The following article is a response to some of the claims made by Islamic Awareness in an attempt to save the Quran from a chronological fallacy. Their other major claims are answered in Andrew Vargo's rebuttal.
In this rebuttal we will only highlight the main arguments presented by Saifullah &Co. in their attempts of delivering the Quran from the mistake of naming John the Baptist "Yahya."
To summarize the claims made by Islamic Awareness, we are told that:
1. The Hebrew Yowchannan and the Greek Ioannes have no connection to the Quranic form of John the Baptist's name, i.e. "Yahya."
2. Evidence for the use of "Yahya" is found in Mandaean literature, which states that Yuhannan was John's spiritual name whereas Yahya was his actual name.
3. The word "samiyy" refers to either John's unique birth or to the fact that God had given the name "Yahya" to no one else.
As far as points 1 and 2 are concerned Islamic Awareness seems to have overlooked that Jews during the time of John the Baptist would not have used the name "Yahya." Rather, the Jews would have used the name recorded in the Holy Bible, namely Yowchannan or Ioannes. This is also supported by the testimony of the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.
And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.
The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, supports the fact that the Jews would have used Ioannes in place of Yowchanan:
"And all the captains of the host, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had thus appointed Godolias, and they came to Godolias to Massephath, both Ismael son of Nathanias, and Jona (Iona) Careth, and Saraias, son of Thanamath the Netophathite, and Jezonias son of a Machathite, they and their men." 4 Kings (Hebrew: 2 Kings) 25:23
"And the sons of Josias; the firstborn Joanan (Ioanan), the second Joakim, the third Sedekias, the fourth Salum... And the sons of Elithenan; Odolia, and Heliasebon, and Phadaia, and Akub, and Joanan (Ioanan), and Dalaaia, and Anan, seven." 1 Chronicles 3:15, 24
"and Achimaas begot Azarias, and Azarias begot Joanan (Ioanan); and Joanan (Ioanan) begot Azarias: he ministered as priest in the house which Solomon built in Jerusalem." 1 Chronicles 6:9-10
"And of the sons of Asgad; Joanan (Ioanan) the son of Accatan, and with him a hundred and ten males." Ezra 8:12
By appealing to Mandaean literature and neglecting to include the first century eyewitness accounts of the NT and the testimony of Flavius Josephus, as well as the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT, Islamic Awareness ends up committing an anachronistic or chronological fallacy. It is highly improbable that first century Palestinian Jews would use a name first adopted by a religious group that arose in the fifth century A.D. Therefore, the burden of proof rests upon Islamic Awareness to show that Jews in first century Palestine used the name "Yahya". For more information on this issue we recommend that our readers read Andrew Vargo's excellent rebuttal.
In light of the fact that the Hebrew Yowchannan or Greek Ioannes are the more correct form of John's name the argument originally posed by the Christians, which Islamic Awareness attempted to rebut, albeit quite unsuccessfully, still stands. Here it is again:
However, we read of a Johanan in 1 Kings 25:23, 1 Chronicles 3:15, 24, 6:9, 10, Ezra 8:12, etc. In fact, there are 27 instances of the name "Johanan" mentioned in the Old Testament. The Hasmonean Dynasty ruled Palestine in the century before John the Baptist appeared on the scene. Palestine at that time was very Hellenized and Greek became the main language. One of the priest-king of the Hasmonean Dynasty was John Hyrcanus, well attested to in many historical and classical sources. Josephus talks about a John the Essene who served as a general of the rebel force in Timna (Jewish War, 2.125). 1 Maccabees 2:1 tells us of "Mattathias son of John son of Simeon". Mattathias also has a son called John (1 Maccebees 2:2). John's brother, Judas, led the Jews in rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Simon also has a son named John (1 Maccebees 16:19). All these Johns lived before John the Baptist. John was indeed a very common name. (Source)
Most classical Muslim commentators understood the verse to mean that nobody was named John before John the Baptist. Some modern Muslim apologists try to get away from this error by claiming that a mistake in the Qur'an can only be established if it can be shown that God himself did name someone by the name John before John the Baptist. Yet this actually begs the question. To suggest that one needs to show where God named someone else John is to assume what Muslims have yet to prove, namely that God is the author of the Quran. This is circular reasoning. That the Quran calls John Yahya as opposed to Yuhannan only reinforces the fact that God is not the author of the Quran.
We now turn our attention to point 3.
Is the Baptist's Birth Unique?
According to Islamic Awareness, John was the only one born to an infertile father and barren mother. The birth of Isaac does not count since Abraham wasn't infertile. Yet upon closer analysis we discover that neither the Holy Bible nor the Quran support the claim that John's father was always infertile. Rather, it was due to Zechariah's old age and his wife's barrenness that prevented the couple from having children.
The Biblical Record:
"In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years." Luke 1:5-7
"Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her six month." Luke 1:36
The Quranic Record:
There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: "O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!" While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: "Allah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahyá, (John) witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and (be besides) noble, chaste, and a prophet,- of the (goodly) company of the righteous." He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, seeing I am very old, and my wife is barren?" "Thus," was the answer, "Doth Allah accomplish what He willeth." He said: "O my Lord! Give me a Sign!" "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three days but with signals. Then celebrate the praises of thy Lord again and again, and glorify Him in the evening and in the morning." S. 3:38-41
(This is) a mention of the Mercy of thy Lord to His servant Zakariya. Behold! he cried to his Lord in secret, Praying: "O my Lord! infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with gray: but never am I unblest, O my Lord, in my prayer to Thee! Now I fear (what) my relatives (and colleagues) (will do) after me: but my wife is barren: so give me an heir as from Thyself,- (One that) will (truly) inherit me, and inherit the posterity of Jacob; and make him, O my Lord! one with whom Thou art well-pleased!" (His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahyá: (John)on none by that name have We conferred distinction before." He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?" He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, That is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!" (Zakariya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights, although thou art not dumb." So Zakariya came out to his people from him chamber. He told them by signs to celebrate Allah's praises in the morning and in the evening. S. 19:2-11
And (remember) Zakariya, when he cried to his Lord: "O my Lord! leave me not without offspring, though Thou art the best of inheritors." So We listened to him: and We granted him John: WE CURED HIS WIFE'S (BARRENNESS) FOR HIM. These (three) were ever quick in doing in good works; they used to call on Us with yearning and awe, and humble themselves before Us. S. 21:89-90
Even when we examine the Mandaean literature championed by Islamic Awareness, we find no hint of Zechariah being incapable of having children because of an infertile condition which he supposedly always had. Instead, we discover that it was Elizabeth who was incapable of conceiving children due to barrenness and that Zechariah had entered into old age and was therefore incapable of having children:
Old Father (Zechariah) then raised his right hand and smote on the head of Elizar,
saying: Elizar, thou great house, thou had of all the priests!
If thou in thy inner part (soul?) knewest thy mother, thou wouldst
not dare come into our Synagogue. If thou in thy inner part knewest,
thou wouldst not dare read the Torah. For thy mother was a wanton.
A wanton was she, who did not match with the house of her husband`s father.
As thy father had not the hundred gold staters for writing her the bill
of divorcement, he abandoned her straightaway and enquired not for her.
Is there a day when I come and look forth, and see not Mìsha bar amrà (Moses,
son of Amram)? Yea, is there a day when I come without praying in your
Synagogue, that all of you should be false and dishonest and say a word
which you have ne`er heard about me? Where is there a dead man
who becomes living again, that Enishbai should bear a child? Where is there
a blind man who becomes seeing? Where is there a lame man for whom
his feet walk again? And where is there a mute who learns to read aloud
from a book, that Enishbai should bear a child? Nay, neither through me
nor through you will Enishbai ever bear a child!
Thereupon Old Father removed himself from their midst, and Elizar followed him.
Then were seen three lights (lamps) which accompanied him. They ran up,
caught Old Father by the hem of his robe and said to him:
Old Father, what is it that goes before thee, and what is it that follows thee?
Then he answered them, saying: "O Elizar, thou great house, thou head of all
the priests, I know of whom the lights guard which go before me. I know not
with whom the fire goes which follows me. But neither through me nor through
you will Enishbai ever bear a child." (Source)
All three sources affirm that it was Elizabeth who could not conceive due to her barrenness. Hence, Zechariah's surprise at having a child had nothing to do with him supposedly being infertile even prior to reaching an old age. Rather, it was due to his wife's barrenness and that he was too old to have any children. In light of these factors, let us see if Isaac was born under the same circumstances in which John was born:
The Biblical Record:
"Now Sarai was barren; she had no children." Genesis 11:30
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Abram agreed to what Sarai said." Genesis 16:1-2
"God also said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? And Abraham said to God, If only Ishmael might live under your blessing! Then God said, Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." Genesis 17:15-21
"Where is your wife Sarah? they asked him. There, in the tent, he said. Then the LORD said, I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son. Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure? Then the LORD said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son. Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, I did not laugh. But he said, Yes, you did laugh." Genesis 18:9-15
"Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was about a hundred years old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead." Romans 4:19
"By faith Abraham, even though he was past age - and Sarah herself was barren - was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore." Hebrews 11:11-12
The Quranic Record:
There came Our Messengers to Abraham with glad tidings. They said, "Peace!" He answered, "Peace!" and hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands not reaching towards the (meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: "Fear not: We have been sent against the people of Lüt." And his wife was standing (there), and she laughed: But We gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob. She said: Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!" They said: "Dost thou wonder at Allah's decree? The grace of Allah and His blessings on you, o ye people of the house! for He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of all glory! S. 11:69-73
We find that much like Zechariah and Elizabeth, both Abraham and Sarah conceived Isaac in old age with Sarah being barren. Hence, Isaac was exactly like John in the manner in which he was born so Saifullah & Co.'s arguments crumble from underneath them.
(Note: It should be noted that in their footnote # 33, Saifullah & Co. actually state that the claim made by Ibn Kathir that Zechariah was always infertile has no evidence to support it:
 This is a rather strange assertion by Ibn Kathîr unsupported by any evidence.
Yet one wonders what was the point in citing Ibn Kathir seeing that this admission undermines one of Islamic Awareness' main arguments. Namely, that Zechariah and Elizabeth's circumstances in conceiving John was different from the conditions surrounding the birth of Isaac. This point was seemingly used to nullify the attempt of seeing any similarities between the two births in order to highlight John's uniqueness. Yet, as we have shown, once it is established that Zechariah was not always infertile then the alleged uniqueness of John's birth goes out the window since Isaac was born under similar conditions.
What makes this even stranger is that Islamic Awareness approvingly cites Ibn Abbas who holds to the same view as Ibn Kathir!:
Using the method of using the Qur'ân to explain the Qur'ân, Ibn Kathîr drives home the point that the birth of Yahyâ(P) was unlike the birth of any other. This explanation is also supported by the hadîth from Ibn cAbbâs. Ibn cAbbâs said that what is meant here is that there had never been a boy similar to Yahyâ(P) in the sense of being born to an aged father and a barren mother. Although Isaac(P) was born to parents who were also old, NEITHER OF THEM WERE INFERTILE. IT IS FOR THIS REASON that Isaac(P) was unlike Yahyâ(P) in his birth.
The implication here is that whereas Isaac's parents were not infertile John's parents were, agreeing with Ibn Kathir's statement which Saifullah &Co. claimed had no evidence to support it!)
Another Like John
According to Islamic Awareness the term "samiyy" can refer to an equal or to someone equivalent with the implication being that there was no one equivalent to John. Yet even this is false since we discover that there was another person who was exactly like John the Baptist, namely Elijah the prophet. In fact, John is said to have come in the spirit and power of Elijah since both had been assigned the honor of preparing the way for the Messiah. (Cf. Luke 1:17; Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 17:10-13)
Some Muslims try to avoid this comparison by claiming that Elijah could not be like John. They argue that according to Jesus no one born of a woman up to that time was greater than John. (Cf. Matthew 11:11) This would naturally include Elijah as well.
First, Jesus' claim in Matthew 11:11 does not rule out the fact that John and Elijah were alike. Jesus was referring to John's position, that as far as position is concerned there was no one greater than the Baptist. That Jesus is referring to John's position becomes evident from the very same passage:
"... yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Yet, John and Elijah were exactly alike in their respective missions since both were given the honor of preparing the way for the Messiah's advent.
Hence, this commits a categorical fallacy since it assumes that for John and Elijah to be alike they must be equal in position.
Second, after saying that John held the greatest position over those who had gone before him, Jesus proceeds to identify the Baptist as Elijah himself!
"I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, HE IS THE ELIJAH WHO WAS TO COME. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 11:11-15
Jesus could therefore liken John to Elijah while at the same time acknowledging that no one born of a woman was greater than John in position.
Muslims also try to pit scripture against itself in order to avoid the connection between John and Elijah. It is claimed that the Baptist denied being Elijah in John 1:21, contradicting Jesus' own words in Matthew 11:14. Therefore, to accept one passage is to deny the other.
The dilemma here is one that Muslims must posit in order to avoid the gross error within the Quran, since by admitting that John is like Elijah proves that the Quran cannot be from God.
What those Muslims that make such claims fail to understand is that John was denying that he was the same person as Elijah, a sort of Elijah reincarnated. Yet, Jesus was not claiming that John was Elijah reincarnated. Rather, Jesus was simply claiming that John is a type of Elijah, doing what Elijah is supposed to do when Christ returns. This is seen from the following citation:
"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and ELIJAH, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah... As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. The disciples asked him, Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first? Jesus replied, To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist." Matthew 17:1-4, 9-13
Here Elijah himself appears with Moses on the mount and talks with Jesus. Jesus affirms that this same Elijah will come and restore all things. Jesus then proceeds to identify John the Baptist as the Elijah of Christ's first coming. Hence, John is not the actual Elijah, but rather is an Elijah-type doing the exact same work that the actual Elijah will do before the Lord's return. This is precisely what the angel announced to Zechariah upon the birth of his son:
But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:13-17
The angel states that John is coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, not that John is actually Elijah himself. Therefore, all the Muslim attempts at avoiding the connection between Elijah and John fail to stand up after a careful examination of God's revealed word, the Holy Bible.
To summarize, we discovered that:
In their zeal to defend the Quran from an error the staff at Islamic Awareness managed to introduce several additional problems into the equation. Therefore, we are thankful for all their efforts in making it easier for the Christian side to expose the fallacy of believing in the Quran as the word of God and in Muhammad as God's prophet.
In the service of our eternal King and Savior, Jesus Christ, our risen Lord forever. Amen.
Responses to Islamic Awareness
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page