The Challenge of the Quran

Its Implications for the Muslim Corruption Charges

In several places the Quran challenges the unbelievers to produce something similar to it:

And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it (min mithlihi) and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful. But if you do (it) not and never shall you do (it), then be on your guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers. S. 2:23-24

Or do they say: He has forged it? Say: Then bring a chapter like this (mithlihi) and invite whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful. S. 10:38

Or, do they say: He has forged it. Say: Then bring ten forged chapters like it (mithlihi) and call upon whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful. S. 11:13

Say: If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Quran (bimithlihi hatha al-Qurani), they could not bring the like of it, though some of them were aiders of others. S. 17:88

Or do they say: He has forged it. Nay! they do not believe. Then let them bring an announcement like it (mithlihi) if they are truthful. S. 52:33-34

Based on these verses, Muslims are convinced that the Quran is absolutely unique and unparalleled. For many it is an important element in their belief in the divine origin of the Quran that nobody was ever able to meet this particular challenge. The various issues around the challenge to bring a Surah like it are discussed in detail in the section Is the Qur'an Miraculous? In this current article we want to focus on the amazing fact that there are statements in the Quran which acknowledge that this challenge has already been met! The Quran asserts that the revelation given to Moses is similar and equal to the Quran. Consider the following passage:

Now that the Truth has come to them from Us, they are saying: "Why is he (Muhammad) not given the like of what was given to Musa?" Have they not rejected that which was given to Musa before? They claim: "These (Torah and Qur'an) are the two works of sorcery complementing each other!" And they say: "We believe in neither." Ask them: "Bring a Book from Allah which is a better guide THAN THESE TWO, I will follow it, if what you say be true!" S. 28:48-49 Malik

Muhammad challenges the unbelievers to bring a book which is not only a better guide than the Quran, but also better than the book of Moses!

[ Note: There exists a variant reading in Sura 28:48. However, most translators render the passage similarly to the above quoted translation by F. Malik, and Ibn Kathir also bases his comments on this version. The variant readings of this verse are discussed in the article, Books or People?, in the section on "Different Versions of the Qur'an". ]

Ibn Kathir's commentary reads:

<Two kinds of magic, each helping the other!>

‘Ali bin Abi Talhah and Al-‘Awfi reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said that this refers to THE TAWRAH and the Qur’an, because Allah says next ...

<Say: "Then bring a Book from Allah, which is a better guide than these two that I may follow it.">

Allah often mentions the Tawrah and the Qur’an together, as in the Ayat ...

<Say: "Who then sent down the Book which Musa brought, a light and a guidance to mankind ..."> until ...

<And this is a blessed Book which We have sent down.> (6:91-92)

And at the end of the same Surah, Allah says ...

<Then, We gave Musa the Book, to complete (Our favor) upon those who would do right> (6:154) ...

<And this is a blessed Book which We have sent down, so follow it and have Taqwa of Allah, that you may receive mercy> (6:155).

(Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 7 (Surat An-Nur to Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 50), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition, August 2000], p. 418; cf. online edition; bold and capital emphasis ours)

This presumes that the book of Moses was (a) available during Muhammad’s time, and (b) equal to the Quran in terms of guidance. The Quran goes on to state that the previous scriptures are similar to it, being just like it (mithlihi), the very same expression as found in the verses quoted at the beginning of this paper:

Say: Have you considered if it is from Allah, and you disbelieve in it, and a witness from among the children of Israel has borne witness of one like it (mithlihi), so he believed, while you are big with pride; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people ... And before it the Book of Musa was a guide and a mercy: and this is a Book VERIFYING (it) IN the Arabic language that it may warn those who are unjust and as good news for the doers of good. S. 46:10, 12 Shakir

Ibn Kathir comments:

<(at the same time), a witness from among the Children of Israel has testified to something similar>

meaning, ‘the previous Scriptures that were revealed to the Prophets before me all testify to its truthfulness and authenticity. They have prophecied, well in advance, about things similar to that which this Qur’an informs of.’ Concerning Allah’s statement ...

<and believed>

‘this person who testified to its truthfulness from the Children of Israel, due to his realization that it was the truth.’

<while you rejected (the truth)!>

‘whereas you have arrogantly refused to follow it.’ Masruq said: "That witness believed in his Prophet and Book, while you disbelieved in your Prophet and Book." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 9 (Surat Al-Jathiyah to the end of Surat Al-Munafiqun), First Edition: September 2000, pp. 52-53; cf. online edition)

Sir William Muir writes:

A Jew, either residing in the vicinity of Mecca, or having visited it perhaps from Medina or elsewhere,—at any rate known at Mecca,—is quoted to the people of Mecca as bearing testimony to the correspondence of the Corân with the Jewish Scriptures, and accordingly believing in it. "Does not this," says Mahomet, "prove the divine inspiration of the Corân, and yet ye proudly reject it?"

So Baidhâwi,

على مثله مثل القران وهو ما في التوراة من المعاني المصدقة القرآن المطابقة له أو مثل ذالك وهو كونه من عندالله فآمن أي بالقرآن لما رائي من خبر الوحي مطابقاً للحق

"To the like-thereof, i. e. like the Corân, and the meaning is that the contents of the Tourât (Pentateuch) by their purport attest the Corân, as corresponding therewith, or resembling it;—and thus prove its being from God. And believed, that is, in the Corân, when he (the Jew) saw the intimations of Inspiration corresponding with the truth." (Sir William Muir, The Corân: Its Composition and Teaching, p. 84; bold emphasis ours)

Note the structure of the argument: assuming the divine origin of the Torah, the author of the Quran argues that because the Quran is "like the Torah", therefore it is of divine origin as well. In this context at least, the Quran seeks to derive its authority from the authority of the Torah. However, the relation of "being like it" is symmetric, i.e. "the Quran being like the Torah" implies also "the Torah being like the Quran". Thus, based on the testimony of the Quran itself, the Torah is like it, and therefore meets the above quoted challenge "to bring something like it".

The evidence provided in this article has several implications.

It is evident from the above citations that the author of the Quran believed that the Holy Bible, or at least the book of Moses, met the Quran’s challenge to produce something like it. Yet if, as Muslims often claim, the book of Moses had been tampered with then how can a corrupted text BE LIKE THE QURAN seeing that it is no longer purely divine in origin? How can human additions match the so-called divinely inspired Quranic text? Are we to assume that the author of the Quran was asserting that a corrupted text claiming to be the book of Moses was of equal value as the Quran? Obviously not, which means that:

  1. The Quran presumes that the previous Scriptures existed in a pure form during Muhammad’s time.

Furthermore, the Torah had to be readily available for comparison (a) with the Quran and (b) with those hypothetical competitors, should somebody take up the challenge "to bring a book better than these two". Neither the argument for the Quran based on its similarity to the Torah (S. 46:10) nor the challenge to bring a book better than the Torah (S. 28:49) would make any sense if the Torah is not available to actually perform the necessary comparison.

Our main point bears repeating: The Quran makes the statement that the Torah (as it was readily available at Muhammad's time) is equal to the Quran in value of guidance and "is like it". If Muslims want to maintain their charge that the Torah was corrupted, i.e. its text being "human" and uninspired, then this implies that the Quran is no better than a human product. This would be an absurd conclusion. Thus, the obvious assumption behind the formulations found in the Quran verses is that the Torah is in its entirety of divine origin, and the Quran is as well. The Quran neither states that the Torah was corrupted before the time of Muhammad, nor does it contain any warning or prophecy that such a corruption would happen in the future. It assumes and endorses the authority of the Torah without any reservations.

For a comprehensive discussion regarding the crucial topic of the relationship between the Qur'an and the previous scriptures, please see the various articles listed in the section "What the Qur'an Says About the Bible". Moreover,

  1. the Quran teaches that at least parts, if not all, of the previous Scriptures are similar to the Quran, and even match it, in terms of content and guidance.

In light of the foregoing, the only thing that a Jew or Christian need to do for the purpose of meeting the Quran's challenge is to present citations from the Holy Bible, which is actually vastly superior to the Quran.

We would like to emphasize explicitly that from the Christian perspective there is no comparison between the Holy Bible and the Quran, contrary to what the Quran claims. The Holy Bible is the inspired inerrant word of the true God, and the Quran is not. The Quran is only a very poor imitation of God’s true and pure word.

Those Muslims who despite all the evidence to the contrary still insist that the Quran teaches the corruption of the earlier scriptures, will have to face another dilemma:

  1. If you accept the Quran's verdict that the Torah is like it (S. 28:49, 46:10), then the challenge was met before it was issued. It will be hard to avoid the implication that this challenge was published rather thoughtlessly, which in turn questions its alleged divine origin. [Further reasons why this challenge is invalid are discussed in the section "Is the Qur'an miraculous?"] Even more, this assumption of a corrupted Torah would result in an internal contradiction in the Quran: According to the above quoted passages, S. 2:24 and 17:88, the author of the Quran claims it is impossible for men (and jinn) to bring anything that is "like it". If, however, the Torah of Muhammad's time and ours is not the original divinely inspired text but the product of human efforts of change and corruption, and the Quran still says that "it is like it" (S. 46:10), then this becomes a plain contradiction.
  2. You reject this statement of the Qur'an regarding the Torah being like it. Why then would you believe the Qur'an to be from God if you reject what it says as being wrong?

Summary: When performing a careful analysis of all statements found in the Quran in regard to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the conclusion can only be that the Quran teaches that these scriptures are genuinely the Word of God and upholds their integrity and authority. The widely propagated Muslim polemic that the Bible (including the Torah) has been corrupted and is no longer the original divinely inspired text, leads to several problems and absurdities. It places the Quran itself on the level of a corrupted text, since the Quran claims to be like the Torah, it turns the challenge of the Quran into a farce since in that case it has been met before it was issued, and it creates an internal contradiction in the Quran as the Quran then states both, that the challenge cannot be met, but also admits that there is a book (the Torah) which fulfills the challenge.

By making the charge of Bible corruption, Muslims are denying the clear message of the Quran. They have to reject several statements of the Quran to uphold this polemic. On the other hand, if Muslims were to follow the genuine teaching of the Quran that the Torah is truly the word of God, and accept the reasoning of the Quran, which seeks to derive its authority from "being like the Torah" and the Torah's divine authority, then they would have to denounce Islam as false, since the Quran irreconcilably contradicts the Torah on many essential teachings. The Quran only claims to be in confirmation of the Torah and the Gospel, but actually is in sharp contradiction to both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures that it appeals to.

The above discussion of the passages S. 28:48-49 and 46:10, 12 is merely one small aspect of a foundational dilemma for Islam. Several hundred years after the death of Muhammad and completion of the Quran, Muslims have developed their theory of Bible Corruption because they realized the teachings of Bible and Quran contradicted each other. However, this theory fails to achieve its purpose, i.e. to maintain the authority of the Quran. This is the dilemma:

  1. Acceptance of the integrity and divine authority of the Bible as taught in the Quran leads necessarily to the conclusion that the Quran is not from God because it contradicts the earlier revelations of God while it claims to confirm them and to bring the same teaching only in a different language.
  2. The Bible Corruption polemic contradicts the plain teaching of the Quran and implies that the Quran contains absurd statements and internal contradictions. This also has to lead to a rejection of the Quran as being the Word of God.

Under neither of these assumptions can it be maintained that the Quran is the Word of God.

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

The above quoted passages, connecting the Quran and the Torah as being alike, also have implications for the understanding of the challenge of the Quran. This is the topic of a separate article, What exactly is the Challenge of the Qur'an about?

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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