Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Word Became a Book – The Inlibration of Allah’s Word

Responding to a Muslim’s Explanation of the Quran’s Dual Natures

Sam Shamoun

As I had promised at the end of the following rebuttal (*) I continue my reply (*) to Muslim dawagandist Bassam Zawadi’s “response” (*) to my refutation (1, 2) to his failed attempt (*) of trying to prove that the Trinity is logically inconsistent with the Lord Jesus’ teaching in John 17:3 that the Father is the only true God.

I had compared the Christian belief in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus to the Islamic view concerning the nature of the Quran in order to show Zawadi (and Muslims in general) that there is nothing logically inconsistent with the Christian position. After all, Sunni Muslims believe that the Quran is the uncreated speech or word of Allah which means that the Sunni view actually posits two natures to the Muslim scripture since the book which contains it is part of creation, not eternal. Thus, one aspect of the Quran is uncreated whereas another aspect of it is created.

I further quoted various sources that readily acknowledged that the Islamic view of the Quran is similar to the Christian understanding of the Incarnation. The difference is that Christians believe that God’s eternal, uncreated Word became flesh (Incarnation, from incarnatio [“in flesh”]) whereas Sunni Islam teaches that the uncreated speech of Allah became a book, what is sometimes called “inlibration” (“having been turned into a book” [inscripturation], from in libro [“in book”]).

I then argued that Zawadi is being inconsistent for attacking the Christian understanding of the Incarnation of Christ when he himself holds to a similar a view of the Quran.

Here is how Zawadi replied:

As I said before, the Qur'an in essence is uncreated and communicated to us through created means. It did not become a creation. It is not a creation. Christians don't merely say that God remained in His essence and simply communicated to us through the image of a man. No, they say that He became a man. Since Muslims do not say that Allah's divine attribute of speech became paper, ink, etc. and that it is only communicated through those means, the analogy becomes fallacious at best.

Christians believe that God's divine essence was in the man of Jesus Christ himself. But no where do Muslims believe that the divine attribute of God is in the book itself. It is only its message and information content that it is there. Anyone can write up the Qur'an on a piece of paper. That doesn't mean that he can transform an ordinary piece of paper into a divine piece of paper at any time. Sure, the paper could become holy in the sense that it contains the words of the divine, but not that it has actually become divine in and of it self. If that were the case then the Prophet (peace be upon him) would have taught us to worship the Qur'an or seek blessings from it by wiping it over our faces, etc" (Source)

Zawadi’s comments confirm what I have repeatedly said about his inability to understand the issues and why he isn’t qualified to address them. His statements exemplify why he needs to stop engaging in apologetics (unless his intention is to discredit Islam) since he has repeatedly shown that he is simply incapable of doing any serious critical thinking into these matters.

For instance, his assertion that the Quran did not become a creation shows that he either hasn’t pondered over the implications of what his sources say concerning the nature of the Quran, or if he has then he is simply being dishonest. Wanting to give him the benefit of doubt we will say that he hasn’t taken the time to seriously reflect on what Sunni Islam has claimed for the Quran.

With that said it seems that this is going to be another instance where we will need to bring out the implications of the traditional Sunni view of the Muslim scripture in order for Zawadi to see why there is an essential aspect of the Quran that is created.

First, the Quran cannot be what it is without it being inscripturated or written down. After all, the word Quran itself speaks to the issue of its inscripturation since it means reading/recitation. Thus, its inscripturation is an essential and necessary component of its makeup, otherwise why even bother calling it the Quran? Why not simply call it the Word of Allah? The reason is obvious unless you happen to be Zawadi … it is called the Quran because it is a book that believers are required to read and recite, which leads us to our second point.

The Quran testifies to it being a book which was sent down to Muhammad to read and recite:

They ask thy instruction concerning the women say: God doth instruct you about them: And (remember) what hath been rehearsed unto you in the Book (al-kitabi), concerning the orphans of women to whom ye give not the portions prescribed, and yet whom ye desire to marry, as also concerning the children who are weak and oppressed: that ye stand firm for justice to orphans. There is not a good deed which ye do, but God is well-acquainted therewith. S. 4:127 Y. Ali

Read that which hath been revealed unto thee, of the book (kitabi) of thy Lord, [without presuming to make any change therein]: There is none who hath power to change his words; and thou shalt not find any to fly to, besides him, [if thou attempt it]. S. 18:27 Sale

These are verses of the Book (al-kitabi) that makes (things) clear. S. 26:2 Y. Ali

These are verses of the Qur'an,-a book that makes (things) clear (al-qurani wa-kitabin mubeenin); A guide: and glad tidings for the believers,- S. 27:1-2 Y. Ali

And they say: Why are not portents sent down upon him from his Lord? Say: Portents are with Allah only, and I am but a plain warner. Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto thee the Scripture (al-kitaba) which is read unto them? Lo! herein verily is mercy, and a reminder for folk who believe. S. 29:50-51 Pickthall

Notice that this passage clearly says that the book was sent down, i.e. it was a book before it was sent down. Thus, the message was not merely put into a book AFTER it was sent down, but the book was sent down (and then written up by men as well).

These are Verses of the Wise Book (al-kitabi al-hakeemi),- A Guide and a Mercy to the Doers of Good,- S. 31:2-3

The revelation of the Book (al-kitabi), there is no doubt in it, is from the Lord of the worlds. Or do they say: He has forged it? Nay! it is the truth from your Lord that you may warn a people to whom no warner has come before you, that they may follow the right direction. S. 32:2-3 Shakir

The revelation of the Book (al-kitabi) is from Allah, the Mighty, the Wise. Surely We have revealed to you the Book (al-kitaba) with the truth, therefore serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience. S. 39:1-2 Shakir

Lo! those who read the Scripture of Allah (kitaba Allahi), and establish worship, and spend of that which We have bestowed on them secretly and openly, they look forward to imperishable gain, S. 35:29 Pickthall

He is the One who sent to the gentiles a messenger from among them, to recite to them His revelations, purify them, and teach them the scripture (al-kitaba) and wisdom. Before this, they had gone far astray. S. 62:2

The Quran further says that Muhammad was sent to recite and read purified pages:

A messenger from Allah, reading purified pages (yatlu suhufan mutahharatan) S. 98:1-2 Pickthall

The Quran is also supposed to be a book which confirms the previous revealed books in the Arabic language so that Arabs could know the revelations of Allah (we say supposed since the Islamic scripture contradicts the previous Scriptures):

And when there came to them a Book (kitabun) from Allah verifying that which they have, and aforetime they used to pray for victory against those who disbelieve, but when there came to them (Prophet) that which they did not recognize, they disbelieved in him; so Allah's curse is on the unbelievers. S. 2:89 Shakir

It is He Who has sent down the Book (al-kitaba) to you with truth, confirming what is between his hands. And he sent down the Torah and the Gospel. Aforetime, as a guidance to mankind, And He sent down the criterion. Truly, those who disbelieve in the revelations of Allah, for them there is a severe torment; and Allah is All-Mighty, All-Able of Retribution. S. 3:3-4

And We have sent down to you the Book (al-kitaba) in truth, confirming the Book that is between his hands and witnessing to their veracity. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging away from the truth that has come to you. S. 5:48

And this is a Book (kitabun) We have revealed, blessed, verifying that which is before it, and that you may warn the metropolis and those around her; and those who believe in the hereafter believe in it, and they attend to their prayers constantly. S. 6:92 Shakir

Moreover, We gave Moses the Book, completing (Our favour) to those who would do right, and explaining all things in detail, - and a guide and a mercy, that they might believe in the meeting with their Lord. And this is a Book (kitabun) which We have revealed as a blessing: so follow it and be righteous, that ye may receive mercy: Lest ye should say: "The Book was sent down to two Peoples before us, and for our part, we remained unacquainted with all that they learned by assiduous study." Or lest ye should say: "If the Book had only been sent down to us, we should have followed its guidance better than they." Now then hath come unto you a clear (sign) from your Lord, - and a guide and a mercy: then who could do more wrong than one who rejecteth God's signs, and turneth away therefrom? In good time shall We requite those who turn away from Our signs, with a dreadful penalty, for their turning away. S. 6:154-157

These are revelations of the Scripture (al-kitabi) that maketh plain.… But when there came unto them the Truth from Our presence, they said: Why is he not given the like of what was given unto Moses? Did they not disbelieve in that which was given unto Moses of old? They say: Two magics that support each other; and they say: Lo! in BOTH we are disbelievers. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Then bring A SCRIPTURE (kitabin) from the presence of Allah that giveth clearer guidance than THESE TWO (that) I may follow it, if ye are truthful. S. 28:2, 48-49 Pickthall

And that We have revealed to thee of the Book (al-kitabi) is the truth, confirming what is before it; God is aware of and sees His servants. S. 35:31

And before this, was the Book of Moses as a guide and a mercy: And this Book (kitabun) confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue; to admonish the unjust, and as Glad Tidings to those who do right. S. 46:12 Y. Ali

They said: O our people! we have listened to a Book (kitaban) revealed after Musa verifying that which is before it, guiding to the truth and to a right path: S. 46:30 Shakir

These passages show that the Quran must be a book like all of those books which it is supposed to confirm.

Third, the Quran is said to be in the mother of the book and that it is inscribed in a preserved tablet:

We verily, have made it a Qur'an in Arabic, that you may be able to understand (its meanings and its admonitions). And Verily, it (this Qur'an) is in the Mother of the Book (i.e. Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), before Us, indeed Exalted, full of Wisdom. S. 43:3-4

Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an, (Inscribed) in Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz (The Preserved Tablet)! S. 85:21-22

Here is how the Muslim expositors interpreted these specific passages:

<And verily, it> means, the Qur'an…

<is in the Mother of the Book> meaning, Al-Lawh Al-Mahfuz (the Preserved Tablet). This was the view of Ibn `Abbas and Mujahid…

<with Us,> means, in Our presence. This was the view of Qatadah and others. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 43:4)

And it is indeed, fixed, in the Mother Book, the source of all the scriptures, namely, the Preserved Tablet, [which is] with Us (ladaynā substitutes [for fī ummi’l-kitābi, ‘in the Mother Book’]) [and it is] indeed exalted, above [all] the scriptures [that came] before it, wise, containing excellent wisdoms. (Tafsir Al-Jalalayn, Q. 43:4; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Nay, but it is a glorious, a magnificent, Qur’ān, in a tablet, suspended above the seventh heaven, preserved (read mahfūzin), from all devils and from having any of its contents altered; it is a high as the distance between the earth and the heaven, and as wide as the distance between the east and the west, made of white pearls — as stated by Ibn ‘Abbās… (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 85:21-22; bold and underline emphasis ours)

(And lo! in the Source of Decrees) in the Guarded Tablet, (which We possess) where it is written, (it) i.e. the Qur'an (is indeed sublime) exalted, noble and glorious, (decisive) in explaining the lawful and the unlawful, (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs, Q. 43:4; bold and underline emphasis ours)

(Nay, but it) i.e. the Qur'an which Muhammad recites to you (is a glorious Qur'an) is a noble and honoured Qur'an (On a guarded tablet) He says: it is written on a tablet that is protected from the devils'. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs, Q. 85:21-22; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Even the so-called authentic ahadith mention that Allah wrote a book before creation:

LV. The words of Allah Almighty, "It is indeed a Glorious Qur'an preserved on a Tablet." (85:21-22)

"By the Mount and an Inscribed Book" (52:1-2): Qatada said that "mastur" means "written". "Yasturun" (68:1) means "they inscribe", and the Umm al-Kitab (43:4) is the whole of the Qur'an and its source. [He said that] "ma talfizu" (50:18) means: "He does not say anything but that it is written against him." Ibn 'Abbas said, "Both good and evil are recorded," and "yuharrufuna" (4:46) means "they remove". No one removes the words of one of the Books of Allah Almighty, but they twist them, interpreting them improperly. "Dirasatihim: (6:156) means "their recitation" "Wa'iyya" (69:12) is preserving, "ta'iha" (69:12) means to "preserve it". "This Qur'an has been revealed to me by inspiration that I may warn you," meaning the people of Makka, "and all whom it reaches" (6:19) meaning this Qur'an, so he is its warner.

7114. Abu Rafi' related from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet said, "When Allah finished creation, He wrote a book with Him (which said), 'My mercy overpowered (or preceded) My anger.' It is with Him above the Throne." (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, 100. Book of Tawhid (the belief that Allah is One in His Essence, Attributes and Actions); sources 1, 2)

This narration introduces an additional problem. How can the mother of the book be the source of the Quran when the Quran is supposed to be eternal whereas the tablet/book is created? If this means that the heavenly book is the source of the earthly Quran then this only further confirms my point. It proves that the written aspect of the Quran is an essential part of its nature since it originated not from Allah, but from the heavenly book which Allah wrote. This is precisely what the following Muslim authorities say concerning the “descent” of the Quran to Muhammad:

(The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an.) (2:185) Ibn `Abbas and others have said, “Allah sent the Qur'an down all at one time FROM the Preserved Tablet (Al-Lawh Al-Mahfuz) to the House of Might (Baytul-`Izzah), which is in the heaven of this world. Then it came down in parts to the Messenger of Allah based upon the incidents that occurred over a period of twenty-three years.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 97:1; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Lo! We revealed it, that is, the Qur’an, in its entirety, [sending it down] from the Preserved Tablet to the heaven of this world, on the Night of Ordainment, that is, [the Night] of great eminence. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 97:1; bold underline emphasis ours)

According to Allaah’s statements in His Book, there were two distinct revelations of the Qur’aan which took place. It is important that these two revelations be understood in order to clear up the apparent contradictions [sic] in the various terms used in the Qur’aan and Sunnah to describe the Qur’aan’s revelation. On one hand, the Qur’aan is referred to as having been revealed in its totality in Ramadaan or on Laylatul-Qadr, the Night of Decree; while on the other hand, it is referred to as having been continuously revealed in segments up until the death of the Prophet.

The First Revelation

Allaah caused the Qur’aan to descend FROM the Protected Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfooth) on which it was written to the lowest heaven. In this revelation all of the Qur’aan was sent down at one time to a station in the lowest heaven referred to as "Bayt al-‘Izzah" (The House of Honor or Power). The blessed night on which this descent took place is called "Laylatul-Qadr" (The Night of Decree), one of the odd-numbered nights in the last ten days of the month of Ramadaan. Allaah referred to this initial revelation as follows [quotes Q. 44:1-3; 97:1; 2:185]…

These verses have [sic] to refer to the initial revelation because it is a known fact [sic] that the whole Qur’aan was not revealed to Prophet Muhammad on a single night on Ramadaan.

Ibn ‘Abbaas stated that the Qur’aan was first separated from its station in the upper heavens and placed in Bayt al-‘Izzah in the lowest heaven. One version states that this took place on the Night of Decree in Ramadaan. Had it been Allaah’s wish, the Qur’aan could then have been revealed as a whole to the Prophet in a single revelation. This was the method by which all of the earlier books of revelation were sent down. But, Allah chose to divide the revelation into two parts [sic]. The first revelation within the heavens represented an announcement to the inhabitants of the heavens that the final book of revelation was being sent down upon the last of the prophets. (Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Usool at-Tafseer, 6. The Revelations of the Qur’aan, pp. 94-96; sources 1, 2; capital and underline emphasis ours)

In light of the foregoing one wonders why Allah bothered to create a heavenly tablet in which he wrote down the Quran if its inscripturation wasn’t an essential part of its makeup?(1)

The answer is rather obvious but since it isn’t obvious to Zawadi we are going to have to break it down for him. What all of the preceding verses and references demonstrate is that the inscripturation of the Quran is a crucial and necessary element of its makeup. These citations prove that Allah intended from the very beginning for the Quran to be inlibrated, which means that the Quran cannot be what it is unless it is a book.

But this leads us back to what I had stated in my rebuttal concerning the Quran having two natures. Unless Zawadi wants to argue that the heavenly tablet and all of the books which contain the Quran are eternal he is going to have to admit that there is a necessary part of the Muslim scripture which is definitely created.

As the word Quran itself testifies, the so-called revelation which Allah supposedly gave to Muhammad was meant to be written down or inlibrated so that Muslims could read and recite it. In light of this Zawadi is going to have to accept the fact that the Islamic scripture does consist of two necessary components or essences: The Quran is the speech of Allah, and therefore uncreated, but it is also a book, and therefore created since its inscripturation occurred at a point in time. As such, that essential aspect which makes the Quran what it is, namely its written component, cannot be eternal.(1)

Thus, contrary to Zawadi’s assertion, it is not simply the case of the Quran being communicated through created means. Rather, the Muslim scripture itself became part of creation the moment Allah wrote it down in the heavenly tablet/book and sent it to Muhammad so that the faithful could also write it down in books. Without this essential created component the Quran cannot be what it is.

In light of this I am going to repeat what I had said to Zawadi. Since Zawadi has no problem affirming that Allah is absolutely one and that the Quran is also his uncreated speech that became a book he therefore has no logical basis to argue that the Christian belief in the glorious Incarnation of the eternal Divine Word is irrational. However, if he continues to claim that it is irrational then he is going to have to reject his belief in the Quran if he is going to be consistent and honest.

Lord Jesus willing, there will be more rebuttals to Zawadi’s “replies” in the near future.

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(1) According to the following narrative Muhammad may have actually believed that the heavenly tablet was eternal:

7115. Abu Rafi' related that he heard Abu Hurayra say that he heard the Messenger of Allah say, "Allah wrote a book before He created creation: 'My mercy preceded My anger.' It is written with Him above the Throne," (Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, 100. Book of Tawhid (the belief that Allah is One in His Essence, Attributes and Actions); sources 1, 2)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah's Apostle saying, “BEFORE Allah created the creations, He wrote a Book (wherein He has written): ‘My Mercy has preceded my Anger.’ And that (Book) is written with Him over the Throne.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 643)

If Allah wrote a book before creation then this implies that the book itself is eternal since it existed before creation came into being. In that case Zawadi can argue that it is only the earthly replica of that contained in the mother of the book which has a created component to it.

However, this narration raises two problems which Zawadi needs to address. First, although the heavenly book/tablet may be eternal this doesn’t mean that the Quran was always a part of it. The very fact that the hadith says that Allah wrote a book suggests that the Quran was added to it later on. Moreover, the act of writing presupposes time and change which means that the written part of the Quran is not eternal since its inscripturation took place at a moment in time.

The second problem with Muhammad’s reported view is that an eternal book presupposes space and place since it must be composed of some material aspect, and matter requires space/place. But we know that time, matter and space/place were created. In light of this fact how can there be a book that existed before creation when its very existence requires matter and space/place? Should we assume that Muhammad actually believed that not all matter or space/place is created?

If so then that means that Allah is not the creator of all things and that he is not the only eternal being! His book is also eternal and since the book is not identical to Allah this means that we have two distinct eternal beings or entities! But if two eternal entities exist then this violates Islamic monotheism since this means that Allah is not the only uncreated being!

Whatever answer Zawadi may come up with he is left with huge problems and major difficulties that are not easily resolved or explained away.

For more on this issue and to see other problems with what the hadiths say concerning the existence of other eternal objects besides Allah we recommend the article: Allah – the creator of all things?