The Qur'an states that a person will only be responsible for his/her actions:
And every man's work have WE fasten to his neck; and on the Day of Resurrection WE shall bring out for him a book which he will find wide open. It will be said to him, ‘Read thy book. Sufficient is thy own soul as a reckoner against thee this day.’ He who follows the right way follows it only for the good of his own soul; and he who goes astray, goes astray only to his own loss. And no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another. And WE shall never punish until WE have sent a Messenger. S. 17:13-15 Sher Ali
That no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another, And that man will have nothing but what he strives for; And that the result of his striving shall soon be known; Then will he be rewarded for it with the fullest reward; And that with thy Lord is the final judgment; S. 53:38-42 Sher Ali
The Qur'an also states that even people who simply followed the (wrong) customs of their ancestors, i.e. were misled by them into transgressing God's law, cannot pass the burden and punishment to those who led them astray, but will have to bear their punishment in full:
So be not thou in doubt concerning that which these (folk) worship. They worship only as their fathers worshipped aforetime. Lo! we shall pay them their whole due unabated. S. 11:109
I.e. no deduction from the punishment for the reason of having been misled.
Yet these statements are contradicted by the next set of passages:
That they may bear their burdens entirely on the day of resurrection and also of the burdens of those whom they lead astray without knowledge; now surely evil is what they bear. S. 16:25 Shakir
And those who disbelieve say to those who believe: Follow our path and we will bear your wrongs. And never shall they be the bearers of any of their wrongs; most surely they are liars. And most certainly they shall carry their own burdens, AND OTHER BURDENS WITH THEIR OWN BURDENS, and most certainly they shall be questioned on the resurrection day as to what they forged. S. 29:12-13 Shakir
Interestingly, the Qur'an contradicts itself in a space of two verses. This last passage says that disbelievers will not carry the believers' sins. But right after saying this, the Qur'an says that on the resurrection day the unbelievers will not only carry their own burden of sins, but the burden of others as well!
Now someone may say that these passages are only denying that the unbelievers will carry the burdens of the believers' sins, but it doesn't deny that they will carry the burdens of other disbelievers. Even with this proposed harmonization, these passages still contradict Surahs 17:13-15 and 53:38-42 mentioned above. Those surahs say that a person will not carry the burden of anyone else's sins, whether he is a believer or not.
We are not the first to observe that this constitutes a contradiction. Scholar of Islamic Studies, Arthur Jeffery has this note on Surah 16:25:
"This is in contradiction with the oft-repeated statement that no burdened soul will bear the burden of another. But that statement seems meant to exclude hope in a Redeemer who will take on himself the guilt of others, whereas here the meaning is that some of the guilt of those led astray will be placed on those who have led them astray." (The Koran, Selected Suras, footnote 4 to Sura 16)
Another verse contradicting the principle that "no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another" is the following:
O ye who believe! respond to ALLAH, and the Messenger when he calls you that he may give you life, and know that ALLAH comes in between a man and his heart, and that HE it is unto Whom you will be gathered. And beware of an affliction which will surely not smite exclusively those among you who have done wrong. And know that ALLAH is severe in requiting. S. 8:24-25 Sher Ali
Here, even the innocent will suffer the affliction that will smite the wrongdoers just as the commentators show. The two Jalals said regarding Surah 8:25:
And guard yourselves against a trial which, if it were to fall upon you, would certainly not fall exclusively upon the evildoers among you, but would encompass them and others, and the way to guard against it is to repudiate that evil which necessarily results in [precipitating] it; and know that God is severe in retribution, against those who oppose Him. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; underline emphasis ours)
Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn 'Abbâs states:
(And guard yourselves against a sedition) any sedition that happens (which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong-doers) but rather befalls on both the wrong-doers AND THE WRONGED, (and know that Allah is severe in punishment) when He punishes. (Source; capital emphasis ours)
The Qur'an also blames the Jews of Muhammads time for the sins their ancestors had committed before their time, like making the golden calf:
And remember the time when Moses prayed for water for his people and WE said, ‘Strike the rock with thy rod;’ And there gushed forth from it twelve springs, so that each tribe knew their drinking place. And they were told, ‘Eat and drink of what ALLAH has provided, and commit not iniquity in the earth, creating disorder.’ And remember when YOU said, O Moses, surely we will not remain content with one kind of food; pray, then, to thy Lord for us that HE may bring forth for us of what the earth grows - of its herbs and its cucumbers and its wheat and its lentils and its onions.’ He said, ‘Would you take in exchange that which is worse for that which is better? Go down to some town and there is for you what you ask.’ And they were smitten with abasement and destitution, and they incurred the wrath of ALLAH; that was because they rejected the Signs of ALLAH and sought to slay the Prophets unjustly; this was because they rebelled and transgressed... And remember the time when WE took a covenant FROM YOU AND RAISED YOU ABOVE THE MOUNT, saying, ‘Hold fast that which WE have given you and bear in mind what is therein, that you may be saved.’ Then YOU turned back thereafter; and had it not been for ALLAH's grace and HIS mercy upon YOU, YOU would surely have been of the losers. And surely, you have known the end of those AMONGST YOU, who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath. So WE said to them, ‘Be ye apes, despised.’ Thus WE made it an example to those of its time and to those who came after it, and a lesson to those who fear God. S. 2:60-61, 63-66 Sher Ali
And remember the time when YOU killed a person and differed among yourselves about it, and ALLAH, would bring to light what YOU were hiding. Then WE said, ‘Compare this incident with some other similar ones’ and YOU will discover the truth. Thus does ALLAH give life to the dead and show YOU HIS Signs that YOU may understand. Then YOUR hearts became hardened after that, till they were like stones or harder still; for of stones there are some out of which gush forth streams, and of them there are some out of which flows water when they cleave asunder. And indeed of them are some that humble themselves for the fear of ALLAH. And ALLAH is not unmindful of what YOU do. S. 2:72-73 Sher Ali
And Moses came to YOU with manifest Signs, THEN YOU TOOK THE CALF FOR WORSHIP IN HIS ABSENCE, and YOU were transgressors. And remember the time when WE took a covenant from YOU and raised high above YOU the Mount, saying ‘Hold firmly to what WE have given you and hearken;’ They said, ‘We hear and we disobey;’ and their hearts were saturated with the love of the calf because of their disbelieve. Say ‘Evil is that which your faith enjoins on you if you are believers,’ Say ‘If the abode of the Hereafter with ALLAH is solely for you to the exclusion of all other people, then wish for death if you are truthful.’ But never shall they wish for it, because of what their own hands have sent on before them; and ALLAH knows the wrongdoers well. S. 2:92-95 Sher Ali
The first quotations state clearly that nobody shall have to bear the sins of other people. Each person is only responsible for his own sins. Yet, the Qur'an (Allah / Muhammad) levels accusations at the Jews in the 7th century for the sins of some of their ancestors in about 1400 BC, roughly 2000 years earlier. These accusations are clearly in contradiction to the "general principle" that nobody shall bear the sins (burdens) of others.
Significantly, this is not a thing of the past, but has consequences in our time. To this day, Muslims vilify the Jews because of the sins of some Jews of long ago. Jews are still the favorite objects of Muslim contempt based on the quranic condemnation of them. Also Christians are still summarily accused and maligned for the crusades, although the last one was some 700 years ago.
Now, one reason for even bringing this up is because of the common appeal by Muslims to similar statements of the Holy Bible in order to "prove" contradictions within the Sacred Scriptures. For instance, Muslims will try to pit Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20 against passages such as Deuteronomy 5:9-10 and Romans 5:12-21, especially as it relates to the Christian belief in Original Sin and the concept of Imputation (i.e., the sin of Adam and the righteousness of Christ being imputed to others).
The Muslim must deal with the preceding quranic passages, and yet whatever answer he/she comes up with to reconcile them will apply equally to the biblical passages. In other words, it becomes an issue of consistency and integrity. Muslims in general, and Muslim apologists specifically, need to learn to apply their methodology fairly and not simply adopt a method which seeks to undermine the Holy Bible when that same method can be used equally, if not more forcefully, against the Qur'an.
For more on Ezekiel 18 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10, we recommend the following article:
Sam Shamoun and Jochen Katz
P.S.: S. 16:25 and 29:12 are also in contradiction to S. 34:50 which is the topic of another article, Who suffers loss if Muhammad was wrong?
Contradictions in the Qur'an
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