The Quran’s many Gods and Lords

An Analysis of the Worship given to
And Deification of Creatures within the Islamic Text

Sam Shamoun


Muslims boast that Islam is the most pure form of monotheism of all the monotheistic faiths. They similarly boast that the Quran is the most eloquent of all the religious texts and the only one perfectly preserved by Allah. They further claim that the Arabic of the Quran is clear and perfect, setting the standard for Arabic grammar.

It is our intention here to examine these claims and see whether there is any merit to them. We will peruse the Quran so as to judge for ourselves whether its grammar and its teaching on monotheism are as pure as Muslims claim. Our intention will be to show that not everything is as it seems.

The Quran on Creature Worship

There are several places in the Quran where creatures receive the worship due to God. We will examine some of these texts here.

Q. 2:34

And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever. Pickthall

And when we said to the angels, "Bow down and WORSHIP Adam," then WORSHIPPED they all… Rodwell

And when we said unto the angels, WORSHIP Adam; they [all] worshipped [him]… Sale

Wa-ith qulna lilmala-ikati OSJUDOO li-adama faSAJADOO illa ibleesa aba waistakbara wakana mina alkafireena

Q. 15:28-32

Remember when thy Lord said to the Angels, "I create man of dried clay, of dark loam moulded: And when I shall have fashioned him and breathed of my spirit into him, then fall ye down and WORSHIP him." And the Angels bowed down in WORSHIP, all of them, all together, Save Eblis: he refused to be with those who bowed in WORSHIP. "O Eblis," said God, "wherefore art thou not with those who bow down in WORSHIP?" He said, "It beseemeth not me TO BOW IN WORSHIP TO MAN whom thou hast created of clay, of moulded loam." Rodwell

Wa-ith qala rabbuka lilmala-ikati innee khaliqun basharan min salsalin min hama-in masnoonin Fa-itha sawwaytuhu wanafakhtu feehi min roohee faqaAAoo lahu SAJIDEENA FaSAJADA almala-ikatu kulluhum ajmaAAoona Illa ibleesa aba an yakoona maAAa alssajideena Qala ya ibleesu ma laka alla takoona maAAa ALSSAJIDEENA Qala lam akun li-ASJUDA libasharin khalaqtahu min salsalin min hama-in masnoonin

Q. 12:4

When Joseph said to his father, 'Father, I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon; I saw them bowing down before me.' Arberry

Ith qala yoosufu li-abeehi ya abati innee raaytu ahada AAashara kawkaban waalshshamsa waalqamara raaytuhum lee SAJIDEENA

Q. 12:100

And he lifted his father and mother upon the throne; and the others fell down prostrate before him. 'See, father,' he said, 'this is the interpretation of my vision of long ago; my Lord has made it true. He was good to me when He brought me forth from the prison, and again when He brought you out of the desert, after that Satan set at variance me and my brethren. My Lord is gentle to what He will; He is the All-knowing, the All-wise. Arberry

WarafaAAa abawayhi AAala alAAarshi wakharroo lahu SUJJADAN waqala ya abati hatha ta/weelu ru/yaya min qablu qad jaAAalaha rabbee haqqan waqad ahsana bee ith akhrajanee mina alssijni wajaa bikum mina albadwi min baAAdi an nazagha alshshaytanu baynee wabayna ikhwatee inna rabbee lateefun lima yashao innahu huwa alAAaleemu alhakeemu

The word translated variously as worship, prostrate and/or bow down is derived from the Arabic words sujud/sajda, terms used in relation to the worship given to Allah. In fact, the very word Masjid is derived from the same root word and means a place where sujud or sajda is observed, i.e. a place where prostration and worship takes place.

What this basically means is that Allah commanded, or permitted, his creatures to render unto another creature the very worship, reverence and prostration due to God alone. Putting it simply, Allah commanded his slaves to commit idolatry by having them show the same kind of worship to a creature as to the Creator!

It is obvious that the Quran is hopelessly inconsistent. It is very clear that prostration is only for God since it signifies worship, but then it records acts of prostrations given to prophets with Allah even commanding this prostration to be done before somebody other than God.

In light of the foregoing, we basically agree with what the late Christian writer ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi wrote:

From the aforementioned Qur’anic texts, we see that God initially taught Adam the names, and then He presented them to the angels, who were unable to name them, admitting their inability! How can God test the angels in something they do not know, and give the answers to Adam, so that he could know what they could not? How could God order them to worship Adam? God forbid that He would command the creatures to worship someone other than Himself! God said in Exodus 34:14: "You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (‘Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], pp. 150-151)

For more on this issue please read these discussions: [1], [2]

We now turn to the final passage where Allah commands that a creature be worshiped as God.

Q. 48:9

That ye (mankind) may believe in Allah and His messenger, and may honour Him, and may revere Him, and may glorify Him at early dawn and at the close of day. Pickthall

Lituminoo biAllahi warasoolihi watuAAazziroohu watuwaqqiroohu watusabbihoohu bukratan waaseelan

The nearest referent in this text, the antecedent of all these pronouns is not Allah, but Muhammad. The text is written in such a way that it is Muhammad who is revered, praised, and glorified!

Note the various translations:

In order that ye (O men) may believe in God and His Apostle, that ye may assist and honour Him, and celebrate His praise morning and evening. Y. Ali

So that you, O people, may believe in Allah and His Rasool, and that you may help him and honor him and glorify Allah morning and evening. F. Malik

That you may believe in Allah and His Apostle and may aid him and revere him; and (that) you may declare His glory, morning and evening. Shakir

That you people may believe in GOD and His messenger, and reverence Him, and observe Him, and glorify Him, day and night. Khalifa

that you may believe in God and His Messenger and succour Him, and reverence Him, and that you may give Him glory at the dawn and in the evening. Arberry

that ye may believe in God and His Apostle, and may aid Him and revere Him and celebrate His praises morning and evening! Palmer

That ye may believe on God and on His Apostle; and may assist Him, and honour Him, and praise him, morning and evening. Rodwell

that ye may believe in God, and his apostle; and may assist him, and revere him, and praise him morning and evening. Sale

‘Abd al-Fadi noted the reason why this couldn’t be referring to Allah, and why there is a problem if this is actually speaking of Muhammad:

This sentence is disrupted because of a sudden shift from addressing Muhammad to addressing other people. Apart from this, the accusative pronoun in ‘succour Him, and reverence Him’ refers, beyond doubt, to Muhammad, who was mentioned earlier, not to God as the English translator understood it. But ‘give Him glory’ refers to God. The entire verse is chaotic. The reader cannot be expected to understand its true meaning from the arrangement of words. It is kufr (‘unbelief’) to say ‘succour Him, and reverence Him, and that you may give Him glory at the dawn and in the evening’ about Muhammad, since glory should be given to God alone. It is also kufr to make such a statement with reference to God, since God almighty is not in need for succour or help! (‘Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible?, pp. 182-183)

‘Abd al-Fadi was correct regarding it being unbelief to claim that Allah needs help, since it is Allah who helps believers not the other way around:

And God made this promise as pure good tidings, and to assure your hearts by it: for succour cometh from God alone! Verily God is Mighty (AAazeezun), Wise. S. 8:10 Rodwell

And that Allah may help thee with strong help (AAazeezan) - S. 48:3 Pickthall

There are, in fact, passages where people were commanded to help both Muhammad and the messengers:

God took compact with the Children of Israel; and We raised up from among them twelve chieftains. And God said, 'I am with you. Surely, if you perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and believe in My Messengers and succour them (waAAazzartumoohum), and lend to God a good loan, I will acquit you of your evil deeds, and I will admit you to gardens underneath which rivers flow. So whosoever of you thereafter disbelieves, surely he has gone astray from the right way. S. 5:12 Arberry

those who follow the Messenger, 'the Prophet of the common folk, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, bidding them to honour, and forbidding them dishonour, making lawful for them the good things and making unlawful for them the corrupt things, and relieving them of their loads, and the fetters that were upon them. Those who believe in him and succour him (waAAazzaroohu) and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him -- they are the prosperers.' S. 7:157 Arberry

The above examples clearly show that it is Muhammad who was to be helped according to Q. 48:9, demonstrating that all the pronouns refer to him.

Sunni Muslim writer G.F. Haddad indirectly acknowledges that the text is chaotic and even admits that some, if not many, Muslims had no hesitation in attributing all the pronouns to Muhammad:

"That ye (mankind) may believe in Allah and His messenger, and may honor h/Him, and may revere h/Him, and may glorify h/Him at early dawn and at the close of day" (48:9). Al-Nawawi said that the scholars of Qur'anic commentary have given this verse two lines of explanation, one group giving the three personal pronouns "HIM" a single referent, namely, either Allah ("Him") OR THE PROPHET ("him"); the other group distinguishing between two referents, namely, the Prophet (SAWS) for the first two ("honor and revere him"), and Allah for the last ("glorify Him"). Those of the first group that said the pronouns ALL REFER TO THE PROPHET (SAWS) explained "glorify him" (tusabbihuhu) here to mean: "declare him devoid of inappropriate attributes and pray for him." (The Prophetic Title "Best of Creation"; online edition; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Imagine! Because of the way the Arabic text was written Muslims were confused whether the above verse referred to Allah or Muhammad, or even to both. And yet a simple insertion of a word or two would have helped clarify things. By simply inserting the word Allah and/or Muhammad, depending on whether he had one or both of them in mind, the author would have spared the Muslim community all this trouble.

For instance, if the author intended to convey that believers were to help Muhammad but worship Allah, he could have written it this way:

That you may believe in Allah and His Messenger and help and reverence the Messenger, and that you may glorify Allah at the dawn and in the evening.

Or in this manner:

That you should believe in ALLAH and HIS Messenger, and may help him, and honour him, and that you may glorify ALLAH morning and evening. Sher Ali

In other words, Sher Ali "translated" not the actual text but what he thinks the author should have written. Similarly, another team of translators made use of parentheses to help out the Quran:

In order that you (O mankind) may believe in Allah and His Messenger (SAW), and that you assist and honour him (SAW), and (that you) glorify (Allah's) praises morning and afternoon. Al-Hilali & Khan

To be clear, the author of the Quran could simply have put those words into the text which Al-Hilali & Khan placed in parentheses.

If he was intending to show that Allah is the one being helped and praised, then he could have made it clear by writing it this way:

That you may believe in Allah and His Messenger and help Allah, and reverence Him, and that you may glorify Him at the dawn and in the evening.

The author probably meant to say help the messenger and glorify God, but he formulated this thought incorrectly. People constantly say things in a wrong way, and we still know what they meant, even though what they said literally was something else. This passage simply exposes the thoroughly human origin of the text. God would not have formulated it that way, but when people speak, they make such errors.

Again, this verse exposes the human nature of the text, and it is damaging to the claimed inimitable eloquence of the Quran, since clearly, one can and must improve on the formulation of this verse to make it say what was actually intended.

Here is the dilemma for the Muslim: Because of the presupposition that the Quran is the divinely revealed word without any human addition, being completely true in all it says, without any error, the Muslim is forced to accept the fact that the Quran has commanded idolatry. The only other option is that the Muslim accepts this as a human error of imprecise speech, and can therefore interpolate the probable intention of the author into their interpretation of the verse, instead of taking it literally. This would alleviate the charge of idolatry somewhat, but only in exchange for sacrificing the belief in the purely divine nature of the Quran. If one accepts the Quran as 100% divine, one will have to take the verse literally without interpolation, which would then mean that Allah has commanded kufr (disbelief). Moreover, Allah’s command here would also be in stark contradiction to the rest of the teachings of the Quran, again questioning its divine origin.

As the text stands, the author worded himself in such a way that he has turned Muhammad into God by making him the object of praise and worship.

In the next section we will have more to say about the clarity and perspicuity of the Arabic text of the Quran.

The Quran Bears Witness That There Are Other Gods Besides Allah

The Quran claims to be written in clear or pure Arabic speech:

And certainly We know that they say: Only a mortal teaches him. The tongue of him whom they reproach is barbarous, and this is clear Arabic tongue. S. 16:103 Shakir

Truly it is the revelation of the Lord of all Being, brought down by the Faithful Spirit upon thy heart, that thou mayest be one of the warners, in a clear, Arabic tongue. S. 26:192-195 Arberry

The above references imply that the Arabic text of the Quran is written in such a way as to avoid confusion and ambiguity. The Quran even claims to be inimitable, unmatchable:

And if you are in doubt concerning that We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura like it, and call your witnesses, apart from God, if you are truthful. And if you do not -- and you will not -- then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for unbelievers. S. 2:23-24 Arberry

With the foregoing claims in perspective, we will now examine specific passages to show how the Arabic text is less than clear and quite ambiguous. In fact, the Arabic texts we will be analyzing are written in such a manner that the reader is left with the conclusion that there is actually more than one God.

Q. 3:18

God bears witness that there is no god but He -- AND the angels, AND men possessed of knowledge -- upholding justice; there is no god but He, the All-mighty, the All-wise. Arberry

God bears witness that there is no god but He, AND the angels, AND those possessed of knowledge standing up for justice. There is no God but He, the mighty, the wise. Palmer

Here is the Arabic transliteration:

Shahida Allahu annahu la ilaha illa huwa WAalmala-ikatu WAoloo alAAilmi qa-iman bialqisti la ilaha illa huwa alAAazeezu alhakeemu

Here, also, is the actual, literal translation of the first part of the text:

Allah testifies that there is no god but He, AND the angels, AND men possessed of knowledge …

Much like our previous example in the prior section (Q. 48:9), the author has again worded himself in a manner that ends up refuting the monotheism taught in other passages of the Quran. The literal rendering of the Arabic has Allah testifying that he, the angels and the men of knowledge are all God! This is due primarily to the Arabic conjunction translated "and" (wa) that connects the three groups together. We will be saying more about this Arabic conjunction a little later in order to see how this impacts Islamic monotheism.

The author has wrongly positioned the angels and men of knowledge in the sentence. Instead of making these two groups the subject of the witnessing or confession, the author made them the object of the testimony given by Allah. In other words, instead of having these two groups confessing along with Allah that there is no god but he, the author made them part of Allah’s confession! To put it another way, the passage has Allah confessing that these groups are God along with Allah!

Had the author simply written the text in the same way that the following translations did, he would have avoided all these problems:

There is no god but He: That is the witness of God, His angels, and those endued with knowledge … Y. Ali

Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge … Shakir

Allah (Himself) is Witness that there is no God save Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness) … Pickthall

The fact is that he didn’t write it the way the above versions have rendered the text (more like butchered it. It is obvious that these translators saw the major problem the Arabic text posed for their theology and decided to twist the word order, or chose to add words not found in the Arabic original, in order to cover up the mistake). He chose, instead, to write the sentence where he ended up making Allah, the angels and the men of knowledge the one true God!

Thus, the literal meaning of the full text would be:

Allah testifies that there is no god but He AND the angels AND those possessed of knowledge standing up for justice. There is no God but He (i.e. Allah, his angels and the men of knowledge), the mighty, the wise.

The author made this same mistake in another passage, which we now turn to.

Q. 9:31

They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God AND the Messiah Mary's son, and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no god but He; glory be to Him, above that they associate.

Ittakhathoo ahbarahum waruhbanahum arbaban min dooni Allahi WAalmaseeha ibna maryama wama omiroo illa liyaAAbudoo ilahan wahidan la ilaha illa huwa subhanahu Aaamma mushrikoona

Again, because of the way the Arabic text is worded, the above passage is actually saying that Jesus is Lord along with Allah. Hence the Quran’s author ended up confessing that both Allah and Jesus are Lord!

Notice some of the various translations:

They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, AND (also) the Messiah son of Marium… Shakir

They take their doctors and their monks for lords rather than God, AND the Messiah the son of Mary… Palmer

They take their priests and their monks for [their] lords, besides God, AND Christ the son of Mary… Sale

Essentially, what the foregoing text is saying is that the believers are to take Allah and Jesus as their Lord, not the rabbis or monks. Putting it another way, the Quran is saying that it is wrong to take Jewish rabbis and priests as Lords when their Lord is Allah and Jesus! Note that the translators usually add a comma after Allah or God in order to separate Allah from the Messiah, but in the original Arabic there is no justification for placing this comma into the English translation.

This leads us to discuss the Arabic conjunction wa, and the significance it has on how we are to understand the above citations. While commenting on the importance the conjunction had on the Muslim confession of faith (i.e., there is no god but Allah AND Muhammad is his messenger), Qadi 'Iyad Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi noted:

The fact that mention of the Prophet is directly connected to mention of Allah also shows that obedience to the Prophet is connected to obedience to Allah and his name to Allah's name. Allah says, "Obey Allah and His Messenger" (2:32) and "Believe in Allah and His Messenger." (4:136) Allah joins them together using the conjunction WA WHICH IS THE CONJUNCTION OF PARTNERSHIP. IT IS NOT PERMITTED TO USE THIS CONJUNCTION IN CONNECTION WITH ALLAH IN THE CASE OF ANYONE EXCEPT THE PROPHET.

Hudhayfa said that the Prophet said, "None of you should say, ‘What Allah wills and (wa) so-and-so wills.’ Rather say, ‘What Allah wills.’ Then stop and say, 'So-and-so wills.’"

Al-Khattabi said, "The Prophet has guided you to correct behaviour in putting the will of Allah before the will of others. He chose ‘then’ (thumma) which implies sequence and deference as opposed to ‘and’ (wa) WHICH IMPLIES PARTNERSHIP."

Something similar is mentioned in another hadith. Someone was speaking in the presence of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, "Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has been rightly guided, and whoever rebels against them both (joining them together by using the dual form)…" The Prophet said to him, "What a bad speaker you are! Get up! [Or he said: Get out!]"

Abu Sulayman said, "He disliked the two names being joined together in that way BECAUSE IT IMPLIES EQUALITY."… (Qadi ‘Iyad, Kitab Ash-shifa bi ta'rif huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One), translation by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K.; third reprint 1991, paperback], p. 8)

What the foregoing implies is that since the Quranic author linked Jesus, the angels and the men of knowledge together with Allah by using the conjunction which implies partnership, this means that these groups are all equal with one another. The use of the conjunction proves that Jesus, the angels and these particular men are all God/gods, and co-equal to Allah.

The author did it yet another time! He used the conjunction "wa" in pairing Allah with the angels thereby making them equal:

Verily, God AND His angels pray for the prophet. O ye who believe! pray for him and salute him with a salutation! S. 33:56 Palmer

Inna Allaha WAmala-ikatahu yusalloona AAala alnnabiyyi ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo salloo AAalayhi wasallimoo tasleeman

The above text troubled some Muslims precisely because the angels’ prayers were conjoined with Allah’s:

The commentators and etymologists disagree regarding the words of Allah, "Allah and His angels pray blessings on the Prophet." (33:56) about whether the word "pray" (masc. pl.) refers to both Allah and the angels or not. Some of them allow it to refer to both while others forbid this because of the idea of partnership. They make the pronoun refer to the angels alone and understand the ayat as Allah prays and His angels pray. (Ash-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, pp. 8-9; online source; italic and underline ours)

A possible Muslim objection to the Quran’s teaching that Jesus is Lord

Now a Muslim may wish to contest our position that the Quran claims that Jesus is Lord by pointing to Q. 9:30:

The Jews say, 'Ezra is the Son of God'; the Christians say, 'The Messiah is the Son of God.' That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them! How they are perverted! Arberry

Isn’t it obvious from this that the Quran isn’t calling Jesus Lord since Allah curses those who believe that Christ is his Son? Not at all. In the first place, this text says nothing about angels or the men of knowledge mentioned in Q. 3:18, so the passage doesn’t apply to them. Second, the citation doesn’t deny that Jesus is Lord, but only denies that he is God’s Son. Being Lord and being God’s Son are not one and the same thing … Christ can be Lord without having to be a Son. Third, the type of Sonship that the Quran attacks is that which results from procreation, from carnal relations. The Quran assumes that the only way for Allah to have a son is if he were to have a wife with whom he engages in sexual relations:

And they make the jinn associates with Allah, while He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons and daughters without knowledge; glory be to Him, and highly exalted is He above what they ascribe (to Him). Wonderful Originator of the heavens and the earth! How could He have a son when He has no consort, and He (Himself) created everything, and He is the Knower of all things. S. 6:100-101 Shakir

The truth is that - exalted be the Majesty of our Lord - HE has taken unto Himself neither wife nor son, S. 72:3 Sher Ali

Since Christians vehemently reject such an idea of Sonship, such a teaching being just as blasphemous to them as it is to Muslims, this passage does not apply to Christian beliefs.

The Quran on Angels being Lords besides Allah

The Muslim may further contest our exegesis by appealing to the Quran’s teaching that there is no other god or lord besides Allah:

Nor would he instruct you to take angels and prophets for Lords and Patrons. What! Would he bid you to unbelief after ye have bowed your will (to Allah in Islam)? S. 3:80

We have several things to say in response. First, this explanation does nothing to refute the fact that these specific texts are placing Christ, angels, and men of knowledge on the level of Deity.{1} Nor does it undermine the reality that Allah has creatures worshiping and glorifying other creatures. The passages say what they say, and pointing to other verses doesn’t help solve the issue.

Second, quoting references stating that Allah alone is God and Lord, or that there is no other Deity besides him, only shows that the Quran is contradicting itself. In certain places the Quran says that there are other Gods, Lords and beings worthy of worship. And yet in other passages it says that there is only one God worthy of praise. Now one could perhaps try to reconcile all these texts by taking the position that Allah exists as more than one person, that there is a plurality of countless persons existing as one God. But which Muslim would opt for this view?

Third, even if the Muslim wishes to contend that the INTENDED meaning of these passages wasn’t that Jesus and the others are Gods or Lords, it is still damaging to the alleged divine authorship of the Quran. Humans make such errors all the time. God should be expected to be more careful in his formulations. Interestingly, the interpretations and solutions set forth by the commentators and translators are improving on the Quran which literally says something else!

Fourth, there is additional evidence demonstrating that Allah isn’t the only Lord. There are specific references where prophets and righteous persons addressed angelic messengers as their Lord!

Then and there did Zachariah PRAY TO HIS LORD (rabbahu), saying, `MY LORD (rabbi) grant me from Thyself pure offspring; surely thou art the Hearer of Prayer.' AND THE ANGELS CALLED TO HIM as he stood praying in the chamber, `ALLAH gives thee glad tidings of Yahya, who shall testify to the truth of a word from ALLAH - noble and chaste and a Prophet, from among the righteous. HE SAID `MY LORD (rabbi), how shall I have a son, when old age has overtaken me already, and my wife is barren?' He answered, `Such is the way of ALLAH; HE does what HE pleases,' HE SAID `MY LORD (rabbi), give me a commandment.' He replied, `The commandment for thee is that thou shalt not speak to men for three days except by signs. And remember thy Lord much and glorify HIM in the evening and in the early morning.' S. 3:38-41 Sher Ali

When he called upon HIS LORD (rabbahu) in a low voice, He said: MY LORD (rabbi)! surely my bones are weakened and my head flares with hoariness, and, MY LORD (rabbi)! I have never been unsuccessful in my prayer to Thee: And surely I fear my cousins after me, and my wife is barren, therefore grant me from Thyself an heir, Who should inherit me and inherit from the children of Yaqoub, and make him, my Lord, one in whom Thou art well pleased. O Zakariya! surely We give you good news of a boy whose name shall be Yahya: We have not made before anyone his equal. He said: O MY LORD (rabbi)! when shall I have a son, and my wife is barren, and I myself have reached indeed the extreme degree of old age? HE SAID: So shall it be, YOUR LORD (rabbuka) SAYS: It is easy to Me, and indeed I created you before, when you were nothing. He said: My Lord! give me a sign. He said: Your sign is that you will not be able to speak to the people three nights while in sound health. S. 19:3-10 Shakir

These texts are supposedly reporting Zechariah's prayer to God for a son, the angels' response, and the subsequent discussion that allegedly takes place between them. These texts show Zechariah either addressing the angels collectively, or one specific angel, as his Lord! We repeat again the specific portion in order to highlight that this is what Zechariah did:

He said, ‘O my Lord, how shall I have a son, seeing my wife is barren, and I have attained to the declining of old age?’ SAID HE, ‘So it shall be; THY LORD says, "Easy is that for Me, seeing that I created thee aforetime, when thou wast nothing."’ S. 19:8-9 Arberry

The entity addressing Zechariah mentions what the latter’s Lord had said, which obviously means that the one responding to Zechariah wasn’t Allah. He must have therefore been one of the angels. And yet it is very clear from the above texts that Zechariah allegedly addressed this specific angel as Lord!

The Quran further asserts that Mary, the Lord Jesus’ mother, called the angels, or at least one of them, her Lord:

"Behold! THE ANGELS SAID: ‘O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee - chosen thee above the women of all nations. O Mary! worship thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.’ This is part of the tidings of the things unseen, which We reveal unto thee (O Messenger) by inspiration: Thou wast not with them when they cast lots with pens (or arrows), as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary: Nor wast thou with them when they disputed (the point). Behold! THE ANGELS SAID: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah. He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.’ She said: ‘O MY LORD! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?’ HE SAID: ‘Even so; Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, "Be," and it is!’" S. 3:42-47 Pickthall

Lest one accuse us of misinterpretation, Sunni commentator Ibn Kathir provides indirect attestation for our analysis since he says that the entity who responded to Zechariah was the angel. He states in reference to Q. 3:40:

<"O my Lord! How can I have a son when I am very old, and my wife is barren'' (He) said…>

meaning the angel said, (Source)

And in connection to Q. 19:9 Ibn Kathir wrote:

Zakariyya was amazed when his supplication was answered and he was given the good news of a son. He became extremely overjoyed and asked how this child would be born to him, and in what manner he would come. This was particularly amazing because his wife was an old woman who was barren and had not given birth to any children in her entire life. Even Zakariyya himself had become old and advanced in years, his bones had become feeble and thin, and he had no potent semen or vigor for sexual intercourse.

The Answer of the Angel

<He said:> That is, the angel, in his response to Zakariyya and his was amazement. (Source; bold emphasis ours)

In fact, Muslim expositors were perplexed by the above passages, specifically Q. 3:40 where Zechariah addresses the angel as his Lord. They were apparently troubled at the idea of a prophet calling an angel his Lord. Muslim writer Mahmoud M. Ayoub says of Q. 3:40:

Two issues concerned commentators in this verse. The first is the question of whether it is God or Gabriel whom Zechariah addresses as Lord. The second is how Zechariah, as a prophet, could have any doubt in God’s power to cause an old, barren woman to bear a child?

… Ibn Kathir assumes that Zechariah’s dialogue was with an angel, not with God (Ibn Kathir, II, p. 36).

Qurtubi begins by relating on the authority of al-Kalbi that the word "Lord" in this verse refers to Gabriel. He says, "Zechariah said to Gabriel ‘my lord,’" meaning ‘my master.’"…

Razi begins with the question of Zechariah’s dialogue and whether it was with God or with Gabriel. The question is important because it concerns the theological debate about God’s transcendence and the problem of anthropomorphism. If God hears and speaks in a manner familiar to human beings, then the question arises as to whether God has similar organs of hearing and speech. Razi argues that it is equally possible that Zechariah was addressing either God or the angel in this verse. He presents two explanations which he attributes to the mufassirun, that is, other commentators. The first is: "When the angels called to Zechariah and gave him the good news, he wondered and turned to God for reassurance. Zechariah was actually addressing the angel Gabriel, and not God. The invocation ‘my lord’ is here addressed to a superior or master, and not to God." (Ayoub, The Qur‘an and Its Interpreters: The House of ‘Imran [State University of New York (SUNY) Press, Albany 1992], Volume II, pp. 112-113)

In light of the foregoing, it is rather clear that the Quran acknowledges at least one other Lord besides Allah.

But notice now all the problems this causes. The wording of Q. 3:18 ends up deifying angels and men, placing them on the level of deity. In the same Sura, prophets and righteous persons call angels Lord. But then later on this same Sura will say that Allah hasn’t permitted anyone to take the angels as their Lords. Talk about confusion and contradiction!

Now one might want to say that even here the author’s intention wasn’t that angels are Lord. The author actually meant to say that Zechariah and Mary were addressing Allah as their Lord. But this response refutes the Quran’s claim of being perspicuous and inimitable. It shows that this was another time that the author of the Quran ended up affirming that there were other Gods and Lords besides Allah as a result of the awkward structure of the Arabic. At the very least, the formulation is so problematic that even the Muslim commentators struggled with its meaning!

Hence, even though Muslims will most likely reject our exegesis that there are other Gods and Lords, it is still a strong case against the clarity of the Arabic of the Quran and shows that the Quran’s eloquence is far from unsurpassable.

Jesus as the Divine Angel

Another text that affirms the Deity of Jesus (or at least that he is more than just a human being), due to its chaotic structure (e.g. as a result of it being written in such an unintelligible manner), is the following:

Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of those nearest to God; He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be of the righteous." She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: God createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is! And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And an apostle to the Children of Israel, I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by God's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe, to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me. It is God Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight. When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) God?" Said the disciples: "We are God's helpers: We believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims." S. 3:45-52

We repeat the relevant part:

And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And an apostle to the Children of Israel, I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's leave.

If one follows the narration carefully one can see that the same person who is speaking to Mary proceeds to identify himself with the Messiah, i.e. the angel addressing Mary is actually the Messiah who will be born from her. It is the angel who says that he has come to the Israelites with a sign from their Lord, that he is the one who will perform all those miracles, confirm the Law, and demands to be obeyed. As a result of the chaotic nature of the text translators have been forced to insert words in order to clarify what they believe was the author’s intended meaning:

Q. 3:49

And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (SAYING): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord… Pickthall

"And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (WITH THIS MESSAGE): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, … Y. Ali

And will send him as a Messenger to the Children of Israel WITH THE MESSAGE, `I come to you with a Sign from your Lord, … Sher Ali

to be a Messenger to the Children of Israel SAYING, "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord … Arberry

and he shall be a prophet to the people of Israel (SAYING), that I have come to you, with a sign from God, … Palmer

and he shall be an apostle to the children of Israel. "Now have I come," HE WILL SAY, "to you with a sign from your Lord: … Rodwell

and [shall appoint him his] apostle to the children of Israel; [AND HE SHALL SAY], … Sale

And, as we saw above, Mary addressed this angel (or spirit) as her Lord which means that Jesus is the Lord! To put it another way, Jesus is the angelic (or spirit) being whom Mary saw and addressed as Lord who came to be born from her in order to become a true human being. Lest the Muslims accuse us of stretching things a bit note what Muslim convert Neal Robinson wrote regarding the identity of the Spirit who appeared to Mary in Q. 19:17:

"Alternatively it might be thought (on the basis of 4:171) that the Spirit who presented himself to Mary was none other than the Messiah to whom she subsequently gave birth. At first this seems improbable because of the way in which the Spirit refers to himself as a messenger. There is, however, an apocryphal writing which furnishes a precedent for identifying the agent of the annunciation with the Word who became flesh. This is the so-called Epistula Apostolorum which purports to be a letter addressed to the worldwide Church by the 11 disciples recording a conversation which they had with Christ after the resurrection. In the course of the conversation he told them:

At that time I appeared in the form of the archangel Gabriel to [the virgin] Mary and spoke with her, and her heart received [me]; she believed and laughed and I, the Word, went into her and became flesh; and I myself was servant FOR MYSELF, and in the form of the image of an angel." (Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity [State University of New York Press, Albany 1991], p. 157; bold and capital emphasis ours)


"Tabari assumes that the Spirit who was sent to Mary was Gabriel. He reports that this was the view of Qatada, Ibn Jurayj and Wahb. The other commentators agree that this is the correct interpretation but none the less mention THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW, namely that the Spirit was the Messiah. Ibn Kathir gives the following report traced back by a single isnad TO THE COMPANION UBAIY:

The spirit of Jesus is one of the group of spirits with whom [God] took a pact in the time of Adam [cf. 33:7 and 7:172]. It is he, that is to say the spirit of Jesus, who presented himself to her in the form of a perfect human being. So she conceived the one who addressed her and he became incarnate in her [entering her through her mouth].

DESPITE ITS PEDIGREE, Ibn Kathir dismisses this interpretation as reprehensible and supposes it to have been derived from the People of the Scripture." (Ibid. p. 161; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Some of the Mu'tazilites including Abu Muslim favoured the view that the Spirit who presented himself to Mary was not Gabriel but the Messiah. Others followed Abu Haywa in reading rawha-na (Our refreshment) instead of the canonical ruha-na (Our Spirit) …" (Ibid. p. 162)

In light of such confusion can a Muslim really claim that the Quran is the height of Arabic eloquence?

The Quran on Allah Serving, Praising and Worshiping Himself

As if this couldn’t get anymore perplexing… there are passages in the Quran where Allah worships and glorifies God! As we look at various passages to prove our point the readers need to keep in mind that Muslims believe that Allah communicated the Quran word for word to Muhammad, and that Allah often switches from speaking in the first person singular to first person plural to third person address, sometimes in the same verse or passage! Here are two examples:

These are the signs of God We recite to thee in truth, and God desires not any injustice to living beings. S. 3:108

It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that he may uplift it above every religion, though the unbelievers be averse. O believers, shall I direct you to a commerce that shall deliver you from a painful chastisement? You shall believe in God and His Messenger, and struggle in the way of God with your possessions and your selves. That is better for you, did you but know. S. 61:9-11

With this in mind we will now take a look at several passages where Allah is supposed to be speaking and yet claims to have a Lord whom he glorifies and who commands and sends him down:

What, shall I seek after any judge but God? For it is He who sent down to you the Book well-distinguished; and those whom We have given the Book know it is sent down from thy Lord with the truth; so be not thou of the doubters. S. 6:114

Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Further Mosque the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing. And We gave Moses the Book, and made it a guidance to the Children of Israel: 'Take not unto yourselves any guardian apart from Me.' S. 17:1-2

That is Jesus, son of Mary, in word of truth, concerning which they are doubting. It is not for God to take a son unto Him. Glory be to Him! When He decrees a thing, He but says to it 'Be,' and it is. Surely God is my Lord, and your Lord; So serve you Him (fa abudoohu). This is a straight path. But the parties have fallen into variance among themselves; then woe to those who disbelieve for the scene of a dreadful day. How well they will hear and see on the day they come to Us! But the evildoers even today are in error manifest. Warn thou them of the day of anguish, when the matter shall be determined, and they yet heedless and unbelieving. Surely We shall inherit the earth and all that are upon it, and unto Us they shall be returned. S. 19:34-40

So, when he [Abraham] went apart from them and that they were serving, apart from God, We gave him Isaac and Jacob, and each We made a Prophet; and We gave them of Our mercy, and We appointed unto them a tongue of truthfulness, sublime. And mention in the Book Moses; he was devoted, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. We called to him from the right side of the Mount, and We brought him near in communion. And We gave him his brother Aaron, of Our mercy, a Prophet. And mention in the Book Ishmael; he was true to his promise, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. He bade his people to pray and to give the alms, and he was pleasing to his Lord. And mention in the Book Idris; he was a true man, a Prophet. We raised him up to a high place. These are they whom God has blessed among the Prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those We bore with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those We guided and chose. When the signs of the All-merciful were recited to them, they fell down prostrate, weeping. Then there succeeded after them a succession who wasted the prayer, and followed lusts; so they shall encounter error save him who repents, and believes, and does a righteous deed; those -- they shall enter Paradise, and they shall not be wronged anything; Gardens of Eden that the All-merciful promised His servants in the Unseen; His promise is ever performed. There they shall hear no idle talk, but only 'Peace.' There they shall have their provision at dawn and evening. That is Paradise which We shall give as an inheritance to those of Our servants who are godfearing. We come not down, save at the commandment of thy Lord. To Him belongs all that is before US, and all that is behind US, and all between that. And thy Lord is never forgetful, Lord He of the heavens and earth and all that is between them. So serve Him (fa abudoohu), and be thou patient in His service; knowest thou any that can be named with His Name? S. 19:49-64

But (now that the Qur'an has come), they reject it: But soon will they know! Already has Our Word been passed before (this) to Our servants sent (by Us), That they would certainly be assisted, And that Our forces, - they surely must conquer. So turn thou away from them for a little while, And watch them (how they fare), and they soon shall see (how thou farest)! Do they wish (indeed) to hurry on Our Punishment? But when it descends into the open space before them, evil will be the morning for those who were warned (and heeded not)! So turn thou away from them for a little while, And watch (how they fare) and they soon shall see (how thou farest)! Glory to thy Lord, the Lord of Honour and Power! (He is free) from what they ascribe (to Him)! And Peace on the apostles! And Praise to God, the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds. S. 37:170-184 Y. Ali

What, is every man of them eager to be admitted to a Garden of Bliss? Not so; for We have created them of what they know. No! I swear by the Lord of the Easts and Wests, surely We are able to substitute a better than they; We shall not be outstripped. S. 70:38-41

The readers should be able to see from the above that Allah swears by, glorifies and worships Allah who is his Lord and states that he does not come down except by his permission. Keep in mind that there is nothing in the above citations to indicate that the author is quoting someone other than Allah, i.e. there is nothing to imply that the author has interjected the words of someone else such as Muhammad or the angels.

This again indicates that either the author of the Quran believed that there is more than one Deity or failed to communicate his thoughts correctly since he meant to say one thing but ended up communicating a different point altogether.

Concluding Remarks

We have examined several passages where creatures were given the worship due to God. We saw how the Quran claimed to be written in clear Arabic and that it is inimitable. Our analysis showed that such was not the case. In a few places the Arabic text was written in such a way that the author ended up deifying certain persons, making them co-equal with Allah. We saw additional evidence supporting the view that Allah isn’t the only Lord and God. Specific prophets and righteous persons went so far as to call Allah’s angelic envoys Lord. Thus, what may have been the theological mistakes resulting from the way the author chose to write out his thoughts actually ends up being a position supported by the Quran. Putting it simply, the Quran provides evidence that there are indeed other beings beside Allah who are God and Lord. So it may not be a case of mistaken or incorrect Arabic grammar at all, but the actual belief of the writer. The writer may have then changed his position over time to reflect a more strict monotheism. After all, didn’t the Quran at one time contain praises for the daughters of Allah, verses that were later expunged and attributed to Satan(*)?

As one Western scholar of Islam put it in regards to the satanic verses:

If we compare the different versions and try to distinguish between external facts in which they agree and the motives which the various historians ascribe in order to explain the facts, we find at least two facts about which we may be certain. Firstly, at one time Muhammad MUST HAVE publicly recited the satanic verses as part of the Qur’an; it is unthinkable that the story could have been invented by Muslims or foisted upon them by non-Muslims. Secondly, at some later time Muhammad announced that these verses were not really part of the Qur’an and should be replaced by others of a vastly different import. The earliest versions do not specify how long afterwards this happened; the probability is that it was weeks or even months

The Muslim scholars, not possessing the Modern Western concept of gradual development, considered Muhammad from the very first to have been explicitly aware of the full range of orthodox dogma. Consequently it was difficult for them to explain how he failed to notice the heterodoxy of the satanic verses. The truth rather is that his monotheism was originally, like that of his more enlightened contemporaries, somewhat vague, and in particular was not so strict that the recognition of inferior divine beings was felt to be incompatible with it … (Watt, Muhammad at Mecca [Oxford University Press, Karachi; second impression, 1993], pp. 103-104; underlined emphasis ours)

Muslims may also raise the objection that the Quran’s author didn’t mean to write that these prophets and believers were calling angels their Lord, an objection that would bring us back to the point of the Arabic Quran being confusing and chaotic and therefore undermines its own claim of being clear and eloquent. In either case, the Muslim is left with problems that seem to have no resolution since any answer that might be given will only end up falsifying the Quran.

Recommended Reading

[Note: This article is an expanded version of an older file that was sitting on the review stack for a long time.]


{1} Some may take exception with our exegesis of Q. 9:31 and assert that the Arabic text clearly places Jesus alongside the rabbis and monks who were wrongly taken as Lords besides Allah. For instance, the conjunction (wa) before Al-Maseeha, and the short vowel fatha (a), at the end of the word indicate that Al-Maseeha is in the accusative, so it is another object (together with the first two, ahbarahum waruhbanahum, "their rabbis and their monks") of the verb "have taken." The sentence should therefore actually read like this:

They have taken their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah Mary's son as lords apart from God, and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no god but He; glory be to Him, above that they associate.

If the wa was a conjunction of Al-Maseeh to Allah, i.e. binding Allah and the Messiah together, then it would need to be in the genitive just like Allahi, i.e. Al-Maseehi.

To begin with, we must consider two important considerations when assessing the soundness or weakness of this argument. The main problem with this argument is that it presupposes that the markings distinguishing the different cases in Arabic, i.e. nominative, accusative etc., were always there, were always part of the original text. The reality, however, is quite different since the original Arabic Quran had no markings to help differentiate between the different nuances of the word.

Here is how the text would look like in transliteration minus the critical points:

min doon allah w almaseeh bn maryam

As one can see, there is no short fatha at the end of the words almaseeh, bn or maryam, which means that the original Arabic text did indeed conjoin Jesus along with Allah.

This leads us to our second point. The conjunction wa, as we saw earlier, is viewed by Muslims to be the conjunction of partnership. Since the Arabic text had no markings this would mean that someone reading it would have clearly seen that Jesus was being joined alongside Allah as the one Lord whom others had to believe in, as opposed to their rabbis and priests.

In light of the foregoing, it is rather obvious that the scribes who came later and added these markings realized the difficulty this text posed and decided to add the very specific points which made the word an accusative in order to avoid associating Jesus with God. This means that the scribes actually improved on the grammar of the Quran in order to avoid these theological mistakes and slips!

Now the author of the Quran could have simply avoided all these problems by writing the text in the following manner:

Ittakhathoo ahbarahum waruhbanahum waalmaseeha ibna maryama arbaban min dooni Allahi

Or, without vowel markings, the author could have written it like this:

Ittakhatho ahbarahum w ruhbanahum w almaseeh bn maryam arbab min doon Allah

Which would give us:

They have taken their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary as Lords besides Allah.

The Incoherence of the Qur'an
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