The Fallibility and Discrepancies in the Quran

Most people know that the Quran is the holy book of the Islamic religion. All Muslims maintain that it contains Allah’s divine revelation, word for word, that is to be accepted by everyone. Yet there are many questions, even posed by Muslims, as to when the Quran written, or even, who exactly wrote it.

The effort to understand what the Quran is becomes opaque at best since Muslims themselves will not allow any investigation into, or questioning of, its original sources for fear that such exegetical studies would contradict the religion that insists that it is, namely, a direct revelation from Allah.

One of the reasons any a rational human being would disavow the Quran as a divinely revealed text from God is that, notwithstanding the many passages that speak of goodness and clemency, there are also verses calling for violence, presenting Muhammad as a military figure as opposed to a prophet. This is unlike the violence recorded in the Old Testament, which is limited to historical events and allegorical interpretation. In order to show that the Quran is not the revealed word of God, it is necessary to see why they hold it as such. The Quran, which literally means “the recitation,” is the sacred text and the primary guide for all Muslims. They believe that it contains the literal word of God, which was gradually revealed by Allah to the Prophet Muhammad over a twenty-three-year period (609–632 AD); the latter being the primary reason Muslims believe the Quran is from God (Allah).

As I explain in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-UpMuhammad, according to Quranic teaching, was prophesied in the Holy Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) to bring forth Allah’s final revelation: “Remember when Isa [Jesus], son of Maryam, said, “O children of Israel, I am a messenger of Allah sent towards you, confirming the Torah that is (sent down) before me, and giving you the good news of a messenger who will come after me, whose name will be Ahmad [most praised — the root from Muhammad: ḥ-m-d].” (Sura 61, 6) Muslims often refer to the Gospel of John (15, 26-27) to sustain this: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father; the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father; he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

Muslims’ association of the “Advocate” to Muhammad is both ludicrous and shortsighted since Muhammad cannot proceed form the Father. As explained by Christian writer Jonathan McLatchie, in a post A Simple Reason Why the Quran Cannot be the Word of God, Jesus here is speaking to his Apostles; their bearing testimony is directly linked to the coming of the Advocate, i.e., the Holy Spirit, and thus the fulfillment of this promise must be found in them to whom the promise was made—not Muhammad. If Jesus’s promise would have referred to Muhammad, that fact that it was then fulfilled six centuries later, everything said by our Lord to the Apostles would not be relevant to them.

Muslims also believe that Allah promised to guard the holy book from any possible alterations, revisions, deletions, or redactions. Therefore, while they may disagree about the meaning and importance of the revelation, there is a broad consensus on the integrity and infallibility of the text: “Do they not contemplate the Quran? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found much discrepancy therein.” — Sura 4, 82

In the Christian Bible, to make a comparison, the human writer of the sacred text writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which in essence makes him a coauthor with God. This is evident by some of the titles in both Testaments: the Book of Job, the Gospel according to Mark, the Epistle of James, and so on. In Islam, however, the Quran is not coauthored by anyone; rather, it is munzal, which has always been present with Allah and descended unto Muhammad; it is a literal transcript of Allah’s words: We revealed it on the Night of Power [al-Qadar = glory]. Ah, what will convey unto you what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descended therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees.—Sura 97, 1–4

Every single word, every single letter in the Quran, remains exactly as it was made known from Allah to Muhammad down to our present day. The Quran is Allah’s unchangeable and eternal expression. Therefore, because Muslims hold that the Quran was sent down by Allah, there is not the slightest possibility for any critical or historical interpretation, not even for those elements that are indisputably related to the traditions of a specific historical period and culture. At the same time, it is difficult to take the Quran as a historical book, in part because the Prophet’s attributed sayings were collected by several of his companions—scribes who were responsible for recording the revelations shortly after his death. Since these codices were first memorized before they were penned down, there were naturally not free of discrepancies. As a result, around, 653 AD, the Caliph Uthman destroyed the Quranic copies extant during his time and commissioned a standard and universal version (also known as Uthman’s Codex), which is generally considered the archetype of the Quran known today:

So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Quran so that we may compile the Quranic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid Ibn Thabit, Abdullah bin Azubair, Said bin Al-As and Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies.… Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Quranic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.—Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 61, hadith 510

Another challenge to the accuracy of the Quran is that there is a troubling snippet of information in that Muhammad himself, despite being the person who had direct access to Allah’s revelation, admitted to forgetting some of the narrations: ‘A’isha reported that the Apostle of Allah listened to the recitation of the Quran by a man in the mosque. Thereupon he said: “May Allah have mercy upon him; be reminded me of the verse which I had been made to forget.”Sahih Muslim, Book 4, hadith 1721

According to tradition, one person, the Prophet’s scribe, Zaid Ibn Thabit, had to memorize the entire Quran before apprehensively taking on the task of compiling the Islamic sacred book. In reality, he had to locate the Quranic data and gather it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms, and from the recollections of men. If he did not memorize the entire work, as is evident, he therefore had to rely on someone else who could recite it to him, which means that there were variants of it. Not to mention, Uthman acknowledged that there would be contradictions in his codex based on the original dialect of the Quran: Uthman said to the three Qurayshi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Quran, then write it in the dialect of Quraysh, the Quran was revealed in their tongue.”Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 61, hadith 510

Fr. James Schall said, if we look on the Quran from the Muslim side, we can more easily see the problem. Here in the seventh century A.D. we suddenly have in our midst a revelation that maintains that it is the last and final revelation of Allah. The book contains dozens of stories and instances that are clearly taken from the Old Testament. We find ourselves with Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, even with Jesus, and Mary. To the normal observer, the Quran must have learned about these people and events from the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Yet, if this historical origin is shown, then the Quran was merely a confused effort to rewrite the scriptures already in existence. Besides, Muhammad is nowhere to be found in either the Old or New Testament.

If this is not enough to convince anyone that the Quran is not the word of God, but rather a projection of Muhammad himself, I do not what what will.