The Unintelligibility and Incompleteness of the Quran

The Journey By Night, Muhammad, Ahmad and Zaid

This article is part of the series on the the incompleteness and incoherence of the Qur'an. This installment deals with three particular instances in which the text of the Quran simply does not deliver the common Muslim understanding of its meaning.

Muslims believe that Muhammad was taken by night from Mecca to Jerusalem, from whence he then ascended throughout the seven heavens. Many Muslims base this on Sura 17:1. In light of this, we quote the passage, along with some of the immediate context, followed by a series of questions:

Glory be to HIM WHO carried HIS servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Distant Mosque, the environs of which WE have blessed, that WE might show him some of OUR Signs. Surely, HE alone is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. And WE gave Moses the Book and WE made it a guidance for the Children of Israel, commanding, `Take ye no guardian beside ME, `O ye, the progeny of those whom WE carried in the Ark with Noah.' He indeed was a grateful servant of OURS. And WE had clearly conveyed to the Children of Israel in the Book: `You will surely do great mischief in the land twice, and you will surely become excessively overbearing.' So when the time of the fulfillment of the first of the two warnings came, WE sent against you some servants of OURS, possessed of great might in war, and they penetrated into your houses and it was a warning that was bound to be fulfilled. Then WE gave you back the power against them and aided you with wealth and children and also made you larger in numbers than before. Now, if you do good, you will do good for your own souls; and if you do evil, it will be to your own loss. So when the time for the fulfillment of the latter warning came, WE raised a people against you that they might cover your faces with grief, and that they enter the Mosque, as they entered it the first time, and that they might destroy utterly all that they conquered. It may be that your Lord will now have mercy on you; but if you return to mischief, WE too will return to punishment, and remember WE have made Hell a prison for the disbelievers. S. 17:1-8 Sher Ali

A one can see, neither the name Muhammad nor the words Mecca and Jerusalem appear in the text. The ambiguity of the text has even led some Muslims to seriously doubt whether this passage is referring to Jerusalem:

Clearly, the immediate context is dealing with the people of Israel, with the Jews, and says nothing about Muhammad or the pagan Arabs. In light of the foregoing, we challenge the Muslims to answer the following questions by using the Quran ALONE:

  1. What is the Sacred Mosque? What is the far Distant Mosque? Where are they located?
  2. Who was the servant whom Allah transported between these mysterious mosques?
  3. If you say Muhammad, where are you getting that from the text? After all, the first eight verses are not dealing with either Muhammad or the pagans, but with the Israelites and their sacred history.
  4. Isn’t it more likely that, in light of the immediate context, the servant was Moses? It may even be Noah since he is also mentioned in the text. How do you know?

Further reading on the night journey:

Another problem we face when dealing with the Quran has to do with the names Muhammad and Ahmad. The Quran, in several places, refers to a messenger named Muhammad:

And Muhammad is but a messenger. Verily all Messengers have passed away before him. If then he dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels? And he who turns back on his heels shall not harm ALLAH at all. And ALLAH will certainly reward the grateful. S. 3:144 Sher Ali

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of ALLAH, and the seal of the Prophets and ALLAH has full knowledge of all things. S. 33:40 Sher Ali

But as for those who believe and do righteous deeds and believe in that which has been revealed to Muhammad - and it is the truth from their Lord - HE removes from them their sins and sets right their affairs. S. 47:2 Sher Ali

Muhammad is the Messenger of ALLAH. And those who are with him are hard against the disbelievers but tender among themselves. Thou seest them bowing and prostrating themselves in Prayer, seeking ALLAH's grace and pleasure. Their marks are upon their faces, being the traces of prostrations. This is their description in the Torah. And their description in the Gospel is like unto a seed-produce that sends forth its sprout, then makes it strong; it then becomes stout, and stands firm on its stem, delighting the sowers - That HE may cause the disbelievers to boil with rage at the sight of them. ALLAH has promised, unto those of them, who believe and do good works, forgiveness and a great reward. S. 48:29 Sher Ali

We won’t focus on the fact that the Quran has very little to say about this Muhammad, despite mentioning his name four times. We want to focus on another, related point. In one place it mentions a messenger named Ahmad:

And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of an Apostle to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, "this is evident sorcery!" S. 61:6 Y. Ali

Muslims have assumed — without hesitation — that this is another name given to Muhammad. Since the Quran mentions quite a few prophets and messengers by name, we ask the following questions:

  1. Who is Ahmad? If you say he is Muhammad how do you know this?
  2. Since no other passage refers to Muhammad as Ahmad, how do you know that this name is not actually a description of some other personality or figure?
  3. In fact, according to Muslims Ahmad means "Praised One." Note, for instance, how Pickthall renders Sura 61:6:

    … and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One

Since the name Ahmad means Praised One wouldn’t it be blasphemous to say that this name is given to a mere, fallible human being?

  1. Doesn’t it make more sense that this is a title referring to the Holy Spirit of God who, according to both the Holy Bible and Quran, is also Deity?
  2. In light of this, how can you prove that this isn’t simply a descriptive noun describing not a human prophet to come, but rather the coming of the Holy Spirit which Jesus mentioned in the Gospels? (Cf. John 7:38-39; 14:16-17; 15:26-27; 16:7-15; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4, 25-33).

The Muslim may claim that Sura 61:6 must be referring to a human agent, a human prophet, since the word messenger (rasul) is used. The problem with this logic is that there is another place in the Quran where Allah’s Spirit is expressly said to be a messenger from the Lord:

And mention Marium in the Book when she drew aside from her family to an eastern place; 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. She said: Surely I fly for refuge from you to the Beneficent God, if you are one guarding (against evil). He said: I am only an apostle of your Lord: That I will give you a pure boy. S. 19:16-19 Shakir

Some may say that Jesus was referring to another human envoy like himself, not to an immaterial entity like God’s Spirit, on the basis that this other messenger would be like Christ. First, nothing in the text indicates the kind of messenger Jesus supposedly had in mind (we say supposedly since the Quran does not report the words of the real, historical Jesus, but actually distorts them). Second, this assumes that Jesus was merely a human messenger when in fact the Quran says he was more than that. The Quran says that Jesus was a spirit who already existed with Allah prior to his descent into the womb of the blessed virgin Mary:

O ye people of the Book! overstep not bounds in your religion; and of God, speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed into Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from himself (ruhun minhu). Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not, "Three:" (there is a Trinity) - Forbear - it will be better for you. God is only one God! Far be it from His glory that He should have a son! His, whatever is in the Heavens, and whatever is in the Earth! And God is a sufficient Guardian. S. 4:171 Rodwell

Note the similarities between this reference and the one above, the one from Sura 19. Jesus, much like the Spirit, came from Allah; and the Spirit, much like Jesus, appeared as a man! Furthermore, both of them are called the Apostles of Allah!

Again, in light of the foregoing how can a Muslim prove that Jesus wasn’t referring to God’s Holy Spirit as the messenger who was to come after him?

For those interested in reading the evidence from the Quran that shows that the Holy Spirit is God, please read the following articles:

And here are some articles regarding the use and identity of Ahmad:

The final point we want bring up has to do with a person named Zaid whom we read about in the Quran:

And when you said to him to whom Allah had shown favor and to whom you had shown a favor: Keep your wife to yourself and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; and you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light, and you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him. But when Zaid had accomplished his want of her, We gave her to you as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their want of them; and Allah's command shall be performed. S. 33:37 Shakir

Again, using only the Quran we invite the Muslims to answer the following:

  1. Who is this Zaid?
  2. Who was the person, the recipient of this rebuke?
  3. Why was this recipient concealing something within himself, and why did he fear men?
  4. What was his relationship to Zaid?
  5. Who was the wife that the unnamed recipient insisted that Zaid should not divorce?

Sam Shamoun

The Incompleteness and Incoherence of the Qur'an
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