Muslim apologists are quick to point to doctrines in Christianity that seem difficult to understand, and at the same time wax eloquent regarding the simplicity and complete coherence of Islamic doctrine. The trinity, for example, is incoherent according to Islam: how can three be one? Islam is not fraught with such difficulties because it teaches the absolute one-ness of God. So the comparison goes.
But Muslims must also account for certain claims of a theological nature that simply do not comport with logic or reality. In this first of a series of articles, we will look at three doctrines and ask the following three questions of Muslims. We will provide a response to each question and ask the Muslim reader to consider both the question and the response. How would you, the Muslim reader, answer the following questions:
- Is sin pre-ordained (predestination) or does each person have a free will to sin or not?
- Is the Qur'an the eternal and unchanged word of God?
- Is Muhammad a prophet of God in a long line of biblical prophets?
Doctrine #1: Sin - Pre-ordained or free will?
Calvinism vs. Armenianism. We have our own dispute in Christianity between predestination (election) and free will. But this argument is always given in the context of our salvation: Is God's grace irresistible and thus our salvation has always been predetermined, or is God's grace a matter of personal choice and we have the free will to accept or reject it?
Never in this debate is the issue that the sins we will commit have all been preordained!
In Islam there seems to be some confusion in this matter.
The Qur'an suggests that sin is the fault of Allah, who causes men to sin!
- Sura 4:119 - "I will mislead them and I will create in them false desires."
- Sura 18:17 - "Such are among the signs of Allah: He whom Allah guides is rightly guided; but he whom Allah leaves to stray, for him wilt thou find no protector to lead him to the Right Way."
- Sura 14:4 - "Now Allah leaves straying those whom he pleases and guides whom he pleases."
- Sura 4:88 - "Those Whom Allah has thrown aside and led astray, never shall they find the way."
- Sura 4:142 - "Those who Allah causes to go astray and err will never find a way."
- Sura 16:93 - "If Allah so willed, he could make you all one people; but he leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases."
- Sura 7:178-179 - "Whom Allah doth guide, he is on the right path; Whom he rejects from his guidance, such are the persons who perish."
- Sura 35:8 - "For Allah leaves to stray whom he wills, and guides whom he wills."
- Sura 74:31 - "Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom he pleaseth, and guide whom he pleaseth."
The hadith (traditions of Muhammad) also leave no doubt that sin is preordained for some.
- Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (way peace be upon him) as saying: There was argument between Adam and Moses. Moses said to Adam: You are our father. You did us harm and caused us to get out of Paradise. Adam said to him: You are Moses. Allah selected you (for direct conversation with you) and wrote with His own Hand the Book (Torah) for you. Despite this you blame me for an act which Allah had ordained for me forty years before He created me. Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said:. This is how Adam came the better of Moses and Adam came the better of Moses. Sahih Muslim, Book 33, hadith 6409
- Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying. Allah fixed the very portion of adultery which a man will indulge in. There would be no escape from it. Sahih Muslim, book 33, hadith 6422
- Abu Darda'a reported that the messenger of Allah said: The Almighty and Glorious Allah ordained five things for every man of his creation: his fixed term, his action, his resting place, his movement, and his provision. Mishkat vol 3, chapter XXXII, #452w.
- Abu Darda'a reported: While we were seated near the apostle of Allah talking about what will come to pass, the Holy Prophet said: When you hear about a mountain that has shifted itself from its place, believe it, but when you hear about a man that he has changed his nature, don't believe it as it will return to what it was created upon. Mishkat vol 3, chapter XXXII, #458w.
Is sin predestined for certain people? The Qur'an and hadith seem to suggest this is so. Indeed, Islamic theologian al-Barqawi comments:
"Not only can He do anything, He actually is the only One Who does anything. When a man writes, it is Allah who has created in his mind the will to write. Allah at the same time gives the power to write, then brings about the motion of the hand and the pen and the appearance upon paper. All other things are passive, Allah alone is active."
He can do what He wills, and whatever He wills comes to pass, He is not obliged to act. Everything good or evil, in this world exists by His will ... He willeth also the unbelief of the unbelievers and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion. All we do we do by His will: what He willeth not does not come to pass ... He is perfectly free to will and to do what He pleases. In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state ...
But Forgiveness is Possible
Despite quotations from the Qur'an and hadith which suggest man's sin is preordained and is a condition from which there is no escape, we find other verses which suggest forgiveness is possible. These verses seem to be in conflict with those quoted earlier.
O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Right: That He may make your conduct whole and sound and forgive you your sins: He that obeys Allah and His Apostle has already attained the highest achievement. Surah 33:70-71
For those who reject Allah is a terrible penalty: but for those who believe and work righteous deeds, is forgiveness, and a magnificent reward. Surah 35:7
O ye who believe! If ye fear Allah, He will grant you a criterion (to judge between right and wrong). Remove from you (all) evil (that may afflict) you, and forgive you: For Allah is the Lord of grace unbounded. Surah 8:29
If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. Allah accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy. For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. Surah 4:16-17
Their apostles said: 'Is there a doubt about Allah, the Creator of the heaven and the earth? It is He Who invites you, in order that He may forgive you your sins. Surah 14:10
Say to the Unbelievers. If (now) they desist (from unbelief), their past would be forgiven them. Surah 8:38
Is man's sin predestined according to divine decree from Allah from which mankind will find no escape, or will sin be forgiven by Allah when man repents? The Qur'an and hadith are in conflict with these two questions. How do Islamic scholars reconcile these conflicting views?
"The two views as above noted are diametrically opposite to each other, and none could find out a satisfactory solution of the problem....Let us, however, try to harmonize the apparent conflict to some extent leaving the rest to God." Commentary in Mishkat vol 3.
In other words, Muslim admit a conflict in their scripture and doctrine, but they find it acceptable because God allowed it to happen. Can God really contradict Himself? The Muslim response is intellectual suicide.
Doctrine #2: Is the Qur'an is the eternal, unchanged Word of God?
While Muslims critique the Bible without shame or fear, they cannot and will not critique the Qur'an in the same manner, nor will they allow anyone else to critique it. Muslim apologists quote extensively from Western critics of the Bible (Ehrman, for example) to show our Bible to be corrupt, but disavow any critique of their own scripture and label those who engage in such criticism as Islamophobes.
But if the Qur'an truly is unchanged from its initial revelation to Muhammad, and if it truly is the Word of God, then examination ought to be welcomed by Muslims, for the Qur'an has nothing to loose and everything to gain from being examined critically.
Unchanged? The Compilation of the Qur'an
"The Qur'an has not been expressed using any human's words. Its wording is letter for letter fixed by no one but Allah." (www.islamicweb.com)
"The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad fourteen centuries ago." (www.islamicity.com)
"Allah has guaranteed that He will protect the Qur'an from human tampering, and today's readers can find exact copies of it all over the world. The Qur'an of today is the same as the Qur'an revealed to Muhammad (saas)." (www.usc.edu/DEPT/msa)
Many Muslims today are told that the Qur'an was written down during Muhammad's lifetime, and that he checked and cross-checked the Qur'an at least once a year to ensure its accuracy. Yet this does not concord with the most authoritative Islamic sources.
The Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad over a 23 year period, from 610-632 AD. Muhammad would enter a trance-like state and begin "reciting" the message he was supposedly being given by the angel Gabriel. His close companions (sahaba) attempted to memorize these utterances as much as was possible. If this task seemed overwhelming they would seek out materials on which to write: bones, animal skins, pieces of bark, palm fronds, stones, and sticks.
Muhammad had many sahaba; Wikipedia lists over 200 by name. Many of these created their own personal collection of Muhammad's revelations. It is commonly acknowledge by Islamic scholars that no fewer than 15 different collections of Muhammad's revelation were collected by the sahaba. Some of the better known include collections by Zaid ibn Thabit, Ubbay ibn Ka'b, Ibn Masud, Abu Musa, Aisha, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Salim the free slave.
In AD 633, a year after Muhammad's death, the Battle of Yamama took place in which many of those who had memorized the Qur'an were wounded mortally. Abu Bakr, the first successor to Muhammad, recognized the problem immediately: since the majority of the Qur'an existed solely in the collective memories of Muhammad's companions, the Qur'an itself could become extinct due to additional casualties in future battles. Abu Bakr then ordered Zaid ibn Thabit to compile the Qur'an from the collective memories of those still living from among the sahaba, and from the other materials on which it had been written. Thabit did as instructed, and the completed manuscript was given to Hafsa, one of Muhammad's widows.
Meanwhile, collections by other sahaba found their way to major metropolitan areas: for example, the codex of ibn Mas'ud became the standard text at Kufa while the codex of ibn Ka'b became the standard text of Syria. Collections by other companions became prominent and the accepted text likewise at other places.
Years later, during the reign of Uthman (644-656 AD), the third successor to Muhammad, the text of the Qur'an became standardized.
As the residents of the major metropolitan areas began to mix and mingle with one another, they realized differences in the way the Qur'an was recited among each other. Muslim apologists today tell us these differences were simply minor variations due to differing dialects from one place to the next, but this can be demonstrated as false. These differences were so significant that the various groups began fighting among one another over who possessed the correct version of the Qur'an.
To solve this political and religious problem, Uthman resurrected the copy of the Qur'an collected by Zaid ibn Thabit, in the possession of Hafsa, and ordered multiple copies to be made. He sent one copy to every metropolitan area and ordered the burning of all other Qur'an manuscripts - those of the other sahaba.
Unchanged? The evidence
Scholars have noted that the codices compiled by the various sahaba did indeed contain significant differences. For example, ibn Mas'ud did not include Suras 1, 113, and 114 in his manuscript. He had only 11 Suras rather than the standard 114. On the other hand, Ubayy Ibn Ka'b had two extra Suras not included in the standard of ibn Thabit: Sura al-Hafd (the haste) and Sura al-Khal (the separation). This makes his codex of the Qur'an 116 Suras in length, not 114.
The extent of the variant readings between all the codices in existence at the time of Uthman before he singled out that of Zaid to be the preferred text at the expense of the others is so great - they fill up no less than three hundred and fifty pages of Jeffery's Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an - that one can understand why the others were ordered to be destroyed. (Gilchrist: Jam Al-Qur'an)
Furthermore, the hadith attest to the fact that much of the Qur'an is missing:
- (Sahih Muslim, vol. 5, 2286) We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it:" If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust." And we used so recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it:" Oh people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practice" (lxi 2.) and" that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection"
- It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: "Let none of you say 'I have acquired the whole of the Qur'an'. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur'an has disappeared? Rather let him say 'I have acquired what has survived.'" (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.524).
The evidence speaks for itself: the Qur'an has undergone significant change since Muhammad uttered his first revelation. Even IF Muslims believe the Qur'an to be the word of God, how can they have any assurance they have the right one?
The Word of God? The evidence.
If the author of the Qur'an is indeed an all-knowing being, we would expect the author to know certain things with accuracy. We would expect it/him/her to know history correctly. We would expect him to have an accurate view of science. Yet when we examine the Qur'an critically, we find the author of the Qur'an falling short in the area of knowledge. Much can be written here, but for the sake of brevity, here are just a few to consider.
Biology: Semen emanates from the back of a man.
Sura 86:5-7 -- Now let man think from what he is created! He is created from a drop emitted -- proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.
Biology: Fetal development begins as a blood clot
Sura 23:12-14 -- Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); then we placed (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot we mad a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh...
Geology/Astronomy: Flat earth, sun revolves around it
Over 20 verses describe the earth as flat, along with accompanying tafsir validating this interpretation. Numerous hadith also describe a flat earth, with the sun and moon rotating around earth. (Sura 2:22; 13:3; 15:19; 16:15; 20:53; 22:65; 27:61; 40:64; 43:10; 50:6-7; 51:48; 55:10; 71:15-20; 78:6-7; 79:7-30; 88:20; 91:5-6)
- Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti Sheikh Ibn Baaz: the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. Satellite images are a western conspiracy.
Source: Al-Ahram Weekly Issue 477, 13-19 April, 2000
History: Golden Calf at Mt. Horeb built by Samaritan
The Qur'an (sura 20:85-87, 95-97) says the calf worshipped by the Israelites at mount Horeb was molded by a Samaritan. Yet the term 'Samaritan' was not coined until 722 B.C., which is several hundred years after the events recorded in Exodus. Thus, the Samaritan people could not have existed during the life of Moses, and therefore, could not have been responsible for molding the calf.
History: Birth mother of Jesus confused with Sister of Moses and Aaron
Sura 19:27-28 -- At length she brought (the babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms), They said: "O Mary! Truly a strange thing has thou brought! "O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste!"
History: Israel had kings prior to Moses
Sura 5:20 - Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favor of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples."
Fact: Israel's first king, Saul, does not appear on the scene of history for 400 years after Moses. Why then does the Qur'an imply Israel had kings before Moses? Does Allah not know history?
We can safely conclude that the Qur'an is not complete, based on Islamic sources alone. We can also conclude that it is not the written word of an all-knowing being and therefore can be discarded and ignored as irrelevant.
Doctrine #3: Why do you believe Muhammad to be a prophet of God?
Muhammad claimed to be the last and final prophet in a long line of prophets. The revelation he received supposedly from God, otherwise known as the Qur'an, also confirms Muhammad as a prophet. We must ask Muslims, "What constitutes Muhammad as a prophet? What attributes did he posses which confirm his status as a prophet?"
When we compare Muhammad to the previous prophets, from which he claims to be the last and final, we notice certain attributes earlier prophets had that are lacking in Muhammad.
Speaks in the name of YHWH
God's personal name is YHWH in Hebrew. We know this from Exodus 3.
Ex. 3:7 And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey... 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."
Ex. 3:11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
Ex. 3:12 So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."
Ex. 3:13 Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?"
Ex. 3:14 And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' " 15 Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.'
The word in verse 15 translated LORD is YHWH, and God said this was his name forever! We should expect all prophets to speak in the name of YHWH when speaking on God's behalf. Indeed, this is exactly what we find in all the Old Testament prophets.
But Muhammad never spoke in the name of YHWH. How can a man claim to be a spokesperson for God and not know His personal name?
Now, one might object that since Muhammad spoke only Arabic, we should not expect him to know the Hebrew name for God. There are two problems with this objection.
First, God certainly could have given Muhammad the correct name to use if Muhammad was indeed his spokesperson, regardless of Muhammad's native tongue.
Second, in spite of the common argument that the Qur'an contains only pure Arabic, scholars have found words from numerous languages in its pages (see Jeffrey, Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an). It is not pure Arabic. The Hebrew YHWH could easily have been provided as revelation to Muhammad and inserted into the Qur'an if Muhammad had indeed been a true prophet.
In Isaiah 44:28, the prophet foretold that a certain man by the name of Cyrus would authorize the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, an event that came to pass 150 years later exactly as foretold. In Jeremiah 29:10-14 the prophet foretells the nation of Israel that after 70 years in captivity by the Babylonians, they would be restored to their land. Israel was taken captive by Babylon beginning in 605 BC and were released from captivity in 535 BC, exactly 70 years later, when Cyrus announced (Ezra 1:1-2) the rebuilding of the temple. What sort of specific divine foreknowledge did Muhammad demonstrate?
Scholars generally acknowledge twenty-two predictions in the Qur'an:
- Sura 2:23-24, 88-89
- 3:10, 106-107,144
- 15:9, 96
- 48:16-21, 27-28
These predictions are classified into one of three categories:
- Those that refer to Muhammad's battle victories
- Those that refer to the perfect preservation of the Qur'an
- A prophecy regarding a battle between the Persians and Byzantines
As for those that refer to Muhammad's battle victories, these cannot be divine foreknowledge. First, Muhammad did not win every battle he entered. The battle of Uhud was an utter failure for the Muslim contingent. Second, every military leader predicts victory when entering battle. This is nothing new, and he had a 50-50 chance of getting it right. This sort of vagueness and ambiguity is a far cry from the specificity of biblical prophets.
The predictions regarding the perfect preservation of the Qur'an can be dismissed outright in light of the discussion above concerning the compilation of the Qur'an itself. In light of the fact that Uthman ordered all manuscripts of the Qur'an that deviated from his arbitrary selection of Hafsa's copy (compiled by Zaid ibn Thabit), we must conclude that many "Qur'ans" existed during Uthmans time, and these contained significant differences between one another. Thus, the Qur'an has not survived intact and unchanged.
This leaves a single prophecy contained in Sura 30:2-4, which reads:
The Roman empire has been defeated -- in a land close by. But they, after this defeat of theirs will soon be victorious; within a few years. With Allah is the decision, in the past and in the future. On that day shall the believers rejoice.
In a nutshell, the verses refer to the Byzantines who had been defeated by the Persians around 615AD. The Byzantines eventually overturned their defeat and were victorious against the Persians a few years later, in 628-630AD. This prophecy was supposedly a prediction of the Byzantine defeat of the Persians in 628. However, we are instructed by Muhammad that a "small number of years was between three and nine." However, this victory took place 12 years later, which places it outside the definition of a small number. Moreover, it again was a prediction that had a 50-50 chance of being correct. Once again, this is far from the detailed specificity we find from biblical prophets.
Thus, Muhammad had no fulfilled predictions which we can acknowledge as divine foreknowledge.
Muhammad was not a prophet in the biblical sense of the word. He did not speak on behalf of YHWH God. Nor did he have divine foreknowledge. As much as Muslims would like to believe him to be a prophet, Muhammad just does not measure up to the standard of credibility.