JEWISH BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
INCORPORATED INTO THE QUR’AN
WHILST a study of the Qur’an makes it abundantly clear what Muhammad borrowed from the idolatrous Arabs of his time, and also incorporated into his system not a little of Christian truth, yet an investigation into the sources of the Qur’an reveals the fact that Islam is, in the main, little more than Talmudic Judaism, plus the assertion of the apostleship of Muhammad. We purpose in this chapter to prove the truth of this assertion.
It need scarcely be said that Muhammad had ample opportunity for intercourse with Jews, from whom he could learn the stories current amongst them relating to the early patriarchs and others. 21 Any comparison of the stories as given in the Qur’an with the Talmudic perversions of scripture histories will make it clear that the Jews of Mecca and Madina communicated their legends to Muhammad, who then recast them and gave them out to the ignorant Arabs as ‘revelations’ from heaven. It should be remembered that the Talmud was completed a century previous to the era of Muhammad, and cannot fail to have extensively influenced the religious creed of all the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula. In one passage of the Qur’an Muhammad speaks of a certain Jew as a witness to his mission; in many places his disputes and arguments with them are mentioned, and it is clear that at one time, at least, his relations with them were those of friendship and intimacy. Hence it can easily be understood how easy it was for Muhammad to take the Jewish fables, to which he so frequently listened, and then to work them up in a form such as would commend itself to Arabian ears. There is no doubt that Muhammad was in the habit of questioning the Jews concerning their religion, and the great Traditionist Muslim has preserved for us a Tradition to that effect 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 عَنْهُ
“Ibn ‘Abbas records 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.” 22
More significant still is the fact that Muhammad excused himself for thus obtaining his materials for his stories, by pretending that he had received a revelation commanding him to do so. Thus in Surah Yunas (10:94) we read:—
فَاسْأَلِ الَّذِينَ يَقْرَءُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكَ
“(O Muhammad) ask those who are reading the book before thee.” The Muslim historian Tabari further tells us “Khadija (the first wife of the Prophet) read the former scriptures and knew the stories of the prophets.” Now Muhammad lived with Khadija for some fifteen years before he began to announce his mission, and when it is remembered that during that period he must also have had close and frequent intercourse with Waraqa, the cousin of his wife, who was in turn both Hanif and Christian, and was the translator of the Christian scriptures into Arabic 23 , the reader is at no difficulty to understand whence the Prophet obtained his knowledge of the Jewish Rabbinical fables.
We now propose to give examples of the way in which Muhammad adopted the stories of Jewish history which were current amongst his contemporaries; but before doing so, it will be necessary to clear the ground somewhat by reminding the reader of the state of Jewish thought in Arabia at this time. The Jews, especially in the neighbourhood of Madina, were both powerful and numerous; but the study of the Old Testament scriptures had largely given place to that of the Talmud. The latter was a chaotic arrangement of Rabbinical speculations, comments, and traditions connected with the Hebrew Bible. This encyclopaedia of laws and traditions records the thoughts of a thousand years of the national life of the Jewish people, and in it the oral traditions of the race have been carefully preserved. Yet it is “a literary wilderness,” without order or arrangement, often grossly unhistorical, and abounding in puerile fancies and absurd stories. This made up the mental pabulum of the Jews of Muhammad’s time, and it was the apocryphal stories of the Talmud which delighted the ears of Jewish audiences, and furnished the basis of instruction in Jewish schools. Thus it was the stories of the Talmud, rather than of the Bible, which Muhammad would learn in his intercourse with the Jews; and we will now proceed to show that the stories of the Patriarchs and others detailed in the Qur’an agree with the, often unhistorical, legends of the Hagadah rather than with the Bible.
In Surah al-Ma’idah (5:27-32) there is a curious story connected with Cain and Abel. It is there (verse 31) related that, after Cain had killed his brother,
فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُرِيَهُ كَيْفَ يُوَارِي سَوْءَةَ أَخِيهِ
“God sent a raven which scratched the earth to show him (Cain) how he should hide his brother’s body.” Every student of the Torah knows that this story is not to be found in the revelation given to Moses; but we are not left in doubt as to where Muhammad learned the legend; for in a Rabbinical work known as the Targum of Jonathan, Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter XXI, we read, “Adam and his helpmate were sitting and weeping and mourning for him (Abel), and did not know what to do (with Abel), for they were unaccustomed to burial. A raven (came), one of its fellow birds was dead (at its side). (The raven) said: I will teach man what to do. It took its fellow and dug in the earth, hid it and buried it before them. Adam said: Like this raven will I act. He took the corpse of Abel and dug in the earth and buried it.” 24 From a comparison of these two passages it is clear that Muhammad had heard from the Jews the fable of the burial of Abel as related in the Rabbinical books, and thinking it derived from the scriptures, repeated it, with slight alterations, as if revealed to him from heaven.
The Qur’an abounds with stories of the Patriarch Abraham. These in many instances flagrantly contradict the Biblical narrative; but a comparison of them with the Rabbinical legends of the Jews, leaves no room for doubt that Muhammad learnt them from the latter during his close intercourse with them. Thus in several places of the Qur’an the story is told of Abraham’s being cast into a fiery furnace by order of a king (whom the commentators name Nimrod) because of the Patriarch’s refusal to worship idols. It is said in Surah al-Anbiya’ (21:69,71) that when Abraham was cast into the fire, God said:—
يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيْمَ …وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ
“O fire, be thou cold, and a preservation unto Abraham, and we saved him.” Now it is a curious fact that this legend, which has no basis in scripture, is found in its entirety in a Jewish book called the Midrash Rabba. 25 From the Torah we learn that the Patriarch Abraham before his entrance into the land of Canaan resided in the city named Ur in the land of Chaldea; but God brought him out of that city and took him to the land of promise. Thus in Genesis 15:7, we read, “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees.” This city was evidently unknown to the ignorant Jewish author of the Midrash mentioned above; for in his comment on the verse quoted he took the word “Ur,” which also means fire, in its bare literal sense, and supposed that God had delivered Abraham out of a fire. So, to explain the verse “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees,” a story was invented of Abraham’s being cast into fire by Nimrod, whence he was miraculously saved by God. The whole story is given at length in the Midrash Rabba referred to above, and was well known to the Arabian Jews of Muhammad’s time. It is there written, “ Now this happened at the time when Nimrod cast Abraham into the oven of fire, because he would not worship the idols, that leave was withheld from the fire to hurt him.”
The reader is now in a position to understand the source of the story as it appears in the Qur’an, the author of which was evidently as ignorant of the real meaning of the words the Jewish commentator referred to above. If any further proof were needed to show the utterly unhistorical nature of the whole narrative, it may be found in the fact that Nimrod was not a contemporary of Abraham at all, but preceded him by many years.
Another Qur’anic story which has an undoubted Jewish origin is that found in Surah Ta Ha (20:87-88) in connection with the calf which was worshipped by the Israelites during Moses’ absence on Mount Sinai. We are there told that the people brought their ornaments of gold and silver and cast them into the fire, after which
فَكَذَلِكَ أَلْقَى السَّامِرِيُّ فَأَخْرَجَ لَهُمْ عِجْلًا جَسَدًا لَّهُ خُوَارٌ
“in like manner Samiri also cast them in and he brought out to them a corporeal, lowing calf.” It is well known that the Torah contains no mention of the golden calf having lowed; but Rabbinical fables are not wanting in which the story as reproduced by Muhammad is clearly traced. Thus in the Pirke Rabbi Eleazar we read, “The calf having cried aloud, came forth, and the children of Israel saw it.” 26 Rabbi Yahuda further preserves a fable to the effect that a man named Sammael secreted himself inside the image and made a cry like a calf in order to lead the Israelites astray. 27 Such is the story which was current amongst the Jews of Arabia in the time of Muhammad. Let it be compared with the narrative of the Qur’an and the reader will easily see that Muhammad, thinking the story which he heard upon the lips of his Jewish contemporaries to be a part of the scripture record, adopted and later gave it out to the ignorant Arabs as though revealed from heaven.
Unfortunately Muhammad failed to rightly understand the allusion to the man Sammael, and, confounding his name with the name of the Samaritans, whom he probably knew to be enemies of the Jews, makes the Samaritan (السَّامِرِي) to have a part in the matter. Since, however, the Samaritans did not come into existence as a people until some centuries after the event recorded here, it must require a wide stretch of credulity indeed to enable one to believe that this Qur’anic tale also was handed down from heaven by the angel Gabriel.
In the Surah an-Naml (27:44), we find a long story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in which it is stated that the former sent a letter to the Queen by a bird which he called for the purpose. The story goes on to say that the letter resulted in the determination of the Queen to visit Solomon. When she at length arrived at the palace of the King,
قِيلَ لَهَا ادْخُلِي الصَّرْحَ فَلَمَّا رَأَتْهُ حَسِبَتْهُ لُجَّةً وَكَشَفَتْ عَن سَاقَيْهَا قَالَ إِنَّهُ صَرْحٌ مُّمَرَّدٌ مِّن قَوَارِيرَ
“It was said to her, ‘Enter the palace,’ and when she saw it she imagined that it was a great lake of water, and she uncovered her legs. He said ‘verily it is a palace paved with glass.’“ Hearing this the Queen replied like any good Muslim, “I resign myself unto God the Lord of all creatures.”
Every reader of the Holy Bible knows that all this is mere fable, and has no place in the word of God; hence the question naturally arises as to the source of the story. In the Targum of the Book of Esther, a Rabbinical work full of fables and mythical stories, may be found, often in the very same words, practically the whole story as told by Muhammad. In this Targum we read, “Solomon, know that she (the Queen) was come, arose and sat down in the palace of glass. When the Queen of Sheba saw it, she thought that the glass floor was water, and so, in crossing over lifted up her garments.” 28 Much more might be quoted from the same book, including the whole incident of the bird-messenger; but enough has been written to show that the story as found in the Qur’an is nothing more than a Rabbinical tale which Muhammad had learned from the Jews. Let the reader study the real history as found in the Holy Bible (1 Kings X) and he will see what a vast distance separates truth from fiction.
Another fable which Muhammad learned from the Jews and incorporated into the Qur’an, is a fanciful story of God’s holding a mountain over the Israelites in order to frighten them. In Surah al-A’raf 7:171) we read:—
وَإِذ نَتَقْنَا الْجَبَلَ فَوْقَهُمْ كَأَنَّهُ ظُلَّةٌ وَظَنُّواْ أَنَّهُ وَاقِعٌ بِهِمْ
“And when we shook the mountain over them as though it had been a shadow; and they imagined it was falling upon them.” This story has no foundation in fact; but it is to be found in a Jewish tract called the Abodah Sarah. The Torah relates nothing of the kind, but simply states that, while God was giving Moses the Law on mount Sinai, all the people stood beneath, i.e., at the foot of, the Mount. The Jewish commentators, however, soon turned this into a fanciful story of God’s holding the mountain over the people; and in the story as found in the Abodah Sarah God is represented as saying to the Israelites, “I covered you over with the mountain like a lid.” 29 In another Rabbinical version of the story we read that God “inverted the holy mountain above them like a pot, and said unto them, ‘if ye receive the Law, well; but if not, there will your grave be.’“ This legend, which was current amongst the Jews of Arabia, must have reached the ears of Muhammad, who, imagining it to be a part of the Biblical story, soon incorporated it into his Qur’an and bade Muslims for all time to believe in it as a part of the word of God, preserved from all eternity near the throne of God in heaven, and finally sent down to Muhammad by the agency of the angel Gabriel.
The story quoted above is only equalled for absurdity by that of the fallen angels which is found in Surah al-Hijr (15:16-18) where it is gravely stated that the devils endeavour to hear what is going on in heaven, and are then driven away by meteors which are cast at them by the angels. Thus we read:—
وَلَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا فِي السَّمَاء بُرُوجًا وَزَيَّنَّاهَا لِلنَّاظِرِينَ وَحَفِظْنَاهَا مِن كُلِّ شَيْطَانٍ رَّجِيمٍ إِلاَّ مَنِ اسْتَرَقَ السَّمْعَ فَأَتْبَعَهُ شِهَابٌ مُّبِينٌ
“We have placed signs of zodiac in the heaven, and have adorned them for the spectators; and We guard them from every stoned Satan except such as steal a hearing; and him doth a visible flame consume;” and again, in Surah al-Mulk (67:5) we read:—
وَجَعَلْنَاهَا رُجُومًا لِّلشَّيَاطِينِ
“We have placed them (the stars) there to be darted at the Satans.” So much for Muhammad’s explanation of shooting stars! His ideas of the devils attempting to ‘steal a hearing’ in the courts of heaven, however, are not original, but are simply echoes of a Jewish fable preserved in the Hagigah, where it is said that the demons “listen from behind a curtain” in order to obtain a knowledge of future events. Further comment upon these mythical tales is needless. No intelligent Muslim, we are convinced, can accept them as of divine origin; and their very presence in the Qur’an bears eloquent testimony to the human origin of the book.
Much more might be written to show how much Muhammad was indebted to the Jews for the ideas which he afterwards embodied in the Qur’an; but the limits of this little book compel us to be content with one or two more examples.
As both the Jews and Sabians observed a month’s fast in the year, it is not easy to determine which of these sects furnished Muhammad with the similar injunction now found in the Qur’an; but in connection with this fast there is a rule enjoined in the Qur’an which is undoubtedly of Jewish origin. In Surah al-Baqarah (2:187), we read:—
كُلُواْ وَاشْرَبُواْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّواْ الصِّيَامَ إِلَى الَّليْلِ
“Eat and drink until ye can discern a white thread from a black thread by the daybreak then fast strictly till night.” This ingenious method of determining when the night ended and the day began was not original, however, but was copied by Muhammad from the Jews who, long before, had adopted a similar practice; and in the Mishnah Berakhoth we read that the fast began, “when one can distinguish between a blue thread and a white one.” 30 Yet Muslims are asked to believe that Muhammad had no part in the composition of the Qur’an:— that the whole was revealed from heaven where it had been kept from all eternity upon the “preserved table.” On the contrary, we will now proceed to prove that the very idea of a scripture preserved on a table is itself a plagiarism from the Jews.
In Surah al-Buruj (85:21-22) we read:—
بَلْ هُوَ قُرْآنٌ مَّجِيدٌ فِي لَوْحٍ مَّحْفُوظٍ
“Yet it is a glorious Qur’an in a preserved table.” This wonderful table is much spoken of in Muhammadan tradition. A sample of the fanciful and extravagant stories there found is given below from the Qisau’l-Anbiya’. It is there related that in the beginning, “Beneath the throne God created a pearl, and from the pearl (should this be pen?) He created the preserved table. Its height was seven hundred years journey and its breadth three hundred years journey.” Then after describing the creation of a pen the author proceeds, “accordingly, the pen wrote down God’s knowledge in God’s most high creation of everything that He wished unto the resurrection day; the extent that the leaf of a tree moveth or descendeth or ascendeth, and it wrote every such thing by the power of God most High.”
This notion of a table upon which the words of God are preserved is an obvious parody of the inspired narrative of the Torah where we read that God said to Moses, “How thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which thou brakest, and though shalt put them in the ark.” 31 It is specially significant that the very Hebrew word “luach” 32 used for these tables in the Torah is that adopted by Muhammad in describing his imaginary table. He had doubtless, often heard from the Jews the story of the tables of stone which were preserved in the ark, and, not wishing for his Qur’an a less distinguished origin, adopted and elaborated the idea of a book written and preserved in heaven itself. The Prophet, however, over-reached himself; and in an unguarded moment made God to say, “We have, since the Law was given, written in the Psalms that my servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth;” 33 so that, for all time, the faith of Muslims is staggered by the spectacle of a Qur’an which claims to have been written in the beginning of creation, quoting from a book not then two thousand years old. Most intelligent people will regard this as a proof that the Qur’an was written after the Psalms.
If further proof were needed to show that the Qur’an is largely based upon Talmudic Judaism, it may surely be found in the large number of words of Hebrew origin which are found therein. The following words amongst others, are of Hebrew origin, Tabut تَابُوتٌ ; Torah تَورَاةٌ ; ‘Adn عَدْنٌ ; Jahannam جَهَنَّم ; Ahbar أحبَارٌ ; Sabt سَبْتٌ ; Sakinat سَكِيْنَةٌ ; Taghut طَاغُوتٌ ; Furqan فُرْقَانٌ ; Ma’un مَاعُوْن ; Mathani مَثَاني ; and Malakut مَلَكُوْتٌ . 34 The curious will find in Dr. Imadu’d-Din’s famous “Hidayatu’l-Muslimin,” 35 a list of no less than one hundred and fourteen non-Arabic words, together with their original significations, which are to be found in the Qur’an.
21. See Abraham Geiger, Judaism and Islam: A Prize Essay,(Translation of “Was hat Muhammad AUS DEM JUDENTHUME aufgenommen?”, by F.M. Young) M.D.C.S.P.C.K. Press, Madras, India, 1898.
24. Tisdall, “The Sources of the Qur’an,” p. 63. See also, Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 21. See also Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, “Adam and his helpmate were sitting and weeping and mourning for him (Abel), and did not know what to do (with Abel), for they were unaccustomed to burial. A raven (came), one of its fellow birds was dead (at its side). (The raven) said: I will teach man what to do. It took its fellow and dug in the earth, hid it and buried it before them. Adam said: Like this raven will I act. He took the corpse of Abel and dug in the earth and buried it.”
25. Quoted in Geiger’s “Judaism and Islam,” p. 96.
28. Second Targum of Esther, In: An Explanatory Commentary on Esther, The Second Targum Translated from Aramaic with notes, Professor Paulus Cassel, Berlin, Germany. Translated to English by Aaron Bernstein, T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1888, p. 282-283.
31. Deuteronomy 10: 1, 2.
33. Surah al-Anbiya’ (21: 105).
34. Geiger, “Judaism and Islam,” pp. 30-45.
35. Pages 276-283.