“Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created” (Qur’an 96:1)
I have seen this issue raised by Christians time and time again. I have also remembered Dr. Anis Shorrosh using it in his debate with Dr. Jamal Badawi. Debate: (Qur’an word of God or word of Muhammed?)
It is one of the reasons why I choose the Yusuf Ali translation above.
One could imagine what was divine thinking?
You are approaching a man that is obviously illiterate and you’re asking him to read, again and again….and yet again.
However; the narrative shows that the term ‘Iqra’ can mean read (as from a book) or recite, or repeat (as in a repetition).
What I find fascinating is that the account of the Blessed Messenger (saw) and his receiving of the revelation are not found in the Qur’an. Rather, it is found in secondary sources. I think this is very profound.
In the Bible, we would read the historical bits, get some revelation as well as thoughts of the narrators all mixed in together.
The very fact that the Qur’an does not have a detailed narrative of how the Blessed Messenger (saw) received the revelation speaks well for the Prophet (saw), the Qur’an, and the veracity of Islam.
In fact, it is one of the most remarkable things for me. Because we never hear in the Bible what that was like. What is that moment like when you encounter the divine? What is it like to know that you are being appointed as a Prophet of God? What is your mental state? How does that feel?
That has to be indescribable beyond words! Powerful!
In the Bible, we are just given the impression that one day the Holy Spirit moved Matthew to write so he picked up his pen and off he went. Not really inspiring. Rather lackluster for a divine encounter.
“So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammed], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.” (Qur’an 10:94)
Question: If Muhammed (saw) were in the habit of reading and writing; he wouldn’t need to ask the people of the book anything. He could simply go to their text for verification.
Now, this is of course assuming that they had their text with them.
However; the interesting thing about this passage is asking the Blessed Messenger (saw) to verify truth OUTSIDE of the Qur’an or at the very least corroborate with what the divine directive was, by checking outside references.
No doubt those who follow the ‘Qur’an Only Religion’ would like to dismiss the dominant narrative for two reasons.
I was in an exchange with Dr. Shabbir Ahmed, @ our Beacon http://www.galaxydastak.com refuting the points he made that the Blessed Messenger (saw) was the one who wrote the Qur’an. Needless to say, I was banned from the forum for ‘not participating in the project’.
I was initially invited there by a friend and former teacher Hamza Abdulmalik from IPCI. I guess he himself was testing the waters before he decided to leave Islam for the “Qur’an Only Religion“.
The two reasons that ‘Qur’an Only Religion‘ would want for rejecting the dominate narrative are this:
The very first word ‘iqra‘ suggests that the Qur’an is composed in a language that has depth, nuances, clarity, and ambiguity. This takes the wind out of one of their sails. Namely that the Qur’an is clear; which usually means “Agree with our interpretation.”
The very first word ‘iqra’ also suggests that the Qur’an would be transmitted through both written, and oral means. The idea that the Qur’an would be transmitted orally is problematic to those who castigate oral transmission in its entirety.
Understand that point 2. above is their sole reason for making the claim that the Blessed Prophet (saw) wrote the Qur’an. It is because they do not like the idea of the Qur’an being preserved through oral transmission.
This might give rise to other uncomfortable thoughts like: “What else may be preserved through oral transmission?“
The “Qur’an Only Religion” does not like the historical narrative that has been passed down to us about how the Blessed Messenger (saw) received the revelation.
Let us see if their perspective holds true.
“Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honorable,” (Qur’an 96:1-3)
If the Blessed Messenger (saw) is being asked to ‘read‘ rather than recite/repeat where is this text at?
In other words, whoever is telling Muhammed (saw) to read, what exactly is he being asked to read? Is it a divine template? Is this an ethereal revelation that is appearing like a holographic image?
Wouldn’t it make sense to say, ‘write‘?
So let us deal with the next point.
“Who taught (to write) with the pen. Taught man what he knew not.” (Qur’an 96:4-5)
So the “Qur’an Only Religion” will say, “How can Muhammed be taught by the PEN if he cannot write?“
However; this assumes two things.
That this verse is not generally addressing the gift of literacy which is a blessing from Allah (swt).
That Muhammed (saw) is the one being addressed here. After all the verse does say, taught man (plural)…
. To suggest that the above verse is imperative. Meaning that Allah (swt) has taught every person to read that would be incorrect. Vast swathes of humanity still cannot read. The proliferation of literacy is a modern phenomenon.
“In honored sheets, exalted and purified, In the hands of scribes noble, virtuous.” (Qur’an 80:13-16)
It would have been a perfect occasion to say, “I will teach you the use of the pen, or I will teach you that which you know not.”
In fact, we never get an example of the Blessed Messenger (saw) reading the Qur’an to anyone. However; we do have examples of him reciting it.
“A messenger from Allah, reciting pure pages.” (Qur’an 98:2)
“Move not thy tongue concerning the (Qur’an) to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it and promulgate it; but when We have promulgated it, follow thou its recital’ ( Qur’an 75: 16-19).
Why not ‘move not thy eyes‘ concerning the Qur’an?
Why not ‘move not thy pen‘ concerning the Qur’an?
It is interesting to note here that the Blessed Messenger (saw) was told to not be hasty in his recitation; nothing about ‘move not thy pen‘ concerning the Qur’an.
Now I am going to use a translation of the Qur’an that I think is one of the worse possible. Interestingly enough this translation gets as close as is grammatically possible to support the proposition that the Blessed Messenger (saw) wrote the Qur’an.
So I am going to use a translation that actually favours my interlocutors (Qu’ran only Religion) in this regard.
“Neither did you (O Muhammed SAW) read any book before it (this Quran), nor did you write any book (whatsoever) with your right hand. In that case, indeed, the followers of falsehood might have doubted.” (Qur’an 29:48) – Muhsin Khan translation.
I would encourage the readers to see how this verse is translated from disparate translations from translators with disparate theological backgrounds etc…
The reason I chose the ‘Muhsin Khan’ translation above; is because it can give the impression that Muhammed (saw) didn’t read any book before the Qur’an; meaning he can now! Nor has he (saw) wrote any book (until now!!)…
So let us put our focus on the second part of this verse…
“In that case, indeed, the followers of falsehood might have doubted.”
Let us say that for the sake of argument we take the understanding of those who claim the Blessed Prophet (saw) wrote the Qur’an. Meaning that all of a sudden Muhammed (saw) is now able to read and write.
How does that alleviate the doubt of the unbelievers?
It seems the argument being made is that “Haha you can’t doubt that the Qur’an is a product of Muhammed because he can read and write, and therefore wrote it!
Erm…….. (stares off blankly into space)….. am I missing something here?
What kind of argument is that? I mean seriously?
I would encourage anyone to carefully ready how “Qur’an Only Religion” will posture in regard to the above verse. They many times half quote it.
Let us look at some of their other claims.
“And they say, “Legends of the former peoples which he has written down, and they are dictated to him morning and afternoon.” (Qur’an 25:5)
I actually found this argument to be very desperate. The fact that (unbelievers) alleged that the Blessed Messenger (saw) wrote down the Qur’an is now proof that he actually did write the Qur’an?
This is a specious argument for anyone who is intellectually honest.
“We know indeed that they say, “It is a man that teaches him.” The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear.” (Qur’an 16:103)
“And the Unbelievers would almost trip you up with their eyes when they hear the Message; and they say: “Surely he is possessed!” (Qur’an 68:51)
Let us follow the fuzzy logic given to us by these people that claim that the Blessed Messenger (saw) could read, write the Qur’an.
So here it is:
Just because the (unbelievers) charged Muhammed (saw) with writing the Qur’an does it also follow that a man taught him the Qur’an?
Just because the (unbelievers) charged Muhammed (saw) that he was possessed means that it is true?
So these people who make such claims they would do well to remember it was Non-Muslims who charged that the Prophet Muhammed (saw) wrote the Qur’an.
The first claim that the Blessed Messenger (saw) wrote the Qur’an came from (unbelievers). That is the kind of company that ‘Quran Only‘ people are in; not the kind of company I would like to be in.
Another text they would use.
“And if he had invented false sayings concerning Us We surely should have seized him by his right hand (or with power and might), And then severed his life-artery.” (Qur’an 69:44-46)
There is certainly allot to be desired in this translation.
invented is taqawwala -this should have been translated as spoken
That word is nowhere being used for writing.
See the following: http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=qwl#(69:44:2)
sayings is l-aqawili
So this should read: “And if he had spoken some sayings over Us We surely should have...”
seized him –la-akhadhna-can be translated as to take or to seize or to call to account.
his right hand-bil-yamini-can be translated as hand or oath.
So this should read: “And if he had spoken some sayings over Us We surely should have seized him with power and might.”
Alternatively, it can read: “And if he had spoken some sayings over Us We surely would have called him to account for his oath.”
The first part is how we understand the second part. If someone is speaking and saying it would make sense to say, ‘we seize him by his tongue.’
That is why that argument put forward by the ‘Qur’an Only Religion‘ is easily dismissed. When someone is speaking lies why is the attention directed towards the hand?
So let us take their understanding and translate it the way they want to: “We surely should have seized him by his right hand“
Why doesn’t the text before it say:
“And if he had written false sayings concerning Us.”
None of them dare to translate as written.
“Had he uttered any other teachings.”-Rashad Khilafa
“And had he attributed anything falsely to Us.”-The Monotheist Group.
In fact, the only trying to be sly among the Quraniyoon in their translation is Shabir Ahmed:
“And if he had ascribed his sayings unto Us.” -Shabir Ahmed
Was the Qur’an only revealed to those who were literate? Even today there are vast areas of the world where people cannot read and write. What of the situation in the past? What was the situation of slaves, farmers, and people from other trades?
How was a textual Qur’an distributed to all of these people? If that is the case why is there a dearth of written Qur’anic material from the early period?
“But if they turn away, you are responsible only for conveying the message clearly.” (Qur’an 16:82)
If the Blessed Messenger (saw) was writing the Qur’an and the Qur’an is clear there would be no need for him to explain anything to anyone. He would simply tell them to refer to the book itself! Better yet to their own written copies, parchments, etc. I think we know better.
I think the idea that the Blessed Messenger (saw) wrote the Qur’an is both intellectually lazy and the result of wanting to skirt around the issue of the preservation through oral transmission of the Qur’an.
I think that issues are nuanced, and some times a little more academically challenging than we are ready to admit. Some answers are simply not microwavable.
Something else I want to point out. Was it possible that the Blessed Messenger (saw) learned to recognize and understand some words in the Arabic script over time? Of course!
When I was the Executive Docent Officer at the Singapore Sultan Mosque and leading the ATMT (Awareness Through Mosque Tour) program I used to have fun showing copies of the Qur’an to the curious Non-Muslims.
I would open a page of the Qur’an that had many usages of the word ‘Allah‘ in Arabic. I would point out the word. I would then ask them to find that word anywhere on the two pages. They did without fail! I asked them to read that word, and they said, ‘Allah’!
For example, I have highlighted the word ‘Allah‘ in the Arabic text below. See if you can find at least 3 other examples of it. 🙂
This was a great interactive experience for me and them. My point being here is that it is possible that the Blessed Messenger (saw) was able to recognize words (after all they are simply symbols) and say or repeat what they mean.
“Neither did you (O Muhammed SAW) read any book before it (this Quran), nor did you write any book (whatsoever) with your right hand. If that was the case, indeed, the followers of falsehood might have doubted.” (Qur’an 29:48)