BY MUMIN SALIH · MAY 7, 2015
Unlike the hadith collections, which were subjected to thorough scientific scrutiny by different scholars in different places and at different times, the Muslims never subjected the Quran to any form of scientific examination. On the contrary, they are warned against it because scientific studies are based on doubts, which is unacceptable to Muslims who are not supposed to have any doubts about the Quran. It is essential in Islam not to doubt the divine origin of the Quran and its preservation by Allah himself. To boost their confidence, Muslims learn to recite this verse as evidence of Allah’s promise to protect his book from corruption:
Q. 15:9 “it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian”
Different authors of the Meccan and Medina verses
The Quranic verses are divided into two distinct groups: The Meccan verses, which were revealed over thirteen years when Mohammed was in Mecca, and the Medina verses, which were revealed in the last ten years of Mohammed’s life in Medina. The difference between the two groups is so obvious and striking in both contents and style; the Meccan verses are remarkably shorter and tend to contain more unfamiliar words. As Muslims start to learn the Quran, they are told from the beginning about the differences between the two groups. They are also given an explanation for this observation: The Arabs of Medina were less eloquent than those of Mecca, so Allah lowered the level of the Quran to match their level of understanding. I accepted this explanation for decades without questioning its logic but looking at it from where I stand today it does look a very naive justification.
The Arabs in Medina spoke the same language as those in Mecca and there is no reason to believe they would have had problems in understanding the Meccan style. Besides, they were still required to learn the Meccan verses anyway just like all Muslims do. Although not convincing, the above explanation makes a good point; it would be really nice if Allah speaks to people in languages they can understand.
There is no acceptable Islamic explanation for the striking change in style between the Meccan and Medina verses. But there must be one, and I believe it is the usual explanation behind any change of style, which is change of author. The Quran had at least two different authors but probably more. The differences between the Meccan and Medina verses are glaring enough to suggest they were even authored in different time periods. Indeed, there are indications that the Quran evolved over a long period of time that could have started before Islam.
The Quran was not preserved
Muslims claim the Quran has been preserved in the Muslims’s chests and in writing; which is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Mohammed died without collecting the Quran in a proper way, which is why some verses were missing. This is a failure worthy of attention, especially that the supposed purpose of his existence was to deliver Allah’s words to mankind, which he didn’t. The task of collecting the Quran and looking after it should have been Mohammed’s priority but obviously it wasn’t because he knew it wasn’t from Allah.
It is ridiculous to say that the Quran was preserved in the Muslims’ chests. Today’s Muslims think of Mohammed’s companions as flawless perfect human beings but they were not. Mohammed’s companions were corrupt people who sinned, cheated and committed atrocities, even against each other. Of course, they were just as vulnerable to forget as any other human being, if not even more forgetful. It is claimed that the person who was in charge of collecting the Quran, Zayd Ibn Thabit, set out a rule that rejected any verse not testified as correct by two Muslims. That rule proves to us that preservation in the chest was not trusted even by the very Muslims who collected the Quran. It was possible, despite the rule, that some of the rejected verses were correct and should have been included. Equally true, it was possible that some of the included verses were not correct and should have been rejected.
The Muslims also claim that the Quran was written by selected Muslim scribes soon after its revelation. This claim has long been accepted as a fact and taken for granted by Muslims. Although Mohammed had the resources to employ scribes in Medina, it is doubtful that such service was readily available to him in Mecca. Even if the Meccan verses were scribed, there are doubts about their safe storage, especially if those claims about his oppression by the Meccans were true. We know at least of one of the scribes ( Abdulla Ibn Abi Sarh), who admitted to have cheated by inserting some of his own words in the Quran, but we don’t know all the verses that were affected. Interestingly, when Mohammed’s forces arrested Ibn Abi Sarh after conquering Mecca, Mohammed didn’t ask the man which words he inserted in the Quran. He didn’t because he wasn’t interested as he knew it didn’t matter, since all the words weren’t from Allah.
Apparently the revealed verses were scribed by different people but the different texts didn’t match. It was this discrepancy between the various texts that prompted Uthman to order the writing of one official versionof the Qur’an and destroy all the other versions that didn’t match. Many fellow Muslims were outraged by Uthman’s decision and refused to recognize his ‘official’ version in favor of their own. Needless to say that writing material used by the scribes, such as animal skin, bones, and palm leaves were not durable. I am afraid the Quran was not preserved even in writing.
It is a historical fact that the Arabic language in the seventh century was only a spoken language. Arabia didn’t have philosophers or authors to spark off enough intellectual demand to devise a written Arabic script. Poetry was common but the Arabs kept it to where they thought it belonged – to the oral tradition. We know that the dots and diacritical marks were added to the primitive Arabic script long after Mohammed’s death. It took even longer for the idea to catch on and the system to be established as a recognized standard. Any Arab knows that the Arabic script without the dots is both meaningless and useless, because reading the text becomes an unpleasant guessing exercise. The earliest available Quranic scripts, the Sana’a manuscripts, which date back to the eight century, were without dots and almost unreadable; it took the German experts years of hard work to solve their mystery.
We must keep in mind the circumstances of the time; the slow communication and the general slow pace of life. There were no conferences or meetings between the scribes to decide and agree on the new script format. The Quran was the Arabs’ first encounter with writing and the process must have gone through a long teething period. There were no schools and no unified education system and no ‘universally’ accepted standards for the new script. It is possible that the early scribes used different script formats borrowed from different languages depending on where they learned their skills.
The early ‘Arabic script’ was not Arabic
Muslim historians tell us that the early Arabic script was without the dots, which were added generations after Mohammed’s death. Removing the dots from the Arabic script is equal to removing about half of the Arabic alphabets. The text becomes meaningless and using it turns to a pointless waste of time. Imagine an English article where A and B share the same appearance; C and D share the same appearance and so on. Why would anyone write anything using such a useless script?
It is more plausible that the early Quranic scripts were in other languages such as the Aramaic/Syriac language, from which Arabic has evolved. All those languages are Semitic, just like Hebrew, and have much in common. Syriac (a form of Aramaic) was the ‘international’ language of the region that was used for communication between various tribes in Mesopotamia and large parts of Arabia, and some Arabs learned its script for trade purposes. The Arab scribes who were available to Mohammed must have learned the Syriac script and not the Arabic script, which didn’t exist, and would have been useless anyway. The notion that anyone would use the Arabic script without the dots is too ludicrous to believe.
Muslims believe that the early Arabic script was of the Kufi style which has a similar look to the naturally dots-free Syriac script. It appears that the Muslims who were faced with the Quran’s manuscripts, centuries after Mohammed, assumed it was written in the Arabic Kufi script. To add to the confusion, it is also possible that the later parts of the Quran were indeed in Arabic script ( Arabic script has become available by the time the later verses were added). The situation was made worse when those early Muslims added dots to the Syriac script, thinking it was Arabic, to render it readable. Syriac and Arabic have many words in common which could have convinced the Muslims even further that they were dealing with an Arabic text.
It is known that the Quran contains a large number of foreign words of Aramaic, Hebrow, Persian or other origins. Some of those words have been integrated into Arabic while others remained foreign and caused problems to the authors of the early interpretation books. The use of some words remains a mystery because of the existence of Arabic equivalents, like the Syriac words sirat ( tareeq), meaning road and asfar (kutub), meaning books. Why would a writer in Arabic resorts to the use of foreign words in the presence of Arabic equivalents?
Nearly every page in the Quran contains what looks like writing errors that have always been an enigma to Muslims. Muslim scholars explained them on the basis of keeping with tradition “it has been written this way from the beginning”. There was no time when the Arabs wrote such words as they appeared in the Quran; we only need to look at the original manuscripts (makhtutat) of the early Arabic books. The following words are examples of what we mean: صلوت ـ صلاه saloot (for salat – meaning “prayer”), زكوت ـ زكاه zakoot (for zakat, “equivalent to ‘tithes’”), حيوت ـ حياه hayuoot (for hayat, meaning “life”), all of which are proper Syriac words written in an error-free Syriac script.
The above conclusions are based on logical analysis supported by evidence. Some scholarly works on this subject have already been published by western scholars. Some of those works are recent and generated the usual outrage from the Muslim scholars and organizations, which is why they didn’t receive the attention they deserved.
Muslims are incapable of studying the Quran
Muslim scholars do not feel comfortable to see non-Muslims examining Islam or writing about it, except to praise it. Orientalists are looked at with suspicion and generally regarded as spies or cultural crusaders with hostile agenda. Muslims scholars regard the field of Islamic studies as their private territory that should be shielded against strangers. Their slogan is: if you want to know about Islam, ask the Muslims, not the non-Muslims. This slogan looks perfectly reasonable from the outside but it hides a deeply rooted phobia – they can’t put up with the sight of emerging results that do not match their established beliefs.
While rejecting any outside examination of the Quran, Muslim scholars are incapable of studying the Quran themselves. It is a requirement of their faith to believe in some assumptions that make up the foundations of Islam, which they call ‘thawabit’ (fixations or fixed dogmas), or the established facts. As far as the Quran is concerned, all of the following are ‘established facts’:
It is the word of Allah revealed to Mohammed.
It is preserved; didn’t change in the past and will never do in the future.
It is in perfect Arabic and is free from any errors.
Mankind cannot produce a chapter like the Quran, even if they seek the help of Jinn (mythical beings)
With minds restrained by the above ‘established facts’,Muslim can’t examine the Quran with any degree of objectivity. Their minds are disabled even further by the protocols surrounding the looks of the Quran, its handling and its reading. Such rituals are designed to prepare the Muslim to enter into a special state of mind for the extraordinary experience of reading Allah’s words. While in such state of mind, a Muslim may notice that the book looks to him disorganized, but it can’t be because it is from Allah. He may notice what looks to him like errors, but they are not errors, because Allah is infallible. And he can only be stunned by the writing style which, on the surface, may look weak and unintelligible, but deep down it, it harbors strength and miracles, as all scholars agree. Such crippled thinking explains why all those errors and contradictions never sounded any alarms to the Muslim readers, despite reading the book hundreds of times. Muslims are confident that all of what looks like errors have been addressed and fully clarified by scholars, even though they may not grasp the clarifications themselves.
Historical Manuscripts and Language analysis
The study of the Sana’a manuscripts is of extraordinary significance. Given the attention it deserves, it should have the potential of far reaching consequences, yet not many Muslims heard of the manuscripts, let alone of the study. The Sana’a manuscripts were discovered in 1972 and were dated to about eighty years after Mohammed’s death, making them the oldest surviving Quranic scripts. They were studied by German experts, who recognized some differences between the scripts and the current Quran and found that some words were added, missing or rearranged. The German team concluded that the Quran’s text evolved over a long period of time (centuries).
Another German study looked at the Syro-Aramaic influence on the Quran and was published in the year 2000 by C. Luxenberg. The study was rejected by Muslims who considered it an attack on Islam, which is why the author used a pen name and remains in hiding. In 2006, a book published by Gabriel Soma, who is an American of Lebanese origin and speaks Arabic and Syriac fluently, reached to similar conclusions.
More recently, the celebrated British historian Tom Holland, published a book about the origin of Islam. He also produced a TV documentary about the subject that was aired on channel 4 and generated a considerable amount of complaints and threats against the author, by Muslims. In his book, Holland casts a great deal of doubt on the validity of the early Islamic history as told by Muslim scholars.
The above studies, as well as many others critical of Islam, did not get the publicity they deserved. Needless to say that such books do not get translated into Arabic or other languages spoken by Muslims. At the same time, such books do not get refuted in a scholarly manner by Muslim scholars. Muslim scholars have the nasty habit of not reading books that have the reputation of being critical of Islam, which is why they cannot critique them, but still can attack them, and believe they are justified in doing so.
The Muslims intolerance to anything critical of Islam is well known. Any idea should be open for discussion by all, especially if it interferes with the lives of people around the globe. Westerners get killed because of Islam. The West has every right to subject the Quran to even more scientific examination without any outside pressure. The results should be discussed openly in the academic circles as well as in the media for all to know without fear or intimidation. The truth must reach all, and there are millions of Muslims who search for it every day. Academic freedom is part of the dearly held value of freedom of speech and must be protected at all cost.