Forth Letter

Dear Abdallah,

It is hardly necessary for me to tell you how I appreciated your last letter! It is good that our personal relationship is so open, despite the fact that we stand on different foundations. I am glad that you seem to agree on the need for a sober approach to spiritual matters and acknowledge the forceful and, to an honest reader obvious and convincing argument that fulfilled prophecy represents. The same applies to the eyewitness reports and historic sources. Together they are a rock on which we can safely build our trust in the Bible.

While it is decidedly good to have a rich emotional life, our spiritual conversation should never be governed by emotions only. We have to equally look at the facts. That can at times be hurtful. That is why we are taught in the Bible to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). Someone rightly said that truth without love is brutal, while love without truth is sentimentality. As emotions should be built on facts, so truth must be accompanied by love. They mutually belong together.

In your letter you also reflect the generally accepted view of practically all Muslims, that the Qur’an in its present form is identical to the original. Islamic traditions dating from the time of the first Khalifs do not support this assumption, as every scholar should know and acknowledge.

In your letter you mention three reasons, which convince you that the Qur’an must be a revelation from God. I take it that you list these in response to the evidence for the inspiration of the Bible.

If I understand you correctly, you mean to say that other evidence may also verify divine revelation. You point for one to the outstanding literary quality and content of the Qur’an. You further argue that the fact that many Muslims can recite the whole of the Qur’an from memory is miraculous and by that a sign of its divine origin. Thirdly you categorically state that the Qur’an has never been tampered with, but has been preserved in every detail as it came from the mouth of the Prophet.

Anyone with some basic knowledge of Arabic will have no problem to appreciate the poetic beauty of at least the early Meccan Suras of the Qur’an. It must be said, however, that grammatically and in the choice of words the Arabic Qur’an is not considered to be perfect. But even if it were, we must realize that it is not unreasonable to assume that even the very best product of man’s ingenuity is still human. Proof of a divine token would be its superiority over what man can produce—like fulfilled prophecy.

Regarding the content of the Qur’an, Christians obviously compare it with the Gospel. In all honesty, and trying to be as objective and fair as one can be, we will have to confess our preference for the Gospel. It would be beyond the scope of a letter like this to produce the reasons for this assumption right here, but I would like to encourage you to just read in the New Testament—as I also read in the Qur’an. Maybe you just read, for example, in the Gospel according to John from chapter 10 onwards, or in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13 etc.

Considering the citation of the Qur’an from memory is a different matter altogether. I remember watching dozens of young men pacing the courtyard of al-Azr University in Cairo, busy memorizing the Qur’an. Sharpness of intellect, diligence and, perhaps a photographic memory come in here. Miraculous it would be if this knowledge would have been achieved instantly, without any learning, for example.

But let me return to your main point, the statement that the Qur’an has been preserved in its totality. While it is not possible to substantiate all my statements in a short letter like this, I will gladly do so, should you request it. It is well supported by Islamic tradition that during the lifetime of Muhammad, seven different ‘forms’ of the Qur’an existed: "This Qur’an was revealed in seven forms, so recite what is easiest!", said Muhammad (al-Bukhari vol. VI, Page 482, Chapter LXI (5) no. 514; Mishkatul Masabih vol. 3, pp. 702-704; Tafsir of at-Tabari and Commentary of al-Baidawi). It has been suggested that this refers to different dialects. But that cannot be the case. It means different texts.

We must also realize that the Uthmani version of the Qur’an is actually a revision of earlier texts. Besides the version of the Qur’an, which was collected and collated on the suggestion of Abu Bakr and Umar by Zaid b.Thabith, there existed a number of other texts, compiled by men even better equipped than Zaid, like Abdallah b. Mas'ud, Ubay b.Ka'b and Abu Moosa.

The revision of the Qur’an was ordered by Uthman, because the various Qur’an collections competed with each other. After the Uthmani revision was completed, all previous versions were burned. It surely is significant that even the copy compiled by Zaid, which at that time was in the possession of Muhammad’s widow Hafsa, was destroyed (by Marwan ibn-al-Hakam, Governor of Medinah) (al-Bukhari vol. VI, pp. 477-479, Chapter LXI (3), no. 509; Mishkatul Masabih vol. 3, page 664; Masahif by Ibn Abi Dawood, pp. 24,25; and ibn Asakir, no. 445).

Now, that is an enormous thing to do: it is the obliteration and destruction of evidence! We are glad to say, however, that since these early texts had been memorized by many, they have survived in recorded theological debates and can be compared with the Uthmani version. Besides many minor variations, some had more Suras or Ayas than others. We also find omitted, changed and added texts (Masahif by Ibn Abi Dawood, pp. 24,25, and ibn Asakir, no. 445). Ibn Abi Dawood’s collection of these differing portions of the Qur’an fills several hundred pages, by the way.

Being aware of this, let us add to the believing heart a critical, yet open mind. Critical not toward God—for who are we to question Him?—but toward man and his claims!

Again I must beg you not to consider what I write as an affront. I do not write this to offend or hurt you. On the contrary, I do want you ‘to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:3), as the Bible says.

Yours sincerely,