Who really wrote the Qur’an?

The debate about eating Iftar meals last week highlights the need for a better understanding of Islam amongst many Christians. Here, Will Jones explores one important area of misunderstanding.

Who wrote the Qur’an? You may think the answer to this is obvious: Muhammad wrote the Qur’an. And the crucial difference between Muslims and non-Muslims is whether they believe he was inspired by God to do it. But if you did give that answer, you’d be completely wrong.

For one thing, not even Muslims think that Muhammad wrote the Qur’an. They believe that God wrote it and then revealed it to Muhammad. A technicality you might think. But actually, they don’t even believe that Muhammad, once it had been revealed to him, wrote it down either. He spoke it, preached it, recited it (qur’an literally translates as ‘recitation’). And those around him, his followers, then memorised it, and some noted it down on anything to hand, like palm leaves and stones. So how did it become a book? According to Islamic tradition, not until after Muhammad had died (in AD 632), under the first caliph Abu Bakr, were these parts all gathered together and arranged into a book. The scribe Zaid was charged with the job of locating all the parts and compiling them into one volume. And around 20 years later, under the third caliph Uthman, the same scribe was charged with gathering all the variant versions that still existed, determining the correct one and burning the rest. You might think this haphazard process is not one which would have inspired confidence that the final product contained the authentic words, and only the authentic words, of Muhammad. But this is the official story, and Muslims seem happy enough with it.

What do modern scholars think of this story? Not very much, as it happens. There are all sorts of potential issues with the traditional Islamic account, which is derived from sources only compiled centuries after Muhammad. Perhaps the most significant, and worth leading with here, is that there is mounting evidence that the Qur’an, or at least the bulk of it, predates Muhammad. A number of manuscript fragments have been found which can be dated (by carbon dating of parchment) to well before the time Muhammad was active. It is also packed with agricultural and geographical references which are out of place in the arid Arabian Peninsula, and written in a dialect of Arabic which even early Muslim scholars agreed was not the dialect of Muhammad’s tribe in Mecca. Current thinking is still far from settled, but some evidence suggests it may have originated in the southern Levant or northern Arabia.

So how did it come to be associated with the prophetic vocation of Muhammad of Mecca? That is a question which scholars are really only just beginning to explore, and it is still much too early days to give answers with any kind of certainty. An important dimension of the problem is that the Qur’an consists of two distinct layers, one earlier and one later. Muslim tradition accounts for this in terms of Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 (the Hijra), when his emphasis shifted markedly from peaceable coexistence with those of other beliefs to a violent intolerance and imperial ambition. However, the two layers, A and B, are of so completely different a character that it seems difficult to attribute them to the same author or authors. They make use of a very different vocabulary and style, are worlds apart in their rhetorical quality, and evince some very different priorities.

Layer A (which approximates to the 86 suras (chapters) ‘revealed before Hijra’, though there is some mixing up) is a finely written theological work of high rhetorical skill. It is general in scope, with much of it devoted to recounting biblical (and apocryphal) stories (especially those of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses) as encouragements and warnings, and referring to the events in them as Signs and those involved in bringing God’s word as Messengers. It shows an intense interest in reconciling biblical traditions with its own theological narrative, and contains very few detailed ethical prescriptions.

Layer B (approximating to the 28 ‘after Hijra’ suras) is completely different: it has a much clunkier rhetorical style (on the most part, though with some finer passages), longer verses, and has many fewer biblical references, makes heavy use of the second person (addressing the hearer directly) and includes many references to the Messenger (singular) who is reciting the Qur’an as a Prophet, emphasising the need to obey him. It includes various specific local references to Muhammad, Mecca, the Mosque, and Yathrib (Medina), a host of detailed moral and legal prescriptions, some personal guidance for the Prophet and special dispensations for him (especially about his wives), numerous anti-Christian and anti-Jewish polemics, and many exhortations to fight against the enemy and unbeliever.

Scholars are still investigating explanations for the origin of these two layers. One of the more likely possibilities is that the first layer somehow came into the possession of Muhammad’s community in Mecca, where they began their monotheistic Qur’anic sect, and where they subsequently recognised a prophetic vocation for Muhammad in the Qur’anic tradition. The second layer was then added later by Muhammad (and possibly those around him) following the move to Medina, where the Qur’anic religion and Muhammad’s prophetic vocation quickly became tools for gaining power and building empire. This is not to say that Muhammad and his companions did not sincerely believe in his prophetic vocation – they may well have done. But those who were aware of the true origin of the Qur’an may have been quite happy to allow Muhammad, seen as the last and greatest of the Messengers and Prophets, to co-opt it to his vocation and incorporate it as he deemed fit.

Alternatively there may be a quite different explanation, such as one in which Muhammad is not involved in the production of the Qur’an at all (such ideas have certainly been entertained by some scholars, referred to as ‘revisionists’). Whatever the truth though, one thing is looking increasingly likely: that most of the Qur’an originated somewhere quite different from with someone quite other than Muhammad of Mecca. And that alone threatens some fundamental Islamic claims about the origins of their religion.

If this information was more widely known amongst Muslims, it would surely have the potential to steer some away from a devotion to the life and example of Muhammad. For how could it not moderate the appeal of the Prophet of Islam, if it became accepted that he could not have been the original messenger of most of Islam’s most sacred text?

For too long have Muslims been cossetted from exposure to the bracing winds of historical-critical scholarship, and the result has been that Islam’s origin mythology has been able to maintain a hold over the minds of Muslims. So many of the radical groups who have waged jihad against the world in the name of their Prophet have looked to his example as a model and inspiration in their struggle. In our time, when many Muslims are already questioning Islam because of the violent and destructive fruit born of the global Islamic awakening, modern scholarship can play a part in guiding hearts towards a more peaceful path.

(This article was first published in Crisis Magazine and is reproduced here with permission.)

Colin Chapman has written a fascinating account of the expectations that Muslims have of holy scriptures, how they view the Bible, and a Christian response to their questions. The Bible Through Muslim Eyes can be bought at the Grove Books website for £3.95 post free.

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80 thoughts on “Who really wrote the Qur’an?”

  1. Thanks Will. I read Tom Holland’s book “In the Shadow of the Sword” a few years ago – and watched his subsequent programme on C4 about it – which really opened my eyes to some of the historical issues regarding the Qu’ran.

    It seems to me that the Bible and Qu’ran aren’t really comparable – the Bible is full of references to history, dates, people, events, places – the Qu’ran has very little.

    • Hi Phill. Yes, the Qur’an has a completely different character to the Bible, with very little to connect it to actual people and places. This is especially true of layer A, which can only be located (if at all) through the references it makes to the forms of agriculture the readers/hearers would presumably be familiar with, and some geographical references to a ruined city which it assumes the hearer is acquainted with (and the dialect of Arabic of course). Layer B names Muhammad a couple of times and a few other specific references, but not like the Bible in locating it clearly in a wider history and context.

      The qur’anic scholar who advised me in writing this article is shortly to publish a book comparing and contrasting the Qur’an and Bible, particularly from a theological point of view, which should be very interesting.

    • you are right mr phill qu’ran is not a book of history , quran is a book of lessons of rules people must walk into to be a better person there is no terrorism in the qouran its all lies quran is a book for solving problems of the person and the society for instance in 2017 there are 165.92 million women in the United States, compared to 159.41 million men. if every women married to a man there still a lot of million women there are not married which will leave them with one option commit adultery which is forbidden in islam the religions came to solve our problems not to leave us suffer or talks about history if quran talked about history therefor their is a lesson from it . read the quran smartly mr phill and try to understand it then read the bible carefully and you will understand who is the word of GOD

      • Marrying four wife and even divorcing them can’t even solve the problem because you found out that many Muslim women end up marrying more than 10-13 different husband which exposed them to STD.

        • Marrying multiple spouses and later divorcing them is the fault of modern people not Islam! Any idea before deep analysis is wastage of time dude!

      • You can blindly believe whatever your brain tells you to do.

        Every religious person in the world believes that their god is the true god and that if you pray and meditate long enough, all will be revealed. But who is praying to the real god and who is using the right textual guidance? Is it the Hindus, the Muslims (Sunni or Shia), the Christians, the Sikhs, the Mormons – just who is right?

        Or are people hijacked into blindly believing in nothing, convinced by fundamentalist religious persons who have intense devotion to a notional deity and also have the ability to convince many others. This is a form of brainwashing that can then be passed to children and then becomes incorporated into particular cultures. When peoples education and understanding is not so great, delivering a message of hope beyond human life and also attributing all the bad in the world to humans not god is a message that can respond positively to people that do not have much hope.

        • Thanks for the warning. I have also noticed that atheists cannot offer any consensus either on the kind of god they don’t believe in, or what life is really all about. Mao? Lenin? Stalin? Dawkins? Who knows?

          Poeple are hijacked into thinking that, if you read enough, or get rational enough, all the answers will just come to you. This brainwashing is then passed on to children, who are then brought up in a culture which tells them that the material is the only thing that matters, life is a competition, and you need to fight your way to the top.

          They are then left wondering why they hate themselves, feel shame, but also have a lingering hunger for greater meaning in their lives.

          • “I have also noticed that atheists cannot offer any consensus either on the kind of god they don’t believe in”

            This is extremely simple. An atheist is anyone who is not convinced that any god exists.

        • Speaking from personal experience, Scripture is true, the transformation of the lost into a Born Again individual is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit reveals truth of Scripture, provides revelation of its’ truth, guiding and using the saved to bear witness to the lost, and those who believe and follow false doctrines and teachers shall, indeed, reap greater than they sow, resulting in eternal separation from God.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd9lIuUjPs0
      This is an extraordinarily worthwhile lecture.
      I have just promoted it and will promote it a lot.

      Right now it is very little known, and that is most unfortunate. I had heard of the compilation of the Koran by Uthman, and that he burned the source manuscripts. Now the story is much more involved.

      It makes sense that “The Koran” is in fact a later, frozen image of a group of texts.

      I have seen one scholarly book on this before, but the present video is remarkably powerful as a legal case and it has enormous implications, in particular for the very concept of Islamic law ( Sharia ) and for all Islamic culture.

      Thus It is important to share out this talk and propagate the breakthru knowledge to many people, and also encourage others to make better known the video.

      Today, theology and history are crucial foundations for understanding and working with major international social issues. Those who do not remember the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.

    • Remember. The bible is written by ordinary people (story tellers). The Quran is the words of the lord. That might explain your point about history and references. Mohammad did not know how to read and write. He used educated people around him to write the words of the lord. Quran was given to Mohammed over 20 years. The revelation reflect events at different times and what the profit faced during different time and places. It is not about Mohammed. Or any other profits. It is about what is in it. Read it and understand it carefully and you should be able to tell the truth.
      This is the least we can do which is to listen to what the lord is telling us.
      There is only one God. The creator of everything. He is everybody’s God. Muslim. Christian. Jewish. Etc. he sent his revelations to human. But all what we are doing is to fight one another and creat doubt. I wish we can teach all religions in schools as a history lessons and then Let people make their own mind about what to believe after being educated in the right way with being corrupted by a few who have hidden agenda.
      By the way. I read all religious books. Buddhism, the five Books of Moses. The bible. The Gospel is Barnabas, and of course the Quran. I wish you all do the same and shame on you if you don’t.

      • ‘The bible is written by ordinary people (story tellers). The Quran is the words of the lord.’ That is your assertion, but that is not what Christians belief about the Bible.

        Which version of the Bible do you read?

        • I was baptized in the Catholic Church I was saved in the Baptist Church *** Now I have embrace the Quran *** take about it all the different religions, all boils down to one thing God Jesus was a messenger as well with Moses Abraham God uses different people to get his point across *** The thing they all have in common is your relationship with God *** that’s the way it should be nothing more and nothing less whatever book that you thinking about god learn about him that means God done the job, right who use the Arabic world for the koran ** The Old Testament for the Jews *** Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion *** is holdup was returned the people of Israel to God *

  2. I forget where, but I have recollection of a blog article calling the Qu’ran (is that spelling we’re sticking with here?) a “largely plagiarised” book. Would you go that far Will? Is the connection to biblical sources evident in the first 86 Suras one of inspiration, or of copy?

    Additionally, to carry forward your metaphor, do you think ‘the wind’ is likely to change? If the Qu’ran and the Muslim community as a whole have “escaped the bracing winds of historical-critical scholarship” (and I agree with that assessment), do you see signs of that changing? I am not so sure, nessecary though it is, unless such change comes from within Islam itself.

    • Hi Mat.

      I wouldn’t call it plagiarised. Whoever wrote/composed the Qur’an, or rather layer A, was a very talented person/group who incorporated biblical/apocryphal stories into their prophetic utterances very skilfully. It doesn’t claim to be original: it keeps using the word ‘remember’ (remember Noah, Moses, Abraham etc), before recounting a story about this ‘messenger’ and their ‘signs’ intended to reinforce the basic message to heed God’s messengers and signs and do good works before the day of judgement. Not really copy either. More drawing on a source.

      I agree that there is, sadly, little sign of critical scholarship having much impact on the Islamic world generally. But they do place great store by being a rational religion, and regard the Qur’an as the great proof of Muhammad’s vocation (since by tradition he was illiterate), so over time perhaps, as more courses in more institutions explore these issues properly and rigorously, it will filter down.

      • “I agree that there is, sadly, little sign of critical scholarship having much impact on the Islamic world generally.”

        In the event it does appear, which do you think more likely:

        -Critical scholarship coming from within Islam, via Islamic scholars.
        -Critical scholarship coming from secular educational institutions, universities etc.
        -Critical scholarship coming from other religious domains, such as Catholicism.

        • I guess non-Islamic (which will limit its impact) since I think whereas Christianity could successfully adapt to the new critical paradigm, I think Islam will struggle more because of how tightly bound its central claims are with Muhammad and his relationship to the Qur’an.

          I imagine both secular and religious.

          • Will, do you happen to know anything about the ordering of the Qur’an according to the principle of length-of-chapter? I have always struggled with the continuity of the text, and accordingly can take very little in!

          • Christopher Shell. The Qur’an sura are ordered longest to shortest (from sura 2 to the end. Sura 1 is an introduction). The letters in the NT are organised the same way. This does affect understanding of chronology.

            In general the shorter ones are the earlier ones, and the longer ones are the later ones written in the Medinan context where Muhammad is involved in being a political leader.

            This site gives the chronological order of the sura https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Chronological_Order_of_the_Qur%27an

          • Hi Christopher. Only that the suras are almost entirely ordered by length, longest first. The Qur’an has no narrative continuity, and also a lot of repetition. Some lengthy passages are almost verbatim repeats. This presumably reflects the composition process following Muhammad’s death.

            There isn’t that much to take in, in the sense that the message of most of it is very simple. Here’s a description of a messenger from God and his signs which you should heed and so do good deeds and be rewarded and not condemned. Then there are later bits which have more specific instructions from the Messenger (singular) about all kinds of things. There are also some passages about Christians and Jews and how the Qur’anic message relates to them; these differ in older and newer parts (older are more friendly and conciliatory).

      • Mr. Will, asking your permission, I want to write my views as a believing Muslim. Having research in comparative religion, I saw that Biblical and Quranic narratives of the events and prophets are quite different. Even apocryphal materials in Greek are very diverse so it is impossible to incorporate these materials in Greek into the Quran which is one consistent book in Arabic.
        I agree with you on that Quran cannot be a plagiarism work as so far no single copy was not found to prove that any chapter was copied word by word from any biblical or apocryphal work. Of course, being a book from God, same principles of monotheism and real lives of past prophets are mentioned in the Quran too, rather emphasizing spiritual sides than historical and geographical details.

        • Yasmin: the word Quran means “recitation, narration” therefore it is a narration of previous events, people… “found in the Torah of Moses and in the Gospel of Jesus, who are light and guidance for the people:” as per Sura III and V and sura XIX and many others. Read the Quran carefully and you will that it was a way to let the people of Arabia know about the Scriptures, as per Sura XII, XLI-XLII… and many others. How many Suras are dedicated to the Story of Moses, of Abraham, Noah…? So please read the quran with Itjad… Shalom, Salaam

  3. The Qu’ran is quite a difficult read. I ploughed through a lot of it (and around Islam/Hezbollah/etc) some years ago after a visit to Syria as part of my sabattical. That’s mainly because, as far as I know, there is no real interest in translating it into modern English or any other language. The language of Allah is Arabic. For the ardent believer ; ‘Why would one, how dare one debase this?’. Speaking it out ultimately is more important than reading it. You can see that testified to in any madrasa.

    The Qu’ran is undersood as separate from the world and is more comparable with Jesus as the Word of God than the Bible. Mohammed is only a messenger not an originator.

    Likewise; when did Islam begin? The answer is that it ‘always was’.

    Id be genuinely grateful for any corrections to my understanding. Syria is still on my heart and in my prayers. I maintain a thin contact in Aleppo.

    • Hi Ian.

      Muhammad is ‘only’ a messenger in Islam, but he is the last and greatest Messenger and the Qur’an (layer B) includes many injunctions to obey the Messenger. His life and teachings (outside the Qur’an) are a model for Muslims to follow. The ‘revelation’ of the Qur’an is regarded as Muhammad’s great miracle (there is no claim he did others) and the proof of his divine vocation.

      So it is very important to Islam and the idea of Muhammad as Prophet that the human origin of the Qur’an was with him.

    • Ian, to add to Will’s useful reply here. The theological comparison is between Jesus, the Word made flesh (the Word incarnate) and the Qur’an, the Word made book (the Word inlibrate). That is a very important point to remember.

      However, the person of Muhammad is effectively the way of Islam incarnate. Anne-Marie Schwimmel points out that it is almost impossible to overestimate his impact and position. He is the perfect model, speaks the very words of Allah, and the ultimate vision of perfect Islam. The poetry, the influence of Sufism, that he is beloved of Allah, he is the light of creation, and the stories and practises hold him as being the vision of Islam par excellence. He is not worshipped, nor divine, but only a gnats whisker short of that. And this is a gap that is often crossed in practise.

  4. Thanks both, Will and Colin,

    This “The theological comparison is between Jesus, the Word made flesh (the Word incarnate) and the Qur’an, the Word made book (the Word inlibrate). ” is how I understand it. I think it’s important that more Christians get hold of it. There’s generally no understanding of this correct IMHO comparison and the resultant weak critique . Jesus and Muhammed poles apart, more of a category error.

    • I agree that that’s very important to keep to the fore. However, at the level of allegiance and mode of salvation through allegiance, there is a direct comparison between Jesus and Muhammad. It large swathes of many sunni Muslim communities, there is a strong belief that allegiance to (indeed, participation in) Muhammad is the way to salvation. I have had a Muslim friend say to me “Because I am in him [Muhammad], I will be saved”. This narrative is a strong undercurrent in practise and belief for many Muslims. So there is, at this level, a direct competition between the two. This is seated in social dynamics that is strongly patron/client oriented, where honour is the sine qua non of relationships, and where shame is to be avoided. Thus evangelism is not so much “Jesus loves you”, but “Jesus is of the greatest honour. Jesus is Lord. And in allegiance to him, participation in him, [through the Spirit] is salvation” This inevitably highlights the competition for allegiance that is currently focussed on Muhammad.

      • “Because I am in him [Muhammad], I will be saved”. I’ve never encountered such an expression before. How (if at all) might this compare to St. Paul speaking in 1 Cor. 10:2 of being baptized into Moses?

        • It’s hardly ever expressed as baldly as that, but its a very strong narrative in many Muslim contexts. I spent 17 years in South Asia. The story goes:
          On the day of judgment, so we will all stand before Allah on the field of judgement. He will say “Before we begin, Muhammad, this isn’t for you. Come and stand by me”. Muhammad will then go and stand by Allah, and call all those that are in his and in his community of belonging. [Many Sufi’s believe that not only Muhmmad, but all the holy men (saints, pirs, sheikhs), will be called out and they will take their communities with them.] After that then judgment will start.
          I often asked people if they had heard that story and if others believed it. The answer, from Sunni people, in South asia was that they had almost all heard a version of that story, that most people they knew held to that, but that they themselves, of course, didn’t as it wasn’t correct teaching. Talking with conversts about 90% of them say they had believed that before converting. The difference was now they know that only Jesus is the way, which is proven by his resurrection.

          Re “In Him” being related to the “in Him” of Pauline language. Well, yes, and no. (Can you tell I do theology?). The “In” of south asia is very buddhist in nautre. The “I am in everything and everything is in me” Nirvana is where I dissolve to be lost in everything and one with everything. Interestingly, where Islam had come in, that was still true to a point but there is also a sense of continuation of the individual. So it does ring well with NT thinking. (But then, who knows what St Paul had in mind when he wrote those words?) However we have to be careful at times of the nirvana type overtones.

          For furhter reading see Johnson C. (2008) ‘One Under Our Father?: A socio-anthropological approach to patronage, reconciliation and salvation in the South Asian Islamic setting.’ St Francis Magazine Nr. 3 Vol. IV http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/images/pdf/4.%20%20one%20under%20the%20father.%20%20patronage,%20reconciliation%20and%20salvation%20in%20south%20asian%20islam.pdf

          • Many thanks for all the additional detail, and the reference!
            The answers from Sunni people and converts make for quite an interesting combination!

            Such a body – or bodies – of extra-Qur’anic traditions and beliefs is something it would be good to have an overview of…

  5. With the Qur’an being so difficult to read, there is a recent short book that may be of use to those who would like a quick but legitimate exposure, organized by topic. It’s “Islam in its Own Words: Selected Quotations from Islamic Scriptures,” edited by Peter Hussein and available from Amazon etc. Most of the quotations are from the Qur’an, but the book also includes short passages from the Sunnah (several early writings about Muhammad, considered to be scripture), and quotations from ancient and some modern Islamic authorities, all of whom are Muslim. The book is not an academic work, but rather serves as an accessible introduction to the primary materials.

  6. Will Jones comments, “The qur’anic scholar who advised me in writing this article is shortly to publish a book comparing and contrasting the Qur’an and Bible, particularly from a theological point of view”.

    Keep us posted, please!

    Meanwhile, any little list of recommendations for further reading?

    Colin Edwards comments, “Anne-Marie Schwimmel points out” – where, please? (It sounds worth reading!)

    • Annemarie Schimmel (1985) And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Studies in Religion) Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina
      (Apologies: I put a “w” in her name in the post above, which shouldn’t be there)


      She writes: and the non-Muslim reader will perhaps understand from the witness of theologians and poets, of Arabs, Persians, and Turks, of Muslims in India and in Africa, how deep the Muslims’ love for him, how warm their trust in him are, how widely he has been venerated and called upon throughout the ages, and how he has been surrounded with the most glorious epithets. He will find that Muhammad indeed constitutes the exemplar and model for every Muslim believer, who is called to imitate him in all, even seemingly insignificant, actions and habits, and he will likely be amazed by the way in which the mystics developed the doctrine of Muhammad’s primordial light and accorded to him, in his position as The Perfect Man, an almost cosmic status and function (p4.)

      Her book on “Mystical Dimensions of Islam” is also excellent.

    • The Qur’an was the very foundation for Islam to grow from a small community in two small cities in remote arabia with second to nothing resources to become several of the largest and prosperous people and empires to known in human history and still growing religious believe till this very day and some of its radical follower still believed to make an Islamic Empire once again and willing to fight it to the teeth which is unheard of from other religion follower.

      Islam existed already nearly 1500 years and counting, this is the facts. And someone suggest that all of these due to just an ordinary, plagiarism and falsehood book? Its irrational at best.

      So, if you want to examine it, please examine it from this perspective. Why this “not so special” book is one of the most succesful book in history of human kind (anyone has argument for this fact?) and still the very foundation of Islam till this day?

      • Thanks. But there is a really interesting contrast, isn’t there? Islam grew from the beginning by violent conquest and political power. By contrast, Christianity spread through the whole world of its day in the first three centuries without either of those.

        • Wrong Christianity had periods it that too especially with those imperialistic societies and not just the crusades. Europe had a lot do with that and they did for cover soon on many. They subjugated natives all over the world to it and made them give up their traditional beliefs or simply stole their resources and killed them.

      • The Quran is based on one man’s view his ideals what if it wasn’t God guiding him, another religion the book of Normans was supposed to been given by an angel of light the only angel of light was Satan, he will counterfeit everything God does if you are wrong in believing a false religion you will be judged like the Christian you listen to false preachers, yes not all Christian preach the Bible correctly

        • Wrong Christianity had periods it that too especially with those imperialistic societies and not just the crusades. Europe had a lot do with that and they did for cover soon on many. They subjugated natives all over the world to it and made them give up their traditional beliefs or simply stole their resources and killed them.

  7. With regard to layers A and B, in some of the Qur’an translations I have, there are notes of minute analysis assigning (as far as possible) occasions and dates of distinct passages or verses within Surahs – which, if I recall correctly, are in the first instance the result of the work of Muslim scholars.

    What is the history of this sort of analysis, which seems quite different from the agreements reached about different possible vocalizations of certain words?

    And, what is the history of the teaching (if that is an acceptable term) about ‘abrogation’ of earlier by later, where there appears to be a contradiction?

    • Hi David

      In terms of further reading, have you followed the links embedded in the article? There are some good avenues to explore there, including Nicolai Sinai’s book, if you want something scholarly.

      Abrogation is a principle found in the Qur’an itself, in layer B. Here’s 16:101:
      ‘When We substitute a verse in place of another verse—and Allah knows best what He reveals—they say, “You are an impostor.” But most of them do not know.’

      Muslim scholars have identified over 550 instances of earlier verses being abrogated by later (based on their assessment of which are earlier and later). The Wiki page on this is good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naskh_(tafsir)

  8. In some non-Muslim popular-scholarly accounts (presumably drawing on Muslim accounts), I have seen a three-way disagreement on the interpretation of a Qur’an text as decisive to the results of the Battle of Siffin (dated to AD 657, 25 years after the death of Mohammed), eventually effectively resulting in the divisions between Sunnites, Shiits, and Kharijites.

    Is this interpretation widely shared? And, any recommended reading on the history of effectively authoritative and/or widely agreed upon interpretations of the Qur’an, and their concrete effects?

    • Hi David.

      I would say that this account that Muslims divided into 3 groups-Sunnis, Shias and Kharijites after Battle of Siffin is not correct.

      1) All Muslims-both Sunnis and Shias-are on the same page about the Quran and essence of faith with minor differences. Of course, there are some radical Sunnis and Shias but they don’t represent mainstream Islam.

      2) Both Sunnis and Shias are of the view that Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib was right and justified in his struggle and Muawiya was wrong. Kharijites were a minor group. Sunni-Shia division emerged as a political dispute centuries later.

  9. I am sad that Kenneth Cragg’s “Readings in the Qur’an” is not better known. As a Christian he was surely one of the 20th Century’s leading Arabic scholars, his thematic arrangement of the Qur’an makes it so much more readable, and the index is really useful.
    Before he died, I was able to speak with him a few times, and he did not discourage me from the prayer that one day, Muslims will come to see that the Qur’an does not deny that Jesus died on the dross.

    • Hi Ray,

      The Quran is not only book that says Jesus didn’t die on the cross. We can look at one of the earliest Gospels, Gospel of Peter which was widespread among the Nazarenes who were earliest followers of Jesus. This Gospel was also prohibited like many others such as Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas as apocryphal by Trinitarian faction that emerged as an official church in Rome in 4. Century because official church thought that these gospels was rejecting divinity of Jesus by emphasizing human nature of him. Gospel of Peter clearly says that in the same day Jesus was crucified, 2 angels came and took him out of tomb and he had not died.

      Gospel of Philip says: “Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing. (Compare with translation provided by the Nag Hammadi library: “Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error – for He rose up first and then died.”). The Gospel delivers that Jesus first rose up then died.

      Into modern times the Gospel of Peter had been known only from early quotations, especially from a reference by Eusebius to a letter publicly circulated by Serapion in 190–203, who had found upon examining it that “most of it belonged to the right teaching of the Saviour,” but that some parts might encourage its hearers to fall into the Docetist heresy.

      I believe in that most of the earliest followers-Nazarenes or Jewish Christians-were holding this view that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but was saved by God. Because of being labeled as docetic and persecuted by official trinitarian church, true view of Nazarenes gradually lost its significance in Christian world.

    • Thanks for this! I read in one (older) popular-scholarly work that some Shiite (as I should have spelt it above!) scholars read the text in question as not suggesting Jesus did not die on the cross – but it had no detailed reference!

    • Civitas, Sir, Please read Sura VIII, which reads: The Spoils of wars, raids… belong to Allah and to the messenger…
      How a book thought to be sacred and revealed by allah can have a sura named the Spoils?

      Please reas Wafa Sultan’s book: a god who hates, it will be a very good reading, it will help you to see the light about the Quoran and Islam.

    • I agree. He was illiterate, but after angel Jibril spoke the words of Allah to Mohammad Mohammad had some of his close close confidants who could write write it down.
      What is contentious is that over the years there were said to be a few different versions of the Quran and that all but one were scrapped so there was only one legitimate version with every word set in stone so to speak. This happened in the 13th century or thereabouts I believe.

  10. The history of Quran deals with the timeline and origin of the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book and its written compilations into manuscripts. It spans several centuries, based on historical findings and forms an important part of early Islamic history.

  11. Dr. Paul: I am reading the Quran. Sura VIII has a dangerous title: The Spoil. For a book revered as divine, to have a Sura titled The Spoil, it is disqualified of any divine or rational understanding. The first verse of Sura VIII says: “The spoils (of wars, raids…) belong to Allah and to his messenger”. Allah is reduced to a pagan god to be placated with spoils of wars, which include the raping and enslaving women and children? The followers seem to look like the followers of nazism pledging loyalty to Hitler and not to a Constitution. Then the soldiers-mercenaries complained about the first verse and another verse was added to reduce the percentage of the spoils ” The percentage of the spoils 20% belongs to Allah and his messenger” . But allah does not need a portion of 20%… Please let me know what you think of this Sura. Thank you. Civitas

  12. Civitas:

    Dr. Ian Paul: thank you for your honest answer. Nevertheless, I would like an answer from an Imam, from a scholar of Islam, from a Mufti, from a regular Muslim, and also I would suggest to read Tarek fatah’S: CHASING A MIRAGE, Wafa Sultan’s book,: a GOD WHO HATES; VASIA Naipaul: A Jouney into islamic countries (Nobel in Literature 2001).


    I would like a reply from any imam or scholar or a simple Musulman person… Thanks.

    • Mr. Civitas, I would like to answer as a Muslim who purposefully researched all religions before adopting Islam. First, you have read Islam from wrong sources that are not professional on Islam, being authored by opportunist people like Wafa Sultan who tried to get settled and popularized in the West by means of anti-Islamic slogans. Second, we should understand that being a holy book revealed by God, the Quran guides both Prophet Muhammad and his community, and future generations of believers in their behavior while they are in war. Prophet and his community did not desire wars but they had to defend themselves from oppressing attacks of powerful polytheist Arabs. The Quran explains how to behave in war and orders Muslims not to transgress God’s rules. And Quran orders Muslims to seek peace if enemies want peace. You can see these verses in Anfal (spoils) chapter:

      55. The worst of creatures in God’s view are those who disbelieve. They have no faith.
      56. Those of them with whom you made a treaty, but they violate their agreement every time. They are not righteous.
      57. If you confront them in battle, make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, that they may take heed.
      58. If you fear treachery on the part of a people, break off with them in a like manner. God does not like the treacherous.
      59. Let not the disbelievers assume that they are ahead. They will not escape.
      60. And prepare against them all the power you can muster, and all the cavalry you can mobilize, to terrify thereby God’s enemies and your enemies, and others besides them whom you do not know, but God knows them. Whatever you spend in God’s way will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged.
      61. But if they incline towards peace, then incline towards it, and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Knower.

      Third, as to spoils, it is said in the Quran that all spoils belong to God and the prophet. Means that prophet has obligation to distribute it justly among community members. Spoils was not the aim but result of Prophet’s war. As agreed by nearly all experts on Islam, prophet Muhammad, by the grace of God, was able to maintain peace among tribes and peoples and unified them by eliminating oppression of the powerful. Islam protected the oppressed, establishing that all the humans are brothers, equals before God and they will be judged by God in afterlife the Day of Judgement.

  13. Hello everyone,

    My name is Mahdi from Jordan, I was born as a Muslim since my parents are however I never stopped thinking about Islam Quran and prophet Mohammed and if I’m doing the right thing in this life. I’m trying to be a good muslim and follow the rules however nobody is perfect.
    Just wanted to give you a short highlight before I really comment on the above.
    First, to understand Quran it must be read in Arabic not English or any other language.
    Second, don’t you ever look at any Muslim as a role model but only Muhammed and people lived during his life since he could tell them what is correct and what is wrong.
    third, Quran has a lot of general concepts with no details where details were explained by prophet Muhammed, even I as someone who was born as a muslim and Arabic is my mother tongue sometimes I struggle to understand some words or meanings then I go back to other books or muslim scientist who had a good knowledge in Arabic and Islam religion.

    Finally, I would love to benefit any of you with the small knowledge I have if you have any concerns or questions.

    • Sir: this is the problem: your mother tongue is Arabic and you stated that you have difficulty in understanding Arabic words of the Qo’ran, how can you expect people not Arabic speaking to read and understand the Qo’ran in Arabic?

      The qu’ran was written over many years after the death of Mohammed. It was a collection of many verses written on perchamens, tablets, on large camel bones… Abu Bakr wanted to put together all these verses dispersed everywhere, then Uthman ordered another collection of the verses… and another rewriting was in the 8th and 9th centuries… with many additions and abrogations… Sura VIII was written after the various wars to justify the spoils of aggressions of carovans, and other peoples. the 1st verset says: “The Spoils belong to Allah and his messenger” do you understand what it means? Sura XXXIII, verset 50 says that the Prophet can have all shave ladies, girls and wives and concubines…

  14. Yasmin: Thank you for your explanations. But you did not answer the main point: The Quu’ran is divided between the Suras of Mecca and the Suras of Medina. The Suras of Mecca have a Judean-Christian background and HONOR AND GLORIFY Abraham, Moses, king David, Virgin Mary (Sura 19), Jesus… : the TORAH OF MOSES AND THE GOSPEL OF JESUS ARE LIGHT AND GUIDANCE FOR THE PEOPLE”. Please explain these references to Judean-Christian references. Then read Muhammad Allama Igbal poet-lawyer of Pakistan: SHIKWAA: The Complaint. Since the poet is also a real lawyer he would take Allah to court for genocide, false prophet… Wafa Sultan is a psychiatrist, she reads the Quor’an with the eye of a doctor, who examines the psyche of the patients, in this case Islam…
    If we lived we lived for the calamities of wars
    If we died we died for the grandeur of Thy name.

    We filled thy kaaba with our foreheads
    We put the qyoran to our hearts.

    Still thou complain that we are lacking fealty
    If we are lacking fealty thou also art not generous

    Thy grace descends on other people’s abodes
    lightning strikes only the poor Muslims’ abodes.

    And the poor Muslims are placated with only promises of houris
    we have been deprived of the former graces and favors.

    It is difficult to say but thou art also unfaithful


    • Sir/Ma’am, I would like to chip in. The glorification and honoring of those individuals in the Quran, was because they are prophets of Islam. Jesus came to this Earth to spread the message of Islam. As Muslims we believe that the Bible and the Torah were originally books from God to spread the message of Islam, however they were changed over the years by man and began to spread messages other than the message of God, that lead to the creation of religions such as Christianity and Judaism.

      Furthermore, your islamophobic remarks are rooted from your failure to correctly interpert the Quran, go read something that has been accredited by respected Muslim scholars.

  15. Dear Imam:

    This is the problem. I read the Quoran. The Quoran says: “THE TORAH OF MOSES AND THE GOSPEL OF JESUS ARE GUIDANCE AND LIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE”. It seems that you as Imam should know the Quoran better. You are the problem. Spreading false interpretations of the Quoran. Sura VIII says that the “Spoils belong to Allah and to the Messanger” This reflects the way of life of the bedouins of the desert who survived on sacking and attacking the caravans. This is not islaphobia: this is reality. Please read Naipaul: “A journey in Islamic countries: Iran, Pakistan, India, Malaysia”. Wafa Sultan is from Siria, Mohammed Abduh is from Egypt. He suggested to read the Quoran with intelligence and light of rationality, like the Mutaziliti, not with deception. Imam , did you read the Constitution of Medina? Did you read the Constitution of Marrakesh? Did you read the paper of Islamabab? Of Abu Dhabi? The imam of Cairo University discuss how to have sex in paradise with houris… Salaam

    • Imam: Surat 42: 13 says clearly: He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein. Difficult for those who associate others with Allah is that to which you invite them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him].
      Imam: This is the answer to your misinterpretation of the Koran, as Ian Paul said, ” But that, for Christians, is the problem: there is no evidence of the corruption of which you speak. ”
      Imam, please read the Koran with the light of the intelligence and not with medieval interpretations. Read Mohammed Taha, who was hung for telling the truth. Salaam. Thank you.

  16. The answer is SYNCRETISM.
    Clearly, very few religious texts are a direct dictation from a deity. Most are mere recollections from memory by witnesses and third parties (and we know how unreliable those accounts can be sometimes)
    Just pick the lessons from whatever encounter you get to make you a better person and endeavor to live harmoniously with your fellow beings, discard anything divisive.

    -All the messengers brought a message from your God. Now we’ve elevated the messengers to a level of importance higher than the actual message and, unfortunately, even the sender Himself! And therein lies the heart of today’s religious conflict.
    Solution: SYNCRETISM

  17. John 3:16

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not parish but shall have eternal life.

    Christianity is the only faith or belief system that guarantees those who give their life to Jesus a place in heaven without works. All others if you as them, they are not sure until the meet their maker if they have done enough good deeds to make it in. Only Christianity share God’s gracious love that promises that to all who would believe in Jesus act of paying for all humanities sin on Calvary’s Cross. I love you friend let Jesus in.

    Very Respectfully,

    Soldier of the Cross

  18. New Testament manuscripts didn’t appear until the 9th century.
    900 years after Jesus’ life, the manuscripts were found by unknown persons.
    You have no idea about this idea how danger is it!
    That’s what I can write over here.

    • It is not ‘finish’ because your ‘fact’ is manifestly untrue, and disproved by thousands of examples of evidence.

      If you are a seeker after truth, come to Manchester and visit the Rylands Museum where you will find a fragment of John’s gospel dated to the year 125.

  19. God tells, Angel. Angel tells to Mohamed. Mohammad tells to his followers, followers memorise and write on stones and woods etc, These are then compiled from different sources after many years and translated, then it is all recompiled and other versions burnt, then it is translated in to many languages. Still muslims claim every word in Quran is word of God and is as spoken by God and has never changed. What to believe ? If you are seeker of the truth, it is within.


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