By Bassam Zawadi
Christians love to keep pointing out that stories found in Islamic sources could actually also be found in earlier sources (see here) and by Allah’s grace there have also been Muslims refuting these claims (see here).
I think what these Christians fail to realize is that Islam does teach that it has come to confirm the truth of the previous scriptures. Indeed, some true stories could have found their way into the Bible or other apocryphal books. There is nothing unbelievable or astonishing about that.
Take for example the argument regarding Thomas’s Infancy Gospel and how it also contains the story of Jesus in the cradle similar to the one found in the Qur’an (Surah 19:28-34). Christians object to this story because it is not found in the Bible.
In response to this we reply back by saying “lack of evidence does not necessarily imply evidence of absence”. The author of John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus did many things (possibly miracles as well) which weren’t recorded (John 21:25), therefore there is a good reason for us to believe that this miracle of Jesus was also not recorded.
I agree with John’s logic; however I don’t hold his Gospel to be authoritative.
It is very reasonable to believe that this story of Jesus did not find its way into the Gospels.
Someone might argue back that the Gospels teach that Jesus’ ministry began later in life while the Qur’an seems to indicate that it happened shortly after he was born.
Well first of all, this begs the question that whatever the Gospels have said is true.
Secondly, it would be possible to harmonize between the two if it is necessary. Perhaps, Jesus did this initially as a baby in order to vindicate his mother from the false accusations levelled against her and show that his birth was indeed a miracle from God (if you can believe that a baby can speak then why not believe in a virgin birth?) and then later on in the future Jesus began preaching full time and this is what the Gospel authors spoke about.
Also, the author of the article states:
Muhammad was about 40 years old when he received his first revelation and it took about 23 years until it was complete. But here, as a newborn, Jesus supposedly already declares: “He has given me the Book…” That is past tense. When do you think that Jesus received his book? Has he received the Book while in the womb, before he was even born?
Imam Qurtubi cites several opinions of the meaning of Jesus’ statement and the strongest one is that Jesus was intending to say that God has decreed that the Book (Gospel) will be revealed to him. So it is in the past tense in the verse since it is referring to the act of decreeing.
Similar figure of speech is found in Surah 108:1, where God says that He has given (in the past tense) the Prophet (peace be upon him) a river in heaven. Obviously, once the verse was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) he was still on planet earth and didn’t have the river in his possession. However, the verse is trying to signify the reality of Allah’s promise and decree.
Thus, logically speaking there is no reason why we should believe that these arguments are threatening to the Qur’an’s credibility.
I would like to advance three more arguments:-
1) Stating information that already exists does not imply plagiarism
Just because the Qur’an mentions stories about Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) or David (peace be upon him), which are also found in the Bible does not necessarily imply that it was copied from the Bible. It is very possible that those true stories were maintained in the Bible and the Qur’an simply came to confirm their authenticity, especially when we take into consideration that this is one of the functions of the Qur’an. (Surah 5:48)
2) How did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) Avoid Errors if He Were Plagiarizing?
If the Prophet (peace be upon him) were copying from the Bible blindly then we would expect to see that he would have also copied some of the errors in the Bible.
The Bible mistakenly calls the king that lived during the time of Joseph ‘Pharaoh’ (e.g. see the book of Genesis, Chapter 41, Verses 14, 25 & 46) while he really shouldn’t be called Pharaoh. This is because the Egyptians did not call their ruler “Pharaoh” until the 18th Dynasty (c. 1552 – 1295 BC) in the New Kingdom Period.
But the Qur’an correctly labels him only as ‘king’ (The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 12, Verses 43, 50, 54, 72 & 76) The Bible’s use of the term ‘Pharaoh’ is an anachronism, while the Qur’an’s usage of the term ‘king’ isn’t.
For an excellent online article to read on the issue please refer to the article “Qur’anic Accuracy Vs. Biblical Error: The Kings & Pharaohs Of Egypt”, available here.
The Psalmist says that nothing can escape the sun’s heat (read this), mistakenly showing that he didn’t understand the vastness of the universe and how things in the universe are not affected at all by the Sun’s heat. The Qur’an says no such thing. As a matter of fact, the Qur’an indirectly goes against this by speaking about the darkness found in the depth of the seas in Chapter 24, Verse 40. Thus, the Qur’an speaks about some places in which there is no light.
The Bible contains genealogies scattered throughout the Old Testament, (especially in books such as 2 Chronicles) which imply that the first human being was created sometime between 6,200 and 7,300 years ago (Dr. Walt Brown., In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, (7th Edition), Source).
However, this is an archaeological error since there are human fossils that predate this early date:
The fossilized skulls of two adults and one child discovered in the Afar region of eastern Ethiopia have been dated at 160,000 years, making them the oldest known fossils of modern humans, or Homo sapiens. (Robert Sanders, “160,000-year-old fossilized skulls uncovered in Ethiopia are oldest anatomically modern humans”, UC Berkley News, 11 June, 2003, Source)
Scientists have unearthed three 160,000-year-old human skulls in Ethiopia that are the oldest known and best-preserved fossils of modern humans’ immediate predecessors. (Rick Callahanm, “160,000-Year-Old Skulls Found”, CBS News, June 11 2003, Source)
Human fossils found 38 years ago in Africa are 65,000 years older than previously thought, a new study says ‘pushing the dawn of “modern” humans back 35,000 years. (Hillary Mayell, “Oldest Human Fossils Identified”, National Geographic News, February 16, 2005, Source)
However, the Qur’an and authentic hadith are silent on this issue. Surely, we would expect to have seen the Prophet (peace be upon him) copying from these genealogies since they are so scattered across the Bible.
Thus, when we investigate the claim of whether the Prophet (peace be upon him) plagiarized from the Bible or not we can see that the evidence further supports his Prophethood and does not discredit it.
Furthermore, the assertion of Judeo-Christian borrowing raises a number of questions. Jamal Badawi puts forward the following six questions:
- Why is it in spite of the abundance of historical material on Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life, and in spite of the extensive research on his life for centuries by his severe critics, that it was not possible to discover the mysterious teacher(s) through whom Muhammad (peace be upon him) might have learned all that?
- It is known that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was opposed, ridiculed and persecuted for nearly 13 years by his own contemporaries. With this magnitude of severe enemies, was it not possible for them to prove to the masses that Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) claim of revelation was sheer fabrication? Was it not possible for them to reveal and name the person whom they alleged to be the human source or sources of his teachings? Even some of his adversaries who had made this assertion, changed their minds later on and accused him, instead, of magic or being possessed by evil… etc.
- Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) was raised among his people and every aspect of his life was exposed to them, especially by the openness that characterises tribal life in the desert. How could the multitudes of his contemporaries, including many of his close relatives who knew him so well, how could they believe in his truthfulness if they had any doubt that he was claiming credit for ideas taught to him by some other teachers without bothering to give them credit?
- What kind of teacher might have taught Muhammad (peace be upon him) a coherent and complete religion that changed the face of history? Why didn’t he or they (if any) speak against the alleged student who continued learning from them, while ignoring them and claiming some other divine source for his teachings?
- How could many Jews and Christians amongst his contemporaries become Muslims and believe in his truthfulness if they knew he was copying from their scriptures or learning from their priests or rabbis?
- It is known that some of the Qur’ânic revelations to Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the presence of people. The Qur’ân was revealed over the span of 23 years, where then that was mysterious, perhaps invisible teacher of Muhammad (peace be upon him)? How could he have hidden himself for so long? Or how could Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was constantly surrounded by companions, how was he able to make frequent secret visits to that mysterious teacher or teachers for 23 years without even being caught once?
3) If It Is Good Enough To Refute The Qur’an Then It Is Also Good Enough To Refute The Bible
Christians who put forth these arguments don’t realize how self referentially incoherent their argument actually is.
The assertion that allegedly “numerous” stories in the Quran are “borrowed” from Jewish Talmudic sources and Christian apocryphal writings appears to be based on the dubious underlying presumption that similarity implies “borrowing.” For example, consider the similarities/parallels between certain Biblical stories and those found in the Near Eastern literature.
Some notable examples:
- Genesis creation story and Enuma Elish; (See here and here)
- The flood story (Genesis 6-8) and Atrahasis and Gilgamesh (See here and here)
- Israel’s ancestors and the Nuzi texts (See here)
- Biblical laws (Exodus 21-23) and the Code of Hammurabi (laws 195-214)
- Biblical texts (the Ten Commandments and the structure of Deuteronomy) and the Hittite Suzerainty treaties and Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon (See here and here)
- Book of Proverbs (22:17-24:22) and the Instruction of Amenemope (See hereand here)
The latter are undoubtedly far earlier than the Biblical accounts and both direct and indirect connections have been posited between the two. The parallels in the last example are particularly striking, with most scholars agreeing that Proverbs 22:17-24:22 and Amenemope are clearly connected in some way (reminder: Amenemope is older than Proverbs).
We can, however, be reasonably certain that Christian apologists will not conclude based on the – at times striking – similarities that the Biblical authors “borrowed” their stories from their much older Near Eastern counterparts. However, in the case of the Quran not even a slight consideration and reasonableness is granted. Indeed, how much clearer can their hypocrisy and double standards be?