Since I am on James White’s blogging team, and am friends with him, I was sure to carefully read an article posted with the alarming title, “Exposing James White’s Deceit and Ignorance of Islamic Scripture,” from the “Calling Christians” website.
The title wasn’t supported by the body of the piece. “Deceit and Ignorance” turned out to be, at most, a difference of opinion between the author of the piece and my friend, Dr. White. The article begins thus:
In a recent twitter exchange with James White, I found him proposing such an absurd view of Islamic ‘aqidah that I simply had to write an article to correct his misinformation. In the field of academia, we try our best to uphold certain standards, however Alpha and Omega Ministries as missionary zealots don’t have to appeal to this high standard of intellectualism. So what exactly is James’ problem this time around? Let’s see:
[twitter post images here, in which Dr. White states: “How do you explain such texts as 5:47, 5:68, and 10:94 if you affirm (as you have) tahrif il-lafzi?”]
In essence, James White is appealing to the fallacious argument of appeal to ad ignorantium. Summarily, he’s trying to expound the concept that Muslims believe in a self contradicting tenet. This being, that in Islam, while we believe God’s word cannot become corrupted, we also believe that “God’s word” did come corrupt. For example, we say the Qur’an is the word of Allaah and therefore it cannot be changed or corrupted, yet in the same voice, supposedly we claim that the Injil and Tawrah, which are also the words of Allaah, have been altered. The terms which James is trying to use are, Tahrif ul Lafzi (corruption of written words) and Tahrif ul M’anavi (corruption of meaning).
What James White and his missionary zealot friends try to assert is that Muslims have not only a contradicting belief, but because of this belief it is the Qur’an which is wrong and the Bible is the true word of God.
There is a lot of baggage mixed in there, but the author of the piece is correct that we think that it is inconsistent to hold to the ideas that (1) Allah preserves his word, (2) the Old and New Testaments are the word of Allah, and (3) the Old and New Testaments are corrupt.
We are aware that the way Muslims attempt to hold these two ideas is by limiting (1) to simply saying that Allah preserves some portion (or all) of the Qur’an and/or by denying that the Old and New Testaments correspond to the Torah and Injeel.
This particular author begins his response, following the introduction above:
The Islamic belief is that God protects His revelations from becoming corrupt, altered and interfered with. In this regard, we do not hold the belief that God’s words can succumb to corruption, alteration and human interference.
Thus, this particular author has made a more general statement, akin to our (1) above.
The author continues:
Therefore we must correct James’ assertion that we believe God’s words can be corrupted by man, the Qur’an is clear that God would not allow this. It is the belief of all Muslims and if one did not know this belief (you now kn0w) that it is impermissible for a Muslim to believe that God’s words can become corrupted.
Clearly, the author has misunderstood Dr. White’s point. Dr. White was not arguing for corruption of God’s word, but simply noting a contradiction within Islamic views.
The author proceeds:
With that in mind what about the verses in the Qur’an which mention the corruption of the previous scriptures such as the Injil, Tawrah and Zabur?
The author then sets forth the basic gist of the points about corruption:
There are many verses in the Qur’an which indicate to us that God’s wahy (revelation) has been skewered by the hands of man, both literal words changes and contextual alterations (interpretations):
يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ ۙ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ ۚ وَلَا تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىٰ خَائِنَةٍ مِنْهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِنْهُمْ ۖ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِي
They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good. – Qur’an : 5 : 13.
وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِيقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُمْ بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّـهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
And indeed, there is among them a party who alter the Scripture with their tongues so you may think it is from the Scripture, but it is not from the Scripture. And they say, “This is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah. And they speak untruth about Allah while they know. – Qur’an : 3 : 78.
مِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ ۚ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانْظُرْنَا لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَـٰكِنْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages and say, “We hear and disobey” and “Hear but be not heard” and “Ra’ina,” twisting their tongues and defaming the religion. And if they had said [instead], “We hear and obey” and “Wait for us [to understand],” it would have been better for them and more suitable. But Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few. – Qur’an : 4 : 46.
We seemingly have arrived at a theological impasse. On one end, we read above that God would protect His revelations and now we’re reading that God’s revelations were altered by men, corrupted, their meanings and letters distorted. Yet, before we jump to conclusions, we have to analyse what we have attained so far:
(1) God’s words cannot become corrupted.
(2) God’s words did become corrupted.
There seems to be a clear disconnect here.
So far, the author seems to have provided a reasonable presentation of the position he is arguing against, although we would say “God’s word” rather than “God’s words.”
The author then attempts to identify a solution to the disconnect:
Something’s missing from this puzzle and we know what it is. Context. Did God’s word in itself become corrupted? And this is a question we must take seriously into consideration. What we see from the above verses is that there are two cases for God’s word apparently becoming corrupted:
(1) Interpretative alterations.
(2) Textual alterations.
With this in mind, let’s examine both cases.
We certainly have no objection to contextual consideration of the Qur’an, despite the seeming possible futility of applying a contextual method to what amounts to a posthumous topical collection of recalled sayings.
The author then posed the argument based on context:
It is true as we read from the Qur’aan: 5:13, 4:46, 3:78 that God’s revelations were reinterpreted. These interpretations followed the folly desires of men, in some areas to abrogate God’s law to suit material wants and desires, for power, even for illicit pleasures:
Their gist is that the Jews were habitually used to issuing religious edicts as desired by the people, either for the benefit of relatives or to satisfy their greed for money, property, influence, and recognition. This had become a common custom particularly in matters involving punishments that they would, if the crime was committed by an influential person, change the severe punishment of the Torah into an ordinary one. It is this behaviour, part of theirs which has been described in the first verse (41) in the following words: يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوَاضِعِهِ (They displace the words after their having been placed properly).
Now the people who were used to making the severe punishments of the Torah easy for their clients by changing them saw an opportunity for themselves whereby they could take such shady matters to the Holy Prophet undefined and make him their judge or arbitrator. The dual advantage they saw in it was that they would reap the benefits of all easy and light rules of Islamic law, while at the same time, they would not have to commit the crime of altering the Torah. But, here too, they had their crookedness at work as they would hold on to their decision of taking their case to him until such time that they succeeded in finding out beforehand through some source or ruse as to the actual verdict which would be delivered in their case when presented. Then, if they found this verdict matching their wishes, they would make him their arbitrator and have him decide their case. If it happened to be contrary to their wishses, they would leave it at that.- Tafsir Maar’iful Qur’aan : Mufti Rafi Uthmani, pages 164- 165.
However, God did guard the message (risalah) of the revelations (wahy). God sent messengers, prophets to correct the wrong interpretations by these pseudo religious scholars:
إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ اثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا إِلَيْكُمْ مُرْسَلُونَ
When We sent to them two but they denied them, so We strengthened them with a third, and they said, “Indeed, we are messengers to you.” – Qur’an : Suratul Yasin (36) : 14.
In fact, the New Testament, confirms that Messengers were sent to the people who tried to alter His message through new interpretations:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. – Bible : Matthew (23) : 37.
So as we can see, the Qur’an is correct, God did protect the meaning of His message, until newer revelation was sent. For example the Qur’an abrogates the Injil as the Injil abrogated the Tawrah, and if the case arose where persons were distorting the meaning of a scripture or Prophet’s message, we read that God sent apostles, messengers, Prophets in some instances to correct the people (see 36:14 above).
Regarding the author’s conclusion, the solution he is offering is a qualification on the protection of “until newer revelation was sent.” That solution is not actually found in the materials he has identified. In other words, the context has not substantiated his charge.
It seems that (for part of the argument) the author is trying to argue that the Qur’an’s references to corruption relate to attempted corruption of the meaning, but that this attempted corruption was essentially ineffective. This approach might make sense, but would imply that the meaning remains intact. That solution implies that the Old and New Testaments are intact in their meaning (within the context of Dr. White’s criticism).
But the author of the article is not finished. He continues:
However, now we’ve arrived at the crux of the matter, textual corruption. As Muslims we assert that God’s message is preserved by God (as seen above, contextually), but what about textually? We read earlier that God protects His message in totality, that is, textually and contextually (meanings, interpretations). However as Muslims, we also do say that we do not believe in the Old Testaments of the Jews and Christians nor do we believe in the New Testaments of the Christians as being valid, because we assert they are not the words of God. Since they are not the words of God, they can indeed become corrupted and God did not promise to guard the works of man, but only His words.
This is the approach mentioned above of denying that the Old and New Testaments correspond to the Torah and Injeel. But is this feasible? Let’s consider how the author of the article tries to defend this approach:
For example, in the case of the Old Testament, where missionary zealots such as Sam Shamoun and James White try to propose, that their Torah is the Torah from Allaah, we have to correct that appeal to ignorance. The Qur’an does not say that the Old Testament is the word of God, in fact, we read above (5:13) where the Qur’an calls the Torah/ Old Testament of the Jews and Christians as being interpolations from the tongues and minds of men. It is in this regard that the Islamic belief is not that God’s word was corrupted, but that people wrote words and then claimed them to be God’s:
فَوَيْلٌ لِلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ الْكِتَابَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَـٰذَا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ لِيَشْتَرُوا بِهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا ۖ فَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ
So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. – Qur’an : Suratul Baqarah (2) : 79.
With that being said, we must come to the understanding that when the Qur’an says that the message became corrupted, that is textually, it refers to those who put aside God’s revelation and in its stead, replaced the void with their own sayings, beliefs and propaganda. One example is of the Christian New Testament. The Qur’an says that a scripture (Injil) was given to Jesus (Issa, may God be pleased with him):
وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِمْ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنْجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِي
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. – Qur’an : 5: 46.
However Christians by themselves prove the Islamic belief of textual corruption as displayed above:
(1) Muslims believe that Jesus (Issa, may God be pleased with him) was given a revelation by God called the Injil.
(2) Christians believe that inspired scripture about Jesus originated with the apostles of Christ.
Therefore the Christian argument in reality disproves itself.
As for the last argument, this argument is only relevant to the Gospels, not to the Torah or the Zabur (Psalter, book of Psalms). Moreover, this argument presupposes that it is true that the Injil was given as a revelation to Jesus. However, this assertion itself is not correct. Indeed, it is simply another error of Mohamed’s teaching.
This point is also something of a red herring. Even if there were a different book called the Injil that was allegedly given to Jesus, where has this been preserved at all? In other words, the situation is much worse for the Muslim who tries to avail himself of this particular argument. Instead of simply small textual variants in the New Testament, now the Muslim must account for the seeming complete destruction of the whole book and any record of its existence. After all, there is no record before Mohammed of any book given to Jesus.
There is a similar problem with respect to the argument about the Torah. So, the Muslim is claiming that the Torah which has been preserved is not the Torah referenced in the Qur’an. But then the lack of preservation is much worse than the Muslim has contended – the original Torah is completely gone if the one we have is not the original Torah but some new fake Torah.
Moreover, there is another problem, the Koran seems to suggest that the Torah and Injil are in the possession of the people of Mohammed’s day:
وَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ كِتَابٌ مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَهُمْ وَكَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ يَسْتَفْتِحُونَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُم مَّا عَرَفُوا كَفَرُوا بِهِ ۚ فَلَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them,- although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith,- when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognised, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without Faith. Qur’an 2:89 (Yusuf Ali translation)
If the Torah and Injil are something that were with Christians and Jews in the 7th century, then they weren’t destroyed. Moreover, we know what the Old and New Testaments looked like in the 7th century – in fact we have even older copies than that.
So, it seems that the problem hasn’t really been addressed. But let’s consider how the author tries to wrap up this argument:
They have now failed on two fronts. Firstly, the premise that Muslims contradict themselves when they say the Bible is corrupted is proven false as we do not believe the Bible is the word of God. We don’t believe it is the word of God for namely two reasons:
(1) Christians assert it’s from the apostles and not from the Prophet Jesus (may God be pleased with him).
(2) Christians assert the revelation (wahy) isn’t revelation verbatim from God, which is what Muslims believe, but that the Bible is an inspired word from God, through the words of men.
Secondly, since they have made significant distinctions with what the Muslim concept of revelation is and what their scripture is actually comprised of, then they have shown that the Bible (New Testament) is not the Injil and as it follows, the Injil is not the Bible.
Most of this argument is already addressed above. Some people who call themselves Christians may not believe that the Bible is the very word of God, but verbal plenary inspiration is an important part of orthodox Christian belief. We do not believe that only the ideas but not the words are inspired. Our view of the mechanism of inspiration may differ from that of Muslims (we don’t believe that the words simply are spoken, as it were, in the ears of the prophets), but that difference seems to be irrelevant to this particular argument.
The author of the article then provides a section designated as “conclusion”:
Therefore, we must come to a logical conclusion. When missionary zealots such as Sam Shamoun and James White, along with their propganda team at AI, state that the Qur’an is wrong for saying the Bible is corrupted because Muslims believe the word of God can’t be corrupted, we must educate them. It is in this light, that our response should be, as such:
- Muslims believe the word of God cannot be corrupted.
- We believe the Bible is corrupted because it is not the word of God.
We do not believe it is the word of God because:
- Christians do not believe the Bible is the verbatim word of God, but inspired ideas from God through the words of men.
- Therefore the Bible is corrupted because it is not the word of God and as such Muslims do not believe in it.
What was wrong with James White’s missionary belief, is that they think the Bible is the word of God and therefore we should accept this belief and as a consequence adhere to it, however as displayed above they don’t believe in the kind of scripture we do, they make a clear distinction between the Injil which we believe God revealed to Isa (Jesus, may God be pleased with him), while they believe in a scripture inspired by God, worded by the minds of men, which manifested after Jesus had walked the earth.
May God guide those who appeal to the fallacy of ad ignorantium.
As noted above, however, this doesn’t really solve the problem – it just makes it worse. The Torah and Injil are now not merely somehow obscured through textual variation, but instead are completely destroyed. Under this theory, they are preserved much worse than if the Old and New Testaments are the Torah and Injil.
Moreover, there is no good argument provided for the assertion that the Torah and Injil do not correspond to Old and New Testament. Regarding the Injil, the argument that it cannot be the New Testament because of the mode of transmission (a) makes the problem even worse for the Muslim and (b) assumes both the reliability of the Qur’an on this point and the reliability of Christian accounts of how the gospels were given.
As for the fallacy of ad ignorantium, it has not been substantiated by the author of the article, and so we may leave our response at that.