The Muslims claim that the Quran is divinely dictated and contains no real contradictions. The Muslims deny that Muhammad had anything to do with the composition of the Quran apart from insuring its memorization, recitation and inscripturation. The author, they claim, is Allah Almighty.
Yet, anyone examining the Quran carefully will discover major discrepancies. For instance, the same event is narrated several times throughout the Quran yet never in the same exact manner. One will often find major verbal variations and contradictions in the parallel accounts of the same event.
One such example of a narration that is repeated several times which contains variations and contradictions is the story of Moses' confrontation with the Pharaoh and his magicians. Compare the following narrations carefully:
"Then after them We sent Moses with Our Signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them: So see what was the end of those who made mischief. Moses said: O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of the Worlds,- One for whom it is right to say nothing but truth about Allah. Now have I come unto you (people), from your Lord, with a clear (Sign): So let the Children of Israel depart along with me. (Pharaoh) said: If indeed thou hast come with a Sign, show it forth,- if thou tellest the truth. Then (Moses) threw his rod, and behold! it was a serpent, plain (for all to see)! And he drew out his hand, and behold! it was white to all beholders! Said the Chiefs of the people of Pharaoh: This is indeed a sorcerer well-versed. His plan is to get you out of your land: then what is it ye counsel? They said: Keep him and his brother in suspense (for a while); and send to the cities men to collect- And bring up to thee all (our) sorcerers well-versed. So there came the sorcerers to Pharaoh: They said, Of course we shall have a (suitable) reward if we win! He said: Yea, (and more),- for ye shall in that case be (raised to posts) nearest (to my person). They said: O Moses! wilt thou throw (first), or shall we have the (first) throw? Said Moses: Throw ye (first). So when they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them: for they showed a great (feat of) magic. We revealed to Moses: Throw (now) thy rod:and behold! it swallows up all the falsehoods which they fake! Thus truth was confirmed, and all that they did was made of no effect. So they were vanquished there and then, and turned about humiliated. But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration. Saying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds,- The Lord of Moses and Aaron. Said Pharaoh: Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick which ye have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall ye know (the consequences). Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you all. They said: For us, We are but sent back unto our Lord: But thou dost wreak thy vengeance on us simply because we believed in the Signs of our Lord when they reached us! Our Lord! pour out on us patience and constancy, and take our souls unto Thee as Muslims (who bow to Thy Will)!" S. 7:103-126
"And We showed Pharaoh all Our Signs, but he did reject and refuse. He said: Hast thou come to drive us out of our land with thy magic, O Moses? But we can surely produce magic to match thine! So make a tryst between us and thee, which we shall not fail to keep - neither we nor thou - in a place where both shall have even chances. Moses said: Your tryst is the Day of the Festival, and let the people be assembled when the sun is well up. So Pharaoh withdrew: He concerted his plan, and then came (back). Moses said to them: Woe to you! Forge not ye a lie against Allah, lest He destroy you (at once) utterly by chastisement: the forger must suffer failure! So they disputed, one with another, over their affair, but they kept their talk secret. They said: These two are certainly (expert) magicians: their object is to drive you out from your land with their magic, and to do away with your most cherished way. Therefore concert your plan, and then assemble in (serried) ranks. He wins (all along) today who gains the upper hand. They said: O Moses! whether wilt thou that thou throw (first) or that we be the first to throw? He said, Nay, throw ye first! Then behold their ropes and their rods - so it seemed to him on account of their magic - began to be in lively motion! So Moses conceived in his mind a (sort of) fear. We said: Fear not! for thou hast indeed the upper hand: Throw that which is in thy right hand. Quickly will it swallow up that which they have faked: what they have faked is but a magician's trick: and the magician succeeds not, (no matter) where he goes. So the magicians were thrown down to prostration: they said, We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses. (Pharaoh) said: Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic! be sure I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall ye know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment! They said: Never shall we prefer thee to what has come to us of the Clear Signs, Him Who created us! So decree whatever thou desirest to decree: for thou canst only decree (touching) the life of this world. For us, we have believed in our Lord: may He forgive us our faults, and the magic to which thou didst compel us: for Allah is Best and Most Abiding." S. 20:56-73
"(Pharaoh) said: If thou takest any god other than me, I will certainly put thee in prison! (Moses) said: Even if I showed you something clear (and) convincing? (Pharaoh) said: Show it then, if thou tellest the truth! So (Moses) threw his rod, and behold, it was a serpent, plain (for all to see)! And he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white to all beholders! (Pharaoh) said to the Chiefs around him: This is indeed a sorcerer well-versed: His plan is to get you out of your land by his sorcery; then what is it ye counsel? They said: Keep him and his brother in suspense (for a while), and dispatch to the Cities heralds to collect- And bring up to thee all (our) sorcerers well-versed. So the sorcerers were got together for the appointment of a day well-known, And the people were told: Are ye (now) assembled?- That we may follow the sorcerers if they win? So when the sorcerers arrived, they said to Pharaoh: Of course - shall we have a (suitable) reward if we win? He said: Yea, (and more),- for ye shall in that case be (raised to posts) nearest (to my person). Moses said to them: Throw ye- that which ye are about to throw! So they threw their ropes and their rods, and said: By the might of Pharaoh, it is we who will certainly win! Then Moses threw his rod, when, behold, it straightway swallows up all the falsehoods which they fake! Then did the sorcerers fall down, prostrate in adoration, Saying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron. Said (Pharaoh): Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely he is your leader, who has taught you sorcery! But soon shall ye know! Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you all! They said: No matter! For us, we shall but return to our Lord! Only, our desire is that our Lord will forgive us our faults, since we are the first to believe." S. 26:29-51
"Then after them sent We Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs with Our Signs. But they were arrogant: they were a wicked people. When the Truth did come to them from Us, they said: This is indeed evident sorcery! Said Moses: Say ye (this) about the Truth when it hath (actually) reached you? Is sorcery (like) this? But sorcerers will not prosper. They said: Hast thou come to us to turn us away from the ways we found our fathers following,- in order that thou and thy brother may have greatness in the land? But not we shall believe in you! Said Pharaoh: Bring me every sorcerer well versed. When the sorcerers came, Moses said to them: Throw ye what ye (wish) to throw! When they had had their throw, Moses said: What ye have brought is sorcery: Allah will surely make it of no effect: for Allah prospereth not the work of those who make mischief. And Allah by His Words doth prove and establish His Truth, however much the sinners may hate it! BUT NONE BELIEVED IN MOSES EXCEPT SOME OF THE CHILDREN OF HIS PEOPLE, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds. Moses said: O MY PEOPLE! If ye do (really) believe in Allah, then in Him put your trust if ye submit (your will to His). They said: In Allah do we put out trust. Our Lord! make us not a trial for those who practice oppression; And deliver us by Thy Mercy from those who reject (Thee)." S. 10:75-86
Here is how different translations translate S. 10:83:
But NONE believed in Moses except some children of HIS people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them ... Yusuf Ali
But NONE trusted Moses, save some scions of HIS people, (and they were) in fear of Pharaoh and their chiefs, that he would persecute them ... Pickthall
But NONE believed in Musa except the offspring of HIS people, on account of the fear of Firon and their chiefs, lest he should persecute them ... Shakir
But NONE believed in Műsa (Moses) except the offspring of HIS people, because of the fear of Fir'aun (Pharaoh) and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them ... Hilali-Khan
No one believed in Moses except some young people OF HIS OWN TRIBE who were at the same time very afraid of the persecution of the Pharaoh and his people ... Muhammad Sarwar
Then NONE believed in Moses save a posterity of HIS people, through fear of Pharaoh and their chiefs, lest they should persecute them ... Abdul Majid Daryabadi
But NO ONE believed Moses, except [some] offspring [i.e., youths] among HIS people, for fear of Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them ... Abul-Qasim Publishing House 1997
Only some offspring among HIS own folk believed in Moses because of fear for Pharaoh and his councillors, lest he might put them to some test ... T.B. Irving
So NO ONE believed in Moses, save a seed of HIS people, for fear of Pharaoh and their Council, that they would persecute them ... A.J. Arberry
But NONE believed in Moses, save a race of HIS own people, through fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs; lest he should afflict them ... E.H. Palmer
And NONE obeyed Moses save some youths from among HIS people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and their chiefs, lest he should persecute them ... Maulvi Sher Ali
After reading these accounts one is left wondering what exactly did Moses, the Pharaoh, and the magicians say to one another. Even apart from the verbal variations there is a major contradiction within these reports. According to Surahs 7, 20 and 26 Pharaoh's sorcerers repented and believed in the God of Moses and Aaron. One report even has them claiming to be Muslims. Yet, S. 10 says that none believed in Moses except his own people, namely the Israelites! So which is it? Did some of Pharaoh's magicians believe and repent? Or was there no one from Pharaoh's retinue who believed in the God of Moses and Aaron?
The problem doesn't end there. Just seven verses after the statement that none but a few Israelites believed in Moses, the author of the Qur'an forgot that statement when he reports Pharaoh's repentance and faith in the face of death (S. 10:90). Even without 10:83, this is a problem for itself, see this article. Certain, however, is that according to the Qur'an, Pharaoh's wife was a believer:
"So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses: Suckle (thy child), but when thou hast fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to thee, and We shall make him one of Our messengers. Then the people of Pharaoh picked him up (from the river): (It was intended) that (Moses) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow: for Pharaoh and Hámán and (all) their hosts were men of sin. The wife of Pharaoh said: '(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for thee: slay him not. It may be that he will be use to us, or we may adopt him as a son.' And they perceived not (what they were doing)!" S. 28:7-9
"And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong;" S. 66:11
In fact, Muhammad praises Pharaoh's wife as being one of the few women who achieved perfection:
Narrated Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari:
Allah's Apostle said, "Many amongst men attained perfection but amongst women none attained the perfection except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh. And the superiority of 'Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e. an Arabic dish) to other meals." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 57, Number 113)
Some have tried to explain away the apparent contradiction by implying that the phrase "His people" refers to the people of Pharaoh, i.e. that only a few Egyptians believed in Moses. Yet this translation makes little sense since this would mean that none of the Israelites believed save some of Pharaoh's own people! Furthermore, it is clear from the context that the nearest antecedent of the pronoun "His" is Moses, not Pharaoh which follows the pronoun. This is confirmed later on in the same passage by Moses' reference to "My people" (S. 10:84).
In the following, we present another example of parallel accounts containing major verbal variations:
"And remember We said: 'Enter this town, and eat of the plenty therein as ye wish; and enter the gate prostrating (with humility), and say: "Forgive (us)"; We shall forgive you your faults and increase (the portion of) those who do good.'" S. 2:58
Wa-ith qulna odkhuloo hathihi alqaryata fakuloo minha haythu shi/tum raghadan waodkhuloo albaba sujjadan waqooloo hittatun naghfir lakum khatayakum wasanazeedu almuhsineena
"And remember it was said to them: 'Dwell in this town and eat therein as ye wish, but say the word of humility and enter the gate in a posture of humility: We shall forgive you your faults; We shall increase (the portion of) those who do good.'" S. 7:161
Wa-ith qeela lahumu oskunoo hathihi alqaryata wakuloo minha haythu shi/tum waqooloo hittatun waodkhuloo albaba sujjadan naghfir lakum khatee-atikum sanazeedu almuhsineena
Did Allah say enter or dwell in? Did he say eat of the plenty or simply eat? Did he command them to say the word of humility and then enter the gate prostrating, or did he command them to enter the gate in a posture of humility and say "forgiveness"? It seems that Allah can't recall his exact words to the Israelites.
A Muslim may argue that the same phenomenon exists within the Gospels. For instance, Matthew, Mark and Luke narrate the same account often with verbal variations. A Muslim using this argument would be guilty of a false analogy. Since Matthew, Mark and Luke were not written by the same author it would be normal to expect three different authors reporting the same event with verbal differences. For instance, one author may have wished to summarize an account, another to provide additional details, and yet another to write down the material in a topical arrangement as opposed to following a chronological sequence. Yet, since these differences do not change the meaning or significance of the event then the accuracy of the Gospels are not called into question but are completely trustworthy, especially when they are viewed in light of the writing methods adopted by historians of that time period. (See this article for more info.)
But this is not the case with the Quran. Muslims do not believe that the Quran was written by multiple authors. Rather, they believe that there was only one author, namely God. Yet, if God had dictated the Quran to Muhammad we would not expect to find major verbal variations and contradictions in these parallel accounts. Instead, we would expect that God would repeat the same event in exactly the same way. That this is not what we find only proves that the Quran is not from God, but is the work of multiple writers. This means that the final compilers of the Quran did a very poor job of editing the book since traces of these conflicting sources can still be seen today.
Contradictions in the Qur'an
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