Shabir Ally's Inconsistency of Criteria

Sam Shamoun

Just recently, noted Reformed apologist and scholar Dr. James R. White (*) debated Muslim polemicist Shabir Ally on the thesis, "Was Jesus Crucified as a Willing Sacrifice for the sins of God’s People?"

It seems that Shabir has once again gone into damage control mode since he has written specific articles trying to offset the claims of Dr. White in order to give the impression that he did address the points raised against his position during the debate. Shabir’s current responses can be found here (1, 2).

Since Dr. White has already started addressing some of the assertions and allegations which Ally has made in his recent articles against the NT corpus and the crucifixion (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) we will focus much of our efforts in this rebuttal to applying Shabir’s own criteria against the Quran to see whether it stands up to his test of authenticity and historical veracity. We will, however, address some of Shabir’s claims concerning Jesus’ crucifixion and the NT witness to this event in another article.

We now begin our analysis of the Quran in order to see whether Shabir’s scripture can handle his criticisms and proposed methodology for reliability.

The Quran: Ipsissima Verba or Ipsissima Vox?

Shabir questions the Gospel writers’ telescoping and/or summarizing the speeches of specific persons since he feels that this doesn’t give readers a high degree of confidence or trust that the authors have accurately transmitted the words of the speakers:

… Matthew’s report is shorter than that of Mark, but this fact has not been my point of objection. Rather, I agree that there is some benefit in summarizing the story even as we have done herein above. However, Matthew’s version is not a mere prcis of the story. Matthew’s story is different in an important respect. Matthew has Jairus saying to Jesus from the start:

"My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." (Matthew 9:18)

I argued in the Biola debate that Matthew’s change in the story line fits a larger pattern, not only involving other such changes within Matthew’s Gospel, but across the Gospels in general. Modern scholars are in considerable agreement that Mark is the first of the four Gospels; that John is the last; and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources…

Dr. White’s answer to this, ignoring the further development in Luke and John, was that Matthew did nothing wrong in summarizing the story. He referred to Matthew’s action as ‘telescoping’, by which he obviously means that Matthew has drawn in the ends of the story to make it shorter. He correctly pointed out that Matthew achieved brevity by omitting the later part about someone else coming with news of the girl’s death. To Dr. White, Matthew did not change the broad facts of the story in having Jairus declare the girl dead from the start, since we still get the same basic information from both Matthew and Mark.

I maintained my objection that this manner of changing the fact of the girl’s condition, and of changing a person’s quoted speech, was unacceptable. Moreover, in my conclusion, I emphasized that the fact that the Gospel writers have telescoped their narratives in this way implies that no speech of any person in the Gospels can be taken as the Gospel Truth. We can no longer have confidence that any of the reported speeches of Jesus, for example, are really his. These too may have been ‘telescoped’ in the sense of having been changed significantly [sic] as has been the speech of Jairus in Matthew’s Gospel.

… If, as I have argued in both debates, the Gospel of Matthew has changed the stories from they way they appear in Mark’s Gospel, then the Gospels are not entirely reliable. One has to be on the lookout for ways in which Matthew and others have evolved the tradition about Jesus, and one may expect that Mark has likewise, in his own way, altered the traditions available to him. (Relevance of The Story of Jairus’ Daughter in the Seattle Debate; sources a, b; emphasis ours)

In another article Shabir writes that:

But even if one starts with the assumption that the writers were addressing different readers, a fair mind will be compelled, on examining the evidence, to conclude, all over again, that Matthew and Luke in using Mark have each in their own way modified the information about Jesus to make him conform to the writer’s own view of Jesus. In our debates I have shown clear evidence of an author modifying the facts of the story about Jesus, such as in the story of Jairus’ daughter. In this particular case James admitted that Matthew has telescoped the story; and I as I have pointed out, this gave Matthew the license to take what one man said and put in into the mouth of another man at a different point in the story. (Comments on the Dividing Line of Oct. 23, 2007, Part 1: a, b; underline emphasis ours)

In response we would like to mention that not only is Ally’s position a-historical, ignoring how biographies and histories were written during the time of the NT writers, it is also un-Islamic. Shabir fails to mention that Islamic scholarship has accepted the position that various reports do not have to repeat the very exact words of a speaker (Ipsissima Verba) as long as they accurately transmit the gist of a person’s statements (Ipsissima Vox).

Note, for instance, what Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad writes concerning the early Muslim acceptance of Ipsissima Vox:

The H.anafi h.adith Master Murtad.a al-Zabidi began his great commentary on the Ih.ya’ with an explanation that al-Ghazzali’s method of h.adith citation – conveying the general meaning WITHOUT ascertaining the exact wording – had a basis in the practice of the Companions and Salaf: …

<<A number of the Companions have permitted the conveyance of Prophetic h.adiths in their meanings (riwaya bil-ma‘na) RATHER THAN THEIR VERY WORDINGS (riwaya bil-alfaz.). Among them: ‘Ali, Ibn ‘Abbas, Anas ibn Malik, Abu al-Darda’, Wathila ibn al-Asqa‘, and Abu Hurayra.

Also, a greater number of the Successors, among them: the Imam of Imams al-H.asan al-Bas.ri, al-Sha‘bi, ‘Amr ibn Dinar, Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i, Mujahid , and ‘Ikrima…. Ibn Sirin said: “I would hear a h.adith from ten different people, the meaning remaining one BUT THE WORDINGS DIFFERING."

Similarly, the Companions’ wordings in their narrations from the Prophet have differed one from another. Some of them, for example, will narrate a complete version; OTHERS WILL NARRATE THE GIST OF MEANING; OTHERS WILL NARRATE AN ABRIDGED VERSION; OTHERS YET REPLACE CERTAIN WORDS WITH THEIR SYNONYMS, deeming that they have CONSIDERABLE LEEWAY as long AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT CONTRADICT THE ORIGINAL MEANING. None of them intends a lie, and all of them aim for truthfulness and the report of what he has heard: that is why they had leeway. They used to say: "Mendacity is only when one deliberately intends to lie."

The Imams of h.adith are UNANIMOUS in accepting the "narration in meaning" only on condition that the narrator masters the Arabic language and his narration does not present an aberration or anomaly (shudhudh), among other conditions.

Al-Zabidi’s documentation of the majority position that it is permissible to narrate the h.adiths of the Prophet in their meanings rather than their wordings is also the position of Ibn al-S.alah. in his Muqaddima, but the latter avers that the dispensation no longer applies at a time when the h.adiths are available to all in published books.

Shaykh Nur al-Din ‘Itr adopts the latter position: “The last word on this subject is to prohibit h.adith narration in the sense of meaning only, because the narrations have all been compiled in the manuals of h.adith, eliminating the need for such a dispensation.” (Dr. G.F. Haddad, The Acceptability of H.adith Narration by Meaning vs. by Literal Wording H.adith Narration ad Sensum (riwaya bil-ma‘na) vs. ad Litteram (bil-lafz.), September 2002; source; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Shabir may object and say that this phenomena is only true with the hadith literature, but not with the Quran. He may contend that the Quran contains the exact words of God precisely as they were revealed to Muhammad.

This position is problematic for at least a couple of reasons. First, according to Islamic tradition the Quran was transmitted through seven different modes:

Narrated Ubayy ibn Ka'b
Ubayy told of Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) meeting Gabriel and saying, "I have been sent, Gabriel, to a people who are unlettered, among whom are old women and old men, boys and girls, and men who have never read a book." He replied, "The Qur'an, Muhammad, has been sent down in seven modes."
Tirmidhi transmitted it. (Hadith of Tirmidhi, Number 694; Alim CD-Rom Version)

These modes were so different that it caused certain Muslims great alarm and doubt:

Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab:
I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat-al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle, I listened to his recitation and noticed that he was reciting in a way that Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him while he was still in prayer, but I waited patiently and when he finished his prayer, I put my sheet round his neck (and pulled him) and said, "Who has taught you this Sura which I have heard you reciting?" Hisham said, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You are telling a lie, for he taught it to me in a way different from the way you have recited it!" Then I started leading (dragged) him to Allah's Apostle and said (to the Prophet), "I have heard this man reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way that you have not taught me." The Prophet said: "(O 'Umar) release him! Recite, O Hisham." Hisham recited in the way I heard him reciting. Allah's Apostle said, "It was REVEALED like this." Then Allah's Apostle said, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited in the way he had taught me, whereupon he said, "It was REVEALED like this," and added, "The Quran has been REVEALED to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever is easy for you." (See Hadith No. 514, Vol. 6) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 640)

What makes this report rather interesting is that both Umar and Hisham belonged to the same Quraish tribe and therefore spoke the same dialect. This conclusively shows that the differences in their readings weren’t the result of a difference in their respective dialects.


Ubayy b. Ka'b said : When I was in the mosque as a man entered and prayed and recited in a manner to which I objected. Afterwards a man entered and recited in a manner different from the other. When we had finished the prayer we all went to visit God's messenger, and I said, "This man recited in a manner different from his." The Prophet then commanded them to recite, and when they had done so he expressed approval of both of them. This made me inclined to tell him HE WAS WRONG, even to the extent I had never reached in the pre-Islamic period; and when God's messenger noticed how I was affected he gave me a pat on the chest, whereupon I broke into a sweat and was filled with fear as though I were looking at God. He then said to me, "A message was sent to me, Ubayy, to recite the Qur'an in one mode, but when I replied that I wished matters to be made easy for my people, a second message instructed me to recite it in two modes. Again I replied that I wished matters to be made easy for my people, and a third message instructed me to recite it in seven modes. I being told at the same time that I might ask something for each reply I had received. I therefore said, 'O God, forgive my people. O God, forgive my people;' and I have delayed the third request till the day of intercession." Muslim transmitted it. (Miskhat al-Masabih, English Translation with Explanatory Notes by Dr. James Robson [SH. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters, Lahore PK, reprinted 1990], Book VIII.-The Excellent Qualities of the Qur'an, Chapter III, pp. 466-467; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Another Quran compiler, Abdullah Ibn Masud, was also taken aback:

Ibn Mas'ud said: I heard a man who recited, and as I had heard the Prophet reciting differently I took him to the Prophet and told him and noticed that he gave me a disapproving look. He then said, "Both of you are doing it well, so do not disagree, for your predecessors disagreed and perished." Bukhari transmitted. (Ibid., p. 466)

The most amazing thing about this is that Muslim scholars till this day do not know what the exact differences between these seven modes were, with some scholars proposing as many as thirty-five different possibilities and explanations! To make matters worse, the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan decided to destroy six of the seven modes which Muhammad claimed were revealed to him by God:

Scholars disagree about what is meant by the seven modes, and there are thirty-five things mentioned by al-Busti. We will mention five of them here:

-This is the position of most of the people of knowledge, such as Sufyan ibn 'Uyayna, 'Abdullah ibn Wahb, at-Tabari, at-Tahawi and others. What is meant are the seven manners of synonyms with different expressions, like aqbala, ta'ala and halluma (all of which mean "come here"). At-Tahawi said, "The clearest elucidation of that is what is mentioned in the hadith of Abu Bakra, 'Jibril came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, "Recite in one mode." Mika'il said, "Increase it." He said, "Recite it in two modes." Mika'il said, "Increase it," until it was seven modes. He said, "Recite it. Each is adequate unless you confuse an ayat of mercy for an ayat of punishment or an ayat of punishment with an ayat of mercy."' That is like halluma, ta'ala, aqbala, adhhaba, asra'a and 'ajjala. It is related from Ibn 'Abbas that Ubayy ibn Ka'b used to recite "wait for us" (57:13) "undhuruna" as "umhuluna", "akhkhiruna", and "arqubuna". With the same isnad, it is reported that Ubayy recited in 2:19 "marru" instead of "mashaw" and "sa'aw" (they walk). In al-Bukhari, az-Zuhri said, "These modes are about the same matter. They do not differ in respect of the halal and haram."

At-Tahawi said, "There was scope for people in the letters since they were unable to take the Qur'an in other than their dialects because they were illiterate and only a few of them could write. It was hard for someone with a dialect to change to another. If he wanted to do that, it would have entailed great hardship and so they were given scope regarding different expressions as long as the meaning was the same. They remained like that until many of them could write and the dialects reverted to that of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Then they were able to memorise those words and they no longer had the allowance to recite differently." Ibn 'Abdu'l-Barr said, "It is clear that scope for the seven modes was at a particular time out of necessity. When that necessity was removed, the ruling of the seven was removed, and the Qur'an was recited IN ONE MODE."

- Some people say that the seven dialects in the Qur'an are the seven dialects of all the Arabs, both Yamani and Nizar, because the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was not ignorant of any of them. He was "given all the words". It does not mean that the one mode has seven aspects, but these seven dialects are in different parts of the Qur'an. Some of it is in the dialect of Quraysh, some in that of Hudhayl, some in Hawazin, and some in Yamani. Al-Khattabi said, "That is how the Qur'an is recited in seven ways." This is the meaning of the Qur'an being revealed in seven modes. Al-Qasim ibn Sallam believed that and Ibn 'Atiyya preferred it. Some tribes used writing more than others. Anas mentioned that when 'Uthman told them copy out the Qur'an, he said, "When you and Zayd differ, then write in the dialect of Quraysh. It was revealed in their dialect." (al-Bukhari)

Qadi Ibn at-Tayyib [al-Baqillani] said, "The meaning of 'Uthman's words that it was revealed in the dialect of Quraysh, means most of it. It is not a definitive proof that it is all in the dialect of Quraysh since there are words and letters which differ from the dialect of Quraysh. This indicates that it was revealed in all the language of the Arabs, and no one can say that it was just Quraysh or one part of the Arabs rather than others. Ibn 'Abdu'l-Barr said that this meant that most of it was revealed in the dialect of Quraysh because other than the dialect of Quraysh exists in sound readings with the use of the hamzas and the like. Quraysh did not use the hamza. Ibn 'Atiyya said that the meaning of the "seven modes" is that the expressions of the seven tribes are in it.

- These seven dialects are all from the tribes of Mudar. Some people said that. They used as evidence what 'Uthman said, "The Qur'an was revealed in the language of Mudar." They said, "It is possible that part of it is that of Quraysh, part Kinana, part Asad, part Hudhayl, part Taym, part Daba, and part Qays. They said these tribes of Mudar contain the seven dialects in these ranks. Ibn Mas'ud used to like those who copied out the Qur'ans to be from Mudar. Others objected to the idea that it was all from Mudar and said that there are rare usages in Mudar with which it is not permitted to write the Qur'an.

- What is related from some scholars is exemplified by Qadi Ibn at-Tayyib who said, "I have reflected on the aspects of the differences in recitation and have found them to be seven. Some involve changes of voweling while the meaning and form remain, like atharu and athara in 11:78; some do not change their form but change their meaning through inflection, as in 36:19, reading ba'id or ba'ida; some retain their form and change their meaning with different letters; some change the form while the meaning remains as in 101:5 where both 'ahn and suf mean wool; some change their form and meaning; some entail a change of order; and some consist of addition or reduction.

- What is meant by the seven modes are meanings in the Book of Allah: command and prohibition, promise and threat, stories, arguments and parables. Ibn 'Atiyya says that this is weak because that is not called ahruf. Furthermore there is consensus that it does not occur in making the lawful lawful or changing any of the meanings. Qadi Ibn at-Tayyib mentioned a hadith along these lines from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and then said, "This is not part of what it is allowed for them to recite." Harf in this means 'manner' as Allah says, 'one who worships Allah on an edge.' (22:11). That is the meaning of the hadith about the seven means of allowing and forbidding and the like.

It is also said that what is meant by the seven ahruf are the seven readings that we have because all of that is sound as the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, stated. This, however, is not correct, as we will now explain. (Aisha Bewley, Selections from the Introduction of Tafsir al-Qurtubi; source; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

As we noted earlier, and as can be seen from the above quotation, these modes couldn’t simply be dialectal in nature but included major variations in wording. Here are few more examples to illustrate this point:

Ubayy b. Ka’b reported: The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: Ubayy, I was asked to recite the Qur’an. I was asked: In one mode or two modes? The angel that accompanied me said: Say in two modes. I said: In two modes. I was again asked: In two modes or three? The angel that was in my company said: Say, in three modes. So I said: In three modes. The matter reached up to seven modes. He then said: Each mode is sufficiently health-giving, whether you utter "all-hearing and all-knowing" or instead "all-powerful and all-wise". This is valid until you finish the verse indicating punishment on mercy and finish the verse indicating mercy on punishment. (Sunan Abu Dawud, English translation with explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters; Lahore, Pakistan, 1984], Volume I, Hadith Number 1472, p. 387; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Interestingly, Ibn Masud’s recension of the Quran had an extra clause which is not found in the text used by Muslims today:

Narrated Alqama:
I went to Sham and was offering a two-Rak'at prayer; I said, "O Allah! Bless me with a (pious) companion." Then I saw an old man coming towards me, and when he came near I said, (to myself), "I hope Allah has given me my request." The man asked (me), "Where are you from?" I replied, "I am from the people of Kufa." He said, "Weren't there amongst you the Carrier of the (Prophet's) shoes, Siwak and the ablution water container? Weren't there amongst you the man who was given Allah's Refuge from the Satan? And weren't there amongst you the man who used to keep the (Prophet's) secrets which nobody else knew? How did Ibn Um 'Abd (i.e. 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud) use to recite Surat-al-lail (the Night: 92)?" I recited:--

"By the Night as it envelops By the Day as it appears in brightness. And by male and female." (92.1-3) On that, Abu Darda said, "BY ALLAH, the Prophet made me read the Verse in this way after listening to him, but these people (of Sham) TRIED THEIR BEST to let me say something different." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 57, Number 105)

Narrated Ibrahim:
The companions of 'Abdullah (bin Mas'ud) came to Abu Darda', (and before they arrived at his home), he looked for them and found them. Then he asked them,: "Who among you can recite (Qur'an) as 'Abdullah recites it?" They replied, "All of us." He asked, "Who among you knows it by heart?" They pointed at 'Alqama. Then he asked Alqama, "How did you hear 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud reciting Surat Al-Lail (The Night)?" Alqama recited:

By the male and the female.’ Abu Ad-Darda said, "I TESTIFY that I heard the Prophet reciting it likewise, but these people want me to recite it:--

‘And by Him Who created male and female.’ BUT BY ALLAH, I WILL NOT FOLLOW THEM." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 468; see also Volume 5, Book 57, Number 85)

Contrast Ibn Masud’s reading which he received directly from Muhammad with what we find now:

And by Him Who created male and female; S. 92:3 Hilali-Khan

This isn’t the only passage with a disputed clause:

"The prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers…" Q. 33:6

This is how this passage reads in the Uthmanic recension, yet other recensions included an additional statement concerning Muhammad’s relationship to the believers:

"In spiritual relationship the Prophet is entitled to more respect and consideration than blood-relations. The Believers should follow him rather than their fathers or mothers or brothers, where there is conflict of duties. He is even nearer - closer to our real interests - than our own selves. IN SOME QIRAATS, LIKE THAT OF UBAI IBN KA'B, occur also the words ‘and he is a father to them,’ which imply his spiritual relationship and connect on with the words, ‘and his wives are their mothers.’ Thus his spiritual fatherhood would be contrasted pointedly with the repudiation of the vulgar superstition of calling any one like Zaid ibn Haritha by the appellation Zaid ibn Muhammad (xxxiii. 40): such an appellation is really disrespectful to the Prophet." (Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 1104, fn. 3674)

A renowned Muslim scholar of the past candidly admitted:

"… An unusual reading of the Qur'an includes, ‘He is a father to them,’ but it is no longer recited since it is AT VARIANCE with the version of 'Uthman.’" (Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad), Qadi 'Iyad Musa al-Yahsubi, translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], pp. 29-30; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Qadi Iyad assumed that the Uthmanic text was more reliable, an assumption unsupported by the Islamic data.

Be that as it may, the foregoing clearly shows that the differences weren’t merely variations in dialect but also involved the omission or addition of words and phrases.

Moreover, the differences among the different and competing Quranic codices were so great that it led to internal fighting among the various Muslim communities:

"If it is asked what was the point of ‘Uthman unifying people under a single copy of the Qur’an when Abu Bakr had already achieved that, then the response is that the aim of ‘Uthman was not to gather people in order to compile the Qur’an. Do you not see that he sent to Hafsa to ask her to give him the copy of the Qur’an so that it could be copied out and then returned to her? ‘Uthman did that BECAUSE PEOPLE WERE DISAGREEING ABOUT THE VARIOUS RECITATIONS owing to the fact that the Companions had spread to different areas AND HAD BEGUN TO STRONGLY DISAGREE, such as the conflict that took place between the people of Iraq and the people of Syria according to Hudhayfa.

"They joined an expedition to Armenia and each group recited what had been transmitted to them. They disagreed and quarrelled AND SOME OF THEM CALLED THE OTHERS UNBELIEVERS, RENOUNCING THEM COMPLETELY, CURSING ONE ANOTHER. Hudhayfa WAS ALARMED at what he saw. As soon as he arrived back to Medina, according al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi, before returning to his house he went to ‘Uthman and said, ‘This Community has reached the stage where it will be destroyed!’ ‘Why?’ asked ‘Uthman. He said, ‘IT IS ABOUT THE BOOK OF ALLAH. I was on this expedition and some of the people of Iraq, Syria and the Hijaz came together.’ Then he described what had happened and said, ‘I fear that they will differ about their Book as the Jews and Christians differed.’

"This is the evidence of the falseness of those who say that the seven ahruf are the seven present readings, because there is no disagreement about them. Suwayd ibn Ghafala reported from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib that ‘Uthman said, ‘What do you think about the copies of the Qur’an? The people have disagreed about the reciters until a man says, "My reading is better than your reading. My reading is better is more excellent than your reading." This is equivalent to disbelief.’ He replied, ‘What is your view, Amr al-Mu’minin?’ He said, ‘I think that we people should agree on one reading. If you differ today, those after you will disagree more strongly.’ ‘Ali said, ‘The correct opinion is yours, Amr al-Mu’minin.’… ‘Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded of what sheet or copy which had any form of the Qur’an should be burned. ‘Uthman did this after gathering the Muhajirin and Ansar and a group of Muslims and consulting them about it…

"Ibn Shihab said that he was told by ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud disliked Zayd ibn Thabit copying out the Qur’an and said, ‘Company of Muslims, withdraw from making copies and entrusting it to one man. By Allah, I became Muslim while he was in the loins of an unbelieving father!’ meaning Zayd ibn Thabit. That is why ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud said, ‘People of Iraq, CONCEAL THE COPIES OF THE QUR’AN YOU HAVE AND CONCEAL THEM. Allah says, "Those who misappropriate will arrive on the Day of Rising with what they have misappropriated."’ (Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley [Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003], Volume I, Introduction: ‘Uthmani Codex, pp. 52-53; capital and underline emphasis ours)


III: The Collection of the Qur'an

4702. It is related that Zayd ibn Thabit said, "After the slaughter of people in the Battle of Yamama, Abu Bakr sent for me. 'Umar was with him. Abu Bakr said, ''Umar came to me and said, "Many Qur'an reciters were killed in the Battle of Yamama, and I fear that heavy casualties will be inflicted on the Qur'an reciters in other places and therefore much of the Qur'an will be lost. I think that you should collect the Qur'an together."' Abu Bakr said, 'I said to 'Umar, "How can I do something which the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, it is better." 'Umar kept at me about it until Allah opened my breast to that. I think what 'Umar thinks about that.'"...

4703. Anas ibn Malik reported that Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman came to 'Uthman while the people of Syria were conquering Armenia and Azerbaijan with the people of Iraq. Hudhayfa was ALARMED by the difference in their recitation. Hudhayfa said to 'Uthman, "Amir al-Mu'minin! Deliver this Community before they disagree about the Book as the Jews and Christians differed!" So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, "Send us the pages in your possession and we will copy them and then return them to you." So Hafsa sent them to 'Uthman. He ordered Zayd ibn Thabit, 'Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, Sa'id ibn al-'As, and 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham to transcribe copies. 'Uthman said to the group of the three Qurashis, "When you and Zayd ibn Thabit disagree about any of the Qur'an, write it in the dialect of Quraysh. It was revealed in their language." They did that. When they had copied it out, 'Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded that every sheet or copy which had any other form of the Qur'an should be burned. (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 69. Book of the Virtues of the Qur'an; source; capital and italic emphasis ours)

There are several interesting points which can be gleaned from the above. First, the variations of the Quran were so great that Muslims started attacking each other and accusing one another of disbelief. This refutes the notion that the differences were minor.

Second, Hudhayfa comparing the Muslim situation with the disagreement between Jews and Christians regarding their Book is rather interesting since the main difference between them centers on the number of inspired Books. The Jews do not accept the NT Books which Christians believe are inspired and therefore part of the Biblical canon. This suggests that the competing and conflicting Quranic copies which different Muslim groups were using were not uniform in their number of chapters and verses, e.g. some Qurans had more chapters and verses than some others. No wonder Uthman decided to burn copies of the Quran which were written by Muhammad’s companions! He had to get rid of the evidence which conclusively proved that the memory of the Muslims miserably failed to fully preserve the original wording of the Quran.

Now the questions that Shabir needs to answer are:

The Quran’s Parallel Stories: More Evidence for Ipsissima Vox

The second problem with Shabir’s assertion is that the Quran reports the same event in several places, each time with vast differences and major verbal variations. We have already provided plenty of examples documenting this point, the links to which will be given shortly.

We will therefore limit ourselves to one specific example, specifically the story of Lot.

So, when the envoys came to the folk of Lot, he said, 'Surely you are a people unknown to me!' They said, 'Nay, but we have brought thee that concerning which they were doubting. We have come to thee with the truth, and assuredly we speak truly. So set forth, thou with thy family, in a watch of the night, and follow after the backs of them, and let not any one of you turn round; and depart unto the place YOU ARE COMMANDED.' And We decreed for him that commandment, that the last remnant of those should be cut off in the morning. And the people of the city came rejoicing. He said, 'These are my guests; put me not to shame, and fear God, and do not degrade me.' They said, 'Have we not forbidden thee all beings?' He said, 'These are my daughters, if you would be doing.' By thy life, they wandered blindly in their dazzlement, and the Cry seized them at the sunrise, and We turned it uppermost nethermost and rained on it stones of baked clay. Surely in that are signs for such as mark; surely it is on a way yet remaining; surely in that is a sign for believers. S. 15.61-77 Arberry

In the above report Lot fears for the safety of his guests even though he has already been informed that they are messengers sent to destroy his people. Why, then, would Lot even worry about their safety seeing that he was made aware of their supernatural origin? Did he actually think that these beings weren’t powerful enough or that God wouldn’t intervene to save them? Hence, the Qur'anic error in placing these disclosures before the visit of the townsmen leads to a somewhat irrational situation.

The author(s) finally get(s) the story right:

And when Our messengers came to Lot, he was troubled on their account and distressed for them, and he said, 'This is a fierce day.' And his people came to him, running towards him; and erstwhile they had been doing evil deeds. He said, 'O my people, these are my daughters; they are cleaner for you. So fear God, and do not degrade me in my guests. What, is there not one man among you of a right mind?' They said, 'Thou knowest we have no right to thy daughters, and thou well knowest what we desire.' He said, 'O would that I had power against you, or might take refuge in a strong pillar!' They said, 'Lot, we are messengers of thy Lord. They shall not reach thee; so set forth, thou with thy family, in a watch of the night, and let not any one of you turn round, excepting thy wife; surely she shall be smitten by that which smites them. Their promised time is the morning; is the morning not nigh?' So when Our command came, We turned it uppermost nethermost, and rained on it stones of baked clay, one on another, marked with thy Lord, and never far from the evildoers. S. 11:77-83 Arberry

Notice that in this report the angelic guests disclose their identities after the altercation with the townsmen, making sense as to why Lot feared for the security of his guests. He didn’t know that these were angels who could fend for themselves. Moreover, in the first pericope the angels tell Lot their plans before the men come seeking the guests, whereas in the above version the angels only inform Lot after the men have arrived to rape them.

A Gross Contradiction in Lot’s Story

There are further problems with the Quran’s narration of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to certain Surahs all of Lot’s family was saved with the exception of an unnamed elderly woman:

The people of Lut rejected (his) warning. We sent against them a violent Tornado with showers of stones, (which destroyed them), except Lut's household: them We delivered by early Dawn, - S. 54:33-34

So We delivered him and his family, - ALL Except an old woman who lingered behind. S. 26:170-171

Behold, We delivered him and his family, ALL Except an old woman who was among those who lagged behind: S. 37:134-135

If this weren’t confusing enough the Quran goes on to say that Lot’s wife lagged behind and perished:

He said: "But there is Lut there." They said: "Well do we know who is there: we will certainly save him and his family, - except his wife: she is of those who lag behind!" And when Our Apostles came to Lut, he was grieved on their account, and felt himself powerless (to protect) them: but they said: "Fear thou not, nor grieve: we are (here) to save thee and thy family, except thy wife: she is of those who lag behind. S. 29:32-33

But we saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who legged behind. S. 7:83

(The Apostles) said: "O Lut! We are Apostles from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?" S. 11:81

Excepting the adherents of Lut: them we are certainly (charged) to save (from harm), - All - Except his wife, who, We have ascertained, will be among those who will lag behind. S. 15:59-60

With the foregoing in mind we want to know what exactly happened.

Lest Shabir object to the last point and claim that the Quran doesn’t explicitly say that all of Lot’s family was saved we will simply present the following Quranic texts in various translations and commentaries to substantiate our position:

Q. 26:170

So We delivered him and his people (ahl) ALL TOGETHER, Arberry

So We saved him and his household, EVERY ONE, Pickthall

So We delivered him and his family, - ALL Y. Ali

So We saved him and his family, ALL, Hilali-Khan

So We delivered him and his household ALL. Abdul-Majid Daryabadi (*)

So We delivered him and his followers ALL, Maulana Muhammad Ali (*)

So We delivered him and his followers ALL Shakir

So We saved him and his family, ALL, Abdul Qasim (*)

So We saved/rescued him and his family/people ALL/ALL TOGETHER. Muhamed Ahmed with his daughter Samira (*)

So WE saved him and his family, ALL of them, Sher Ali

So We saved him and his followers, ALL of them, Abdul Mannan Omer (*)

So We delivered him and his family, ALL of them Muhammad Zafrulla Khan (*)

So We saved him and his WHOLE family T.B. Irving (*)

So We saved him and his WHOLE family Ahmed Ali (*)

So We saved him and ALL his people, Hasan Qaribullah (*)

We saved him and ALL of his family Muhammad Sarwar (*)

We saved him and ALL his family. Khalifa

We therefore rescued him and his ENTIRE family. Mohammed Aqib Farid Qadri (*)

So We saved him and his ENTIRE family. The Message (*)

So We saved him and his ENTIRE family. Quran: a Reformist Translation (*)

So We delivered him and ALL his family, (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold, capital and italic emphasis ours)

So We saved him and his household, every one, (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Q. 37:134

when We delivered him and his people (ahl) ALL TOGETHER, Arberry

When We saved him and his household, EVERY ONE, Pickthall

Behold, We delivered him and his adherents, ALL Y. Ali

When We saved him and his family, ALL, Hilali-Khan

When We delivered him and his followers, ALL – Shakir

Recall what time We delivered him and his household, ALL. Abdul-Majid Daryabadi

When We saved/rescued him and his family/people ALL/ALL TOGETHER. Muhamed Ahmed with his daughter Samira

(Recall the time) when We delivered him and his followers ALL TOGETHER, Abdul Mannan Omer (*)

When WE delivered him and ALL his family, Sher Ali

We saved him and ALL his family. Khalifa

We saved him and ALL his kinsmen, Hasan Qaribullah

When We saved him and ALL his family. The Message (*)

When We saved him and ALL his family. Quran: A Reformist Translation

We rescued him and his WHOLE family, Muhammad Sarwar

We delivered him and the WHOLE of his family, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan

when We saved him and his ENTIRE family T.B. Irving

Wherefore We saved him and his ENTIRE family Ahmed Ali

When We rescued him and his ENTIRE household. Mohammed Aqib Farid Qadri (*)

mention, when We delivered him together with ALL his family, (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold, capital and italic emphasis ours)

(When We saved him and his household) his two daughters: Za'ura and Raytha, (every one, (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Seeing that the verses that follow right after both of these citations mention the old woman that perished this suggests that she wasn’t Lot’s wife, but someone else since both of these references emphatically assert that Allah saved ALL, not some, of Lot’s household/people/family. Yet this still conflicts with the other verses that expressly say that Lot’s wife perished, therefore refuting the claim that Allah saved Lot’s entire household.(1)

The problems with Lot’s story do not end just yet. According to the next citation Lot’s wife was destined to perish:

But We saved him and his family, except his wife; her We destined to be of those who lagged behind. S. 27:57

Now the theology changes since it is no longer Allah simply knowing that she would be of those who would lag behind; rather, the author(s) is(are) now convinced that she lagged behind because this was her destiny, this was the fate that Allah assigned for her.


The major variations in the stories of the Quran betray the fact that if Muhammad communicated the Quran in its entirety, as Muslims believe, then his knowledge of Biblical events and stories improved over time as he started to interact more with Jews and Christians. As Christian apologist John Gilchrist put it:

On the other hand there are numerous stories in the Qur'an relating to the earlier prophets and New Testament figureheads which are borrowed from Jewish Talmudic sources and Christian apocryphal writings respectively. Examples of these are found in the sections on Qur'anic origins and sources to follow. It seems that Muhammad's knowledge of the Bible was limited to information from secondary sources, though this knowledge did improve as time went on.

The needs of his profession do not appear to have made him actually a student - yet there is no question that as the Koran grew in bulk, its knowledge of biblical stories became somewhat more accurate: and though this greater degree of accuracy may have been at times due to the Prophet's memory, it is more likely that he took such opportunities as offered of acquiring more information. (Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 106).

All these features strongly support the statement made by Margoliouth that, as the Qur'an developed, so its record of the events relating to the Biblical prophets became significantly more accurate. This conclusion can hardly be resisted in the circumstances:

Again, in the first four of the passages just quoted nothing suggests any awareness of the connexion between Abraham and Lot, and indeed some matters suggest ignorance of it; on the other hand, in the last three passages there is explicit mention of the connexion with Abraham. If there were only one or two instances of this sort of thing they could easily be explained away; but there are a great many; and the Western critic therefore finds it difficult to resist the conclusion that Muhammad's knowledge of these stories was growing and that therefore he was getting information from a person or persons familiar with them. (Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, p. 159). (Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, C. SIGNIFICANT QUR'ANIC DOCTRINES AND TEACHINGS, 1. The Qur'anic Doctrine of Abrogation, pp. 163, 166; bold and italic emphasis ours)

On the other hand, if the Muslim scripture is not the work of a single author, but a composite of different and contradictory sources, then this means that the final redactor of the Quran did a rather poor job of editing the book and harmonizing the gross errors and discrepancies that exist among the various versions of the same story.

Whatever the case, the point remains that consistency and honesty in argumentation demand that Shabir would certainly have a problem with the author(s) of the Quran changing or retelling the same story differently seeing that he has such difficulty with Matthew summarizing and/or telescoping Mark’s pericope. Since Shabir maintains that this type of summary and telescoping, where the author may change a person’s quoted speech without affecting the broad facts of the story, is unacceptable then he surely should object to what the author(s) of the Quran has(have) done with many of its narratives such as the story of Lot. Moreover, since Shabir emphasized that such telescoping implies that no speech of any person can be taken as "Gospel Truth" then he must remain consistent and say the same thing of the speeches found within the Quran. Shabir can no longer have confidence that any of the reported speeches of anyone in the Quran are really their actual words (in fact none of these speeches are truly the words of the prophets since the Quran is a false book that puts words in the mouths of God’s true servants, but that is for another article). After all, even these reported speeches in the Quran may have been ‘telescoped’ in the sense of having been changed so significantly in order to reflect the theology and beliefs of Muhammad or the author(s) of the Quran.

What makes this all the more problematic for Shabir’s position is that he doesn’t believe that the Quran is the work of multiple authors or that it is Muhammad’s composition, either of which would explain why there are major verbal changes and contradictions. He, instead, assumes (albeit erroneously) that God actually dictated these speeches and events to Muhammad. This means that Shabir must blame his god for repeating the same narrative with major verbal variations and contradictions. Shabir must take exception that his god chose to summarize or rearrange a person’s speech (Ipsissima Vox) as opposed to narrating the exact words the person used in his/her conversations with others (Ipsissima Verba).

Now will Shabir apply his criticism of the Bible to the Quran? We already know the answer to that since he says in response to Dr. White:

I do not believe, however, that so far James has succeeded in showing that I have committed this error, though I am well aware of his numerous attempts. In the Biola debate, for example, it turned out that the opposite phenomenon was at work. James would not want me to apply the same critical standards I use to evaluate Islam’s hadiths now to evaluate the Gospels [sic]. Using these critical standards we grade hadiths and pronounce them as either authentic or inauthentic words of the Prophet Muhammad. Naturally, I would want to apply similar standards to the Gospels to determine if the words attributed to Jesus therein are really his. James did not seem to welcome this approach to the Gospels. Of course, if I do apply these strict standards, the Gospels would all fail the test in a wholesale fashion, for they would lack a continuous trace of reliable reporters from Jesus to the writer of the Gospels. (A Rejoinder to James (Part 1); source)

Do the readers see what is missing from Shabir’s critical analysis? You guessed it, the Quran. Notice how this proves rather convenient for Shabir; he has no problem applying his critical standards to either the Gospels or the hadith collection but doesn’t dare apply them to his Muslim scripture, thereby giving the misleading impression that the Quran doesn’t contain any problems. And the reason is obvious why he hesitates to apply his criteria to the Quran… the Muslim scripture, unlike the Gospels, cannot pass such a critical examination of its contents.

If Shabir is going to be honest and fair then we would like for him to start applying his critical analysis of the Gospels and the hadith literature to the Quran from now on and to document his findings and research for all of us to read.

And until and unless he starts doing so Shabir will only be proving that Dr. White’s assessment of him is right on the mark: Shabir is inconsistent, and in our opinion dishonest, since he uses one criteria against the Bible and another for the Quran.

Lord willing, more rebuttals to follow shortly.

Further Reading

We will now present some of the many articles and rebuttals which address the assertion that the Bible writers cannot be trusted because they either telescoped or summarized the speeches of Jesus and the others. We also link to specific materials which show that the same phenomenon occurs quite often in the Quran, i.e. the same story is often repeated with major verbal differences and even contradictions.

And for an analysis of White’s debate with Shabir by a Christian who attended the event we recommend the following:


(1) It seems that some Muslims were aware of the dilemma and decided to therefore translate the Arabic term ahl as followers as opposed to family or household. But this simply introduces another problem, this time with the Biblical text which says that the only persons whom God rescued were Lot and his two daughters (cf. Genesis 19:1-38).

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