Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quran’s View of the Holy Bible Revisited Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

This is a reply to Paul Williams’ assertion that the Quran does not confirm the reliability of the Holy Bible as we now possess it. Here is what he writes in response to a statement made by a Christian brother in the comments section to one of his blog posts:

Paul Williams said, on January 9, 2012 at 11:07 pm

‘the text of the Qur’an affirms the Torah, the Zobur, and the Injeel (Evangel, gospel) (all of the Injeel of the 66 Book canon, includes all of those teachings, and all of the Christian groups you named agree with all of those doctrines), then to argue against the canon for Islam makes no sense, and is not a reasonable nor logical argument.’

Oh dear how many times do I have to quote the Quran to disprove what you claim?

How does the Quranic revelation see itself in relation to previous books like the Bible?

God speaks to his prophet, Muhammad, in the Quran saying:

And unto thee O Prophet have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein.

Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee.

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life.

And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you.

Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.

(Surah 5:48)

It is ironic that Williams exhorts the Christian he is addressing to read and inwardly digest the meaning of this Quranic passage in order to learn, when it is plainly obvious from Williams’ comments that he is the one who hasn’t actually bothered to read Q. 5:48 carefully, nor has he spent considerable amount of time inwardly digesting its meaning.

In the first place, his preferred translation will come back to refute him. Williams is following Muhammad Asad’s butchering of the Arabic text:

“And unto thee [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, CONFIRMING THE TRUTH OF (musaddiqan) whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein…” S. 5:48

We see that even Asad had no choice but to translate the Arabic word musadiqqan as “confirming the truth of” since this is its meaning. Now let us see what happens when we compare Asad’s rendering with other translations: 

And We descended to you The Book with the truth, confirming to WHAT (IS) BETWEEN HIS HANDS from The Book (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi), and guarding/protecting on it, so judge/rule between them with what God descended and do not follow their self attractions for desires about what came to you from the truth, to each from you We made/put God's decreed way of life/method/law and order, and a clear/easy/plain way, and if God wanted/willed, He would have made you one nation/generation, and but to test you in what He gave you, so race/surpass (to) the goodnesses/generosity (good deeds), to God (is) your return altogether, so He informs you with what you were in it differing/disagreeing (P). Ahmed Ali

This version is the most accurate rendering of the Arabic, and we will see why shortly. Here is another:

“To you We revealed the Book with the Truth, confirming previous Scripture and witnessing to their veracity…” (The Qur’an – A New Translation, by Tarif Khalidi [Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., First American Edition 2008], p. 89; bold emphasis ours)

Contrary to Asad’s perversion of the text, the passage actually states that one of the functions of the Quran is to confirm the veracity and reliability of the sacred Scriptures which were in the possession of the Jews and Christians at Muhammad’s time. This is what the words ma bayna yadayhi (“between his/its hands”) mean, e.g. Muhammad had to testify that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures which were available to him were the uncorrupt revelations of God. 

Asad himself admits that this is the basic meaning of the idiomatic expression, ma bayna yadayhi, even though he tries his best to explain away the implications that this expression has on Muhammad’s view of the authenticity and reliability of the Holy Bible. Notice what Asad writes in respect to Q. 3:3:

3 Most of the commentators are of the opinion that ma bayna yadayhi – lit., "that which is between its hands" – denotes here “the revelations which came before it”, i.e., before the Qur'an. This interpretation is not, however, entirely convincing. Although there is not the least doubt that in this context the pronominal ma refers to earlier revelations, AND PARTICULARLY THE BIBLE (as is evident from the parallel use of the above expression in other Qur'anic passages), the idiomatic phrase ma bayna yadayhi does not, in itself, mean "that which came before it" – i.e., in time - but, rather (as pointed out by me in surah 2, note 247), “THAT WHICH LIES OPEN BEFORE IT”. Since, however, the pronoun “it” relates here to the Qur'an, the metaphorical expression “between its hands” or "before it" cannot possibly refer to "knowledge" (as it does in 2:255), but must obviously refer to an objective reality with which the Qur'an is "confronted": that is, something that was COEXISTENT IN TIME with the revelation of the Qur'an. Now this, taken together (a) with the fact – frequently stressed in the Qur'an and since established by objective scholarship – that in the course of the millennia the Bible has been subjected to considerable and often arbitrary alteration, and (b) with the fact that many of the laws enunciated in the Qur'an differ from the laws of the Bible, brings us forcibly to the conclusion that the “confirmation” of the latter by the Qur'an can refer only to the basic truths still discernible in the Bible, and not to its time-bound legislation or to its present text - in other words, a confirmation of whatever was extant of its basic teachings at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an: and it is this that the phrase ma bayna yadayhi expresses in this context as well as in 5:46 and 48 or in 61:6 (where it refers to Jesus' confirming the truth of "whatever there still remained [i.e., in his lifetime] of the Torah”). (Bold and capital emphasis ours)

Since the only Scriptures which these communities possessed at Muhammad’s time were the books of the Old and New Testaments respectively, this means that part of Muhammad’s mission was to bear witness that these are the revelations which God has sent down and preserved. This, perhaps, explains why we find the following version of the Quran translating Torah as Old Testament and Injil as New Testament:  

And how (do) they ask you to judge/rule, and at them (is) the Torah/OLD TESTAMENT, in it (is) God's judgment/rule, then they turn away from after that, and those are not with the believing. That We descended the Torah/OLD TESTAMENT, in it (is) guidance and light, the prophets those who submitted/surrendered, judge/rule with it, to those who guided/Jews, and the knowledgeable Lord worshippers, and the religious scholars with what they memorized/safe kept (learned) from God's Book, and they were not on it witnessing/present; so do not fear the people and fear Me, and do not buy/volunteer with My signs/verses a small price, and who does not judge/rule with what God descended, so those, they are the disbelievers. And We wrote/decreed on them in it, that the self (is) with the self, and the eye (is) with the eye, and the nose (is) with the nose, and the ear (is) with the ear, and the tooth (is) with the tooth, and the wounds/cuts (are) equal revenge/punishment equal to crime, so who gave charity (forgave) with it, so it is cover/substitution for him, and who does not judge/rule with what God descended, so those, those are the unjust/oppressors. And We sent after (following) on their tracks with Jesus, Mary's son confirming for what (is) BETWEEN HIS HANDS from the Torah/OLD TESTAMENT (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi mina al-tawrati), and We gave him the NEW TESTAMENT/BIBLE in it (is) guidance and light, and confirming to what (is) BETWEEN HIS HANDS from the Torah/OLD TESTAMENT (wa musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi mina al-tawrati), and guidance and a sermon/advice/warning to the fearing and obeying. And the NEW TESTAMENT'S/BIBLE'S people should judge/rule with what God descended in it, and who does not judge/rule with what God descended, so those, they are the debauchers. S. 5:43-47 Ahmed Ali 

Asad himself translated the word Kitab as Bible and Torah as Old Testament:

“And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort THE BIBLE with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from THE BIBLE, the while it is not from THE BIBLE…” S. 3:78

“O followers OF THE BIBLE!… O followers OF THE BIBLE!…” S. 5:15, 19

“… And so We have cast enmity and hatred among the followers OF THE BIBLE… If the followers OF THE BIBLE would but attain to [true] faith and God-consciousness, we should indeed efface their [previous] bad deeds, and indeed bring them into gardens of bliss; S. 5:64-65

Say: "O followers OF THE BIBLE! You have no valid ground for your beliefs unless you [truly] observe the Torah and the Gospel, and all that has been bestowed on you by your Sustainer!" S. 5:68

“THE FOLLOWERS of THE OLD TESTAMENT demand of thee [O Prophet] that thou cause a revelation to be sent down to from heaven…” S. 4:153

The following Muslim translators did the same thing:

We had Jesus, the son of Mary, follow in their footsteps in order to confirm what had come before him from the Torah and We gave him the Gospel which contains guidance and Light, to confirm what he already had in the Old Testament (al-Taurat), and as guidance and a lesson for those who do their duty. S. 5:46 T.B. Irving (*)

“God has bought up their persons and their property from believers, so they may have the Garden [instead). They fight for God's sake; they kill and are killed as a rightful promise from Him [to be found] in the Old Testament (al-Taurat), the Gospel and the Quran. Who is more Trustworthy with His word than God?...” S. 9:111 Irving

So Jesus the son of Mary said: "Children of Israel, I am God's messenger to you, confirming whatever came before me in the Testament (al-Taurat) and announcing a messenger coming after me whose name will be Ahmad." Yet when he brought them explanations, they said: "This is sheer magic!" S. 61:6 Irving

Those who are laden with the Old Testament (al-Taurat), yet do not carry it out may be compared to a donkey who is carrying scriptures. S. 62:5 Irving

“Those to whom We have given the Book (BIBLE)…” S. 2:146 Muhammad Sarwar (*)

“Believers, have faith in God and His Messenger, the Book which is revealed to him, and THE BIBLE which has been revealed before. Whoever refuses to believe in God, His angels, Books, Messengers and the Day of Judgment, has gone far away from the right path. S. 4:136 Sarwar

“… who have no relation with you and who distort certain words of THE BIBLE…” S. 5:41 Sarwar

“… Those to whom We have given THE BIBLE know that the Quran has been revealed to you from your Lord in all Truth…” S. 6:114 Sarwar

"… This confirms the existing Book (THE BIBLE) and explains itself…" S. 10:37 Sarwar

"(Some of) the followers of THE Bible believe in the Quran." S. 28:52

“The unbelievers have said, ‘We shall never believe in this Quran nor in THE BIBLE…’” S. 34:31

“… so that they will not be like the followers of THE BIBLE who lived before them…” S. 57:16 Sarwar

“… so that the followers of THE BIBLE will know that they can receive no reward from God…” S. 57:29 Sarwar

This serves to put to rest Williams’ assertion elsewhere that the Gospel which the Quran has in mind is not the same as the four canonical Gospels: 

It is important to bear in mind that the Gospel frequently mentioned in the Qur’an is not identical with what is known today as the Four Gospels, but refers to an original, since lost, revelation bestowed upon Jesus and known to his contemporaries under its Greek name of Evangelion (“Glad Tidings”), on which the Arabicized form Injil is based. It was probably the source from which the Synoptic Gospels derived much of their material and some of the teachings attributed to Jesus. (Judging by the Injil)

This further confirms that Williams has not inwardly digested the implications of the Quranic teaching concerning the status of the previous Scriptures. Since the Quran itself says that it was “sent down” to testify to the reliability and inspiration of those Scriptures that the Jews and Christians possessed at that very time then this proves that it cannot be referring to a lost Gospel, but must have in mind the very Gospels that are found in the New Testament.

This, again, explains why the following Muslim rendered the words Torah as Old Testament and Injil as New Testament/Bible: 

He descended on you The Book with the truth, confirming to what (is) BETWEEN HIS HANDS (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi), and He descended the Torah and the New Testament/Bible. From before guidance to the people, and He descended the Separator of Right and Wrong/Koran, that those who disbelieved with God's verses, for them (is) a strong (severe) torture, and God (is) glorious/mighty, (owner) of a revenge/punishment. S. 3:3-4 Ahmed Ali 


“Those who follow the messenger, the prophet the illiterate/belonging to a nation, whom they find him written at them in the Torah/OLD TESTAMENT, and the NEW TESTAMENT/BIBLE…” S. 7:157 Ahmed Ali 

In fact, one of the earliest sources on the life of Muhammad even goes so far as to identify John’s Gospel as the written record of the very Gospel which God gave Jesus to pass on to his followers!

“Among the things which have reached me about what Jesus the Son of Mary stated in the Gospel which he received from God for the followers of the Gospel, in applying a term to describe the apostle of God, is the following. It is extracted FROM WHAT JOHN THE APOSTLE SET DOWN FOR THEM WHEN HE WROTE THE GOSPEL FOR THEM FROM THE TESTAMENT OF JESUS SON OF MARY: ‘He that hateth me hateth the Lord. And if I had not done in their presence works which none other before me did, they had not sin: but from now they are puffed up with pride and think that they will overcome me and also the Lord. But the word that is in the law must be fulfilled, "They hated me without a cause" (i.e. without reason). But when the Comforter has come whom God will send to you from the Lord's presence, and the spirit of truth which will have gone forth from the Lord's presence he (shall bear) witness of me and ye also, because ye have been with me from the beginning. I have spoken unto you about this that ye should not be in doubt.’

“The Munahhemana (God bless and preserve him!) in Syriac is Muhammad; in Greek he is the paraclete. (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], pp. 103-104; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The above Muslim biographer quotes John 15:23-16:1 and says that it is taken from the Gospel of Christ which John wrote down for Jesus’ followers! And do notice that he never once states that this particular Gospel is corrupt or unreliable.

What makes this rather ironic is that this is the very Gospel which Williams is constantly attacking, even going so far as to misquote conservative scholars in order cause people to doubt its historical credibility!

This ends the first part of our reply. Time to move on to the second part.