Tag Archives: revelation

The Translational History of the Qur’an and the New Testament

Does the translational history of a scripture matter? Most people don’t often consider this question, but it is very consequential with emphasis being on the transmission and understanding of scripture. While most people would consider translations to be a tool and aid for understanding scripture, the impact of a translation is often ignored. In this article, I wanted to point out some of the benefits and problems that the Qur’an and New Testament would face on this topic.

As Muslims, we believe that God revealed the Qur’an in Arabic:

Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand. – Qur’an 12:2.

We need to consider that when God reveals scripture, that He has chosen a language that would best suit His message, and that when He has chosen a message to send in a specific language, that language and its language devices need to be studied to understand all of scripture. Not all languages are equal, there are language devices that exist in one language that may not exist in another, and so to translate between these languages would raise issues. For example, let’s say you’re trying to translate a metaphor from one language to another. It’s raining cats and dogs. For an English speaker they would know that this refers to heavy rainfall, but if we translate it word for word, literally from English into Spanish, would a Spanish speaker grasp the meaning intended by the phrase? If we translate it contextually to say that it means rainfall (excluding the mention of cats and dogs), is this faithfully representing the text as it was written? Confusion can occur for example, if a Spanish reader in looking at the Spanish text sees rainfall, but when comparing with the English, they see cats and dogs. They may assume the translator made an error and omitted words thus leading to confusion. Translators often have to walk a very fine line, if they translate a phrase word for word it can lead to the loss of intended meaning (context) and if they translate contextually they can be accused of not faithfully representing the original words as they were written.

Therefore, the language of scripture matters.

Throughout Islam’s history, the Qur’an as revealed in the Arabic language has always been regarded as scripture. Translations have however been understood as interpretations of scripture and not necessarily scripture in and of itself. Translators by profession are interpreters, it’s their very job title. This distinction is very important because the Islamic tradition has always definitively defined what scripture is and what it isn’t. The Islamic tradition has always emphasized that Muslims should learn how to read the Arabic Qur’an, how to recite the Arabic Qur’an (tajweed), it is fard al ‘ayn (personally obligatory) to learn the Arabic language such that we can understand the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah. I previously spoke about language devices existing in one language and not in another, an example of this is the dual noun in the Arabic language. In the English language we know of singular and plural nouns, the Arabic language has an intermediate category of nouns, dual nouns, this is not found in the English language. Muslims are taught to perform salaah (prayer) in the Arabic language and to perform the remembrance of God in the Arabic language (dhikr). Suffice it to say, one of the reasons the Qur’an has been preserved, not just merely the text itself but also the recitation and the meaning is because of the commands of God to use the Arabic language when it comes to scripture and worship, it preserves the sources of Islam as they were received by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions (may God be pleased with them all).

This is not the case with the New Testament. While the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Koine Greek, for 1000 years the New Testament was only considered to be scripture in the Latin language. This would mean that for 1000 years (until the Erasmian text) Christians were not reading scripture in its original language with its original language devices but that they were reading an interpretation of the New Testament altogether. Even when the Greek reconstructions of the New Testament came into favour, Christians still relied primarily on translations. This presents many problems for the transmission and preservation of the New Testament itself. We need to ask ourselves, why would God reveal a scripture in Koine Greek, only for it to be abandoned and a translation used in its place? The fact remains that the go-to language for the New Testament, from its inception has statistically been a language other than the Koine Greek it originated in, whether that be Latin or today’s English. The problem is compounded by the fact that the Christian tradition itself has no internal mechanisms for which Christians need to rely on the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in. Consider that translations are not merely considered translations but equal with the original Koine Greek in and of itself, also consider that there is no onus on a Christian to have to learn to read Koine Greek, to have to study Koine Greek, or to have to use it in any religious practises. This is in stark contrast with Islam, God not only revealed an Arabic scripture but also placed internal mechanisms (religious practises) that encouraged and ensured that the scripture as it was revealed would be preserved and studied, as it was meant to be understood. The same cannot be said for the New Testament and so it brings into question the validity of the New Testament as scripture to begin with.

And so we return to our original question.

If God revealed scripture in a specific language, then surely there was a purpose for that. While we can account for this purpose in Islam, we cannot account for this purpose in Christianity.

Yes it is true that scripture is meant to be understood, so there is no inherent harm in translating scripture into a language so people may understand it, but there is harm in abandoning the original language of scripture altogether. At a very young age Muslims begin the practise of teaching the Arabic language but we do not find this in Christianity when it comes to Koine Greek, this has led to a significant divide in the way that Muslims and Christians understand scripture. Should you ask a Christian if it is important to learn Koine Greek, they’d tell you no. Yet when we look at their commentaries of the New Testament, we find endless translation notes and lexical explanations. If there is no need to learn the language of the New Testament, then why do these translation notes and lexical explanations exist? Seminary graduates have to learn Koine Greek to understand scripture, to be able to exegete scripture, so while the lay Christian is told that they don’t need to learn the language, their scholars and preachers who attend seminaries realise that they do have to learn Koine Greek. This cognitive dissonance when it comes to the attitudes that Christians have towards the New Testament harms the religion of Christianity. A person who relies solely on the understanding of scripture through a translation will either end up with a wrong understanding or a wrong impression of what scripture teaches. Often times we find preachers using word studies to prove doctrines based on English translations! Clearly there is a problem inherent to the Christian understanding and definition of scripture.

To demonstrate the validity of this point, let’s take for example Dr. Michael Licona’s new book, “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography”. After specifically studying Graeco-Roman bios (biographical) literature for 7-9 years, Dr. Licona, a well-known Christian scholar and apologist, advertises his book with the claim that he has discovered a literary device used by ancient authors in biographies that explains the contradictions in the stories about the life of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This literary device he calls, “literary spotlighting”, a device not ever named by anyone before in the some 2000 years that Graeco-Roman literature has been studied by scholars worldwide. Consider the troubling consequences of such a claim. That for 2000 years, scholars who have dedicated not merely 7-9 years of study on classical ancient works but their entire lives did not know of an important and core literary device used extensively by Graeco-Roman authors. Even worse off, is the claim that this literary device was used in scripture and not known by anyone else. How is such an absurd claim possible? It’s only possible when the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in, was ignored, discarded and abandoned. Literary devices directly affect the way we understand a language, Dr. Licona is effectively saying that for some 2000 years there has been a language device in use in scripture, that had not been identified previously. This fundamentally affects the way we understand the New Testament and at the very least demonstrates the importance of preserving a scripture in the language it was said to have been revealed in.

In the end, when Christians preach to Muslims and those of other faiths, they boldly claim that all you need to be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s only when a new Christian (or newly practising) becomes devoted to Bible study, do they find themselves being told that they should probably find a better translation, or compare translations for a better understanding, or that they need to return to the Koine Greek rendition of a passage to wholly grasp its meaning. For some, they quickly realise that the requirements of understanding scripture go beyond reading a translation and that it’s more than just accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s a lot like being signed up for a cable subscription only to discover that there are hidden fees. We do not find this problem with Islam, and so we must ask once more, if God revealed a scripture in a specific language then surely that language and learning it must matter, right?

and God knows best.

 

A Brief Refutation of the Gharaniq (Satanic Verses) Claim

A Brief Refutation of the Gharaniq (Satanic Verses) Claim by Hamza AA

This topic has been often been used by missionaries and Islamophobes to cast doubts about Islam, as such it merits at least a brief response.

What is the Gharaniq (Satanic Verses) Claim?

According to the fictional story, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) wished that Allah would reveal verses (of the Qur’an) so that he could have reconciled with his tribe. Satan took this opportunity to manipulate the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) mind with certain words, which he mistook for Qur’anic verses, and recited them in praise of pagan idols.

By the Star when it sets, your comrade does not err, nor is he deceived; nor does he speak out of (his own) desire …

and when he came to the words:

Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?

Satan cast on his tongue (because of his desire for reconciliation with his tribe) the words:

These are the high-flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval

Upon hearing these verses, the Muslims and pagans jointly prostrated in worship. Later, Angel Gabriel appeared to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and informed him that he (Gabriel) had not revealed those words to him. The Prophet got very upset with himself for having lied about God and falsely promoting the worship of idols. God then comforted him with the claim that such confusion had happened to all Prophets (peace be upon them) in the past:

And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [or recited], Satan threw into it [some misunderstanding]. But Allah abolishes that which Satan throws in; then Allah makes precise His verses. And Allah is Knowing and Wise. (22: 52)

The Prophet then publicly retracted the false verse:

He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord. (53:18) So have you considered al-Lat and al-‘Uzza? (53:19)  And Manat, the third – the other one? (53:20)

This in turn angered the pagans who rejected and hated Islam.
An example From Tabari [1192-1193], vol. 6, pp. 108-110 reads:

“Ibn Humayd – Salamah – Muhammad b. Ishaq – Yazid b. Ziyad al-Madani – Muhammad b. Ka’b al-Qurazi: When the Messenger of God saw how his tribe turned their backs on him and was grieved to see them shunning the message he had brought to them from God, he longed in his soul that something would come to him from God which would reconcile him with his tribe. With his love for his tribe and his eagerness for their welfare it would have delighted him if some of the difficulties which they made for him could have been smoothed out, and he debated with himself and fervently desired such an outcome. Then God revealed:

By the Star when it sets, your comrade does not err, nor is he deceived; nor does he speak out of (his own) desire …and when he came to the words:

Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?

Satan cast on his tongue, because of his inner debates and what he desired to bring to his people, the words:

These are the high-flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval.

When the Quraysh heard this, they rejoiced and were happy and delighted at the way in which he spoke of their gods, and they listened to him, while the Muslims, having complete trust in their Prophet in respect of the messages which he brought from God, did not suspect him of error, illusion, or mistake. When he came to the prostration, having completed the surah, he prostrated himself and the Muslims did likewise, following their Prophet, trusting in the message which he had brought and following his example….The Quraysh left delighted by the mention of their gods which they had heard, saying, ‘Muhammad has mentioned our gods in the most favorable way possible, stating in his recitation that they are the high-flying cranes and that their intercession is received with approval.’

…Then Gabriel came to the Messenger of God and said, ‘Muhammad, what have you done? You have recited to the people that which I did not bring to you from God, and you have said that which was not said to you.’ Then the Messenger of God was much grieved and feared God greatly, but God sent down a revelation to him, for He was merciful to him, consoling him and making the matter light for him, informing him that there had never been a prophet or a messenger before him who desired as he desired and wished as he wished but that Satan had cast words into his recitation, as he had cast words on Muhammad’s tongue. Then God cancelled what Satan had thus cast, and established his verses by telling him that he was like other prophets and messengers, and revealed:

Never did we send a messenger or a prophet before you but that when he recited (the Message) Satan cast words into his recitation (umniyyah). God abrogates what Satan casts. Then God established his verses. God is knower, wise.

Thus God removed the sorrow from his Messenger, reassured him about that which he had feared and cancelled the words which Satan had cast on his tongue … Those two phrases which Satan had cast on the tongue of the Messenger of God were in the mouth of every polytheists …”

Brief Rebuttal:

Although a minority of scholars have adopted the Gharaniq story, such as Tabbari in his exegetical work, Ibn Ishaq, and Al-Wahidi in his renowned classic work Asbab al Nuzul, the vast majority of scholars have rejected it. We should further add that the story neither exists in the Qur’an, nor is it located in any main hadith collection (at least what is considered as Sahih). As for the narration and authors that narrate the story we must ask several questions:

Is the Isnad (Line of Transmission)  and Matn (content) reliable ?

1)  a) It’s absurd to place any source whose accuracy of preservation or narration is not equivalent to that of the Qur’an or as equally credible (muttawatir).

These are the verses of Allah which We recite to you in truth. Then in what statement after Allah and His verses will they believe (Quran  45:6)

b)  In the beginning of Al Tabbari’s work on the History of the Prophet (peace be upon him) he warns the readers of the following:

Let him who examines this book of mine know that I have relied, as regards everything I mention therein which I stipulate to be described by me, solely upon what has been transmitted to me by way of reports which I cite therein and traditions which I ascribe to their narrators, to the exclusion of what may be apprehended by rational argument or deduced by the human mind, except in very few cases. This is because knowledge of the reports of men of the past and of contemporaneous views of men of the present do not reach the one who has not witnessed them nor lived in their times except through the accounts of reporters and the transmission of transmitters, to the exclusion of rational deduction and mental inference. Hence, if I mention in this book a report about some men of the past, which the reader of listener finds objectionable or worthy of censure because he can see no aspect of truth nor any factual substance therein, let him know that this is not to be attributed to us but to those who transmitted it to us and we have merely passed this on as it has been passed on to us  (Source: Abu Ja`far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari: Tarikh al-Umam wal-Muluk, 1997, Volume I, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 13.)

In other words, Al Tabbari informs us that he gathered informative records as they were passed on to him and if we find any errors, we should disregard those records.

c) Ibn Ishaq has been criticized for the inaccuracies of his work:

– Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was asked about the solitary reports of Ibn Ishaq if they are considered reliable. He said “No!”. See Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Da’ira Ma’arif Nizamia, Hyderabad, 1326 A.H. vol.9 p.43

– Imam Malik was not the only contemporary of Ibn Ishaq’s to have problems with him. Despite writing the earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad, Scholars such as al-Nisa’I and Yahya b. Kattan did not view Ibn Ishaq as a reliable or authoritative source of Hadith. (Jones, J.M.B. Ibn Ishak. Vol. IV, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, edited by Ch. Pellat, and J. SchachtV.L.M.B. Lewis. London: Luzac & Co., 1971: pages 810-811)

d) It is clear that Waqidi is in fact the senior partner. Ibn Sa’d, known of course as ‘Katib al-Waqidi’, was a secretary-editor of his master and of the materials he had assembled and then amplified. Waqidi was attacked for loose isnad usage by strict practitioners of Hadith. (T. Khalidi, Arabic Historical Thought In The Classical Period, 1994, Cambridge University Press, p. 47 , 48)

2) It is irrational to claim that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would be confused in reciting verses praising idols, whichwould flat out contradict the basic fundamental teaching of Islam, the Tawhid (The oneness of God).

Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin. (Quran 4:48)

Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly gone far astray.  (Quran 4:116)

And it was already revealed to you and to those before you that if you should associate [anything] with Allah , your work would surely become worthless, and you would surely be among the losers.” (Quran 39:65)

3) Historically the Gharaniq story does not add up. According to the story:

– The Satanic verses were revealed roughly around the Fifth year of the Prophetic call (Eight years before the Prophet made Hijrah [Migration to city of Madinah]).

–  The Gharaniq story states that verses 73-75  of Surah 17 were revealed to reprimand the Prophet (please note: the correct context of these verses is provide in point 4, section C) for reciting the so called satanic verses. Yet, it is known that these verses were not revealed before the Miraj event (when the Prophet [peace be upon him] ascended to heaven). This event is historically dated no earlier than the 10th year of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) call (in other words at least three years before the Prophet’s Hijrah [Migration) to the city of Madina].

–  The Qur’anic verse 22:52 was revealed the first year of Hijrah.

Taking the above details into consideration, how rational is it that the satanic verses would be revealed in the fifth year before the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Hijrah and as such, God’s admonishment and rectification of these false narrations would be revealed roughly 5 to 9 years later? Are we to presuppose that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Muslim companions would be associating partners with Allah (shirk) for at least 6 years before these verses were nullified and rectified?

4) Had the Gharaniq story been historically true, the Qur’an would have to explicitly address it, while on the contrary:

a) The Qur’an provides assurances that it is divinely protected and impenetrable by falsehood:

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (Quran 15:9)

Indeed, those who disbelieve in the message after it has come to them… And indeed, it is a mighty Book. Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise and Praiseworthy. (Quran 41:41-42)

b) The Qur’an clearly confirms that had the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited any falsehood he would swiftly be punished:

So I swear by what you see (69:38)  So I swear by what you see (69:39) [That] indeed, the Qur’an is the word of a noble Messenger. (69:40) And it is not the word of a poet; little do you believe. (69:41) Nor the word of a soothsayer; little do you remember. (69:42) [It is] a revelation from the Lord of the worlds. (69:43) And if Muhammad had made up about Us some [false] sayings, (69:44)  We would have seized him by the right hand; (69:45) Then We would have cut from him the aorta. (69:46)  And there is no one of you who could prevent [Us] from him. (69:47)

c) The Qur’an states the Prophet (peace be upon him) was protected from being seduced by the disbelievers. Had he followed the disbelievers, he would have been severely punished:

And indeed, they were about to tempt you away from that which We revealed to you in order to [make] you invent about Us something else; and then they would have taken you as a friend. (17:73) And if We had not strengthened you, you would have almost inclined to them a little. (17:74) Then [if you had], We would have made you taste double [punishment in] life and double [after] death. Then you would not find for yourself against Us a helper. (17: 75)

d) The Qur’an states that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) preached the Qur’anic revelation, he spoke not of his own desires but from that of divine inspiration:

Your friend (Muhammad) was not astray, nor was he deceived. (53:2) Nor was he speaking out of a personal desire.(53:3) It was divine inspiration (53:4)

5) Clarifying the misinterpreted verses in the Gharaniq Story.
a) A closer look at Qur’an 53:18:28 –

He certainly saw of the greatest signs of his Lord. (53:18) So have you considered al-Lat and al-‘Uzza? (53:19) And Manat, the third – the other one? (53:20)  Is the male for you and for Him the female? (53:21) That, then, is an unjust division. (53:22) They are not but [mere] names you have named them – you and your forefathers – for which Allah has sent down no authority. They follow not except assumption and what [their] souls desire, and there has already come to them from their Lord guidance. (53:23) Or is there for man whatever he wishes? (53:24) Rather, to Allah belongs the Hereafter and the first [life]. (53:25) And how many angels there are in the heavens whose intercession will not avail at all except [only] after Allah has permitted [it] to whom He wills and approves. (53:26) Indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter name the angels female names, (53:27)  And they have thereof no knowledge. They follow not except assumption, and indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all. (53:28)

The above verses sarcastically rebuff the pagan idols and it would make no sense to glorify the pagan idols after verses 53:18-20. The Qur’anic verses accuse the pagans of falsely attributing names and authority to idols, basing their belief on nothing but assumptions.

In other words, what kind of divine revelation would in one sentence praise the idols, while later on deprecating them with such vehemence and intensity? How could such a blatant contradiction within two consecutive sentences be explained or justified?

b) A closer  look at Qur’an 22: 52-54 –

And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [or recited], Satan threw into it [some misunderstanding]. But Allah abolishes that which Satan throws in; then Allah makes precise His verses. And Allah is Knowing and Wise. (22:52) [That is] so He may make what Satan throws in a trial for those within whose hearts is disease and those hard of heart. And indeed, the wrongdoers are in extreme dissension. (22:53) And so those who were given knowledge may know that it is the truth from your Lord and [therefore] believe in it, and their hearts humbly submit to it. And indeed is Allah the Guide of those who have believed to a straight path. (22:54)

There is no explicit understanding that shows Satan confused the Prophet (peace be upon him) to recite those false verses. On the contrary, whatever malicious words Satan tried to throw in order to confuse the Prophet (peace be upon him) are nullified, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was protected from these temptations, and Allah’s words prevailed.

6) It would be ironic that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited these Satanic verses that both the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and pagans without hesitation and defiance would prostrate themselves willingly.

For instance, in a previous historical event the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) grew angry and objected that the Prophet (peace be upon him) signed a certain treaty (The Treaty of Hudaybiah; little did they know it was for their benefit) with the Quraish pagans and agreed not to enter Mecca until the next year. If the companions were willing to object to such an event of less importance, why would they not be willing to rebuke in anger the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) allegedly contradictory words, while prostrating to idols in total submission?

As for the pagans, after years of fighting the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his beliefs (Tawheed), why would they simply bow their heads to verses that were recited without hesitation or questioning.

7) Had the Gharniq story actually happened, the damage would have been irreparable:

a) It would have caused a drastic confusion in regards to the authenticity of what was being revealed (the Qur’an). The believers wouldn’t have known whether the recited words were divine or satanic.

b) If Satan had succeeded to confuse the Prophet (peace be upon him) once, he could have successfully done it several times.

c) Contradictory statements would have lead believers to leave Islam.

d) If the Prophet (peace be upon him) was confused by Satan, what would prevent the same thing from happening to the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) upon reciting the Qur’an or anything else?

Conclusion:

Regardless from which perspective we examine this claim, the Satanic Verses allegation fails every test of authenticity, whether historically, chronologically, contextually, and logically. Therefore, this claim should be disregarded without thinking twice.