TRADITION AND THE BIBLE
NO serious student of the development of Muhammadanism can fail to be impressed with the fact that Christian thought and doctrine have exercised a tremendous influence upon the ever-expanding mass of tradition which grew up after the death of Muhammad. He himself knew singularly little of Christian truth. His references to Christianity in the Qur’an are extremely vague and often startlingly inaccurate. Not only does he confuse Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, 107 but he mistakenly conceives of the Christian trinity as consisting of the Father, the Virgin Mary and the Son. 108 On the other hand, his references to the birth and infancy of Jesus approximate much more closely to the legends of the Apocryphal writings than to the historical records of the canonical Gospels. His later followers, however, knew better. The conquest of Christian countries like Syria, Palestine and Egypt had brought them into close contact with Christian civilization and Christian doctrine. Not only so, but the large numbers of Christian apostates who had embraced Islam as a result of the Muslim wars of conquest, with their attendant oppressions, were also instrumental in bringing to Muhammadans a more adequate conception of Christian truth. It was impossible for these Christian converts to Islam to abandon in a day their old habits of thought, and to drop entirely the phraseology of the Scriptures with which they had been familiar from childhood. The result is seen in a great influx of Christian thought and sentiment into the body of Islamic tradition, which was then in process of development. Thus it came about that many of the concepts of Christianity were introduced into Islam, and exerted a strong formative influence upon the character of Muslim tradition, if not of Muslim canon law.
It does not require a very close acquaintance with Muslim tradition to enable one to perceive something of the process by which, as a direct result of this impact of Christian ideas, the sentiment and teaching of the Christian Church found a place in the body of Muslim tradition, and came, ultimately, to be ascribed to Muhammad himself. There is no doubt whatever, as we shall presently show, that many of the later Muslim theologians and traditionists adopted without compunction those passages of the New Testament which appeared to them as worthy in sentiment and noble in thought, and deliberately attributed them to Muhammad. Hence the Christian reader of Muslim tradition is often startled to meet many of the familiar thoughts, and sometimes the exact phraseology of the New Testament put into the mouth of Muhammad, and accepted by later Muslims as historical records of his utterances. These utterances thus found a permanent place in Muhammadan tradition; for when the great work of the systemation of the traditions was taken in hand, these Christian expressions, in the form of traditions, with of course complete isnads to match, were incorporated into the great body of tradition, and remain there to the present day.
But not only do we find widespread evidence of the actual incorporation of Biblical phrases into the body of Muslim tradition, resulting in the ascription of the words of Christ, or his Apostles, to Muhammad, there is also equally clear evidence of a more general influence of Christianity upon Muslim doctrine, and so upon canon law. It is impossible not to see, for example, that the great controversies concerning the eternity of the Qur’an, which shook Islam to its very foundations, were the direct result of the influence of the Christian doctrine of the eternal Logos. As Professor Becker points out, ‘The eternal nature of the Qur’an was a dogma entirely alien to the strict monotheism of Islam; but the fact was, never realized, any more than the fact that the acceptance of the dogma was a triumph for Graeco-Christian dialectic. There can be no more striking proof of the strength of Christian influence. It was able to undermine the fundamental dogma of Islam, and the Muhammadans never realized the fact.’ 109 We have already pointed out 110 how the Christian doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ was, in a similar manner, responsible for the Muslim conception, certainly never held by Muhammad himself, of the ‘Light of Muhammad’ which existed prior to all created things.
We now proceed to place before the reader a few illustrations of the manner in which the traditionists plagiarised from the New Testament, or reproduced the sayings of Christ as they had heard them from the lips of Christians, and then attributed them to Muhammad. It is impossible to be sure whether these plagiarisms were intended to be disguised by judiciously chosen verbal alterations, or whether the changes made in the actual phraseology were due to ignorance on the part of the authors; but we think that no candid reader of these pages can rise from their perusal without fully realizing that such plagiarism did take place. To save space, we shall, generally speaking, omit the Arabic Text; but precise references will be appended for those who are desirous of verifying the quotations given.
In the collection of traditions entitled AI Jam’i as-Saghir, it is related that Muhammad said, ‘Be merciful to him who is upon the earth, then He who is in heaven will be merciful to you.’ 111 If this be compared with the words of Christ ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’, ‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’, 112 it will be seen to be an obvious echo of this part of the sermon on the mount.
Another reputed saying of Muhammad is as follows: ‘By Him in whose hands is my life, none of you will believe until I become more beloved to him than his father or his son.’ 113 This, again, is an imitation of the words of Christ concerning discipleship, that ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ 114
It is impossible, again, not to see in the tradition quoted below a manifest adaptation of the words of Christ addressed to doubting Thomas. It is related in the Gospel that after the resurrection of Christ from the dead, one of His disciples, named Thomas, refused to believe, on the sole testimony of his co-disciples, that Christ was indeed alive. He is stated to have said that unless he saw his Master with his own eyes, he would not believe. Later, when brought face to face with Christ, the latter addressed him thus, ‘Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed. 115 Such a powerful incitement to faith was just what was needed for the multitudes who, after the death of Muhammad and the conquest of countries contiguous to Arabia, began to press into the fold of Islam; and so the following imitation of Christ’s words was devised in the form of a tradition, and then ascribed Muhammad, ‘He is once blessed who sees me and believes in me, but he who has not seen me and yet believes in me is seven times blessed.’ 116
Another reminiscence of the sermon on the mount is found in the following words put into the mouth of Muhammad, ‘None of you will believe until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ 117 The Bible record of Christ’s words, from which this garbled version was made reads thus: ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.’ 118 Such teaching, however, was so foreign to the whole spirit of Islam that the famous commentator An Nawawi felt compelled to modify its onerous demands. This he did by declaring that the tradition in question merely meant,
حتى يحب لأخيه في الإسلام مثل ما يحب لنفسه.
‘Until he loves for his brother in Islam like what he loves for himself!’ 119
There is a curious story preserved by Bukhari, and purporting to be related by Ibn ‘Umar which is, unquestionably, a later Muslim attempt to comment, for controversial purposes, on one of the parables of Christ. The parable is as follows, ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way. I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.’ 120
The Muslim parody of this beautiful parable runs thus, ‘The people of the Taurat were given the Taurat, and they laboured until, when midday appeared, they grew weak, and they were each given one carat. Then the people of the Injil were given the Injil, and they laboured until the afternoon prayer, when they grew weak, and they were each given one carat. After that we were given the Qur’an, and we worked until the setting of the sun, and we were each given two carats. Therefore the people of the two books (i.e. Jews and Christians) said, O, our Lord, thou hast given these two carats each, but hast only given us one carat each, and yet we have laboured more than they. God most high said, Have I dealt unjustly with you in any way in the matter of your reward? They said, No. He said, This is my grace I give to whom I will.’ 121
Another reminiscence of the words of Christ, uttered as a warning against a mere nominal faith, is preserved by Bukhari. The original words, which form a part of the sermon on the mount, are as follows, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ 122 This solemn warning of the Messiah is expanded in the traditions into the following ludicrous story. ‘A man will be brought on the day of resurrection and cast into the fire; and his intestines will fall into the fire and wander round like an ass walks round a mill. Then the inhabitants of the fire will gather themselves together unto him, and will say, O so and so, what has happened to you? Were you not in the habit of commanding what is right and of forbidding what is wrong? He will say, I used to command what is right, but did not do it myself; and I used to forbid what was wrong, but did it myself.’ 123
One of the most remarkable attempts to reproduce the words of Jesus, as if they were the words of Muhammad, is that in which the prayer taught by Jesus to His disciples, and used by Christians throughout the world up to the present day, is, in a hideously garbled form, attributed to Muhammad. The prayer taught by Christ is this, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.’ 124 This beautiful prayer as it is put into the mouth of Muhammad by later traditionists runs as follows, ‘Our Lord God, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom is in heaven and on earth. As thy mercy is in heaven, so show thy mercy on earth. Forgive us our debts and our sins. Thou art the Lord of the good. Send down mercy from thy mercy and healing from thy healing on this pain, that it may be healed.’ 125
Yet another attempted imitation of one of the great classical sayings of Christ is the following: ‘To instruct in knowledge those who are unworthy of it is like putting pearls and jewels and gold on the necks of swine.’ 126 This, of course, is an attempt to expound the meaning of the following words of Christ, ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.’ 127
One of the most literal quotations from the New Testament to be found anywhere in the traditions is the following, which is put into the mouth of Muhammad, with, of course, a full isnad to match! ‘God most high said, I have prepared for my servants what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and what hath not entered into the heart of man.’ 128 Let the reader compare these words with the following from the New Testament, and he will not have much difficulty in tracing their origin. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ 129
Another Biblical phrase which appealed to the imagination of later Muslims, and led them to attribute similar words to Muhammad, is the following description of the saints of olden time as men who ‘Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’ 130 This was shortened into the following maxim, and then put into the mouth of Muhammad, ‘Be in the earth as if you were a stranger or a pilgrim.’ 131
Yet another obvious attempt to reproduce one of the gems of the sermon on the mount is connected with Christ’s teaching regarding almsgiving. His words are, ‘But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth’. 132 Thus in a tradition, purporting to come from Muhammad, the man whom God loves is described as ‘the man who gives alms with his right hand, hiding it from his left’. 133 Another version of this tradition given in the Ihya’ still more closely approximates to the words of Christ. It there reads, ‘The man who gives alms and hides it, so that his left hand knows not what his right hand gives’. 134
Another plagiarism from the sermon on the mount has reference to salt as a preservative from corruption. The well-known words of Christ on the subject are as follows, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.’ 135 If Christians were the salt of the earth, argued the fervent traditionists, how much more were Muslims! So a tradition was promptly manufactured, and put into the mouth of Muhammad, who is then represented as addressing his disciples in these words, ‘My companions are in my community like salt in food; for without the salt, the food is not fit to eat.’ 136
It is written of God in the New Testament that, ‘In Him we live, and move, and have our being.’ 137 This, too, was made into a tradition, and now appears in the following form, ‘God has servants who eat in God, drink in Him, and walk in Him’. 138
In the following tradition we have a manifest attempt to quote the words of Jesus, ‘And whereunto shall I liken this generation. It is like unto children sitting in the markets and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.’ 139 In the tradition the following words are said to have been sent down upon Jesus, ‘We filled you with longing desire, but ye did not desire; and we mourned unto you, but ye did not weep.’ 140
One of the aphorisms of the Messiah contains a striking figure of speech about a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It is as follows, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.’ 141 Muhammad appears to have heard this from the lips of some Christian. At any rate he produced the following as a revelation, ‘Verily they who have charged our signs with falsehood, and have turned away from them in their pride, heaven’s gates shall not be opened to them, nor shall they enter paradise, until the camel passeth through the eye of the needle.’ 142 Upon this Qur’anic passage the commentators and traditionists have expended a wealth of ingenuity and fancy, all of which, in the form of a tradition, is ascribed to Muhammad. Thus he is represented as saying, ‘Verily when an infidel servant is about to part from the world, and bring his soul to futurity, black-faced angels come down to him, and with them sack-cloths. Then they sit from the dead as far as the eye can see; after which the angel of death comes, in order to sit at his head, and says, O impure soul, come out to the wrath of God. The prophet of God said, Then the soul is disturbed in the infidel’s body. Then the angel of death draws it out, as a hot spit is drawn out of wet wool, part of which sticks to it at the time of pulling out. Thus the soul of the infidel, when drawn out from the veins with strength and violence, pulls out part of the veins with it. Then the angel of death takes the soul of the infidel, and having taken it, the angels do not allow it to remain with him the twinkling of an eye; but they take it in the sack-cloth; and a disagreeable smell issues from the soul, like that of the most fetid carcasses that can be met upon the face of the earth. Then the angels carry it upwards, and do not pass by any assembly of angels who do not ask, Whose filthy soul is this? They answer, Such a one, the son of such a one; and they mention him by the worst names that he bore in the world, till they arrive with it at the lowest heaven, and call for the door to be opened; but it is not done. Then the prophet repeated this revelation, “heaven’s gates shall not be opened to them; nor shall they enter paradise, till the camel passeth through the eye of the needle.”‘ 143 Comment upon this ludicrous and unscientific parody of inspiration is surely needless. No intelligent Muslim reader will believe that the spiritual part of man called the soul has either ponderability or smell! The whole tradition furnishes an excellent illustration of the manner in which ignorant and unscrupulous men fabricated traditions, and then, to gain them acceptance, attributed them to Muhammad.
It is written in the Gospel that one of the disciples of Christ once came to him, saying, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’ 144 The Muslim version of this incident, as ascribed to Muhammad, is as follows: ‘A man came to the prophet and said, O Messenger of God, how many times are we to forgive our servant’s faults? He was silent. Again the man asked; but his highness gave no answer. But when the man asked a third time, he said, Forgive your servants seventy times every day. 145
Perhaps one of the most striking passages of the Bible inculcating the duty of practical benevolence is that in which Christ is pictured as the Judge at the last day, Who renders to every man according to his works. The words of Christ are these, ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you; inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren; ye have done it unto me.
‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison; and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ 146
After all that has been written in this chapter, the reader will scarcely be surprised to learn that the striking passage which we have just quoted has been plagiarised by Muslim traditionists, and attributed, in a sadly mutilated form, to Muhammad. This tradition is preserved in the Mishkat, and purports to have been transmitted by the notorious Abu Hurairah. The story, as it there appears, runs thus, ‘Verily, God will say, at the day of resurrection, O sons of Adam, I was sick, and ye did not visit me. And the sons of Adam will say, O our Defender, how could we visit thee? for thou art the Lord of the universe. And God will say, O men, did you not know that such a one of my servants was sick, and you did not visit him? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found me? And God will say at the resurrection, O sons of Adam, I asked you for food, and ye gave it me not. And the sons of Adam will say, O our Patron, how could we give thee food, seeing that Thou art the Cherisher of the universe? And God will say, Do you not know that such a one of my servants asked you for bread, and you did not give it him? Did you not know that had you given him victuals, you would have received it (i.e. its reward) with me? And God will say at the resurrection, O sons of Adam, I asked you for water, and ye gave it me not. They will say, O our Cherisher, how could we give thee water, seeing Thou art the Cherisher of the universe? God will say, Such a one of my servants asked you for water, and you did not give it him. Did you not know that had you given it him, you would have received it with me?’ 147
Comment on this obvious appropriation of Bible teaching is surely unnecessary. It will not escape the notice of the observant reader that theological bias was not altogether inactive when the tradition was put into its final shape. Hence we find Christ, as Judge, displaced by the Muslim God; whilst, in the tradition, far greater emphasis is laid on the Muslim doctrine of salvation by works.
One or two more quotations must suffice before we close this chapter. One of the most striking incidents in the Gospel narrative of Christ’s death is that in which He is reported as praying for His murderers in the following words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’, 148 Even this incident has been put into the form of a tradition, and then foisted upon Muhammad. Thus he is represented as saying, ‘The people of a certain prophet smote him, and wounded him, as he wiped the blood from his face, and said, O God, forgive my people, for they know not.’ 149
The prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, as He contemplated His approaching death, is familiar to all students of the Bible. It is recorded in the Gospel in these words, ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not, my will, but thine, be done.’ 150 What, we wonder, will educated and intelligent Muslims say to the following ludicrous parody of that touching story. In the earlier part of this so-called tradition it is said that the angel of death, when he approached Moses, in order to claim his body, was struck in the eye by the great law-giver; and then, the tradition proceeds,
ولعل عيسى بن مريم عليه السلام قد لطم الأخرى فأعماه لان عيسى عليه السلام كان أشد للموت كراهية من موسى عليه السلام وكان يقول اللهم إن كنت صارفاً هذه الكأس عن أحد من الناس فاصرفها عني.
‘Jesus the son of Mary struck the other (angel) in the eye and blinded him; because Jesus abhorred death even more than Moses did, and prayed to God, saying, O God, if thou ,canst take away this cup from any man, then take it away from me!’ 151
It would take us far beyond the limits of this essay to notice the influence of Christianity upon late Muslim literature represented by such works as the Qisasu’l-Anbiya. It must suffice to remark here that, although such books profess to be based upon earlier sources, yet they reveal a much more intimate knowledge of Gospel history, albeit modified and mutilated in the interests of Muslim dogma, than was ever possessed by Muhammad. Those desirous of further information on the subject of this chapter should consult Zwemer’s The Moslem Christ and Koelle’s Mohammed and Mohammedanism.
107. Qur’an Maryam 19:27-28.
108. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:116.
109. BECKER: Christianity and Islam, pp. 92-3.
110. See p. 20.
111. AI Jam'i as-Saghir, vol. i, p. 33.
112. Gospel of Matthew 5:7 and 6:14.
113. Al Bukhari, vol. I, p. 7.
114. Gospel of Matthew 10:37.
115. Gospel of John 20:29.
116. AI Jam'i as-Saghir, vol. ii, p. 47.
117. Matanu'l-arba'l nu'n-Nawawiyyah, No. 25.
118. Gospel of Matthew 7:12.
119. An Nawawi in Sharah Sahih Muslim, vol. i, p. 439.
120. Gospel of Matthew 20:1-14.
121. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, pp. 35, 36.
122. Gospel of Matthew 7:21.
123. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 157.
124. Gospel of Matthew 6:9-15.
125. Abu Da'ud, vol. i, p. 101. Quoted in Goldziher's Hadith and New Testament, p 18. It is also recorded in the Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Jana'iz.
126. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Ilm.
127. Gospel of Matthew 7:6.
128. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Sifatu'l-Jannah.
129. 1 Corinthians 2:9.
130. Hebrews 11:13.
131. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 266.
132. Gospel of Matthew 6:3.
133. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'z-Zakat.
134. Ihya, vol. ii, p. 147. Quoted in Goldziher's Hadith and New Testament, p. 13.
135. Gospel of Matthew 5:13.
136. Quoted in Goldziher's Hadith and New Testament, p. 30.
137. Acts 17:28.
138. Al Fashani, p. 52. Quoted in the Hadith and New Testament, p. 33.
139. Gospel of Matthew 11:16-17.
140. Al Aqadu'l-Farid, vol. i, p. 297.
141. Gospel of Mark 10:25.
142. Qur’an al-A’raf 7:40.
143. Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu'l-Jana'iz.
144. Gospel of Matthew 18:21-22.
145. Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu'n-Nikah.
146. Gospel of Matthew 25:31-45.
147. Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu'l-Jana'iz.
148. Gospel of Luke 23:34.
149. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 175..
150. Gospel of Luke 22:42.
151. Tawil Mukhtalifu'l-Hadith, p. 351.