Grace and Truth
Good News for Muslims 1
IS THE KORAN INFALLIBLE?
CHALLENGE: Muslims do not want to memorize or recite the Bible, because they believe the Biblical books have been corrupted. The Koran, however, they do memorize and recite frequently, because they believe that it was not corrupted, and is indeed infallible. Therefore Muslims invite Christians not to trust the Bible any longer, but only the Koran. Can a Christian accept this invitation? Is the Koran really infallible?
ANSWER: Many Muslims believe Allah sent the Koran down from heaven upon Muhammad. Not a few of them imagine the Koran was given to Muhammad by an angel as a complete book. They are convinced the Koran cannot be forged, because Allah made it infallible and therefore incorruptible.
If you ask Muslim scholars about how the Koran came into being, you get a completely different picture. They teach that Muhammad could not read or write in order to prove he did not copy the Koran from Jews or Christians. In addition, they emphasize that Muhammad did not receive the Koran all at one time, but that individual sections of the Koran were supernaturally communicated to him over the course of time. These Muslims say the Koran did not exist as a book when Muhammad died in 632. Muslims who accompanied Muhammad had memorized various passages of the Koran and recorded some of it in writing on the bark of trees, on bones, or on hide of animals. Only in the year 653 did an official Muslim commission, set up by the ruler of all Muslims, compile the many available pieces of the Koran and assemble them into one normative manuscript. Following this, the Caliph Uthman commanded all competing manuscripts of the Koran to be burned. Only the version of his official commission was tolerated. Even today, Shiites argue with Sunnis over the compilation of the Koran. They quarrel with each other until today, because Shiites believe this commission left out important Koranic verses which elevated Ali, the Imam of Shiites, over against other Muslims.
In asking Muslim experts, who know the Koran by heart and were trained in the art of reciting the Koran (tajwiid), you will find that there is not just “one” Koran, but that Muslims have different Korans. These they call "readings" or "ways of reciting" (qira'aat) the Koran. For each reading of the Koran they cite a Muslim authority from the early times of Islam, whose Koran recitation is, to the present day, taken to be correct. Every reading of such an authority was attested by two Muslim guarantors each in a different way. The version of the Koran that is distributed nearly everywhere today as an Arabic book contains the reading of 'Asim (died 745) as attested by Hafs (died 796). There are, however, six other readings the Koran. One of them is the reading of Nafi' (died 785) -- as attested by Warsh (died 812) -- which is still printed today in Morocco. The other five readings are those of Ibn 'Amir (died 736), of Ibn Kathir (died 738), of Abu 'Amr (died 770), of Hamza (died 773), and of al-Kasa'i (died 804). Some Muslim scholars even accept a total of fourteen different readings of the Koran each named after its Islamic authority and respectively attested by two Muslim guarantors each in his own way. In 1988 Saudi Arabia authorized the publication of a version of the Koran in which the reading of 'Asim as attested by Hafs is printed in the center of each page, while the margins of each page show you how 19 additional Muslim guarantors have recited the respective verse (provided there was a deviation from the majority text). I have studied this edition of the Koran and seen that the meaning of different words or expressions of the Koran can change with the respective reading.
SAD NEWS: Shiites and Sunnites cannot agree as to which Koran includes all the verses sent down by Allah upon Muhammad. Furthermore there are 28 different Korans that pious Muslims routinely recite (fourteen readings, each attested differently by two guarantors). Which of these Korans is supposed to be infallible? And if a Muslim claims that all 28 are infallible, how then could the idea of infallibility still have any meaning whatsoever? Therefore I cannot believe that the Koran as a book was made infallible by Allah.
GOOD NEWS: These Islamic teachings about the Koran liberate me from my subjection to the book of the Koran in all aspects of my life. Its power over me has been broken. I am no longer bound to the Koran as a book, but can freely search for the Truth.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: It is exciting to search in museums and private collections of the world to discover how the oldest manuscripts of the Koran differ from the currently available editions of the Koran. An overview of manuscripts of the Koran from the early centuries of Islam is offered in the following book by François Déroche: The Abbasid Tradition. Qur'ans of the 8th to the 10th centuries AD (Oxford University Press 1992). A comparison reveals the following differences:
1. The Koranic manuscripts that were probably written before the year 800 were produced using a slanted way of writing (called Ma'il of Hijazi Script) in which e.g. the Arabic letter A or L is not written vertically, from up to down, as is the case in all Arabic scripts in use today, but slanted from upper right to lower left. Furthermore, many words in these oldest manuscripts lack letters that are contained in the current Koran.
2. In the earliest manuscripts of the Koran not all consonants can be distinguished from each other. The Arabic letters B, T, TH, N and Y, for example, all look identical there. Over the course of time additional signs, so-called diacritical marks, were added to the basic letters, so that the different Arabic consonants could be distinguished in written form. At first they were small dashes; and later on, after about the year 900, even as today, dots were placed over or under the basic letters, distinguishing the consonants from each other. Therefore, the texts of the earliest Korans are ambiguous in view of the Arabic consonants.
3. Only after about the year 950 were small vowel signs placed on all Arabic words in old Koran manuscripts: first they were thick dots, and later on, as today, small dashes or letters above or below the consonants. Since the meaning of a word in Arabic strongly depends on its vowels, the texts of the oldest Korans are also ambiguous in view of its vowels.
The oldest Koran known today, using the script, consonants and vowels as the present-day Korans, dates from the year 1000. It was written by the famous Baghdad calligrapher Ibn al-Bawwab. All earlier Korans differ from the present-day Koran. The graphic ambiguity involved in these earlier manuscripts is responsible for the emergence of different readings of the Koran later on.
TESTIMONY: My name is Azali and I live in Pakistan. When I was a teenager my Muslim teachers taught me the Koran was invincible, because it was sealed by Allah (it is ma'soum). In my class all the students were Muslim, except for two Christians. These I wanted to convert to Islam. Towards this end I wanted to prove to them that the Koran is stronger than their Bible. I challenged them to bring their Bible, so that they could experience that the Koran is stronger. They brought their Bible, and I brought my Koran. I believed that the Koran was indestructible, because of its sealing by Allah. Therefore, I suggested that each one should set his book on fire. The book that burns is the weaker one! So I set fire to my Koran, convinced that Allah would protect it from the flames. To my dismay, it burned immediately and was ablaze in no time. This disturbed me deeply. I then wanted to prove to the Christians that their Bible was no better and tried to set their book on fire. But no matter what I attempted, their Bible simply did not want to burn under any circumstances that day. This put me in a state of shock so that I fell unconscious to the ground. When I awoke, I believed in the truth of the Bible. My parents, both devout Muslims, were appalled by my new faith and drove me away from home. I had a difficult time afterwards, but had a deep conviction about my new faith. Later on I was able to visit a Bible School. Today I bear witness to Muslims in my own country and in the whole world by internet that the Bible can be trusted and that the Koran is not infallible.
PRAYER: Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, I am deeply moved by these truths about the Koran. I believe that you revealed yourself through your prophets and messengers. Help me to find your true Word and prepare me to accept your truth.
QUESTIONS: Why did Caliph Uthman have manuscripts of the Koran burned? How many different Korans are there today and after which Islamic authorities are they named? How does the present-day Koran differ from the earliest manuscripts of the Koran?