Is The Qur'an Really The Work of Multiple Hands?

Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi

Recently, we are confronted with the claims of the pseudonymous atheistic author “The Dajjal” a.k.a. Denis Giron, who claims that in his article that the composition of the Qur’an is simply the work of multiple authors. In this paper, we shall seek to study the claims made and make a few responses to the remarks made by “The Dajjal” in his response to this article, insha’allah.

Evaluating The Sources

The article starts off with a quote from Cook and Crone criticizing the structure of the Qur’an. It seems that the whole claim of “multiple hands of the Qur’?quot; was originally “wholly inspired” from this source. We should not be bothered by the comment of Cook and Crone, however, that the Qur’?is “frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content”[1], as that is merely conjecture from their personal opinion. Arab writers, in contrast see the matter differently. Ibn al-Ath? for instance, after studying the stylistic feature of iltif?in bal?a (Arabic rhetoric), classed it among the “remarkable things and exquisite subtleties we have found in the Glorious Qur’?quot;[2]. Anyway, what I wish to question is why the author is quoting from a book which has been universally rejected by the Western scholars? In fact, Crone and Cook informs us that

This is a book written by infidels for infidels, and it is based in what from any Muslim perspective must appear an inordinate regard for the testimony of infidel sources. Our account is not merely unacceptable; it is also one which any Muslim whose faith is as a grain of mustard seed should find no difficulty in rejecting.[3]

Humphreys summarizes this aptly by saying that

In the end perhaps we ought to use Hagarism more a ‘what-if’ exercise than as a research monograph…[4]

Some rather less impressed critics are more direct in their reservations. R. B. Sergeant informs that

Hagarism…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’.[5]

And Josef Van Ess seems to think that

…a refutation is perhaps unnecessary since the authors make no effort to prove it (the hypothesis of the book) 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.[6]

Waines in his book An Introduction To Islam says that:

The Crone-Cook theory has been almost universally rejected. The evidence offered by the authors is far too tentative and conjectural (and possibly contradictory) to conclude that Arab-Jewish were as intimate as they would wish them to have been.[7]

In view of this, we wonder why the author even dared to reproduce material from Cook and Crone and try to pass it off as “scholarship”.

We also notice that “The Dajjal” had used an essay from Mr. Zulfikar Khan entitled “Koran – The Ultimate Truth”[8] to further support the claim that “multiple authors” had written the Qur’? But most of Zulfikar’s material is taken from Jochen Katz’s so-called “Difficulties in the Qur’?quot;[9]. Anyone who really study the claims put forward in the said materials would be able to see that the “difficulties” is merely based on circular reasoning – that the Bible is true and if the Qur’?contradicts the Bible, it is considered false. There are also countless Muslims sites which deal with the issue of the so-called “contradictions” proposed. Nevertheless, we shall deal with the so-called fallacies that have been raised in “The Dajjal’s” paper, insha’allah.

What Multiple Authors?

The Critic, in his conclusion, claims that:

With this now before us, how can we conclude that this text is the word of an Almighty God, or even a single Arab nomad? It is quite clear that the Qur’?is, as Cook and Crone said at the outset, “the product of belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions.” There is simply no other possibility.

But did a group of Arabs really wrote the Qur’? That is what “The Dajjal” hints at and what his whole ‘theory’ is dependent upon. However, he had overlooked a major point: the historicity surrounding the transmission of the Qur’? We must note that what the Qur’?teaches goes directly against the pagan Arab culture, religion and gods that existed before the Qur’?was revealed. The Qur’?condemns idol worshipping, but the pagan Arabs loved their idol gods and worshipped them regularly. The Qur’?raised the status of women; the Arabs treated women next to animals. The pagan Arabs would never write something that goes against their most important belief of idol worshipping. The Qur’?goes against most of the social habits such as backbiting, slandering, name-calling, etc. which the pagan Arabs were heavily indulged into. For example, the pagan Arabs would call insulting nicknames such as Abu Jahl (the Father of Ignorance). The Qur’?condemns and prohibits taking interest on money, whereas, the Arabs freely levied heavy interest rates in loans and businesses. The Qur’?condemns and prohibits alcohol drinking, whereas the pagan Arabs consumed alcohol freely. The Qur’?condemns and prohibits gambling, whereas the pagan Arabs were some of the worst gamblers. The pagan Arabs would never write something so comprehensively against just about all of their customs and culture and religious beliefs, as the Qur’?is. During the time of the Prophet(P), the pagan Arabs would indulge in all the social habits that the Qur’?condemns and prohibits. It is therefore implausible to assume that the pagan Arabs would write something that would negate their entire society’s norms and ideologies.

Further, no group or individual in Arabia ever claimed to have written it, nor any group or an individual recited, taught, and explained the Qur’?except the Prophet Muhammad(P) and his followers. The Prophet Muhammad(P) was the only Arabian who first practiced, explained, and preached the Qur’? and ended up making a lot of Arab tribes enemies. Any historian, Muslim or non-Muslim would argue that the only logical source of the Qur’?can be the Prophet Mohammad(P), the man responsible to recite it, teach it and explain it to the people of Arabia. This is further strengthened by the words of the Quraysh leaders who said to him(P) the following:

“O Muhammad, we have been delegated to talk to you, for by All? we know not of any Arab before you who has caused more distress and mishap amongst his people such as you have caused. You have reviled our forefathers, criticized our religion and gods, undermined our judgements and caused dissent in our community. So if you have innovated this new talk because you want money, we will collect money for you until you become the richest amongst us all. If you desire honour amongst us, we will make you a master over us. And if you want royal authority, we will make you a king over us.”[10]

“The Dajjal” responded to the above as follows:

…it should be noted that MENJ’s claim is itself an argument that predates Islam. First of all, the derogatory statements made about the non-Muslims living at the time of Muhammad cannot be confirmed via any non-Arab sources. Furthermore, the sort of claims made by the Muslim writers bare a striking resemblance to the sort of polemics Jewish missionaries launched at the assorted polytheist “heathens” for the six centuries leading up to the advent of Islam. The similarities are so strong that it makes much of the Islamic anti-Jahiloonitoony polemic seem like an obvious outgrowth of Jewish proselytizing.

The Critic accuses us of depending too much on the so-called Islamic “polemics”. But by denying the behavior of the pagan Arabs during the period of Jahilliyah, he is also denying a well-known and undisputed history of the Arabs, as can be seen here. We also remind the Critic that no evidence is not evidence and just because there was a lack of information from non-Muslim sources, it does not automatically invalidate the Muslim account of pre-Islamic Arabia. In short, “The Dajjal” is seen as willfully trying to throw out every single shred of the Muslim account of pre-Islamic events in order to justify his objection.

In reference to an earlier point which we wrote

Further, no group or individual in Arabia ever claimed to have written it

“The Dajjal” had made the following objection:

Nor has any Yahoodee come forth and claimed responsibility for the forging of the Torah. Does the fact that no Hindu has ever claimed to have written the Mahabharata prove that the work is from God? MENJ’s argumentation is obviously fallacious.

Or is it really a “fallacy” as “The Dajjal” has claimed? Again, “The Dajjal” totally avoids the issue of the powerful and moving literary language of the Qur’?and the historicity surrounding it.[11] Not only have the pagan Arabs failed to meet the challenge of the Qur’?to make a Sura’ like it, the Mahabharata and Torah does not even come close to the ijaz of the Qur’? which is acknowledged by even the Orientalists. We therefore accuse the Critic of committing two gross fallacies in his charges against us:

    (1) his tendency to brush away Muslim accounts of pre-Islamic Arabia, and
    (2) ignoring the ijaz (the miraculous style) of the Qur’?and tries to compare the text with another of inferior language.

These would be enough to end the discussion, but much more must be said, especially regarding the methodology of “The Dajjal” that (allegedly) points to multiple hands composing the Qur’?

Further Analysis of the Methodology

What “The Dajjal” had done as a basis for his claim of “multiple hands” is to impose Biblical criticism upon the text of the Qur’? The claims for a ground of the “multiple hands” theory are

  • The use of oaths by God Almighty in the Qur’?
  • The repetitive nature of the Qur’?
  • The so-called “contradictions” of the Qur’?lt;/li>

We shall deal with each issue one by one, insha’ allah.

A) Oaths

The Critic reproduced a passage from Benjamin Walker, who criticized the use of oaths in the Qur’? as follows

Some asked what need there was for God to take oaths like any mortal being, as when he swears by the fig and olive, and by Mount Sinai (95:1); by the declining day (103:1); and by the stars, the night and the dawn (81:15-18). Above all, they asked why the Almighty had to swear on himself[.][12]

But what is the purpose of the oaths in the Qur’? exactly? Ahmad Von Denffer states that

In a number of places the Qur’?employes oath-like expressions (aqsam, sg. qasam). Their function is to strengthen and support an argument, and to disperse doubts in the mind of the listener.[13]

This is agreed upon by Prof. Dr. ‘Abd al-Rahman I. Doi, who says that

In a number of places, the Qur’?employs oath-like expressions [aqsam, pl., sg. qasam]. Their function is to strengthen and support an argument, and to disperse doubts in the mind of the listener. Also it is used to highlight the importance or sacredness of something, like the olive [tin] and time [‘asr].[14]

The use of oaths in the Qur’?is not inconsistent with the style of the pagan Arabs who use oaths in their poetry. Mustansir Mir states that

In pre-Islamic Arabic literature, two main types of oaths are to be found, the first in poetry, which may, therefore, be called the poetical oath, and the second in the utterances of kahins, which may be called the kahin oath. The poetical oath is typified by such expressions as (i) la ‘amri (by my life), la ‘armu abika (by the life of your father), bi rabbi’l-ka’bati (by the Lord of the Ka’bah), and (ii) wa farasi (by my horse) and wa rumhi (by my spear).[15]

Further, he also wrote that:

The thinking of Muslim writers probably went as follows. In swearing an oath one makes a solemn statement. In swearing an oath by a certain object, one presents that object as evidence supporting one’s statement, staking one’s honour on the statement made. That is what one finds in Arabic poetry. But the Qur’?is God’s very word, and God does not need to stake His honour on anything, and, consequently, does not need to cite anyone or anything in support of what He says. We should not, therefore, look at the objects He has sworn by as pieces of evidence for the statements made by Him, but should rather regard them as having been elevated in status for the simple reason that God has chosen to swear by them. But a difficulty arose at this point. If a poetical oath made a statement and supported it with evidence, while the Qur’?c oath made a statement without corroborating it, then the former would, in a sense, be superior to the latter; and that would be unacceptable. There was, however, an easy way to vindicate the Qur’? by asserting that the poetical oath, too, did not provide evidence but simply lent rhetorical emphasis. In other words, not only was the poetical oath not taken as a model for interpreting the Qur’?c oath, the poetical oath was reinterpreted in order to fit the model that had been created in order to solve a theological difficulty. It is in this vein that R? says: ‘The Qur’?was revealed in the language of the Arabs, and it was customary for the Arabs to reinforce their statements by means of oaths.'[16]

So, in the layman’s words, the Qur’?c oaths are simply a rhetorical device that is used to emphasize the speech with theological interpretations. Keep in mind that the pagan Arabs also deploy this poetical device by the usage of oaths, such as swearing by the tree, by the stone, etc. Since the Qur’?is intended to be a literary challenge for the pagan Arabs, it is of course natural for it to deploy this device. This certainly does not leave room for indications of “multiple hands”, as insinuated by “The Dajjal”.

B) Repetition

This argument is, in our opinion, the weakest point for the theory of “multiple hands”, as it is common in Arabic poetry to involve repetition. Would the Critic accuse English poetry as of “multiple hands” simply because it uses repetition? Again, this is related closely to the issue of bal?a (Arabic rhetoric). More on the issue of repetition in the Qur’?can be found at this external link.

C) The Alleged “Contradictions”

Here is another problem which the Critic pointed out as an indication of “multiple hands” being involved in the compilation of the Qur’? Most of these “contradictions” were circulated from anti-Islamic sites and it comes to no surprise to us that those hostile to Islam will jump upon the bandwagon. Here, we shall attempt to respond to the so-called “difficulties” the Critic proposed in his original article.

First contradiction: the Critic wrote as follows.

…Surah al-Imran 3:45 begins with “When the angels said…” while the version in Maryam 19:17 only has one angel. Muslims have tried to reconcile this by claiming that the version in al-Imran is actually referring to only one angel, but he is spoken of in a plural tense out of respect. Regardless of how true this claim is, the fact still stands that in one version the angel is given this “royal plurality,” while in the other he is not given such respect. This points to variant traditions.

We would not go into the claims of “variant traditions” just yet, however, we feel that though such an explanation by Muslims is acceptable, we propose another which conforms to and seems to be indicated by the original text. If we were to read the verses in question, both Sura’ Aal-Imran (3):45 and Sura’ Maryam (19):17 never stated that the incident is the one and the same. What could prevent both of the statements to be said at two different periods of time? If we read Sura’ 3:45, the angels (plural) foretold Mary the good news about the coming of Jesus(P) but did not give the specific time of that event, which was left for Gabriel in a future presentation to Mary, as seen in Sura’ 19:17. Note that in Sura’ 19:17, we are told of the specific time of the conception of Jesus(P) inside Mary’s womb. After reading these verses it becomes evident that the assumed contradiction is a direct result of “The Dajjal’s” poor understanding of the Qur’?

“The Dajjal”, after reading my response above, responded with the comment as follows:

[…]we still feel that MENJ’s explanation is weak. If these were two separate events, one would get the impression that poor Maryam suffered from memory loss. MENJ implies that the discussion discussed in Soorat Aal-Imraan took place first, while the one in Soorat Maryam came afterwards. In both cases Maryam was told of the coming of a son; what was her response in both cases?

The Critic then proceeds to show Sura’ 3:47 and Sura’ 19:20 as the same response and hence tries to conclude that both events refer to the same incident, and therefore, the whole story in Sura’ Aal-Imran and Sura’ Maryam to be the one and the same. Firstly, we agree with the Critic that the aforementioned responses of Mary refers to the same incident. However, we accuse the Critic of confusing the chronology of events prior to the exclamation of Mary. Here are the chronology of the events leading to the announcement of the birth of Jesus(P) to his mother, Mary along with the relevant verses:

The angels announces to Mary that she will have a child named Jesus(P). Mary is not told when or how Jesus(P) shall be conceived (Sura’ 3:45-46)
Gabriel appeared personally before Mary and informs her that she is going to have the boy child (Sura’ 19:19)
Mary is surprised and exclaims on how she could have the child, when no man has ever touched her (Sura’ 3:47; Sura’ 19:20)
Gabriel replies by explaining that it is the Will of God that will make it happen (Sura’ 3:20; Sura’ 19:21). Note that the angel is referred to in the singular in both cited verses.
This is further elucidated when we see that in Sura’ Aal Imran, the angels (plural) have used the word “yubashiroke”, i.e. God gives you the good news of giving birth to a boy child. We know that the words “glad tidings” or “good news” may or may not relate to an immediate happening. Thus, Mary could have perceived the “good news” to relate to an event that would take place at some future date, after her marriage. On the other hand, in Surah Maryam, the Spirit uses the word “le ahaba lake'”, which means “to deliver you with” or “to present you with”. These words, under the circumstances, imply that the referred gift was being presented at that particular instance, and this is what surprised Mary.

Hence, again we assert that there is certainly no contradiction, and Mary certainly did not suffer from “memory loss”, as the Critic sarcastically assumes. We leave it to the reader to decide whether “The Dajjal’s” criticisms are justified or otherwise.

Second contradiction; the Critic said that:

One example would be the contradiction between surah Ha Mim As-Sajdah 41:9-12 and surah An-Nazi’at 79:27-30…I would like to comment on the obvious contradiction between these two variations of the creation story. In the first version, the heavens are adorned after it was said the earth was in existence, while the latter claims exactly the opposite.

We refer to the explanation by Randy Desmond, as we feel that it is detailed and sufficient enough to refute the claim of the Critic, as follows

    The reader has to understand two things:

    First, the word translated “then” is the Arabic word “thumma”. It can be rendered “Moreover/Furthermore”. Jochen shows this in his web page disputing the number of days of creation. I mention it again in my response to that page. It is also true that “thumma” can be rendered “then” (as in a subsequent “and”).

    Second, the Arabic word for “he turned” can be rendered as “he turned”, ” he has turned”, or “he had turned”. The implication being a past action has occurred. See “Written Arabic – An Approach to the Basic Structures” by A.F.L. Beeston (cost about $25.00), Chapter 3, note 22.

    So what does this mean with respect to the verses quoted by Jochen?

    It means that Surah 2:29 may be read as follows:

    He it is Who created for you all that is on the Earth. Furthermore, he had turned to the heaven and had made them into seven heavens.

    That is an acceptable translation of the Arabic and it does not conflict with Surah 79:27-30. In fact if we assume it “thumma” means “then”, the sentence could potentially be awkward. (i.e. “…then he had turned…”)

    So which is the most accurate rendering? I assume there is no contradiction in the Qur’?and so if I can find a legitimate context that renders all the data coherent, I accept that as a proof that contradiction has not been proven. I don’t think anyone can claim “contradiction” on anything unless there is no alternative explanation which legitimately explains why a proposed contradiction is not a contradiction.

Hence, we have resolved the second so-called “contradiction” proposed by the Critic.

Third contradiction: the Critic wrote that:

In the Qur’? on two occasions it is written that the Jews, the Christians, the mysterious Sabians, and anyone else who believes in God and does good deeds shall have nothing to fear or regret. However, surah al-Imran 3:85 contradicts this claim, by stating that anyone who chooses a religion other than Islam will have paradise denied them.

This is a common mistake alluded by the critics of the Qur’? However, if one studies the historicity (asbab ul-nuzul) surrounding the verse that states that the Jews, Christians and Sabians[17] would be “saved”, one would actually discover that the verse in question (Sura’ 5:72) was revealed in reply to a Companion of the Prophet(P), who asked the Prophet(P) about the fate of the believers who lived before the coming of Islam and did not get to meet the Prophet Muhammad(P) himself. When seen in this light, it is clear that the verse that stated Jews, Christians and Sabians as well as anyone who has faith in God and perform good deeds shall have their reward only applies to those before the advent of Islam, not during or after. We must also understand that Islam has never claimed itself to be a new religion, and always stressed itself as the one religion of mankind, from the Prophet Adam(P). So, the meaning is that Jews had to follow the Torah until the Injil was revealed. After that, the Jews had to follow the Injil until the Qur’?was revealed. After that, they had to follow the Qur’?as in Qur’? 3:85. Thus, Islam recognizes true faith in other forms and those who lived before Islam and meet the criteria set are still considered to be “saved”, and therefore it is clear that there is no “contradiction” here.

The Fallacy of Applying Textual Criticism of the Bible to the Qur’an

The critic acknowledges that he is merely reapplying textual criticisms of the Bible to the Qur’? However, this is already an anachronistic fallacy. It is well-known that the memorization of the whole Qur’?took place during the Prophet’s(P) time and long after his death, and that the efforts of compiling the written text of the Qur’?took its final form during the rule of the Caliph ‘Uthman[18]. However, the Bible was compiled after a series of contributions of various multiple authors, some of which are unknown. We read that

The other glaring difference between the methodology of the exegesis of the Bible and that of the Qur’?is that the former has multiple authorship, while the latter is the revelation from All?to the Prophet (S.A.W.). As for example, ‘the canonical book of Isaiah, though constituting a single book has at least two separate authors; one addressing an eighth century B.C. situation, the other a sixth century B.C. event’. In the New Testament, thirteen other writings are attributed to the apostle Paul. His authorship of six of these is widely disputed. They appear to have been compiled and collected into their final form long after Paul’s death, but are still attributed to him.[19]

We clearly see that even within the Bible, the time span between the different books of the Bible is obviously wide, but the Qur’?does not have such problems. Thus, it is clear to us that it would be a sad mistake to apply the same methodologies used for Biblical textual criticism to the Qur’? as we are talking about two different books with two different historical background.

Conclusion

It can be seen that to claim that the Qur’?was composed by a group of Arab nomads who decided one day to discard their long-held pagan idol worshipping and other practices is a theory that is, amusing as it may be, fabulous in its absurdity and does not stand up to the scrutiny. Moreover, we can see that the claim of repetition and oaths as being a proof of the work of different authors is unsubstantiated, as the Qur’?is conforming to Arabic grammatical rule, especially of bal?a (Arabic rhetoric), being consistent with its claim of being a Book sent in clear Arabic intended as a literary challenge to the pagan Arabs of Mecca. The next claim of alleged “contradictions” within the Qur’?is a somber attempt at pointing to “variant hands”, but there simply isn’t any contradiction within the Qur’?if one puts a little more thought to the claimed “contradictory” texts. Therefore, there is no basis whatsoever to adhere to “revisionist” theories about the origins of Qur’?and Islam in general.

References

[1] As cited by “The Dajjal” in his article from P. Crone & M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, (Cambridge, 1977) p. 18

[2] Quoted in M A S Abdel Haleem, Grammatical Shift For The Rhetorical Purposes: Iltif?And Related Features In The Qur’?lt;/strong>, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1992, Volume LV, Part 3. An online version of this article can be found at http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Grammar/iltifaat.html

[3] P Crone & M Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World (Cambridge, 1977), p. 8

[4] As cited in http://www.muslim-answers.org/expo-05c.htm from Humphreys, Islamic History, p. 85

[5] As cited in ibid, from Journal of Royal Asiatic Society

[6] As cited in ibid, Josef Van Ess, The Making of Islam

[7] Waines, An Introduction To Islam, pp. 273-274

[8] Personally, I feel that resorting to a Hindu to criticize Islam is hypocritical, as a Hindu would also resort to criticisms of Christians and Atheists. Mr. Zulfikar Khan’s article can be seen at http://www.flex.com/~jai/satyamevajayate/koran.html.

[9] Mr. Katz’s ridiculous assertions can be seen at http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra

[10] Zakaria A. Bashier, The Meccan Crucible, pp. 96-96

[11] Please refer to another article authored by this writer on this topic, “Response To Claims Made Against The Eloquence of the Qur’?quot;

[12] As cited by “The Dajjal” from Walker, Foundations of Islam (Peter Owen, 1998), p. 156

[13] Ahmad Von Denffer, Ulum Al-Quran: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’?lt;/em> (The Islamic Foundation, 1983), p. 78

[14] Prof. ‘Abd al-Rahman I. Doi, The Sciences of the Qur’? A Study in Methodology and Approach (Synergy Books International, 1998), p. 431

[15] Mutansir Mir, The Qur’?Oaths : Far?’s Interpretation, Islamic Studies, 1990, Spring Issue. An online version of this article can be found at http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Q_Studies/miroaths.htm.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Critic refers to the Sabians as “mysterious”, however it has been ascertained that the “Sabians” of the Qur’?are the Christian Gnostic Mandeans, or also known as the “Christians of St. John (the Baptist)”. Refer to http://www.sabian.org/sabian.htm and http://i-cias.com/e.o/mandeans.htm

[18] This is an issue that has been constantly twisted and maimed by the Christian missionaries (with Atheists jumping on the bandwagon as well), despite the evidence of the Qur’?s preservation. Please see this writer’s co-authored article, “What Is The Degree of the Authenticity of the Qur’?Historically?”

[19] Prof. ‘Abd al-Rahman I. Doi, Op. Cit., pp. 307-308

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