Does the Qur’an have a revelation from God?
Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.
The Qur’an says,
“Read: and thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, who teacheth by the pen, teacheth man that which he knew not.” (96:3-5)
“He said: The knowledge thereof is with my Lord in a Record. My Lord neither erreth nor forgetteth.” (20:52) (Pickthall)
Does the Qur’an give any revelation from God at all? Does the Qur’an give a record in which there is no error? Certainly, one can raise the question about Allah’s forgetting when we compare the Qur’an and the Bible, or other historical documents.
We have to begin with defining what a revelation is. Revelation involves the disclosure of information that could not be known by rational, scientific, or other means. For example, there are books in the Bible that do not fit the category of revelation. The Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles give accounts of things that have taken place in the past. There are even sources mentioned where the account is taken from or where the account may be read. For example, 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Kings 11:41; 1 Kings 14:19; 1 Chronicles 9:1, Ezra 10:2.
What has taken place is an account of history that has been passed down. It is not revelation in that no one could not observe it or know it. Christians claim that these books are inspired, that is, they are a true and accurate account of the past in which God brought the Hebrew people into existence beginning with Abraham. The writers were moved by the Holy Spirit to put together the history of the Messianic people beginning with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his sons, the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt, their deliverance by Yahweh, their history from the time of the judges, the kingdom era, the captivity, and their return from exile. Mixed into this history are the judgements of God which are revelation delivered by the prophets to the people. This is not mere history, but history from God’s point of view.
Revelation relates to things we could not know on our own. For example, there were no human eyewitnesses to the creation of the Cosmos. We can only think about the Cosmos and surmise that it was eternal, or that is was created, but we do not really know. No human was there. When the Bible speaks of the creation of the world, we refer to this as revelation because it could not be known apart from God revealing it. It is only in the last century that, based on the “Big Bang” view of the universe, cosmologists and physicists have come to conclude that the cosmos is not eternal, but had a beginning.
The Bible speaks of God choosing Abraham as a family through whom the world would be blessed. Abraham was a no-body. He was not royalty, he was not a genius, he was not powerful, but a humble man living his life. God chose him and Abraham was faithful to God. The promise to Abraham was that he would have son. Many years passed into his old age when it seemed impossible for his wife to bear a son. When he was one hundred years old, and Sarah was 90, God appeared to him and told him that the time had come and Sarah would conceive and give birth to a son. This choosing was an act of revelation. The birth was a miracle. God encountered Abraham and revealed this to him.
Throughout the Old Testament there are frequent references to a coming Messiah.
These references begin in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis (3:15) and continue throughout the prophetic books. Not only did God reveal this would happen in the future, he revealed where it would take place, the kind of person the Messiah would be, and the things that would happen to the Messiah.
From a human, rational viewpoint, there would be no basis for saying that a Messiah would come. There would be no rational basis for projecting that the Messiah would suffer, or do anything.
Without revelation we would be in ignorance.
One of the most astounding acts of revelation comes in the person of Jesus, the Christ.
The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Messiah as follows: “A child has been born for us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) When one reads the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus it is impossible to escape the claim that Jesus fulfils this prophecy.
He did things that only God can do. He raised the dead, he healed the lepers, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healed the lame, cast out demons from people whose lives were possessed by them, calmed the sea, forgave people their sins, and did many other marvelous things. Most importantly, he revealed the nature of God because he was God in the flesh.
The most important information about a person can only be obtained by the person revealing himself. We can look at people’s bodies all day long and not know anything about the person inside the body. It is only when the person begins to speak that we know what the person is about. There is genuine mystery about a person until the person speaks. The same holds true for God. We don’t really know much about God until God speaks. The Bible affirms this self-revelation and speaks of a Being who is rational, consistent, and self-revealing.
This self-revealing tells us of God’s love for us even when we were sinners. (Romans 5:8)
With this as a background about revelation in the Bible, what can we say about the Qur’an as revelation? What is there in the Qur’an that can be categorized as revelation?
There is a lot of material that purports to be history. The story of the flood is recounted many times and it is used to warn people about the coming day of judgment. History is not revelation. We have known about the flood ever since the Bible was written. There are lots of references to Moses and his encounter with Pharaoh in the Qur’an but this is not revelation since the Qur’an attempts to recount what was known from the Bible. God revealed what was going to happen which is recorded in the Bible.
In the Qur’an, the creation of Adam and Eve is recounted a number of times and the story of Iblis is included in which he would not bow down to them. The Bible does not have this account. Can we say that this is revelation? No, because we know where the story comes from. It is found in Jewish mythology. It was circulating around long before Mohammed arrived on the scene. It is something that was known long before his claimed revelation. The story circulated among the Jews but none of them claimed it to be revelation. Here is the story:
“But the devil said: "Allow me to tell you how I was cast down from here, and God made man. I wandered to and fro in the world, and God said unto Michael: Bring me earth from the four ends of the world, and water out of the four rivers of Paradise. And when Michael had brought them to him, he formed Adam in the east, and gave form to the shapeless earth, and stretched sinews and veins, and united everything into a harmonious whole; And he showed him reverence for his own sake because he was his image. And Michael also worshiped him. And when I came from the ends of the world, Michael said to me: ‘Worship the image of God which he has made in his own likeness. But I said: ‘I am fire of fire, I was the first angel to be formed, and shall worship clay and matter? And Michael said to me: ‘Worship, lest God be angry with you.’ I answered: ‘God will not be angry with me; but I will set up my throne over against his throne, and shall as he is [Isaiah 14:14f.].’ Then God was angry with me and cast me down, after he had commanded the windows of heaven to be opened.” Gospel of Bartholomew, The Other Bible, p. 352
There is a great deal of repetition in the Qur’an on things already known in the past whether in Jewish legends or Christian myths circulating in the centuries before Mohammed.
The truth of the Qur’an can be questioned in many places but we can look at one in particular.
“And Solomon was David’s heir. And he said: O mankind! Lo! We have been taught the language of birds, and have been given (abundance) of all things. This surely is evident favour. And there were gathered unto Solomon his armies of the jinn and humankind, and of the birds, and they were set in battle order. Till, when they reached the Valley of the Ants, an ant exclaimed: “O ants! Enter your dwellings lest Solomon and his armies crush you, unperceiving.
And (Solomon) smiled, laughing at her speech, and said; My Lord, arouse me to be thankful for thy favour wherewith Thou hast favored me and my parents, and to do good that shall be pleasing unto thee, and include me in (the number of) thy righteous slaves.” (27:17-20)
This is not revelation, it is a Jewish legend. It circulated centuries before Mohammed. The story about the Queen of Sheba that follows the verses quoted above is also a Jewish legend that has no historical value. These stories can be found in this collection under the heading of Solomon.
There is much repetition in the Qur’an and many stories and themes are repeated many times. There are a number of themes that re-occur. Among them are the frequent references to the Gardens for the believers in paradise in contrast to the numerous references to hell for the unbelievers. Besides the references to the gardens, the idea of the “hereafter” is repeated frequently. Many references are made to Abraham, Lot, Noah, and even Jesus. Moses and Pharaoh receive quite a bit of repeating. Even the story of Iblis or Satan removal from heaven is recounted a number of times.
There are very few new ideas in the Qur’an. There were monotheists before Mohammed.There were critics of the Trinity before Mohammed. There were descriptive preachings about the gardens of paradise as well as about the horrors of hell before Mohammed. There were lots of legends floating around in the various cultures before Mohammed which he borrowed and gave the impression that they were fresh revelations from Allah.
What is really new in the Qur’an? There are a few items that can be mentioned.
First, is the claim that Mohammed is a prophet. The Qur’an declares that one should be obedient to Allah and his prophet. “O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the messenger, and render not your actions vain.” (47:34) One could draw a parallel between the Muslim demand to accept Mohammed as a prophet and the demand of the Roman emperors to accept Caesar as divine. If the Christians did not accept Caesar as divine many were killed, thrown to the lions, and if the Christians did not accept Mohammed as a prophet, even though they believed in God, they were killed, or later reduced to dhimmitude.
Second, there is the claim of jihad against all people who are not Muslims until they become Muslims. “Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.” (2:216) “ Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.” (9:29)
Third, there is the claim of abrogation, the claim that Allah can replace one revelation with a better one. “Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is able to do all things?” (2:106) One can see a list of abrogated verses here.
Fourth, there is the revelation that wives can be beaten. The Qur’an says, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For God is Most High, great (above you all).” (Surah 4:34 Yusuf Ali trans.) Pickthall uses the word “scourge them.” Six other translations of the Qur’an use the word “beat them.”
Following the words of Mohammed, untold numbers of Muslim women have been beaten for all kinds of irrational reasons.
The thoughtful Muslim should question these practices and ideas. Unfortunately many did not in the course of history. If we give serious thought to these issues one is forced to ask questions that are not easy to overlook.
First, anybody can claim to be a prophet. Jesus warned against false prophets and there have been many people who made these claims but who were false prophets. Jesus said, “Many false prophets will come and fool a lot of people. Evil will spread and cause many people to stop loving others.” (Matthew 24:11-12 CEV)
Warnings against false prophets are mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy.
“Someday a prophet may come along who is able to perform miracles or tell what will happen in the future. Then the prophet may say, "Let's start worshiping some new gods--some gods that we know nothing about." If the prophet says this, don't listen! The LORD your God will be watching to find out whether or not you love him with all your heart and soul. You must be completely faithful to the LORD. Worship and obey only the LORD and do this with fear and trembling, because he rescued you from slavery in Egypt. If a prophet tells you to disobey the LORD your God and to stop worshiping him, then that prophet is evil and must be put to death.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 CEV)
The Bible rejects the idea of Mohammed being a true prophet in these words: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (I John 4:13-15) Mohammed rejected Jesus as the Son of God.
The second issue relates to jihad. Not only is jihad supported by the Qur’an, but the madrassas educate children that Jews are pigs and are to be hated. Nothing in the Bible affirms world jihad. The land promised to Abraham did not come to his descendants until 400 years later. The only battle the Jews were commanded to fight was for the land where Abraham once lived. Nothing more. There was no world jihad by the Jews. Muslims chaff at the crusades but these were only reactions to their invasions in the first place, centuries before. Muslims ignore the fact of their invasion of Christian lands in the early days of Islam. Moreover, there is no command for a Christian jihad of the world.
The Bible declares, “If anyone says, “I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (I John 4:20-21)
While one may think of this only with reference to fellow believers, Jesus taught his followers: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44) The devil is the source of hate, not God. If you hate non-Muslims where did you get your reason to hate?
Third, the claim of abrogation reflects negatively on Allah. If Allah is all-knowing as Muslims believe, how can one think that Allah did not give the right information in the first place? Does he not know that he made a mistake? Abrogation is something a human would do, but not Allah. If Allah is not really the Creator it would be possible to think in terms of him making a mistake. If he is the Creator, then it is irrational to think of him making a mistake. As Creator and omniscient (all-knowing) he should get it right the first time. Allah is not to be conceived as a politician who says one thing now at one time and something contradictory to a different audience. Is the opening statement false and Allah does err and does forget what he said before?
This becomes a serious problem since many Muslims believe in a heavenly Qur’an that is unchangeable. How can one “revelation” be changed by a more desirable “revelation”? In many cases these changes were particularly favorable to Mohammed’s desires.
Fourth, wife beating is only one part of the suffering of Muslim women under Islam. It begins with female genital mutilation, often involves child marriages, denial of education because women are judged inferior to men by Mohammed, deprived of protection from abusive husbands, discriminated against in many countries where they seek justice against rapists and are often locked up charged with fornication or adultery when they appear to bring charges against the rapist or rapists. Finding the required four male witnesses is virtually impossible.
What is claimed as revelation seems contrary to the nature of God who created mankind to bless not to curse. Jihad has brought untold suffering to the human race. It has been estimated that over 270 million people have died due to Islamic jihad since the time of Mohammed. There is no counting the number of girls who have been forcibly mutilated, and abused because of these practices. The denial of education, the status of women as property, the easy divorce has kept Muslim marriages from being a partnership of love and equality, these and other things like honor killings have brought the plight of women to terrible suffering.
If change is to be brought about it will be through the enlightened Muslim who is concerned about the issues.