I am getting ready for a quick trip to New York (well, a trip to New York used to be a long trip, until I flew to Sydney, which makes all trips inside the US seem short) and have other things I need to get done, but I was directed to an article, here, that I wanted to respond to very quickly. Yes, I will be brief. Well, I will try anyway.
Those who have listened especially to my interaction with Abdullah Kunde’s comments on Surah 5:47 know that I have spent a good deal of time on this text. Bassam Zawadi attempted to make some comments on the text in our debate in London, but I truly believe his attempted explanation is “lacking in explanatory power,” so to speak. Let’s look at what he said and respond to it:
It’s been a tradition for Dr. White to bring up Surah 5:47 in his debates when it says that Christians should judge by the gospel. I want to use this opportunity to clarify what that passage is really saying. Now, Surah 5:47, when it says that Christians should judge by the Gospel needs to be read in its proper context. One needs to understand how the Qur’an uses the word “Gospel” and needs to bear in mind the fact that the early Muslims did not believe or understand the Qur’an to be saying that the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are inspired. One should also read Qur’anic passages such as 2:185 and 5:68, which illustrate that the Qu’ran is to be followed by everyone including Christians. The same verse that is being alluded to – Surah 5:47 – itself continues on to say – he only quoted the first half – it does on to say “whoever does not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors.”, which is a general statement that one must judge by all revelation sent down by God, including the Qur’an. If one refers to the understanding of the early Muslims one would observe that the correct understanding of the verses from the Qur’an, which command the Jews and Christians to judge by the Torah and Gospel respectively actually means that they must judge by the Qur’an since this is the only way to really judge by the Torah and Gospel sent to Moses and Jesus peace be upon them both respectively, for those original revelations taught the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) according to Islam. Therefore, to judge by them means that you must accept the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), which in turn means that you must then accept the Qur’an as the word of God and judge by it. So that is the correct understanding of Surah 5:47.
The essence of Bassam’s interpretation of Surah 5:47 is that the text, though it specifically says وَلْيَحْكُمْ أَهْلُ الْإِنجِيلِ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ, that is, judge by what Allah has revealed therein, where the ONLY possible antecedent in Arabic is the Gospel, actually means not to judge by the Gospel, but by the Qur’an! And this in a context that specifically delineates (in fact, the entire chain demands we differentiate) between the Torah, given to Moses (link #1), the Gospel, given to Jesus (link #2), and the Qur’an, given to Muhammad (link #3). What is more, it is in a text where the three groups are being addressed, specifically, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. So to say the text is saying nothing more than “believe in the Qur’an” is not a compelling assertion. It wasn’t when Bassam made it in London, and it still is not today. To establish his interpretation, Bassam would have to derive it not from later tafsir, but from the text itself. I would go into the text more fully here to elucidate the problems Bassam’s interpretation has, but as I said above, brevity is of necessity this evening. Suffice it to say that if you attempt to make this nothing more than a “believe in the Qur’an not the Injeel because the Injeel has been corrupted and lost” assertion, you leave the text without meaning.
Remember, the text specifically addresses a particular people, the Ahl al-Injeel, the People of the Gospel. Such a people existed in Muhammad’s day. We have at least some knowledge of what they believed, and how they lived. These words are addressed to them, and are we supposed to believe that they actually meant “People of the Gospel—you have no gospel, believe only in the Qur’an”? For Bassam’s interpretation to have any merit, it would have to explain, from the text, how the people to whom these words were originally addressed could possibly have obeyed them. Evidently, they could do so only by NOT judging by what is “contained therein” (in the Gospel), but by abandoning the Gospel and embracing the Qur’an! Such a conclusion, I note would completely undercut the argument found in this section (that the Qur’an is the final revelation, and hence Muhammad the final prophet), but that doesn’t seem to be of a concern to the modern Muslim apologist who is simply trying to find a way to maintain his modern “the Gospel has been corrupted and lost and was before Muhammad’s day” conclusions with the reality of the text of the Qur’an that simply does not make this assertion.
Now, the anachronistic nature of Bassam Zawadi’s reading of the text is illustrated by the included element of the alleged prophetic testimony to Muhammad, surely one of the weakest elements of modern Islam’s apologetic framework. Some Salafi interpreters do, in fact, see such a theme behind this text, as well as Surah 10:94, though it is hard to prove this from the text itself. The only way to really derive such an interpretation is to do so by reading the Qur’an in the light of another source, i.e., the hadith, and many are willing to do this (though few consider the epistemological problem this creates for their claims regarding the nature of the Qur’an in contrast with the nature of the ahadith). Is Zawadi saying that the act of judging, noted in verse 47, is not in reference to the context provided by ayah 43, but is instead a reference to judging whether Muhammad is prophesied in the Injeel? How can that be, once again, if the real argument is “believe the Qur’an”? All of this still leaves unanswered the real question: how could anyone in the days of Muhammad have obeyed the command to “judge” by what was contained in the Injeel if the Injeel had been lost? The words simply do not allow any way around their import.
The fact is I continue to raise this issue because I have yet to find a serious, consistent, text-based response to the questions I am asking. In fact, if you will compare what Bassam said with what Shabir Ally said with what Abdullah Kunde said…well, your head will be spinning! There simply isn’t any consistency as to their own views on the matter! And surely, raising issues of “gospel” vs. “gospels” only shows that my friends on the other side of this issue have yet to begin to seriously think through the problem their text presents to them. Where is the evidence, Mr. Zawadi, that the author of the Qur’an had the level of knowledge you possess relating to the New Testament? You assume he possessed it if you introduce the gospel/gospels distinction, but you cannot simply assume it. You have to prove it. And that my friends have not even begun to attempt to do. So before you repeat the tired and worn “the Qur’an says Allah gave Jesus the Gospel, not gospels, so the Gospel must be lost” argument, provide the necessary foundation, the proof that the author of the Qur’an could even distinguish between the singular “gospel” and the plural “gospels”! In fact, given the Qur’an’s uncritical acceptance of mythological fabrications as if they were part of the gospel story itself (Jesus speaking from His cradle, making clay birds, etc.), there is actually evidence that the author of the Qur’an was manifestly ignorant of the actual form, let alone content, of the “gospel.” So before you can use such distinctions to avoid the conundrum presented to you by the inconsistencies of the Qur’anic text by reference to the gospel/gospels distinction, you must ground it with solid arguments that are not anachronistic or fideistic in nature. And that, so far, is not something Bassam Zawadi, or anyone else I know of, has done.