An Unfair Comparison
How the Bible Came To Be
“There is no reliable record” according to Thomas Cahill, “of written Hebrew before the tenth century B.C.” the principal language of the Hebrew Bible. That is well after the “resettlement of the Israelis in Canaan after their escape from Egypt.”
Therefore, according to the author of The Gifts of the Jews, “this means that the supposedly historical stories of at least the first books of the Bible were preserved originally not as written text but as oral tradition beginning with the wonderings of Abraham and ending with the resettlement of Canaan under Joshua. What we are reading are oral tales, collected and edited for the first (but not the last time) in the tenth century during and after the kingship of David.”
How and When the Koran Was Revealed
10:37 This Qur’an could never have been produced except by Allah. It is a confirmation of that [which was revealed] before it and an exposition of the Book. There is no doubt about it. It is from the Lord of the Worlds.
How Allah Communicates With Mortals
Allah usually communicates with mortals via revelations delivered by an angel, usually Gabriel, the assumed Spirit in revelation 42:52:
42:51 It is not given to any mortal that Allah should speak to him, except by Revelation or from behind a veil*. Otherwise, He sends forth a Messenger who reveals by His Permission whatever He wishes. He is, indeed, All-High, All-Wise.
42:52 That is how We revealed to you (O Muhammad) a Spirit by Our Command. You did not know what the Book is nor what is Belief; but We made it a light, by which We guide whomever We wish of Our Servants. You will surely guide unto a Straight Path;
42:53 The Path of Allah, to Whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and or earth. Lo, unto Allah will all matters ultimately revert.
* One may hear a voice without seeing the speaker, just as it happened in the case of the Prophet Moses when he suddenly began to hear a voice from a tree on Mount Tur, while the Speaker was hidden from him. Moududi
The Angel Gabriel – Messenger to the Messenger
The contents of the Koran, according to the Koran, were delivered by the Archangel Gabriel to a wealthy merchant from the Quraysh tribe of Mecca by the name of Muhammad during impressive private meetings, two of which are described here.
53:1 By the star when it goes down,
53:2 Your Companion (Muhammad) has not gone astray or erred,
53:3 And he does not talk capriciously.
53:4 It (the Qur’an) is only a Revelation being revealed,
53:5 Taught him by a mighty one (the angel Gabriel),
53:6 Possessed of steadfastness. And so he arose,
53:7 While he was on the highest horizon;
53:8 Then, he came closer and hovered around;
53:9 Coming thus within two bows’ length or closer.
53:10 Then (Allah) revealed to His servant what He revealed.
53:11 The heart did not deny what it saw.
53:12 Do you, then, dispute with him (Muhammad) concerning what he saw?
53:13 He has indeed seen him (Gabriel) a second time;
53:14 By the Lotus Tree of the outermost limit.
53:15 Close by it is the Garden of Refuge*.
53:16 As the Lotus Tree was covered by that which covers it;
53:17 His gaze did not shift nor did he exceed the bound.
53:18 He saw some of the Great Signs of his Lord.
* Moududi writes that during the second meeting “Gabriel (upon whom be peace) … appeared before him (Muhammad) in his real shape and nature.” The place where this meeting took place can only have been in heaven, or in a vision of heaven, which Moududi acknowledges is the opinion of some commentators, and is supported by an unattributed 11th century text as to what is and where is the Garden of Refuge:
There are seven gardens. The first of them is the abode of majesty and it is of white pearl. The second is the abode of peace and it is of red sapphire. The third is the garden of refuge and it is of green chrysolite (sic). The forth of them is the garden of eternity and it is of yellow coral. The fifth is the garden of bliss and it is of white silver. The sixth is the garden of paradise and it is red gold. And the seventh is the gardens of Eden and is of white pearl. This is the capital of the Garden and it is elevated over all the gardens.
At the beginning of surah 44, The Smoke and 97, The Power, Allah intimates that He sent the whole thing in just one night.
44:1 Ha – Mim.
44:2 By the Manifest Book.
44:3 We have sent it down on a blessed night. We were then admonishing.
44:4 Therein, every wise matter is determined,
44:5 As a Command from Us. We have been sending forth revelations,
44:6 As a Mercy from your Lord. He is indeed the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
44:7 The Lord of the heavens and the earth and what is in between them; if you only believe with certainty.
97:1 We have sent it (the Qur’an) down on the night of Power.
97:2 If only you knew what is the Night of Power.
97:3 The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
97:4 The angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) descend thereon by the Leave of their Lord with every Command.
97:5 It is peace, till the break of dawn.
While the proceeding verses do not mean the Koran was not sent piecemeal, it is not realistic to expect that a human being, even a human being as exceptional as the Prophet Muhammad, could memorize almost eighty thousand words in just one night. Perhaps the Night of Power refers to the entire month of Ramadan.
2:185 The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, providing guidance for mankind, with clear verses to guide and to distinguish right from wrong. He who witnesses that month should fast it. But if anyone is sick or on a journey, [he ought to fast] a number of other days. Allah desires ease and does not desire hardship for you, that you may complete the total number [of fasting days]; glorify Allah for His Guidance, and that you may be thankful.
A whole month of nights to memorize the Koran makes more sense. Then again, in another revelation, it was sent piecemeal.
17:105 We have revealed it in truth, and in truth it came down; and We have sent you (Muhammad) only as a bearer of good news and a warner.
17:106 It is a Qur’an which we have divided into parts that you may recite it with deliberation, and We revealed it piecemeal.
17:107 Say: “Believe or do not believe in it. Surely when it was recited those, who were given the knowledge (the People of the Book) before it, fall down prostrate on their faces.”
17:108 And they say: “Glory be to our Lord. Certainly the Promise of our Lord is fulfilled.”
17:109 And they fall down upon their faces weeping, and it adds to their humility.
In response to an unbeliever who would believe only if Allah would send down the Koran all at once, Allah explains why He sent it in stages, and that whoever asked that He deliver it all at once will probably be dragged faced down into Hell.
25:32 The unbelievers say: “If only this Qur’an had been sent down on him all at once.” That is how We wanted to strengthen your heart with it and We have revealed it in stages.
25:33 They never bring you any simile but We bring you the truth and a better exposition.
25:34 Those who are mustered on their faces in Hell; those are in a worse position and are more wayward.
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
A man said, "O Allah's Prophet! Will Allah gather the non-believers on their faces on the Day of Resurrection?"
He said, "Will not the One Who made him walk on his feet in this world, be able to make him walk on his face on the Day of Resurrection?"
No matter the way He sent it, the final product did not meet with universal approval.
17:41 We have expatiated this Qur’an so that they may be mindful, but it only increases their aversion.
Where the original and eternal Koran can be found as explained to sceptical Meccans, members of the Prophet’s tribe mostly, the Quraysh, the audience for much of what Allah revealed to His Messenger.
56:75 No! I swear by the falling of the stars;
56:76 It is indeed a mighty oath, if only you knew.
56:77 It is, indeed, a noble Qur’an.
56:78 In a hidden Book (“This implies a well-guarded tablet [in heaven].” Moududi),
56:79 That only the purified shall touch.
56:80 A revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.
56:81 Are you, then. regarding this discourse, dissimulating?
56:82 And do you make it your livelihood to denounce it as lies?
At the end of the surah Al-Ahzâb (The Confederates) Allah reveals that He first offered the Koran – my understanding of “the Trust” in revelation 33:72 – “to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains” but only humans were unjust and ignorant enough to accept it. A Freudian slip perhaps.
33:70 O believers, fear Allah and speak in a straightforward way.
33:71 He will set right your deeds and forgive you your sins. Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has won a great victory.
33:72 We offered the Trust to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it, but man carried it. He has indeed been unjust and ignorant.
33:73 That Allah might punish the hypocrites, men and women, the idolaters, men and women; and that Allah might pardon the believers, men and women.
Moududi writes that “Trust” means “caliphate” in trying to explain why Allah would call man ignorant for accepting the “Trust”. Dr. Mohsin Khan, for his part, argues that “Trust” means “the trust or moral responsibility or honesty and all the duties which Allah has ordained”.
That still leaves unanswered how a mountain, a planet, space could be held morally responsible.
The First Written Version of the Koran
The first written version of the Koran was begun during the reign of the first Caliph (first successor to the Prophet Muhammad) Abu Bakr.
He was prevailed upon to create a written record of what was revealed by Allah to His Messenger after, according to writer and convert Yahiha Emerick, “70 of the most prominent memorizers” had been killed during a rebellion against Islamic rule in southern Arabia. Until that time, it was felt there was no need to put anything in writing because of the tradition established by the Prophet that the Koran should be committed to memory, a tradition that endures to this day.
A scribe of Bakr by the name of Zayd ibn Thabit is said to have gathered the recollections of what the Prophet had said and these recollections became the Koran.
Paper, a Chinese invention, had just made its appearance in Arabia and it was used for the first time by ibn Thabit (and perhaps others) to write down Allah’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad. He gave his pages (there is some disagreement as to whether it was paper or parchment) in no particular order to Umar (Bakr’s successor) who gave them to his daughter and widow of the Prophet, Hafsa, for safekeeping.
Umar was assassinated and succeeded by Uthman [644-656], who, upon hearing that his armies were reading from different versions of the Koran, and that this was a cause for concern, ordered that all collections of verses, except for the ibn Thabit collection be burnt.
The version approved by Uthman, was actually completed during the reign of his successor, Ali [656-661] many years after the Prophet’s death and is most often referred to as the Uthman Codex.
A fragmented copy of what is claimed to be the Uthman Codex, dated approximately 150 years after the caliph's death, can be found in the library of the 16th century Khast-Imam Madrassa in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The manuscript is incomplete: it begins in the middle of verse 7 of the second surah and ends at surah 43:10. The manuscript has between eight and twelve lines to the page and, showing its antiquity, the text is devoid of vocalisation.
Tashkent's hidden Islamic relic, BBC News, January 5, 2006
What is believed to be an earlier version of the Koran, the Sana'a Manuscripts, was found in 1972 during renovations of the Great Mosque of Sana'a in Yemen.
17:41 We have expatiated this Qur’an so that they may be mindful, but it only increases their aversion.
When Yemeni authorities were informed that this earlier Koran contained minor but significant differences from the version that orthodox Islam maintains is the perfect unchanging Word of God, they restricted access to the more than 40,000 pieces of parchment of which only an estimated 15,000 had been reviewed by Islamic and Western scholars.
Research into the origins of the Koran, such as that conducted in Germany by Christoph Luxenberg (pseudonym), have revealed a great number of words in Aramaic and/or Syriac which would indicate that many verses may have had a Christian or Jewish origin.
Despite the very human origins of the written Koran, the Book is regarded by believers as being beyond reproach and every word the Word of God – His definitive last words.
Large portions of the Koran are meant to correct errors or re-iterate what god said in the Bible (both the New and Old Testament portions), to validate or repudiate
Justin Wintle, Christo-Judaic Beliefs and Experience.
The Koran came after the Bible, and for the believers this, and Allah's and His last Prophet’s assurances, is all the proof they need that the Koran is the more accurate record of the events and personalities that both books purport to describe, and that is how the last religion became the first religion.
Needless to say, as a committee headed by the Prophet’s former “private secretary” started compiling the Koran from the recollections of surviving memorizers, different versions of what was heard were bound to occur. The same thing happened at least once in the compilation of the first books of the Hebrew Bible, which has two versions of Creation: Genesis I and II. In Genesis I, God creates plants before animals and humans; in Genesis II, God creates Adam, then plants and animals and last but perhaps not least, Eve.
This difficulty for the transcribers in deciding which recollection of an event or what was said was the accurate remembrance may explain why different versions of the same event found their way into both the Bible and the Koran.
Also, if you are a believer, it is quite possible that for God, both recollections are true and the variations simply His way of making a point. Better for the transcribers to leave it to future scholars to sort out the different meanings, if any, and write both versions down. This is what they appear to have done.
Then again, it may have been the result of the way the Prophet made some of Allah’s Revelations known to the masses e.g. via the traditional Friday sermon. The “endless iteration” of the same story that British historian Thomas Carlyle’s complained about, with often only slight variations in each retelling, may have been parts of different sermons, or a complete homily delivered on different days; most likely Fridays. In fact revelations confirm that this was, more or less, how it was done, paying particular attention to revelation 9:127.
9:124 Whenever a Surah is revealed, some of them would say: “Who of you has this one increased in faith?” It has increased the faith of those who believe, and they rejoice.
9:125 But for those in whose hearts there is a sickness, it will add disbelief to their disbelief, and they will die while they are unbelievers.
9:126 Do they not see that that they are tried once or twice every year? Yet they neither repent nor take heed.
9:127 And whenever a Surah is revealed, they look at each other [saying]: “Does anyone see you?” Then they turn away. Allah has turned away their hearts, because they are a people who do not understand.
Moududi’s translation of revelation 9:127 and his comments:
9:127 When a Surah is sent down, they cast looks at one another, asking, "Is anyone watching you?" Then they silently slip away:* Allah has turned away their hearts for they are a people who do not understand.
This happened when the hypocrites had to attend a meeting that was specially held for the recital of some new surah. The Holy Prophet used to recite as an address every new surah before the assembly. The true believers would listen to it very attentively and respectfully. But the hypocrites, who had to attend the meeting to show that they were “Muslims”, would sit listlessly in the meeting for they had no interest in the recital. But when they would be assured that their "attendance" had been marked, they would look for an opportune moment to slip away without being seen and noticed.
Experts like Moududi, who spent 30 years writing his commentary on the Koran, and died before completing his observations, are good at finding evidence, even if most of it is hearsay, as to the why and the wherefore of such and such a revelation. But even Moududi must, at times, stretch credibility when it’s not about the why and the wherefore, but the what e.g. what is God trying to say here? An example at the beginning of surah 16, The Bees:
16:1 Allah’s Decree (Judgement Day) will be fulfilled; so do not hasten it. Glory be to Him and may He be exalted above what they associate (other gods) [with Him]!
16:2 He sends down the angels with the Spirit by His Command upon whom He pleases of His servants [saying]: “Warn that there is no god but I; so fear Me.”
Moududi’s explanation of “the Spirit” in revelation 16:2:
This means "the Spirit of Prophethood with which a Prophet is imbued in order to fulfil his Mission by word and decd (sic). The Qur'an has called this 'the Spirit' in several places, for this has the same relation to the Mission of a Prophet and his moral life, which the soul has to the physical human life. "
Moududi is not unlike so many well-meaning experts on the Koran who would have us believe that because they have spent a lifetime making sense of what unbelievers consider nonsense, that they have gained an insight into the mind of God, and now His most obscure revelations hold no secrets for them. Well, not quite.
Even Moududi will admit to being stump, which he is seldom, as when he writes about experts not being able to arrive at a consensus about revelations 89:1-5: “Much difference of opinion has been expressed by the commentators in the commentary of these verses, so much so that in respect of "the even and the odd" there are as many as 36 different views.”
89:1 By the dawn,
89:2 And by the ten nights;
89:3 And the even and the odd;
89:4 And the night, when it runs its course.
89:5 Is there in that an oath for a man of acumen?
As to his statement that: “the Qur'an has called this 'the Spirit' in several places” which he does not identify, is uncharacteristic of his attention to detail. If this is the same “Spirit” as the one you will find in our complete guide, then Moududi’s “Spirit” may actually be Gabriel, who, being an Archangel, a super angel, may have been accompanied by a retinue of lesser angels when he met with the Prophet to deliver Allah’s latest Revelations.
Did some contemporaries of the Prophet worship two gods, revelation 16:51? If so, who were these worshippers, and which two gods were the object of their devotion?
16:51 Allah has said: “Do not take two gods; He is only One God. So fear Me Alone.”
16:52 To Him belongs what is in the heavens and on earth, and to Him obedience is due always. Do you, then, fear anyone other than Allah?
If a reasoned researched opinion cannot be made to explain the meaning of God’s Words then, for some experts, the revelation must have some deeper meaning. Perhaps it is a formula. For example, Moududi’s commentary on 16:51 from my understand, would have us divide two by two (2/2) to get one, the One God (“negation of two gods by itself negates the existence of more than two gods”).
Translator Muhammad Assad offers a different interpretation:
16:51 And God has said: "Do not take to worshipping two [or more] deities. He is the One and Only God: hence, of Me, of Me alone stand in awe !" Muhammad Assad
I have digressed long enough. Apart from revelation 29:48, the repetitions in the Koran are possibly the strongest evidence that the Prophet was indeed illiterate; that in the twenty years or so in which he delivered Allah’s Revelations, he had only his memory to depend on.
29:48 You did not recite before it any book or write it down with your right hand. Then the negators (sic) would have been in doubt.
29:49 It is rather clear signs in the breasts of those who have been granted knowledge. Only the wrongdoers will deny Our Signs.
If the Prophet could not refer to previous written orations to avoid repeating himself or telling a slightly different version, then it was not the believers remembering the same things differently, when they were canvassed after the Prophet’s death as to what they heard God’s Messenger preach, as part of an effort to put together a written version of the Koran.
Witnesses to the Prophet’s homilies may have been remembering sermons on the same topic preached on different occasions.
During these sermons the Prophet may also have been interrupted by questions from his audience. I offer this opinion, not only because many revelations which begin with the phrase: “Say [O Muhammad]:” or contain the phrase, but because of revelations like the following where someone has obviously interrupted the Messenger to ask about the book of the profligate.
83:6 A Day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds.
83:7 Not at all; the book of the profligate is locked up in the Underworld.
83:8 If only you knew what is the Underworld.
83:9 A book inscribed.
Yes, I know, it could have been the Prophet Muhammad interrupting the angel Gabriel during that night’s delivery of Allah’s latest revelations.
Those who recite the Koran "in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way", a definition of babble, as some obviously did, will be severely punished.
41:26 The unbelievers said: “Do not listen to this Qur’an, but babble in reading it, that perchance you might win.”
41:27 Truly, We shall make the unbelievers taste a terrible punishment, and We shall reward them for the worst of what they used to do.
41:28 That is the reward of Allah’s enemies, the Fire wherein they shall have an eternal abode, as a reward for that they used to repudiate Our Signs.