The Quran—The Scriptures of Islam

In the Islamic world, reverence for the Quran is deep and abiding. The Quran is held in the highest esteem in every Muslim household, often called the “Mother of Books.” Its importance is emphasized from birth to death, as it is the first and last recitation for many Muslims. Verses from the Quran are often engraved on the walls of Muslim homes, serving as a constant reminder of its importance. In addition, it serves as a primary educational tool for Muslim children, instilling the teachings of Islam from an early age. The Quran is handled with great care and reverence by Muslims. Before touching it, Muslims typically purify themselves by ritual washing. 

Daily recitation is common practice, with some Muslims devoting themselves to becoming skilled reciters. Such reciters view their efforts as an art form; they add inflections so that each verse rings out with a musical quality.[1]

Memorizing the Quran is considered a virtuous act. Those who memorize parts of the Quran are held in highest esteem. Pious Muslims try to read one-thirtieth of the Quran every night. In this way, they can complete the Quran every month.[2] Daily recitation of the Quran is believed to ward off evil influences.[3]

In times of war and conflict, Muslims often carry copies of the Quran with them, believing in its power to bring blessings and protection from Allah. It is not uncommon for Muslims to suspend a copy of the Quran from their necks as a form of spiritual amulet.[4]

Another pious practice among Muslims is the handwritten transcription of the Quran, considered a meritorious act before Allah. Throughout history, notable Islamic figures have undertaken this endeavor, further underscoring its importance among Muslims.[5]

Muslims widely regard the Quran as a miraculous wonder, unparalleled in its linguistic beauty and depth of meaning. It is said that no other holy book—indeed, no other literature anywhere in the world—can compare with it. Muslims boast that scholars unanimously acknowledge the Quran’s superiority in language, rhetoric, and jurisprudence, and its profound teachings are believed to have shaped the course of human destiny.[6]

In markets throughout Islamic territories, copies of the Quran are often not priced because their value goes far beyond money. Instead, customers are encouraged to ask the vendor for an appropriate monetary gift for such a priceless treasure.[7]

In Muslim homes, the Quran is treated with the utmost respect and never placed on the floor or in contact with anything impure. It is often adorned with a decorative cover and placed on a raised stand, symbolizing its exalted status within the home.[8]

The Last and Full Revelation to Humankind

Muslims claim the Quran is the eternal revelation of Allah, embodying the substance of all divine scriptures. Recognizing that there are differences between the Quran and the Bible, Muslims claim that the Bible has been tampered with over time and that what we now call the Bible is not the same as what was originally given to humankind. Other Muslims argue that Allah’s revelation to humanity are progressive in nature, as human beings are not always ready to receive and embrace the full extent of His Word. As a result, people have been given only what they could accept at the time. These increasingly comprehensive revelations from Allah culminated in the Quran, Allah’s final and complete revelation to humankind.[9]

Chapters—Longest to Shortest

The Quran consists of 114 Suras (chapters), arranged in order of length, with the longest chapters first and the shortest last. Non-Muslim readers are often confused because the information is organized from longest to shortest Suras; they are more accustomed to topical or chronological organization. The Quran consists of 6,247 verses and is about four-fifths the length of the New Testament. 

The Heavenly Original 

Muslims believe the Quran is a faithful copy of the original divine scripture engraved on a tablet in heaven.[10] It was revealed to Muhammad, section by section, through the angel Gabriel over more than two decades. The Quran is therefore not regarded as the word of Muhammad but as the word of Allah.  

Because Gabriel transmitted the Quran from heaven to earth in its original Arabic form, the Arabic language is considered an integral part of the Quran. Many Muslims believe that the Quran cannot be separated from the Arabic language through which it was revealed. As a result, unlike Christians who translate the Bible into as many languages as possible, Muslims have traditionally been reluctant to publish the Quran in other languages for non-Arabic speakers. 

Collecting and Compiling Muhammad’s “Revelations”

After Muhammad died in 632 A.D., there was no complete Quranic text. Muhammad had not anticipated or planned for his death. It was up to Muhammad’s followers to collect his scattered revelations. 

When Muhammad gave his revelations, his followers usually recorded them on whatever material was available, including scraps of paper, leaves, flat stones, and pieces of bone (such as camel shoulder blades). Of course, many of his followers also memorized his words. All these fragmentary records of Muhammad’s revelations had to be collected, which took time.[11] The compilation took place between A.D. 646 and 650.

About a year after Muhammad’s death, some of Muhammad’s friends, at the request of Umar (who later became the second caliph, or chief Muslim ruler), ordered the collection of the Quran, fearing that it would be lost. Zaid, Muhammad’s loyal secretary, was assigned the task. Zaid said, “During the lifetime of the prophet the Quran had all been written down, but it was not yet united in one place nor arranged in successive order.”[12] So Zaid began collecting bits and pieces of revelation in order to put together this first version.

Sometime later, during the reign of the third caliph, Uthman, it was reported to him that certain Muslim communities in Syria, Armenia, and Iraq were reciting the Quran differently from those in Arabia. This was unacceptable to Uthman. It would be detrimental to Islam if alternative versions of the Quran were widely distributed. Uthman therefore asked Zaid to oversee the production of a definitive and final authorized version of the Quran that would become the standard for all Muslims worldwide.[13] Once Zaid’s mission was accomplished, Uthman had copies of the authorized version made and delivered to Islamic educational institutions in Mecca, Medina, Basra, Damascus, and other locations. All other copies of the Quran were destroyed to ensure that the authorized text would be uncontested.[14]

The Claim of “No Variants”

Ironically, Muslims today often argue for the divine nature of the Quran based on the “absolute unity” of its copies. One Muslim claims that “the Quran is one, and no copy differing in even a diacritical point is met with in one among the four hundred millions of Muslims…. A manuscript with the slightest variation in the text is unknown.”[15]

Muslims argue that copies of the Quran maintain more unity than any other holy book. We are told, “The Holy Quran is the only divinely revealed Scripture in the history of mankind which has been preserved to the present time in its exact original form.” It is thus asked, “How can such unity be explained unless God is behind the Quran”?[16]

The Claim of Literary Beauty

Muslims also argue for the divine nature of the Quran by claiming that its style and diction could not possibly be man-made. The Quran is considered the finest Arabic poetry and prose ever written or delivered in human history.[17] Muslims argue that the beauty of the Quran is especially miraculous given that Muhammad was an “unlettered prophet” (that is, he was illiterate). 

Transformative Effect

Muslims claim that the Quran’s ability to transform the lives of over a billion people is proof that it is divine and not man-made. What human book, they ask, could have made such a significant difference in the lives of so many people worldwide? For Muslims, the phenomenal development of Islam is an unequivocal confirmation of the divine origin of the Quran. 

Consistent with Contemporary Science

Furthermore, Muslims say that the agreement of contemporary science with the Quran proves that it is a divine book. After all, a book written in the seventh century could not possibly be consistent with modern science unless God inspired it. 

Muhammad’s Predictions of Future Events

Some Muslims argue that because the Quran contains predictive prophecies that demonstrate Muhammad’s ability to perform miracles, the Quran must be a divine book. After all, how could Muhammad predict the future without God’s involvement? For example, Muhammad predicted that Muslims would be militarily victorious at home and abroad. This is literally what happened. This is claimed to establish the divine nature of the Quran. 

Changes in “Revelations”

One of the prerogatives of the Quran is abrogation, which entails replacing a previous law with a new one (Sura 16:101). This means that Allah is not bound by his previous revelations. He has the option of bringing a new revelation that completely contradicts a previous revelation. If the circumstances warrant, Allah reserves the right to cancel previous revelations and give wholly new and different ones. 

For example, Muhammad initially instructed his followers to pray in the direction of Jerusalem (Suras 2:150, 2:142). However, when the Jews rejected him and called him an impostor, he soon-after received a new revelation that Mecca was the proper direction for prayer (Sura 2:125). This change is consistent with what we read in Sura 2:106: “If we abrogate a verse or consign it to oblivion, we offer something better than it or something of equal value.” 

The Role of Islamic Tradition

As Islam spread, various situations arose among Muslims for which the Quran gave no explicit guidance. Muslims eventually turned to the traditions of Muhammad’s life for guidance. These Muslims believed that God guided Muhammad in everything he said and did. Therefore, they relied on traditions about how he lived to guide them in all aspects of life—personal, social, political, and spiritual. 

Muhammad was widely regarded as the ideal human being and thus served as a model for others. Throughout his life, Muhammad answered many questions posed to him, not through divine revelation from Allah, but simply through decisions he made on a case-by-case basis. As a result, his words and actions were considered worthy of imitation even during his lifetime. Therefore, Muhammad’s words and actions were documented and adopted as a standard of conduct alongside the Quran.[18]

Muhammad’s words and deeds are called the Sunnah (“path”) of the prophet. They are found in numerous collections of Hadith (“traditions”) that have accumulated over time. Scholar Gerhard Nehls says, “Sunnah and Hadith are technically synonymous terms, but sunnah ‘implies the doings and practices of Muhammad.’… It is thus a concrete implementation, a tangible form, and the actual embodiment of the Will of Allah.”[19]

The Sunnah, as recorded in Hadith collections, represents Muhammad’s way of acting and thinking in any particular situation. According to Christy Wilson, the Hadith contains “records of what Muhammad did, what he allowed, and what he enjoined. As such, they form a model for conduct and a basis for law.”[20] Muslims say that if you do not find the answers you are looking for in the Quran, you should read the Hadith. Muslims consider the Hadith to be second only to the Quran, and it is said to complement the Quran. The Hadith serves to clarify the meaning of the Quran.[21]

Muslims believe that they will optimally please Allah by living according to the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. In the Hadith, we find descriptions of Muhammad eating, sleeping, mating, planning, praying, traveling, relating to family members and others, going on expeditions, taking revenge on enemies, and much more.[22] Muslims reason that by modeling one’s life after Muhammad, one stands a better chance of entering paradise as a result of pleasing Allah. 

A Christian Assessment

While Muslims often claim that the Quran is divine because “no error, alteration, or variation” has touched its copies since its inception, such a view does not square with the facts. As noted previously, several Quranic texts were circulated in Syria, Armenia, and Iraq before Uthman’s final revision in the seventh century. Uthman appointed Zaid, Muhammad’s longtime secretary, to oversee the creation of the final, authenticated edition of the Quran. Thereafter, every other copy of the Quran was destroyed so that the official version could never be challenged.  

Alfred Guillaume, one of the most prominent Western experts on Islam in the non-Islamic world, points out that not all Muslims agree with Uthman’s edition of the Quran, nor are all versions of the Quran identical:

Only the men of Kufa refused the new edition, and their version was certainly extant as late as A.D. 1000. Uthman’s edition to this day remains the authoritative word of God to Muslims. Nevertheless, even now variant readings, involving not only different reading of the vowels but also occasionally a different consonantal text, are recognized as of equal authority one with another.[23]

A simple comparison of different transmitted versions of the Quran proves that there are variants between them. These variants typically include letter differences, diacritical differences, and vowel differences. To illustrate, let’s take a quick look at some transliterated words from the Hafs and Warsh transmissions of the Quran. (Most of the Islamic world uses the Hafs transmission, although West and Northwest Africa use the Warsh transmission). 

• The term “wawassa” appears in Sura 2:132 in the Hafs transmission, whereas “wa’awsa” appears in the Warsh transmission. 

• The term “yartadda” appears in Sura 5:54 in the Hafs transmission, whereas “yartadid” appears in the Warsh transmission. 

• The term “taquluna” appears in Sura 2:140 in the Hafs transmission, whereas “yaquluna” appears in the Warsh transmission. 

• The term “hazayni” appears in Sura 20:63 in the Hafs transmission, whereas “Inna hazani” appears in the Warsh transmission. 

This is just a brief sampling of variants. The accumulative weight of all the variants between these two transmissions prove that the Muslim claim of “perfect unity” in the copies of the Quran is false.[24]

Christian scholars Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb are right when they say that even if today’s Quran were a perfect copy of Muhammad’s original, that would not in itself prove that God inspired the original: 

All it would demonstrate is that today’s Quran is a carbon copy of whatever Muhammad said; it would say or prove nothing about the truth of what he said. The Muslim claim that they have the true religion, because they have the only perfectly copied Holy Book, is as logically fallacious as someone claiming it is better to have a perfect printing of a counterfeit thousand-dollar bill than a slightly imperfect printing of a genuine one![25]

The Claim of Beauty and Eloquence

Because Muhammad was an “unlettered prophet,” Muslims often claim that the Quran’s elegance and beauty demonstrate that the authorship of the Quranic text is divine. However, these qualities do not serve as indicators of divine inspiration. If they were, many other artistic creations throughout human history would have to be considered “divinely inspired.”[26] For example, the musical compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, as well as the writings of Shakespeare and a host of other literary greats, would have to be considered divinely inspired.

One must wonder if Muslims would accept a challenge to produce a work comparable to any of Shakespeare’s writings or else be willing to accept that his writings were “divinely inspired.” This may sound ridiculous, but it is similar to the Muslim challenge to the world to produce a single chapter equal to a chapter in the Quran. 

Contrary to the supposed eloquence and beauty of the Quran, it is plagued by pervasive grammatical errors. A posthumously published book by the Iranian Muslim novelist Ali Dashti details these errors. He made the following observations: 

The Quran contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concord of gender and number; illogical and ungrammatically applied pronouns which sometimes have no referent; and predicates which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects. These and other such aberrations in the language have given scope to critics who deny the Quran’s eloquence…. To sum up, more than 100 Quranic aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic have been noted.[27]

The Claim of Fulfilled Prophecy

The Quran’s assertion of domestic and international Muslim military victories, as noted in Sura 30:1-5, does not prove its alleged divine origin. Unlike the Christian Bible, which offers precise prophecies many centuries in advance—for example, foretelling Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), His virgin birth (Isaiah 7:3), and His sacrificial death (Zechariah 12:10)—the Quran’s anticipation of Muslim military success, especially considering Muhammad’s formidable armed forces, is unimpressive.

The prediction of Islamic military victory at home and abroad makes much more sense when it is seen as a pre-battle motivational speech by Muhammad to boost the morale of his warriors, not as a supernatural prediction. It is much like an army commander telling his troops, “Fight bravely, for we will be victorious!” Scholar Gerhard Nehls points out that—

…with regard to the victories, it is impossible to prove these to be valid predictions, since the time between prediction and fulfillment was almost nil. We also realize that Mohammed obviously expected victory, otherwise he would not have been fighting. Besides that, he also needed to encourage his warriors. In every war that has been fought, both parties have expected and predicted victory. One of the two parties has always been right; therefore we cannot regard these predictions as prophecies.[28]

The Argument from Contemporary Science

The claim that the Quran’s alignment with contemporary scientific understanding validates its divine origin is a false line of reasoning. Fundamentally, alignment with modern scientific paradigms does not authenticate divine inspiration. Even within the scientific community, it is recognized that scientific theories are constantly evolving, making them dynamic rather than absolute standards of truth or falsehood. In particular, what may have been considered scientifically valid in the past may not remain so in the future. Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, serves as a powerful testament to the fluid and transformative nature of scientific knowledge.

In addition, the Quran contains several extremely dubious scientific claims, such as the claim that human beings were created from a clot of blood (Sura 23:14). There is no credible scientist who would support this claim. Furthermore, according to Sura 18:86, the sun sets in a spring of murky water. No scientist or even non-scientist would entertain such a notion. 

It’s worth noting that throughout history, numerous eminent scientists have embraced Christianity and worked within its framework. Among these luminaries are Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Isaac Newton. Their significant contributions underscore a deep conviction shared by many: the Bible is a reliable source of truth

Why the Need for Modifications in God’s Revelations? 

My late esteemed colleague Walter Martin posits six pivotal theological quandaries that surface when considering the validity of the doctrine of abrogation:

1. We cannot trust the Quran because it contains divinely inspired contradictions, and we have no assurance that God will not again abrogate and annul the present revelation.

2. Muslims may argue that there will be no future abrogation because Muhammad was the last prophet, but what if God abrogates this and brings another prophet?

3. How can we trust God with our eternal souls when we know that He can abrogate and annul all revelations concerning his mercy?

4. Abrogation involves not only the addition of new revelation but also the contradiction and nullification of previous revelation. This necessarily means that God either changed His mind about something, or He did not know how future contingent events would turn out and was therefore forced to make a change. 

5. Abrogation calls into question God’s attributes, such as His foreknowledge (He did not have sufficient knowledge to avoid abrogation). 

6. Since abrogation means that God is inconsistent, what is the basis for morality and ethics? There is no absolute right or wrong to serve as the basis for our ethics.[29]

Here is an interesting question for Muslims: One verse in the Quran affirms the principle of abrogation (Sura 2:106). But another verse states, “No change can there be in the words of God” (Sura 10:64). Which is it? 

Evidence Against the Quran Being “Eternal”

The Quran does not appear to be an eternal book, as Muslims claim. Indeed, if the Quran is eternal, then why does it devote so many words to dealing with temporal problems that existed among Muhammad’s own family and his fellow Muslims? There are suras pronouncing a curse on Muhammad’s uncle (Sura 111), an admonition to Muhammad’s wives to remain submissive to him (Sura 33), and words against the elephant brigade of Abraha, the Christian ruler of Abyssinia, who had come against the Muslims in Mecca (Sura 105). Christian scholar Gleason Archer suggests that the fact that the Quran “is so focused on the lifetime of Muhammad himself strongly suggests that it was actually Muhammad who composed the book himself, rather than it being dictated to him by some angelic spokesman of Allah.”[30]

What About Transformed Lives?

Muslims may claim that the Quran is divine because it has changed so many lives. The truth is that changed lives are not evidence of divine inspiration. Mormons claim the Book of Mormon changed their lives. Moonies say Reverend Moon’s Divine Principle changed their lives. Hindus say the Vedas changed their lives. 

Any ideas put into daily practice in a person’s life can have a life-changing effect on that person. But this does not mean that God has inspired these ideas. 

Considering all the aforementioned factors, the Quran does not have the indisputable proof of divine origin that Muslims hope for. The evidence suggests that the Quran is a work of human creation, likely under the influence of a spirit of deception (“teachings of demons”—1 Timothy 4:1). 

The Truth about Muslim Tradition

We can also discern a problem with the Muslim Hadith. Many traditions now included in the Hadith are thought to have been deliberately created by various Muslims between one and two centuries after Muhammad’s time to support the customs and beliefs of competing groups as divisive conflicts within Islam developed. Therefore, not everything in the Hadith is truly based on Muhammad’s life and teachings. 

Even some Muslim scholars admit that not all traditions of Muhammad in the Hadith are legitimate. Muslim scholars have developed methods of sifting through the Hadith to evaluate them, weeding out questionable or false ones and preserving the “authentic” ones in systematically arranged collections.[31] But even with these techniques, it’s impossible to know what’s genuine and what’s not.

Conclusion

A studied assessment of all the facts leads me to say that the Quran will lead one far astray, whereas the Bible will faithfully guide one in the things of the one true God. 

Jesus affirmed the Bible’s divine inspiration (Matthew 22:43), indestructibility (Matthew 5:17-18), infallibility (John 10:35), final authority (Matthew 4:4,7,10), historicity (Matthew 12:40; 24:37), scientific accuracy (Matthew 19:2-5), and factual inerrancy (Matthew 22:29; John 17:17). No wonder He so often said, “It is written…” (Matthew 4:4-10).

Because of the doctrine of divine inspiration, we may confidently say: What the Bible says, God says. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), having been written by men “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). “The word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

Jesus said that the person who ignores God’s Word (in the Bible) is “like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:26). How much better it is to follow God’s Word (in the Bible), which is a “lamp” to our feet and a “light” to our path (Psalm 119:105; see also Proverbs 6:23).

For a fuller treatment of all this, I invite you to consult my book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Harvest House Publishers). It will teach you what you need to know to effectively dialog with Muslims.

  1. Winfried Corduan, Islam: A Christian Introduction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), p. 11.
  2. Jamal Elias, Islam (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999), p. 21.
  3. David Goldmann, Islam and the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 2004), p. 58.
  4. Goldmann, p. 70.
  5. Geoffrey Parrinder, World Religions (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1971), p. 473.
  6. Mishkat III, p. 664; in The World of Islam CD-ROM, copyright 2000 Global Mapping International.
  7. Elias, p. 21.
  8. Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka, Muslims and Christians at the Table (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), p. 72.
  9. Badru Kateregga and David W. Shenk, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1997), in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  10. Harold Berry, Islam: What They Believe (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1992), p. 18.
  11. Elias, p. 20.
  12. H. U. Stanton, The Teaching of the Quran (New York: Bible and Tannen, 1969), pp. 10-11.
  13. Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p. 91.
  14. McDowell and Zaka, pp. 74-75.
  15. Maului Muhammad Ali, Muhammad and Christ (Lahore, India: The Ahmadiyya Anjuman-i-Ishaat-i-Islam, 1921), p. 7.
  16. Susanne Haneef, What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims (Chicago: Kazi, 1979), pp. 18-19.
  17. Kateregga and Shenk, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue.
  18. Elias, p. 25.
  19. Gerhard Nehls, Christians Ask Muslims, in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  20. Christy Wilson, Introducing Islam (New York: Friendship Press, 1958), p. 30.
  21. Kateregga and Shenk, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue.
  22. Goldmann, p. 23.
  23. A. Guillaume, cited in Gerhard Nehls, Christians Ask Muslims, in The World of Islam CD-ROM.
  24. Adrian Brockett, “The Value of the Hafs and Warsh Transmissions for the Textual History of the Quran,” in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Quran, ed. Andrew Rippin (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 34, 37.
  25. Geisler and Saleeb, p. 194.
  26. Geisler and Saleeb, p. 194.
  27. Ali Dashti, Twenty Three Years (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985), pp. 48, 50.
  28. Nehls, Christians Ask Muslims.
  29. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1999), Quickverse software.
  30. Gleason Archer, “Confronting the Challenge of Islam in the 21st Century,” Contend for the Faith (Chicago: EMNR, 1992), p. 106.
  31. Frederick Denny, An Introduction to Islam (New York: Macmillan, 1994), p. 159.

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