MUHAMMAD'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE BIBLE
ONE of the first things which arrests the attention of. the careful reader of the Qur'an is the great reverence with which Muhammad invariably spoke of the Bible. The divine origin of the Torah, Zabur and Injil is again and again acknowledged, and those books are ever spoken of in terms of highest praise. Thus they are variously termed ‘The Word of God’, ‘The Book of God’, ‘A Guide and a Mercy’, ‘A Light and Direction to Men’, ‘The Testimony of God’, ‘Guidance and Light’, and so on. Their inspiration, the Prophet declared, was exactly of the same kind as the inspiration of the Qur'an itself. Thus we read, ‘Verily we have revealed to thee as we revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him, and as we revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon.’ 4
In another passage Muhammad warns men against making any invidious distinctions between the Qur'an and those Scriptures which preceded it. Thus we read, ‘Say ye, We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which hath been given to Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the Prophets from their Lord. No difference do we make between any of them; and to God are we resigned.’ 5
Not only did Muhammad speak of the Bible in terms of deepest reverence, but he everywhere treated it as trustworthy, and as ‘light and guidance’ for the people of his own day, no less than for those who had preceded him. Thus he is recorded in the Qur'an as appealing to the Torah to settle certain controversies regarding food which had arisen between him and the Jews. One such instance is recorded in these words, ‘Bring ye then the Torah and read it, if ye be men of truth.’ 6
On another occasion a discussion arose as to the punishment to be meted out to certain Jews who had been found guilty of adultery. Then, the Tradition proceeds,
فَقَالَ لَهُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «مَا تَجِدُونَ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ فِي شَأْنِ الرَّجْمِ»؟
‘The Apostle of God said to them, “What do you find the Torah in the matter of stoning (adulterers)”?’ The Torah was then brought, and Muhammad gave judgement according to the law laid down in that book.’
These incidents throw a flood of light upon the Bible of Muhammad’s day. They show that he, at any rate, knew of no corruption for they reveal him as willing to abide by the arbitrament of the Torah in his discussions with the Jews. Further, they show that he knew nothing of any doctrine of abrogation; for he recognized the Law of Moses as still binding on his Jewish contemporaries.
The Jewish and Christian Scriptures are again and again referred to in the. Qur'an as ‘Light and guidance’. That being so, one is not surprised to find the Prophet advising his followers to seek the advice and teaching of the ‘People of the Book’ when in religious doubt. Such advice is significant, and shows, as no other language could, the estimation in which the Prophet of Islam held the Bible. The passage referred to is as follows: ‘None have we sent before thee but men inspired, ask of those who have the Books of Monition, if ye know it not.’ 7
The Jalalain explain the term 'those who have the Books of Monition’ as ‘the learned men of the Torah and Injil’: whilst 'Abbas also says it means ‘the People of the Torah and Injil’. 8 Further comment is needless.
Muhammad's estimate of the Bible may also be gathered from the fact that he clearly taught the observance of the Old and New Testaments by the Jews and Christians of his day. Several passages indicating this are to be found in the Qur'an. Thus, for example, in Surah al-Ma'ida 5:68 we read, ‘O People of the Book, ye have no ground to stand on, until ye observe the Torah and the Injil and that which hath been sent down to you from your Lord.’
Another passage which clearly demonstrates that the Bible was neither corrupted nor abrogated is the following: ‘And in the footsteps of the Prophets caused we Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow, confirming the Torah which was before him. And we gave him the Injil with its guidance and light, confirmatory of its preceding Torah: a guidance and warning to those who fear God; and that the people of the Injil may judge according to what God bath sent down therein.’9 Here the Injil is referred to as a God-given guide, not, be it noted, to be superseded by the Qur'an, but a touchstone by which the Christian contemporaries of Muhammad were to judge between right and wrong, truth and error. Moreover, those who would not so use the Injil were denounced as sinners in the sight of God, for the passage continues thus, ‘And whoso will not judge by what God hath sent down—such are the perverse.’ 10
Yet another passage inculcating the observance of the precepts of the Bible is the following, ‘And if they (the People of the Book) observe the Torah and the Injil and what hath been sent down to them from their Lord, they shall surely have their fill of good things from above them, and from beneath their feet.’ 11
The three passages quoted above leave no room for doubt as to the Prophet's view of the Bible. We find him, not at the beginning of his career, but several years after his flight to Madina, inculcating, in language void of all ambiguity, the observance of the Old and New Testaments by the Jews and Christians of his time. They were to observe them, and to judge by them; they were grounded on nothing, that is, their whole religious profession was vain and futile, unless they obeyed the divine laws as given by Moses and Jesus; whilst for those who did obey, the divine approval and blessing are promised. Could language demonstrate more clearly the fact that in the judgement of Muhammad the Bible extant in his time was neither corrupted nor abrogated.
Muhammad, it is true, in his discussions with the Jews, often accused them of false exegesis of their Scriptures, of quoting passages out of their context, or of hiding the truth. This the latter still do when arguing with Christians concerning the claims of Jesus the Messiah. A misunderstanding of such passages of the Qur'an has led some modern Muslims to imagine that Muhammad accused the Jews of wilful corruption of the Torah. A careful study of such passages, however, will make it abundantly clear that such was not the case. Had the Jews acted as alleged by these Muslims the Prophet could never have used the language we have already quoted. We propose, therefore, in the next chapter, to examine in detail some of the principal passages of the Qur'an which are supposed by some to prove the corruption of the Bible. It will be found in every case that, not corruption of the actual text, but corruption of the meaning, in other words false exegesis, is all that was intended by the Prophet.
4. Qur’an an-Nisa' 4:163
5. Qur’an al-Baqarah 2:136
6. Qur’an Ali ‘Imran 3:93
7. Qur’an An-Nahl 16:43.
9. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:46-47.
10. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:47.
11. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:66.