Copyright © 1993 by M. N. Anderson.
All rights reserved.
The Qur'an states:
This is so because the word 'Islam' means surrender or submission to God the creator. The Qur'an also says:
The groups mentioned in the above verse were not called Muslims, so how could their religions be accepted? This raises a number of obvious questions. What does the word 'Muslim' mean? Does the word 'Muslim' only refer to the followers of Mohammad the prophet of Islam? Did Islam begin with Mohammad? The Qur'an provides the answer to these questions.
The Qur'an says: "Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian; but he was a Muslim" (Q 3:67), (Arberry's translation). Yet Abraham lived before the time of Mohammad.
The Qur'an says: "And when I [God] revealed unto the Apostles [the disciples of Jesus]: 'Believe on Me and My Sent One [Jesus]', they said, 'We believe; and bear Thou witness that we are Muslims,'" (Q 5:111), (Rodwell's translation). Like Abraham, the disciples of Jesus were Muslims, yet they lived before the time of Mohammad.
In the Qur'an we read, "Those to whom We gave The Book [the Bible] before this [Revelation (Yusuf Ali), i.e. the Qur'an] believe in it, and, when it is recited to them, they say, 'We believe in it; surely it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before it [the Qur'an] we had surrendered". (The last words translate literally 'we were Muslims before it'). (Q. 28:52,53). (Arberry's translation)
The Qur'an described Mohammad before his faith in God in the following words: "Thou knewest not what the Book was, nor belief," (Q. 42:52). In Q. 27:90 we read that Mohammad was "...commanded to be of those that surrender", or literally, he was "commanded to be amongst the Muslims", (see also Q. 10:72), indicating that there were Muslims in the time of Mohammad. When Mohammad at one point in time did not know the Book nor faith in God, the people of the Book had the Book (the Bible) and believed in God. Those people declared to Mohammad that they were Muslims before he came to them with his message and that his message was not new. According to Q. 27:90 he was commanded to join this group of Muslims.
Some have translated the word 'Muslim' in these previous verses, (Q. 28:52,53 and 5:111) as surrendering to Allah, thus using the word as a verb and not as a noun. However, this translation is inaccurate because it is inconsistent with Q. 22:78 which says: "He hath named you the Muslims heretofore and in this Book" (Q. 22:78), (Rodwell's translation). This verse shows that Allah called the believers 'Muslims' before the Qur'an and also in the Qur'an.
On the basis of these verses, we can say that Abraham was a man who surrendered to God and was also called a Muslim, the disciples of Jesus were also called Muslims and God is their witness, and the People of the Book (Christians) at the time of Mohammad declared to Mohammad that they were Muslims before he was.
The Qur'an goes on to describe "Those to whom We gave The Book before this [the Qur'an]" (i.e. that group of people who declared that they were Muslims before Mohammad) in these words, "These shall be given their wage twice over for that they patiently endured, and avert evil with good, and expend of that We have provided them. When they hear idle talk, they turn away from it and say, 'We have our deeds, and you your deeds. Peace be upon you! We desire not the ignorant'" (Q. 28:54,55).
What an impression those early Muslims (the followers of the disciples of Jesus) had on Mohammad. We know they were followers of Jesus from their main characteristic of responding to evil with good in obedience to the words of Jesus, the Word of God and His Spirit, when He said:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners lend to 'sinners', expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great." (Injil Sharif Luke 6:27-35)
It is concerning these people that the Qur'an testifies, "these shall be given their wage twice over". Wouldn't you be proud to be one with those first Muslims?
These early Muslims were held in high esteem not only by Mohammad but by the Qur'an itself, for in his times of doubt Mohammad was referred to them to relieve his doubts, as the following verses indicate:
For it is He who sent down to you the Book well distinguished; and those whom We have given the Book know it is sent down from thy Lord with the truth; so be not of the doubters. Perfect are the words of thy Lord in truthfulness and justice; no man can change His words; He is the All-hearing the All-knowing. (Q. 6:114-115)
What was it that was revealed to Mohammad, yet he received it with some doubt? It was the Qur'an that was revealed to him.
Although it was Gabriel that conveyed the Qur'an to him, he was referred to the people of the Book (the Christians) for assurance, when in doubt concerning the Qur'an.
The people of the Book were not higher than Gabriel, they simply possessed the Book of God which was revealed before. Those people had in their possession the previous revelations through the many prophets that came before.
These people, who were the source of spiritual assurance to Mohammad during his period of doubt possess their worth, authority and knowledge because they "read the Book".
The Qur'an says to Mohammad, "If you doubt what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you" (a more accurate translation of Q. 10:94). We know that this command was to be taken seriously, because the rest of the Qur'anic verse warns Mohammad against departing from the previously revealed Truth in the strongest possible language.
It is undisputed that Mohammad was referred to those who read the Book before him as the final and highest authority on the Truth. Those people, who read the Book before him, had such a strong faith because it was founded in the Book that was revealed before the Qur'an. Those people were on earth, not in heaven. They were living at the time of Mohammad and with them was the Book, the Book that was their qualification and source for judging final matters concerning the Truth.
The people of the Book did not only posses the Book of God but some of them clearly obeyed and followed its instructions. The Qur'an says:
In these verses Mohammad is commanded to be guided by those who received the Book before him. Mohammad was required to ask those who read the Book before him to relieve his doubts. He was also asked to follow the guidance of the same people to whom God gave the Book. Those people were obviously Mohammad's contemporaries, for how could he ask people who were dead?
The devout Muslim in the Exordium of the Qur'an (al-Fatihah) prays every day that God might guide him in the path of those whom God has favoured saying:
Who are those whom God has favoured? The people of the Book. God has favoured them above all the people in the world because they have the Book of God. The expression in the Qur'an, "The People of the Book", only applies to these early Muslims.
According to Q. 6:89-90 if Mohammad was commanded to follow the guidance of the people of the Book, so must all his followers.
We have seen that the title 'Muslim' applied to the people of the Book before and during the time of Mohammad. These people carried the traditions and the teachings of Abraham down to the time of Jesus. Some of those people of the Book did not only possess the Book of God, but followed its teachings so much that Mohammad was referred to them for spiritual assurance when he was in doubt concerning the Qur'an.
The Qur'an states the following concerning those who follow Jesus and the Day of Resurrection.
According to the last part of the above verse God promises:
1. That He will set the followers of Jesus above the unbelievers.
2. That this Divine support will last until the Resurrection Day. This means that the followers of Jesus must exist from the time of Jesus, through the time of Mohammad, generation after generation, until the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection. Those who follow Jesus will not only continue to exist but to have pre-eminence over the unbelievers.
Ibn Garir reported on the authority of Ibn Yazid concerning the above verse that the followers of Jesus were in fact the Christians. He commented:
Tirmizi quotes the following Hadith:
So then, what are these verses saying to us?
1. The disciples of Jesus were called Muslims (Q. 5:111).
2. The followers of these disciples declared to Mohammad that they were Muslims before him (Q. 28:52-53).
3. That according to Q. 3:55, the followers of Jesus will continue to be Muslims before God, above the infidels, until the Day of Resurrection. What an honour to be amongst those Muslims!!
Not only were the people of the Book the first and original Muslims, the book that they possessed is characteristically the original Book. Mohammad never claimed to have received a new book. He claimed that the Qur'an is the Book that was revealed before, that is, the Bible, as the following Qur'anic verse shows:
This is a Book We have sent down, blessed; so follow it, and be godfearing; haply so you will find mercy; lest you should say, 'The Book was sent down only upon two parties before us, and we have indeed been heedless of their study'; or lest you should say, 'If the Book had been sent down upon us, we had surely been more rightly guided than they (Q. 6:154-157).
Here Mohammad is telling his people that they have no excuse. The book that was sent down on the two parties before which are the Jews and the Christians has come to them. So historically and theologically the word 'Book' originally refers to the Bible. Mohammad claimed that what he was proclaiming to his people is nothing but the Book that was given to the two parties before them.
The reference to the Qur'an in the above verse calls it "a book", but the Bible is called "the Book", i.e. the Qur'an was identified without the article while the Bible was defined in particular with the article. Elsewhere we find that the Qur'an is nothing but a revelation from the Book, i.e. from the Bible: "And that We have revealed to thee from the Book is the truth, confirming what is before it" (Q. 35:31).
The only difference between the Bible and the Qur'an is that while the Bible was revealed in a language the Arabs did not know, the Qur'an came in the Arabic tongue.
This difference is stated in the Qur'an: "Behold We have made it an Arabic Qur'an haply you will understand" (Q. 43:2).
So there is an Arabic Qur'an and a non-Arabic Qur'an i.e. the Bible. But that non-Arabic Qur'an was made Arabic so that the Arabs can understand it.
Again the Qur'an states: "Yet before it was the Book of Moses for a model (Imam) and a mercy; and this is a Book confirming, in Arabic tongue, to warn the evildoers, and good tidings to the good-doers" (Q. 46:12). Once more, when the Qur'an was described in relation to the Bible, the Qur'an is called a Book but the Bible is called "the Book". According to the above verse the Book of Moses is called the Book the Imam. The Bible is the foundational and original book.
This can also be seen through the title "Qur'an". This word is not Arabic but Aramaic. Dr. Sobhy as-Salih stated "Allah chose to His revelation new names different from those used by the Arabs, in general and in detail." Dr. Sobhy as-Salih also said, "When the Arabs before Islam used the word (qara') it meant 'to be pregnant or to have a child'. But the word qara' as 'to recite' is of an Aramaic origin."
According to Dr. Sobhy as-Salih even the word, "Kitab", which is also given to the Qur'an is not Arabic but Aramaic. Not only that, but the Qur'an is also called al-Furqan. According to Dr. Salih even this one is an Aramaic word. The Qur'an, as a book, is also called 'Mus-haf. This is not Arabic either. Dr. Salih informs us that "when the Qur'an was collected and written on paper they wanted to give it a name. The word, Sifr, was suggested by some. It was rejected on the grounds that this is what the Jews call their books. Some suggested the word Mus-haf because this is what the Ethiopian [Christians] call their holy books.". Since the Qur'an claims to contain nothing but what was in the revealed book beforehand, it seems quite natural then that the most well known titles of the Qur'an are not Arabic but really belong to the Book before it.
There have been claims that the Book has been corrupted. The Qur'an says, "And to you we have revealed the Book with the truth. It confirms the Scriptures which came before it and stands as a guardian over them" (Q. 5:48). This verse clearly states that the Qur'an was sent to confirm and to guard what had been previously revealed. To claim that the Book has been changed is to also say that the Qur'an did not do what it was sent to achieve. Are we to say that the Qur'an is deficient?
We have seen earlier that when Mohammad was in doubt, he was referred to the Book that was revealed before to relieve his doubts. People do not get referred to an inferior authority, but to a superior one, in order to clarify a point. When Mohammad was referred to the Bible he was being referred to the Book with the higher authority. Although possessing the Qur'an Mohammad's doubts remained, but when he was referred to the Bible his doubts were removed. Would God allow the Book that relieved Mohammad's doubts to be corrupted? To say that the Word of God can be or has been corrupted is an attackand an insult to the Most High God Himself because it accuses Him of not being able to keep His own Word pure.
Whenever the term the Book is mentioned in the Qur'an, it originally refers to the Bible. When it refers to the Qur'an, it is the Book in the Arabic tongue. The Bible is the foundational Book that the original Muslims possessed.
There are many verses in the Qur'an that use the expression 'the people of the Book'. These always refer to Jews or Christians or to both groups. Not once do the verses refer to the followers of Mohammad.
These People were also called by the Qur'an, "Men possessed of knowledge" or "Those who were given the knowledge", or "Those who possess knowledge of the Book", or "people of the Remembrance"; for example:
God suffices as a witness between me and you, and whosoever possesses knowledge of the Book (Q. 13:43).
'Question [or 'ask', as the second part of the verse implies] the people of remembrance, if it should be that you do not know' with the clear signs, and the Psalms (Q. 16:43).
The Remembrance is not the Qur'an. It is the people of the Book who know about the Psalms. According to Q. 21:105, "We have written in the Psalms, after the Remembrance, 'The earth shall be the inheritance of My righteous servants'." The Remembrance is the revealed books before the Psalms. So it cannot be the Qur'an. The people of the Book are also the people of Remembrance. The Galalan commentary says the people of remembrance in that verse are the scholars of the Torah and the Injil. According to Q. 13:43 the witness of those people is only second to God's witness. Therefore, those who were Muslims before Mohammad and before the Qur'an; those who were the First Muslims, and the men possessed of the knowledge of the Book; these are the original defenders of the true religion and Monotheism. Here is the testimony of the Qur'an concerning these people:
Those people witnessed before the time of Mohammad and also during his time, that God is one. Those people were not only possessed of knowledge of the Book before and during the time of Mohammad, they remain the teachers and the defenders of the true faith to this very day.
The Qur'an describes the People of the Book as men "possessed of knowledge" concerning the Truth and spiritual matters. They were people whose guidance Mohammad himself was to follow and imitate, and to whom Mohammad was to go to relieve his doubts. On the other hand, the Qur'an describes those who were following Mohammad as having little knowledge concerning matters of the Spirit. In the Qur'an we read the following:
Razi said that when the above verse was revealed to Mohammad those who questioned him about the Spirit said to him 'is this answer (You have been given of knowledge nothing except a little) addressed to us alone or are you included with us? He said 'It is us and you who were given of knowledge nothing except a little.' In contrast to the followers of Mohammad who were, "given of knowledge nothing except a little," the people of the Book were called people, "possessed of knowledge."
Furthermore we read the following about some verses of the Qur'an: "It is He who sent down upon thee the Book, wherein are verses clear that are the Essence of the Book, and others ambiguous" (Q. 3:7). In other words, some parts of the Qur'an are clear and precise in meaning, while others are ambiguous. The question is: How much is clear and how much is ambiguous? Ghazaly, who is considered by Muslims as one of the greatest Muslim scholars, said, "The number of the clear verses is 500.", While the total number of the verses of the Qur'an is 6616. According to the above, it seems that most of the Qur'an is ambiguous, that is, about 92% of the Qur'an. Therefore the Qur'an commands the followers of Mohammad to ask the People of the Remembrance when they do not know.(The People of the Remembrance is another name for the People of the Book. According to the Muslim commentary by Galalan, the People of the Remembrance are the Jewish and Christian scholars). "Question (or ask) the People of the Remembrance, if you do not know" (Q. 21:7). If Mohammad himself was commanded to ask those who read the Book before him, when he is in doubt, then his followers must be sure to do so as well.
The above does not only belong to Mohammad's time, but it is an ongoing reality. The People of the Book, the original Muslims, are the guardians of the truth and faith in God.
Evidence of just such a reliance on the guidance of People of the Book is found in a textbook for secondary school in a Muslim country. The book is called "Monotheism", written by Yousif Karadawi, Elewah Mostafa and Ali Gamar, published by Ministry of Education of Qatar in 1968, and used as a text book not only in Qatar but also in Indonesia. The authors of this book, in the first two chapters, quote thirteen Scholars of the Book and eight Muslim scholars to convince the Muslim students of the need of religion and to believe in the existence of God. One of these thirteen scholars of the Book , Mr. Abraham Cressy Morrison is quoted nine times covering about 127 lines, while all quotations from eight Muslim scholars total 76 lines.
In the third chapter, titled 'The Attributes of God', the authors, in their attempt to answer the question, "If God created every thing, then who created God?", summarised the answer given by one of the scholars, without acknowledging the source or the name of the scholar. Here is the answer of the unknown scholar.
It seems that if the scholar were a Muslim, he would have been identified. Most likely he is a scholar of the Book (a Christian).
In another book, entitled Al-Iyman wal-Hayah (i.e. Faith and Life), when speaking of the value of faith, Dr. Yousif Karadawi ends the chapter titled, Faith and Character, with a section headed, Objections. In it he answers some atheistic objections and defends the value of faith in God by quoting five Scholars of the Book, covering 114 lines, and only quotes two Muslim writers totalling 35 lines.
In summary, the burden of proving the existence of God and defending His attributes, in those two Muslim countries at least, has fallen on the shoulders of scholars who have studied the Book (the Bible).
Just as Mohammad, some 1300 years ago, relied on the testimony and knowledge of the People of the Book to justify and prove his claims, his followers are still doing the same. Mr. Karadawi, in his book Faith and Life speaks of the struggles of a scientist Dr. Henry Link in his quest to find God, and presents him to his readers as an example and a model of someone who seeks and finds God and his truth. The Muslim author of Faith and Life finds Dr. Link, a follower of Jesus as his only excellent model of faith to present to his readers.
In another book titled Al-Islam Yatahada (i.e. Islam Challenges [all kind of 'isms']), the author, in the introduction admitted, "Concerning the quotations that openly support religion, most of them belong to scientists, who are followers of Jesus. No wonder they too share with us many of the heavenly beliefs." Once again when a Muslim scholar wanted to write a book defending faith in God to Muslims, he used the contribution of many who were Scholars of the Book. These people have been called people, "possessed of Knowledge," since the dawn of Islam, according to the Qur'an. The prophet Mohammad was commanded to consult them when in doubt and his followers also use their knowledge in religious matters when the pressure of the infidels becomes great in this present day and age.
It is clear from the Qur'an and from contemporary writings that the Christians (the original Muslims) who possessed the original Book have been the spiritual guides and the defenders of faith in God for those who seek the truth. They shall remain so as the Qur'an testifies to the Day of the Resurrection. As one who belongs to those original Muslims I am proud to be a Muslim and a possessor of the Book the Imam.
Copyright © 1993 by M. N. Anderson. All rights reserved.
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