The "Miracle" of the Qur'an — The Christian Response
1. Preservation of the Qur'an?
Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, in The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, tells us that at the time of Muhammad's death the surahs (or chapters) of the Qur'an had not yet been collated. This was accomplished during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr.9
The second Caliph, Omar, "subsequently made a single volume (mushaf) that he preserved and gave on his death to his daughter Hafsa, the Prophet's widow."10 Finally, under the Caliphate of Uthman all copies of the Qur'an were ordered to be brought in and any that deviated from Uthman's text were burned.
We have no quarrel with the Islamic position that since the Recension of Uthman the Qur'an has remained intact. However, because of the destruction of all deviant copies no one can know with any certainty if the present Qur'an is exactly the same as what Muhammad gave them.
Islam teaches that the only reason Uthman had all the other collections of the Qur'an burned except his was that there were slight dialectical variations in the different texts. However, there is some evidence which tends to refute this.
First of all, it is very significant that the Qurra, the Muslims who had memorized the entire Qur'an, were vehemently opposed to the Recension. And second, the Shi'ites, who are the second-largest Islamic sect in the world, claim that the Caliph Uthman intentionally eliminated many passages from the Qur'an which related to Ali and the succession of leadership which was to occur after Muhammad's death.
L. Bevan Jones, in his work The People Of the Mosque, succinctly answers the Muslim argument for the alleged miraculous preservation of the Qur'an: "But while it may be true that no other work has remained for twelve centuries with so pure a text, it is probably equally true that no other has suffered so drastic a purging."11
2. Eloquence of the Qur'an?
Concerning the Qur'an's beauty, style, and eloquence, any unbiased reader would have to admit that this is certainly true of much of the Qur'an. However, eloquence itself is hardly a logical test for inspiration. If this were the criteria used to judge a work, then we would have to say that the authors of many of the great works of antiquity were inspired by God. Homer would have to have been a prophet for producing the magnificent Iliad and the Odyssey. In the English language Shakespeare is without a peer as a dramatist, but it would be ludicrous to say that because of this his tragedies were of divine origin. Likewise for the eloquence of the Qur'an.
But what about the consistency of the Qur'an — can it be used to show that this Muslim scripture was inspired? To begin with, it can be shown that the Qur'an is not totally consistent, but rather has some major contradictions in it.12 Even if we granted the thesis that the Qur'an was totally consistent this still would not prove anything. In an essay entitled "How Muslims Do Apologetics," Dr. John Warwick Montgomery demonstrates this for us:
This apologetic is likewise of little consequence, for the self-consistency of a writing does not prove that it is a divine revelation. Euclid's Geometry, for example, is not self-contradictory at any point, but no one claims that this work is therefore divinely inspired in some unique sense.13
And finally, what about Muhammad's alleged illiteracy? First of all, there is a good deal of evidence against it. But even if we granted the fact that Muhammad could not read or write this still would not make the Qur'an miraculous. Why? Because all Muslims know that he had at least several amanuenses or scribes: and therefore, he could easily have composed the Qur'an in this fashion. This would not be unique, as there are precedents for this. One that most people will be familiar with concerns Homer. He was blind and thus, in all likelihood, could not write. Yet he was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two greatest epics of the ancient world. In like fashion the question of whether or not Muhammad was illiterate really has no hearing on the case in question.
3. Prophecies in the Qur'an?
Can we say that Islam's vast expansion, predicted by Muhammad, is a fulfillment of prophecy? If we think this through for just a moment, I believe we can easily answer no.
To begin with, a leader promising his troops or followers a victory is not the least bit unique. Every commander or general does this in order to inspire his army and build up their morale. If they are then victorious, he is vindicated; if they lose then we never hear of his promises because they, along with his movement, are forgotten.
Also, the Muslim had several important incentives to consider while fighting to further the cause of Islam. If he died, he was promised to be allowed into paradise. If he lived and they were victorious in battle, the Muslim soldiers would divide up four-fifths of all the booty.
There is another reason why Islam initially expanded so rapidly. If we look at some of the Qur'anic injunctions about what the non-believers could expect at the hands of the Muslims, it is easy to understand why so many "submitted," as found in surah 5:36:14
The punishment of those
Who wage war against God
And his Apostle, and strive
With might and main
For mischief through the land
Is: execution, or crucifixion,
Or the cutting off of hands
And feet from opposite sides,
Or exile from the land.
The polytheists had two choices, submit or die. The Christians and the Jews had a third alternative, paying heavy tribute (Qur'an 9:5, 29).
A final point to be considered is that if the fast and far reaching growth of a movement indicated divine favor, then what about such conquerors as Genghis Khan? He consolidated the Mongol tribes and in a time span shorter than early Islam's conquered a much larger geographic area. Was his military success evidence that he was led of God? And what of Islam's own growth which was stopped in the West by Charles Martel A.D. 732) and in the East by Leo III (A.D. 740)? Does this mean that they lost favor with Allah? What of the later history of many Islamic countries who suffered the indignity of becoming colonies of the then world powers? No, we can find nothing mysterious or supernatural about Islam's amazing early growth or subsequent fall.
4. Science and the Qur'an?
A very recent Islamic polemic. The Bible, the Qur'an and Science by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, attempts to demonstrate that the Qur'an must have been divinely inspired because it allegedly states many things that were unknown in the seventh century and have subsequently become known only in our twentieth century.
In answering Dr. Bucaille it must first be pointed out that the bulk of the book does not deal with the Qur'an and science. Rather, most of it is an attempt (using the techniques of higher criticism) to disgrace the Bible. The portions of his book which do attempt to show that the Qur'an is in amazing agreement with twentieth-century scientific knowledge are very vague.
However, what if we were to grant his thesis that the statements in the Qur'an are in total agreement with modern science? Dr. Bucaille states that if this were true, then "it is unthinkable that a man of Muhammad's time could have been the author of them."15 I agree with his conclusion, assuming his thesis is true. If the Qur'an has detailed scientific statements which we have only recently discovered to be true, and yet it was written in the seventh century A.D., then it could not have been merely the product of Muhammad. But this does not identify the source of the information, it only shows that no human being could have written it without superhuman help.
If indeed the Qur'an had a supernatural origin, then we are still left with the task of finding out who its source was. Dr. Bucaille assumes that it must be God, but why? If we pause and think for just a moment, we realize that there are other supernatural beings besides God. One of these beings is referred to as Satan in the Bible, as well as in the Qur'an. The Bible tells us that he has been on the earth as long as man has, that he has powers and intelligence far superior to ours, and that be is "the father of lies" (John 8:44). To whisper some scientific facts into someone's ear would be no great feat for him. As a matter of fact the Bible says that he does appear to men from time to time: "For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). It is interesting that this is exactly the initial fear that Muhammad had the first time he heard the voice speak to him.16
5. Sources of the Qur'an
In concluding this section on the Qur'an the reader may be interested to know that many of the stories or accounts found within the Qur'an are traceable to very similiar (sometimes almost identical) stories found in pre-Islamic writings. I would direct the reader to Clair-Tisdall's classic The Sources of Islam, Rev. W. Goldsack's The Origins of the Qur'an, and Samuel M. Zwerner's Islam: A Challenge to Faith.