Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Brains in Chains

The Perils of Parroting

Jochen Katz

With the publication of this article, Bassam Zawadi receives the questionable honor of having written the single “most-rebutted” article in the sense that his is the only Muslim article for which we provide three independent and substantially different rebuttals on Answering Islam.1 This is all the more amazing as Zawadi’s personal contribution to this article consists of only one short concluding sentence – apart from his efforts spent on selecting which classical commentaries to quote and providing an English translation of a couple of paragraphs from Al-Qurtubi’s tafsir.2

The original Arabic text of Surah 26:16 contains a glaring grammar error. This issue was raised by Anthony Rogers and Sam Shamoun in “Don’t Shoot Us, We Are Just the Messenger” (*). Bassam Zawadi published an all too quick ‘rebuttal’ (*). Given that Zawadi has already received two devastating refutations at the hands of Sam Shamoun & Anthony Rogers (*) and Mutee’a Al-Fadi (*), why would I beat a dead horse and add a third response? While reviewing Al-Fadi’s rebuttal and preparing it for publication, a couple of specific aspects in Zawadi’s claims kept annoying me. As they are not addressed in either one of the two other rebuttals, I decided to start working on them myself.3 For what follows, it might be helpful if the reader is familiar with the original paper as well as the two aforementioned rebuttals since several of the arguments presented therein are foundational, but they will not be repeated here.

That Zawadi is a master in producing logical fallacies is not new, so much so that one could get the impression he is “paid per fallacy”. In this case, however, most of the errors and fallacies in his article were not created but merely repeated by Zawadi because they are contained in the quotations from the classical commentators of Islam. As these are the people that millions of Muslims look to in order to understand the Qur’an, that makes it well worth the effort to write a third rebuttal and expose these logical errors in the classical sources of Islam.

These introductory remarks behind us, let’s now examine in detail the arguments that Zawadi collated for us. He writes:

Imam Al-Qurtubi has it in his commentary:

Allah's saying "Both of you go to Pharaoh and both of you say: "We are the messenger of the Lord of the worlds."".

Abu 'Ubaydah said: Messenger here means message and the assumption is based on that. We are the possessors of the message of the Lord of the worlds.

After this, Imam Al-Qurtubi cites lines of Arabic poetry illustrating that rasool (most often translated as messenger) could sometimes mean risaalah (most often translated as message).

Bassam Zawadi states that Imam Al-Qurtubi wrote that Abu 'Ubaydah said … something. That is the structure of the classical logical fallacy called “appeal to authority”. Somebody – who is held in high esteem – said something about our problem. Therefore there is no problem!?? Not so! We need to examine the claim itself that is found at the end of this “chain of narrators”. What exactly is the claim? Is it valid? The fact that the same claim has been repeated many times by different people does not automatically make it trustworthy or true. Therefore, let’s dissect the statement piece by piece:

Messenger here means message ...

That is called an assertion, not an argument. Why should the word rasool that means messenger everywhere else in the Qur’an (and probably also in the huge body of ahadith4) suddenly mean something different in this one place only? Based on what?

Abu 'Ubaydah appropriately concludes this claim with the phrase

... and the assumption is based on that.

Exactly, his claim is a mere assertion and assumption without any solid foundation of evidence. One cannot simply make up new meanings for a word, only because one doesn’t want to acknowledge that there is an error.

Or, perhaps, the word “assumption” here doesn’t refer back to the first part of the sentence, “Messenger here means message”, but points forward to what comes after? However, that makes little difference, because in that case, we have an assumption built on the basis of an unproven assertion. Not really a convincing argument.

More importantly, does this suggestion/assertion/assumption even solve the problem? “Messenger means message”? Where does that lead us? Are Abu 'Ubaydah and Imam Al-Qurtubi and Bassam Zawadi really suggesting that the statement in the Qur’an should be understood as:

Both of you go to Pharaoh and both of you say: ‘We are the message of the Lord of the worlds.’”

These two people, Moses and Aaron, are the message? Seriously?5

Clearly not, since not even Abu 'Ubaydah is taking his own suggestion seriously. He does not present the above given re-statement of the verse. Instead, he immediately continues by giving the following reformulation of the second part of this verse as:

We are the possessors of the message of the Lord of the worlds.

I am entirely in agreement with Abu 'Ubaydah on this one point: A “messenger” is a “possessor of a message”. That is an acceptable definition, a synonym, even though “bringer” or “deliverer” or “conveyer” would be even more accurate than “possessor”.

However, note the deception, the trickery in this move. First he claims that “messenger” can (and supposedly does here) mean “message” so that the singular makes sense (two people who bring one message), but then he does not actually apply his own suggestion but replaces “messenger” (singular) with “possessors of the message” (plural).

Not even Abu 'Ubaydah could bring himself to write, “We are the possessor of the message of the Lord of the worlds” after the dual verb form “both of you say” because that would be exactly the same grammatical mistake of associating two people with a singular noun (possessor). It is bad enough that this mistake is found in the Qur’an, but he does not want to repeat this mistake in his own statements.

Therefore, Abu 'Ubaydah himself unwittingly confirms what we have been saying all along, i.e. that the noun/phrase “possessors of the message” = “messengers” must be in the dual or plural6 form, not the singular form as it is found in the Qur’an.

The claim that “messenger can mean message” is a mere smokescreen, an attempt to divert the attention away from the problem, since this alleged meaning is not actually applied in this case.

Bassam Zawadi was apparently not able to recognize this manipulation of the problem by Abu 'Ubaydah when he wrote his rebuttal, and thus simply committed a fallacious appeal to authority (merely repeating what his authorities said, tacked onto the appropriate chain of narrators) instead of presenting a solution to the problem. Since not even Imam Al-Qurtubi seems to have seen the problem in Abu 'Ubaydah’s argument, the matter may bear repeating to give it time to sink in.

Yes, one can explain the word “messenger” as “possessor of the message”, but that was never the issue. The point is the number of the noun messenger(s), and now also of the noun possessor(s).

Messenger in the singular means “possessor of the message” and messengers in the plural means “possessors of the message” but messenger in the singular (as found in Q. 26:16) simply does not mean “possessors of the message” in the plural.

Even Abu 'Ubaydah could not bring himself to repeat the erroneous formulation of the Qur’an and use the dual verb and the plural pronoun “we” together with the singular noun “possessor”.

Abu 'Ubaydah fiddles with the meaning of the word when the actual problem is its number, i.e., a grammatical issue, not a semantic one. Whatever he does, he does not even address the issue, let alone solve it.

Imam Al-Qurtubi was apparently uncomfortable with leaving it at that. Somehow, Abu 'Ubaydah’s statement alone was not satisfactory. So, what did he do? He enlarged the smokescreen! As Zawadi duly reports:

After this, Imam Al-Qurtubi cites lines of Arabic poetry illustrating that rasool (most often translated as messenger) could sometimes mean risaalah (most often translated as message).

First, we need to ask Zawadi: If those poems indeed contain the actual evidence for Abu 'Ubaydah’s mere assertion why then does Zawadi only assert that Al-Qurtubi lists evidence for this meaning but doesn’t supply us with a translation and discussion of the evidence?

Second, and more importantly, we ask: So what? This is completely irrelevant. Since neither Abu 'Ubaydah nor Imam Al-Qurtubi actually want to interpret this statement as “we are the message of the Lord of the worlds”, but rather as “we are the possessors of the message of the Lord of the worlds”, this alleged meaning is not applied to this verse, and thus it is irrelevant whether this meaning occurs elsewhere in some poems, or not.

Apart from being entirely irrelevant, Al-Qurtubi’s appeal to poems becomes even ironic when we remember that the Qur’an says,

And as for the poets – it is the erring ones who follow them. (Q. 26:224 Sher Ali)7

and what Muhammad had to say about the value of poetry:

Allah’s Messenger … said: … filling the belly of a man with pus is better than stuffing his brain with poetry. (Sahih Muslim, Book 28, Number 5611)

In conclusion: Whether or not it is correct that “messenger can occasionally mean message”, the deception in the Muslim argument is in shifting the attention from the grammar problem to an irrelevant semantic discussion, i.e., about potential alternative meanings of the word. The whole purpose of the exercise seems to be to avoid having to deal with the actual grammatical error.

And since the Muslim commentators and apologists apparently love repetition, let me also use repetition and reformulation to give the truth more time to sink in.

Seemingly, the only purpose in introducing the singular word “message” is to allow the following deceptive trick: Some critical people say, “The singular is wrong.” “No”, says the Muslim apologist, “The singular messenger could be viewed as the singular message in the phrase ‘possessors of the message’, which is a correct formulation. So, you see, the singular ‘message’ is actually correct. It is not out of place in this verse.”

Maybe such arguments were possible in earlier times when Islam was a world closed in on itself, without the freedom of open critical discussion. And today they may still be able to deceive some people whose attention span does not extend to more than two sentences, and who cannot detect how the claims are slowly shifting. But the days are numbered for this kind of apologetics. The mere repetition and re-narration of false arguments doesn’t cut it anymore.

How can it be that Zawadi was unable to recognize that this was not an answer worthy of our attention but merely a deceptive trick, a smokescreen to hide the problem? A claim is a claim is a claim, even if it is pulled along by a chain.

A logically valid argument does not need a chain. And no matter how nice or how strong a chain may be, a chain can never validate a claim. This is what I was hinting at with the title for this rebuttal. What we see here is how rational thinking is put in chains. Zawadi is shackled by and stuck in the past, with the head in the sand. There is no critical reflection on the arguments made by the ancients, merely an unquestioning repetition of their errors. Zawadi may have been awed by it; I consider it merely awful.

Anyway, let’s continue in the text. Bassam Zawadi isn’t done yet repeating Al-Qurtubi repeating claims from somebody else. If one “explanation” is not convincing, let’s offer another one! If massaging the meaning of a word doesn’t do the trick, perhaps redefining Arabic grammar will help? So Zawadi continues in reporting from Al-Qurtubi:

Then he goes on to say:

Abu 'Ubayd said: And it's possible that Al-Rasool could used [sic] in the dual or plural form. The Arabs say: This is my messenger (rasooli) and agent and these two are my messenger (rasooli) and agent, and these are my messenger (rasooli) and agent. An example of this is from Allah All Mighty's Speech:

"They are an enemy to me" (26:77)

Can it really be that Zawadi was not able to see the problems in this second approach either? Since the honorable Imam Al-Qurtubi repeated it, therefore it is honorable for Zawadi to repeat it as well? Even if it is more than questionable and really weak? A weak argument with a chain of narrators attached to it still remains weak. It is an “argument in chains”, and it ain’t gonna fly.

An error does not disappear, or suddenly become correct, merely because I am able to find an additional example of a similar error. Think back to your school days, and consider an English test. If one student made the same spelling or grammar mistake twice, was the first mistake excused by pointing out the second one? Or is the error turned into exemplary eloquence because some others in the class made the same error? Did Zawadi’s Arabic teacher buy that line of reasoning and gladly gave him the highest grade, simply because he made every mistake at least twice so that it wasn’t a mistake anymore? Does this interesting principle apply only to language mistakes transgressing against the rules of Arabic grammar, or also to moral sins when people are transgressing against the laws of Allah? If only I commit the same sin often enough, or it is committed by sufficiently many people, it will then be declared a virtue?

As the English saying goes, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”8 Pointing to another, similar error does not cancel the first one, but simply adds another error.

Anyway, this article is not about Q. 26:77 and its grammar problem, but about Q. 26:16, the grammatical error found in that verse, and Bassam Zawadi’s futile attempts to justify and explain it away. Let’s examine the second explanation provided for this awkward formulation:

Abu 'Ubayd said: And it's possible that Al-Rasool could used [sic] in the dual or plural form. The Arabs say: This is my messenger (rasooli) and agent and these two are my messenger (rasooli) and agent, and these are my messenger (rasooli) and agent.

This is utter nonsense, even without appealing to Q. 26:77 as additional support. I cannot judge whether it is merely an incompetent translation that turned a meaningful statement into nonsense, or whether Zawadi faithfully translated a statement that is already nonsense in the Arabic original. I can only take it at face-value and explain why it doesn’t convince me.

First, after adjusting the typo, I want to agree with “And it's possible that Al-Rasool could be used in the dual or plural form.” In fact, that is the whole point! Rasool is not like the English word “sheep” for which the singular and plural forms are identical. Rasool COULD BE USED in its distinct dual form, but it WAS NOT even though it SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Since there are two people mentioned in this verse, Moses and Aaron, who are both sent as messengers to Pharaoh, the dual form of the noun “rasool”, i.e. “rasoola” should have been used in this statement instead of the singular form “rasoolu”.

Second, what Zawadi or Al-Qurtubi or Abu 'Ubayd probably meant to claim is something like: “And it's possible that the singular form of Al-Rasool could be used in the place of the dual or the plural.” or “And it's possible that the singular form of Al-Rasool could be used with the meaning of the dual or the plural.” or “And it's possible that Al-Rasool in the singular form could be used with a dual or plural meaning.” In other words, the claim is that the singular form can have the meaning of the dual or plural, despite the fact that the word has distinct singular, dual and plural forms (contrary to the word “sheep” which only has one form).

However, I have a hard time believing this. Languages don’t define distinct forms representing distinct functions and meanings and then say: it does not matter which form you use. The English verb “to go” has the forms go, goes, went, gone, and it does matter which form you use when. The present cannot substitute for the past, or the past for the future, or the singular for the plural…  There are other verbs that have fewer forms, e.g. “put”, and the context has to tell whether it is present or past tense, but when a verb has distinct forms for distinct tenses, then they have to be used correctly. Another situation occurs with the verb “to spell” which has two past tense forms, “spelt” and “spelled” which can be used interchangeably. But they are both past tense forms. It is still not possible to substitute the present form for the past.

It makes no sense to create singular, dual and plural forms for a noun, and then say, that one can just as well use the singular in place of the dual or plural. Languages don’t work that way.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered to clarify and substantiate Abu 'Ubayd’s assertions.

1.  Is the alleged rule that the singular can be used in the place of the dual or plural a general rule for the Arabic language, or does it only apply to the word “Al-Rasool” (or a limited number of words, two of those being the words “messenger” and “agent”)? If this is supposed to be a general rule, please quote this rule from an accepted textbook on the grammar of the Arabic language. Even if there is a recognized exception for certain words, it also must have been documented somewhere. Provide a quotation and the bibliographical reference.

2.  Can this replacement of the plural form with the singular form but keeping its plural meaning happen in all contexts and constructions or only in this specific formulation “These are my {singular noun with plural meaning}”? Again, substantiate your answer with a quotation from a grammar book.

In particular, Abu 'Ubayd claimed that

“The Arabs say: This is my messenger (rasooli) and agent and these two are my messenger (rasooli) and agent, and these are my messenger (rasooli) and agent.”

This is, so far, merely an assertion. In principle, an assertion could be true or false. Abu 'Ubayd could have reported the truth, or he could have invented this statement in order to defend the Qur’an against the charge to be stained by a grammatical error.

How can we know whether this is true? If that is indeed how the Arabs speak or spoke, there should exist several examples from the Qur’an, the ahadith, and/or other Arabic texts, e.g. diplomatic correspondence, documenting such formulations. Muhammad sent out some of his followers to go to the rulers of various nations to call them to Islam. Usually there would have been more than one person to go and bring Muhammad’s message. Are there any hadiths in which Muhammad speaks that way, referring to a delegation of two or three or more by the singular expression, “my messenger”?

As Al-Qurtubi and Abu 'Ubayd are long dead and we cannot ask them anymore on which basis they made this assertion, the question therefore goes to Bassam Zawadi as their current representative, or mouthpiece, or shall we say, “messenger and agent”? Mr. Zawadi, please provide for us some genuine examples that the Arabs actually spoke that way.

If Zawadi cannot present any outside evidence9 that the Arabs spoke the way asserted by Abu 'Ubayd, how are we to know that Abu 'Ubayd didn’t lie, that he didn’t invent this “rule” simply to justify this grammar error in the Qur’an? It is a very strange rule indeed that goes against the norm of Arabic and many other languages. We cannot simply accept it merely because it is asserted. In order to make a credible argument, Zawadi has to provide hard evidence that this claim is true and not a fabrication.

If my interpretation of what Abu 'Ubayd and Al-Qurtubi probably wanted to say is correct, and Zawadi wants to cling to the claim, “And it's possible that the singular form of Al-Rasool could be used in the place of the dual or the plural”, then we should take a look at the Qur’an under this premise. According to the website “Quranic Arabic Corpus”, the noun rasool is used 332 times in the Qur’an (*). Of these, there are 215 instances of rasool in the singular (*), leaving 117 instances of the plural and dual forms. In fact, Q. 20:47 is the only instance of a dual form.10

Apart from Q. 26:16, there are 214 other instances where rasool is used in the singular form. For how many of these would Zawadi want to argue that the singular form has actually a plural meaning? If Q. 26:16 is not a grammar error but a common way of speaking for the Arabs,11 one would expect to find some more instances of this rule. Can he point to any examples from the tens of thousands of hadiths?

Moreover, the Qur’an contains 116 instances of the noun rasool in the plural. For how many of them would Zawadi be comfortable to replace the plural with the singular form and then claim that it would still have a plural meaning? Please be specific and list them. Similarly, would Zawadi really want to argue that there would not be any problem replacing the dual with the singular form in Q. 20:47?

If “the Arabs talk that way”, why is it not found in the Qur’an more often?

And, while we are at it, let’s also test Zawadi’s comfort level with Al-Qurtubi’s first suggestion that rasool can be used in the meaning risalah. There are altogether ten instances of the noun risalah in the Qur’an (*).12 Which of those would Zawadi like to claim could be replaced by a form of rasool?

Finally, al-Qurtubi, and thus Bassam Zawadi, provides us with a third suggestion:

And it is said: It means that every one of us is a messenger of the Lord of the worlds. (Abu 'Abdullah al-Qurtubi's, Tasfir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 26:16, Source)

Well, … the meaning of the statement wasn’t actually in question. It was the grammar error that was, and still is, the issue. I fully agree with this: the author of the Qur’an COULD have commanded Moses and Aaron to say, “Every one of us is a messenger of the Lord of the worlds”, and that formulation WOULD have been grammatically correct, BUT HE DID NOT. Therefore, the problem still remains the same; the grammatically correct statement is in the tafsir, but the incorrect formulation is in the Qur’an.

Or, looking at it another way, this third “solution” corrects the pronoun in the text instead of the predicate noun in order to get a grammatically correct formulation. The Qur’an states:

We (inna, plural) are the messenger (singular) of the Lord of the worlds.

The usual argument is that the singular “messenger” is wrong and needs to be corrected to the dual form since it refers to Moses and Aaron, and the two verbs in the first part of the verse are also in the dual form. It should therefore read:

We are the messengers of the Lord of the worlds.

Al-Qurtubi’s third suggestion merely claims that it is possible to keep the singular form “messenger” if we instead correct the pronoun (we) and formulate:

Each one of us is a messenger of the Lord of the worlds.

But in any case, the net result is the same: An adjustment needs to be made to obtain a grammatically correct formulation! Whether the error is located in the form of the predicate noun or in the choice of the pronoun doesn’t really matter.

Summarizing our examination of the three explanation attempts coming from the commentary of Al-Qurtubi, we discovered that in the first explanation attempt, at the end of the chain, we found a smokescreen, a deception. In the second explanation attempt, at the end of the chain, we found a mere claim without proper evidence. Moreover, the claim doesn’t even ring true but sounds like something which has been fabricated. The third explanation offered did not even have a chain, and its content was no better than the others. Although acceptable as a paraphrase of its meaning, it did nothing to justify the grammar error. On the contrary, one could say that it highlighted the grammatical error by providing an alternative correct formulation.

Zawadi has apparently not yet understood that reciting is not the same as reasoning; repeating old claims not the same as thoughtful reflection. The process of translating a text should usually go hand in hand with some reflection on the content. Was Zawadi unable to see that there are serious problems with these “answers”? Or did he not care?13 Does he ever critically reflect on the arguments of his heroes, or does he consider it meritorious to repeat them, even if they are horrendously bad?

Children in kindergarten can be taught to recite poems or parts of the Qur’an, but critical reflection and evaluation are for grown-ups who have learned to use their God-given capacities for rational thinking. Acquiring the ability to “copy and paste” is simply not sufficient to be an apologist.14 A mind is a terrible thing to waste.15

Not satisfied with propagating merely three erroneous arguments from the classical wisdom literature of Islam, Zawadi spared no effort to provide the world with more of the same, and worse:

From Ibn Kathir's commentary:

(And go both of you to Fir`awn, and say: `We are the Messengers of the Lord of the all that exists.') This is like the Ayah,

(Verily, we are both Messengers of your Lord) (20:47). which means, `both of us have been sent to you,' (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Source)

Those knowledgeable of the Arabic language found no grammatical problems in this passage.

Perhaps they have been hiding the problem so well, that they could not find it anymore? Note that at least this English edition of Ibn Kathir’s commentary does not even translate the verse correctly. They have “messengers” (plural) in their translation of 26:16 where the Arabic has the singular. No wonder that nobody sees a problem. Those who do not speak Arabic cannot see the problem because they are given a mistranslation. And those knowledgeable of Arabic decided not to acknowledge the problem but to hide it.

Like Al-Qurtubi in his third suggested “solution”, Ibn Kathir also confused the categories. He does not comment at all on the grammatical problem, but explains the meaning of the text. However, as pointed out before, the meaning was never in question. Humanic lenguage have a high redonedancy and in most case when people makes mistake in grammatic, spellings, sentence constructioning, or even when they using a wrongly term, we still knows what they intention to say.16 We understand them despite the fact that they did not express themselves most elegantly, most precisely, or in a grammatically correct manner.

So, Ibn Kathir discussed the meaning of the statement which was never in question and connects it to a similar verse, but he does not comment at all on the grammar. Thus, his commentary does not provide a solution, other than ignoring the problem – if one wants to call that a solution. It is a mystery to me how could Zawadi think that this is helpful. I call this the “head in the sand” approach.

Moreover, similar to Al-Qurtubi’s third suggestion, Ibn Kathir explains the grammatically wrong construction with a grammatically correct formulation, thus indirectly pointing out how the author of the Qur’an could have said it in Q. 26:16 just as well – minus the grammar error.

In that sense, Ibn Kathir even refutes Al-Qurtubi’s first attempt that is seeking to establish a special reason or unusual meaning for the singular form of “rasool”. No, says Ibn Kathir, there is no special meaning behind the odd formulation in 26:16. Its meaning is just like the meaning of 20:47. In other words, if there is no special wisdom and deeper meaning then there is also no justification for the grammar error in 26:16.

In fact, there is yet another verse in the Qur’an in which the correct formulation is used. It is found in the story of Lot, when the angels come to him in order to warn him of the impending destruction of Sodom, and urge him to flee.

They said, ‘Lot, we are messengers of thy Lord. They shall not reach thee; so set forth, thou with thy family, in a watch of the night, and let not any one of you turn round, excepting thy wife; surely she shall be smitten by that which smites them. Their promised time is the morning; is the morning not nigh?’ (Q. 11:81 Arberry)

In Arabic, the underlined part reads inna rusulu rabbika, and rusulu is in the plural form as the narration speaks of several angelic messengers who visited first Abraham (Q. 11:69) and then Lot (Q. 11:77). In Q. 20:47 we have the phrase inna rasula rabbika, and rasula is in the dual form as Moses and Aaron were two people. But otherwise the formulations are identical and these two verses are grammatically correct. These two declarations testify that the author of the Qur’an knew the correct formulation very well. Yet, for whatever reason, he made a glaring mistake in Q. 26:16.

Finally, let me re-quote and discuss Zawadi’s glorious conclusion, his punch-line and personal contribution to the discussion:

Those knowledgeable of the Arabic language found no grammatical problems in this passage.

If they did not see the problem, that is not speaking for them. Nor does it speak for Zawadi that he thinks that his appeal to their blindness is an argument that would make this error go away.17

Even if they had not seen it, he should have; and he should then have tried to give an answer, or to admit the problem instead of appealing to non-answers and evasions.

However, in reality they did see it, and struggled to deal with it, yet Zawadi did not understand it. Their efforts to explain this verse, and particularly the singular form “messenger”, is proof that they saw it. This is blatantly obvious from the section in Al-Qurtubi. He saw the problem, and he labored hard to find an explanation, or two or three to explain it away. Ibn Kathir most likely also saw the problem, but not seeing any convincing explanation, simply wanted to divert the attention to the verse that is correctly formulated, hoping nobody would ask second questions. Only one person in this discussion could not see that these commentaries are testimony that these Arab commentators actually saw a problem,18 which in turn does not speak for the perceptiveness of Bassam Zawadi.

Whether it is due to genuine blindness or because of a willful rejection of the truth, Bassam Zawadi lives in denial.19 Not a good place to be.

The readers now have the choice whether they want to join him there, or seek a better way.

Jesus offers:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

but he also warns:

and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. … (Matthew 24:11)

This grammar error in Surah 26:16 is a miniscule issue. It only becomes a problem because the Qur’an claims an absolute perfection it does not have. However, the worst problem is not that the Quran has a grammar error, but that Zawadi and so many other Muslims decide to live in denial instead of being genuine truth seekers with an openness towards God to speak to them and lead them to authentic truth and a new life.

The Qur’an claims to be divine revelation and the straight path. In principle, that could be true or false. It needs to be examined critically, just like every other claim. And it needs to be examined thoroughly and urgently because your eternal destination depends on whom you believe. Don’t allow anyone to deceive you.


[First published: 7 August 2012]
[Last updated: 31 October 2012]


1 Probably I should add the caveat: “… is most likely the only Muslim article for which we provide three independent and substantially different rebuttals …” Given that we have more than 15,000 articles on Answering Islam, this is difficult to check; but I cannot recall that there is another one. Note also that I am talking about individual Muslim articles, not about the same or similar arguments appearing in many different Muslim articles.

2 His quotation of Ibn Kathir was taken from an already existing translation.

3 Moreover, as long as this article remains the top entry on Zawadi’s “What’s new?” page, it will naturally continue to attract special attention.

4 Isn’t it revealing that Al-Qurtubi has to appeal to some obscure poems and apparently cannot present even one example from either the Qur’an or the huge body of “the sayings of the prophet” (hadith) to substantiate that assertion?

5 Apart from all the mental gymnastics that Muslims try to make around this (cf. Mutee'a Al-Fadi’s discussion), just imagine the situation: The Pharaoh responds back: What do you mean, “you are the message”? What do you want from me? What am I supposed to do? What is your message?” And they simply answer again: “No, you heard us correctly the first time. We do not have a message, we are the message!”  This is obviously nonsense, unless … you are a Muslim apologist; then it is an explanation.

6 The dual is a special kind of plural. Using the general plural instead of the specific dual is often acceptable although the dual would be more correct or more precise. Abu 'Ubaydah used the plural in his explanatory clause, perhaps because the pronoun “inna” (we) is also in the plural. However, the point is that he did not use the singular.

7 The context (Q. 26:221-224) even seems to suggest that poetry is demonically inspired; see the discussion in Sam Shamoun’s article, Islam and Poetry: Analyzing Muhammad's Love-Hate relationship with Poets.

8 I know this is usually used in a different context.

9 By “outside evidence” I mean texts that were not written in order to explain and defend the formulation of Surah 26:16 but constitute independent evidence, e.g. diplomatic correspondence.

10 Interestingly, Q. 20:47 speaks of the same situation as Q. 26:16, in a nearly identical formulation, but using the dual form. The significance of this will be seen when we discuss Ibn Kathir’s commentary on this verse.

11 There is an additional complication: Moses and Aaron did not speak Arabic, neither did Pharaoh. In some sense, the Muslim apologists would need to argue that this strange substitution of the singular for the dual and/or plural was correct in the language of Moses. However, it still leaves the stain on the author of the Qur’an to be an incompetent translator when he renders a correct formulation in Moses’ language as a grammatically incorrect formulation in Arabic.

12 Strangely, that site is distributing the word risalah over two entries on the page listing words derived from the root r-s-l. That may have been caused by a software error.

13 This reminds me of an earlier rebuttal to Zawadi, “Working Assumption: Stupidity?” Don’t count on your readers being stupid. Don’t think we will be satisfied with false arguments. Don’t underestimate your debate opponents. Or could this be a calculated strategy? “I know these are false arguments, but they may still be able to prevent a few people from leaving Islam. Then my rebuttal has achieved its purpose.” Is truth or effectiveness the guiding principle? However, if it is effectiveness, is he thinking short-term or long-term? Lies and deception will eventually be exposed and destroy the public credibility of those who use them. And, in the end, the God of truth will reject the liars.

14 If we didn’t know that he was absolutely serious in propagating these answers, one could get the impression Zawadi is a skilled comedian mocking Islam by digging up its worst arguments and presenting them in front of an intelligent audience. One has to be intelligent to understand why an argument is bad and thus funny.

15 Once this is recognized, much good can come of it. (*)

16 There is no need to send me corrections for the mistakes contained in this sentence. Note that in order for you to be able to correct the mistakes in this sentence you must first have understood its intended meaning. And if you understand its meaning, you should be able to take the next step and recognize that these mistakes are intentional because the form of this sentence, brimming with errors, illustrates its message. A sympathetic reader may even consider these mistakes to be an artistic element, an instance of poetic licence. However, even if they are intentional, they are still mistakes. Finally, just in case Bassam Zawadi was not able to understand this sentence, I do not want this to be a hinderance to our further discussion. Therefore, here it is again, translated into a grammatically correct form: “Human language has a high redundancy and in most cases when people make mistakes in grammar, spelling, sentence construction, or even when they use a wrong term, we still know what they intended to say.”

17 Perhaps Zawadi couldn’t bear the thought that all those fabulous fallacies belonged to Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir alone. Let me be famous for a fallacy of my own! Let me not be a mere fallacy parrot, but also a fallacy creator!

18 And studying further tafsir, will only reveal more struggle and additional “creative solutions”.

19 Or, even worse, he thinks he can keep others living in the dark by denying that there is a problem.

Rebuttals to Bassam Zawadi
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