Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Difference Between the Bible and the Qur'an (part 1)

I was recently given an article “The Difference Between the Bible and the Qur’an” which is based on a lecture by Dr. Gary Miller, a former minister who apostatized to Islam and is considered to be an apologist for the Muslim community to the west.

The article wastes no time beginning with an description of the Bible (described as a book written by multiple authors containing writing about God as well as recording words spoken by God to men, while in other places, a simple record of history) against the Qur’an (a dictation, God talking directly to man). The contrast attempts to call into question the authority of the biblical books based on authorship, genre and voice leading to this premise: The Qur’an must be the word of God because it claims to have one author and is a speech directly from God; furthermore, the Bible cannot be the Word of God because it has more than one author and only contains words about God. Is this true?

While there is an apparent difference between the authorship of the Qur’an and the Bible, the point Miller makes from the outset is a red-herring. What exactly is the point to be made concerning the number of people who wrote, the genre of what was written and the voice of the text? The best way to answer this and subsequent questions is to seek a definition: “Which Qur’an is being brought into comparison with the Bible?” I am not convinced a contrast (or comparison for that matter) can be made between the Bible and the Qur’an because it has not been made clear which Qur’an is being considered.

I have three editions of the Qur’an. The Preface of my 1934 edition of “The Meanings of the Illustrious Quran (without Arabic Text) by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (published in New Dehli), explains, “It is the duty of every Muslim, man, woman or child, to read the Qur’an and understand it according to his own capacity . . .” The dedication of “Al-Quran. The Guidance for Mankind,” (copyright 1997, published in Houston, Texas) by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik, elaborates what is to be read and understood: “The Holy Qur’an is revealed in Arabic, so the Qur’an is only the Arabic text, not its translation any other language.”

The difficulty in determining exactly what constitutes the Qur’an is clearly defined by the Muslim community. The Qur’an is an Arabic text. Anything else is not the Qur’an. Is it possible for one to read and understand the Qur’an if he or she does not read Arabic? Clearly, the answer is, “no.” The forward of the 1997 Al-Qur’an contains this paragraph, “The reader should know that given the depth and sublimity of the Qur’anic text, a literal translation into any other language is virtually impossible. The reader would agree that any translation of the Qur’an can never be equal to or be the replacement of the original, therefore, no translations including this, however accurate they may be, can be designated as the Qur’an.” (p. 15)

On one hand, our conversation about the differences between the Bible and the Qur’an must end here if one or both parties in the debate do not read Arabic and must rely on English (or some other culturally applicable) translation. The Muslim community has defined the terms. On the other hand, consider how the Bible, which makes no claims of linguistic exclusivity but appeals to a global awareness of its contents, virtually begs to be translated. We will return to this.

“The Noble Qur’an (In the English Language)” by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan (published in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1996) contains both Arabic and English text with this notation in the preface: “The Arabic text of the Noble Qur’an has been taken from Mushaf Al-Madinah Al Nabawiyyah, which has been printed by the Mujamma of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for the printing of Al-Mushaf Ash-Sharif . . . according to the instructions of the Chancellor of the Islamic University, instead of the old Arabic text of the previous print of this book [emphasis mine] which was printed in the United States and Turkey by the Turkish Calligrapher Sheikh Hamid Al-Amadi.”

Please help me understand which Arabic is one to read? Also, what do these two curious statements in the preface imply toward the Qur’an?

“There are some additions and subtractions of Chapters and Ahadith from Hahih Al-Bukhari and other Ahadith collections;” and, “As regards the old edition of this book, nobody is allowed to reprint or to reproduce it after this new editon has been published.;”

Is there a Qur’an remaining to discuss or contrast? Nevertheless, contrast we shall, examining the problem touching on the number of authors. Dr. Miller implies a difficulty in the number of authors of the biblical text against the Qur’an. His implication is an attempt to uncover apparent inconsistencies with content—there must be a problem because of so many authors.

First, we must discover who wrote the Qur’an before we can address the authorship of the Bible. Does any anyone actually “know” the author of the Qur’an, or just know “of” him, who he was? The answer to this may also be the same answer when posed against the writers of the biblical books.

Did Muhammed write the Qur’an? Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik explains why a literal translation will not serve the purpose of understanding the Divine Message. “The text of the Qur’an is a speech and an address, and was not given to the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in the form of a book.” He explains further: “Muhammad (pbuh) did not receive any education and could not read or write even his own name. Thus he was not exposed to any Jewish or Christian literature or books. He was 40 years old when chosen by Allah Almighty for delivering His message.” After describing the prophet’s public life, Malik continues, “then came the revelation of the Qur’an, a masterpiece of the Arabic language, which challenged the Arabs (who use to call the non-Arabs as ‘Ajamess, which means those who do not know how to speak) to produce ‘even one verse’ like the verse of the Qur’an.” Malik then describes the superiority of the Arabic language in the entire world.

When and where do the words of the illiterate man make it to paper and how does this make him the author? Malik explains that the prophet instructed his words to be recorded in writing; that is, Muhammad called scribes, who both wrote and recited the words of the prophet. “The prophet (pbuh) would than [sic] ask the scribe to read the portion to ensure that was what written down was verbatim word of Allah” and they would thus arrange the quotes to ensure that what was read was indeed the word of Allah (page 783). Hence, we have Al-Qur’an (literally, “the reading”) which came about by a man who did not know how to read; however, that which constitutes Al-Quran are Al-Hadith (or, “the prophet’s own words”).

Let us now contrast with the Bible, which is not one book, but a collection of 66 books. The Bible, literally, is a library of books, the book of books. Allow me to highlight that the Bible as a whole is a “collection.” Each book constituting the Bible was written by one person: the first five “books” of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy) were written by one person, Moses (who incidentally, is venerated as a prophet). The next book, Joshua, was written by one person who witnessed and subsequently penned the contents. The books Judges and Ruth, were written by one person, Samuel, a key prophet of his day.

Does knowing a person’s name make the contents reliable, or do the contents when consistent, speak for themselves? Does any anyone actually “know” the author of the Qur’an, or just know “of” him, who he was? The books of Samuel are not named for their author, but like the books of Kings and Chronicles are compiled from other sources. We don’t know who the author is, but that does not minimize the consistency or the authority of their contents. The same is true of the book of Esther, Job and many Psalms.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written by Ezra.

Psalms are another compilation as they were written by David, the sons of Korah, Asaph, Solomon, Moses, Heman and Ethan, plus some anonymous authors already mentioned above.

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and “Song of Songs” were compiled or written by one person-- Solomon, which brings up another question: would you quote someone you did not know? If not, why do we (Muslims and infidels alike) use proverbial statements with complete disregard as to their origin and if this is not a problem, why dismiss the Bible book of Proverbs?

The book of Isaiah gets its title from its single author, as does Jeremiah (who also wrote Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, and the rest of the prophets.

Though we’ve not addressed the books of the New Testament, how can the critic disagree with the use of scribes, as Paul used to pen a few of the epistles? Can it be said of Muhammad, “The greeting of Paul by my own hand which is the sign in every letter, so I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17)?

This has addressed the problem of the number of authors. Each book was written or at least compiled by one person, and knowing or not knowing a persons name does not equate a personal knowledge of the person or makes any contribution to the trustworthiness of the contents, per se. The significant feature the critic fails to consider is that each of the writers was moved by God to write as he did. If the contention is that Muhammad was moved, or “inspired” by Allah, why is it a problem for the authors of biblical books?

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