Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Another Open Challenge to Muslims

The Anonymous Quran

Sam Shamoun

Liberal, critical scholarship pretty much accepts that the Canonical Gospels are all first century accounts. The following are the approximate dates that the consensus of liberal [N]ew [T]estament scholarship assign to these four NT Gospels:

Mark – 65-75 AD.

Matthew – 75-90 AD.

Luke-Acts – 80-95 AD.

John – 90-100 AD.

However, this very same liberal, critical scholarship argues that the Gospels are essentially anonymous works which were not written by eyewitnesses of Christ. Such scholarship would further discount the testimony of the early Church regarding the authorship of these Gospels, calling into question the testimonies concerning the authorship of the NT Gospels from such Christians such as Papias (c. 110-140 AD), a hearer of the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, or Irenaeus (180 AD), a second century apologist who heard from Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John.

Thus, the testimonies of men writing not long after the death of the Apostles are ignored or brushed aside for no apparent reason than that such witnesses throw a monkey wrench into the presuppositions of critical scholars who have already made up their minds concerning the origin and composition of the Canonical Gospels.   

Yet what makes this rather unfortunate is that Muslim polemicists have jumped on the liberal bandwagon in order to discredit the witness of the NT. This article is a good example.

We say it is unfortunate because these dawagandists never bother to follow through with the assumptions of such critical scholarship to see how this would affect their Islamic beliefs concerning the origin and composition of the Quran. 

In the tradition of trying to keep these Islamic propagandists consistent and honest we are going to take the same critical approach to the Gospels and apply that to their own scripture and ask them some rather uncomfortable questions. However, we are not that naïve to think that the dawagandists in question will answer with any consistency or honesty. In light of their track record we expect that they will skirt the issues and/or make up all kinds of excuses why such critical approaches to the Holy Bible should not be consistently applied to their own scripture or sources.

With the foregoing in perspective we now issue the following challenges for the Muslims, specifically the dawagandists who are repeatedly abusing liberal critical and/or anti-supernatural scholarship to undermine the inspiration and veracity of the Holy Bible. 

  • Our first challenge to the polemicists is to provide a quote from a reliable source written within 100 years after Muhammad’s death (633 AD) which expressly and unambiguously says that the Quran consists of 114 chapters, no more no less.
  • We further challenge them to cite a reference from this early period that clearly says that all of these 114 suras were transmitted through Muhammad. We want the Muslim polemicists to provide conclusive historic proofs that other messengers or prophets whose names are not mentioned in the Quran did not compose some of these suras.

The name Muhammad appears only four times in the Quran:

And Muhammad is no more than an apostle; the apostles have already passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least and Allah will reward the grateful. S. 3:144

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Apostle of Allah and the Last of the prophets; and Allah is cognizant of all things. S. 33:40

And (as for) those who believe and do good, and believe in what has been revealed to Muhammad, and it is the very truth from their Lord, He will remove their evil from them and improve their condition. S. 47:2

Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, and those with him are firm of heart against the unbelievers, compassionate among themselves; you will see them bowing down, prostrating themselves, seeking grace from Allah and pleasure; their marks are in their faces because of the effect of prostration; that is their description in the Taurat and their description in the Injeel; like as seed-produce that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, so it becomes stout and stands firmly on its stem, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the unbelievers on account of them; Allah has promised those among them who believe and do good, forgiveness and a great reward. S. 48:29

Thus, one can argue that these particular suras were transmitted through a man named Muhammad. However, this cannot be said of the entire Quran since these are the only chapters that mention this name. So the burden of proof is on the Muslims to provide early, reliable testimony that the entire Quran that they currently possess was passed on by Muhammad himself.

Moreover, there are several chapters where neither Allah nor Muhammad is ever mentioned:

The Clatterer! What is the Clatterer? And what shall teach thee what is the Clatterer? The day that men shall be like scattered moths, and the mountains shall be like plucked wool-tufts. Then he whose deeds weigh heavy in the Balance shall inherit a pleasing life, but he whose deeds weigh light in the Balance shall plunge in the womb of the Pit. And what shall teach thee what is the Pit? A blazing Fire! S. 101:1-11

Gross rivalry diverts you, even till you visit the tombs. No indeed; but soon you shall know. Again, no indeed; but soon you shall know. No indeed; did you know with the knowledge of certainty, you shall surely see Hell; Again, you shall surely see it with the eye of certainty then you shall be questioned that day concerning true bliss. S. 102:1-8

By the afternoon! Surely Man is in the way of loss, save those who believe, and do righteous deeds, and counsel each other unto the truth, and counsel each other to be steadfast. S. 103:1-3

Hast thou seen him who cries lies to the Doom? That is he who repulses the orphan and urges not the feeding of the needy. So woe to those that pray and are heedless of their prayers, to those who make display and refuse charity. S. 107:1-8

Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he! His wealth avails him not, neither what he has earned; he shall roast at a flaming fire and his wife, the carrier of the firewood, upon her neck a rope of palm-fibre. S. 111:1-5

In light of this, how do Muslims know for certain that these chapters are inspired and/or part of the Muslim scripture when they do not mention the name of the Islamic deity or Muhammad? After all, the texts themselves don’t claim to be God's revelations so why should we assume that they are? Are Muslims capable of sourcing a reliable written document composed within 100 years after Muhammad’s death by a follower of Muhammad’s companions to prove that their prophet personally transmitted these specific suras as revelations that form part of his scripture?

The problems with appealing to the Hadith collection

Appealing to the hadith collection or the sanad (chain of transmission) won’t work for several reasons. First, in the case of Irenaeus we have a reliable, unbroken chain of transmission that goes all the way back John who was an eye and earwitness of Christ. Yet Muslims still discount this testimony, which means that chains of transmission really do not hold any weight for them, unless of course it serves the purpose of defending Islam. So, then, why should we accept their chain of transmitters, especially when these chains were only compiled centuries after the death of Muhammad?    

This leads us to the second problem. The hadiths that Muslims often appeal to were written over two hundred years after the reported death of Muhammad: 

3. Collection during the 3rd Century H.: The Hadith was collected and categorized in the latter part of the third century of Hijrah resulting in six canonical collections (Al-Sihaah Al-Sittah)

a. Sahih of Al-Bukhari, d.256 A.H: 7275 (2712 Non-duplicated) out of 600,000.

b. Sahih of Muslim, d.261 A.H: 9200 (4,000 Non-duplicated) out of 300,000.

c. Sunan of Abu Dawood, d.276 A.H. 4,800 of 500,000.

d. Sunan of Ibn Maajeh: d.273 A.H.

e. Jami' of Tirmidhi, d.279 A.H.

f. Sunan of al-Nisaa'i, d.303 A.H.

The number of the Shi'a transmitters of Hadith quoted in the Al-Sihaah Al-Sittah is over 300.

Al-Bukhari, of Sahih Al-Bukhari, 194-256H

Collected the Hadith over a period of many years, having established certain strict criteria. Political times were very troublesome especially against Ahlul Bayt (during Al-Mutawak'kil's rulership), therefore Bukhari was circumspect, having mentioned less about Ahlul Bayt's narrations than others of the Al-Sihaah Al-Sittah. Of the 2210 Hadiths claimed to have been narrated from A'isha, Bukhari and Muslim accepted only 174 as genuine according to their criteria.

Muslim, of Sahih Muslim, 204-261H

It is said he was student of Al-Bukhari and 8 years younger. He differed from Bukhari in his methodology and criteria. He collected the Hadith over a number of years, having established his own criteria. Political times were less troublesome against Ahlul Bayt, (after Al-Mutawak'kil was killed by his own son), therefore Muslim narrated a large number of Hadiths about Ahlul Bayt.

Al-Nisaa'i of Sahih Al-Nisaa'i, 215-303H

Good Hadith collection, more credible. He wrote Al-Kha'sa'is book, about the eminence of Ali and Ahlul Bayt and the Hadiths about them. Al-Nisaa'i was 88 years old when in Damascus, answered about Mu'awiya by saying, “All I know is that the Prophet (pbuh) said about him, `May he be the glutton whose devouring food ever become worse'.” This infuriated Mu'awiya's sympathizers, they attacked him, trampled upon him, crushed his testicles, after which the infirm Nisaa'i was taken to Mecca where he died. He was buried between Safa and Marwa. (Collection of the Hadith by the Sunni)

As such, these sources do not count as eyewitness testimony since they are written long after the first generation of Muslims had died. Besides, not all Muslims accept the veracity of these reports since they believe that they are nothing more than forgeries written to justify certain political and theological positions and agendas (*; *; *; *; *; *; *; *; *; *; *).

Third, none of these hadith collections delineate the exact number of surahs which are supposed to make up the Islamic text or even their precise order within the codex. We will have more to say concerning this issue in the subsequent parts of our challenge.  

This leads us to the fourth problem with appealing to such narrations. If we take these sources at face value then the Quran we currently possess is not identical to what Muhammad had brought since specific narratives attest that there were various conflicting recitations and compilations of the Quran in circulation both during and after the death of Muhammad. 

With that said we invite the readers to continue reading the subsequent parts of our discussion (Part 2; Part 3; Excursus) in order to see how the Islamic sources amply testify that the Quran has suffered major textual corruptions, thereby further complicating matters for these Islamic apologists.

Note – The reason why we chose this time frame should be obvious. If we take the date assigned to our earliest Gospel, that being Mark, and the quote from Irenaeus concerning the authorship of the Canonical Gospels that leaves us with approximately 105-115 years. And yet Muslim polemicists outright reject Irenaeus’ testimony even though he had met a disciple of the Apostle John and wrote roughly 80-90 years after the composition of John’s Gospel! Consistency, therefore, demands that the Muslim dawagandists prove the Quran’s authorship and demonstrate what the exact contents of the Quran are from sources that are earlier than what we have for the authorship of the Gospels.  

Even here we are being generous since we could actually use John’s Gospel as our starting date, as opposed to Mark, seeing that it is the last of the Gospels to be written. This would require that Muslims cite from a reliable source written within 80-90 years after Muhammad’s death since this is the time which elapsed from John’s Gospel to Irenaeus’ writing on this subject. We could also use Papias’ statements concerning the authorship of Matthew and Mark as a time reference, as opposed to Irenaeus. This means that Muslims would have to provide quotes from sources written within 45-75 years (the approximate time between Mark’s Gospel and Papias’ writings) or 10-50 years (i.e., John’s Gospel to Papias) from the time of Muhammad’s death.

In fact, just to show how generous we are being here a more fair comparison would be to contrast the dates of liberal critical NT scholarship with the dates that liberal Islamic scholarship assigns to Islam’s primary sources. After all, it is more consistent to compare liberal to liberal dates (i.e. the late dates assigned by liberal NT scholars with the late dating that Islamists and Orientalists assign for the Quran/hadith/sira) as opposed to contrasting liberal NT dating with the conservative Muslim dating of the Quran and other Islamic literature.

Thus, we are being much more generous in our challenge here than Muslims are with their attacks on the Holy Bible. We are simply taking at face value the dates that conservative Islamic scholarship assigns to their primary sources without demanding that they first refute the arguments of all the critical scholars of Islamic studies who do not accept such conservative dating of the Quran.

Continue with Part 2.