BIBLE HISTORY IN ISLAM
EVERY reader of the Qur'an knows that it contains lengthy and repeated references to Bible history. A very large amount of space indeed is given in the Qur'an to the stories of the early Patriarchs; whilst Moses, David, Solomon and others are also frequently mentioned. Now if the Qur'an ‘confirms,’ as it claims to do, the Old and New Testament Scriptures, then it is obvious that Qur'anic references to the great men mentioned in those books will agree with the accounts found in the Torah and Injil. Far from this being the case, however, we shall show that Muhammad again and again falls into serious error with regard to those whom he mentions. Two principal reasons may be assigned for these mistakes on the part of Muhammad. In the first place, we have direct evidence from Islamic sources that Muhammad was in the habit of asking the Jews concerning their Faith, and that, in reply, the crafty sons of Israel often deliberately misled the Prophet by misrepresenting the truth, and by leading him to believe that what they had told him was in reality in their Scriptures. This evidence is furnished by no less an authority than 'Abbas, one of the companions of the Prophet. The Tradition itself is recorded by Muslim, and runs as follows:—
قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ فلما سَأَلَهُمُ النَّبِيُّ صلعم عَنْ شَىْءٍ من أهل الكتاب فَكَتَمُوهُ إِيَّاهُ وَأَخْبَرُوهُ بِغَيْرِهِ فَخَرَجُوا قَدْ أَرَوْهُ أَنْ قَدْ أَخْبَرُوهُ بِمَا سَأَلَهُمْ
‘Ibn 'Abbas said that, when the Prophet asked any question of the people of the Book, they suppressed the matter, and, in place of it, told him something else, and went away letting him think that they had told him what he asked them.’ 86 Here, then, we have a sufficient explanation of the fact that many of the Jewish stories repeated in the Qur'an do not agree with the inspired records of the Torah and Injil.
Another undoubted reason for the historical errors of the Qur'an is the fact that the Jews of Arabia in the time of Muhammad had largely superseded the study of the Torah by that of the Talmud. This latter was a collection of traditional folk-lore and Rabbinical speculation concerning almost every conceivable topic. Apocryphal stories of the ancient Patriarchs and traditional comments and glosses of the ancient Scriptures made up a large portion of the Talmud, which, rather than the Torah, was the book most studied in the schools and recited on public occasions. Little wonder, then, that Muhammad, as he listened to its unhistorical legends, should have imagined them to be the very words of Scripture, and so was led to incorporate them in his Qur'an. This is the view of no less a scholar than Sir Amir 'Ali, who admits 87 that Muhammad ‘borrowed from the fleeting fancies of Zoroastrianism, Sabeanism and the Talmudic Jew.’ These borrowed 'fancies' no doubt contributed not a little to the many historical errors of the Qur'an. In another place the same Muslim writer, speaking of similar Traditions current amongst the Christians of Arabia in the time of Muhammad, makes the following significant admission:— ‘Before the advent of Muhammad, all these traditions, based on fact though tinged by the colourings of imagination, must have become firmly imbedded in the convictions of the people, and formed essential parts of the folk-lore of the country. Muhammad, therefore, when promulgating his faith and his laws, found these Traditions floating among his people; he took them up and adopted them as the lever for raising the Arabs as well as the surrounding nations from the depth of social and moral degradation into which they had fallen.’ 88 If, as the Sayyid admits, Muhammad ‘took up’ and ‘adopted’ ‘traditions based on fact, though tinged by the colourings of imagination,’ is it any wonder that many historical errors as to matters of fact found a place in his teaching!
We do not propose to show here to what extent Muhammad borrowed from Jewish and Christian tradition, 89 but we intend to confine ourselves to a few illustrations of the historical errors in which the Qur'an abounds. These illustrations could be multiplied almost indefinitely, but limits of space forbid more than the briefest selection.
In the Torah it was revealed to Moses that our first parents lived in the garden of Eden, whence flowed the rivers Hiddekel (Tigris) and Euphrates. The land of Assyria is also mentioned as being near by. From this it is clear that the garden of Eden was situated upon the earth. But in the Qur'an it is erroneously stated that the garden of Eden was in heaven. Thus we read, ‘O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in Paradise,90 and eat ye whence ye will, but to this tree approach not, lest ye become of the unjust doers.’91 This was not improbably one of the untruths repeated to Muhammad when he questioned the Jews as to what was in their Scriptures. It is in keeping with their conduct on another occasion when, being asked by him as to what was the punishment laid down in the Torah for adultery, they falsely told him it was scourging—instead of death by stoning.
The Qur'an erroneously makes Haman to be the name of one of the chief officers (the commentators say Vizier) of Pharaoh. Thus we read, ‘and Pharaoh said, “O Haman, build for me a tower that I may reach the avenues, the avenues of the heavens, and may mount to the God of Moses, for I verily deem him a liar”.’ 92 Now Haman, it is well known, lived several hundred years later than Moses. He was vizier to Ahasuerus, king of Babylon, and is mentioned in the Book of Esther, where we read, ‘After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Aagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.’ 93 Not only so, but the great Jewish historian Josephus also clearly states that Haman served under Ahasuerus in Babylon, and he gives many details of his life there.94 Thus the statement of the Qur'an that Haman lived in Egypt in the time of Moses is a gross error.
The passage from the Qur'an quoted above contains a double error, for it ascribes the building of the tower of Babel to Pharaoh, though, in reality, it was begun very many years before the time of Moses. If the reader will turn to the eleventh chapter of Genesis he will see how great a time separated the building of the tower from the Pharaoh of Moses' day. Moreover the real tower was built ‘in the Land of Shinar,’ i.e. Babylon, and not in Egypt at all.
From the Torah 95 we learn that the name of Abraham's father was Terah. The great Jewish historian Josephus says the same, for in his book 96 we read of ‘Terah, who was the father of Abraham.’ There can be no doubt, therefore, that Terah was the correct name; yet, strange to say, the Qur'an erroneously calls him Azar 97 in these words,
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ لأَبِيهِ آزَرَ
‘And when Abraham said to his father Azar.’ No satisfactory explanation of this has ever been given; though later Muslim scholars, who have recognised Muhammad's mistake, have made various attempts to escape the difficulty. Thus the Jalalain, in commenting on the passage just quoted, says
هو لقبه، واسمه تارخ
‘It (i.e., the word Azar) was his title, and his name was Tarakh.’ 98 The commentator Baidawi quotes another opinion to the effect that Abraham's father had two names, Azar and Tarakh! These are obviously mere subterfuges designed to explain away the Prophet's mistake.
In Surah Al-Qasas 28:9 we are told that Pharaoh's wife took pity on and brought up the infant child Moses when he was taken out of the river where he had been hidden by his mother. It is there written that Pharaoh's wife said, “Joy of the eye to me and thee! put him not to death. Haply he will be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son”.’ This, however, is another of the mistakes of Muhammad, for the Torah makes it clear that it was Pharaoh's daughter, and not his wife, who found the child and adopted him as her son. It is there written, 'The daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maids to fetch it. And when she opened it, she saw the child . . . and the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son.’ 99 The Bible narrative is amply confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus who writes, ‘Thermuthis was the king's daughter. She was now diverting herself by the banks of the river; and seeing a cradle borne along by the current, she sent some that could swim, and bid them bring the cradle to her. . . . Thermuthis, therefore, perceiving him to be so remarkable a child, adopted him for her son.’ 100
In the Bible there is a very vivid story of the great lsraelitish leader Gideon, who was instructed by God to choose his men for battle by taking only those who drank the water of the river from their hands, instead of kneeling down to drink. 101 Josephus, likewise, relates the story, and says distinctly that the incident took place in the time of Gideon. The Qur'an, however, erroneously states that the incident took place many years later in the time of Saul! Thus we read, ‘And when Saul marched forth with his forces he said, “God will test you by a river. He who drinketh of it shall not be of my band, but he who shall not taste it, drinking a drink out of the hand excepted, shall be of my band”.’ 102 Now whom, we ask, are we to believe: those inspired men who lived in Palestine and who wrote soon after the event, and had ample opportunity of learning the truth, or Muhammad, who lived in Arabia more than a thousand years later, and who contradicts not only the Bible, but the testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus?
One of the greatest mistakes of the Qur'an is that of confusing Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. This mistake is found in Surah Maryam 19:27-28, where we read, ‘They said, “O Mary, now hast thou done a strange thing! O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a man of wickedness, nor unchaste thy mother".' In another place in the Qur'an Mary is called the ‘Daughter of 'Imran’. Moses, too, is called by Muhammad the ‘Son of 'Imran,’ so that it is clear the Prophet thought the two Marys were one and the same person. It is well known, however, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived many centuries after Moses and Aaron, and that there was nothing in common between the two women except that they both belonged to the same race, and bore the same name. The father of Moses and Aaron and Miriam (Mary) was, we learn from the Bible, Amram, thus affording still further proof, if such were needed, that Muhammad imagined that Mary to be the mother of Jesus.
One more illustration must suffice before bringing this chapter to a close. It is found in Surah Al-Isra' 17, verse 1, where we read, ‘Glory be to Him who carried His servant by night from the sacred temple (of Mecca) to the temple that is more remote.’ The commentators agree that by the ‘temple that is more remote’ is meant the holy temple at Jerusalem, and Muhammad himself has left, in the traditions, most circumstantial and detailed accounts of this supposed journey. In one of them, preserved in the Mishkat, he says that
فركبته حتى أتيت بيت المقدس فربطته بالحلقة التي تربط بها الأنبياء قال ثم دخلت المسجد فصليت فيه ركعتين
‘Therefore I rode him (the beast Buraq) until I came to the Holy House (i.e. the temple at Jerusalem). Then I tied him to the ring to which the prophets were wont to tie (their steeds).’ He said, ‘After that I entered the temple and prayed in it two rakats.’ Unfortunately for the truth of this story, the famous Jewish Temple at Jerusalem was totally 103 destroyed by the Romans some centuries before the birth of Muhammad, and was never rebuilt. The story quoted above, therefore, together with the Qur'anic reference to it, is totally false. This is not a matter of opinion or of exegesis: it is a simple matter of fact which any intelligent Muslim can verify for himself, and it conclusively shows how little dependence can be placed on the words of the Qur'an.
We have not touched on the question of the bible in the Traditions; the reason being that, that aspect of the subject has already been fully dealt with.104
We now bring this brief study of the place of the Bible in Islam to a close. We have seen that Muhammad consistently held the Bible to be the uncorrupted word of God, and a ‘Light’ and ‘Guidance’ for men. He taught the Jews and Christians to observe it, thus demonstrating that it had not been abrogated. We have further seen that Muhammad, whose knowledge of the contents of the Bible was gained from hearsay, held many erroneous views both as to its doctrines and history. Had he come into contact with true Christianity, and not been influenced by the false teaching of heretical Christian sects, he would probably have been a Christian.
In conclusion, we would urge the reader to study the Bible for himself. He will find it to be indeed a ‘light’ on all the difficulties and problems of life, and ‘guidance’ from this world to that which is to come.
PRINTED AT THE DIOCESAN PRESS, VEPERY, MADRAS-C18084
87. The Spirit of Islam, p. 235.
88. Amir 'Ali, Life of Muhammad, p. 25.
89. See Goldsack, The Origins of the Qur'an, Chaps. ii, iii.
90. The Paradise or the heaven (al-Jannata, الْجَنَّةَ)
91. Qur’an Al-A’raf 7:19.
92. Qur’an Al-Mu'min 40:36-37.
93. Esther 3:1.
94. See Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, p. 283.
95. Genesis 11:27.
96. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, p. 35.
97. Qur’an Al-An'am 6:74.
99. Exodus 2:3,10.
100. The Antiquities of the Jews, p. 63.
101. Judges 7.
102. Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:249.
103. Page 72 Where does footnote belong? 1. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Adab.
104. See Goldsack, The Traditions in Islam, Chapter iv.