Muhammad used several sources as information for his recital of the Qur'an. One of these sources were the fables of the Christians living in and nearby Arabia at that time. This paper describes two of the Christian fables Muhammad recited into the Qur'an.
Muhammad had interaction with Christians. Khadija, his first wife, had a cousin named Waraqa, who was a Christian (Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 83, Guillaume's translation). He also was known to have spoken with Christians earlier on in his life during his travels with the caravans. Later, he was given a Christian slave girl as a present. This was Mary, the Egyptian Copt. She became his concubine. After she gave birth to a male child, he married her. No doubt he learned about some facts of Christianity from Mary as well. Further south of Medina, these was the Christian village of Najran. These people also had some dealings with Muhammad.
From these people Muhammad could have learned about Christianity and the Christian fables that circulated in the land.
In various places, the Qur'an mentions stories that are similar to those found in the NT. People and names are repeated, and some similarites exist between the NT and Qur'an. And as one would expect a story to change when it is told to and then repeated second or third hand, so too the Qur'anic versions of the stories differ from those that were earlier documented.
These Qur'anic stories are typical of those one would expect to find in the record of a man relying exclusively on hearsay and secondary sources because Muhammad could not read the books from which the Christians used.
Here are two Christian fables that Muhammad heard of, and then recited into the Qur'an.
1) JESUS SPEAKING FROM THE CRADLE
He shall preach to men in his cradle and in the prime of manhood, and shall lead a righteous life.
Another reference to this is Sura 19:28-34:
"O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and has made me a prophet. And has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, And (has made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.
2) JESUS TURNING CLAY BIRDS INTO LIVING BIRDS
He will say: "I bring you a sign from your Lord. From clay I will make for you the likeness of a bird. I shall breath into it and, by God's leave, it shall become a living bird."
Both of these events, the speaking in the cradle and the birds from clay are mentioned again in Sura 5:110
When Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother; how I strengthened thee with the holy Spirit, so that thou spakest unto mankind in the cradle as in maturity; and how I taught thee the Scripture and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and how thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird by My permission, and didst blow upon it and it was a bird by My permission, and thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper by My permission; and how thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and how I restrained the Children of Israel from (harming) thee when thou camest unto them with clear proofs, and those of them who disbelieved exclaimed: This is naught else than mere magic;
#1 probably came from the Injilu 't Tufuliyyah better known as the Arabic "Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ". It is a 2nd century Arabic apocryphal fable from Egypt. This is the possible source for the referenced verse in the Qur'an. Here is the similar passage from the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ:
... Jesus spake when he was in the cradle, and said to his mother: "Mary, I am Jesus the Son of God, the Word, which thou didst bring forth according to the declaration of the angel Gabriel, and My Father hath sent me for the salvation of the world."
Comparing the two verses, it's another obvious plagerism of Muhammad's. In #1, Muhammad revised what he had heard, to bring it into accord with his own beliefs and teachings.
#2 comes from "The Gospel of Thomas the Israelite".
(Not the same document as the "Gospel of Thomas" that claims to be a real biblical Gospel. "The Gospel of Thomas the Israelite" is a known and documented book of fables, that only happens to have a similar name to the "Gospel of Thomas".)
Here is the similar passage:
The child Jesus, when 5 years of age, was playing on the road by a dirty stream of running water; and having brought it all together into ditches, immediately made it pure and clean; by saying a single word. Then having moistened some earth, he made of it twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath day when he did these things. There were many other children playing with him. Now a Jew, seeing what Jesus did, that he was playing on the Sabbath day, went his way to (Jesus') father Joseph. He said, "Behold, your son is at the stream of dirty water, and having taken up some mud, has made of it twelve sparrows, thus desecrating the Sabbath. On this Joseph went to the spot, and cried out, "Why did you do these things on the Sabbath day which it is not lawful to do?" Jesus then clapped his hands at the sparrows and cried aloud to them, "Go off!" So they, clucking, flew away. The Jews seeing it were astonished, and went and told their rulers what they had seen Jesus do."
Again, note the similarities. Another Christian fable, another story circulated by the Christians living in the Mideast. And, another fable that made it's way into the Qur'an.
Muhammad was sincere about his faith. Perhaps he wanted to gain positive influence from the Christians and Jews living nearby by speaking favorably about their faiths, and mentioning them in his recital. However, time and time again, especially in dealing with Judaism, Muhammad borrowed from their material, much of it spurious. These fables made their way into the Qur'an, again proving that it is not the Word of Allah, but probably a sincere effort on Muhammad's part to guide his people in the way he believed to be best.
1. "Sources of Islam", St. Clair-Tisdall, p. 58, and "Islam Revealed", Anis Shorrosh, p. 216.
2. "Sources of Islam", St. Clair-Tisdall, pp. 57-58.
Another interesting addition, by which Muhammad made the fable even more fabulous, are the words that Jesus supposedly spoke from the cradle.
Muhammad was about 40 years old when he received his first revelation and it took about 23 years until it was complete. But here, as a newborn, Jesus supposedly already declares: "He has given me the Book..." That is past tense. When do you think that Jesus received his book? Has he received the Book while in the womb, before he was even born?
The above observation is a topic more reflected upon in the article "I am all the prophets".
Also, curiously, Muhammad seems to be aware that this fable is in doubt, not all Christians believe this. But he decides to be on the side of the fables instead of the authentic scriptures when he adds his confirmation in to the end of it in 19:34 - "Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt."
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