It is hardly necessary for me to tell you how I appreciated your last
letter! It is good that our personal relationship is so open, despite the fact that we
stand on different foundations. I am glad that you seem to agree on the need for a sober
approach to spiritual matters and acknowledge the forceful and, to an honest reader
obvious and convincing argument that fulfilled prophecy represents. The same applies to
the eyewitness reports and historic sources. Together they are a rock on which we can
safely build our trust in the Bible.
While it is decidedly good to have a rich emotional life, our spiritual
conversation should never be governed by emotions only. We have to equally look at the
facts. That can at times be hurtful.
That is why we are taught in the Bible to ‘speak
the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). Someone rightly
said that truth without love is brutal, while love without truth is sentimentality. As
emotions should be built on facts, so truth must be accompanied by love. They mutually
In your letter you also reflect the generally accepted view of
practically all Muslims, that the Qur’an in its present form is identical to the
original. Islamic traditions dating from the time of the first Khalifs do not support this
assumption, as every scholar should know and acknowledge.
In your letter you mention three reasons, which convince you that the
Qur’an must be a revelation from God. I take it that you list these in response to
the evidence for the inspiration of the Bible.
If I understand you correctly, you mean to say that other evidence may
also verify divine revelation. You point for one to the outstanding literary quality and
content of the Qur’an. You further argue that the fact that many Muslims can recite
the whole of the Qur’an from memory is miraculous and by that a sign of its divine
origin. Thirdly you categorically state that the Qur’an has never been tampered with,
but has been preserved in every detail as it came from the mouth of the Prophet.
Anyone with some basic knowledge of Arabic will have no problem to
appreciate the poetic beauty of at least the early Meccan Suras of the Qur’an. It
must be said, however, that grammatically and in the choice of words the Arabic Qur’an
is not considered to be perfect. But even if it were, we must realize that
it is not unreasonable to assume that even the very best product of man’s
ingenuity is still human. Proof of a divine token would be its superiority over
what man can produce—like fulfilled prophecy.
Regarding the content of the Qur’an, Christians obviously compare
it with the Gospel. In all honesty, and trying to be as objective and fair as one can be,
we will have to confess our preference for the Gospel. It would be beyond the scope of a
letter like this to produce the reasons for this assumption right here, but I would like
to encourage you to just read in the New Testament—as I also read in the
Qur’an. Maybe you just read, for example, in the Gospel according to John from
chapter 10 onwards, or in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13 etc.
Considering the citation of the Qur’an from memory is a different
matter altogether. I remember watching dozens of young men pacing the courtyard of al-Azr
University in Cairo, busy memorizing the Qur’an. Sharpness of intellect, diligence
and, perhaps a photographic memory come in here. Miraculous it would be if this knowledge
would have been achieved instantly, without any learning, for example.
But let me return to your main point, the statement that the
Qur’an has been preserved in its totality. While it is not possible to substantiate
all my statements in a short letter like this, I will gladly do so, should you request it.
It is well supported by Islamic tradition that during the lifetime of Muhammad, seven
different ‘forms’ of the Qur’an existed: "This Qur’an was
revealed in seven forms, so recite what is easiest!", said Muhammad
(al-Bukhari vol. VI, Page 482, Chapter LXI (5) no. 514;
Mishkatul Masabih vol. 3, pp. 702-704;
Tafsir of at-Tabari and Commentary of al-Baidawi).
It has been suggested that this refers to
different dialects. But that cannot be the case. It means different texts.
We must also realize that the Uthmani version of the Qur’an is
actually a revision of earlier texts. Besides the version of the Qur’an, which was
collected and collated on the suggestion of Abu Bakr and Umar by Zaid b.Thabith, there
existed a number of other texts, compiled by men even better equipped than Zaid, like
Abdallah b. Mas'ud, Ubay b.Ka'b and Abu Moosa.
The revision of the Qur’an was ordered by Uthman, because the
various Qur’an collections competed with each other. After the Uthmani revision was
completed, all previous versions were burned. It surely is significant that even the copy
compiled by Zaid, which at that time was in the possession of Muhammad’s widow Hafsa,
was destroyed (by Marwan ibn-al-Hakam, Governor of Medinah)
(al-Bukhari vol. VI, pp. 477-479, Chapter LXI (3), no. 509;
Mishkatul Masabih vol. 3, page 664; Masahif by
Ibn Abi Dawood, pp. 24,25; and ibn Asakir, no. 445).
Now, that is an enormous thing to do: it is the obliteration and
destruction of evidence! We are glad to say, however, that since these early texts had
been memorized by many, they have survived in recorded theological debates and can be
compared with the Uthmani version. Besides many minor variations, some had more Suras or
Ayas than others. We also find omitted, changed and added texts
(Masahif by Ibn Abi Dawood, pp. 24,25, and ibn Asakir, no. 445).
Ibn Abi Dawood’s collection of these differing portions of the Qur’an fills
several hundred pages, by the way.
Being aware of this, let us add to the believing heart a critical, yet
open mind. Critical not toward God—for who are we to question
Him?—but toward man and his claims!
Again I must beg you not to consider what I write as an affront. I do
not write this to offend or hurt you. On the contrary, I do want you ‘to come to a
knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:3), as the Bible says.