Why Do Muslims Insist on Referring to the Arabic Literary Sources?


When Christians post information about Islam and we ask that they refer to the Arabic, they say to us that Muslims always evade discussing a quote by wasting time on going to the Arabic language and want to debate the translation, etc. What is your response to this?


Indeed, this is a very common claim about the Muslim and God willing, it shall be dealt with in detail using extensive examples in this article. In responsible discourse, the parties who exchange information implicitly accept the position of accountability for the quotes they present, with the understanding that it should be properly referenced/ cited. This is common in academic discourse and a responsible individual will not object to the validating of references or of quotations. The question must be asked to the non-Muslim, whether they be a Christian, Atheist, Hindu or Jew, on why they are evading their academic responsibility of ensuring that their quote is accurate or that their citation is reliable? Surely, if everything is accurate with the information presented, they would have no reason to object to their information being double checked and verified.

The question therefore begs itself. Do Muslims have a reason or a need to verify and validate information about Islam as presented by non-Muslims? The Qur’aan answers this for us by stating:

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” – Qur’aan 49:6.

From this verse, a Muslim must understand that verifying information about Islam from non-Muslims is not a matter of evading discussing the quote or reference, rather it is a religious duty as commanded by God that this verification process is done. If one wishes, this verse should be presented to the one who claims that Muslims are evading the discussion, atleast with this being presented they will be able to understand that you do intend to discuss the quotes/ references, but that you must at the very least be able to validate that what you are discussing is accurate information.

Examples of Manipulation of Islamic Texts by Orientalists and Christian Apologists

Case 1:

We read from Christian Apologist Nabeel Qureishi the following quote , sourced from an unverified and critically poor translation. Despite Nabeel’s University education, he failed to validate the translation he was using:

Ibn Masud does not think highly of today’s Quran, the one collected by Zaid. In comparing himself to Zaid, he says:

The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.” (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p.444) –

This is a wrong translation. The translation should actually be:

So conceal the manuscripts! I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.”

Not only is the translation wrong, the actual Arabic text does not include the phrase, “in the reading of the Quran“.

فَغَلَّوُا الْمَصَاحِفَ. فَلأَنْ أَقْرَأَ عَلَى قِرَاءَةِ مَنْ أُحِبُّ أَحَبَّ إِلَيَّ مِنْ أَنْ أَقْرَأَ عَلَى قِرَاءَةِ زَيْدِ بْنِ ثابت. فو الذي لا إِلَهَ غَيْرُهُ لَقَدْ أَخَذْتُ مِنْ فِيِّ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – بِضْعًا وَسَبْعِينَ سُورَةً. وَزَيْدُ بْنُ ثَابِتٍ غُلامٌ لَهُ ذُؤَابَتَانِ يَلْعَبُ مَعَ الْغِلْمَانِ

The issue with the translation pertains to the meaning of the word “فَغَلَّوُا ” (the first word in the sentence), transliterated as “ghalla”. The Christian missionary asserts that it means “deceit”, which is contrary to the basic meaning of the word, which is “to hide/ conceal”. In a similar report in Jami’ Tirmidhi, the wording is given as:

قَالَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مَسْعُودٍ: ” يَا أَهْلَ العِرَاقِ اكْتُمُوا المَصَاحِفَ الَّتِي عِنْدَكُمْ وَغُلُّوهَا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقُولُ: {وَمَنْ يَغْلُلْ يَأْتِ بِمَا غَلَّ يَوْمَ القِيَامَةِ} فَالقُوا اللَّهَ بِالمَصَاحِفِ

Abdullah bin Mas’ud said: ‘O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them. For indeed Allah said: And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement. So meet Allah with the Musahif.'” (Jami’ Tirmidhi, Hadith 3104)

What is odd here, is that we can see from the Christian’s translation, they maintain the word to mean “conceal”, why didn’t they translate it to be “deceit” as they did before? We should also note that at the end of the narration it says, “Meet Allah with the masahif”. If “ghalla” was to be translated as “deceit” then the entire narration would be incomprehensible! In Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud Khumayr bin Malik says:

سَمِعْتُ ابْنَ مَسْعُودٍ يَقُولُ: ” إِنِّي غَالٌّ مُصْحَفِي، فَمَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ يَغُلَّ مُصْحَفًا فَلْيَغْلُلْ، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقُولُ: {وَمَنْ يَغْلُلْ يَأْتِ بِمَا غَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ}

“I heard Ibn Masud saying: I have concealed my Mushaf. Whoever can conceal his mushaf he should conceal it. For Allah says, “And whoever conceals something, he shall come with what he concealed on the Day of Judgement.”” (Kitab al-Masahif, Narration 52)

In this narration, if we were to translate “إِنِّي غَالٌّ مُصْحَفِي“, it would mean, “I have deceived my mushaf”, in English it would be akin to saying, “I lied to the book”, as opposed to saying “I concealed my book”. This therefore, should illustrate the absurdity of Christian missionaries tampering with translations.

Case 2:

In the book, “The Collection of the Qur’an, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)“, by Christian missionary John Burton, on page 242,  254 we read his translation of the following narration:

وكان الرجل يجيء بالورقة والأديم فيه القرآن، حتى جمع من ذلك كثرة، ثم دخل عثمان فدعاهم رجلا رجلا فناشدهم لسمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وهو أملاه عليك؟ فيقول: نعم

He translates this as:

“One would come with a parchment or a scrap of leather with a Qur’an verse on it until there was gathered great store of such.’Uthman adjured them one by one, ‘You heard the Prophet recite this?’ They would answer that that was so.”

However, the portion of the narration, ” وهو أملاه عليك” (emphasized in bold above), is purposefully excluded from the translation. The complete translation would read:

“One would come with a parchment or a scrap of leather with a Qur’an verse on it until there was gathered great store of such.’Uthman adjured them one by one, ‘You heard the Prophet recite this while he dictated it to you?’ They would answer that that was so.”

The exclusion of this portion of the narration is a serious attempt at negating the Prophet’s (salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam) personal role in dictating the Qur’aan to scribes in their presence. It is intentional he excluded this portion of the narration as the reference he gives for the narration includes it entirely, this being Arthur Jeffery’s (the editor of the book), “Kitab al-Masahif”, page 24. Thus far, we have seen purposeful mistranslations and in this case, exclusion of a portion of the narration.

Case 3:

A narration from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar quoted by Hafidh as-Suyuti (d. 911 A.H.) in his, “al-Itiqan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’an”, has become a source of joy for some missionaries. However, their contextual rendition of many of its quotes is so deceptive, it is astounding that they would publicly risk such dishonesty! In this case, Sam Shamoun presents us with this translation:

‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar reportedly said: “Let none of you say, ‘I have got the whole of the Qur’an.’ How does he know what all of it is? MUCH OF THE QUR’AN IS GONE. Let him say instead, ‘I have got what has survived.’”

This narration is contained under the title of the chapter which reads as follows, “Section forty-seven: About the Abrogating and the Abrogated“. In Abu ‘Ubayd’s (d. 228 A.H.) work, from which as-Suyuti quotes this, it is the first narration in the chapter titled, “[About] what all was abrogated from the Qur’an after revelation and is not put in the Masahif.” Essentially, what was abrogated was forgotten, as the Qur’aan itself states:

“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?” – Qur’aan 2:106.

Shahab ud-Deen al-Alusi’s (d. 1270 A.H.) comment helps explain the issue:

أجمعوا على عدم وقوع النقص فيما تواتر قرآنا كما هو موجود بين الدفتين اليوم، نعم أسقط زمن الصديق ما لم يتواتر وما نسخت تلاوته … وعليه يحمل ما رواه أبو عبيد عن ابن عمر قال: لا يقولن أحدكم قد أخذت القرآن كله وما يدريه ما كله قد ذهب منه قرآن كثير ولكن ليقل قد أخذت منه ما ظهر

“Verily they (i.e. people of Sunnah) have agreed on there being no loss in the Qur’an as is continuously reported like we today find between the two bindings. Yes during the time of (Abu Bakr) as-Sidiq the part which was not reported continuously and was (rather) abrogated was dropped (out of the official mushaf)…and to this relates that which is reported by Abu ‘Ubayd from Ibn ‘Umar, who said: ‘None of you should say that he has taken the whole of the Qur’an; how could he know what all of it was! A lot of the Qur’an has passed him by! Let him say instead: I have taken of the Qur’an that which became apparent.’”

As can be seen, Sam Shamoun intentionally removed the narration from its context to make it appear to state that a companion of the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam) had stated most/ much of the Qur’aan has been lost, when in fact he had confirmed what Allaah has said in the Qur’aan, that the abrogated verses would be made to be forgotten. Therefore, verifying sources is not merely about checking the text for mistranslations or excluded content, it can also be about removing the information from its authorial context. In regards to the translation, the word “MUCH”, it must be understood that this word can be used to mean “less than (what it is being compared to)”. The evidence for this is seen the below narration:

قُلْتُ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، أُوصِي بِمَالِي كُلِّهِ؟ قَالَ: «لاَ» ، قُلْتُ: فَالشَّطْرُ، قَالَ: «لاَ» ، قُلْتُ: الثُّلُثُ، قَالَ: فَالثُّلُثُ، وَالثُّلُثُ كَثِيرٌ

“I said, ‘Should I give two-thirds of my property in charity?’ He said, ‘No.’ I asked, ‘Half?’ He said, ‘No.’ Then he added, ‘One-third, and even one-third is much (wal-thuluthu kathir).’”

Clearly, one third of an amount is not the most of something or “much” of something. This missionary not only removed the narration from its context, he also misrepresented what the narration was saying by being ignorant of its meaning.

Case 4:

This is a much more famous lie, Sam Shamoun in this case, presents a narration and claims that it states that the Prophet Muhammad (salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam) is a cross dresser:

Narrated by Ismail, narrated by his brother, narrated by Sulaiman, narrated by Hisham Ibn Urwah, narrated by his father, narrated by Aisha who related that the wives of the prophet were divided into two groups. One group consisted of Aisha, Hafsa, Safiya and Sawdah while the other group consisted of Um Salamah and the rest of the women that belonged to the prophet. The Muslims had learned of the great love that the prophet had for Aisha so that if one of them had a gift he desired to give to the prophet, he would delay giving it until the prophet came to Aisha’s house. Then the group who sided with Um Salamah came to Um Salamah and asked her to tell the prophet that he should command the people that if any of them had a gift to give to the prophet, they should give it him in whatever house of his wives the prophet was in at the time. So Um Salamah went and talked with the prophet but he did not respond to her. When the group asked her what the prophet said she told them that he did not respond. So they asked her to go talk to him again until he responds… then the prophet said to her, “Do not hurt me with Aisha, for the inspiration did not come upon when I was (wearing) A WOMAN’S CLOTHES (Thowb) EXCEPT THAT OF AISHA.” (Source- http://hadith.al-islam.com/Display/Display.asp?hnum=2393&doc=0)

He provides the source in Arabic and then translates it himself. However, Sam Shamoun does not speak the Arabic language, nor is he capable of reading it, so one does need to ask how he was able to translate something from a language he is ignorant of. The portion of the hadeeth we are focusing on is where he translates “thawb”, as “woman’s clothes”:

لَا تُؤْذِينِي فِي عَائِشَةَ فَإِنَّ الْوَحْيَ لَمْ يَأْتِنِي وَأَنَا فِي ثَوْبِ امْرَأَةٍ إِلَّا عَائِشَةَ

The correct rendition of this portion of the narration should read:

“Do not hurt me regarding Aisha, as the Divine Inspirations do not come to me when I am in the [thawb]cloth (i.e. blanket) of any of wives except [in that of] Aisha.” – Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 2393.

This translation of  “thawb“, can be clarified by a similar narration which reads:

لَا تُؤْذِينِي فِي عَائِشَةَ فَإِنَّهُ وَاللَّهِ مَا نَزَلَ عَلَيَّ الْوَحْيُ وَأَنَا فِي لِحَافِ امْرَأَةٍ مِنْكُنَّ غَيْرِهَا

“Don’t trouble me regarding ‘Aisha, for by Allah, the Divine Inspiration never came to me while I was under the blanket of any woman amongst you except her.” – Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 3491.

The word “blanket”, being “lihaaf” is quite clear in its meaning. One needs to ask Sam Shamoun how he arrived at such an incorrect and outlandish translation, and if it was mistaken, why does he insist it is accurate despite the evidences to the contrary?

Case 5:

Commenting on the phrase:

(قال: قد زعم ذلك زيد) in Sahih Bukhari Hadith 3787.

Muhammad Asad writes in “Sahih al-Bukhari- The Early Years of Islam“, (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1981), page 109:

In the French version of the Sahih by Houdas and Marcais (vol.III, 5 in two places) we find the ridiculous translation: “C’est Zeid qui pretend cela” (“It is Zayd who pretends this”) – thus twisting Ibn Abi Laylah’s answer into a discrediting criticism of the authenticity of this narration. The French translators were evidently not aware of the fact that the primary meaning of za’ma is equivalent to qala (“he said”); cf. Lisan al-‘Arab XV, 156.


I have demonstrated several forms of misrepresentation of Islamic quotes and references by contemporary and previous missionaries and Orientalists. Some of the forms we have noted are listed as the following:

  1. Mistranslating a term/ word.
  2. Excluding a portion of the original text.
  3. Misrepresenting a quote by removing it from its context.
  4. Providing an Arabic source but self translating and incorrectly claiming that the translation is authentic.

These are very serious attempts at distorting Islamic academic sources by Christian missionaries and Orientalists. Therefore, the command of Allaah ta ‘aala in Surah 49, verse 6 should be taken seriously, very seriously. The apprehension of Muslims towards the quotes and references by polemicists is not unwarranted as the previous examples have illustrated that this manipulation of the quotes and references is a common pattern of behaviour. With this being noted, if the party entering into a discussion with you on Islamic information does not wish to verify the source or the content, then unless they do so – the Muslim should not continue the discussion. We must be careful and use our discretion in giving audience to those who are unable to maintain basic academic standards.

In my own experience with a zealot missionary, Darren Amos of the UK, he quoted a book for me entitled “al-Kitab”. I asked him, who was the author of al-Kitab or if he even knew that the book title meant. He refused to comment on the quote and its fictitious citation and instead claimed I was evading discussing the topic. I did not relent, I pressed for the validation of the reference and eventually he discontinued the discourse. I encourage my Muslim brothers and sisters to be firm in their criticism of sources, if we do not, the missionaries will gladly invent quotes as they wish without any guilt whatsoever, for as Paul states, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” – Philippians 1:18.

I would like to thank Br. Waqar for providing me with the references and examples of distortion by missionaries and Orientalists. I have listed his corpus of writings below, as they relate to the claims made above. I highly recommend reading his extensive and scholastic refutations to missionary polemics. May Allaah ta ‘aala reward him for his efforts, Ameen.


and Allaah knows best.

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