MODERN CHARGES OF CORRUPTION BASED
ON THE QUR'AN
The word usually employed by Muslims to denote corruption of the Scriptures is the Arabic word tahrif: The late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan thus defines the word. 12 ‘Emam Fakhru'd-Din Razi says in his commentary that the word tahrif means to change, to alter, to turn aside anything from its truth. This meaning is of general application; but whenever the term is used in relation to Sacred Scriptures, it is, in common acceptation, understood to imply a wilful corruption of the word of God from its true and original purport and intent.’ Corruption, it may be added, is generally spoken of as of two kinds, tahrif-i-lafzi, or corruption of the actual text, and tahrif-i-ma'nawi, or corruption of the meaning by false exegesis. It is on the application of these two terms that the whole controversy with regard to the alleged corruption of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures turns. Muhammad himself, together with most of the early commentators of the Qur'an, charged the Jews with tahrif-i-ma'nawi only. They accused them with altering the meaning of their Scriptures by false interpretation, or by suppressing the truth when questioned as to the teaching of the Torah on certain matters. Many modern Muslims, on the other hand, in their endeavour to justify their rejection of the Bible, affirm that the actual text of the Bible has been deliberately tampered with by both Jews and Christians. They declare that prophecies relating to the coming of Muhammad have been excised from and many passages which teach the divinity of Christ have been interpolated into the Bible. In order to bolster up this theory, which, as we have previously shown, is totally at variance with the whole tenor of the teaching of the Qur'an with regard to the Bible, these people profess to find certain passages in the former book in which the Jews are charged with actual falsification of the text of their Scriptures. It will now be our task to examine these, and we shall have no difficulty in showing that, in every case, falsification of the meaning only was intended by the Prophet.
One of the verses of the Qur'an most frequently quoted in support of the charge of textual corruption of the Bible reads thus: 13
يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ
‘They shift the words from their places.’ Bukhari says on this:14
يُحَرِّفُونَ يُزِيلُونَ وَلَيْسَ أَحَدٌ يُزِيلُ لَفْظَ كِتَابٍ مِنْ كُتُبِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ يَتَأَوَّلُونَهُ عَلَى غَيْرِ تَأْوِيلِهِ
‘They shift, that is remove; but there is no one who could remove a single word from any Book of God, but they shift, that is change its meaning.’ The Syed himself expresses his mature opinion in these words: ‘From the clause which follows them, namely, “they forgot what they were admonished”; it is seen that the meaning is, they changed the meaning and purport of the words; not that they changed the actual words.’
A similar charge of shifting words from their places is made against the Jews.15 It is there written,
مِّنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُواْ يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّين
‘Among the Jews are those who displace the words and say, “We have heard, and we have not obeyed. Hear thou, but as one that heareth not; and look at us,” perplexing with their tongues, and wounding the faith by their revilings.’
A reference to the standard commentaries of the Qur'an will make it abundantly clear that this verse, like its predecessor, contains no proof whatever of the verbal corruption of the Jewish Scriptures. On the contrary, it is shown that the ‘words’ spoken of are the words of Muhammad! For example, the Jalalain, in their famous commentary of the Qur'an, tell us that, in order to ridicule Muhammad, some of the Jews used to alter certain salutations current among the people. Thus they used to come to the Prophet, and instead of saying السّلام عليك ‘Peace be on thee,’ they used to say, السّام عليك ‘May disaster overtake thee.’ Thus they perplexed with their tongues. Imam Fakhru'd-Din Razi says further that the Jews used to come to Muhammad and ask him certain questions, but, after taking leave of him, they used to alter the words he had taught them. With regard to the word Ra’ina, ‘Abdu'l-Qadir says that,
یہ لفظ" یہودیوں کی زبان میں بُری بات تھی یا گالی تھی۔ مسلمانوں کودیکھ کر یہودی بھی معنی بد اپنے دل میں رکھ کر حضرت کو کہتے کہ راعنا۔ اس واسطے مسلمانوں کو حکم ہوا کہ لفظ راعنا نہ کہو"۔
‘This word was a bad word in the Jews' language, or was abuse. Seeing the Muslims, the Jews also, keeping the bad meaning in their minds, used to address the Prophet by the word Ra'ina. For this reason the Muslims were commanded not to use the word Ra'ina.’ Husain says:
"یہود راعنا کے عین زیر کو بڑھا کر راعینا کہتے تھے یعنی اے ہمارے چرواہے یعنی آنحضرت پر گائے بکری چرانے کے ساتھ طعن اور تعیض کرتے تھے۔
‘The Jews lengthening the letter 'ain of the word ra'ina (look on us) pronounced it ra'ina, that is, "O our shepherd." In other words, they addressed the Prophet of God, on whom be peace and the blessing of God, as a shepherd of cattle and goats, taunting and reproaching him.’ 16
It is further said in the commentary just quoted that the meaning is that God addressing Muhammad said
"اے میرے حبیب تیرے دشمن یہود تیری باتیں اپنے محل اور موقع سے بدل ڈالتے ہیں"۔
‘O my beloved, thy enemies the Jews are changing thy words from their places.’
From these remarks of the commentators it is clear that the verse quoted above to prove the corruption of the Bible has no reference whatever to that Book, but alludes to the Jews' practice of twisting the words of Muhammad; a striking illustration of the ease with which some ignorant Muslims fall into error regarding the teaching of the Qur'an.
Another passage 17 of the Qur'an is often quoted by the same people.
وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِّنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِن بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
‘A party of them heard the word of God, and then, after they had understood it, perverted it, and know that they did.’ Qadi Baidawi, in commenting on this passage, says that the perverting had reference to matters,
كَنَعْتِ مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، وَآيَةِ الرَّجْمِ أَوْ تَأْوِيلَهُ فَيُفَسِّرُونَهُ بِمَا يَشْتَهُونَ
‘such as the description of the Prophet of God, or the verse of stoning or the exegesis thereof. For they were in the habit of interpreting it according to their desires.’
The great Syed Ahmad 18 also in referring to this passage says: ‘The clause, “heard the word of God, and then, after they had understood it, perverted it,” shows that the charge was only verbal in reading not that the written words of the text were changed.’
That this is the real meaning of the passage is obvious from the words of the Prophet himself; for had the Jews altered the actual text of their Scriptures it is inconceivable that he would have appealed to those corrupted Scriptures in order to settle points of controversy between himself and the followers of Moses. The ease with which the Jews could thus mislead and deceive the Muslims can be well understood from the fact recorded by Bukhari that,
روى أبو هريرة قال كان أهل الكتاب يقرأون التوراة بالعبرانية ويفسرونها بالعربية لأهل الإسلام
‘It is related from Abu Huraira that he said, the “People of the Book” used to read the Torah in Hebrew, and explain it to the people of Islam in Arabic.’ What could be easier, under such circumstances, than for the Jews to give a wrong interpretation to the passages quoted.
Another passage 19 of the Qur'an, much quoted by the people referred to, is as follows:—
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْتُمُونَ مَا أَنزَلْنَا مِنَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالْهُدَى مِن بَعْدِ مَا بَيَّنَّاهُ لِلنَّاسِ فِي الْكِتَابِ أُولَٰئِكَ يَلْعَنُهُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَلْعَنُهُمُ اللَّاعِنُونَ
‘Those who conceal aught that we have sent down either of clear proof or of guidance, after what we have so clearly shown to men in the Book, God shall curse them, and they who curse shall curse them.’
The ‘concealing’ here referred to is taken by some ignorant people to mean that the Jews cut out certain passages from their Scriptures; but a reference to the great commentators of Islam will show that nothing of the kind was intended. Thus Al Razi says in his commentary Al-Kabir that,
قال ابن عباس إن جماعة من الأنصار سألوا نفراً من اليهود عمّا في التوراةِ من صفته صلى الله عليه وسلم ومن الأحكام فكتموا فنزلت الآية
‘Ibn 'Abbas said that a band of the Helpers (Ansar) asked a company of the Jews as to what was in the Torah concerning the coming of the Prophet, on whom be the peace and blessing of God, and concerning certain commands; but they concealed the matter, and then was sent down this verse.’
The same explanation of the passage .is given by the famous biographer of the Prophet, Ibn Hisham. 20 It is there stated that certain people.
سأل اليهود عن بعض ما في التوراة فاكتموه إياهم وأبوا أن يخبروهم عنه فأنزل الله عزّ وجلّ إن الذينَ يكتمون
‘asked the Jews concerning certain things which were in the Torah, but they hid them, and refused to inform them of the matter. Then the Glorious God sent down the words, “Verily those who conceal”,’ etc. As a matter of fact this ‘concealing’ of the truth by the Jews is more than once referred to in the Qur'an, but nowhere does it mean that they cut out or altered the actual words of Scripture. There is a celebrated Tradition preserved in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih which throws a flood of light upon this matter, and which makes it indisputably clear as to what is meant by ‘concealing’ the word of God. The Tradition is found in the section entitled Kitabu'l-Hadud, and is as follows: ‘From 'Abdu'llah bin-'Umar it is related that the Jews came to the Prophet of God, on whom be the peace and blessing of God, and informed him that a man and a woman of the Jews had committed 'adultery. The apostle of God said to them, “What do you find in the Torah in the matter of stoning” (of adulterers)? They said, “Disgrace them and whip them.” ‘Abdu'llah bin Salim replied, “You lie, verily the command to stone them is found in it.” Then they brought the Torah and opened it. But one of the Jews placed his hand over the verse of stoning, and read what preceded and what followed it. But 'Abdullah bin Salim said, “Lift up your hand.” Then he raised his hand, and lo! in the Torah was the verse of stoning. Then they said, “He has spoken truly, O, Muhammad, in it is the verse of stoning.” Then the Prophet of God, on whom be the peace and blessing of God, commanded that they should both be stoned, and they were so.’
This Tradition affords an interesting example of the way in which the Jews used to ‘conceal’ the Word of God; and it incidentally gives the lie to those who say the word proves the corruption of the text of the Bible.
Yet another verse of the Qur'an 21 is sometimes quoted to support the charge of corruption of the Torah. It runs thus,
يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لِمَ تَلْبِسُونَ الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُونَ الْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
‘O People of the Book, why clothe ye the truth with falsehood? Why wittingly hide the truth?’
The great biographer of the Prophet, Ibn Hisham, 22 has recorded for us the occasion of the ‘sending down’ of this verse, and, in doing so, has entirely refuted the opinion of those who affirm that it teaches the corruption of the Bible. He writes as follows:
قال عبد الله بن الصيِّف، وعدي بن زيد، والحارث بن عوف، بعضهم لبعض: تعالوا نؤمن بما أنزل على محمد وأصحابه غُدْوةً ونكفُر به عشيةً، حتى نلبس عليهم دينهم، لعلهم يصنعون كما نصنعُ، فيرجعوا عن دينهم! فأنـزل الله عز وجل فيهم: يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لِمَ تَلْبِسُونَ الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُونَ الْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
‘'Abdu'llah bin bin Da'if, 'Adi bin Zaid and Al-Haritha bin 'Auf spoke together thus: “Come, let us in the morning believe in what has been sent down on Muhammad and his companions, and let us disbelieve it in the evening in order that we may confuse their religion for them, and that they may act as we act, and turn back from their religion.” Then sent down the Glorious God concerning them the words, “O People of the Book, why clothe ye the truth with falsehood? Why wittingly hide the truth?”’
From these words of Ibn Hisham it is clear that the passage under discussion has no reference whatever to the Bible. It refers to certain lying Jews who, in order to lead the Muslims from their faith, pretended in the morning to believe in Muhammad and the Qur'an, ‘hiding’ the truth of the matter, and ‘clothing’ with falsehood their real intentions, but openly disavowing their belief in him in the evening.
Another verse 23 is sometimes quoted to prove the corruption of the Torah. It is as follows:
وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِيقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُم بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللّهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللّهِ
‘And some truly are there who torture the Scriptures with their tongues, in order that ye may suppose it to be from the Scripture; yet it is not from the Scripture. They say, “It is from God”; yet it is not from God.’ One would have thought that a careful reading of this passage would alone have been sufficient to convince the most prejudiced that there is here no charge of changing the written words of the Torah. The ‘torturing’ or twisting with the tongue obviously refers to verbal alterations made when reading or reciting the Scripture. This is freely admitted by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan 24 where he writes: This verse shows that the Scripture readers were in the habit of substituting words of their own for those of the text, but it does not show that there was any tampering with the written text itself.’
The famous commentator Ibn 'Abbas in his comment on this passage says:
يقولون على الله الكذب وهم يعلمون أنه ليس ذلك في كتابهم
‘They speak lies against God; and they know that what they say is not in their Book.’
lbn 'Abbas makes it clear that certain Jews were in the habit of falsely adding to their reading of the Torah certain words or phrases which were not in the Book. which lay open before them. He thus makes it clear that whatever alteration took place was made in the verbal repetition of the Scripture, and not in the written text itself.
The Jalalain also state the same in their comment on the passage. Their words are,
يعطفونها بقراءته عن الْمُنْزَل
‘They change it from its place in reading.’
It may be well to quote here the views of the learned author of the Tafsir-i-Durr-i-Manthur before we pass on to a consideration of the next passage. He writes thus:
وأخرج اِبْنُ الْمُنْذِرِ وَابْنُ أَبِي حَاتِمٍ عَنْ وَهْبِ بْنِ مُنَبِّهٍ قَالَ: إِنَّ التَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنْجِيلَ كَمَا أَنْزَلَهُمَا اللَّهُ لَمْ يُغَيَّرْ مِنْهُمَا حَرْفٌ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ يَضِلُّونَ بِالتَّحْرِيفِ وَالتَّأْوِيلِ وَالكُتُبٍ كَانُوا يَكْتُبُونَهَا مِنْ عِنْدِ أَنْفُسِهِمْ، وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ، فَأَمَّا كُتُبُ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى فَإِنَّهَا مَحْفُوظَةٌ لَا تُحَوَّلُ
‘It is related by Ibnu'l-Mandhar and lbn Abi Hatim from Wahab lbn Mumba that not a letter has been altered of the Torah and Injil from that which was sent down by God, but they (the Jews) used to lead people astray by changing and altering the meaning. They used also to write books from themselves and then say, “It is from God” when they were not from God. But the (real) Books of God were protected from change, and had not been altered.’
From the remarks of leading Muslim commentators quoted above it is abundantly clear that the Qur'an makes no charge of tahrif-i-lafzi. All that is proved is that some Jews of Arabia took advantage of the ignorance of their Muslim hearers to mislead them as to the true import of certain passages of their Scriptures. Those Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and had to be translated into Arabic for the comprehension of the Muslims. Thus every opportunity existed for the verbal corruption or false interpretation of Biblical passages. We have already had a concrete illustration of this in the endeavour of certain Jews to protect two of their number from capital punishment by stoning, by pretending that the Mosaic punishment for adultery was merely scourging. No charge, however, was ever made that the Jews deleted the verse of stoning from the Torah. Indeed it is there to the present day: a mute witness to the faithfulness with which the Jews have preserved their Scriptures.
Yet one or two more passages must be noticed before we pass on to other matters. A passage of the Qur'an sometimes quoted to prove the corruption of the Bible is the following: 25
وَلاَ تَلْبِسُواْ الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُواْ الْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
‘And clothe not the truth with falsehood, and hide not the truth when ye know it.’
Commenting on this verse Sir Syed Ahmad Khan 26 says:
‘We are taught by the commentary of Emam Fakhru'-d-Din Razi that this verse was thus explained: In the Old and New Testaments the predictions referring to the advent of the Prophet Muhammad are of veiled meaning, and not to be understood without the exercise of profound thought and judgment, and by the help of explanation. Now the Jews were always denying the rightful interpretation of these prophecies, and busied themselves in captious and unprofitable disputations, and in striving by overstrained arguments and illogical reasoning to explain away their true meaning. It was then that this ayat was sent down from heaven enjoining them not to adulterate truth with falsehood, so as to mislead people by the doubts they cast upon the true sense of the disputed passages of Scripture. This extract demonstrates the fact which is sought to be established that putting a false meaning to words is all that is charged against the Jews and not that they were guilty of mutilating the written text.’
The following comment from Al-Razi's famous commentary Al-Kabir will indicate the general view of that scholar with regard to this important subject. He writes as follows:
عن ابن عباس أنهم كانوا يحرفون ظاهر التوراة والإنجيل، وعند المتكلمين هذا ممتنع، لأنهما كانا كتابين بلغا في الشهرة والتواتر إلى حيث يتعذر ذلك فيهما، بل كانوا يكتمون التأويل
‘It is related from Ibn 'Abbas that they were altering the text of the Torah and Injil, but in the opinion of scholars this was impossible, because those Scriptures were generally known and widely circulated, having been handed down from generation to generation, so that such (alteration) in them was impossible; rather they were hiding the meaning.’
From what has been written above it has been clearly proved that no charge of wilfully corrupting the actual text of the Bible was ever made in the Qur'an against the Jews. The only charge made was that of altering the meaning by false exegesis, or of hiding the truth by the concealment of certain passages. With regard to the Christians, there is not a single passage in the whole Qur'an which charges the followers of Jesus even with tahrif-i-ma'nawi. This is a point that is sometimes lost sight of, and one to which we here call the attention of the Muslim reader; for even if it could be shown that certain Jews of Madina had altered their copies of the Torah—a thing impossible of proof, as we have shown—yet who would judge it possible that all the Jews of the whole world had collaborated together to make the same alterations in their copies. Such a presumption supposes incredible credulity on the part of those who suggest it. Moreover, assuming that the Jews did excise from their copies of the Torah certain prophecies concerning the coming of Muhammad, how is it that those prophecies are not found in the copies held by the Christians? It is well known that there has always existed the bitterest enmity between Jews and Christians, so that collusion between them in such a matter as the corruption of the Scriptures was absolutely impossible. The inference is clear: no such corruption has ever taken place.
12. Mohomedan Commentary of the Holy Bible, (Tabyin-ul-Kalam fi Tafsir-al-turat-wa'l Injil ala Mullat-al-Islam) vol. 1. p. 64, 1862.
13. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:13.
14. Tafsir. p. 67.
15. Qur’an An-Nisa' 4:46.
16. Tafsiru'l-Qadari. p, 168.
17. Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:75.
18. Mohomedan Commentary of the Holy Bible.
19. Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:159.
21. Qur’an Ali 'Imran 3:71.
23. Qur’an Ali 'Imran 3:78.
24. The Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 72.
25. Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:42.
26. The Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 86.