The Qur’an’s unbroken chain of narration (not)

Broken chain

by Hatun Tash and Lizzie Schofield

In a previous article we provided evidence of how different versions of the Qur’an contain words with different meanings, due to the different dot patterns and other markings. Bang goes the Muslim claim that “not a dot of the Qur’an has changed.” Now let’s consider the Muslim argument that this doesn’t matter anyway (strange that Muslims would insist on the Qur’an’s pristine preservation for centuries if it wasn’t that important, but hey). At this point they fall back instead on oral tradition, the Qur’an’s beautiful, golden, unbroken chain of narration since the time of Muhammad. But is it actually a golden, unbroken chain of narration or a melted plastic chain of confusion? (Spoiler alert.)

Qur'an's chain of narrators

 

The names just under Muhammad (Uthman, Ali, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ubay ibn Kaab and Ibn Masud) supposedly took the Qur’an from Muhammad by oral tradition. Islamic tradition tells us 3 people in this line disliked each other and disagreed on what needed to be in the Qur’an. Ubay Ibn Kaab’s Qur’an was comprised of 116 chapters; Ibn Masud’s Qur’an had 111 chapters; Zayd Ibn Thabit’s had 114 chapters. So even those closest to the Prophet of Islam weren’t sure about which verses should make the cut. To make matters worse, Shia’s believe that Ali’s Qur’an is the only correct one. Not looking good for that beautiful chain.

Let’s move to the next line in the melted plastic chain of confusion. Abi Abd al Rahman Abd Allah bin Habeeb al Solmi, took the Qur’an from the people above him who couldn’t agree among themselves what should be in it. We will never know (but Allah knows) whose version he used and why. Were there any eyewitnesses at the time who confirmed his narration? Which other Muslims considered him reliable? How many non-Muslim witnesses can confirm any of this? In the same line we have Zirr ibn Hubaysh. Same questions apply to Mr Zirr ibn Hubaysh.

From these mysterious individuals we move to Abi Bakr Aasem ibn al Njood al Asdi al Kufi,who took the Qur’an from Al Solmi and Ibn Hubaysh. Let’s get to know him through Islamic tradition. Tradition tells us that he is blind; he misses off letters; his ahadith are untrue; his memorisation is lacking; he is not trustworthy; he is confused at the end of his life and suffers from delusions. Islamic tradition doesn’t give us a great impression of him yet Muslims consider him part of the golden chain of reliable narrators. Whose opinions shall we trust? The early Muslims or the 2017 Islamic da’wah team?

Abi Bakr Aasem ibn al Njood al Asdi al Kufi, passed the ball to Hafs whose Qur’an we have today and is read by the majority of the Muslim world in 2017. Islamic tradition tells us he doesn’t have a very good reputation. He makes up ahadith, is accused of lying and is considered untrustworthy; his conversations are disputed; he’s considered disloyal; he borrows people’s books, copies them without verifying the contents and then fails to return them. Hafs narrations don’t make it into the hadith collections because he is considered untrustworthy but somehow when it comes to the Qur’an, the eternal word of Allah, he is trustworthy! How does that work?

Putting their dates together, yes it’s possible that these people might have met each other. However, given he was born 67 years after his death, we can be certain that Hafs never met Muhammad. We can be certain Hafs never met the first generation of witnesses, Uthman or Ibn Kaab or Ali, to check out whether what he received was correct. They were dead too. Which of Muhammad’s eyewitnesses confirmed the 114 chapters and 6236 verses of the Hafs Qur’an (or any of the Hafs Qur’ans)?

The Gospels don’t need a chain of narration because (three of them anyway) were taken from eyewitness testimony. Matthew was one of the twelve apostles. Mark took his account from Peter. John is identified as “the beloved disciple” who wrote, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.” In contrast, Islam hangs on one man’s spiritual experience with an angel (if it was an angel) which no one else was party to – whatever any of the narrators say.

The Indhimmpendent Strikes Again

For a while, the Independent has been doing its best to present Islam in a rosy light and  squash any legitimate criticism of the religion.  Rushing to condemn the mention of the Parson’s Green bomber’s refugee status as Islamophobic; helpfully suggesting that Britain deals with the terrorist threat by carrying on as before; opining thoughtfully that shouting Allah –u-Akhbar before murdering someone doesn’t make you religiously motivated – that sort of thing. Now the Indie’s really upped its game with its latest piece by Qasim Rachid (a regular contributor)  entitled “How the teachings of Islam could help us prevent more sex scandals.” Islam will prevent sex scandals? Sex scandals like the systematic rape and grooming of young girls in Rochdale, Rotherham and Newcastle, right? Tell me how a religion founded by a man who married a nine-year-old girl, plus another 10 women (some forcibly) in addition to his regular sex slaves, will help here. Seriously. I’m all ears.

Mr Rachid tells us “Islam implores accountability to the creator, but rather than preach empty dogmatic theories, Islam instead prescribes a proven secular model.” How can Islam implore accountability to a creator but prescribe something secular? Let alone ‘prove’ anything? Which Muslim nation or branch of Islam has ‘proven’ itself to be free of sex scandal?  Obviously Rachid can’t prove this, so instead he goes to Islamic scripture, increasing his problems 100-fold:

“The Quran 4:2 first establishes men and women as equal beings”

(Please note, Mr Rachid is an Ahmaddi Muslim, so quotes the Ahmaddi Qur’an; its  references are a verse ahead of standard Qur’an referencing. So when he says Sura 4:2, he is referring to Sura 4:1 in a standard Qur’an.)

This verse talks about mutual rights (although that phrase is not in the Arabic), but says nothing about men and women being equal in essence. In fact, Sura 4:34 says something quite the opposite:

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made one to excel the other.”

Mr Rachid continues:

“Chapter 4:20 [4:19] then forbids men from forcing a woman to act against her will, thereby ensuring women maintain autonomy and self-determination.”

No, it says you are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Wait  – you can take women as inheritance, like the family silver ? Now that’s what I call female autonomy and self-determination! Keep going, Mr Rachid:

“Chapter 4:35 [4:34] furthermore prevents violence against women by forcing men to control themselves and never resort to physically harming women– pre-empting physical abuse.”

How brazen. Mr Rachid is quoting the very same Sura that says “But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them.” Again the Qur’an teaches the opposite of what he wrote.
What does he have to say about the hijab?

“The Quran obliges women to dress modestly as a covenant with God.”

Where does it say this in the Qur’an? Which verse? This is what Sura 33:59 actually says:

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (33:59) This has nothing to do with a covenant with God. Rather the woman is mandated to cover to protect herself from sexual harassment. The implication is that if the woman doesn’t cover, she’s asking for it, as I’ve written about before.

The Qur’an does tell men to lower their gaze from women (Sura 24:30), but at the same time  excuses men’s sexual proclivities. Sura 4:28:

“Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak (cannot be patient to leave sexual intercourse with woman.)” Ibn Kathir makes clear this weakness is sexual.

Rachid finishes with a heart-warming story of Muhammad man-handling his friend to get him to look away from a woman’s beauty. Seems he didn’t feel like mentioning Muhammad’s marrying his adopted son’s wife, threatening to divorce his wives for getting annoyed by his antics with a slave girl, marrying Safiya after capturing her in a raid, or giving women in exchange for horses and weapons (Sirat Rasul Allah, trans. A Guillaume p466).

Jesus never married. Jesus never had sex slaves. He never sexually exploited women. The Cross of Christ is justice for the victims of sexual exploitation and mercy for the perpetrators if they turn to him. Healing and forgiveness made possible through Christ’s death and the work of the Spirit are a far better solution to all this, as I hope Mr Rachid realises one day.

But Mr Rachid’s lies or delusions are not the most depressing thing about this article. The most depressing thing is that it’s not loitering unread in an Ahmaddi mosque somewhere; it’s on the website of a national newspaper. How did a national newspaper let this dawahganda in unchecked? (I’m sure the fact 30 per cent of the Indhi is owned by a Saudi businessman has nothing to do with it.)  And why, to speak for Islam, did it give a platform to Mr Rachid, an Ahmaddi Muslim? Ahmaddi Muslims are moderate, but the vast majority of Muslims consider them heretics.

At least opposition in the article’s comments section has been, er, vigorous. But it’s a sad day for British journalism when a once reasonable rag like the Indie fails so spectacularly to live up to its name.

Fake news (and handshake etiquette)

by Jon V. Jones

Man and woman shake hands

We were excited to learn from Muslims on Sunday that DCCI is being paid by “the Jews”. However, having each now had time to check our bank statements, we are disappointed to find that nothing has arrived. Not even a penny. Also, the Jewish people at the park know nothing about this. So if our Muslim friends know who these Jews are that would like to pay us, please do tell us, so we can make contact and put the practical arrangements in place. As it stands, it remains that none of us are paid to go to the park.

Hatun Tash was also informed by Muslims that she has Shia Muslim family in Iran. This was exciting news for Hatun, as she is Turkish and was entirely unaware of any Shia or Iranian connections. Perhaps the family branched off some centuries ago, and making contact could provide a wealth of new evangelistic opportunities? After all, Shia Muslims are as welcome into the body of Christian believers as Sunni Muslims for “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Or maybe ITV could make an episode of “Long Lost Family”. Again, we were disappointed, as Muslims were not able to provide any names or contact details for these distant relatives.

On another point of clarification, when a Christian woman offers to shake hands with a Muslim man, or even with a Christian man in the presence of a Muslim, this is not an invitation to a sexual liaison. A handshake functions as a formal and/or friendly greeting: sufficiently formal that if a date between a man and a woman was to conclude with a handshake, it would probably indicate that things hadn’t gone too well and a second date was unlikely to materialise.

Sexual liaisons in London are usually preceded by a trip to the cinema for whatever rubbish happens to be showing, an expensive meal and several glasses of the alcoholic beverage of choice.

The Bible is clear that sex is a good gift between a man and a woman in marriage. Biblical Christians generally don’t go in for the bad date scenario described above. As to how men and women should interact, 1 Timothy 5:1-2 advises: “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” If I shake hands with my boss, someone at the supermarket checkout, or my friend’s mother-in-law, none of them would suspect me of impure thoughts or intentions – and probably most Muslims understand the same.

Why the Bible doesn’t need to be ‘perfectly’ preserved for Christianity to be true

P52

by Lizzie Schofield

Having established the presence of textual variants in the various Qur’ans, you might be thinking – so what? The Bible is full of textual variants: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  If the Bible is really God’s inspired Word, shouldn’t Christians be able to trace it back to one pristine, unchanged source?

However the criteria of inspiration are different in Christianity and Islam. In Islam, the Qur’an is Allah’s unmediated speech, existing outside of time and space and preserved on heavenly tablets. On the other hand, no Christian believes the Bible is YHWH’s unmediated speech, existing outside of time and space on heavenly tablets. It is not an eternal book, nor is it YHWH’S direct email-from-heaven, but a message mediated through human beings inspired and supervised by the Holy Spirit. The point of the Bible is not the divine mystery of the words themselves, but who they point to – the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word. The Apostle John puts it like this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (vs 1). The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His Glory, the Glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (vs 14) John 1.

Christianity doesn’t demand a pristine and unaltered Biblical text: the point is, the Biblical manuscripts give a reliable account of who the Eternal Word is, Jesus Christ, in order to follow Him (John 5:39-40).

But we shouldn’t gloss over the existence of variants either. The question is –  what kind of variants are they? And do they give us reason to doubt Christianity’s core beliefs? Truth is, there are a lot of variants between Bible manuscripts – partly because there are an awful lot of manuscripts, over 24,000.  Here’s Bart Ehrmann, Muslims’ favourite New Testament scholar (and an agnostic) in his book Misquoting Jesus:

“Scholars differ significantly in their estimates—some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” (Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman 2007; 89-90)

More variations than there are words? Wow. Surely that undermines the case for NT reliability.  Or does it? Here’s another (Christian) New Testament scholar, Dan Wallace, responding to Bart Ehrmann’s statistics:

“That is true enough, but by itself is misleading. Anyone who teaches NT textual criticism knows that this fact is only part of the picture and that, if left dangling in front of the reader without explanation, is a distorted view. Once it is revealed that the great majority of these variants are inconsequential—involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated, articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like—and that only a very small minority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come into focus. Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable. The impression Ehrman sometimes gives throughout the book—and repeats in interviews—is that of wholesale uncertainty about the original wording, a view that is far more radical than he actually embraces.” (https://bible.org/article/gospel-according-bart).

Do these 1% meaningful and viable textual variants affect any essential Christian doctrine? Here’s Bart Ehrmann again:

“The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s [a Christian world authority on the NT] position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have a different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true. But I was looking at the question from a different angle. My question is not about traditional Christian beliefs, but about how to interpret passages of the Bible.”(Q & A with Bart Ehrman in Ehrman 2005; 252-253, emphasis mine.)

Bart Ehrmann, agnostic and favourite scholar of Muslims, says essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants. His issue is how to interpret the available data. For example, the text says unequivocally Jesus died by crucifixion. Whether you interpret Jesus’ death in support of the doctrine of atonement is another matter (according to Bart, anyway. I disagree with him on this.)

The fact that no essential beliefs are affected by textual variants points to a remarkable degree of homogeneity among the Bible’s manuscript corpus, which supports the Bible’s reliable preservation. What is certain is that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest the textual variants point back to an ‘uncorrupted’ text called the Injil in line with Islamic theology (where Jesus doesn’t die and isn’t resurrected.) Then there’s the awkward fact the Qur’an claims to confirm the previous Scriptures (Sura 3:3; s10:37; s12:111; s49:26-30 -it goes on and on). This leaves Muslims with two options. 1) Maintain the Bible we have today has been corrupted, and was preceded by a book called the Injil in spite of zero evidence for its existence, therefore Allah failed to protect his word. 2) Agree that Allah has protected his Word, the Bible, but admit the Qur’an completely contradicts what the Bible teaches, therefore the Qur’an contradicts itself, therefore cannot be the word of God.

May our Muslim friends come to abandon this an indefensible doctrine (of perfect preservation) of an indefensible book (the Qur’an) and instead worship the true Eternal Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom our manuscripts have so faithfully proclaimed down the centuries.