What Islam says about the Bible
many muslims misunderstand that the christian old testament is the torah. this is not true. the first five books of the old testament, often called the pentateuch (the five books), contain some of the ideas in the original torah - that is all. the language of the original torah was ancient hebrew; now nobody speaks that language. the first five books of the old testament contain ideas from the original torah and also stories, which could have never been part of the divinely revealed book. so the jewish or christian torah contains some parts of the original torah, as well as other things.
the same is the case of the bible. it was revealed to jesus by god, in jesus’ own language of aramaic, which is a semitic language, an eastern language similar to hebrew and arabic. the “original” extant copies of the gospels are in greek, a western language. now there are four gospels, supposed to have been written by four of the disciples of jesus: matthew, mark, luke and john. was jesus quoting, from these greek books, written many years after his disappearance when he was addressing his people? certainly not! he was quoting from the book he received from god, which was the original bible in the language of his own people. the argument that god revealed his bible to jesus in greek is like saying that god revealed the qur’an to muhammad in english!
so the original gospel was not in greek, it was in the language jesus and his people spoke and understood. we have no record or evidence to indicate that; this original gospel was written down by scribes under jesus’ own supervision. i repeat: we have no original gospel existing now as a single volume, in the original language. every educated christian must know this fact! (those who are in doubt can go to the jerome biblical commentary, or any authentic book by genuine scholars that deal with the subject. nevertheless, missionaries give the impression that this is only a baseless charge by muslims.
instead of the original gospel, we have four books written by persons who are supposed to have been jesus’ disciples. i say ‘supposed’, because modern scholars who have done research on the subject, question the claim that these were the disciples of jesus, in the first place. these four books called the gospels are placed at the beginning of some 27 books, bound together into one volume, called the new testament. out of these 27 books, thirteen were written by a man called st. paul. this paul was not a disciple of jesus, nor has jesus met him, as he himself testifies. modern christians are ardent followers of st. paul, even in cases where paul clearly contradicts jesus!
the islamic request to christians is just this: please follow jesus, don’t follow paul, who preaches a different gospel! the islamic belief about the present book, which the christians use as “the word of god”, called the new testament is that it is not the gospel of jesus mentioned in the qur'an. still, muslims believe that the gospels in the bible contain some teachings of jesus, as well as the interpretations of the writers of those books, whoever they might have been. also muslims believe that in the words quoted from jesus in these gospels, you come across certain ideas, which he received from god too. so the new testament (particularly the gospels) is valuable to the muslims. it is valuable in that there is the “word of god” in it, exactly as the old testament (particularly the pentateuch) is valuable to muslims in that it contains also the “word of god” in it.
there is a couple of things that we must understand about god commanding muslims to go to christians or jews and ask them about any particular point, to verify whether it is in their books.
- god wants to make muslims, as well as the people of the book, understand the continuity of divine guidance.
- he wants to encourage understanding and dialogue between muslims and others, for allah knows best.
the qur’an does not say anywhere that the older scriptures remained pure and free from corruption. on the contrary, the qur’an very clearly says that they have been corrupted. one of the functions of the qur’an is to confirm the truth that is left in the older scriptures, even after many interpolations and revisions have affected substantial changes in them.
the qur’anic position about the previous scriptures is clarified in the following verse:
this verse means that the qur’an confirms the truth that remains in the former scriptures. the arabic word translated, “watcher over” is muhaymin, which clearly indicates that the qur’an confirms only the truth in the previous books. that the keepers of the previous books had distorted them is made clear in another verse:
to thee we sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what god hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the truth that hath come to thee. to each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. if god had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but (his plan is) to test you in what he hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. the goal of you all is to god; it is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;
surah 5 verse 48
from these two verses, it is quite clear that the qur’an does not support the christian claim that the torah and the bible remain uncorrupted all through history. what is more, this is not a claim they can maintain in the light of their own scripture:
then woe to those who write the book with their own hands, and then say:"this is from god," to traffic with it for miserable price!- woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.
surah 2 verse 79
“how can you say, 'we are wise, and the law of the lord is with us'? but behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie” (jeremiah 8:8, quoted from the new american standard bible).
here the prophet jeremiah is scolding the israelites that their corrupt scribes have made the law of the lord (that is the torah) into a lie by their ‘lying pen’ (that is the pen they used to change the verses). this proof in the book, the people of the book are carrying, clearly establishes that their book has been corrupted by their own scribes.
we have good evidence in the gospels themselves that jesus was using the original bible for his preaching. he used to refer to it as the gospel of the kingdom:
“and jesus went about all galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” (matthew 4: 23)
here it is said that jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. ask those christian disputants whether jesus was preaching one of the four canonical gospels included in the bible in 325 c.e, written not in jesus’ own aramaic language, but in the western language of greek, at least thirty years after his alleged crucifixion. it is so obvious that no christian scholar, worth his salt, can deny the fact that the present gospels contain the words of god, the words of jesus and the words of the writer. that means that they are not fully god’s word. the islamic belief is also the same.
now let us turn specifically to the qur’anic verses you quoted:
all food was lawful to the children of israel, except what israel made unlawful for itself, before the law (of moses) was revealed. say: "bring ye the law and study it, if ye be men of truth."
surah 3 verse 93
we must understand that these verses were originally addressed to the prophet and his contemporaries. they had no means of knowing many of the ideas, which were being revealed to them by god. this is because there were so many things new to them, particularly about jews and christians, which were already really confusing to those polytheists or ex-polytheists of mecca and madinah. i believe (allah knows best), it is to these people that the verses are primarily addressed.
if thou wert in doubt as to what we have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the book from before thee: the truth hath indeed come to thee from thy lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt.
surah 10 verse 94
"the truth hath indeed come to thee from thy lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt" - is clearly addressed to those who doubt, or to those who are likely to have some doubts. it is only natural for humans to have all kinds of doubts and questions, arising in the mind, especially in the light of so much of new material. it seems the christian argument is that we are commanded not to doubt the christian claims. however, as we have seen, this is not what the qur'an commands us to do.
may allah guide us to truth!
mr. lamaan ball, editor of ask about islam, adds:
we are told in the qur'an only to verify that what is in the qur'an agrees with some extant verses of the bible. the muslims can quote the bible, because they believe there is some truth in it. but we need to be clear: we understand that there is also falsehood there, which is wrongly presented as truth. by quoting the bible we can show that the qur'an confirms teachings already present in the earlier books. we must however always be clear that we are not asserting anything else about the remaining contents of those earlier books.