Lofty claims about 'Iram

The Qur'an says in Sura 89:6-8 (Yusuf Ali's translation):

Gary Miller's widely publicized "The Amazing Qur'an" ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], etc.) has the following paragraph:

Muslims claim that the Qur'an is vindicated by excavations in Ebla (not Elba! - which is the island where Napoleon was banned after being deposed from power) and parade this as one great confirmation of the historical accuracy of the Qur'an. I expected an article or at least some substantial paragraph about this city in the referenced article, but what does the article actually say?

"Ebla: Splendor Or An Unknown Empire" by Howard La Fay (pp. 730-759), National Geographic, December 1978, page 735-736:

No details about this city other than its existence (and it is not even clear if that is the Qur'anic 'Iram - there are several cities named Ur for example, one near Ebla in Syria and one in Chaldea). Not even the location of 'Iram, and certainly nothing about its "famous pillars". Also it is in this article not stated that Ebla traded with 'Iram. In another paragraph of above article it is stated that tablets have been found containing a list of cities Ebla was trading with, but Gary Miller is combining two different statements into one that have nothing to do with each other which shows sloppy reporting.

I don't say the Qur'an is in error in this point, but just finding a name that sounds similar is not real impressive as a proof for anything. Particularly, because Muslims have claimed also on the newsgroups:

and are currently claiming at Hyde Park Speaker's Corner:

I didn't see anything about the lofty pillars in "National Geographic" article, did you? It is one of those rumors that get bigger and bigger the longer they are told.

The Qur'anic claim is about the splendor of the lofty pillars of this city. For this, the above referenced article in the National Geographic does not give any indication.

Finally, the issue is allegedly so amazing, because there is absolutely no reference to the city of Iram outside the Qur'an. Since the author of the Qur'an could not have taken it from any other source, it must be divine information. Now, that archaeology confirms the existence, this is taken as evidence that that the author of the Qur'an truly must have been God.

However, the early Islamic sources are proof that this is not so:

When God wished to display His religion openly and to glorify His prophet and to fulfil His promise to him, the time came when he met a number of the Helpers at one of the fairs; and while he was offering himself to the Arab tribes as was his wont he met at al-'Aqaba a number of the Khazraj whom God intended to benefit. 'Asim b. 'Umar b. Qatada told me on the authority of some of the shaykhs of his tribe that they said that when the apostle met them he learned by inquiry that they were of the Khazraj and allies of the Jews. He invited them to sit with him and expounded to them Islam and recited the Quran to them. Now God had prepared the way for Islam in that they lived side by side with the Jews who were people of the scriptures and knowledge, while they themselves were polytheists and idolaters. They had raided them in their district and whenever bad feeling arose the Jews used to say to them, ‘A prophet will be sent soon. His day is at hand. We shall follow him and kill you by his aid as 'Ad and Iram perished.’ So when they heard the apostle's message they said one to another: ‘This is the very prophet of whom the Jews warned us. Don't let them get to him before us!’ Thereupon they accepted his teaching and became Muslims, saying, ‘We have left our people, for no tribe is so divided by hatred and rancour as they. Perhaps God will unite them through you. So let us go to them and invite them to this religion of yours; and if God unites them in it, then no man will be mightier than you’. Thus saying they returned to Medina as believers. ... When they came to Medina they told their people about the apostle and invited them to accept Islam until it became so well known among them that there was no home belonging to the Helpers but Islam and the apostle had been mentioned therein. (A Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, A translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 197-198)

This passage, found in the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, shows that the Jews of Medina spoke about God's destruction of 'Ad and Iram long before they or the Arab tribes in Medina had heard of Muhammad. Their use of this story is clear evidence that it was a well-known story in Medina, accepted as true by both the Jews and also the pagan Arabs, since otherwise a reference to it would not have any value in warning those Arab tribes against raiding the Jews.

Muhammad could have learned about it from the people in Medina, but even more likely, it was well-known throughout Arabia at that time. In any case, one cannot legitimately claim that the mention of 'Ad and Iram in the Qur'an is in any way amazing or a miracle that proves the alleged divine authorship of the Qur'an.

The author of the Qur'an merely used the same story as the Jews did, and even for the same purpose, i.e. to warn the unbelievers of the judgment of God. It is one more instance where Muhammad simply incorporated the legends of the ancients in his alleged divine revelation, cf. The Sources of the Qur'an.

Jochen Katz

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