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Is the Qur'an a mix of older religions?

Muhammad and his followers had relations with pagan Arabs, Jews and Christians and therefore it is logical that he and his followers were educated by them. We learn about other religions by meeting and debating with their followers. Therefore it is possible that the Qur’an was inspired by concepts from other religions.

Muhammad’s religious development

Muhammad started to grow in his religious knowledge when he met Jews and Christians. They confronted him with new ideas about one God and the Scriptures, revealed by God. As a salesman he had visited many marketplaces in Arabia and Syria. It may be an explanation that we find in early Surahs not much information about prophets or religions. In the oldest part of the Qur’an we also read about “People of the Book”, because Jews and Christians are using the same Holy Scripture. At that time Muhammad did not know the difference between Judaism and Christianity. Later he mentions Jews and Christians [1]. Muhammad had to correct some Surahs, because they did not fit in the believe of one God. This was the case when he added two verses about the high maidens, the three daughters of Allah. They have been deleted, but Muslim scholars have noticed the mistake [2]. The words of the Qur’an are divine revelations according to traditional Islam. However, there are doubts if Muhammad was able to distinguish his own thoughts from the messages he had received.

Pagan Arab traditions

Since the first century all nations around the Arabian Peninsula are monotheistic: Jewish, Christian or followers of Zoroaster. The area in which Muhammad lived was not monotheistic because of the pagan Kaaba cultus in Mecca with 360 idols.

Jews

a. Judaism in Muhammad's time

Already in the first century BC the first Jews came. One of the Arabs who converted to Judaism was king Yusuf, who became a military leader for expansion of Judaism. They initiated a war with Ethiopia and forced people to convert to Judaism.

b. Qur'an examples

Christians

a. Christianity in Muhammad's time

Since Pentecost there are Arabic Christians: “Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). Syrian monks established monasteries and churches in the Arabic desert. Especially the Nestorians, of which most of them were salesmen, were missionaries. Before Muhammad’s birth, six centuries of Christians in Arabia has passed. Problem was to bring the message of the divine Jesus Christ and that he was crucified. This was difficult in the Arab mind and mentality.

b. Qur'an examples

Jewish Christians

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 135 AC, 150 Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but also kept the Law of Moses, went to Transjordan. They rejected the teachings of the apostle Paul that salvation is only possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). In Arabia was also the Jewish Christian sect of the Nasaaraa. They came from Syria and the Qur’an refers to them in Arabic as نَصَارَىٰ naṣārā (e.g. Surah 2:62). The Jewish Christian sects disappeared outside the Arabian Peninsula, but because of the isolation of this area they remained here.

Muhammad’s discussions with Jews and Christians

Muhammad had discussions with Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians and it is likely he heard the title “Seal of the Prophets” for Jesus Christ, given by Tertullian in 200 AC [11]. Muhammad knew about this, because he had traveled over all Arabia and he also had met Syrian monks. According to Arabic manuscripts of Abd al Djabbaar about Jewish Christians sects, they believed that Jesus was not divine and that Jesus lived according to the Law of Moses. Such Jewish Christians were called Nasaaraa in Arabia and it is likely that Muhammad had discussed with them and liked them “and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, We are are Nasaaraa (Christians)” (Surah 5:82). They believed that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the son of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit and that he is a prophet of Israel. They didn’t believe in the divine nature of Jesus and also not in the Trinity. All these concepts are in the Qur’an [12].

Conclusion

Muhammad was educated by his pagan Arabic, Jewish, Christian and Jewish Christian relations. Therefore there are so many similarities between Bible and the Qur'an. Now, we see that the ingredients of the Qur'an are simple: concepts from the Bible with Arab traditions. No one ever presented any new knowledge from Qur'an that was not present already in earlier texts. We cannot exclude that the Qur’an is a mix of older religions.

Notes

  1. Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian environment, University of Edinburgh, London, 1926.
  2. Sahab Ahmed, Satanic Verses, in: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, Volume Five, Brill, Leiden, 2002, 531-536. 4. Qur’an 12:1-2, 2:2; 20:113; 39:28; 41:3, 41:44, 43:3 and 2:7.
  3. Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman, The Quran With Tafsir Ibn Kathir Part 1 of 30: Al Fatiha 001 To Al Baqarah 141, MSA, 2011.
  4. Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, Hendrickson, 2011.
  5. Meir Bar-Ilan, Sūrat Yūsuf (XII) and Some of Its Possible Jewish Sources, in: Alberdina Houtman et al (ed), Stories and Traditions in Transformation, Brill, Leiden, 2016, 191-194.
  6. Jacob Neusner, The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation XXIIC: Tractate Sanhedrin Chapters 9–11, Scholars, Chico, 1985, 105.
  7. Pieter W. Van der Horst, Pious Long Sleepers in Greek, Jewish, and Christian Antiquity, in: Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, Brill, Leiden, 2011, 106-107.
  8. Wesley Center Online, Noncanonical Literature - Gospels, An Arabic Infancy Gospel.
  9. Kate Zebiri, Contemporary Muslim Understanding of the Miracles of Jesus, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, 75.
  10. A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume VIII, Eerdmans, 1951, Chapter 20, 376-377.
  11. Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present & Future, Oneworld Publications, 2009, 43.
  12. Ibid, 43-45.

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