Corruption of Previous Scriptures (Qur'an 2:79)

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This article analyzes the claim that the Qur'an states the previous scriptures (the Taurat and Injil) were physically corrupted.

Introduction[edit]

While early Islamic scholars such as Ibn al-Layth, Ibn Rabban, Ibn Qutayba, Al-Ya'qubi, Al-Tabari, Al-Baqillani, Al-Mas'udi, and Al-Bukhari would disagree,[1][2] today it is a common belief among Muslims that the Qur'an states that the previous scriptures (the Taurat and Injil) have been physically corrupted by those who were charged with safeguarding it (the Jews and Christians). Thus, the Qur'an is the 'return' to the true message of the God of the Bible. When asked to provide evidence that the Qur'an says the previous scriptures have been corrupted, apologists will present Qur'an 2:79 as evidence.

Yusuf Ali: Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:"This is from Allah," to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.

Pickthal: Therefore woe be unto those who write the Scripture with their hands and then say, "This is from Allah," that they may purchase a small gain therewith. Woe unto them for that their hands have written, and woe unto them for that they earn thereby.

Shakir: Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn.

Does this verse alone prove the corruption of previous scriptures? Let us examine what the Qur'an[3] really says about the Taurat and Injil; and examine Qur'an 2:79 in its own context, as well as against the aforementioned verses to see if the belief of physical scriptural corruption is valid.

What the Qur'an says about corruption[edit]

We will start by looking at verses of the Qur'an that talk about the corruption of the previous scriptures

But those who were unjust changed it for a saying other than that which had been spoken to them, so We sent upon those who were unjust a pestilence from heaven, because they transgressed.
Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this). And when they meet those who believe they say: We believe, and when they are alone one with another they say: Do you talk to them of what Allah has disclosed to you that they may contend with you by this before your Lord? Do you not then understand? Do they not know that Allah knows what they keep secret and what they make known?
Nay! do you say that Ibrahim and Ismail and Yaqoub and the tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Are you better knowing or Allah? And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all heedless of what you do.
(As for) those who take a small price for the covenant of Allah and their own oaths-- surely they shall have no portion in the hereafter, and Allah will not speak to them, nor will He look upon them on the day of resurrection nor will He purify them, and they shall have a painful chastisement. Most surely there is a party amongst those who distort the Book with their tongue that you may consider it to be (a part) of the Book, and they say, It is from Allah, while it is not from Allah, and they tell a lie against Allah whilst they know. It is not meet for a mortal that Allah should give him the Book and the wisdom and prophethood, then he should say to men: Be my servants rather than Allah's; but rather (he would say): Be worshipers of the Lord because of your teaching the Book and your reading (it yourselves).
And when Allah made a covenant with those who were given the Book: You shall certainly make it known to men and you shall not hide it; but they cast it behind their backs and took a small price for it; so evil is that which they buy.
Of those who are Jews (there are those who) alter words from their places and say: We have heard and we disobey and: Hear, may you not be made to hear! and: Raina, distorting (the word) with their tongues and taunting about religion; and if they had said (instead): We have heard and we obey, and hearken, and unzurna it would have been better for them and more upright; but Allah has cursed them on account of their unbelief, so they do not believe but a little.
But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good (to others). And with those who say, We are Christians, We made a covenant, but they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of, therefore We excited among them enmity and hatred to the day of resurrection; and Allah will inform them of what they did. O followers of the Book! indeed Our Messenger has come to you making clear to you much of what you concealed of the Book and passing over much; indeed, there has come to you light and a clear Book from Allah;
O Messenger! let not those grieve you who strive together in hastening to unbelief from among those who say with their mouths: We believe, and their hearts do not believe, and from among those who are Jews; they are listeners for the sake of a lie, listeners for another people who have not come to you; they alter the words from their places, saying: If you are given this, take it, and if you are not given this, be cautious; and as for him whose temptation Allah desires, you cannot control anything for him with Allah. Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts; they shall have disgrace in this world, and they shall have a grievous chastisement in the hereafter.

Analysis[edit]

The first thing to note when reading through these verses is the wording used. Nowhere in the above verses does it say that the Jews or Christians wrote down, in their holy books, what was not revealed from Allah:

  • Qur'an 2:59 They "Changed it for a saying other than had been spoken to them."
  • Qur'an 2:77 Allah "knows what they keep secret and what they make known."
  • Qur'an 2:140 They "Conceal a testimony they have from Allah."
  • Qur'an 3:78 A "Party among them" (Jews) '"distort the book with their tongues and say it is from Allah."
  • Qur'an 3:79 The Jews "teach the book and read it themselves."
  • Qur'an 3:187 The Jews "cast it (Allah's book) "behind their backs"
  • Qur'an 4:46 The Jews "alter the words from their places" and "distort the book with their tongues."
  • Qur'an 5:13 The Jews "altered the words from their places" and "forgot a good part of the message."
  • Qur'an 5:15 The Jews "concealed that which Muhammad had made clear" and Muhammad made clear much which they had "passed over" (in their book)
  • Qur'an 5:41 The Jews "alter the words from their places."

So far, we see that the Qur'an does charge that the Jews and Christian's corrupted their scriptures; but only in their oral recitations. Qur'an 2:77 charges that the Jews deliberately "keep secret" parts of their Taurat from the people who do not know the Jewish scriptures. If the physical scriptures have been corrupted, how would the Jews know what was supposed to be in it? Are we to believe that there are 'original' Taurat's lying around somewhere for the Jews to compare to; or is there a special Jewish school or class where they learn about what was 'omitted' from the Taurat? Who were the Jews keeping 'secrets' about their texts from? Other Jews? Why? We know the Jews are literate people because they 'knew what their book said but hid it behind their backs.' Were they keeping the information from the illiterate people (like Muhammad)? This would fit with the Qur'an's charge that the Jews 'distorted the book with their tongues.'

The Jews 'altered the words from their places' and 'forgot a good part of the message'; this also does not speak to physical scriptural corruption, but (alleged) corruption in their recitations to those who did not know the Jewish scriptures. Consider the claims made in Qur'an 5:15. it alleges that Muhammad 'made clear' what the Jews had 'concealed'; Muhammad also made clear that which they had 'passed over.' If the actual text was corrupt, how could the Jews have 'passed over' it? Surely if the physical corruption claim is true, the Qur'an should be using words like "the parts that the Jews removed from their books" or "the parts which have been omitted."

We see no such wording in the language of the Qur'an; only evidence that Muhammad thought the Jews were lying about what was written in their Taurat, in order to reject him as a prophet of their God.

What does the Qur'an confirm?[edit]

Next we will look at what the Qur'an claims to confirm and verify:

And when there came to them a Book from Allah verifying that which they have, and aforetime they used to pray for victory against those who disbelieve, but when there came to them (Prophet) that which they did not recognize, they disbelieved in him; so Allah's curse is on the unbelievers.
And when it is said to them, Believe in what Allah has revealed, they say: We believe in that which was revealed to us; and they deny what is besides that, while it is the truth verifying that which they have. Say: Why then did you kill Allah's Prophets before if you were indeed believers?
Say: Whoever is the enemy of Jibreel-- for surely he revealed it to your heart by Allah's command, verifying that which is before it and guidance and good news for the believers.
And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah verifying that which they have, a party of those who were given the Book threw the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they knew nothing.
Nay! do you say that Ibrahim and Ismail and Yaqoub and the tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Are you better knowing or Allah? And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all heedless of what you do.
He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Tavrat and the Injeel aforetime, a guidance for the people, and He sent the Furqan.
And when Allah made a covenant through the prophets: Certainly what I have given you of Book and wisdom-- then an messenger comes to you verifying that which is with you, you must believe in him, and you must aid him. He said: Do you affirm and accept My compact in this (matter)? They said: We do affirm. He said: Then bear witness, and I (too) am of the bearers of witness with you.
O you who have been given the Book! believe that which We have revealed, verifying what you have, before We alter faces then turn them on their backs, or curse them as We cursed the violators of the Sabbath, and the command of Allah shall be executed.
And how do they make you a judge and they have the Taurat wherein is Allah's judgment? Yet they turn back after that, and these are not the believers.
And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you; for every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed;
And this is a Book We have revealed, blessed, verifying that which is before it, and that you may warn the metropolis and those around her; and those who believe in the hereafter believe in it, and they attend to their prayers constantly.
And this Quran is not such as could be forged by those besides Allah, but it is a verification of that which is before it and a clear explanation of the book, there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of the worlds.
In their histories there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding. It is not a narrative which could be forged, but a verification of what is before it and a distinct explanation of all things and a guide and a mercy to a people who believe.
And they say: Why does he not bring to us a sign from his Lord? Has not there come to them a clear evidence of what is in the previous books?
And that which We have revealed to you of the Book, that is the truth verifying that which is before it; most surely with respect to His servants Allah is Aware, Seeing.
Nay: he has come with the truth and verified the messengers.
And before it the Book of Musa was a guide and a mercy: and this is a Book verifying (it) in the Arabic language that it may warn those who are unjust and as good news for the doers of good.
They said: O our people! we have listened to a Book revealed after Musa verifying that which is before it, guiding to the truth and to a right path:

Analysis[edit]

The Qur'an claims to be the continuation of the message from Allah. We note in the verses above that it claims to confirm the message in the previous books that the Jews and Christians have with them.

  • Qur'an 2:89 "...a book from Allah verifying that which they have."
  • Qur'an 2:91 "...verifying that which they have."
  • Qur'an 2:101 "..threw the book of Allah behind their backs as if they knew nothing."
  • Qur'an 2:101 "..a messenger from Allah verifying that which they have."
  • Qur'an 2:140 "he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah."
  • Qur'an 3:81 "...verifying that which is with you."
  • Qur'an 4:47 "...verifying what you have."
  • Qur'an 5:43 "They have the Taurat wherein is Allah's Judgment."
  • Qur'an 20:133 "...has there not come clear evidence of what is in the previous books?"

From the above verses we can see that the Qur'an confirms that the Jews and Christians had intact scriptures at the time of Muhammad. They have the book with Allah's judgment in it (the Taurat). Some Muslims claim that parts of it are Allah's book and parts are not.

  • If you write a thesis and someone copies it; omitting parts and adding other parts in there. It is no longer your thesis but a bastardization of your thesis. Would you then say "yes, that's my thesis!" or would you say "parts of that are mine but these parts are not"? Certainly if you were talking about it, you would state that it was no longer your thesis because the words are changed.
  • Another example: If someone asks you to write down 10 numbers (which they then dictate to you). You write down 5 of them, but cannot remember the other five so you write 5 of your own to make it up to 10 numbers. They come to check the numbers you have written down. Do they say "yes, those are the numbers I gave you (they verify) or do they say "no, you only have five of the numbers I gave you?"

The bottom line is this: if the physical scriptures were corrupted, Allah would not say he "verifies that which you have" he would have said that he "verifies parts of which you have" and then indicate that the texts are no longer intact. The only conclusions we can draw from these statements of Allah, are that:
(a) The Jews were literate - they knew their scriptures; they 'threw the book of Allah behind their backs as if they knew nothing." How could they know the book of Allah if it was corrupted?
(b) That The Jews and Christians both had intact (alleged) revelations from Allah when the Qur'an was revealed. Since we have manuscripts that pre-date Muhammad's time, that are the same as the Bible we have today, then we can conclude that the scriptures that we have today are the same as they were in Muhammad's time.

Was Allah referring to both the Taurat and Injil?[edit]

We have thus far, given a lot of examples where the Jews were mentioned specifically, or just 'people of the book'. Was Allah referring to the previous scriptures (and corruption) as being just the Taurat, or does he include the Injil?

He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Tavrat and the Injeel aforetime, a guidance for the people, and He sent the Furqan.
Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and what was given to Musa and Isa and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.
Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, and forgives what is besides that to whomsoever He pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin.
And how do they make you a judge and they have the Taurat wherein is Allah's judgment? Yet they turn back after that, and these are not the believers. Surely We revealed the Taurat in which was guidance and light; with it the prophets who submitted themselves (to Allah) judged (matters) for those who were Jews, and the masters of Divine knowledge and the doctors, because they were required to guard (part) of the Book of Allah, and they were witnesses thereof; therefore fear not the people and fear Me, and do not take a small price for My communications; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unbelievers. And We prescribed to them in it that life is for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth, and (that there is) reprisal in wounds; but he who forgoes it, it shall be an expiation for him; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unjust. And We sent after them in their footsteps Isa, son of Mariam, verifying what was before him of the Taurat and We gave him the Injeel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Taurat and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil). And the followers of the Injeel should have judged by what Allah revealed in it; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors. And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you; for every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed;

Analysis[edit]

Confirmed in the above Qur'an verses is the fact that Allah claims to have revealed both the Taurat (to Musa) and Injil (to Isa). Qur'an 5:47 confirms also that the Injil was intact during Muhammad's time, when it says "and the followers of the Injeel should have judged by what Allah revealed in it". This shows, that, in order to judge Muhammad's truthfulness on his prophetic claim, the Christians should have gone to the Injil which they had with them in order to 'confirm' his claim. Allah is inferring that their scripture, as well as that of the Jews, is uncorrupted.

Qur'an 2:79 in Context[edit]

Many apologists accuse critics of taking the Qur'an 'out of context' in order to make Islam look bad. However in the case of Qur'an 2:79, apologists need to take it out of context in order to 'prove' that the Qur'an says the 'previous scriptures' were physically corrupted. Here it is in context:

And there are among them illiterates who know not the Book but only lies, and they do but conjecture. Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn.

So if we were to look at verse 2:79 which is given to us by some as evidence, then it would appear that the Qur'an does charge some (unknown) people with writing a book without knowledge and claiming it is a revelation from Allah. However if we look at the preceding verse, we note that it says that the people who do this are illiterate. This means that have not read Allah's previous revelations.

Analysis[edit]

Are the Jews and Christians the illiterate?[edit]

  • Qur'an 2:101 "...a party of those who were given the book threw the book of Allah behind their backs as if they knew nothing."
  • Qur'an 2:140 "Nay! do you say that Ibrahim and Ismail and Yaqoub and the tribes were Jews or Christians?....who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah?"
  • Qur'an 3:78 "..most surely there is a party amongst those who distort the book with their tongue....and they say it is from Allah; and they tell a lie against Allah while they know."
  • Qur'an 3:78 "...because of your teaching the Book and your reading (it yourselves)."
  • Qur'an 3:187 "And Allah made a covenant with those who were given the book...but they hid it behind their backs."
  • Qur'an 4:46 "...distorting the word with their tongues."
  • Qur'an 5:13 "...much for what you concealed of the Book and passing over much."
  • Qur'an 5:47 "And the followers of the Injeel should have judged by what was revealed in it."
  • Qur'an 5:48 "...therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed."

The quotes from the verses above establish that the Jews and Christians were literate people who knew their scriptures.

  • Jews are accused of knowing the book, but when Muhammad claimed to be a prophet of Allah, the Qur'an asserts that they 'threw the book' (Taurat) 'behind their back as if they knew nothing.'
  • Allah confirms that they Jews teach from the book and 'read it themselves'
  • The Christians are told that they should have consulted their books and 'confirmed' what Muhammad was saying before rejecting him.
  • Both Jews and Christians are told to judge between their respective books and the Qur'an to judge whether Muhammad was truthful.

The only verse that slightly resembles Qur'an 2:78-79 is 3:79. However it charges that the Jews knew what their scriptures said, but corrupted it with their tongues. How are the Jews and Christians supposed to know that the Qur'an verifies their books if they cannot read their own books? Why would Jews hide the book behind their backs if they did not know what it said? All the verses above show that the Qur'an never charges that the Jews and Christians are illiterate; quite the opposite, therefore Qur'an 2:79 cannot be referring to them 'writing the book with their hands.

Who are the Illiterate and what 'Book' did they write?[edit]

The Qur'an does not elaborate on exactly what scripture was being written by these 'illiterates', but looking at the evidence above, we know that it is not the people of the Book. There are three possible explanations for who these illiterate people manufacturing scripture were:

  • If the People of the Book truly were changing the scripture in their recitations of it to the illiterate people, it is not unreasonable to surmise that an illiterate person (who could not read the original documents) then wrote down (or elaborated on) what they heard in the recitation.
  • Allah was originally a pagan moon god; thus these verses could mean that pagans were writing scripture and claiming it was from Mr "I have moon god daughters" Allah.
  • The Qur'an makes the "Surah Like It" Challenge:
And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.
Or do they say: He has forged it? Say: Then bring a chapter like this and invite whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.
Or, do they say: He has forged it. Say: Then bring ten forged chapters like it and call upon whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.
Say: If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Quran, they could not bring the like of it, though some of them were aiders of others.
Then let them bring an announcement like it if they are truthful.

It is most likely that Qur'an 2:78-79 is referring to the people who took up this challenge to produce a surah like it. However, since the Qur'an does not elaborate, we can only say for certainty that it is not referring to the Jews and Christians.

Conclusion[edit]

On review of the evidence, we have learned thus far:

  1. The Qur'an never charges that the Jews and Christians have physically corrupted their scriptures. It states that they have 'changed words from their right places (with their mouths)' and 'concealed parts of the message given to them'.
  2. The Qur'an claims to verify the books that they have with them. This precludes the possibility that the People of the Book had corrupted scriptures in their possession at the time of Muhammad. The language used in the Qur'an confirms that the whole texts were intact and 'verified' by the Qur'an. Since we have Biblical texts that pre-date Islam, that match what we have today, we know that today's scriptures are the same as they were in and before Muhammad's time.
  3. We know that Allah is 'verifying' both the Taurat and Injil; telling Christians and Jews to check their specific scriptures to 'judge by what Allah has revealed.'
  4. Both the Jews and Christians were literate peoples who knew their scriptures.
  5. Qur'an 2:79 when read in context clearly states that the illiterate people were writing the book 'with their own hands' and claiming it was from Allah. Since we know the people of the Book were literate, these verses are not referring to them.

Consider the evidence: The Qur'an never says the physical scriptures of the previous revelations are corrupt (since we have precluded 2:79). If the previous scriptures are not corrupt, what do we do if the Qur'an contradicts the message of the Bible? Let's see what the Qur'an tells you to do:

But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.
And We did not send before you any but men to whom We sent revelation, so ask the followers of the reminder if you do not

Therefore Qur'an 2:79 is not referring to the previous scriptures

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See Also[edit]

External Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Camilla Adang (1996), Muslim Writers on Judaism & the Hebrew Bible from Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm, Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10034-2.
  2. G. Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur'an, Faber and Faber, London 1965; Dutch translation, Ten Have, Baarn 1978, p. 124.
  3. All verses are from Shakir's translation.