Responses to Islamic Awareness

Historical Errors of the Qur'an: Pharaoh and Haman

The "Islamic Awareness" team has rewritten their article on this issue, and we have rewritten our response. Our initial response can be found here. The Qur'an mentions a man named Haman in several passages [Surah 28:6, 8, 38; Surah 29:39; and Surah 40:24, 36] as an prominent man in ancient Egypt, and an advisor to the Pharaoh. The Bible also mentions a man named Haman who served as a counselor to King Ahasuerus [or Xerxes] of Persia many centuries after the events of the Exodus.

The Qur'anic tale mixes a number of Biblical themes including a man named Haman [from the Book of Esther] with the story of the Tower of Babel [from Genesis] with the story of Moses [from Exodus].

The "Islamic Awareness" team must, somehow, place a man named Haman, which in Hebrew means noise or tumult and magnificent in Avestan/Old Persian, in ancient Egypt. They will, as in other essays, accept the Qur'anic account without question or critical analysis, and attempt to force the "facts" into this framework by quote-mining several sources and by employing a number of logical fallacies, as well as taking a shot, or two, at the Bible in order to defend the veracity of Muhammad's peculiar little tale.

A Critical Examination of the Biblical Evidence Used Against the Qur'an – Or Beating a Straw-man to Death

The "Islamic Awareness" team frames the evidence against the Qur'an as the following:

1. Because the Bible has been in existence longer than the Qur'an, the Biblical account is the correct one, as opposed to the Qur'anic account, which is necessarily inaccurate and false.

No one has claimed that the Bible is true because it is an older text. This would be nothing more than a straw-man based on the fallacy of the Appeal to Tradition. Christians accept the Bible, in this case the Old Testament, as the truth because it was inspired by God, contains both historical and prophetic accuracy, and was confirmed by Jesus Christ.

2. The Bible is in conformity with firmly established secular knowledge, whereas the Qur'an contains certain incompatibilities.

This is another straw-man. There are many serious Biblical archeologists and historians, both believing Christians and unbelievers, who study and debate various issues concerning the Biblical account of human history. There are numerous organizations devoted to the study of Biblical archeology including: The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology, BIBARCH, Associates for Biblical Research, Near East Archaeological Society (NEAS), Biblical Chronologist, and Archaeology Society; as well as publications such as Biblical Archaeologist, Biblical Archaeology and American Archaeologist, and Biblical Archaeology. Where are the Muslim counterparts to these organizations and these publications? Why aren't Muslims interested in Qur'anic archaeology? What are they afraid of – the facts?

I am not aware of any scholar who seriously considers the Qur'an as a reliable source for the study of Egyptology in particular, or for the study of ancient history in general.

3. Muhammad copies and in some case altered the Biblical material when composing the Qur'an.

The circumstantial evidence, or indirect evidence, points to this conclusion. It appears that Muhammad heard a number of versions of the Biblical narratives from the Jews of Arabia. He simply combined various elements of a number of stories into a narrative. Muhammad had a purpose for his recitation of the Qur'anic narratives which mention Haman: – he was attempting to convince the people of Mecca that he [Muhammad] was a Prophet like Moses. Historical facts were of no importance, he was telling a story to elicit a response based on fear.

The most astounding thing about the Qur'an's account of Haman is that all of the main elements of the Qur'anic narrative are contained within the Old Testament. In both the Bible and the Qur'an, Haman is an evil character who plans to destroy the children of Israel. Haman built a tall structure – a gallows in the Bible [Esther 5:14], and a tower in the Qur'an [Surah 40:36].

There are a number of other parallels:

The baking of bricks.

Surah 28:38 records Pharaoh saying: "light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay" while Genesis 11:3 says "let's make bricks and bake them".

A tall structure is to be built in order to reach the heavens.

Surah 28:38 records Pharaoh saying: "build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses", where Genesis 11:4 says "Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens".

The Qur'an also throws in a man named Korah [Qarun] for good measure. He was, apparently, a wealthy Israelite who opposed Moses [Surah 28:76]. However, in the Bible, Korah is the son of Izhar, and the great-grandson of Levi [Exodus 6:21, Numbers 16:1-33]. Surah 28:76 tells us:

Qarun was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: such were the treasures We had bestowed on him that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men, behold, his people said to him: "Exult not, for God loveth not those who exult (in riches).

The Qur'an's account of Korah is somewhat similar to the Talmud's account in Sanhedrin [110a]:

"Rabbi Levi said: The keys of Korah's treasure house were a load for three hundred white mules, though all the keys and locks were of leather."

Pesachim [119a]:

"... such were the treasures We had bestowed on him, that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men."

Moreover, a very distinctive aspect is the death of Korah: He was swallowed up by the earth [Numbers 16:28-33] just as Qarun was swallowed by the earth [S. 28:81].

So, we have tremendous circumstantial evidence to support the theory that Muhammad concocted this little tale based on several different stories from the Bible. However, circumstantial evidence must be supported by a significant quantity of corroborating evidence – and we have this evidence in the Qur'an. There are numerous verses in the Qur'an where Muhammad is accused of reciting "tales of the ancients", including Surahs 6:25; 8:31; 16:24; 23:83; 25:5; 27:68; 46:17; 68:15; and, 83:13. Muhammad never provides any evidence to defend his alleged "revelations" from the charge!

The Historicity of the Book of Esther and its Characters and its Canonicity

The "Islamic Awareness" team goes into a very lengthy discussion concerning whether, or not, the Book of Esther is historically accurate and whether, or not, it belongs in the Canon of Scripture. This discussion fills a lot of space, but it is largely irrelevant. Even if the Book of Esther is historically inaccurate [which I do not believe to be the case], the problems of having a man with the Avestan name Haman in ancient Egypt does not go away. In other words, whether the Book of Esther is a divinely inspired, and an historically accurate book - or whether it is a Jewish legend that is essentially unhistorical – does not really matter for the Qur'an. Muhammad had heard about Haman from the Jews and considered him to be a real person. The problem arises because Muhammad took Haman out of the context of Persian history and transferred him to the court of the Pharaoh in Egypt. Whether Haman was taken out of true history or, out of a pious legend, his placement in Egypt is unhistorical in either case. Trying to attack the historicity of the Book of Esther does nothing to validate the story of Haman in the Qur'an. The accuracy of the Book of Esther – or the denial of the same – also does not explain away the fact that all of the main elements of the Qur'anic narrative are contained in the books of the Old Testament, many from the Book of Esther itself – which contains the earliest reference to a man named Haman.

Pharaoh and Haman in the Qur'an

The Pharaoh as God

The "Islamic Awareness" team opens this section by claiming that the Bible's use of the term Pharaoh, during Joseph's time, is anachronistic, while the Qur'an's use of the title King, or malik, is historically correct. This is not as strong an argument as the "Islamic Awareness" team imagines.

First, the story of Joseph was not written down until the time of Moses – many centuries in the future. So, it is hardly surprising that Genesis uses terms which were current at that point in history.

Second, The Qur'an did not invent the title of malik (King). In fact, the Bible uses both "Pharaoh" and "Melek" (the Hebrew term for King) in the story of Joseph (see Genesis 39:20, 40:1, 40:5, 41:6)! It is also interesting to note that the Bible, unlike the Qur'an, uses both Pharaoh and Melek to refer to the King of Egypt in the account of Moses and the Exodus (see Exodus 6:11 and 13).

Third, the use of the term Pharaoh in the Qur'anic story of Moses has more to do with dramatic effect than historical accuracy. In Muhammad's mind, and therefore in the Qur'an text, the title of Pharaoh was the very personification of evil and wickedness. Muhammad was attempting to draw parallels between those who opposed him and his purported revelations, and the Pharaoh who opposed Moses.

The "Islamic Awareness" team's claims for the historic accuracy of the Qur'an quickly fall apart with their quote:

"O Chiefs! no god do I know for you but myself:..

This is an enormous historical error. The Pharaohs believed themselves divine, however there is no evidence that any Pharaoh considered himself the one and only god. Amenhotep is considered to be a monotheist, however he did not hold himself to be the one and only god, he believed that title belonged to the god Aten [also called Aton]. The god Ra was considered the highest god in ancient Egypt, not the Pharaoh. This particular error of the Qur'an is discussed in detail in the article, How many gods did the Egyptians worship?

The Making of Burnt Bricks in Ancient Egypt

In the Qur'anic story of the Exodus, Pharaoh orders Haman to light a kiln in order to bake bricks for the construction of a lofty tower. The "Islamic Awareness" team is attempting to dance around the problem that, with a few minor exceptions, burnt bricks were not used in ancient Egypt and would not be used until the Roman Period. The best that the "Islamic Awareness" team can do is to conclude that the process of baking bricks was known to the ancient Egyptians even though it was not used throughout much of Egyptian history.

This attempt at rationalizing the problem away does not work. Before the "Islamic Awareness" team, many Muslim scholars have attempted to explain the meaning of the Qur'an in the light of history. Tabari, who lived in the 9th century A.D., wrote in his The History of al-Tabari, vol. III, (page 54) that several trustworthy transmitters of the hadith, including Yazid b. Zuray, said that Haman was the first to bake bricks, and that a lofty tower was, indeed, built. So, where are the archeological remains of this lofty tower?

It is also interesting to note that Ibn Ishaq related that Moses was waiting at Pharaoh's gate saying "something strange" according to The History of al-Tabari, vol. III, (page 54), just as Mordecai waited outside of the King's gate in Esther 2:19-21 and in chapter 3, where Mordecai refused to bow to Haman.

The Desire of the Pharaoh to Ascend to the Sky to Speak to the gods

We have a story where a leader orders that bricks be baked so a tall tower can be built in order that the leader may see God. This sounds very much like the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The building of Pharaoh's lofty tower in the Qur'an was an attempt of defiance towards both Moses and his God. Likewise, according to Josephus [Antiquities I 4, 2] the Tower of Babel was an act of defiance against Abraham and his God. According to Tabari [Volume III, page 54], when Pharaoh's lofty tower was completed, he [Pharaoh] climbed to the top and shot an arrow towards heaven. This arrow came back covered with blood. The Sefer ha-Yashar also mentions a similar incident, only in the story of the Tower of Babel.

The "Islamic Awareness" team will now attempt to convince us that the Pharaohs of Egypt ascended towers to commune with the gods, just as the kings of ancient Mesopotamia ascended their towers [Ziggurats] to do the same. However, this wishful thinking does not align with the facts of history.

The center of religious life in ancient Egypt was the "state" temple. Ancient Egyptian religion was highly ritualistic and the Pharaoh was regarded symbolically as the "High Priest" during holy days. Worship took place in the Temple, where the common people were not permitted to enter. The common people were also not allowed to see the Pharaoh officiate at any ritual at any time. It is impossible to imagine a Pharaoh denigrating his position in Egyptian religion and society by climbing up a tower, in public view, to meet god. The "Islamic Awareness" team is faced with another historical problem in their defense of this Qur'anic tale: there is no such tower anywhere in Egypt!

But, the "Islamic Awareness" attempts to confuse the issue:

The desire to ascend to the gods in the sky was an article of the ancient Egyptian religion. The idea of the Pharaoh climbing a tower or staircase to reach the God of Moses is in consonance with the mythology of ancient Egypt. The Pharaoh, asks the gods (or men) to construct a staircase or a tower in order to climb and converse with the gods.

After linking a staircase with a tower, the "Islamic Awareness" team provides the following quote:

Standing before the gods, the Pharaoh shows his authority. He orders them to construct a staircase so that he may climb to the sky. If they do not obey him, they will have neither food nor offerings. But the king takes one precaution. It is not he himself, as an individual, who speaks, but the divine power: "It is not I who say this to you, the gods, it is the Magic who speaks".

When the Pharaoh completes his climb, magic at his feet "The sky trembles", he asserts, "the earth shivers before me, for I am a magician, I possess magic". It is also he who installs the gods on their thrones, thus proving that the cosmos recognises his omnipotence.

There are a number of problems with this passage. First, this quote says absolutely nothing about Pharaoh ordering the construction of a tower. It also says nothing about Pharaoh conversing with the gods once he ascends this staircase. This quote was, as is often the case in "Islamic Awareness" articles, taken out of context. In addition, Pharaoh is commanding the gods to build this staircase, and not his human subects.

The ancient Egyptians built tall structures, such as obelisks, however people could not climb these structures. Pyramids, which are tombs, are the other example of tall buildings in ancient Egypt, therefore the "Islamic Awareness" team must turn these structures into Pharaoh's lofty tower. However, this is not an adequate answer. Pyramids were constructed as burial monuments. The pyramids can be climbed, however, there is no evidence the people of ancient Egypt used them for this purpose. An additional problem is that the pyramids are constructed of cut stone and not baked bricks.

In addition, pyramids required decades of labor to build. It is highly unlikely that Pharaoh would have waited for several decades to resolve his conflict with Moses. The Qur'anic story presents Pharaoh as a boastful person who wanted to show his power to Moses and demonstrate the non-existence of Moses' God. The Qur'an does not tell us whether, or not, this lofty tower was built. The commentator Ibn Kathir wrote that Pharaoh built his lofty tower, "which was the highest structure ever seen on earth, because he wanted to show his people that Musa was lying when he claimed that there was a God other than Fir`awn."

So, the pyramids are not the "Islamic Awareness" team's lofty tower, unless they show us a pyramid in Egypt built of burnt bricks!

The Mystery of the Name Haman

The "Islamic Awareness" team will now attempt to find some hieroglyph which sounds like Haman. They have a number of choices. Sher Mohammad Syed, ["Historicity Of Haman As Mentioned In The Qur'an", The Islamic Quarterly, 1980, Volume XXIV, No. 1 and 2] claims that "Haman" comes from the a title of the High Priest of Amon. For some reason, perhaps because the Qur'an does not call Haman a Priest, the "Islamic Awareness" team rejects this theory and embraces Maurice Bucaille's claim that the name Haman comes from the hieroglyph hmn-h. There are a number of problems with this theory.

First, the "Islamic Awareness" team tells us that the final h is doubtful. How do they know that this letter is doubtful? Additionally, how do they know that the vowels in this consonant framework is the vowel a? In addition, would someone whose name meant "overseer of the stone-quarries" also be in charge of brick kilns?

Second, the Qur'an spells Haman with an , but the hieroglyph corresponds to the letter . So, this hieroglyph cannot refer to the Haman of the Qur'an. After all, Muslims believe that the Qur'an is eternal – it has always existed in Heaven with God. Therefore, the Qur'an should record the correct phonetic spelling of Haman.

The "Islamic Awareness" team ignores their faith's beliefs concerning the Qur'an and suggest that a "phonetic merger" took place between these two different letters. This "merger", according to "Islamic Awareness" took place many centuries in the future – in the Coptic language! So, the "Islamic Awareness" must take their hieroglyphic evidence and hold it for several centuries, in order for the spelling differences between the Qur'an and hieroglyphs can be explained away. Therefore, one can conclude from the "Islamic Awareness" discussion that the spelling of the Qur'anic name for Haman was dependent on the development and evolution of the Coptic language – instead on being the eternal, uncreated word of God!

A final attempt at deception is the "Islamic Awareness" team's observation:

It is also interesting to note that there also existed a similar sounding name called Hemon[71] (or Hemiunu / Hemionu[72] as he is also known as), a vizier to King Khnum-Khufu who is widely considered to be the architect of Khnum-Khufu's the Great Pyramid at Giza. He lived in the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom Period (c. 2700 - 2190 BCE).

If Khufu was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then this event would have taken place somewhere during ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom era – in the middle of the third millennium B.C. This would place the Exodus much earlier than the two dynasties which are usually suggested: Ramses II [Merneptah] of the 19th Dynasty – around 1290 B.C.,and Thutmose III or Amenhotep II of the 18th Dynasty, around 1444 B.C. If the "Islamic Awareness" team wishes to claim that Hemiunu is Haman, they must prove their point from hieroglyphic evidence. In addition, they need to explain why Hemiunu is 1000 years older than Haman!

[Note: A much more detailed response to this section on the name "Haman" is now found in the article The Haman Hoax.]


The "Islamic Awareness" team has, once again, failed to prove the historicity of their Qur'an – in this case, the Qur'anic tale of Pharaoh, Haman, and their lofty tower. The Qur'anic tales, with their many inaccuracies, demonstrate why no scholar of ancient history or Egyptology uses the Qur'an as an historic source of information concerning the history of the ancient world. The "Islamic Awareness" team inadvertently exposed yet another historical error in the Qur'an – that the Pharaoh claimed to be the only god! The team also did not answer the problem concerning the existence of baked brick in ancient Egypt – baked bricks are very rare until the Roman period. Yet, the Qur'an claims that Haman was told to bake bricks and build a lofty tower, and the Qur'anic commentators Tabari and Ibn Kathir wrote that this tower was built and it was the highest structure on earth! So, where are the remains of this lofty tower? The "Islamic Awareness" attempts to find hieroglyphic evidence for Haman fell apart based on the phonetic differences between the Qur'anic and hieroglyphic inscriptions.

It is undeniable that the Qur'an's tale of Haman and Pharaoh mixes a number of Biblical themes from the Book of Esther, Genesis, and Exodus. All of the main elements of the Qur'anic narrative are contained within the Old Testament. The circumstantial evidence supports the theory that Muhammad concocted his little tale based on several different stories from the Bible. The corroborating evidence is the numerous verses in the Qur'an where Muhammad is accused of reciting "tales of the ancients". Neither Muhammad, nor his disciples at "Islamic Awareness" provide any evidence to defend these alleged "revelations" from the accusation!

Andrew Vargo

Note that there is another problem for the figure of Haman in the Qur'an: Haman must have become unbelievably old and still occupy a government position, see the article A Pharaoh Who Forgot to Die ...

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