroys his own position:

The word of God meant in this verse is the Quran. This word is complete in truth and justice. Nothing can change Allah’s word which he revealed in his BOOKS. The liars cannot add or delete from Allah’s BOOKS. This is referring without a doubt to the Jews and Christians because they are the people of the books which were revealed to their prophets. Allah is revealing that the words they (the people of the book) are corrupting were not revealed by Allah, but Allah’s word cannot be changed or substituted.(7)

Hence, even Muslims are admitting that 6:115 is literally talking about no one being able to change Allah’s words (Quran).

More importantly, Zawadi missed the fact that even his preferred interpretation actually presupposes the textual incorruptibility of all of the revealed books. Here, again, is what his own quotation from al-Tabari says:

“no one who could change what He has informed in His books about anything which is bound to happen,”

Al-Tabari argues that there is not a person who is able to nullify anything which Allah has said in his books. Yet the only way a person can have any certainty that the promises which are contained in these books are actually from Allah is if these scriptures are completely reliable and trustworthy. 

If the scriptures have been corrupted over time then a person will have no way of being able to determine which of the promises that are mentioned within them actually come from God, and which of them do not. The only way anyone can know for certain that God’s promises have remained true is if the texts which contain them are still intact and have not been changed.

The second text Zawadi brought up, S. 18:27, states:

And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. (S. 18:27 Pickthall)

Zawadi does not provide any exegesis for this text, nor does he quote any Islamic authorities to substantiate his interpretation. He seems to think that if he can interpret 6:115 a certain way then that means 18:27 must be interpreted like that as well, even though it’s a completely different context, and even if his own scholars disagree with him. That is called the problem of induction fallacy – assuming that if an earlier one text means one thing then another text must mean the same thing. If he had researched the commentaries of Muslim scholars on 18:27 he would have seen Tafsir al-Jalalayn, for example, contradicting his thesis by offering the clear straightforward meaning, saying:

And recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord. There is none who can change His words. And you will not find, besides Him, any refuge.(8)

Or Ibn Abbas saying:

(And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord) He says: recite to them the Qur'an, neither increasing nor decreasing anything from it. (There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him) beside Allah.(9)

Or Ibn Kathir saying:

(None can change His Words,) meaning, no one can alter them, distort them or misinterpret them.(10)

Notice that none of these Islamic scholars qualify their comments by adding what Zawadi has felt fit to add in – namely no one being able to “stop Allah’s promises from being fulfilled.” Very odd if indeed this is the Islamic position on this specific text. Moreover, the Islamic scholar Allama Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, when commenting on 18:27, interprets the meaning as no one being able to alter the text of the Quran (Allah’s words). Although he argues that only the Quran is Allah’s words, this scholar is in total disagreement with Zawadi:

Allah mentions only the Quran and gives His vow of protection only to the Quran.(11)

Notice, Parwez doesn’t say Allah gives his vow to fulfill promises like Zawadi argued, rather, he argues that the vow is about protecting the literal words of Allah textually. In light of the comments of these scholars it should be clear that the original meaning is that no one can change the words of Allah literally; and hence by this reasoning, and in principle, the Torah and Injil could not have been changed since they were the words of Allah.

Say: People of the Book, you do not stand on anything, until you perform the Torah and the Gospel [Injil], and what was sent down to you from your Lord... (S. 5:68 Arberry)

How could the Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s day be asked to perform what is commanded in the Torah and the Gospel if those Scriptures were not longer available in their pristine forms due to textual corruption?

Christ is Risen, He is Lord.


Footnotes:

1.) Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami' al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 6:115

2.) Abu 'Abdullah Al-Qurtubi, Tafsir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 6:115

3.) Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas, trans. Mokrane Guezzou on Surah 6:115, source.

4.) Ibid.

5.) Source

6.) Source

7.) Tafsir al-Tabari, on Surah 6:115; English translation with emphasis as provided by Sam Shamoun in the article, The incorruptibility of Allah’s words.../authors/shamoun/word_incorruptible.html

8.) Tafsir al-Jalalayn, trans. Feras Hamza on Surah 18:27, source.

9.) Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas, trans. Mokrane Guezzou on Surah 18:27, source.

10.) Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Surah 18:27, source.

11.) Allama Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, The Fundamental Principles of the Islamic System, translated by Dr. Suhail Ala, source.