In one of his articles1, Jochen Katz has raised a very interesting point. According to him, each time an error is found in the Bible, the Qur’ān is proven wrong. Thus, every time a Muslim digs up an error in the Bible -- what Muslims are so fond of doing -- he actually digs up his own grave, because an error in the Bible is a sufficient proof of the ‘fact’ that the Qur’ān is not from God.
In the following paragraphs, we shall consider the validity of the point raised by Katz and also see whether the arguments that he has provided to support his contention carry any weight or not. The gist of Katz’s argument is:
The Qur’ān acknowledges that the Torah, the Gospels and the Psalms are revealed words of God (3:3); The Qur’ān emphatically states that no one can change the word of God (6:34, 115 and 10:642).
Thus, according to Katz, if the Bible is corrupted/altered or adulterated in anyway, then either it is not a word of God (as the Qur’ān has acknowledged) or the claim of the Qur’ān that no one can change or alter the word of God is incorrect. In either case, a mistake in the Bible proves that there is a mistake in the Qur’ān -- and thereby proves that the Qur’ān is not from God.
However, in drawing the whole premise of the said claim, Katz seems to have overlooked: a) the usage of certain words in the Qur’ān; and b) the context of the referred verses in the Qur’ān (and has therefore failed in determining the accurate meaning and implication of these verses).
Let us therefore take a look, first of all, at the referred verses, then the usage of a certain ‘key’ word in these verses and, finally, at the context of these verses in the Qur’ān.
He revealed upon you this book with a just purpose, confirming the [predictions of the] scriptures before it, and He revealed the Torah and the Injīl. (3:3)
Indeed messengers have been rejected before you as well. However, they persevered in the face of being rejected and in the face of being persecuted until Our help came to them. And, indeed, no one can alter the words of God. You have already heard of some of the accounts of these messengers. (6:34)
And the word of your Lord was fulfilled with absolute truth and justice. No one can alter His words. He is Hearing Knowing. (6:115)
For them [who have faith and keep from evil,] shall be the glad tidings [of bliss] in this world as well as the Hereafter. There can be no change in the words of God. This, indeed, is the supreme triumph. (10:64)
The Arabic words, normally translated as ‘word’ and ‘words’ in the above verses are ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ (plural form) respectively. The word ‘kalimah’ occurs twenty-eight (28) times (including 6:115), either independently or prefixed to another word, while the word ‘kalimāt’ occurs fourteen (14) times in the Qur’ān. (including 6:34 and 10:64) either independently or prefixed to another word. However, of these forty-two (42) occurrences in all, not once have these words been used by the Qur’ān to imply the scriptures revealed by God (whether the Torah, the Injīl or the Zabūr).
As the words ‘word’ and ‘words’ in the English language, the words ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ in the Arabic language are used in quite a few meanings and implications. For instance, these Arabic words (as well as these English words), besides other meanings, are used to imply:
A decree (judgment or a command) etc4;
prediction or a piece of information5.
A lack of appreciation of the fact that words of a language can have different connotations -- the determination of which depends upon the appreciation of the style of the author as well as the context in which the words have been placed -- can lead one to commit grave mistakes in the understanding and appreciation of literature. I would like the reader to take a close look at the following statement:
Jesus replied: ‘Not everyone can accept this word...’ (Matthew, 19:11)6
Ignoring the context of these words, one may be tempted to believe that ‘the message of Jesus’ (ie. this word) cannot be accepted by everyone. However, interpreting the statement in the context in which it is placed makes it clear that the phrase ‘this word’ does not imply the ‘message of Jesus’ in general, but is a reference to one of its particular aspects only -- relating to living a life of celibacy. The verse, with its preceding verse reads as:
Jesus replied: ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ The disciples said to him: ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry’. Jesus replied: ‘Not everyone can accept this word...’ (Matthew, 19:8-11)
In the cited context, it is quite clear that the phrase ‘this word’ refers to the disciples’ statement: ‘it is better not to marry’.
Exactly in the same way, the words of the Qur’ān as well as any other piece of literature should be interpreted in the light of the context in which these words have been placed. Ignoring the context in which these words have been placed invariably results in misinterpretation of literature. It should, nevertheless, be kept in mind that misinterpretation of a literature does not evidence a weakness in the literature, but, on the contrary, it is a good evidence for the lack of the acceptable level of ability for interpreting literature in the interpreter.
As I had stated earlier, the Arabic words ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ have not been used by the Qur’ān to refer to any of the scriptures (Torah or Injīl) revealed by God. It should, nevertheless, be interesting if Katz can find a verse in the Qur’ān about which -- keeping in view the context of the verse -- he can prove that the words under consideration have been used to refer to the scriptures revealed by God.
As far as the verses referred by Katz are concerned, it is quite clear from their context that the words ‘kalimah’ and/or ‘kalimāt’ can by no means be taken to imply the Torah or the Injīl in these verses. Let us take each one of these verses and see what is the implication of the words under consideration in these verses:
1. The Unalterable Word of God regarding the Rejection of His Messengers
The first among these verses relates to one of God’s decrees regarding His Messengers (Rasūl).
The Qur’ān tells us that when God sends His Messenger to a people, these people are not allowed to live on God’s earth if they reject the Messenger. It tells us that the addressees of these Messengers are given time in which to make up their minds and to present all their objections against the Messenger. During this time, Messenger and his followers sometimes even have to face persecution at the hands of these rejecters. As a test of their true faith in the Almighty, they are required to show patience and perseverance in the face of all persecution and remain steadfast in delivering the message of God to His people. The Qur’ān tells us that when the All-knowing -- God -- decides that the addressees of these Messengers have been given adequate time and that they are now absolutely clear of the truthfulness of the Messenger and thus are not left with any excuse for their rejection, yet are persistent in their rejection. Thereafter, God directs His Messenger to migrate from the area and then He destroys all those who have rejected His Messenger. The Qur’ān refers to the peoples of the Messengers of old -- Noah (sws), Hūd (sws), Lot (sws), Shu‘ayb (sws), Sālih (sws), Moses (sws) -- and narrates the result of their rejection. It addresses the people of Muhammad (sws) -- the Arabs -- and tells them that if they do not accept the Message of God’s messenger (Muhammad (sws)), their fate shall be no different from those nations that have gone before them. The Prophet (sws) declares that this is an unalterable law of God that when He sends His Messenger in a people, these people are left with no option but to accept His message or to face the punishment of death (in case the addressees are polytheists) and sometimes complete annihilation. This decree of God, regarding His Messengers and their rejecters has been mentioned in the Qur’ān at a number of instances7 .
In 6:34, the words: ‘For no one can alter the words of God’ refer to the above decree of God. Let us take a look at 6:33-4 in the light of the above explanation. The Qur’ān says:
We know that you are grieved by what they [ -- the disbelievers –] say [rejecting you]. However, [they must not forget that] it is not you that they are rejecting but the evil-doers are rebelling against Our signs. Indeed Messengers have been rejected before you as well. However, they persevered in the face of being rejected and in the face of being persecuted until Our help came to them. And [then the decree of your Lord regarding the rejecters was fulfilled.] Indeed, no one can alter the words of God. You have already heard of some of the accounts of these messengers. (6:33-4)
In these verses, the Prophet (sws) is told that he should ignore the injuring statements of his rejecters, as his rejection is not the rejection of an individual but the rejection of the message of the Lord of the Universe. The Prophet (sws) is then reminded of the results of rejection of those toward whom God had sent His messengers before him. He is reminded of the rejection and the persecution that those messengers faced and the perseverance and steadfastness with which they countered this rejection and persecution. And finally, he is reminded of the Divine help, which is promised for these messengers -- an unalterable decree of the Lord of the worlds -- which can be seen in the account of the messengers that the Prophet (sws) is already aware of.
2. The Unalterable ‘Word’ of God regarding who is Allowed to accept God’s Guidance
Before giving any explanation of the second cited verse (6:115), it is important to see that if one were to ignore the context of the verse and the general connotation of the word ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ in the Qur’ān and confine one’s attention only to the words of the cited verse, even then one would see that the sentence: ‘The word of your Lord was fulfilled with truth and justice’, does not allow us to take the word ‘kalimah’ (word) and ‘kalimāt’ (words) -- in the particular construction of the sentence -- to imply the revealed scriptures of God. In the sentence: ‘The word of your Lord was fulfilled (or carried out)’, the word: ‘word’ (kalimah) can only imply ‘a prediction’ or ‘a decree’. However, when the phrase ‘with truth and justice’ are also added to the sentence, the implication is then restricted to ‘decree’. The complete sentence: ‘The word of your Lord was fulfilled (carried out) with truth and justice’, can only mean ‘the decree of the Lord was carried out with truth and justice’. One may not be sure regarding the particular ‘word’ (decree) of the Lord being referred to here, yet it is quite clear that the words of do not allow us to imply anything besides ‘decree’ in the referred sentence. Thus, the combination of the two sentences, simply mean that the decree of your of your Lord was (carried out) with complete truth and absolute justice. Indeed the decrees of your Lord cannot be altered, they are always carried out with complete truth and absolute justice.
Although the above explanation should suffice as a refutation of the claim that the referred verse states that the revealed scriptures of God cannot be changed, yet for a better understanding of the verse, I would also like to give my view regarding the ‘word’ (decree) of God that is being referred to here.
This verse actually refers to God’s decree regarding who among humans is allowed the great privilege to accept the revealed truth of God and who is refused the permission to do so. In other words, the decree mentioned in the verse relates to a specific aspect of the divine law of guidance. A brief explanation of the related aspect of this divine law of guidance follows:
The Qur’ān tells us that those who adopt a general attitude of disobedience8 and those who ridicule and mock at the reminders in God’s revelation9 are not allowed to accept this revealed truth of God. As a punishment for their general attitude of disobedience and their mockery, God seals their hearts and ears and covers their eyes so that they are made unable to understand or even hear the call to salvation and see the manifestation of clear signs of the truthfulness of the message10. Furthermore, their aversion to the acceptance of the truth is also increased by God11. Thus, ultimately such rejecters are irreversibly doomed to the everlasting punishment of Hellfire. At this time, the most sincere efforts and prayers of even a prophet of God cannot save them from their doom12.
This, according to the Qur’ān, is an unalterable decree of the All-knowing. A close look at the context of the verse under consideration and its preceding subject matter shows that it is this decree of the Almighty, relating to the law of guidance that has been referred to in the verse. To understand the related verse correctly, let us take a look at it in its proper context:
They forcefully swear by God that if a sign be given to them they would believe in it. Say [to them O Prophet!]: ‘Signs are in the power of God alone’. And what shall make you realize that even if a sign be given to them, they shall indeed not believe in it? And [then] We will turn their hearts and their eyes away from the Truth just as they themselves refused to believe in it at first. And We will leave them wandering about in their transgressions blindly. Had We even sent down angels to them, and had caused the dead to speak with them, and had gathered all things [that they demand] in front of them, they would still not have believed, unless God had willed otherwise. However, most of them are ignorant [of this fact].
Thus did We make the evil among men and jinn enemies for every prophet. They inspire each other with varnished discourses to deceive [each other]. Had your Lord pleased, they would not have done so. [However, your Lord allowed it for a reason] therefore, leave them in their lies. [Your Lord allowed them to do so] so that the hearts of those who have no faith in the life to come may be inclined to what they have to say and so that they may like it and [be encouraged to] do of their evil deeds all that they can do.
[Thus, if they are not willing to believe in the truth, God has decided that no sign shall be shown to them. Therefore, say to them O Prophet:] Should I seek a judge other than God [in this matter] while it is He Who has revealed the Book for you with all the [necessary] details [for your guidance]. Those to whom We gave the Scriptures know that it is the truth revealed by your Lord. Therefore do not be among those who have any doubts [about it].
[Indeed they shall not believe as your Lord had decreed about such wrong doers.] And the word of your Lord [regarding such wrong doers] was [thus] fulfilled with absolute truth and justice. No one can alter His words. He hears [the discourses of the evil doers], knows [what their hearts conceal]. And [O prophet,] if you pay any heed to what the majority of those on this earth has to say, they would lead you away from God’s path. They follow nothing but conjecture and preach nothing but falsehoods. Surely your Lord is best aware of those who stray from His path, as He best knows the guided.13
Anyone who will closely consider these verses shall have no problems in appreciating the fact that in the light of the context of these verses, ‘word of God’ in these verses, refers to the ‘decree of God’ regarding those who shall be refused acceptance of the revealed truth.
3. The Unalterable ‘Word’ of God regarding the Reward of the Pious
As far as the third cited verse (10:64) is concerned, its implication is so clear and obvious that its simple translation should suffice as its explanation. The Qur’ān says:
Indeed the friends of God shall neither fear [for their future] nor regret [about their past]. Those, who believed and lived within the limits [specified by God]. For them shall be the glad tidings [of bliss] in this world as well as the hereafter. [This is God’s word about them.] There can be no change in the words of God. This, indeed, is the supreme triumph.
A Final ‘Word’
In the foregoing sections, I have given my opinion regarding the usage of the word ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ in the Qur’ān, in general, as well as the implication of these words in the cited verses, in particular. For any subsequent discussion on this topic, it would be beneficial if the following points be established by the writer, as only the establishment of these points shall be a sufficient argument against the points established in this article:
1. The words ‘kalimah’ and ‘kalimāt’ (in the Arabic language) are used only for the scriptures revealed by God; or that the Qur’ān has, generally, used the words ‘kalimah’ and/or ‘kalimāt’ for scriptures revealed by God (specifying the verse and giving linguistic and contextual arguments to establish this contention); and
2. The words ‘kalimah’ and/or ‘kalimāt’ in the cited verses (in the light of the context of these verses) imply the scriptures revealed by God.
May the Almighty guide us all to the path of His liking.
Courtesy: Understanding-Islam (http://www.understanding-islam.com/related/articles.jsp?point=1&id=7)
2. Unfortunately, Mr Katz has incorrectly recorded this verse as 10:65. The referred verse is actually 10:64.
3. As is the case in:
‘My father’, she replied: “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites”.’ (Judges 11: 36)
‘As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?’ (Psalms 18: 30 - 31). According to the ‘Expert Commentary’, the phrase ‘the word of the Lord’ in the quoted verse refers to ‘God’s promise to David’, though the reference is general.
4. As is the case in:
‘Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary”.’ (Exodus, 36:6)
‘Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death.’ (Joshua 1:8)
‘Jesus replied: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said: “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death”. But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God”, he is not to “honor his father” with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’ (Matthew, 15:3-6)
‘For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.’ (Psalms 33:4-5). According to the ‘Expert Commentary’, the phrase ‘the word of the Lord’ in the quoted verse refers to: ‘God’s royal word by which he governs all things’.
‘I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word’. (Psalms 119:25). According to the ‘Expert Commentary’, ‘word’ refers to ‘God’s laws and promises’.
‘for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.’ (Psalms 107:11)
‘All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.’ (Pslams, 119:160)
5. As is the case in:
‘Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”’ (Judges, 13:17)
‘The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it’. (Psalms, 68:11). According to the ‘Expert Commentary’, the phrase ‘announced the word’, in the quoted verses implies: ‘God declared beforehand that he would be victorious over the Canaanite kings’.
6. The given translation is according to the New International Version. The King James Version translates this verse as: ‘All men cannot receive this saying...’. The New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) translates it as: ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching...’. The Revised Standard Version translates it as: ‘Not all men can receive this saying...’.
7. Although this decree of the Almighty is mentioned throughout the Qur’ān, for a quick reference, the reader may refer to: 14:8-15, 17:76-7, 33:60-2, 35:42-4 and 58:21-2.
8. 10:33, 96
10. 2:7, 6:25, 6:110, 7:101, 7:179, 9:77, 9:87, 9:93, 10:74, 16:108, 17:46, 18:57 etc.
11. 2:10, 9:125
13. Parenthetical additions in the translation have been made to clarify the sequential relationship between the verses. However, if the verses are read with care, the reader shall be able to see that these parenthetical additions have only stated the obvious.