Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quran’s View of the Holy Bible Revisited Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

This continues our examination of William’s misrepresentation of what the Quran actually teaches concerning the veracity of the Holy Bible.

The second problem with Williams’ appeal to Asad’s perversion of Q. 5:48 is that it ignores the immediate context of the passage which explains what is meant by the Quran coming to confirm and safeguard the Scriptures before it. Here is the immediate context, once again, in order to help the readers follow along with our exegesis:

Yet how will they make thee their judge seeing THEY HAVE the Torah, wherein is God's judgment, then thereafter turn their backs? They are not believers. Surely We sent down the Torah, wherein is guidance and light; thereby the Prophets who had surrendered themselves gave judgment for those of Jewry, as did the masters and the rabbis, following such portion of God's Book as they were given to keep and were witnesses to. So fear not men, but fear you Me; and sell not My signs for a little price. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down - they are the unbelievers. And therein We prescribed for them: 'A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation'; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down -- they are the evildoers. S. 5:43-45

The Quran here is rebuking the Jews for consulting Muhammad for his ruling concerning a matter and actually commands them to turn to the Torah, the Book of God, since it contains God’s judgment. It then goes on to quote a verse from that very Torah which Muhammad had access to, a passage which can still be found today:

“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:23-25

Hence, this shows that Muhammad thought that the Torah in the possession of the Jews was reliable enough to judge by, a fact confirmed by the following lengthy commentary:

“… It was reported that this part of the Ayah was revealed about some Jews who committed murder and who said to each other, ‘Let us ask Muhammad to judge between us, and if he decides that we pay the Diyah, accept his judgement. If he decides on capital punishment, do not accept his judgement.’ The correct opinion is that this Ayah was revealed about the two Jews who committed adultery. The Jews changed the law they had in their Book from Allah on the matter of punishment for adultery, from stoning to death, to a hundred flogs and making the offenders ride a donkey facing the back of the donkey. When this incident of adultery occurred after the Hijrah, they said to each other, ‘Let us go to Muhammad and seek his judgement. If he gives a ruling of flogging, then implement his decision and make it a proof for you with Allah. This way, one of Allah's Prophets will have upheld this ruling amongst you. But if he decides that the punishment should be stoning to death, then do not accept his decision.’ There are several Hadiths mentioning this story. Malik reported that Nafi` said that `Abdullah bin `Umar said, ‘The Jews came to Allah's Messenger and mentioned that a man and a woman from them committed adultery. Allah’s Messenger said to them…

<<What do find of the ruling about stoning in the Tawrah>> They said, “We only find that they should be exposed and flogged.” `Abdullah bin Salam said, “You lie. The Tawrah mentions stoning, so bring the Tawrah.” They brought the Tawrah and opened it but one of them hid the verse about stoning with his hand and recited what is before and after that verse. `Abdullah bin Salam said to him, “Remove your hand,” and he removed it, thus uncovering the verse about stoning. So they said, “He (`Abdullah bin Salam) has said the truth, ‘O Muhammad! It is the verse about stoning.’ The Messenger of Allah decided that the adulterers be stoned to death and his command was carried out. I saw that man shading the woman from the stones with his body.”’ Al-Bukhari and Muslim also collected this Hadith and this is the wording collected by Al-Bukhari. In another narration by Al-Bukhari, the Prophet said to the Jews…

<<What would you do in this case?>> They said, ‘We would humiliate and expose them.’ The Prophet recited…

<<Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.>> So they brought a man who was blind in one eye and who was respected among them and said to him, ‘Read (from the Tawrah).’ So he read until he reached a certain verse and then covered it with his hand. He was told, ‘Remove your hand,’ and it was the verse about stoning. So that man said, ‘O Muhammad! This is the verse about stoning, and we had hid its knowledge among us.’ So the Messenger ordered that the two adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. Muslim recorded that a Jewish man and a Jewish woman were brought before Allah's Messenger because they committed adultery. The Messenger of Allah went to the Jews and asked them…

<<What is the ruling that you find in the Tawrah for adultery?>> They said, ‘We expose them, carry them (on donkeys) backwards and parade them in public.’ The Prophet recited…

<<Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.>> So they brought the Tawrah and read from it until the reader reached the verse about stoning. Then he placed his hand on that verse and read what was before and after it. `Abdullah bin Salam, who was with the Messenger of Allah , said, ‘Order him to remove his hand,’ and he removed his hand and under it was the verse about stoning. So the Messenger of Allah commanded that the adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. `Abdullah bin `Umar said, ‘I was among those who stoned them and I saw the man shading the woman from the stones with his body.’ Abu Dawud recorded that Ibn `Umar said, ‘Some Jews came to the Messenger of Allah and invited him to go to the Quff area. So he went to the house of Al-Midras and they said, “O Abu Al-Qasim! A man from us committed adultery with a woman, so decide on their matter.” They arranged a pillow for the Messenger of Allah and he sat on it and said…

<<Bring the Tawrah to me.>> He was brought the Tawrah and he removed the pillow from under him and placed the Tawrah on it, saying

<<I TRUST YOU and He Who revealed it to you.>> He then said…

<<Bring me your most knowledgeable person.>> So he was brought a young man…’ and then he mentioned the rest of the story that Malik narrated from Nafi`. These Hadiths state that the Messenger of Allah issued a decision that conforms with the ruling in the Tawrah, not to honor the Jews in what they believe in, for the Jews were commanded to follow the Law of Muhammad only. Rather, the Prophet did this because Allah commanded him to do so. He asked them about the ruling of stoning in the Tawrah to make them admit to what the Tawrah contains and what they collaborated to hide, deny and exclude from implementing for all that time. They had to admit to what they did, although they did it while having knowledge of the correct ruling…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 5:41; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Here we not only have Muhammad judging the Jews according to their own copy of the Torah we also find him praising it by testifying that he believes in it and the God who revealed it! This clearly is not the actions of a man who thought that the Holy Bible was corrupted.

In fact, many Muslim scholars appealed to this very hadith to establish that the text of the Torah has never been changed:

On the other side, another party of hadith and fiqh scholars said: these changes took place during its interpretation and not during the process of its revelation. This is the view of Abi Abdullah Muhammad bin Ishmael Al-Bukhari who said in his hadith collection:

“No one can corrupt the text by removing any of Allah’s words from his Books, but they corrupted it by misinterpreting it.”

Al-Razi also agrees with this opinion. In his commentary he said:

"There is a difference of opinions regarding this matter among some of the respectable scholars. Some of these scholars said: the manuscript copies of the Torah were distributed everywhere and no one knows the exact number of these copies except Allah. It is impossible to have a conspiracy to change or alter the word of God in all of these copies without missing any copy. Such a conspiracy will not be logical or possible. And when Allah told his messenger (Muhammad) to ask the Jews to bring their Torah and read it concerning the stoning command they were not able to change this command from their copies, that is why they covered up the stoning verse while they were reading it to the prophet. It was then when Abdullah Ibn Salam requested that they remove their hand so that the verse became clear. If they have changed or altered the Torah then this verse would have been one of the important verses to be altered by the Jews.

"Also, whenever the prophet would ask them (the Jews) concerning the prophecies about him in the Torah they were not able to remove them either, and they would respond by stating that they are not about him and they are still waiting for the prophet in their Torah."

Abu Dawood narrated in his collection that Ibn Umar said:

A group of Jewish people invited the messenger of Allah to a house. When he came, they asked him: O Abu Qassim, one of our men committed adultery with a woman, what is your judgment against him? So they placed a pillow and asked the messenger of Allah to set on it. Then the messenger of Allah proceeded to say: bring me the Torah. When they brought it, he removed the pillow from underneath him and placed the Torah on it and said: I BELIEVE IN YOU AND IN THE ONE WHO REVEALED YOU, then said: bring me one of you who have the most knowledge. So they brought him a young man who told him the story of the stoning.

The scholars said: if the Torah was corrupted he would not have placed it on the pillow and he would not have said: I believe in you and in the one who revealed you.

This group of scholars also said: Allah said:

"And the word of your Lord has been accomplished truly and justly; there is none who can change His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing." (Q. 6:115)

And the Torah is Allah’s word. (Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Ighathat Al Lahfan, Volume 2, p. 351)

Pay attention to the fact that these Muslim authorities also used Q. 6:115 to further prove that the Torah has never been corrupted. Notice, again, what that reference says in context:

Say: “Shall I seek for judge other than God? – when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail.” They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. S. 6:114-115 Y. Ali

In light of what the passage states concerning the incorruptibility of God’s words we can see why the Muslims appealed to this to confirm their position. Their logic goes something like this: 

A. No one is able to change the words of God.

B. The Torah (and by extension the Gospel and the rest of the Scriptures) is (are) God’s Word(s).

C. Therefore, no individual can ever change or corrupt the text of the Torah (or the other Scriptures for that matter).

Surah 5 goes on to say that Jesus himself was sent with the Gospel to confirm the Torah which he had access to:

And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that is between his hands (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi mina al-tawrat) and We gave to him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and confirming the Torah that is between his hands (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi mina al-tawrat), as a guidance and an admonition unto the godfearing. S. 5:46

Fortunately we are in a position to know what the Torah which Jesus came to confirm looked like. As a result of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, along with Jesus' extensive use of the OT Scriptures as documented in the Canonical Gospels, we know that the Scriptures that he was reading and confirming to be from God are the very same Books that we have today. This simply provides further evidence that Muhammad actually believed that the Torah has not been corrupted since he claimed that Jesus himself was sent to confirm the authority of the same Scriptures that he himself had access to.

Thus, if the Quran is right then both Williams and his authority (Asad) are blatantly wrong since the Torah remains in its uncorrupt textual form as the manuscript tradition and the testimony of both Jesus and Muhammad establish. But if they are right then they are simply proving that the Quran is wrong, and both Jesus and Muhammad were in error for mistakenly thinking that the Torah which they possessed was the uncorrupt revelation that God gave to his people.

The Quran then says that the Christians of Muhammad’s day were expected to judge by the very same Gospel which was given to Jesus:

Let, then, the followers of the Gospel judge in accordance with what God has revealed THEREIN: for they who do not judge in the light of what God has bestowed from on high - it is they, they who are truly iniquitous! S. 5:47 Asad

Now this creates a problem for Williams. How could the Christians be expected to judge by the Gospel of Jesus if, as Williams claims, it had been lost? More importantly, why in the world would Allah commanded Christians to judge by the Gospel which they possessed if such a source was corrupted and unreliable? What kind of guidance could such a corrupted document provide?

With the foregoing in perspective we can now turn to Q. 5:48 and better understand the point that this passage is trying to make:

And We have sent down to thee the Book with the truth, confirming the Book that is between his hands and preserving/witnessing/testifying to it (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi mina al-kitabi wa-muhaiminan alayhi). So (Muhammad) judge between them ACCORDING TO WHAT ALLAH HAS SENT DOWN, and do not follow their caprices, to forsake the truth that has come to you. To every one of you We have appointed a right way/law and an open road (shiraatan wa-minhajan). If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation; but that He may try you in what has come to you. So strive in a race in good deeds; unto Allah shall you return, all together; and He will tell you of that whereon you were at variance. And (Muhammad) judge between them according to what Allah has sent down, and do not follow their caprices, and beware of them lest they tempt you away from any of what Allah has sent down to you. But if they turn their backs, know that Allah desires only to smite them for some sin they have committed; surely, many men are ungodly. S. 5:48-49

After informing the Jews and Christians that they had to judge by their own respective Scriptures, Muhammad then turns his attention to his own community and informs them that they were expected to follow the guidance of the Quran. Muhammad then follows this up with the statement that Allah has prescribed to each people their own respective way and legislation.

When we therefore take all of these points into consideration it seems reasonably certain that Muhammad’s point was that, as far as his community is concerned, they would continue to follow those commands of the Holy Bible which had not been abrogated by the Quran. Muhammad was basically claiming that the Muslim scripture is the guidance which tells his followers what judicial aspects or commands of the previous Scriptures are still binding upon them and which particular Biblical directives have been replaced by specific Quranic injunctions.

This is pretty much what Muhammad meant by his assertion that the Quran functions as a guardian over the previous Scriptures, e.g. his book contains within itself all of the Biblical commands that still remain valid for the Muslim community to follow.

This interpretation of the Arabic word muhaimin is reflected in the following Quranic versions:

"… It confirms the (original) Bible and has the authority to preserve or abrogate what the Bible contains…" Muhammad Sarwar

"… confirming previous scriptures, and superseding them…" Rashad Khalifa

"… authenticating what is present of the Scripture and superseding it…" The Message

As a last act of desperation, Williams’ appeals to Q. 5:14 to prove the Gospel had been lost and forgotten!

Here is what that passage actually says:

And [likewise,] from those who say, "Behold, we are Christians." We have accepted a solemn pledge: and they, too, have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind - wherefore We have given rise among them to enmity and hatred, [to last] until Resurrection Day: and in time God will cause them to understand what they have contrived.

Now notice the contradiction between William’s interpretation of this text with the following verse that appears a little later in the same surah:

And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus son of Mary, confirming the Torah before him and We gave to him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and confirming the Torah before it, as a guidance and an admonition unto the godfearing. So let the People of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down therein. Whosoever judges not according to what God has sent down -- they are the ungodly. S. 5:46-47 Arberry

Here Allah commands the Christians of Muhammad’s time to judge by the Gospel given to Jesus. However, it seems that Allah must have forgotten (pun intended) what he had just said about the Christians forgetting part of the covenant given to them, which William’s takes to mean that they no longer had access to the Gospel of Christ. How, then, could Allah expect them to judge by a Gospel which no longer existed?

It is obvious what Q. 5:14 is trying to say to anyone who has carefully read and inwardly digested its meaning. By forgetting, Muhammad was accusing the Christians of ignoring or setting aside the obligations set forth in their respective Scriptures. He was not claiming that they no longer had access to those revelations.  

Lastly, what makes William’s distortion of the Quranic witness to the authenticity of the Holy Bible rather remarkable is that the Quran testifies to its own textual corruption!

(Of just such wrath) as We sent down on those who divided (Scripture into arbitrary parts), - (So also on such) AS HAVE MADE THE QUR’AN INTO SHREDS (as they please). S. 15:90-91 Y. Ali

Here is how another version translates this text:

As We sent down (Our curse and disagreement) on those who divided (the Scripture out of their own whims into equal parts and thus mutilated the integrity of its Surahs)—those who made Al-Quran into (thirty or sixty equal) parts (on the basis of the thickness of volume, completely disregarding the subject matter and the divisions sanctioned by the Divine Author). Dr. Kamal Omar 

It is thus clear that, according to this reference, the words of the Quran were being changed even during Muhammad’s lifetime! As the late Islamic Scholar Alphonse Mingana explained:

“Finally, if we understand correctly the following verse of Suratul-Hijr (xv. 90-91): 'As we sent down upon (punished) the dividers (of the Scripture?) who broke up the Koran into parts,' we are tempted to state that even when the Prophet was alive, some changes were noticed in the recital of certain verses of his sacred book. There is nothing very surprising in this fact, since Muhammad could not read or write, and was at the mercy of friends for the writing of his revelations, or, more frequently, of some mercenary amanuenses.” (Mingana, "Three Ancient Korans", The Origins of the Koran – Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq [Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 1998], p. 84; bold emphasis ours)

Now watch Williams try to come up with a convenient explanation in order to avoid accepting the plain and literal meaning of this text which emphatically testifies to the textual corruption of the Quran.

Yet imagine what he would do if this passage was actually referring to the Holy Bible! I have no doubt that he would be using it to beat Christians over the head in order to convince them that Muhammad expressly taught that the text of the Holy Bible has been changed!

For more evidence proving that the text of the Quran has been corrupted we recommend reading the material found in the section on Textual Variants of the Qur’an.

We also suggest the following articles:

The Quran Testifies To Its Own Textual Corruption
The Irreparable Loss of Much of the Quran
Challenge to the Muslims Concerning the Quran [Part 2], [Part 3], [Excursus]

We conclude with a brief summary of the meaning of Q. 5:48 within its immediate context:

  1. The Jews have the Torah which contains God’s judgment. They are therefore expected to follow the injunctions contained in their Scripture, since it is a guidance and light, as opposed to turning to Muhammad for decision.
  2. The Torah, which is called Allah’s Book, was used by the prophets, rabbis and scholars to judge their respective communities. The point here is that if the Torah was good enough for the prophets to judge by then surely it is good enough for the Jews to use to decide and judge matters.
  3. Jesus came confirming the Torah that was in his possession and was given the Gospel which also confirmed the Torah.
  4. Christians are exhorted to judge by the Gospel which God gave to Jesus since it contains guidance and light.
  5. The Quran came down confirming the previous Scriptures which Muhammad had access to, and is to be used to judge matters.
  6. It is in this context that the Quran says that Allah has prescribed to each people a law, a way, and an open path.

As such, the last thing on Muhammad’s mind when he composed this verse was textual corruption of the Holy Bible.

This now places Williams in a dilemma. If Williams continues to believe that the Bible has been corrupted then he has to conclude that Muhammad was wrong, and therefore a false prophet, since he believed otherwise. Yet if he agrees with his prophet that the Holy Bible is the uncorrupt Word of God then Williams must again accept the fact that Muhammad was a false apostle since the latter contradicted the essential core doctrines taught within the inspired pages of God’s true Word, i.e. the Deity of Christ, the blessed Trinity, the vicarious death and physical, bodily resurrection of Christ etc.

With that said, we now end our discussion with the following advice to Williams: Read. Inwardly digest. Learn.

Related Articles

How does Islam view the Bible?
The incorruptibility of Allah’s words and the charge of Biblical corruption
God's Words Can Never Be Changed
The Words of God Are Unchangeable! [Part 1], [Part 2]
Muhammad and His Prophethood: Reexamining Some of the Reasons Why He cannot be a true Prophet of God - Part 2