Criticism of the Quran

The Quran is viewed to be the scriptural foundation of Islam and is believed to have been revealed, without issue, to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Criticism of the Quran has frequently occurred since western scholarship has looked to decipher, understand and verify the claims of Islamic thought as stated in the Quran. Issues relating to the authenticity and morality of the Quran are criticized.[1]Both critics and some scholars of western, eastern and secular backgrounds claim to have discovered scientific errors adding allegations of contradictions in the Quran while questioning its interpreted moral and ethical message.

Historical authenticity

According to Francis Peters, Professor Emeritus of History, Religion and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University:

"What commends it (Quran) so powerfully to the historian is its authenticity, not as the Word of God, of course, as the Muslims believe but as the secular historian cannot and should not, but rater as a document attesting to what Muhammad said at that time and place, early seventy century Mecca. It is not a transcript, however; our present Quran is the result of an edition prepared under the orders of Uthman... but the search for significant variants in the partial versions extant before Uthman's standard edition, what can be called the sources behind our text, has not yielded any differences of great significance. Those Uthmanic clues are fragmentary, however, and large 'invented' portions might well have been added to our Quran or authentic material deleted. So it has been charged in fact by some Muslims who failed to find in the present Quran any explicit reference to the designation of a successor to the Prophet and so have alleged tampering with the original texts. But the argument is so patently tendentious and the evidence adduced for the fact so exiguous that few have failed to be convinced that what is in our copy of the Quran is in fact what Muhammad taught, and is expressed in his own words."[2]

Traditional view

Most Muslims believe that the Quran is the literal word of God as recited to the Islamic prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muhammad, according to tradition, recited perfectly what the angel Gabriel revealed to him for his companions to write down and memorize. Muslims believe that the wording of the Quranic text available today corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad in the years 610–632.[3]

Maurice Bucaille, medical doctor, author and member of the French Society of Egyptology, states in The Bible, The Qur'an and Science that "The Quranic Revelation has a history which is fundamentally different from the other two. It spanned a period of some twenty years and, as soon as it was believed to be transmitted to Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel, Believers learned it by heart." It is traditionally believed to have been written down during Muhammad's life.

Variations to Christian theology

Dr. Suliman Bashear, leading scholar and administrator at the University of Nablus discusses the question: which of two sons was meant to be sacrificed by Abraham; Ishaq or Ismail:

“In itself, the impressively long list of mainly late scholars and commentators who favoured Ismail confirms Goldziher’s note that this view eventually emerged victorious. In view of the present study, however, one must immediately add that such victory was facilitated only as part of the general process of promoting the position of Mecca as the cultic center of Islam by connecting it with the Biblical heritage on the story of Abraham’s trial or, to use Wansbrough’s terminology, the reproduction of an Arabian–Hijazi version of Judaeo-Christian ‘prophetology.’”[4]

Earliest witness testimony

The last recensions to make an official and uniform Quran in a single dialect were effected under Caliph Uthman (644-656) starting some twelve years after the Prophet's death and finishing twenty-four years after the effort began, with all other existing personal and individual copies and dialects of the Quran being burned:

"When they had copied the sheets, Uthman sent a copy to each of the main centers of the empire with the command that all other Qur'an materials, whether in single sheet form, or in whole volumes, were to be burned..[5]

It is traditionally believed the earliest writings had the advantage of being checked by people who already knew the text by heart, for they had learned it at the time of the revelation itself and had subsequently recited it constantly. Since the official compilation was completed several decades after Muhammad's death, the Uthman text has been scrupulously preserved. Bucaille believed that this did not give rise to any problems of this Quran's authenticity.[6]

Muir's The Life of Mahomet explains the outcome of these oral tradition when researching Al-Bukhari:

“Reliance upon oral traditions, at a time when they were transmitted by memory alone, and every day produced new divisions among the professors of Islam, opened up a wide field for fabrication and distortion. There was nothing easier, when required to defend any religious or political system, than to appeal to an oral tradition of the Prophet. The nature of these so-called traditions, and the manner in which the name of Mohammad was abused to support all possible lies and absurdities, may be gathered most clearly from the fact that Al-Bukhari who travelled from land to land to gather from the learned the traditions they had received, came to conclusion, after many years sifting, that out of 600,000 traditions, ascertained by him to be then current, only 4000 were authentic!”[7]

Regarding who was the first to collect the narrations, and whether or not it was compiled into a single book by the time of Muhammad's death is contradicted by witnesses living when Muhammad lived, several historical narratives appear:

Zaid b. Thabit said:

"The Prophet died and the Qur’an had not been assembled into a single place."[8]

It is reported… from Ali who said:

"May the mercy of Allah be upon Abu Bakr, the foremost of men to be rewarded with the collection of the manuscripts, for he was the first to collect (the text) between (two) covers".[9]

It is reported… from Ibn Buraidah who said:

"The first of those to collect the Qur'an into a mushaf (codex) was Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifah".[10]

Extant copies prior to Uthman version

The Sana'a manuscript contains older portions of the Quran showing variances different from the Uthman copy. The parchment upon which the lower codex of the Sana'a manuscript is written has been radiocarbon dated with 99% accuracy to before 671 AD, with a 95.5% probability of being older than 661 AD and 75% probability from before 646 AD.[11] The Sana'a palimpsest is one of the most important manuscripts of the collection in the world. This palimpsest has two layers of text, both of which are Quranic and written in the Hijazi script. While the upper text is almost identical with the modern Qurans in use (with the exception of spelling variants), the lower text contains significant diversions from the standard text. For example, in sura 2, verse 87, the lower text has wa-qaffaynā 'alā āthārihi whereas the standard text has wa-qaffaynā min ba'dihi.[12] Such variants are similar to the ones reported for the Quran codices of Companions such as Ibn Masud and Ubay ibn Ka'b. These companions of Muhammad could not agree on which surahs were part of the Quran and which were not. However, variants occur much more frequently in the Sana'a codex, which contains "by a rough estimate perhaps twenty-five times as many [as Ibn Mas'ud's reported variants]".[13]

In 2015, the University of Birmingham disclosed that scientific tests may show a Quran manuscript in its collection as one of the oldest known and believe it was written close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Dr Saud al-Sarhan, Director of Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, questions whether the parchment might have been reused as a palimpsest, and also noted that the writing had chapter separators and dotted verse endings – features in Arabic scripts which are believed not to have been introduced to the Qur'an until later.[14] Dr Saud's criticisms was affirmed by several Saudi-based experts in Quranic history, who strongly rebut any speculation that the Birmingham/Paris Quran could have been written during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. They emphasize that while Muhammad was alive, Quranic texts were written without chapter decoration, marked verse endings or use of coloured inks; and did not follow any standard sequence of surahs. They maintain that those features were introduced into Quranic practice in the time of the Caliph Uthman, and so the Birmingham leaves could have been written later, but not earlier.[15]

Professor Süleyman Berk of the faculty of Islamic studies at Yalova University has noted the strong similarity between the script of the Birmingham leaves and those of a number of Hijazi Qurans in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum; which were brought to Istanbul from the Great Mosque of Damascus following a fire in 1893. Professor Berk recalls that these manuscripts had been intensively researched in association with an exhibition on the history of the Quran, The Quran in its 1,400th Year held in Istanbul in 2010, and the findings published by François Déroche as Qur’ans of the Umayyads in 2013.[16] In that study, the Paris Quran, BnF Arabe 328(c), is compared with Qurans in Istanbul, and concluded as having been written "around the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the eighth century."[17]

In December 2015 Professor François Déroche of the Collège de France confirmed the identification of the two Birmingham leaves with those of the Paris Qur'an BnF Arabe 328(c), as had been proposed by Dr Alba Fedeli. Prof. Deroche expressed reservations about the reliability of the radiocarbon dates proposed for the Birmingham leaves, noting instances elsewhere in which radiocarbon dating had proved inaccurate in testing Qur'ans with an explicit endowment date; and also that none of the counterpart Paris leaves had yet been carbon-dated. Jamal bin Huwareib, managing director of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, has proposed that, were the radiocarbon dates to be confirmed, the Birmingham/Paris Qur'an might be identified with the text known to have been assembled by the first Caliph Abu Bakr, between 632 CE and 634 CE.[18]

Further research and findings

Critical research of historic events and timeliness of eye witness accounts reveal the effort of later traditionalists to consciously promote, for nationalistic purposes, the centrist concept of Mecca and prophetic descent from Ismail, in order to grant a Hijazi orientation to the emerging religious identity of Islam:

“For, our attempt to date the relevant traditional material confirms on the whole the conclusions which Schacht arrived at from another field, specifically the tendency of isnads to grow backwards."[19]

In their book Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook challenge the traditional account of how the Quran was compiled, writing that "there is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century."[20] Crone, Wansbrough, and Nevo argue that all the primary sources which exist are from 150300 years after the events which they describe, and thus are chronologically far removed from those events.[21][22][23]

Quran from the 9th century. It was alleged to be a 7th-century original from Uthman era

It is generally acknowledged that the work of Crone and Cook was a fresh approach in its reconstruction of early Islamic history, but the theory has been almost universally rejected.[24] Van Ess has dismissed it stating that "a refutation is perhaps unnecessary since the authors make no effort to prove it in detail ... Where they are only giving a new interpretation of well-known facts, this is not decisive. But where the accepted facts are consciously put upside down, their approach is disastrous."[25] R. B. Serjeant states that "[Crone and Cook's thesis]… is not only bitterly anti-Islamic in tone, but anti-Arabian. Its superficial fancies are so ridiculous that at first one wonders if it is just a 'leg pull', pure 'spoof'."[26] Francis Edwards Peters states that "Few have failed to be convinced that what is in our copy of the Quran is, in fact, what Muhammad taught, and is expressed in his own words".[27]

In 2006, legal scholar Liaquat Ali Khan claimed that Crone and Cook later explicitly disavowed their earlier book.[28][29] Patricia Crone in an article published in 2006 provided an update on the evolution of her conceptions since the printing of the thesis in 1976. In the article she acknowledges that Muhammad existed as a historical figure and that the Quran represents "utterances" of his that he believed to be revelations. However she states that the Quran may not be the complete record of the revelations. She also accepts that oral histories and Muslim historical accounts cannot be totally discounted, but remains skeptical about the traditional account of the Hijrah and the standard view that Muhammad and his tribe were based in Mecca. She describes the difficulty in the handling of the hadith because of their "amorphous nature" and purpose as documentary evidence for deriving religious law rather than as historical narratives.[30]

The author of the Apology of al-Kindy Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (not the famed philosopher al-Kindi) claimed that the narratives in the Quran were "all jumbled together and intermingled" and that this was "an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked".[31] Bell and Watt suggested that the variation in writing style throughout the Quran, which sometimes involves the use of rhyming, may have indicated revisions to the text during its compilation. They claimed that there were "abrupt changes in the length of verses; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on".[32] At the same time, however, they noted that "[i]f any great changes by way of addition, suppression or alteration had been made, controversy would almost certainly have arisen; but of that there is little trace." They also note that "Modern study of the Quran has not in fact raised any serious question of its authenticity. The style varies, but is almost unmistakable."[33]

A recent study has argued that the Quran we have today is exactly the same as the one compiled by 'Ali ibn Abi-Talib, and that the reading of Hafs from his teacher 'Asim to be the unaltered reading of 'Ali. This is because 'Asim's teacher, Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, had learnt the Quran from 'Ali. Furthermore, Hafs was a Companion of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq and it is claimed that the latter had inherited 'Ali's Master Copy of the Quran. The study provides a case that it was 'Ali's Master Copy which formed the basis of the 'Uthmanic canon. As for the reading of Hafs, the study presents evidence that the latter had learnt the Quran from two sources: 'Asim who was his main teacher, and Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq who provided him with a corrective of 'Asim's reading. If future research can validate these preliminary findings, then this could very well mean that the reading of Hafs from Asim is the de facto reading of 'Ali which he inherited from the Prophet till the very last dot."[34]

Shia perspective

Several prominent Shia scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Quran: a common claim being that the Quran was altered by Muhammad's companions (Sahaba) following his death. Shias have different views on each Sahabi, depending on what he or she accomplished. They do not accept that the testimony of nearly all Sahabah is an authenticated part of the chain of narrators in a hadith and that not all the Sahaba were righteous just because they saw or were with Muhammad. Shias further argue that the righteousness of Sahabah can be assessed by their loyalty towards Muhammad's family after his death and they accept hadith from the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt, believing them to be cleansed from sin through their interpretation of the Quran, surah 33 (Al-Ahzab), verse 33[35] and the hadith of the Cloak.

Claim of divine origin

Critics reject the idea that the Quran is miraculously perfect and impossible to imitate (2:2, 17:88-89, 29:47, 28:49). The Jewish Encyclopedia, for example, writes: "The language of the Koran is held by the Mohammedans to be a peerless model of perfection. Critics, however, argue that peculiarities can be found in the text. For example, critics note that a sentence in which something is said concerning Allah is sometimes followed immediately by another in which Allah is the speaker (examples of this are suras xvi. 81, xxvii. 61, xxxi. 9, and xliii. 10.) Many peculiarities in the positions of words are due to the necessities of rhyme (lxix. 31, lxxiv. 3), while the use of many rare words and new forms may be traced to the same cause (comp. especially xix. 8, 9, 11, 16)."[36] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "The dependence of Mohammed upon his Jewish teachers or upon what he heard of the Jewish Haggadah and Jewish practices is now generally conceded."[36] Early jurists and theologians of Islam mentioned some Jewish influence but they also say where it is seen and recognized as such, it is perceived as a debasement or a dilution of the authentic message. Bernard Lewis describes this as "something like what in Christian history was called a Judaizing heresy."[37] Philip Schaff described the Quran as having "many passages of poetic beauty, religious fervor, and wise counsel, but mixed with absurdities, bombast, unmeaning images, low sensuality."[38]

According to Professor Moshe Sharon, specialist in Arabic epigraphy, the legends about Muhammad having ten Jewish teachers developed in the 10th century A.D:

"In most versions of the legends, ten Jewish wise men or dignitaries appear, who joined Muhammad and converted to Islam for different reasons. In reading all the Jewish texts one senses the danger of extinction of the Jewish people; and it was this ominous threat that induced these Sages to convert..."[39]

Preexisting sources

For a large number of scholars, a plausible hypothesis is that much,[40] if not all, of the Quranic material predates Muhammad and that it is liturgical material used in some community of possibly Judeo-Christian, and certainly monotheist, Arabs, and that is why by the time the Muslims got around to writing their commentaries on the Quran, they did not have the faintest idea what large parts of this material meant,[41] and were forced to invent some absurd explanations for these obscurities, but it all eventually got collected together as the Arabian book of God, in order to forge a specifically Arabian religious identity.

Scholar Oddbjørn Leirvik states "The Qur'an and Hadith have been clearly influenced by the non-canonical ('heretical') Christianity that prevailed in the Arab peninsula and further in Abyssinia" prior to Islam.[42]

When looking at the narratives of Jesus found in the Quran, some themes are found in pre-Islamic sources such as the Infancy Gospels about Christ.[43] Much of the qur'anic material about the selection and upbringing of Mary parallels much of the Protovangelium of James, [44] with the miracle of the palm tree and the stream of water being found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.[45] In Pseudo-Matthew, the flight to Egypt is narrated similarly to how it is found in Islamic lore,[46] with Syriac translations of the Protoevangelium of James and The Infancy Story of Thomas being found in pre-Islamic sources.[47]

John Wansbrough believes that the Quran is a redaction in part of other sacred scriptures, in particular the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.[48][49] Herbert Berg writes that "Despite John Wansbrough's very cautious and careful inclusion of qualifications such as 'conjectural,' and 'tentative and emphatically provisional', his work is condemned by some. Some of the negative reaction is undoubtedly due to its radicalness... Wansbrough's work has been embraced wholeheartedly by few and has been employed in a piecemeal fashion by many. Many praise his insights and methods, if not all of his conclusions."[50] Gerd R. Puin's study of ancient Quran manuscripts led him to conclude that the Quran is a "cocktail of texts", some of which may have been present a hundred years before Muhammad.[20] Norman Geisler argues that the dependence of the Quran on preexisting sources is one evidence of a purely human origin.[51]

Ibn Ishaq, an Arab Muslim historian and hagiographer who collected oral traditions that formed the basis of the important biography of Muhammad, also claimed that as a result of these discussions, the Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments – leading to the conclusion that Muhammad may have incorporated Judeo-Christian tales he had heard from other people. For example, in al-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah (an edited version of Ibn Ishaq's original work), Ibn Hishām's report

explains that the Prophet used often to sit at the hill of Marwa inviting a Christian...but they actually also would have had some resources with which to teach the Prophet.[52]

...saw the Prophet speaking with him, they said: "Indeed, he is being taught by Abu Fukayha Yasar." According to another version: "The apostle used often to sit at al-Marwa at the booth of a young Christian slave Jabr, slave of the Banu l-Hadrami, and they used to say: 'The one who teaches Muhammad most of what he brings is Jabr the Christian, slave of the Banu l-Hadrami."[53]

A study of informant reports by Claude Gilliot concluded the possibility that whole sections of the Meccan Quran contains elements from or within groups possessing Biblical, post-Biblical and other sources.[54] One such report and likely informant of Muhammad was the Christian slave mentioned in Sahih Bukhari whom Ibn Ishaq named as Jabr for which the Quran's chapter 16: 101-104 was probably revealed.[55] Waqidi names this Christian as Ibn Qumta,[56] with his identity and religious affiliation being contradicted in informant reports.[57] Ibn Ishaq also recounts the story of how three Christians, Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id, spoke to Muhammad regarding such Christian subjects as the Trinity. [58]

The narration of the baby Jesus speaking from the cradle can be traced back to the Arabic Infancy Gospel, and the miracle of the bringing clay birds to life being found in The Infancy Story of Thomas.[59]

Mohammed or God as speakers

According to Ibn Warraq, the Iranian rationalist Ali Dashti criticized the Quran on the basis that for some passages, "the speaker cannot have been God."[60] Warraq gives Surah Fatihah as an example of a passage which is "clearly addressed to God, in the form of a prayer."[60] He says that by only adding the word "say" in front of the passage, this difficulty could have been removed. Furthermore, it is also known that one of the companions of Muhammad, Ibn Masud, rejected Surah Fatihah as being part of the Quran; these kind of disagreements are, in fact, common among the companions of Muhammad who could not decide which surahs were part of the Quran and which not.[60]

Cases where the speaker is swearing an oath by God, such as surahs 75:1-2 and 90:1, have been made a point of criticism. But according to Richard Bell, this was probably a traditional formula, and Montgomery Watt compared such verses to Hebrews 6:13. It is also widely acknowledged that the first-person plural pronoun in Surah 19:64 refers to angels, describing their being sent by God down to Earth. Bell and Watt suggest that this attribution to angels can be extended to interpret certain verses where the speaker is not clear.[61]

Science in the Quran

Many modern Muslims believe that the Quran does make scientific statements, however many classical Muslim commentators and scientists, notably al-Biruni, assigned to the Quran a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Quran "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science."[62] These medieval scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanations of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Quran to an ever-changing science.[62] Some modern scholars like G. A. Parwez have translated those verses in the Quran which are generally associated with "miracles", "angels" and "jinn" rationally as metaphors, without appealing to the supernatural.[63][64][65] However, a number of statements in the Quran factually contradict current scientific understanding, especially evolution.

Evolution. Quranic verses 3:59, 35:11, 96:2, 20:55, 6:1, 24:45, 15:26, 7:11, and 19:67 are all related to the origin of mankind. If Allah created man directly from dust, as the Quran says, then the Quran and modern evolutionary theory are not logically compatible.[66][67] This has led to a contribution by Muslims to the creation vs. evolution debate.[68] Some Muslims have pointed to certain Quranic verses (such as 21:30, 71:13–14, 29:19–20, 6:133–135, 10:4) that they think are in fact compatible with evolutionary science.[69] Hence the general agreement among most Muslims is that only creationism is supported by the Quran and the hadith.[70]


Naskh (نسخ) is an Arabic language word usually translated as "abrogation"; it shares the same root as the words appearing in the phrase al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh (الناسخ والمنسوخ, "the abrogater and the abrogated [verses]"). The concept of "abrogation" in the Quran is that God chose to reveal ayat (singular ayah; means a sign or miracle, commonly a verse in the Quran) that supersede earlier ayat in the same Quran. The central ayah that deals with abrogation is Surah 2:106:

"We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?"[71]

Philip Schaff argues that the concept of abrogation was developed to "remove" contradictions found in the Quran:

"It abounds in repetitions and contradictions, which are not removed by the convenient theory of abrogation."[38]

Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei believes abrogation in Quranic verses is not an indication of contradiction but an indication of addition and supplementation. As an example he mentions 2:109[72] where -according to him- it clearly states the forgiveness is not permanent and soon there will be another command (through another verse) on this subject that completes the matter. He also mentions 4:15[72] where the abrogated verse indicates its temporariness.[73]

Other scholars; however, have translated the 'abrogation' verse differently and disagree with the mainstream view. Ghulam Ahmed Parwez in his Exposition of the Quran derived the following meaning from the verse 2:106, making it consistent with the overall content of the Quran:

The Ahl-ul-Kitab (People of the Book) also question the need for a new revelation (Qur'an) when previous revelations from Allah exist. They further ask why the Qur'an contains injunctions contrary to the earlier Revelation (the Torah) if it is from Allah? Tell them that Our way of sending Revelation to successive anbiya (prophets) is that: Injunctions given in earlier revelations, which were meant only for a particular time, are replaced by other injunctions, and injunctions which were to remain in force permanently but were abandoned, forgotten or adulterated by the followers of previous anbiya are given again in their original form (22:52). And all this happens in accordance with Our laid down standards, over which We have complete control. Now this last code of life which contains the truth of all previous revelations (5:48), is complete in every respect (6:116), and will always be preserved (15:9), has been given [to mankind].[74]

Satanic verses

Main article: Satanic Verses

Some criticism of the Quran has revolved around two verses known as the "Satanic Verses". Some early Islamic histories recount that as Muhammad was reciting Sūra Al-Najm (Q.53), as revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, Satan tempted him to utter the following lines after verses 19 and 20: "Have you thought of Al-lāt and al-'Uzzā and Manāt the third, the other; These are the exalted Gharaniq, whose intercession is hoped for." The Allāt, al-'Uzzā and Manāt were three goddesses worshiped by the Meccans. These histories then say that these 'Satanic Verses' were repudiated shortly afterward by Muhammad at the behest of Gabriel.[75]

There are numerous accounts reporting the alleged incident, which differ in the construction and detail of the narrative, but they may be broadly collated to produce a basic account.[62] The different versions of the story are all traceable to one single narrator Muhammad ibn Ka'b, who was two generations removed from biographer Ibn Ishaq.[76] In its essential form, the story reports that Muhammad longed to convert his kinsmen and neighbors of Mecca to Islam. As he was reciting Sūra an-Najm,[77] considered a revelation by the angel Gabriel, Satan tempted him to utter the following lines after verses 19 and 20:

Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzzá
and Manāt, the third, the other?
These are the exalted gharāniq, whose intercession is hoped for.

Allāt, al-'Uzzā and Manāt were three goddesses worshipped by the Meccans. Discerning the meaning of "gharāniq" is difficult, as it is a hapax legomenon (i.e. only used once in the text). Commentators wrote that it meant the cranes. The Arabic word does generally mean a "crane" - appearing in the singular as ghirnīq, ghurnūq, ghirnawq and ghurnayq, and the word has cousin forms in other words for birds, including "raven, crow" and "eagle".[78]

The subtext to the event is that Muhammad was backing away from his otherwise uncompromising monotheism by saying that these goddesses were real and their intercession effective. The Meccans were overjoyed to hear this and joined Muhammad in ritual prostration at the end of the sūrah. The Meccan refugees who had fled to Abyssinia heard of the end of persecution and started to return home. Islamic tradition holds that Gabriel chastised Muhammad for adulterating the revelation, at which point [Quran 22:52] is revealed to comfort him,

Never sent We a messenger or a prophet before thee but when He recited (the message) Satan proposed (opposition) in respect of that which he recited thereof. But Allah abolisheth that which Satan proposeth. Then Allah establisheth His revelations. Allah is Knower, Wise.

Muhammad took back his words and the persecution of the Meccans resumed. Verses [Quran 53:21] were given, in which the goddesses are belittled. The passage in question, from 53:19, reads:

Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza

And Manat, the third, the other?
Are yours the males and His the females?
That indeed were an unfair division!

They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which Allah hath revealed no warrant. They follow but a guess and that which (they) themselves desire. And now the guidance from their Lord hath come unto them.

The incident of the Satanic Verses is put forward by some critics as evidence of the Quran's origins as a human work of Muhammad. Maxime Rodinson describes this as a conscious attempt to achieve a consensus with pagan Arabs, which was then consciously rejected as incompatible with Muhammad's attempts to answer the criticism of contemporary Arab Jews and Christians,[79] linking it with the moment at which Muhammad felt able to adopt a "hostile attitude" towards the pagan Arabs.[80] Rodinson writes that the story of the Satanic Verses is unlikely to be false because it was "one incident, in fact, which may be reasonably accepted as true because the makers of Muslim tradition would not have invented a story with such damaging implications for the revelation as a whole".[81] In a caveat to his acceptance of the incident, William Montgomery Watt, states: "Thus it was not for any worldly motive that Muhammad eventually turned down the offer of the Meccans, but for a genuinely religious reason; not for example, because he could not trust these men nor because any personal ambition would remain unsatisfied, but because acknowledgment of the goddesses would lead to the failure of the cause, of the mission he had been given by God."[82] Academic scholars such as William Montgomery Watt and Alfred Guillaume argued for its authenticity based upon the implausibility of Muslims fabricating a story so unflattering to their prophet. Watt says that "the story is so strange that it must be true in essentials."[83] On the other hand, John Burton rejected the tradition.

In an inverted culmination of Watt's approach, Burton argued the narrative of the "satanic verses" was forged, based upon a demonstration of its actual utility to certain elements of the Muslim community – namely, those elite sections of society seeking an "occasion of revelation" for eradicatory modes of abrogation.[84] Burton's argument is that such stories served the vested interests of the status-quo, allowing them to dilute the radical messages of the Quran. The rulers used such narratives to build their own set of laws which contradicted the Quran, and justified it by arguing that not all of the Quran is binding on Muslims. Burton also sides with Leone Caetani, who wrote that the story of the "satanic verses" should be rejected not only on the basis of isnad, but because "had these hadiths even a degree of historical basis, Muhammad's reported conduct on this occasion would have given the lie to the whole of his previous prophetic activity."[85] Eerik Dickinson also pointed out that the Quran's challenge to its opponents to prove any inconsistency in its content was pronounced in a hostile environment, also indicating that such an incident did not occur or it would have greatly damaged the Muslims.[86]

Intended audience

Some verses of the Quran are assumed to be directed towards all of Muhammad's followers while other verses are directed more specifically towards Muhammad and his wives, yet others are directed towards the whole of humanity. (33:28, 33:50, 49:2, 58:1, 58:9 66:3).

Other scholars argue that variances in the Quran's explicit intended audiences are irrelevant to claims of divine origin - and for example that Muhummad's wives "specific divine guidance, occasioned by their proximity to the Prophet (Muhammad)" where "Numerous divine reprimands addressed to Muhammad's wives in the Quran establish their special responsibility to overcome their human frailties and ensure their individual worthiness",[87] or argue that the Quran must be interpreted on more than one level.[88] (See:[89]).


British-German professor of Arabic and Islam Joseph Schacht, in his work The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (1950) regarding the subject of law derived from the Quran, wrote:

“Muhammadan [Islamic] law did not derive directly from the Koran but developed ...out of popular and administrative practice under the Umaiyads, and this practice often diverged from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran .... Norms derived from the Koran were introduced into Muhammadan law almost invariably at a secondary stage.”[90]

Schacht further states that every legal tradition from the Prophet must be taken as inauthentic and fictitious expression of a legal doctrine formulated at a later date:

“... We shall not meet any legal tradition from the Prophet which can positively be considered authentic.”[91]

What is evident regarding the compilation of the Quran is the disagreement between the companions of Muhammad (earliest supporters of Muhammad), as evidenced with their several disagreements regarding interpretation and particular versions of the Quran and their interpretative Hadith and Sunna, namely the mutawatir mushaf having come into present form after Muhammad's death.[92] John Burton's work The Collection of the Quran further explores how certain Quranic texts were altered to adjust interpretation, in regards to controversy between fiqh (human understanding of Sharia) and madhahib.[93]


See also: Islamic ethics

According to some critics, the morality of the Quran, like the life story of Muhammad, appears to be a moral regression, by the standards of the moral traditions of Judaism and Christianity it says that it builds upon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, states that "the ethics of Islam are far inferior to those of Judaism and even more inferior to those of the New Testament" and "that in the ethics of Islam there is a great deal to admire and to approve, is beyond dispute; but of originality or superiority, there is none."[94] William Montgomery Watt however finds Muhammad's changes an improvement for his time and place: "In his day and generation Muhammad was a social reformer, indeed a reformer even in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. By taking what was best in the morality of the nomad and adapting it for settled communities, he established a religious and social framework for the life of many races of men."[95]

War and peace

Main article: Quran and violence

The Quran's teachings on matters of war and peace have become topics of heated discussion in recent years. On the one hand, some critics, such as Sam Harris, interpret that certain verses of the Quran sanction military action against unbelievers as a whole both during the lifetime of Muhammad and after. Harris argues that Muslim extremism is simply a consequence of taking the Qur'an literally, and is skeptical that moderate Islam is possible.[96][97] On the other hand, other scholars argue that such verses of the Quran are interpreted out of context,[98][99] and Muslims of the Ahmadiyya movement argue that when the verses are read in context it clearly appears that the Quran prohibits aggression,[100][101][102] and allows fighting only in self-defense.[103][104]

Kim Ezra Shienbaum and Jamal Hasan have claimed that a concept of 'Jihad', defined as 'struggle', has been introduced by the Quran. They claim that while Muhummad was in Mecca, he "did not have many supporters and was very weak compared to the Pagans", and "it was at this time he added some 'soft', peaceful verses", whereas "almost all the hateful, coercive and intimidating verses later in the Quran were made with respect to Jihad" when Muhammad was in Medina .[105]

Micheline R. Ishay has argued that "the Quran justifies wars for self-defense to protect Islamic communities against internal or external aggression by non-Islamic populations, and wars waged against those who 'violate their oaths' by breaking a treaty" .[106] Mufti M. Mukarram Ahmed has also argued that the Quran encourages people to fight in self-defense. He has also argued that the Quran has been used to direct Muslims to make all possible preparations to defend themselves against enemies.[107]

Shin Chiba and Thomas J. Schoenbaum argue that Islam "does not allow Muslims to fight against those who disagree with them regardless of belief system", but instead "urges its followers to treat such people kindly".[108] Yohanan Friedmann has argued that the Quran does not promote fighting for the purposes of religious coercion, although the war as described is "religious" in the sense that the enemies of the Muslims are described as "enemies of God".[109]

Rodrigue Tremblay has argued that the Quran commands that non-Muslims under a Muslim regime, should "feel themselves subdued" in "a political state of subservience" . He also argues that the Quran may assert freedom within religion.[110] Nisrine Abiad has argued that the Quran incorporates the offence (and due punishment) of "rebellion" into the offence of "highway or armed robbery".[111]

George W. Braswell has argued that the Quran asserts an idea of Jihad to deal with "a sphere of disobedience, ignorance and war".[112]

Michael David Bonner has argued that the "deal between God and those who fight is portrayed as a commercial transaction, either as a loan with interest, or else as a profitable sale of the life of this world in return for the life of the next", where "how much one gains depends on what happens during the transaction", either "paradise if slain in battle, or victory if one survives".[113] Critics have argued that the Quran "glorified Jihad in many of the Medinese suras" and "criticized those who fail(ed) to participate in it".[114]

Ali Ünal has claimed that the Quran praises the companions of Muhammad, for being stern and implacable against the said unbelievers, where in that "period of ignorance and savagery, triumphing over these people was possible by being strong and unyielding."[115]

Solomon Nigosian concludes that the "Quranic statement is clear" on the issue of fighting in defense of Islam as "a duty that is to be carried out at all costs", where "God grants security to those Muslims who fight in order to halt or repel aggression".[116]

Shaikh M. Ghazanfar argues that the Quran has been used to teach its followers that "the path to human salvation does not require withdrawal from the world but rather encourages moderation in worldly affairs", including fighting.[117] Shabbir Akhtar has argued that the Quran asserts that if a people "fear Muhammad more than they fear God, 'they are a people lacking in sense'" rather than a fear being imposed upon them by God directly.[118]

Various calls to arms were identified in the Quran by US citizen Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, all of which were cited as "most relevant to my actions on March 3, 2006".[119]

Violence against women

Verse 4:34 of the Quran as translated by Ali Quli Qara'i reads:

Men are the managers of women, because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others, and by virtue of their spending out of their wealth. So righteous women are obedient, care-taking in the absence [of their husbands] of what Allah has enjoined [them] to guard. As for those [wives] whose misconduct you fear, [first] advise them, and [if ineffective] keep away from them in the bed, and [as the last resort] beat them. Then if they obey you, do not seek any course [of action] against them. Indeed, Allah is all-exalted, all-great.[120]

Many translations do not necessarily imply a chronological sequence, for example, Marmaduke Pickthall's, Muhammad Muhsin Khan's, or Arthur John Arberry's. Arberry's translation reads "admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them."[121]

The Dutch film Submission, which rose to fame outside the Netherlands after the assassination of its director Theo van Gogh by Muslim extremist Mohammed Bouyeri, critiqued this and similar verses of the Quran by displaying them painted on the bodies of abused Muslim women.[122] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the film's writer, said "it is written in the Koran a woman may be slapped if she is disobedient. This is one of the evils I wish to point out in the film".[123]

Scholars of Islam have a variety of responses to these criticisms. (See An-Nisa, 34 for a fuller exegesis on the meaning of the text.) Some Muslim scholars say that the "beating" allowed is limited to no more than a light touch by siwak, or toothbrush.[124][125] Some Muslims argue that beating is only appropriate if a woman has done "an unrighteous, wicked and rebellious act" beyond mere disobedience.[126] In many modern interpretations of the Quran, the actions prescribed in 4:34 are to be taken in sequence, and beating is only to be used as a last resort.[127][128][129]

Many Islamic scholars and commentators have emphasized that beatings, where permitted, are not to be harsh[130][131][132] or even that they should be "more or less symbolic."[133] According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Ibn Kathir, the consensus of Islamic scholars is that the above verse describes a light beating.[134][135]

Some jurists argue that even when beating is acceptable under the Quran, it is still discountenanced.[136][137][138]

Shabbir Akhtar has argued that the Quran introduced prohibitions against "the pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide" (16:58, 17:31, 81:8).[139]


Main article: Houri

Max I. Dimont interprets that the Houris described in the Quran are specifically dedicated to "male pleasure".[140] Henry Martyn claims that the concept of the Houris was chosen to satisfy Mohammed's followers.[141]

Alternatively, Annemarie Schimmel says that the Quranic description of the Houris should be viewed in a context of love; "every pious man who lives according to God's order will enter Paradise where rivers of milk and honey flow in cool, fragrant gardens and virgin beloveds await home..."[142]

Under the Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Quran by Christoph Luxenberg, the words translating to "Houris" or "Virgins of Paradise" are instead interpreted as "Fruits (grapes)" and "high climbing (wine) bowers... made into first fruits."[143] Luxemberg offers alternate interpretations of these Quranic verses, including the idea that the Houris should be seen as having a specifically spiritual nature rather than a human nature; "these are all very sensual ideas; but there are also others of a different kind... what can be the object of cohabitation in Paradise as there can be no question of its purpose in the world, the preservation of the race. The solution of this difficulty is found by saying that, although heavenly food, women etc.., have the name in common with their earthly equivalents, it is only by way of metaphorical indication and comparison without actual identity... authors have spiritualized the Houris."[143]

Christians and Jews in the Quran

Jane Gerber claims that the Qur'an ascribes negative traits to Jews, such as cowardice, greed, and chicanery. She also alleges that the Qur'an associates Jews with interconfessional strife and rivalry (Quran 2:113), the Jewish belief that they alone are beloved of God (Quran 5:18), and that only they will achieve salvation (Quran 2:111).[144] According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Qur'an contains many attacks on Jews and Christians for their refusal to recognize Muhammad as a prophet.[145] In the Muslim view, the crucifixion of Jesus was an illusion, and thus the Jewish plots against him ended in failure.[146] In numerous verses[147] the Qur'an accuses Jews of altering the Scripture.[148] Karen Armstrong claims that there are "far more numerous passages in the Qur'an" which speak positively of the Jews and their great prophets, than those which were against the "rebellious Jewish tribes of Medina" (during Muhammad's time).[149] Sayyid Abul Ala believes the punishments were not meant for all Jews, and that they were only meant for the Jewish inhabitants that were sinning at the time.[149] According to historian John Tolan, the Quran contains a verse which criticizes the Christian worship of Jesus Christ as a God, amongst other critiques of Jewish and Christian practices and doctrines. Despite this, the Quran has high praise for these religions, regarding them as the other two parts of the Abrahamic trinity.[150]

Hindu criticism

Hindu Swami Dayanand Saraswati did a brief analysis of Quran in 14th Chapter of his 19th century book Satyarth Prakash. He calls the concept of Islam to be highly offensive, and doubted that there is any connection of Islam with God:

Had the God of the Quran been the Lord of all creatures, and been Merciful and kind to all, he would never have commanded the Mohammedans to slaughter men of other faiths, and animals, etc. If he is Merciful, will he show mercy even to the sinners? If the answer be given in the affirmative, it cannot be true, because further on it is said in the Quran "Put infidels to sword," in other words, he that does not believe in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad is an infidel (he should, therefore, be put to death). (Since the Quran sanctions such cruelty to non-Mohammedans and innocent creatures such as cows) it can never be the Word of God.[151]

On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi, the moral leader of the 20th-century Indian independence movement, found the Quran to be peaceful, but the history of Muslims to be aggressive, while he claimed that Hindus have passed that stage of societal evolution:

Though, in my opinion, non-violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Muslims fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. The Hindu has an ages old civilization. He is essentially non violent. His civilization has passed through the experiences that the two recent ones are still passing through. If Hinduism was ever imperialistic in the modern sense of the term, it has outlived its imperialism and has either deliberately or as a matter of course given it up. Predominance of the non-violent spirit has restricted the use of arms to a small minority which must always be subordinate to a civil power highly spiritual, learned and selfless.[152][153]

See also



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  125. "Articles and FAQs about Islam, Muslims, Allah, Muhammad, Quran, Hadith, Woman, Fiqh and Fatwa". Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  126. Quranic Perspective on Wife beating and Abuse, by Fatimah Khaldoon, Submission, 2003. Retrieved April 16, 2006.
  127. Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his Quranic commentary states that: "In case of family jars four steps are mentioned, to be taken in that order. (1) Perhaps verbal advice or admonition may be sufficient; (2) if not, sex relations may be suspended; (3) if this is not sufficient, some slight physical correction may be administered; but Imam Shafi'i considers this inadvisable, though permissible, and all authorities are unanimous in deprecating any sort of cruelty, even of the nagging kind, as mentioned in the next clause; (4) if all this fails, a family council is recommended in 4:35 below." Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary (commentary on 4:34), Amana Corporation, Brentwood, MD, 1989. ISBN 0-915957-03-5.
  128. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, says that "If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her. If this is not helpful, he should sleep apart from her, trying to awaken her agreeable feminine nature so that serenity may be restored, and she may respond to him in a harmonious fashion. If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-04. Retrieved 2007-06-05.. Archived April 4, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  129. Ibn Kathir writes that in case of rebellious behavior, the husband is asked to urge his wife to mend her ways, then to refuse to share their beds, and as the last resort, husbands are allowed to admonish their wives by beating. Ibn Kathir, "Tafsir of Ibn Kathir", Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2000, 50-53
  130. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, says that "It is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts. In no case should he resort to using a stick or any other instrument that might cause pain and injury.""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-04. Retrieved 2007-06-05. Archived April 4, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  131. Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqee records in his Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Azim that "Ibn `Abbas and several others said that the Ayah refers to a beating that is not violent. Al-Hasan Al-Basri said that it means, a beating that is not severe."
  132. Ahmad Shafaat, Tafseer of Surah an-Nisa, Ayah 34, Islamic Perspectives. August 10, 2005
  133. One such authority is the earliest hafiz, Ibn Abbas.
  134. "The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary", Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Amana Corporation, Brentwood, MD, 1989. ISBN 0-915957-03-5, passage was quoted from commentary on 4:34
  135. Kathir, Ibn, "Tafsir of Ibn Kathir", Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2000, 50-53
  136. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi comments that "Whenever the Prophet (peace be on him) permitted a man to administer corporal punishment to his wife, he did so with reluctance, and continued to express his distaste for it. And even in cases where it is necessary, the Prophet (peace be on him) directed men not to hit across the face, nor to beat severely nor to use anything that might leave marks on the body." "Towards Understanding the Quran" Translation by Zafar I. Ansari from "Tafheem Al-Quran" (specifically, commentary on 4:34) by Syed Abul-A'ala Mawdudi, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, England.
  137. The medieval jurist ash-Shafi'i, founder of one of the main schools of fiqh, commented on this verse that "hitting is permitted, but not hitting is preferable."
  138. "[S]ome of the greatest Muslim scholars (e.g., Ash-Shafi'i) are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided: and they justify this opinion by the Prophet's personal feelings with regard to this problem." Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Quran (his translation of the Quran).
  139. Akhtar, Shabbir (2008). The Quran and the secular mind: a philosophy of Islam. New York: Routledge. p. 351. ISBN 0-415-43782-2.
  140. The Indestructible Jews, by Max I. Dimont, page 134
  141. Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mohammedanism, by Henry Martyn, page 131
  142. Islam: An Introduction, by Annemarie Schimmel, Page 13, "Muhammad"
  143. 1 2 Christoph Luxenberg, The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran, Verlag Hans Schiler, 2007, ISBN 9783899300888, 349 pages, pages 247-282 - The Huris or Virgins of Paradise
  144. Gerber (1986), pp. 7879 "Anti-Semitism and the Muslim World". In History and Hate: The Dimensions of Anti-Semitism, ed. David Berger. Jewish Publications Society. ISBN 0-8276-0267-7
  145. Poliakov, Leon (1997). "Anti-Semitism". Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
  146. Lewis (1999), p. 120
  147. See, for example from Gerber 91, 3:63; 3:71; 4:46; 4:160–161; 5:41–44, 5:63–64, 5:82; 6:92
  148. Gerber 78
  149. 1 2 Maududi, Sayyid Abul Ala (1967). The Meaning of the Quran.
  150. Tolan, John, Europe and the Islamic World, Part 1, Chapter 5, p.97
  151. Title = "Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Volume 19, Issue 1", publisher = ICPR, year = 2002, page = 73
  152. The Gandhian Moment, p. 117, by Ramin Jahanbegloo
  153. Gandhi's responses to Islam, p.110, by Sheila McDonough

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