by Abdur Rahim Green
So what is this evidence that Islam claims to present that is so convincing? The first issue is authenticity. Purity of text is quite vital to the whole spirit of “fund”. This is because once a text has shown to have been corrupted and altered in order to make it comply with doctrinal or political expediencies, and if there is no reliable means to distinguish the corrupt from the pure, then there is not one passage of that text that cannot be called into question. This is not so easy with a pure and preserved text. This is well understood by the Christian fundamentalists. If it is not the ” Word of God “, then what real value does it posses as guidance, except as a collection of wisdom? Few serious scholars, even from Islam’s opponents, have tried to dispute the Quran’s historical authenticity .
Indeed it would be a pointless exercise, since anyone who cares to take a trip to Tashkent (in the former Soviet Union) will find there a complete copy of the Quran written by one of the Prophet’s scribes, Zayed ibn Thabit, upon the order of the first Caliph Abu Bakr within two years of the Prophet’s death. The manuscript in Tashkent is a copy of that first manuscript, also written by the hand of the same Zayed, but some twelve years later under the order of ‘Uthman bin Affan, the third Caliph, with the consensus of over fifty companions of the Prophet who also had written portions of the Quran, and also others who had memorised it in toto. This ” Uthmanic ” Quran, as it later came to known, was accepted without exception by the surviving companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as being one and the same that was revealed by Allah to his Final Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him,. One can take any copy of any Quran, from any mosque anywhere in the word and compare it with the mushaf of Zayed, and find it exactly the same – word for word. It is even recited in the same accent in which the Prophet, peace be upon him, recited it. Furthermore Arabic, the language of the Quran, is a living language, and the Book has always been in the hands of the people – not merely the domain of a few priests.
Thus anyone reading the Quran can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that they are reading the same words revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, over one thousand four hundred years ago.
“Verily! It is We Who have sent down the Quran and surely, We will guard it” (Surah al-Hijr 15:9)
The reality of the fruition of this statement is a clear sign to mankind, and one of the manifest miracles of the Quran. Moreover this preservation is not limited to only the Quran, but also its explanation, the Sunnah, i.e. the actions, sayings and tacit approvals of the Prophet, peace be upon him,. These were meticulously memorised and written down by his wives and companions, and passed down until they were collected in the more famous books of hadeeth some two to three hundred years after the Hijra.. The body of hadeeth literature has not enjoyed, quite unjustly, the same general acceptance of authenticity as the Quran. This is simply because the means by which the hadeeth became preserved was a longer and more complicated affair than that of the Quran, and therefore became a relatively easier target of attack by Islam’s enemies. Some Orientalists have even claimed that Hadith authenticity rates the same as the Biblical texts . This is, however a very superficial comparison, even if there are some apparent similarities. For example the major books of hadeeth such Saheeh al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim and the Sunan of Abu Dawood, did not appear until just over two hundred years the Hijra.
Those who compiled the books were not themselves eye witnesses. Many hadeeth within the entire body of hadeeth literature are clearly fabricated and of dubious authenticity, and ,as a whole, contain contradictions. These statements are true in general, but a more detailed study of the history of the preservation of the hadeeth makes it immediately clear that the reality is quite different. Firstly, as we mentioned concerning the Quran, the language of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is preserved. Secondly the major hadeeth books we mentioned were not so much new works as compilations of earlier, smaller ones. There was also a good deal of oral transmission, but the collectors of Prophetic sayings were extremely weary of ensuring that any given narration attributed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, could be effectively proven as such. The method by which this was accomplished was through the’isnad’, or chain of narrators. From the earliest days of Islam after the death of the Prophet, peace be upon him,, various groups arose deviating from the teachings of Islam that had been given to the Prophet’s Companions. These sects began to invent sayings which they attributed to the Prophet, peace be upon him,. So in response the Companions of the Prophet began to demand that anyone transmitting a narration must name which companion they had received it from, and thus the truth of narrator ascertained.
The students of the Companions continued this policy, and further safe guards were added as not only the Companions name was needed, but also the next narrator in the chain of transmission . Conditions were laid down for these narrators to be accepted. The scholars differed over some of the conditions, some being stricter than others, but three basic requirements were agreed by all. First the transmitter must be a pious Muslim, secondly they must be known not to forget, thirdly they must not be liars. The next generation of hadeeth transmitters began to write the names of all those who attended their lectures. No one was allowed to narrate a hadeeth on that lecturers authority unless he attended the lecture in which that hadeeth was narrated and its meaning explained. From this developed the books of ” Rijal ” in which was listed the character, quality of memory, place of habitation, travels, teachers and students, and opinion of other scholars, concerning all the narrators of the hadeeth. Thus every available method was used to ensure that when the scholars of the sciences of hadeeth declared a narration of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as being authentic it was, beyond any reasonable doubt said by him. This methodology is not only used for the Prophetic traditions, but also the sayings of the Companions and the early scholars.
Indeed any true scholar must be able to produce the isnad of his teachers back to the Prophet himself! Along with this textual and contextual authenticity, the Quran itself lays down claims to prove its veracity as God’s revealed Words. Of course, ” proof ” is a big word, especially when it comes to God or religion, especially for the ” Western mind “, programmed by two thousand years of Christianity, which seems to think that religion is supposed to be ” mysterious ” and ” incomprehensible “. The idea that God and revelation are not only compatible with reason, but also can be proven, is often met with incredulity. After all, what’s the point? If you can prove it where does faith come in? This is because the Christian world has been taught that ” faith ” means believing the unbelievable without any proof. This is manifest in the that nonsense called the Trinity, and all the theological contortions surrounding it. Christians are expected to believe that black is white and yet still black, or in their terms, that the Invisible, Self-Sufficient, Un-Changing, Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator became a visible, needy, mortal, fallible creature who was killed on a cross, and this man was still the Invisible, Self-Sufficient, Un-Changing, Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator – completely God and completely man. Of course anyone with a mind will understand that one by necessity precludes the other. Something completely God cannot possibly be, or contain the qualities of, a man, for this would immediately exclude such a being from being truly God.
Furthermore, any man that had the qualities of God would no longer be a man. In an attempt to ” explain the unexplainable ” the Doctrine of the Trinity was invented: One God made of three entities, each one completely God, (and therefor completely the same, yet somehow different) not making three Gods but only One! Moreover the Christian has been asked to believe that mankind’s salvation lies in believing God killed Himself (or His son, or an innocent man, or all three at the same time) as a ransom for a burden of sin – that He placed on all human beings for the sin of Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden tree! The inevitable refuge of the Christian when assaulted with a barrage questions over this muddle is that its all “a mystery”, and if you want to be saved from Hell you should stop asking so many questions and accept it as an act of faith. Yet it seems rather absurd that the Just Creator would punish anyone for refusing to believe things which are unacceptable and incomprehensible to the very faculties of reason and common sense that He has provided for the human to make their decisions, without providing some strong proof that they should do so! The Quran, however, chastises mankind for not using their common sense and reasoning powers, and states that their failure to do so is itself a cause of their destruction:
“And for those who disbelieve in their Lord is the torment of Hell, and worst indeed is that destination. When they are cast therein, they will hear the terrible drawing in of its breath as it blazes forth. It almost bursts with fury. Every time a group is cast therein, its keeper will ask: ‘Did no warner come to you?’ They will say: ‘Yes indeed; a warner did come to us, but we belied him and said: ‘Allah never sent down anything, you are only in great error.’ And they will say: ‘Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not have been among the dwellers of the Fire!'” (Surah al-Mulk 67:6-9)
Indeed there is nothing in the theology of Islam that cannot be understood by sound reasoning. In fact it is possible for anyone, anywhere to reach an understanding of the essence of Islam without ever having heard of Muhammad or the Quran. This is because the Creator’s existence can be readily understood by anyone observing the patterns and intricate mechanisms of the world and universe around us, and that ultimate power and control rests with this Being, and thus is alone truly worthy of worship, and that to worship this Creator one can only rely on Divine guidance. To attempt to do this is ” Islam “, which means “sincerity and submission to Allah “. This very universality and simplicity is one of the strong arguments in favour of Islam’s Divine origin.
For the Muslim, faith is not a blind leap in the dark against proof and reason, but rather a step taken as a consequence of contemplation, experience, instinct and evidence. Ultimately it does mean a complete acceptance of a single truth, but this is no more blind than the faith of a scientist in a particular theory, or a doctor in form of treatment that has proven itself valid clinically and operationally. It might be compared to the situation in a court, with a jury. Ideally what is supposed to happen is that the jury is presented with a series of evidences concerning a case. When the weight of evidence is so conclusive the jury makes its decision. It is not sufficient for it to say: ” Well, we found the evidence really convincing!” In the end it must make a decision, ” Guilty!” or ” Not guilty!”, based on the facts. Similarly in Islam, the Creator presents the human being with a series of conclusive evidences, upon the basis of which the human should declare their faith, and act accordingly. The Weight of Evidence
Allah laid down a challenge in the Quran to mankind in general and to the Arabs in particular:
“And if you are in doubt concerning that which we have sent down to our slave (Muhammad) then produce a chapter like it, and call your supporters and helpers besides Allah, if you are truthful!” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:23)
The Arabs in the time of Muhammad, peace be upon him, had no civilization to speak of – no magnificent roads or public buildings, nor scientific or medical institutions. In fact, they lived a most primitive and barbarous existence. There was one thing in which they excelled – that was their language. They were extremely found of poetry, and prided themselves in their poetic abilities. They praised each other, admonished – and even argued – in poetry. There was even an annual market in Uhaz just for poetry – the finest of which was hung on the door of the Ka’abah. The age of Muhammad was a time when the Arabs were at the peak of their linguistic abilities. Indeed, one of the finest poems ever written in Arabic was that of Labaid ibn Rabiyah, who’s poem, when recited at Uhaz, caused the Arabs to prostrate before him in admiration. When this same Labaid began to hear the verses of Quran, he embraced Islam, and gave up poetry altogether. When he was once asked to recite some poetry he said: ” What! After the Quran?” Indeed, many of the Arabs entered into Islam just from hearing the Quran, because for them it was a conclusive proof of its Divine origin. They knew that no man could produce such eloquence. The challenge of the Quran for man to produce its like is not, as some suppose, merely like the uniqueness of Shakespeare, Shelly, Keats or Homer. The Quran differentiated itself in its very structure. Poetry in Arabic falls into sixteen different ” Bihar ” (rhythmic forms), and other than that they have the speech of soothsayers, rhyming prose, and normal speech. The Quran’s form did not fit into any of these categories. It was this that made the Quran inimitable, and left the pagan Arabs at a loss as to how they might combat it. Alqama bin Abdulmanaf confirmed this when he addressed their leaders, the Quraish:
“Oh Quraish, a new calamity has befallen you. When Muhammad was a young man, he was the most liked among you, the most truthful in speech and the most trustworthy, until, when you saw grey hairs on his temple, he brought you his message. You said that he was a sorcerer, but he is not, for we have seen such people and their spitting and their knots. You said that he was a diviner, but we have seen such people and their behaviour, and we have heard their rhymes You said a soothsayer, but he is not a soothsayer, for we have heard their rhymes; and you said a poet, but he is not a poet, for we have heard all kinds of poetry. You said he was possessed, but he is not for we have seen the possessed, and he shows no signs of their gasping and whispering and delirium. Oh men of Quraysh, look to your affairs, for by Allah a serious thing has befallen you.”
The Quraish decided that the only convincing propaganda they could make against the Prophet, peace be upon him, was that the magic of his speech turned a man away from his father, wife, brother and family. So Abu Lahab would wait on the road ways into Mecca in the Hajj season, and warn the people from listening to Muhammad’s speech. Tufayl ibn Amr, chief of the Daws tribe and a distinguished poet, was one such man accosted by the Meccans, as he himself mentioned:
“I approached Mecca. As soon as the Quraish leaders saw me, they came up to me and gave me a most hearty welcome and accommodated me in a grand house. Their leaders and notables then gathered and said: ‘O Tufayl, you have come to our town. this man who claims that he is a Prophet has ruined our authority and shattered our community. We are afraid that he would succeed in undermining you and your authority among your people just as he has done with us. Don’t speak to the man. On no account listen to anything he has to say. He has the speech of a wizard, causing division between father and son, between brother and brother and between husband and wife.’ They went on telling me the most fantastic stories and scared me by recounting tales of his incredible deeds. I made up my mind then not to approach this man, or speak to him or listen to anything he had to say. The following morning I went to the place of worship to make tawaf around the Ka’abah as an act of worship to the idols that we made pilgrimage to and glorified. I inserted cotton in my ears out of fear that something of the speech of Muhammad would reach my hearing. As soon as I entered the place of worship, I saw him standing near the Ka’abah. He was praying in a fashion which was different from our prayer.
His whole manner of worship was different. The scene captivated me. His worship made me tremble and I felt drawn to him, despite myself, until I was quite close to him. Notwithstanding the precaution I had taken, God willed that some of what he was saying should reach my hearing and I said to myself: ‘What are you doing, Tufayl? You are a perceptive poet. You can distinguish between the good and the bad in the poetry. What prevents you from listening to what this man is saying? If what comes from him is good, accept it, and if it is bad, reject it.’ I remained there until the Prophet left for his home. I followed him as he entered his house, and I entered also and said: ‘O Muhammad, your people have said certain things to me about you. By God, they kept on frightening me away from your message so that I even blocked my ears to keep out your words. Despite this, God caused me to hear something of it and I found it good. So tell me more about your mission.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, did and recited to me Surah al-Falaq. I swear by God, I had never heard such beautiful words before. Neither was a more noble or just mission ever described to me. Thereupon, I stretched out my hand to him in allegiance and testified that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. This is how I entered Islam. Even the leaders of Quraish were unable to resist hearing the Quran.”
The Seerah (i.e. Prophetic Biography) of Ibn Ishaq reports one incident when Abu Sufyan, Abu Jahl and Al-Akhnas snuck out of their houses at night to listen to the Prophet reciting the Quran – hiding in their places until dawn. On the way home, they met and reproached one another, saying: ” Don’t do it again, for if one of the weak minded fools see you, you will arouse suspicion in their minds.” This happened three nights in a row, until they took from each other a solemn oath not to do it again. Utba bin Rabi’a, a chief of Quraish, during one of their meetings in which they discussed possible means to stop Muhammad’s preaching, suggested to make some proposals to Muhammad and ” give him whatever he wants, so he will leave us in peace.” Their leaders agreed, so Utba went and sat by the Prophet, peace be upon him, and said:
“Oh my nephew, you are one of us as you know, of the noblest of the tribe and hold a worthy position in ancestry. You have come to your people with an important matter, dividing their community thereby and ridiculing their customs, and you have insulted their gods and their religion, and declared that their forefathers were unbelievers, so listen to me and I will make some suggestions, and perhaps you will be able to accept one of them.”
The Prophet agreed, and he went on:
“If what you want is money, we will make you our chief so that no one can decide anything apart from you; if you want sovereignty, we will make you king, and if this ghost which comes to you, which you see, is such that you cannot get rid of him, we will find a physician for you, and exhaust our means in getting you cured, for often a familiar spirit gets possession of a man until he can be cured of it.”
The Prophet, peace be upon him, listened patiently, and then said: ” Now listen to me “. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then recited from the beginning of Surah Fussilat (41) until the verse of prostration, were the Prophet prostrated, and all the while Utba listened attentively, sitting on his hands, and leaning on them. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then said: ” You have heard what you have heard, Abu’l Waleed; the rest remains with you.’ When Utba returned to his companions they noticed that his expression completely altered, and they asked him what had happened. He said that he had heard words that he had never heard before, which were neither poetry, nor witchcraft.
“Take my advice and do as I do, leave this man entirely alone for, by God, the words which I have heard will be blazed abroad. If the other Arabs kill him , others will have rid you of him; if he gets the better of the Arabs, his sovereignty will be your sovereignty, his power your power, and you will be prosperous through him”
‘They said: ‘ He has bewitched you with his tongue’ To which he answered: “You have my opinion, you must do what you think fit”. Such was the power of the Quran that Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who was on his way to kill the Prophet, discovered his sister and her husband reciting the Quran. Upon reading twenty verses, instead went to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and embraced Islam. So how is it possible for an un-lettered and un-learned man, not versed in poetry, to be able to produce a work of unrivaled eloquence and perfect rhetoric, so that even the assembled experts and masters of all the forms poetry and the Arabic language were unable to produce the like of its smallest chapter? Indeed they chose rather to fight the Prophet, peace be upon him. Thus the flower of their nobility were killed, and their trade and reputation destroyed. How could they choose this rather than counter the verses of Quran? It is as at-Tabari wrote in the introduction to his Tafseer (commentary on the Quran):
“There can be no doubt that the highest and most resplendent degree of eloquence is that which expresses its self with the greatest clarity, making the intention of the speaker evident and facilitating the hearer’s understanding. But when it rises beyond this level of eloquence, and transcends what man is capable of, so that none of the servants of God is able to match it, it becomes a proof and a sign for the Messengers of the One, the All-powerful. It is then the counterpart of raising the dead and curing of lepers and the blind, themselves proofs and signs for the Messengers because they transcend the realm of the highest attainment of man’s medicine and therapy . . .”.
Continuing on, at-Tabari says:
“. . . it is obvious that there is no discourse more eloquent, no wisdom more profound, no speech more sublime, no form of expression more noble, than this clear discourse and speech with which a single man challenged a people at a time when they were acknowledged masters of the art of oratory and rhetoric, poetry and prose, rhymed prose and soothsaying. He reduced their fancy to folly and demonstrated the inadequacy of their logic. He dissociated himself from their religion and summoned all of them to follow him, accept his mission, testify to its truth, and affirm that he was the Messenger sent to them by their Lord. He let them know that the demonstration of the truth of what he said, the proof of the genuineness of his prophethood, was the bayan (the clear discourse), the hikma (the wisdom), the furqan (the criterion between truth and falsehood), which he conveyed to them in a language like their language, in a speech whose meanings conformed to the meanings of their speech. Then he told them that they were incapable of bringing anything comparable to even a part of what he brought, and that they lacked the power to do this. They all confessed their inability, voluntarily acknowledging the truth of what he had brought, and bore witness to their own insufficiency . . . “.
If we examine analytically the claim of anyone to Prophethood then there are three possibilities concerning such a claim. The first possibility is that the individual is a liar. The second possibility is that the individual sincerely believes he or she is receiving revelation, but is only suffering some form of delusion, and the third is that the individual really is receiving revelation, and is speaking the truth. It is interesting to mention some of the arguments raised by the Christian and secularist Orientalists against Muhammad, peace be upon him, because taken as a whole they offer a conclusive proof in his favour. One school of thought has suggested, in essence, that Muhammad was a liar and a fabricator; that he learnt from various rabbis and Christian priests, and during his various retreats to the Mountain of Light, composed the Quran. Some have tried to soften these accusations by claiming that he was motivated by a sincere desire to reform his people, and so invented Islam to achieve this.
Others accuse him of more worldly interests and cite the large number of wives as a proof of this. This approach has been rejected altogether by the second school, who upon observing the evidence of Muhammad’s character which places him far above lying and deceit, and the reality of his life style which was a paragon of simplicity and even poverty. Having found no substantiating proof that he had any rabbi’s or priests as teachers, and the complete acceptance of his claim by his close family and wives, to whom any duplicity would inevitably have been exposed, have claimed that he was totally sincere in his claim to prophethood, and that he truly believed that he was a prophet receiving revelation. They, also unable to accept the possibility that Muhammad truly was a Prophet, attempt various psycho-analytical explanations, such as the Quran being a voice of the subconscious, or the revelation being bought on by trances induced by epileptic fits. The basic claim being that Muhammad was deluded. We will not attempt to refute these accusations in detail here. The cursory examination of the opposing positions will suffice. What makes this a conclusive proof in Muhammad’s favour is that he could not be a calculating liar and be deluded at the same time.
A man who sincerely believes that he is a Prophet, does not sit down thinking and planning what he will say the next day, because he believes that God is going to reveal it to him!Yet the opponents of Islam need both to explain the phenomena of Muhammad. He needs to be a cunning and calculating deceiver in order to explain the information and linguistic inimitability of the Quran, yet he needs to be deluded in order to explain his obvious sincerity. If one takes these two bodies of information together the only way to reconcile them is the third possibility, that he was indeed what he claimed to be – the Messenger of Allah. Indeed, the Quraish found it very hard to produce a convincing argument against Muhammad, peace be upon him. They knew that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was unable to produce the likes of the Quran, either in its eloquence, or in the knowledge it contained. They were also familiar with his character and personality, and admitted that he had been the best, most trusted and well liked amongst them. Even Abu Lahb, the Prophet’s persistent enemy, said: ” We don’t call you a liar, Muhammad, we just don’t believe in what you have brought.” In reality, Abu Lahb’s motivation for refusing to accept Muhammad was tribal rivalry. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, first received revelation to call his people openly to Islam, he went to the top of Mount Saffa and called all the tribes of Mecca, until they had all gathered or sent a representative. He said to them:
“Oh my people, if I was to tell you there was a band of horsemen about to attack from behind this hill, would you believe me?” They all replied: “Yes! Why should we not believe you, we never heard anything but truth from you!” So the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “I have come to warn you of a terrible chastisement from your Lord.”
So Muhammad’s people testified to his truthfulness, and that they had never heard lies from him. And as Heraculus, the Byzantine Roman Emperor, said, when questioning Abu Sufyaan about the Prophet, peace be upon him:
“If he does not lie about men, then he would not lie about Allah!”