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Is the Qur'an perfect?

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a divine gift to mankind. This means that such a book must be perfect. Because of this claim, there have been critical reviews of the Qur’an. There are many doubts about the supernatural nature of the Qur’an.

Context of a perfect Qur’an

Perfection is the quality or state of being without faults or defects. To get a visual idea what perfection is about, imagine a circle. It is perfectly round and has no beginning an no end. Like God who has no beginning and no end. The opposite is a line, which has a beginning and has an end. As a human who is born and will one day die. The Qur’an contains a report of its perfection that it is free of contradiction (Qur’an 2:82), while Islam promoters say the perfection of the Qur’an is because “no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an” [1]. The crucial test for any Muslim is to have faith in the perfect and divine message of the Qur’an. Many Muslims try to avoid this test to look for an error in the Quran, saying that the actual presentation of such a challenge is not even in human nature in the first place, nor should it be in accordance with the personality of man. Since the Quran is the foundation of Islam, there is a big problem in case the Qur’an is not perfect. A Muslim will lose all his spiritual background without the Qur’an, because of the high position the holy book has. Because of the sensitivities about this high position of the Qur’an for Muslims, people should not downplay the Qur’an, but have an attitude of giving a Muslim a way as the living God wants him to be. In reality many Muslims have questions about the Qur’an and therefore an evaluation will be needed. Before presenting our conclusion, the following tests will be done:

  1. Language
  2. Unchanged
  3. Prophecies
  4. Science in the Qur’an
  5. Integrity
  6. Mathematical patterns
  7. Contradictions between Qur’an and Bible

1. Language

a. Illiteracy of Muhammad

Most Muslims believe that Muhammad is a prophet, because he gave the Qur'an. This becomes even more impressive to them given that Muhammad was illiterate. We should note that Muhammad was a salesman before he started promoting Islam. He has visited Syria on business and also had several business trips to other destinations. It is a great advantage to read and write for travel and for formal transactions. The claim that he could not read and write can also be refuted since many Meccans were able to read and write [2]. The Arabic word أُمِيّ (ummi) in Qur’an 7:157-158 , does not mean illiterate (who can not read or write), but means someone who does not have a book. It is about people who did not have a book revealed by God (Qur’an 62: 2). Therefore, the Quran was intended for someone who did not have his own book of God's revelation.

b. Expressiveness

Expressiveness has been suggested as an argument for the perfection of the Qur’an. It proves that Muhammad was highly skilled in writing. However, Mozart had world-class talent at the age of six when he was producing music. Muhammad was above the age of 40 when he produced the first Qur’an verses. In case eloquence is a test then many people in history will have produced divine products. Respected analysts compare the style of poetry in the Qur’an to that of the Kahini [3]. Even under books in Arabic, there is competition for the Qur’an with Mu’allaqat, Magamet or Hariri. From the literary point of view, the Qur’an has little excellence. Rhetorical speaking, repetition, childishness, a lack of logic and consistency strike the unprepared reader [4].

c. Grammar

The Qur’an contains many obvious grammatical errors that are visible to all Arabic readers. Some examples. In Qur’an 5:69, Saabi'uuna has been declined wrongly, while it is correct in Qur’an 2:62 and 22:17. The word muqiimiin should be muqiimuun in Qur’an 4:162. Qur’an 20:63: haazaani should be haazayn [5] The language of the Qur’an in the above verses in this case is the imprecise grammar of some Arabic editors.

2. Unchanged

a. Composition of the first Qur’an

Muhammad had communicated his messages in an oral way. The believers memorized the messages for meditation and worship. This is the first Qur’an. An alternative information resource is the Hadith, a collection of stories about the life of Muhammad and his followers, including the collections of Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawud. We have noticed that even Muhammad was not able to memorize the Qur’an in a perfect way: “… he has reminded me of such-and-such Verses of such-and-such Suras, which I was caused to forget.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 558) Muhammad also edited Qur’an verses: “… Then he said, "Write: 'Not equal are those Believers who sit..", and at that time 'Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man was sitting behind the Prophet . He said, "O Allah's Apostle! What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?" So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: 'Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.' (4.95)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 512).

b. More than one Qur’an version in Muhammad’s time

There were many several editions of the Qur’an when Muhammad was still alive: “… So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said (to Allah's Apostle): "I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!" On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him, (O 'Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way," and added, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you)."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 514) and “I heard a person reciting a (Quranic) Verse in a certain way, and I had heard the Prophet reciting the same Verse in a different way. So I took him to the Prophet and informed him of that but I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face, and then he said, "Both of you are correct, so don't differ, for the nations before you differed, so they were destroyed."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 682)

c. Abu Bakr version of the Qur’an

After Muhammad’s death a process was started to collect all messages into one book. The information had been recorded on paper, stones, palm-leaves, bones and leather. The Qur’an became a collection of manuscripts kept by Abu Bakr. It was transferred to Umar Bin Khattah, the second caliph. In 644, Umar ordered to collect the whole collection of messages. The task was performed by one of Muhammad’s most trusted secretaries: “… Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had ...” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509)

d. Uthman version of the Qur’an

Uthman Ibin Affan decided as third caliph that the new Muslims made mistakes in reading the Qur’an because of differences in Arabic dialect: “… So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. …” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510) Uthman obtained from Hafsa the manuscript of the Qur’an version from Abu Bakr and asked Zaid bin Thabit and three other members of the Quraish tribe to transcribe the text into a single codex and to arrange the verses (surahs) properly in agreement with the dialect of the Quraish. The intention was to compile it as standard dialect. This dialect is now the modern standard Arabic. Before returning the Qur’an version to Hafsa, Uthman immediately made several thousands of copies of Abu Bakr’s Qur’an version and ordered that all other Qur’an text be burnt. The result was the Uthman version of the Quran, a single codex.

e. Other Qur’an versions

There has been opposition to Uthman’s new Qur’an version by Abdullah ibn Masud who was against it. Abdullah ibn Masud was personally commissioned by Muhammad to teach the Qur’an: “'Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned 'Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, 'Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: 'Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu'adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.' "” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521) and “The Prophet said to me, "Recite Quran to me." I said to him. "Shall I recite (it) to you while it has been revealed to you?" He said, "I like to hear it from another person."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 576) Abdullah ibn Mas’ud had the authority and governance from Muhammad to teach the Qur’an to others. However Uthman as third caliph had the political power to overrule Abdullah ibn Masud: “his work was no matter of removing dialectical peculiarities in reading but was a necessary stroke of policy to establish a standard text for the whole empire … there is evidence that for quire a while the Muslims in Kufa were divided into two factions, those who accepted the Uthmanic text, and those who stood by Ibn Mas’ud, who had refused his codex to be burned… there can be little doubt that the text canonized by Uthman was only one among the several types of text in existence at the time” [6] In case Uthman was not able to provide a single Qur’an version there would be many Qur’an versions today. In the Hadith are references to Qur’an verses who are not in the Uthman version of the Qur’an and the modern version. One of them is about the son of Adam: “... We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Sura) Bara’at (sura 9). I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: “If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust” (Sahih Muslim, 1050, Book 5, Hadith 2286). An other example of a lost Qur’an verse is Rajam, the stoning for adultery: “... Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the Verse of the Rajam (the stoning of married person (male & female) who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that after a long time has passed, somebody will say, 'By Allah, we do not find the Verse of the Rajam in Allah's Book,' and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation which Allah has revealed. ” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 817).

f. Modern version of the Qur’an

Modern edition of the Qur’an became available in 1923 by king Fuad I of Egypt [7]. This is the largest Qur’an version distribution in the world today, sometimes called “Egyptian Standard Edition”. However, this version has been modified with several updates [8].

3. Prophecies

Some Muslims have mentioned that it is a supernatural prediction that when Muhammad as leader of the army said that God was on their side and they will win, including a call to continue fighting. Since many military leaders have said similar things it is hard to believe that this can be called a prophecy. In Qur’an 89:2, “By the Nights twice five” has been suggested by some Muslims as prophecy of ten years of persecution early Muslims had to suffer. Yusuf Ali has refuted this as a prediction, because it is related with the first ten nights of Zul-Hajj [9].

4. Science in the Qur’an

A test about agreements with scientific research. Some Muslim promoters have used so-called “cosmic verses” to prove that the Qur’an is consistent with modern science. It is an attempt to use scientific knowledge and technological activities to motivate people to obey the values of religious law (Shariah) [10]. When a claim in the Qur’an as scientific prediction is true, it should not be known in Muhammad’s time to the Arabs. However, no Muslim was able to come up with evidence that there is new content in the Qur’an that was not available prior to Muhammad's time. Some examples of science in the Qur’an, presented by Islam promoters. Qur’an 3:22, 4:40, 10:61, 34:3, 43:3 and 99:7-8 – Qur’an predicted atoms. However, the Qur’anic word "mithqalatharratin" doesn’t mean “atom’s weight”, but (young) small ants [11]. Qur’an 21:30 – Big Bang prediction, but the verse mentions that the unbelievers saw the heavens and earth being joined together. It is a scientific contradiction that humans preceded the creation of the entire universe. Qur’an 86:6-7 – Scientific correct description about modern embryology. However, all knowledge came from existing science in the time of Muhammad. In Qur’an 86:6-7 is a copy of the theory of Hippocrates, who believed that sperm originated between a man's spine and ribs [12]. Modern science says that semen comes from the male genitalia. We can distinguish real science from non-science by performing validation. The Muslim physicist Hoodboy says of Islamic science that the demon of fanaticism sleeps a little, and always with the sword in hand [13].

5. Integrity

a. Repetition

The Qur’an contains many verses with similar text. Some chapters have many repetitions of verses and many of them in chapters 14, 30, 50 and 77 [14]. Muslim scholars give the reason for the repetition that it is to be remembered. However, the early Muslims memorized the entire Qur’an. The stories of the prophets are repeated in pieces in more than one surah. If the structure of the book were well organized in subject categories, the size of the Quran would be much smaller. With modern search technology, Muslims are more confronted with the phenomenon of repetition. Examples of repetitions: Qur’an 2:62 and 5:69, Qur’an 16:43 and 21:7, Qur'an 3:49 and 5:110.

b. Deletions and additions

There are inconsistent messages in the Qur’an. There is a command to stone adulterers, but the penalty is reduced to 100 strokes in Qur’an 24:2. Muhammad’s mind was blinded by adding two verses to the Qur’an in a way that he thought they were divine: “Indeed they are the high cranes (high maidens) and indeed their intercession is to be desired” [15]. The people of the Quraysh tribe had received the verses with joy, because they were about their deities Allat, al-Uzza and Manat, the “daughters of Allah.” Later Muhammad became aware of his mistake, removing it because he was aware that the new revelation with the Satanic verses was a mistake. According to Muslim scholars, the first verse in the Qur´an, the Bismillah is a more recent addition.

c. Verses contradicting each other

There are many Quranic verses that are out of harmony with other verses. A few examples. Qur’an 2:256 – Tolerance in religion, but in Qur’an 9:3, support violence to become a Muslim. Qur’an 6:14 – Muhammad is the first believer, but in Qur’an 7:143 – Moses is the first believer. Qur’an 10:64 – Allah's words have not changed, but in Qur’an 2:106, 6:115, 16:101, Allah's words have changed. There are many internal contradictions in the Qur’an.

6. Mathematical patterns

a. Number 19 structure in Qur’an

Arguments that can be validated with simple arithmetic are popular with some Muslims. Dr. Rashad Khalifa tried to solve an interpretation problem of Qur’an 74:30 about the number 19 [16]. He wrote that he had done mathematical analysis and used of computers to do an analysis. But did not explain how to validate. The number 19 was presented as a amazing perfect structure in the Qur'an. But this is not connected with the message of the book, but only about an abstract structure, and therefore no evidence for a perfect or divine book.

b. Number 7 structure in Bible

As a counterexample of Dr. Rashad’s number 19 structure, the same kind of arguments can be used to prove a mathematical structure in the Bible [17]. The Bible can be tested with the number seven occurring in Genesis 1:1. According to mathematics, the statistical probability that all number 7 cases occur has the amazing 1:33 000 000 000 000 result! This is not coincidence at all. Only a Higher Power is capable to create such a verse. With this validated counter example of number 7 in the Bible a repeatable test can be done. Dr. Rashad’s example of number 19 in the Qur’an cannot be validated with a test. Therefore his Number 19 structure in Qur’an has been refuted in a rational way.

7. Contradictions between Qur’an and Bible

Many verses support the guideline that the Qur’an is a continuation of the Previous Scriptures, the Bible (such as: Qur’an 5:48, 6:20, 10:38, 12:11, 12:111, 26:156, 26:196-197, 34:6). Qur’an 41:9-12 – Creation in 8 days, but in the Bible in 6 days (Genesis 1:31). Qur’an 3:59 – Jesus is like Adam, but the Bible says Jesus is more than Adam (Matthew 1:23, 1 Corinthians 15:21-23).

Gateway to perfection in the Qur’an

Like the Torah and Psalms are a door to faith in Jesus as the Messiah for Jews, the Qur’an is a gateway to the Lord and Savior of mankind, Jesus (Qur’an 2:62, 2:82, 2:136, 5:69, 16:43, 21:7, 61:14). Did the Supreme Being make a mistake by allowing Muslims to compile an imperfect holy book? Result driven missionaries believe this is not the case, because the Qur’an suggests (Qur’an 16:125), it can be a tool in the hands of a skilled anointed worker to help a believer in the holy book of Islam to living faith in God’s Savior, who is Jesus (Qur’an 2:4, 10:94, 29:46). When a Muslim observes the miracles of living faith in the name of Jesus and notices the joy, beauty and social benefits of changed lives of people who accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior it will soften their hearts, so that the Holy Spirit can offer them something better than the Qur’an. The Qur’an is only a vague shadow of perfection (Qur’an 1:6), Jesus Christ is the perfection (John 11:25, Matthew 24:35).

Conclusion

Like anything that can be seen or touched on earth, no sacred book can pass the test of perfection in the view of a neutral reader. When the Qur’an is tested for perfection, it will fail because it was made by imperfect humans. The Qur’an has been created in a local language, has been changed in history and has shortcomings in its content. But in the eyes of a believer there is an open door and gate according to the guidelines in the Qur’an to perfection. More and more Muslims are using this path to find personal peace an certainty about eternal life [18].

Notes

  1. Mazhar Kazi, Evident Miracles in the Qur’an, Crescent, Richmond Hill, 1997, 42-43.
  2. W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, Clarendon, Oxford, 1953, 50-53.
  3. Clinton Bennett, Interpreting the Qur’an: a guide for the uninitiated, Continuum, New York, 2010, 16-19.
  4. Salomon Reinach, Florence Simmonds (tr), Orpheus, a general history of religions, W. Heinemann, London, 1909, 182.
  5. M. Rafiqul-Haqq, P. Newton, The Qur’an: Grammatical errors, 1996.
  6. Arthur Jeffrey, Materials for the history of the text of the Qur'an: the old codices, Brill, Leiden, 1937, 8.
  7. Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present & Future, Oneworld Publications, 2009, 69.
  8. Gabriel Said Reynolds (ed), The Qur'an in its Historical Context, Routledge, London, 2008, 2.
  9. Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Qur’an, Surah 89. Al-Fajr, Note Number: 6109.
  10. Bruno Guiderdoni, Islam, Contemporary Issues in Science and Religion, in: J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen (ed), Encyclodedia of Science and Religion, Macmillan, New York, 2003, 467.
  11. Edward Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 1893, Google Books.
  12. G. E. R. Lloyd (ed), J. Chadwick (tr), Hippocratic Writings, Harmondsworth, New York, 1983, 317.
  13. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science, Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality, Zed, London, 1991, 149.
  14. Ibrahimkhan O. Deshmukh, The Gospel and Islam. GLS Publishing, Mumbai, 2011, 93.

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