A former Muslim’s Refutation to Zawadi’s Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun & Anthony Roger’s Article “Don't Shoot Us, We Are Just the Messenger: Another Grammatical Mistake in the Qur'an”
In a rebuttal by Bassam Zawadi (*) in which he attempts to refute an article by Sam Shamoun & Anthony Rogers (*) concerning a grammatical mistake in the Quran, Zawadi desperately attempts to offer futile explanations to one of the Quran’s embarrassing linguistic errors, in this case Q. 26:16.
Shamoun & Rogers in their article show, and rightfully so, that the English translations of Q. 26:16 do not faithfully render the grammatical construction of the Arabic text of this verse.
I have chosen three different translations here as examples of what Shamoun and Rogers addressed in their article. The purpose is to expose faulty translations that seek to cover up this grave grammatical mistake:
“And come together unto Pharaoh and say: Lo! we bear a message of the Lord of the Worlds” – Pickthall
“Then come to Firon and say: Surely we are the messengers of the Lord of the worlds” – Shakir
As can be seen from just these examples, we have three different opinions of how the Arabic should be translated to capture the intent behind the verse. The problem is that although these English translations relate the meaning of the Arabic using correct English grammar, the Arabic verse in the Quran uses incorrect grammar.
The Arabic verse reads as follows:
Fatiya firAAawna fa-qoola inna rasoolu rabbi alAAalameena
The problem with the Arabic verse lies in the fact that the two verbs fatiya and fa-qoola are in the dual form, which is the correct way to address two persons, in this case: Moses and Aaron. However, the noun rasoolu in the next clause is in the singular form rather than the dual form rasoola.
The Arabic language has different grammatical forms for singular, dual, and plural, and these different forms for “number” exist both in verbs and in nouns. The verbal forms in this sentence are constructed correctly, but the noun in the next clause has the wrong form, because it is in the singular, although verbs and nouns are supposed to be in agreement in regard to their number. This is a serious issue because the Quran claims to be a perfect book written in the Arabic language, as we read below:
“An Arabic Quran without any crookedness, that they may guard (against evil).” Q. 39:28
In reviewing some of the classical commentaries (i.e. Al-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi, Ibn Katheer, Al-Razi) on this verse above (Q. 39:28) it becomes apparent that the word “crookedness” does not only apply to moral content and teachings, but also to linguistic issues as well as any potential contradictions or errors in the Qur’an. Despite the explicit claim to be “without any crookedness”, our analysis will prove otherwise.
“Verily, We made it a Quran in Arabic so that you may be able to understand.” Q. 43:3
Ironically, Al-Qurtubi in his commentary of Q. 43:3 stated that the Quran is sent to Arab people so that they may comprehend it in their own language.1 Yet Al-Qurtubi invests a large portion of his commentary on Q. 26:16 in an effort to clarify the meaning behind the word “Messenger” and why the dual form was not utilized in this instance. One can only wonder why, if the Arabic verse in the Quran was so clear, would Al-Qurtubi then find it necessary to provide additional explanations?
In fact, what is even more strange than this, is that Al-Qurtubi, when commenting on Q. 20:47, which narrates the same story of Moses and Aaron being sent to Pharaoh, does not make mention at all of any other possible ways of expressing the word “messenger(s)” simply because in the case of Q. 20:47 the author used the correct grammatical formulation, since both the verb and the noun agree with each other in terms of being in the dual form as we can see below:
“So go you both to him, and say: 'Verily, we are Messengers of your Lord” Q. 20:47
Fa’tiyahu faqoola inna rasoola rabbika
Al-Qurtubi in Q. 20:47 did not find it necessary to provide poems or any other outside sources to defend the use of the word “messengers” or even allude to the possible use of the word “messenger(s)” in a singular form (messenger) as opposed to the dual form in which it is being used. Nor did he make mention of the possible use of the word “message” interchangeably with “messenger”. This observation is evidence that not only Zawadi, but also Al-Qurtubi and other classical Islamic commentators like him were desperately attempting to invent new Arabic grammar rules that can only apply to the Quran. Simply put, it is the Muslims who are attempting to make the Quran look perfect to help its original author in cases as this.
Our Assessment and Refutation
In light of the preceding observation concerning the verse (Q. 26:16), and being both a native Arab and a former Muslim, I can attest that the grammar composed in Q. 26:16 is incorrect as it stands in the current Quran. The proper way the verse should have read is:
“Come to Pharaoh and say: Surely we are two messengers of the Lord of the worlds”
Fatiya firAAawna fa-qoola inna rasoola rabbi alAAalameena
This would have shown that both the verbs “Fatiya ... fa-qoola” are in the dual form and would have agreed with the noun rasoola also in the dual form and which should have been used by the Quran in this case. Such formulation would have prevented any embarrassment on the part of Al-Qurtubi and other commentators, as well as by Zawadi.
Instead of acknowledging this grievous mistake in the Quran, a book which claims for itself to be free of any crookedness, Zawadi attempts in his typical fashion the following response with little supporting evidence as one can read below:
Imam Al-Qurtubi has it in his commentary:
Allah's saying "Both of you go to Pharaoh and both of you say: "We are the messenger of the Lord of the worlds."".
Abu 'Ubaydah said: Messenger here means message and the assumption is based on that. We are the possessors of the message of the Lord of the worlds.
After this, Imam Al-Qurtubi cites lines of Arabic poetry illustrating that rasool (most often translated as messenger) could sometimes mean risaalah (most often translated as message).
Then he goes on to say:
Abu 'Ubayd said: And it's possible that Al-Rasool could used in the dual or plural form. The Arabs say: This is my messenger (rasooli) and agent and these two are my messenger (rasooli) and agent, and these are my messenger (rasooli) and agent. An example of this is from Allah All Mighty's Speech:
"They are an enemy to me" (26:77)
And it is said: It means that every one of us is a messenger of the Lord of the worlds. (Abu 'Abdullah al-Qurtubi's, Tasfir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 26:16, Source)
From Ibn Kathir's commentary:
(And go both of you to Fir`awn, and say: `We are the Messengers of the Lord of the all that exists.') This is like the Ayah,
(Verily, we are both Messengers of your Lord) (20:47). which means, `both of us have been sent to you,' (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Source)
Those knowledgeable of the Arabic language found no grammatical problems in this passage.
Such insufficient response by Zawadi shows his lack of understanding of the seriousness of such an issue, and his oversight concerning the ability of others, like myself who speak Arabic and are knowledgeable about the Arabic language in general and of the Quran in particular, to expose the weakness of his argument.
It should be rather obvious that it was not their knowledge of Arabic, but their commitment to the Quran as faithful Muslims which did not allow them to acknowledge any mistake, and forced them to find formulations to “circumvent the problem”.2
If indeed the Quran used the word rasoolu (Messenger) in the singular because that’s how the Arabs at the time of the Quran used to talk, one will then expect to find this instance repeated more than once. In fact, a survey made by the author revealed that there are 215 verses in the current Arabic Quran which use the term “rasoolu (messenger)”.3 When all these verses were examined, it was discovered that the word was always used in the correct grammar form within the structure of these verses; only once the grammatical form of the noun disagreed with the verb. It should be no surprise that this instance is found in our verse in question (Q. 26:16).
Furthermore, even if one would assume for the sake of this argument to believe that the both terms “messenger” and “message” can be used interchangeably as Zawadi would like us to believe, then a quick analysis of some of the 215 instances in the Quran should provide us with an answer concerning this possibility.
Take for example Q. 17:93:
“Or you should have a house of gold, or you should ascend into heaven, and we will not believe in your ascending until you bring down to us a book which we may read. Say: Glory be to my Lord; am I aught but a mortal messenger?”
In this verse, Muhammad (the prophet of Islam) is arguing with the pagans that even if he were to ascend into heaven and bring down a book in order for them to believe, he should make it clear to them that he is only a “mortal messenger”. If one were to take Zawadi seriously and insert the word “message” in lieu of messenger, we will be left with a huge problem since the message will become mortal. In other words, if we apply this twisted logic to the Quran, which is the message of Muhammad, then we are left with the possible interpretation of Q. 17:93 that Muhammad is the Quran and the Quran is Muhammad! After all, since Zawadi wants to argue that the word rasoolu can mean message then this means that Muhammad himself is that message, which would further imply that the Quran which is supposed to be the message Muhammad brought is not something other than Muhammad, but is actually identical to Muhammad! This would also mean that the Quran itself is the mortal message, and therefore must have died along with Muhammad some 1,400 years ago. One can only wonder if Zawadi would be open for such an interpretation.
Also, in Q. 19:17-19 we read:
“So she took a veil (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our spirit, and there appeared to her a well-made man ... He said: I am only a messenger of your Lord (Allah): That I will give you a pure boy.”
How can one understand this verse in light of Zawadi’s false hermeneutics? Are we to assume that since the Spirit is addressing Mary in this passage as the messenger of Allah that this somehow means he is actually a message only and not a person? If that’s the case, then why would the Quran emphatically reveal in v.17 that the message appeared to Mary as a “well-made man” sent by Allah (We)? Furthermore, if indeed the intent behind this verse (Q. 19:19) is to talk about a message and not a messenger, one can rightly interpret it to mean that the messenger/message is none other than Allah himself who became incarnate in the person of the message itself, since the message is his (a messenger of your Lord...). Would Zawadi be open for such an interpretation?
What about Q. 25:30 which reads:
“And the Messenger cried out: O my Lord! surely my people have treated this Quran as a forsaken thing.”
Are we to presume that the message was crying out and speaking to Allah? Even if that was the case, what then would be the difference between the message and the Quran? If we are to use the word “messenger” interchangeably with “message” THEN we are left with one possible interpretation, specifically that when this verse was “revealed” the Muslims at the time of Muhammad received two separate and distinct messages, one called a message and the other called the Quran. Since we only have the Quran today, can we then assume that the message mentioned in Q. 25:30 is lost? Is Zawadi willing to accept this interpretation?
Furthermore, in verse Q. 33:53 we read:
“... it does not behove you that you should give trouble to the Messenger of Allah, nor that you should marry his wives after him ever; surely this is grievous in the sight of Allah.”
Providing instructions to the believers concerning their manners in dealing with the prophet, the verse makes mention of a prohibition which states that believers ought not to marry the wives of the messenger of Allah. If we are to use the word “message” in lieu of “messenger” then we are left with a very awkward reading, since how can a message have wives, unless we assume that the message is none other than Allah himself. After all, the verse states clearly that the messenger or the message is “of Allah” in the genitive case. Since the message is of Allah, then it is safe to assume that the message is Allah incarnate. If this would be acceptable, then Zawadi is faced with an even bigger problem; can Allah marry and has wives? Is Zawadi comfortable with this interpretation?
In addition, what is one to make out of this next verse in Q. 62:2:
“He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His communications and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error”
This verse mentions that Allah had raised a messenger (Muhammad) in Mecca to deliver a message to its inhabitants. However, if one is to assume that the word “messenger” can be replaced with the term “message” then this verse will make no sense at all, since how can Allah raise a message to teach a message. Not to mention that the language is very clear that someone is being raised or called, so if this someone happens to be a “message” then Islam does believe in the incarnation of the message or word of Allah. Is Zawadi in agreement with this new Islamic theology?
Another verse Q. 98:2 reads:
“A messenger from Allah, reciting pure pages”
If according to Zawadi the word “messenger” can be used interchangeably with the word “message” then how can we interpret this verse since it will state that a message is reciting pure pages. How can a message recite something without having a voice to do so, unless we are to understand this verse to mean that Allah himself has incarnated himself into a message and recited his own message through the revelation of the Quran? One then must wonder if Zawadi will accept such interpretation?
Lest anyone accuses us of attempting to manipulate Zawadi’s argument, we are fully aware that Zawadi did not claim that rasoolu and risalah are synonyms and can be used interchangeably in every instance, but if this interpretation is indeed possible, he should be able to find at least a few more, say four or five out of 215 instances where this is the clear meaning. So, could Zawadi please point out just a few places in the Quran where rasoolu is used in place of risalah, i.e., where the word rasoolu clearly means message instead of messenger?
Furthermore, if one would consult a sound and reputable Arabic Dictionary or Lexicon as Lane’s, we find that the word “Rasool” is translated as ““Messenger” or “one who has a message; i.e. a messenger … [and often meaning an apostle of God…] … its meaning in the proper language of the Arabs is one who carries on by consecutive progressions the relation of the tidings of him who has sent him ”4 In fact, we find that in the Quran, the word “Rasool” is used of someone who is employed (or called) by Allah to relate glad tidings from Allah to his people. Another reputable Arabic-English dictionary known as Al-Mawrid, which utilized numerous classical Arabic dictionaries as its sources,5 lists “rasool” as “a messenger; runner; courier; envoy; emissary, legate; delegate; apostle; disciple; and prophet”.6 Then there is an Islamic dictionary of the Arabic language of the Quran, on the kalamullah.com site,7 that provides the following different meanings concerning the word “Rasool (also spelled ‘rasul’)”: “1 messenger (i.e. Q. 12:50); 2 messenger from God to call to Him, usually with a book (i.e. Q. 9:128); 3 an emissary, an angel entrusted with a certain errand (i.e. Q. 7:37).”8 However, this dictionary, due to its focus on the Arabic of the Quran, provided a second category for the word “rasul”, stating: “… II [used collectively] deputation (Q 26:16)” which is the verse we have been examining. I think it is quite interesting that the authors of this dictionary thought it important to design a new category based on the use of the Qur’an to this word “rasul” which is in the singular form, since the same dictionary states that the plural form of “rasul” is “rusul,” hence, agreeing with our observation of the difference in form between singular and plural of the word “rasul or rasool”. However, it is noteworthy to observe that even this “Islamic dictionary” does not list “risalah” (Message) as an alternative meaning for “rasul” (messenger).
The purpose of the lexical survey above is to show that even scholarly linguistic sources of the Arabic language agree with our findings, that the word “rasool” does not represent a “message”, rather a “messenger”. Even the very attempt by some to provide a special explanation of the odd use of the word “rasool” by the Quran (i.e. Q. 26:16), as did Al-Qurtubi in his exegesis of Q. 26:16 vs. 20:47, or as did the Arabic-English Dictionary by kalamullah.com in creating a separate category for the word “rasool” to justify its erroneous use in Q. 26:16, serves our purpose of exposing the faulty and unusual use of this mixed form (dual or plural with singular), since it is not the norm when it comes to Arabic grammar. But even if such odd use is acceptable in the Quran, our main argument still stands, that the lack of agreement in number between the noun and the verb is the issue at hand which is in direct contradiction to the normal grammatical rule of the Arabic language. Since the Quran is considered the ultimate example of the Arabic language, such oddity serves to debunk this myth.
In light of these additional findings, our challenge to Zawadi is to explain to us: why does he believe that he has better knowledge on how this word can be used, and why are such professional lexicographers ignoramuses who do not really know the breadth and depth of the meanings of this foundational Arabic word?
Besides all the problems for Zawadi’s arguments that we have listed so far, we find in Q. 43:46 the following formulation:
We did send Moses aforetime, with Our Signs, to Pharaoh and his Chiefs: He said, "I am a messenger of the Lord of the Worlds."
Walaqad arsalna moosa bi-ayatina ila firAAawna wamala-ihi faqala innee rasoolu rabbi alAAalameena
This verse (Q. 43:46) is almost identical to the formulation and structure of the verse in question (Q. 26:16). The only difference is that in this verse both the verb “faqala” and the noun “rasoolu” agree with each other in terms of being in the singular form. This too should serve as a further proof that the formulation of Q. 26:16 was faulty and unusual at best. After all, if the formulation of Q. 26:16 is unique to the story at hand, one would have expected the Qur’an to utilize it again when reporting the same narrative somewhere else in the text. However, the only logical response to this observation is that in the case of Q. 26:16, the grammatical error is caused by a human agent and not by a divine source.
Another serious problem stemming from the faulty logic used by Zawadi to soften the blow caused by the grammar mistake in Q. 26:16 is his appeal to sources outside of the Quran in a desperate attempt to defend the error of the Quran, the so-called perfect and divine book. Such appeal to external sources can only prove that Zawadi either acknowledges that his Quran has no convincing support to resolve this dilemma or possibly even his lack of confidence in his own so-called divine source. In our view, this serves as a further proof that the Quran is weak and dependent on other sources in order to support its meaning. Therefore, the Quranic message is deceiving when it says:
"Verily, We made it a Quran in Arabic so that you may be able to understand" Q. 43:3
In addition, many of the classical Arabic commentators of the Quran such as Al-Tabari, Al-Zamakhshari, Al-Razi, and Al-Baydawi, to name a few, took quite a bit of time to explain the use of the word “Messenger” in the singular and not the dual form in their exegesis of Q. 26:16. We find this behavior strange, for if this usage of the singular form in place of the dual” and the word “rasool” is certainly common in its use to represent a “message”, then why would such renowned commentators invest so much time into providing a clarification if indeed they did not recognize a problem with the way the grammar of Q. 26:16 was structured?
Another serious problem with the logic, which Zawadi attempts to utilize to defend his Quran, is that the use of the singular form to represent two persons contradicts Islamic theology which denies the Doctrine of the Trinity in which the ONE true Triune God has revealed himself in the Bible in three distinct persons, who are co-equal and co-eternal. The Quran, misunderstanding the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, makes false claims that the Bible teaches the worship of three gods; namely, a Father, a Mother, and a Son, and declares its faulty view of this doctrine to be a blasphemy against Allah.9 However, the doctrine of the Trinity deals with the nature of God who is omnipotent and able to do all things, and no one can dare to explain his divine nature and essence. Yet Zawadi is willing to apply similar logic to two feeble human beings, Moses and Aaron, allowing them to be called ONE, i.e. one messenger in two persons! In fact, Al-Razi tends to agree with our observation in stating that since both Moses and Aaron are in agreement concerning the one single message they represent, and since they are brothers, then they both can be considered as one messenger. In other words, Al-Razi’s comment alludes to the fact that when two persons of the same nature represent a unified message or mission then both can be called as one. He even stated that the use of the singular word “messenger” can be used as a representation of either one of the two messengers (i.e. Moses or Aaron) since both are a representation of one message and of one nature. Moreover, Al-Razi thought it appropriate to even consider that declarative personal pronoun “Inna” a speech by Allah himself through Moses and Aaron. In other words Allah’s speech is manifested in two persons!10
Allah’s Omnipotence and the Incarnation Revisited
Allah: Evidence Of An Anthropomorphic Deity
Allah - An Immaterial Entity or an Invisible Man?
The Triune God – The Greatest Conceivable Being that Exists
Allah – More Human Than Divine!
Historical and Biblical Basis for the Trinity
Expositon of the Trinity for Muslim Readers
Lastly, is Zawadi trying to tell us that both Moses and Aaron were messages for Allah, which means that Allah was embodied in both Moses and Aaron, since Allah is the source of the message which they were delivering? In other words, Zawadi is implying that Allah incarnated himself into the persons of Moses and Aaron for the purpose of delivering his message to Pharaoh. This too creates a serious contradiction with the Islamic Theology which denies that Allah can incarnate himself in the form of a human being, even though the Quran in Q. 4:171 calls Jesus the Word of Allah!
“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "Three" - Cease! (it is) better for you! - Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.” Q. 4:171
Therefore, if Zawadi wants us to believe that both Moses and Aaron were indeed the incarnate messages of Allah, one then must accept that Jesus, almost 600 years before Islam, was declared to be God’s Word incarnated in bodily form:
“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God ...14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us...” John 1:1-2, 14
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form ...” Colossians 2:9
As a result of this we have one final thought to share with Mr. Zawadi:
Mr. Zawadi, you may assume that others do not know how to read or understand the Arabic language, however, your assumption is clearly wrong. Even though many of your discussion partners or opponents may not know Arabic, some do, and they will speak up. Furthermore, shame on you, an Arabist and Islamist, for offering such a lousy response with weak supporting evidence.
In closing, we have to conclude that the Quran once again proves to be insufficient to be the standard for the Arabic language and its grammar rules. As seen above, classical Quranic commentators, in an effort to hide grammatical problems in the text, go to a great extent in order to explain any linguistic oddities found in the Quran, not to mention their attempts to invent new grammatical rules that are exclusive to it. As a result, Muslims must acknowledge that their Quran is in no way a divine book, nor that its message can be trusted.
Addendum by Jochen Katz [7 August 2012]
In addition to the points brought out by Mutee'a Al Fadi in his rebuttal, there are a number of additional logical mistakes that Zawadi made in his appeal to Muslim commentators which can be detected even by those who are not fluent in Arabic. It needs only careful attention to what Zawadi has translated for us, and the conclusions he drew from it.
Originally intended as an appendix to the above rebuttal, my discussion has grown into a full length article and is now published as a separate response under the title “Brains in Chains: The Perils of Parroting”.