Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Stray Say

How the author of the Qur'an messed up

Jochen Katz

The Qur'an states:

Say: 'Whosoever is an enemy to Gabriel -- he it was that brought it down upon thy heart by the leave of God, confirming what was before it, and for a guidance and good tidings to the believers. (S. 2:97, Arberry)

When first encountering this verse, a number of questions may occur to the reader:

  1. Who is addressed by the command "Say:"? I.e. who is supposed to speak the pronouncement or message that follows?
  2. Who is addressed by the statement that comes after "Say:"?
  3. Why would anyone want to be an enemy of Gabriel and why does the Qur'an address these people?
  4. The verse first defines a person or group of people with "Whosoever is an enemy to Gabriel", but then changes to something else. What about those people? What should they do, or what is going to happen with them? The sentence is left incomplete. The subject is hanging in the air, and nothing happens with it.
  5. Who is "he" who brought "it" down? Does the pronoun "he" refer back to Gabriel, or to the enemy? Or does it stand for yet another person or entity not even mention in this verse?
  6. And what is "it" that was brought down?
  7. Whose heart is referred to by "thy heart" to which "it" was brought down?

These questions do not arise because Arberry provided a bad translation. On the contrary, Arberry's translation is very close to the Arabic. This verse is as unclear and unsatisfactory in Arabic as it appears in English. Therefore, many translators add words to it (with or without placing parentheses around them) in order to clarify (?) the text or add meaning. The following translations are taken from this page, bold and capital emphasis are mine:

Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him ): "Whoever is an enemy to Jibrael (Gabriel) (let him die in his fury), for indeed he has brought it (this Qur'an) down to YOUR heart by Allah's Permission, confirming what came before it [i.e. the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] and guidance and glad tidings for the believers. (Al-Hilali & Khan)

Say (O Muhammad, to mankind): Who is an enemy to Gabriel! For he it is who hath revealed (this Scripture) to THY heart by Allah's leave, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, and a guidance and glad tidings to believers; (Pickthall)

Say O Muhammad: "Whoever is the enemy of Jibra'el (Gabriel) should know that he revealed this Qur'an to YOUR heart by Allah’s command, which confirms previous scriptures, and is a guidance and good news for the believers." (Malik)

(They are displeased with Gabriel for he brought Revelation to a gentile Prophet (2:90).) Say, "Who is an enemy to Gabriel! He it is who reveals this (Qur'an) to YOUR heart by Allah's leave - (and this Revelation) confirms the Divine Origin of the previous Scriptures. And it is a Guidance and glad tiding for those who accept it. (Shabbir Ahmed, QXP)

Say: "Who was an enemy to Gabriel , so that he descended it on your heart/mind with God's permission, confirming to what (is) between his hands, and (a) guidance and a good news to the believers." (Mohamed & Samira Ahmed, Literal Translation)

Say: "Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel, then know that he has sent it down into YOUR heart by God's permission, authenticating what is already present, and a guide and good news for the believers." (ProgressiveMuslims.org)

Say: 'Whosoever is an enemy to Gabriel -- he it was that brought it down upon THY heart by the leave of God, confirming what was before it, and for a guidance and good tidings to the believers. (Arberry)

To answer the first one of the above listed questions: Muslim commentators and translators are quite unanimous that the command "say!" addresses Muhammad. He is supposed to recite or proclaim what follows.

Some comments on question four: With "let him die in his fury", the version by Al-Hilali & Khan adds a whole clause to the text, which is clear evidence that the first part of the verse, "Whoever is an enemy to Jibrael", is an incomplete sentence that makes little sense by itself. Malik adds "should know that" between the first and second part of the pronouncement in order to connect them somehow. Al-Hilali & Khan as well as Pickthall add the conjunction "for" (because) giving the impression that the second part provides the reason for the first part. However, one may ask, a reason for what? The first statement does not become a complete and meaningful one by connecting it with a reason. A "for" needs a full statement first that it can then support with a reason. Arberry presents the most correct rendering, using the dash to indicate that there is a break of thought. And this leads to the next problem.

Questions five and six: Who is "he"? In the Arabic it is not immediately clear whether the pronoun "he" refers back to Gabriel, to the enemy, or somebody else who has not been mentioned in this verse. And something else is unclear: Did he bring down "it" or "him", i.e. did he bring down Gabriel or something that has not been mentioned in the verse? Most translators connect this pronoun with the Qur'an, which is certainly a reasonable assumption, but it is not the necessary conclusion. The Qur'an does not mention a book or scripture here.

All of the above does certainly not give the impression that the Qur'an is a miracle of eloquence. However, being unclear and mysterious is one thing, being wrong is another.

This verse is not only incoherent und unclear, it is obviously wrong in what it says because it uses the wrong possessive pronoun (highlighted in bold capital letters in the above quotations). When trying to answer question number seven, the conclusion can only be that the Qur'an made a wrong statement.

According to Muslim commentaries, the historical context leading to the "revelation" of this verse is that Muhammad was being accused by the Jews that he was not a prophet. He then claimed that the Quran was being recited to him by the angel Gabriel whom they are familiar with. In response, a group of the Jews claimed that Gabriel was the angel of war and tribulations and an enemy of the Jews, but if it had been the angel Michael, then they would have believed Muhamamd because Michael is their friend and the angel of peace and mercy. Then this verse was recited by Muhammad to counter or refute their objection.

However, Muhammmad was apparently so agitated by their opposition, that he wasn't even able to properly align the words of the revelation which was designed to silence the Jews.

The objection is: Gabriel does not bring revelation from God. We do not believe you. The answer, the core statement in S. 2:97, is that contrary to the objection of the Jews, "he has brought it (this Qur'an) down to your heart by Allah's Permission". It is phrased as a confirmation from Allah to Muhammad, i.e. "Muhammad, be sure that it was indeed Gabriel who has brought it down to your heart by Allah's will and permission". However, that is not the final formulation of the verse. This confirmation or consolation was then put into the form of a command to Muhammad regarding what he should tell his opponents who have declared Gabriel to be their enemy.

And that is where the author of the Quran messed up badly, because he forgot to change the pronoun at the same time that he changed the alleged speaker of the pronouncement.

"Your heart" makes sense when Allah speaks to Muhammad, but when the command "Say:" is put before it, then the speaker is now Muhammad, and it has to be "my heart" not "your heart". Otherwise, Muhammad is commanded to say to his listeners: "Gabriel brought down the revelation on YOUR heart", i.e. the heart of his listener(s), not his own.

The rather careless construction of this verse of the Qur'an betrays a human author. It is very common that people want to say something in one form, but then decide to phrase it differently, and the result is a formulation that is a mixture of the originally intended formulation and the formulation that it should have become later.[1] We still understand what the author wanted to say, but the mixed formulation is grammatically and semantically nonsense.

As a minimum, one has to either remove the word "Say" at the beginning, or change the pronoun attached to the word for heart, in order to rescue this verse from being eternal nonsense.

In the end, each person will have to draw his or her own conclusions, but I find it difficult to believe that such a faulty formulation should have come from an omniscient, all-wise, perfect God, that it allegedly was on Allah's eternal tablets, the heavenly copy of the Qur'an, before it was brought down by Gabriel to Muhammad. No, it makes much more sense to recognize this as being a very human error by the person who composed the Qur'an.

This verse is one more piece of evidence that the author of the Qur'an is not God. This formulation came from an error-prone human mind, i.e. at least parts of the Qur'an, if not all of it, have human origin.


Endnotes

1. Bassam Zawadi delivered a wonderful illustration for mixing two constructions in one sentence. In his Rebuttal To Jochen Katz's Article "Abdullah's Breasts: How to concoct a perversion" (*), he made the following statement:

Let us see what some of the most reliable Arabic dictionaries had the following to say regarding the word Thadee.

This construction is grammatically wrong. Two possible and correct formulations that the author probably had in mind are:

Let us see what some of the most reliable Arabic dictionaries have              to say regarding the word Thadee.
Some of the most reliable Arabic dictionaries had the following to say regarding the word Thadee.

but his mixture of the two formulations produced a wrong sentence. Very few people would consider Zawadi's statement to be so eloquent that it could only have come by divine inspiration. On the contrary, it shows that the author was somewhat absent-minded, and failed to properly proofread his article. Most people would not want to ascribe such properties to God.