Sunday, 21 August 2011

While the Bible is Man’s attempt to express the word of God, Islam asserts that its sacred text is the word of God, as the opening verses of chapter 43 make clear:

[43:1] Ha mim. [43:2] By the Glorious Book! [43:3] We have revealed the Koran in the Arabic tongue that you may grasp its meaning. [43:4] It is a transcript of Our eternal book, sublime, and full of wisdom.

Muslim tradition has it that the contents of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years. Mohammed memorized the revelations and recited them to his followers, some of whom wrote them out on ‘the leafless stalks of the date-palm tree’, ‘pieces of leather and hides’, and on stones. After Mohammed’s death, one of his secretaries was given the task of compiling the text of the Qur’an from those written fragments and from the verses that he and others had memorized.

With some passages committed to imperfect human memory and others written on odd scraps by people of varying literacy, the chances of the earthly Qur’an being a perfect copy of its heavenly twin are not looking good, and they are about to look very much worse.

Only a few consonants of the Arabic alphabet can be recognized entirely by their shape. The remainder have to be written with dots; otherwise, telling one consonant from another would be a matter of guesswork. For example, the Arabic equivalents of b, n, t, th and y, when written at the beginning or in the middle of a word, are exactly the same shape and it’s only the dots that differentiate them.

However, for the first two hundred years of Islam—easily encompassing the period when verses were being written down and the Qur’an compiled—dotting was scarcely used (see the above illustration for an example of the Qur’an in undotted Arabic), and it was even later that a system of writing vowels was perfected.

The absence of dots and vowels meant that reading was a matter of trial and error. That uncertainty, together with the vagaries of memory, gave rise to thousands of variations of individual verses, and even alternative Qur’ans, in the early years of Islam. To restore order, the third caliph ordered the production of a standard text and the destruction of all other texts.

What chance now of that standard text being a perfect copy of its heavenly twin? In fact, the Arabic Qur’an as it exists today is described by scholars as disordered and incoherent. It uses non-Arabic words; it has numerous grammatical errors; it contains passages that have been interpolated, others that have been revised and some that are out of context and must have been transposed; and, on average, one sentence in five is incomprehensible.

Far from being the perfect word of Allah as revealed to Mohammed, the Qur’an bears every sign of human frailty. As Professor R Stephen Humphreys said:

Islamic history has been the effort to pursue and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of fourteen centuries is effectively meaningless.


Cheradenine Zakalwe said...

Very interesting. I need to read more about the history of the Koran. There was a Martin Bright article a few years ago that was talking about some historical research that was undermining the claims Muslims made about it. It apparently provoked the anger of the Inayat Bungawala, so he must have been on to something.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

I find it a fascinating area of study, and one which typifies the gulf between the dead hand of Islam and the West’s spirit of inquiry. Muslim scholars, needless to say, accept without question that the Qur’an is the word of Allah—to do otherwise would demolish the foundations of Islam—while the Western scholars who work on the Qur’an often do so anonymously and with great caution. It’s a microcosm of authoritarianism with threats versus freedom.

Anonymous said...

Not mans "attempt", because that sounds like they did fail at it and God would never permit that!

Unlike in islam, where Allah was unable to protect his writings against the corruption of the jews and christians (what a sissy) and had to republish his evil revelation in the quran.

So, rather the Bible is the expression of Gods word, inspired by the spirit, through the human prophets, and that is a big f.....g difference.

Perhaps you are not a christian Johnny, so it may not matter to you, but it is rather important.

Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Anonymous—I know I’m treading on eggshells here and that some Christians believe the Bible is the actual word of God every bit as much as Muslims believe the Qur’an is the actual word of Allah. Personally, I rather like the definition given in—of all places—the Encyclopædia of Islam: ‘The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ’, meaning that as the Qur’an is the word of Allah made text, so Christ is the word of God made flesh.

Anonymous said...

And that is a very good definition.

My point was only that the Bible truely is the inspired word of God, but not in the slavish/islamic sense, like the quran.

Yes, yes you get it. I just like to repeat it.

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