Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quran, the Holy Bible, and the Issue of Corruption –

A Christian Scholar Chimes In

Sam Shamoun


Christian scholar Gordon Nickel has done the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities (and everyone else who loves truth for that matter) a great favor by producing a book which documents his extensive research into some of Islam’s earliest sources to see what they had to say about the reliability and authority of the Holy Bible. The book is titled, Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Qur’an, and was published by Brill in 2011.

Nickel culls through the commentaries of Muqatil ibn Sulayman and al-Tabari, as well as the Sira of Ibn Ishaq, in order to examine how these authorities understood all of the verses from the Quran which address the issue of the authenticity and alleged tampering of the previous Scriptures.

Nickel’s research led him to the conclusion that these renowned authorities believed that the Scriptures that God had given to the Jews and Christians remained intact and that the Quran itself bears witness to their preservation and reliability.

In this article, we will provide some quotations from the book itself in order to help the readers see what some of Islam’s greatest and earliest authorities taught regarding the reliability of the Holy Bible. However, we do highly recommend that our readers consult Nickel’s work for themselves since there is a wealth of information which we cannot reproduce here.


The Citations

“… To distinguish the most common views in works from the Muslim tradition, scholars have employed the terms tahrif al-ma‘na, distortion of the meaning or interpretation of the words of scripture, and tahrif al-nass, falsification of the text itself. MANY Muslim writers throughout the history of Islamic scholarship have favored the FORMER conception. Other writers have championed the latter view, some of them to great effect.

“As a representative of the view of tahrif al-ma‘na, a number of scholars have highlighted the approach of al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim. Thought a work of polemic, and written relatively early (9th C.), his ‘Refutation of the Christians’ envisioned corruption to the interpretation of the Bible, BUT NOT TO THE TEXT ITSELF. Ibn Qutayba also viewed the Torah as a revealed scripture and an historical source.72 The historian Ibn Khaldun, in a famous statement near the beginning of his Muqaddimah, wrote that ‘thorough scholars’ CANNOT accept the statement that Jesus altered the Torah, ‘since custom prevents people who have a (revealed) religion from dealing with their divine scriptures in such a manner.’73 If tampering had taken place in relation to the text of the Torah, IT IS CONFINED TO ITS INTERPRETATION.74 Another relatively late medieval writer who favored ‘alteration of the sense’ over corruption of text was Burhan al-Din al-Biqa‘i (d. 884/1480) in his al-Aqwal al-qawima fi hukm al-naql min al-kutub al-qadima.75 Muslim writers who took the approach of tahrif al-ma‘na, including Ibn Qutayba and al-Biqa‘i, were more likely to search the Jewish and Christian scriptures for passages which could be read as prophecies of the mission of Muhammad.

“For the view of tahrif al-nass, many scholars have identified the 11th-century Spanish polemicist Ibn Hazm as the first to systematize the doctrine of textual falsification and to offer actual citations from the Bible in support of his accusations…

“One Muslim scholar who wrote in support of the corruption of the text of the Torah prior to Ibn Hazm was al-Maqdisi.80 Many subsequent Muslim writers echoed Ibn Hazm’s arguments, such as al-Qarafi, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya.81 Thus the two tampering accusations appeared to continue on their parallel tracks for more than half a millennium.82 Then in the mid-19th century, the Muslim accusation of tahrif al-nass took a kind of quantum leap through the controversy between Indian Muslim scholars and European Christian missionaries in India of the British Raj.

“Mawlana Rahmat Allah Kayranawi (‘al-Hindi,’ 1818-91) is credited with moving the textual corruption accusation forward through a famous public debate and a widely-published book. Interestingly, the most influential Indian theologian of the modern period, Shah Wali Allah (1703-62), had previously declared that he did not believe in the corruption of the text of the Torah. He had explained in his Al-Fawz al-kabir fi usul al-tafsir that ‘tampering with meaning means corrupt interpretation (ta’wil), misconstruing a verse arbitrarily, and deviation (inhiraf) from the straight path. Likewise, a contemporary of Rahmat Allah, Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98), conceived of tampering as referring essentially to interpretation rather than actual verbal corruption of the text. But neither of these moderate views had the popular appeal of the case Rahmat Allah made for textual corruption in a public debate which took place in Agra in 1854–in the politically-charged atmosphere just prior to the Mutiny.” (Chapter Two. The Doctrine Of Corruption As A Polemical Theme, pp. 22-25; bold and capital emphasis ours)

81 Lazarus-Yafeh, “Tahrif,” 112. However, Goldziher quotes from a manuscript of al-Jawziyya the approach to a popular aspect of the tampering accusation taken by this 14th-century student of Ibn Taymiyya: “it is an entirely false idea when it is asserted that Jews and Christians have agreed together to expunge [the name of Muhammad] out of their scriptures in all the ends of the world where they live. No one among the learned Muslims asserts this, NEITHER HAS GOD SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THIS IN THE QUR’AN, NOR HAS ANY OF THE COMPANIONS, Imams, or Qur’an scholars expressed himself IN THIS SENSE.” “Über muhammedanische Polemik”, 373.

82 Ibn Taymiyya wrote in the 14th century that the Islamic position towards the textual corruption WAS STILL DIVERSE AND AMBIGUOUS: “If…they [Christians] mean that the Qur’an confirms the textual veracity (alfaz) of the scriptural books which they now possess–that is, the Torah and the Gospels–this is something which some Muslims WILL GRANT THEM and which many Muslims will dispute. HOWEVER, MOST MUSLIMS WILL GRANT THEM MOST OF THAT.” Cited by Martin Accad in “The Gospels in the Muslim Discourse,” 73. (P. 24; capital emphasis ours)

“Three particular earlier scriptures are mentioned by name in the Qur’an: the Tawrat, the Injil, and the Zabur. The names Tawrat and Injil first appear at the beginning of the third Sura, together at Q 3:3. The name Zabur first appears at Q 4:163.” (Chapter Three. Qur’anic Reference To The Earlier Scriptures, p. 39)

“Of the three Zabur references, we find in two of the verses the concept that God gave the Zabur to David.29 At Q 21:105 the third occurrence of Zabur is set in the form of a saying of God, that he wrote in that book, ‘The earth shall be the inheritance of my righteous servants.’30” (Pp. 41-42)

29 Q 4:163, 17:55. Tabari writes on zabur at 4:163: “It is the name of the book that was revealed to David, just as he named the book that was revealed to Moses as the Tawrat and that which was revealed to Jesus as the Injil and that which was revealed to Muhammad as the furqan, because that is the name by which what was revealed to David was known. The Arabs say zabur Dawud, and because of that the rest of the peoples know this book.” Jami‘ al-Bayan, Vol. IX, 402. Muqatil comments on zabur at Q 4:163: “It contains neither statute nor command, neither obligation nor permitted nor forbidden, [but has] 150 suras.” (P. 41; bold emphasis ours)

“Another indication of the approach to the earlier scriptures in the Qur’an comes from the language of confirmation. A series of verses seems to claim that what God is now revealing to the addressees of the Qur’an has essential links to revelations of the past.

The term musaddiq, from saddaqa, means CONFIRMING, ATTESTING, OR PRONOUNCING TO BE TRUE,56 as in its first Qur’anic appearance, ‘And believe in that I have sent down, confirming (musaddiqan) that which is with you, and be not of the first to disbelieve in it’ (Q 2:41). This active participle occurs some 18 times in the Qur’an. Of that total, 14 occurrences are distributed throughout Suras 2-6. Beyond Sura 6 there are four occurrences, two of them in Sura 46.57 In addition to this, the term tasdiq,58 verbal noun of saddaqa, appears in Q 10:37 and 12:111.  

“The object of the participle and verbal noun is generally one of a number of indistinct phrases which could be understood to refer to earlier scriptures. The most frequent object is ma bayna yadayhi59 and similar phrases at Q 2:97; 3:3, 50; 5:48; 6:92; 35:31; 46:30; and 61:6. A second frequent object is ‘what is with them’60 and similar phrases at Q 2:41, 89, 91, 101; 3:81; and 4:47. The subject of confirmation in those verses is generally ‘what I have sent down’ (Q 2:41) and similar phrases. ‘A book (kitab)’ or ‘the book’ is frequently specified; at Q 2:89 ‘a book from God’; and in one of the tasdiq verses, ‘this qur’an’ (Q 10:27). Other subjects include ‘messenger’ (Q 3:81) and ‘a messenger from God’ (Q 2:101).

“The Torah appears as the object of confirmation at Q 3:50, 5:46, and 61:6. In those verses, the subjects are ‘Isa and the scripture sent down upon him, the Injil. At Q 46:12, the Torah is updated by ‘hadha kitab’: ‘Before it was the book of Moses for a model and a mercy; and this is a book confirming, in Arabic tongue, to warn evildoers, and good tidings to the good-doers.’61 At Q 3:39, angels say to Zakariyya, ‘God gives you glad tidings of Yahya, confirming a word (kalima) from God.’

“In two of the verses there appear parallel phrases which shed light on the meaning of confirmation. The first is at Q 5:48: ‘We have sent to you the book in truth, confirming (musaddiq) what is before it from the book, and guarding it in safety (muhaymin).’ The second is at Q 10:37: ‘it is a confirmation (tasdiq) of what is before it, and a distinguishing (tafsil) of the book, wherein is no doubt.’

“The impression given by these verses containing musaddiq or tasdiq is that the revelation conceived of as being sent down by God in the present is thought to align with what God has sent down in the past.62 There seems to be a claim of correspondence. These verses VOUCH FOR THE TRUTH OF EARLIER REVELATIONS, WHICH IS THE SENSE OF SADDAQA. At the same time these verses bring the authority of the past revelations to bear on the present revelation. This helps the reader understand the context for the verses of tampering in the Qur’an, and also indicates one expression which may have been in the minds of the exegetes when they set about to explain the meaning of the verses of tampering.” (Pp. 47-48; bold and capital emphasis ours)

56 Wansbrough renders musaddiq as “verification of earlier prophets and scriptures,” Quranic Studies, 65.

57 At Q 6:92, 35:31, 46:12 & 30, and 61:6.

58 Confirmation, attestation; belief; assent, agreement, approval. 

59 Frequently translated “that which was before it,” but which means literally “what is between his two hands.” Madigan renders it “… WHAT IS ALREADY PRESENT.” The Qur’an’s Self-Image, 137. (P. 47; capital emphasis ours)

The Qur’an provides qualitative descriptions of the earlier scriptures which appear to be uniformly respectful. A striking example is at Q 6:154: ‘Then we gave to Moses the book, complete for him who does good, and distinguishing everything, and as a guidance (hudan) and a mercy (rahma).’ These and other epithets repeat throughout the Qur’an. The Torah is characterized as containing ‘guidance and light (nur).’ The Gospel is also called ‘a guidance and an admonition (maw‘iza) to the godfearing.’ The Torah is said to contain ‘the judgment (hukm) of God.’ The book given to Moses is described as a guidance to the Children of Israel. God also gave ‘the book of Moses’ for a standard (imam) and a mercy. The tablets which God wrote for Moses contain ‘an admonition and a distinguishing (tafsil) of everything. The book given to Moses and Aaron is described as the ‘manifesting’ (mustabin) book.

“In other contexts, the Qur’anic approach to the earlier scriptures can be seen in the actions which are associated with them. At Q 3:93, for example, is an appeal to opponents in the midst of a polemical situation to ‘Bring the Torah now, and recite it, if you are truthful.’ A similar understanding is given at Q 10:94: ‘If you are in doubt regarding what we have sent down to you, ask those who recite the book before you.’ These verses seem to indicate that the Torah was readily available, and could be produced to resolve disputes or answer questions. They also suggest a measure of authority to the contents of the Torah. A third situation of this type is in view at Q 5:43, where the Torah is said to be with (‘inda) the Jews, and to contain God’s decision. At Q 5:44, the prophets and religious leaders of the Jews are said to have judged the Jews according to the Torah, and these leaders were entrusted with the protection of ‘the book of God.’ Similarly, the ‘people of the Gospel’ are urged to make their judgments according to the contents of the Gospel. All of the People of the Book are also challenged to ‘stand fast’ or act according to the Torah and Gospel.

“These Qur’anic descriptions of the earlier scriptures appear to be UNIFORMLY POSITIVE AND RESPECTFUL. The MOST NATURAL IMPRESSION to be taken would be that they represent a conception of sacred texts WHICH ARE AVAILABLE AND INTACT. There does not seem to be any hint, in any of the verses mentioned above, that the recitations which are conceived of being presently ‘sent down’ contradict the contents of the earlier scriptures. There is NO EVIDENT SUGGESTION in these verses that ANY of the scriptures exist in an altered state. The associations of the terms kalam and kalim (‘word/words’) with the verb harrafa will be thoroughly examined below. Otherwise, the references to earlier scriptures in the Qur’an WOULD NOT seem to trigger thoughts of their corruption.

“These descriptions of the earlier scriptures in turn provide a context for the exegetical development of the motif of tampering. The exegete who wants to write about the earlier scriptures will be constrained to keep in mind what the Qur’an itself says about them. If he chooses to go against the characterizations found in the Muslim scripture, he risks his reader’s accusation of contradicting the word of God.” (Pp. 48-50; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“… When the term musaddiq first appears at Q 2:41, Tabari glosses the scriptural phrase ‘in confirmation of what is with you’ as the qur’an CONFIRMS WHAT IS WITH THE JEWS OF BANU ISRA’IL OF THE TORAH.119 … In his exegesis of the phrase ‘what was with you,’ Tabari is straightforward in saying that the Torah and the Gospel ARE WITH THE JEWS, and he cites a tradition which claims, ‘they find Muhammad… written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel.121

“Tabari provides further explanation of musaddiq at several other occurrences of the term in Suras 2-6. At Q 4:47 he glosses ‘confirming’ as muhaqqaq,122 WITH THE SENSE OF VERIFYING OR SUBSTANTIATING. He offers an interesting discussion of the scriptural term, with which musaddiq is set in parallel at Q 5:48, muhaymin.123 Tabari and a large number of traditions provide a variety of glosses for muhaymin (‘guarding it in safety’): PROVIDING EVIDENCE (shahid) THAT IT IS TRUE AND FROM GOD, ASSURING (amin) it, guarding (hafiz) it, supervising (raqaba) it, and entrusted (mu’taman) with it. The Qur’an does not contradict the Torah which God sent down on Moses, which is guidance and light.124 ALL OF THESE EXPRESSIONS INDICATE A CONCEPT OF TRUSTWORTHINESS OF THE EARLIER SCRIPTURES.

“An anecdote which Tabari transmits in his explanation of musaddiq at Q 2:97 gives a good idea of the spirit of much of the material on the earlier scriptures in his commentary. In a tradition attributed to al-Sha‘bi, ‘Umar tells about being present with the Jews on the day of their study (midras) and being amazed ‘at how the Torah confirmed the truth (tasdiq) of the furqan, and how the furqan confirmed the truth of the Torah.’125 ‘Umar presses the Jews to say whether they know (‘alima) that Muhammad is the messenger of God. One of their learned and important men answers–though once more only because he has been adjured by God!–that they do indeed know that Muhammad is the messenger of God. ‘Umar then expresses amazement a second time: if they know that he is the messenger of God, why do they not follow (tab‘ia) him and attest (saddaqa) him?126

“The claim that Muhammad is confirming God’s earlier revelation also comes out strongly in the exclamation of triumph which the prophet of Islam makes at the end of the ‘stoning verse’ narratives. This exclamation is worded variously in the different accounts: In Muqatil’s tafsir Muhammad says, ‘I am the first to revive one of the sunnas of God.’127 Tabari’s commentary offers two expressions, the first addressed to God: ‘O God, I am the first who revived your command’ (al-Bara’ ibn ‘Azib); and the second a claim of self-identity: ‘I IMPOSE (qada) WHAT IS IN THE TORAH’ (Abu Hurayra)…” (Chapter Six. Method And Meaning In Interpretation Of The Qur’an, pp. 188-189; capital emphasis ours)

119 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. I, 560.

120 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. I, 560-561.

121 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. I, 561 (trad. 816).

122 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. VIII, 440.

123 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. X, 377-382. Muhaymin, ‘guarding it in safety,’ is one of the terms which the Qur’an uses for the relationship of the recitation to the Torah.

124 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. XI, 530 (at Q. 6:92).

125 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. II, 381 (trad. 1608).

126 Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. II, 381.

127 Ibn Ishaq’s version of the exclamation begins the same way as Muqatil’s but then includes a reference to the kitab of God: “I am the first to revive the order of God and his book and to practise it.” Sirat al-Nabi, Vol. II, 406. (Ibid)

“… The exegete was also familiar with many traditions which favoured Ishmael as the intended victim. But Tabari himself preferred to recognize Isaac as the victim–because this was the ‘established narrative’ about Isaac and Jerusalem.

“In Tabari’s mind, wrote Calder, popular narrative emerged historically prior to theological dogma, and therefore exerted greater authority for the exegete. In the two exegetical situations highlighted by Calder, Tabari knew–and transmitted–a range of opinion which was diverse to the point of contradiction. Over against 17 statements which favored identification of the sacrifice victim as Isaac, Tabari offered 24 statements from ‘authorities of similar weight and standing’ in favor of Ishmael. He had to defend his position against three major rational objections which had arisen to the identification of Isaac. With time, of course, Muslim theological dogma favored the identification of Ishmael, and this view found vigorous exegetical expression in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir. But even so, Tabari allowed narrative to determine his exegetical decision. ” (Chapter Seven. Influence Of Narrative Framework On Exegesis, pp. 211-212)

“The need in the narrative is to make a case for the truth of the claims of the prophet of Islam, and to show the Jews as brazenly refusing to acknowledge this truth. In discussing the former scriptures, the exegetes would want to show that the attestation of the prophetic status of Muhammad can be found in the former scriptures. They will also want to AMPLIFY the Qur’anic claim that the recitations which the Arabic messenger is making confirm what the People of the Book have with them. This would be consistent with Muhammad’s claim in the commentaries that he is reviving the commandments of God. In treating the obstinacy of the Jews, the exegetes would want to show that the Jews were fully culpable because everything they needed to know in order to make an appropriate response to Muhammad’s claims was right in front of them.

“This is indeed largely what happens in the commentaries. The dominant actions of tampering which the exegetes narrate are actions WHICH DEPEND for their narrative dynamic ON THE PRESENCE OF AN INTACT TORAH IN THE HANDS OF THE JEWS OF MUHAMMAD’S TIME.” (Ibid, pp. 212-213; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“On Q 2:75 Ibn Ishaq relates basically the same story which Muqatil and Tabari offer in their explanation of the verse. The Jewish leaders hear the commands and prohibitions from God and understand them. But when they return with Moses to the people, a group of their leaders ‘changed (harrafa) the commandments they had been given’ by contradicting Moses and claiming that God had commanded something different. Ibn Ishaq here glosses ‘the word of God’ as ‘the Torah.’ However, the narrative he offers does not concern a text and its falsification, but rather only an audition of the voice of God and the verbal alteration of God’s commandments when reporting them to the people…

“Ibn Ishaq does not link a narrative with Q 5:13, though he provides details of the ‘treachery’ of the Jews against Muhammad in relation to Q 5:11. However, he provides a long narrative passage as the occasion of revelation of Q 5:41. The story is substantially the same as the verse of stoning story found in Muqatil, ‘Abd al-Razzaq and Tabari. ‘Abd Allah ibn Suriya, introduced as ‘the most learned man living in the Torah,’ affirms that the Torah prescribes stoning for adulterers. He says that the Jews know that Muhammad is a prophet sent by God, but don’t want to acknowledge the truth because of envy. Here Ibn Ishaq also attaches the story of a rabbi concealing a verse of stoning with his hand. The prophet of Islam calls for a Torah to be brought out. When ‘And Allah ibn Salam removes the rabbi’s hand from the page, the ‘verse of stoning’ is revealed. Muhammad says, ‘Woe to you Jews! What has induced you to abandon (taraka) the judgment of God WHICH YOU HOLD IN YOUR HANDS (bi-aydikum)?’ The Jews explain how they agreed to ‘adjust’ (aslaha) the punishment to flogging. The prophet of Islam then proclaims, ‘I am the first to revive the command (amr) of God and his book and its practice.’ ALL of the parts of Ibn Ishaq’s narrative ENVISION AN INTACT TORAH WHICH CAN BE PRODUCED AND READ ALOUD by the Jewish Torah experts. Muhammad’s proclamation that he revives God’s book appears to come out of a concept THAT THE BOOK IS AUTHENTIC AND RELIABLE–whether the book’s custodians are trustworthy or not.” (Pp. 216-217; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“At several other points in his narratives about the response of the Jews of Madina to Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq appears to be working from a concept of AN INTACT AND SOUND TORAH. For example, he glosses Q 2:42, ‘do not conceal the knowledge which you have about my apostle and what he has brought when you will find it with you in what you know of the books which are in your hands.’ The three Jewish tribes of Madina shed each other’s blood, ‘WHILE THE TORAH WAS IN THEIR HANDS by which they knew what was allowed and what was forbidden.’ In relation to Q 2:89-90, God’s anger against the Jews is at ‘what they have disregarded of the Torah which they had’ by disbelieving in the prophet of Islam. The prophet wrote to the Jews of Khaybar that God had revealed the words of Q 48:29, ‘and you will find it in your scripture.’ Here Ibn Ishaq includes a rather remarkable challenge in Muhammad’s letter: ‘Do you find in what he has sent down to you that you should believe in Muhammad? If you do not find that in your scripture then there is no compulsion (kurh) upon you.’ In another story, the prophet of Islam enters a Jewish school and calls the Jews to God. In the ensuing exchange they disagree about the identity of Abraham, so Muhammad says to the Jews, ‘Then let the Torah judge between us.’ Ibn Ishaq claims that this was the occasion of revelation of Q 3:23: ‘Hast thou not regarded those who were given a portion of the book, BEING CALLED TO THE BOOK OF GOD, that it might decide between them, and then a party of them turned away, swerving aside?’ Abu Bakr invites a learned rabbi named Finhas to Islam because the Jew ‘knew that Muhammad was the apostle of God who had brought the truth from Him and that they would find it written in the Torah and the Gospel.’ Near the end of the Sira section on the Jews, a group of Jews put the question to Muhammad directly: ‘Is it true, Muhammad, that what you have brought is the truth from God?’ The prophet responds, ‘You know quite well that it is from God; you will find it written in the Torah which you have…. You know well that it is from God and that I am the apostle of God. You will find it written in the Torah you have.’ The claim in all of these examples is that the Torah which is in the possession of the Jews of Madina during the rule of Muhammad there will confirm his status as a prophet of God and the divine origin of the recitations which he is giving.

“Ibn Ishaq also links narrative with several of the katama verses, and the theme of concealing seems to be an important part of his characterization of the Jews. Besides Q 2:42, mentioned earlier, he treats Q 2:159, 3:71, 3:187, and 4:37. As sabab al-nuzul for Q 2:159, he tells a simple story about Arabs asking the Jewish rabbis about a matter contained in the Torah. The rabbis respond by concealing it from them and refusing (aba) to tell them anything about it. Ibn Ishaq’s asbab for the other three katama verses similarly appeal to the Jews to be honest about what they find in the Torah. The most logical conclusion from these stories is that the Torah which the Jews are encouraged to consult is understood by Ibn Ishaq to be the book which they have in their hands.

“A striking fact about the narratives Ibn Ishaq offers about the Ahl al-Kitab in the Sira is the absence of any accusation of the falsification of the previous scriptures…” (Pp. 217-219; bold emphasis ours)

“The Sira treats a remarkable number of the same verses of tampering which were identified through scholarly indications and through the semantic field of tampering. Ibn Ishaq provides a story of God’s actions in history through the Arabian prophet, into which he inserts Qur’anic verses of interaction and controversy with the People of the Book. From the other direction Muqatil, and to a certain extent Tabari, provide interpretation for the vague and contextless verses of the Qur’an by constructing above them a looming narrative framework. In both cases, the narrative favors the scenario of a variety of tampering actions revolving around AN INTACT TORAH.

“In setting out to write salvation history for the Muslim community, Ibn Ishaq was looking to portray continuity with the prophets of the Jewish and Christian communities and to demonstrate attestation from the scriptures of those communities. Continuity and attestation are elements of a narrative framework which works against the concept of a corrupted scripture in the hands of the Jews of Muhammad’s Madina. In fact, Ibn Ishaq claims repeatedly that the book in the hands of the Jews will attest to the prophet of Islam. The narrative framework of the Sira exclude not only traditions of textual falsification, but also the Qur’anic verses which seem to trigger the accusation in Muqaril’s and Tabari’s commentaries… The narrative framework influences the two exegetes to interpret the tampering verses mainly in the direction of actions of tampering WHICH ASSUME AN INTACT TORAH IN THE HANDS OF THE JEWS.

“The influence of the narrative structure suggests a reason for why, though Muqatil and Tabari cite a number of falsification traditions, these traditions remain isolated in the commentaries; and why the treatment of falsification accusation by Tabari and his forebears has been characterized by scholars as RELUCTANT,48 CAUTIOUS,49 GUARDED,50 CAREFUL,51 and GENTLE.52

48 Burton, “The Corruption of the Scriptures,” 105.

49 Saeed, “The Charge of Distortion,” 419.

50 Khoury, Polemique byzantine contre l’Islam, 210.

51 Hermann Stieglecker, “Die muhammedanische Pentateuchkritik zu Beginn des 2. Jahrtausends,” Theologische-praktische Quartalschrift 88 (1935), 75.

52 Fritsch, Islam und Christentum im Mittelalter, p. 57. (Pp. 220-221; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“This study set out to demonstrate the development of the theme of ‘tampering with the earlier scriptures’ by exegetes in the formative period of Qur’anic commentary. This goal has been achieved by a close examination and analysis of passages from the commentaries of Muqatil and Tabari. The passages chosen for special focus were exegetical treatments of the verses in the Qur’an which have traditionally been linked with the Islamic doctrine of the corruption of earlier scriptures. A set of 25 ‘tampering verses’ were found at the intersection of the lists offered in scholarly studies of Muslim polemic and the Qur’an’s semantic field of tampering. The description and analysis of the exegesis of these verses in the two commentaries culminated in summary statements of how the exegetes understood the Qur’anic verbs in the semantic field of tampering as well as several other scriptural expressions associated with the Muslim accusation of falsification.

“Examination of the commentary passages has shown that the exegetes in the formative period DID NOT in the first instance understand the Qur’anic verses of tampering TO MEAN THE TEXTUAL CORRUPTION OF THE EARLIER SCRIPTURES. Rather, they interpreted the verses to mean a range of actions of tampering done mainly by Jews, mainly contemporary with the prophet of Islam, and mainly related to the Torah. The Qur’anic verses themselves are not at all clear as to actor and action, locus and object of tampering. The exegetes aim to identify the ‘vague and ambiguous’ references of the text of scripture… The exegetes transmit traditions about the Jewish alteration of the Torah. These traditions seem to be linked in the commentaries with Q 2:79, and also attach to exegetical treatment of 3:78 and 5:13. The alteration traditions, however, are OVERSHADOWED in the commentaries by more dominant tampering traditions WHICH ASSUME THE EXISTENCE OF AUTHENTIC SCRIPTURES IN THE HANDS OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS.” (Chapter Eight. Conclusion: Religious Claims and Human Response, pp. 223-224; bold and capital emphasis ours)     

“The wording of the Qur’an on the earlier scriptures makes it difficult–with consistency–for the exegetes to speak of those scriptures as if they existed in a corrupted state. The material on the earlier scriptures in the Qur’an is uniformly positive and respectful. Most of this material appears in Suras 2-7. The earlier scriptures are portrayed there as touchstones of authority and attestation. The explicit claim repeated throughout these suras is that the revelation sent down to the messenger confirms the revelation sent down before it and now in existence ‘with’ the People of the Book. In the very same suras, and often in near contexts, occur verbs and expressions of tampering which create a mood of anxiety about how the People of the Book are handling the revelation which God granted to them. A survey of all of these materials showed that favorable descriptions of the earlier scriptures alternate with verbs from the semantic field of tampering and a number of idiomatic expressions associated with tampering.   

“Exegesis of verses which contain these verbs and expressions shows a preoccupation with actions of deception such as concealing words of the earlier scriptures which describe the person and arrival of the prophet of Islam… Stories of deception are based on an understanding that the tampering is related to AN INTACT text of the earlier scriptures…” (Pp. 224-225; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“A case for narrative influence was made with the assistance of scholarly insights into the exegetical method of Muqatil and the importance of narrative for Tabari. The intention to demonstrate the authority of Muhammad, it was argued, would determine the exegetical approach to the tampering materials in several respects. First of all, the attestation to the messenger and his message would be sought in the earlier scriptures. Secondly, the rulings of the messenger would be seen to be in line with the rulings of the earlier scriptures. Thirdly, the people who possess the earlier scriptures would be made culpable by their disregard of the truth in their hands. Fourthly, those Jews who respond appropriately to the prophet of Islam would be portrayed as dealing honestly with the earlier scriptures as they knew them. This case for narrative influence on the exegesis of the tampering verses was tested on another early work, the Sira of Ibn Ishaq, in chapter seven. In the Sira, the narrative is the central concern, and verses from the Qur’an are brought in to serve the story. The treatment of tampering verses in the Sirah showed a clear concern for all four aspects of the above approach. It was observed that not only does the Sira lack an accusation of the falsification of the earlier scriptures, but that it does not even make use of the verses which are associated with the accusation in the commentaries of Muqatil and Tabari.” (P. 226; bold emphasis ours)

“In summary, Muqatil and Tabari DID NOT in the first instance UNDERSTAND from the words of the Qur’an that Jews and Christians HAD FALSIFIED THEIR SCRIPTURES…” (P. 228; capital emphasis ours)

“… Initially, there was no way for Islam to establish claims of authority other than in terms of the older religious traditions. If Islam wanted to establish authority in these terms, however, it would need to refer to the revelations of the past and would tend to speak of these revelations in a favorable way. An accusation of the wholesale corruption of the earlier scriptures prior to the emergence of Islam would eliminate the possibility of proof of the essential attestation which those scriptures provide.” (P. 229)

“… It was noted in chapter seven that Tabari, after considering many conflicting traditions about the identity of the son of Abraham’s intended sacrifice, ASSERTED THAT THE SON WAS ISAAC. Muqatil before him had identified the son AS ISAAC WITHOUT INDICATING AWARENESS OF ANY OTHER OPTION. Both exegetes were free to consider the reliability of the stories of the Jews, or reports about the narrative in the Torah, that Isaac was the son involved…” (Pp. 229-230; capital emphasis ours)

“… Whatever Ibn Ishaq may have known in the second Islamic century about the use of standard polemical topoi in other religious communities, he did not in fact make accusation of the falsification of earlier scriptures in the Sira…” (P. 231; bold emphasis ours)


Concluding Remarks

Suffice it to say, Muslim polemicists will not be happy with Nickel’s book since it confirms what we have been saying for the longest time, namely, neither the Quran nor the earliest sources of Islam teach that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are corrupt and therefore unreliable. On the contrary, these sources testify that the Scriptures which the Jews and Christian still possess today are the uncorrupt revelations of God and are to be used to judge whether the Quran is true or not.

The Muslim polemicists are aware of the dilemma that this puts them in. They realize that if they agree with the Quran that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures are true then they must conclude that Muhammad cannot be a true prophet since his Quran and sunna contradict the core, essential doctrines of those Scriptures. However, if these Muslim apologists claim that the previous Scriptures have been corrupted then they have to face the fact that their prophet was mistaken for believing that the revelations that God had given the Jews and Christians remained intact and could therefore be trusted.    

These particular Muslims realize that their Islamic beliefs do not come out fairing too well since either position leads to the same conclusion of Muhammad not being a true prophet. This is why they have to do everything they can to convince people that the Quran does not confirm the authenticity of the Holy Bible. Unfortunately for them the facts are not on their side and so the only honest thing for them to do is to reject Muhammad and abandon Islam altogether.


Further Reading

How Does Islam View The Bible?
Abraham and the Child of Sacrifice – Isaac or Ishmael?