Did Ibn Abbas Believe the Christian and Jewish Scriptures Were Uncorrupted? A Response to Sam Shamoun


Bassam Zawadi

Sam Shamoun attempted to respond to me here regarding Ibn Abbas's position towards the Christian and Jewish scriptures. I must say that he has done a poor job in doing so. He thought he could ignore most of what I have already said in my article and fool the reader who is not motivated to read everything on both sides by giving them the impression that he actually refuted me.

Sam Shamoun said:

Ibn Hajar's comments are rather confusing. Is he saying that the statements which appear both before and after this specific part are definitely the words of Ibn Abbas? Or is he referring to something else? If he is referring to this specific report then how did he know that what appeared before and after Ibn Abbas' statements regarding the incorruptibility of God's books are from him when the entire narrative lacks a continuous chain?

My Response:

Ibn Hajar said that because there are other authentic narrations from Ibn Abbas which show that he said that. Here is the alleged narration again from Ibn Abbas...

"By the Mount and an Inscribed Book" (52:1-2): Qatada said that "mastur" means "written". "Yasturun" (68:1) means "they inscribe", and the Umm al-Kitab (43:4) is the whole of the Qur'an and its source. [He said that] "ma talfizu" (50:18) means: "He does not say anything but that it is written against him." Ibn 'Abbas said, "Both good and evil are recorded," and "yuharrufuna" (4:46) means "they remove". No one removes the works [sic] of one of the Books of Allah Almighty, but they twist them, interpreting them improperly. "Dirasatihim: (6:156) means "their recitation" "Wa'iyya" (69:12) is preserving, "ta'iha" (69:12) means to "preserve it". "This Qur'an has been revealed to me by inspiration that I may warn you," meaning the people of Makka, "and all whom it reaches"(6:19) meaning this Qur'an, so he is its warner.

So if you realize near the end, Ibn Abbas said that they used to give false interpretations to the text. Ibn Hajar affirms that Ibn Abbas said these, for other authentic narrations show that he did. Ibn Hajar also claims the same thing for Ibn Abbas's statements initially. However, the crucial part of the narration, where Ibn Abbas claims that no one can remove anything from God's book and that it is still preserved, does not reach us from an authentic source. Thus, it is doubtful.

Sam Shamoun said:

Be that as it may, there were other scholars who disagreed with Ibn Hajar and acknowledged that Ibn Abbas did make these comments. Throughout his article Zawadi references Dr. Muhammad Abu Laylah's book, The Qur'an and the Gospels - A Comparative Study. In this very source the author cites another Muslim scholar who appealed to Ibn Abbas' statements regarding the textual incorruptibility of the Torah and the Gospel:

. The Andalusian interpreter Ibn Atiyya stated that Tahrif means "to change or transfer something from its original character to another" and that Ibn Abbas held that the Jewish (and possibly the Christian, by implication) corruption and change was to be found in exegesis, the letter of the Torah surviving intact, although a second school of scholars maintained that the letters themselves had been changed on the basis that although the Jews had been asked to safeguard the Torah, unlike the Qur'an it was not safeguarded by God Himself. (Laylah, The Qur'an and the Gospels - A Comparative Study [Al-Falah Foundation for Translation, Publication & Distribution, Third edition, 2005], pp. 145-146; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

My Response:

Shamoun is committing nothing more than the fallacy of appeal to authority. His quoting of Ibn Attiya does not change the fact that the narration is still weak. Is Ibn Attiya (546 A.H.) infallible? No. Has the narration been proven to be reliable? Yes. So, which side should we take? The answer is obvious.

Plus, why does Shamoun ignore the fact that several other more prominent scholars have made it clear regarding Ibn Abbas's position?

Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Habib al-Mawardi (d. 450 A.H.) says in his commentary of the Qur'an Al Nakat Wal U'yoon on Surah 2, Verse 79:

Firstly, the word Ummi in the verse could refer to someone who does not know how to read or write, and this is Mujahid's statement and more apparent interpretation. 

Secondly, The word Ummi in the verse could refer to a people who did not believe in a Messenger that Allah had sent. They also didn't believe in a book that Allah sent, and they wrote a book with their own hands and told the ignorant people "This is from Allah", and this is the view of Ibn Abbaas. (Source)    

Imam Tabari elaborates on Ibn Abbas's position in his commentary on Surah 2:42...  

Regarding the verse 'Confound not truth with falsehood': The truth is the Torah that Allah revealed to Moses. Falsehood: it is what they have written from their own hands.... It was reported that Ibn Abbaas and others said, 'Do not mix the truth of what you have in the Book with falsehood,' and that is the changing and substituting. (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 2:42, Source)  

In his commentary on Surah 2:75, Imam Ar Razi quotes al-Qadi 'Abd Al Jabbar (d. 415 A.H.) as affirming that Ibn Abbaas's opinion towards the Christian and Jewish scriptures is that there have been additions and subtractions made to and from them. (Source) Again, this is clearly indicating that Ibn Abbas's position is that the scriptures have been textually corrupted.  

Since Shamoun is so fond of Ibn 'Attiya's scholarship, then would he agree with Ibn 'Attiya citing Ibn Zayd as saying:

وقال ابن زيد: المراد { بالحق } التوراة، و " الباطل " ما بدلوا فيها من ذكر محمد عليه السلام

Ibn Zayd said: The meaning of 'truth' here is the Torah, and the meaning of 'falsehood' here is their replacement of what is mentioned of Muhammad (peace be upon him). (Ibn Attiya, Al Muharrir Al Wajeez fi Tafsir Al Kitab Al Azeez, Commentary on Surah 2:42, Source)

Also, Ibn Attiya makes his position more explicit in his commentary on Surah 5:13 by stating that the previous scriptures were corrupted by false interpretations and text as well.

It's quite clear that Ibn Attiya was unaware of the chain's weakness, which is attributed to Ibn Abbas. Many scholars of the past have made this mistake, and Ibn Attiya is no different.

Sam Shamoun said:

Moreover, we had earlier cited Ibn Kathir who quoted Ibn Abbas' words as reported by al-Bukhari. Here is his reference once again, this time with some additional context:

Mujahid. Ash-Sha'bi, Al-Hassan, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi' bin Anas said that,

means, "They alter (Allah's Words)."

Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn 'Abbas said that the Ayah means they alter and add although none among Allah's creation can remove the words of Allah from His books, they alter and distort their apparent meanings. Wahb bin Munabbih said, "The Tawrah and Injil remain as Allah revealed them, and no letter in them was removed. However, the people misguide others by addition and false interpretation, relying on books that they wrote themselves." Then,

As for Allah's books, they are still preserved and cannot be changed." Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. However, if Wahb meant the books that are currently in the hands of the People of the Book, then we should state that there is no doubt that they altered, distorted, added to and deleted from them. For instance, the Arabic versions of these books contain tremendous error, many additions and deletions and enormous misinterpretation. Those who rendered these translations have incorrect comprehension in most, rather, all of these translations. If Wahb meant the Books of Allah that He has with Him, then indeed, these Books are preserved and were never changed. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: March 2000], p. 196; source; bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir disagrees with both Wahb and Ibn Abbas that the previous revelation remained intact. And on what basis does he disagree? On the basis that Arabic versions of the Holy Bible showed textual tampering in the form of additions and deletions! This is equivalent to someone today claiming that the Quran has been corrupted due to the fact that there are additions and omissions among the various English versions (*) or that a specific English translation made by Rashad Khalifa omits Q. 9:128-129 (1, 2)!

My Response:

Again, Shamoun commits the fallacy of appealing to authority regarding Ibn Abbas' narration.

Secondly, Ibn Kathir is clarifying the meaning of Wahb's statement. So, there is no argument here.

Sam Shamoun said:

There are several problems with Zawadi's assertions. In the first place, this attempt of evasion will not solve the problem for Zawadi but only compound the difficulties for him since all of al-Bukhari's reports which contain an unbroken chain (isnad) were written over two hundred years after Muhammad's death. Despite this long gap in time Zawadi erroneously assumes that just because a report provides a chain of transmitters this means that Muslims are able to accurately trace back the origin of a specific report. The circularity of such a position can be easily seen when we bear in mind this late dating of al-Bukhari.

To highlight the circularity of Zawadi's reasoning note that:

  • Muslims like Zawadi assume the veracity of a specific narration because of the authenticity of its chain.
  • Yet these chains are contained in sources which were written over two hundred years after the events in question.
  • This is the major problem that Zawadi faces. This huge time gap shows how unfeasible it is for Muslims to claim that a specific report is authentic due to its chain since, apart from a written trail, there is absolutely no way of verifying whether the people mentioned in that chain were reliable, were capable of passing down accurate information, or whether such individuals even existed! In other words, there is simply no possible way for someone writing two hundred years after an event to be able to completely guarantee that all the names of the chain which goes back over a two hundred year period are entirely correct, or that the men listed within these chains were completely honest.

My Response:

In this article, I will not engage in a debate over the collection and preservation of hadith. This topic is too complicated and deep for us to engage in now. Readers interested in this topic can refer to the following articles:

Refuting The Argument That The Hadith Have Been Collected 200 Years After The Death Of The Prophet And Therefore Are Unreliable

- God's Preservation of the Sunnah: by Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo

- Modern Historical Methodology vs Hadeeth Methodology: by Reem Azzam

- Hadith: Obligation to verify authenticity: by Akram Y Safadi

Sam Shamoun said:

Secondly, as Imam Al-Badr al-'Aini in the above quote from Zawadi noted, the hadith collection of al-Bukhari is filled with subheadings and quotes of specific Muslims without a chain of transmission, just as the following English version amply testifies: http://bewley.virtualave.net/bukhcont.html

If we were to therefore take Zawadi's criticism seriously this means that a great bulk of al-Bukhari's collection must be omitted, specifically the quotations that appear under the subheadings that precede the so-called sound reports.

 This leads us to our third point. It is often claimed that al-Bukhari was the most careful collector of Muslim traditions, omitting thousands of hadiths that did not meet his strict specifications of authenticity. To help illustrate this fact we quote from the Muslim translator of Al-Bukhari's hadith collection:

It has been UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that Imam Bukhari's work is the most authentic of all the other works in Hadith literature PUT TOGETHER. The authenticity of Al-Bukhari's work is such that the religious learned scholars of Islam said concerning him: "The most authentic book after the Book of Allah (i.e., Al-Qur'an) is Sahih Al-Bukhari." .

Before he recorded each Hadith he would make ablution and offer two Rak'at prayer and supplicate his Lord (Allah). Many religious scholars of Islam tried to find fault in the great remarkable collection- Sahih Al-Bukhari, BUT WITHOUT SUCCESS. It is for this reason, they UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that the most authentic book after the Book of Allah IS Sahih Al-Bukhari. (Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, translated by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Islamic University, Al-Madina Al-Munawwara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; compilation: Al-Imam Zain-ud-Din Ahmad bin Abdul-Lateef Az-Zubaidi [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, 1994], pp. 18-19; bold and capital emphasis ours)

My Response:

Shamoun forgets to differentiate between the subheadings and footnotes that Bukhari has included and the actual hadith. The actual hadith has been carefully scrutinized, not the footnotes and subheadings.

Shaykh GF Haddad said:

This conclusion [that Bukhari is 100% authentic] excludes the chainless, broken-chained reports, or unattributed reports sometimes adduced by al-Bukhari in his chapter-titles or appended to certain narrations. An example of the latter is the so-called "suicide hadith" - one of al-Zuhri's unattributive narrations (balaghat) which is actually broken-chained and therefore weak. It does not meet the criteria of hadith authenticity used by the lesser and greater hadith Masters, much less that of al-Bukhari who mentioned it only to show its discrepancy with two other chains whose versions omit the attempted suicide story, and Allah knows best.

The above conclusion is proof that the position that everything that is found in the two Sahihs is rigorously sound refers only to full-chained reports positively attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. (Source)

Sam Shamoun said:

This is precisely what we have done here. We carefully analyzed all of what Ibn Abbas is reported to have said, both here and in this article, comparing his statements in light of the teachings of the Quran and concluded that the only plausible way of harmonizing these conflicting reports is to assume that Ibn Abbas wasn't speaking of textual corruption of the Holy Bible. Rather, Ibn Abbas was referring to the Jews and Christians corrupting the Bible through their misinterpretations of their holy Scripture and by writing books that they took to be inspired by God (such as the Talmud) but which further corrupted the plain meaning of the inspired text of God's Word.  

My Response:

I am afraid that this is not what you have done, Shamoun. Even if we are to assume that the narration you put forth is authentic, that in no way can be used to reinterpret some of the clear statements uttered by Ibn Abbas regarding his position in support of the idea of textual corruption of the Bible.

For instance, I gave a valid and proper interpretation of that narration (assuming it was authentic) in my article.

Thirdly, Ibn Abbaas's statement could be reinterpreted in order to be reconciled with the other statements that he has made. And that is that Ibn Abbaas intended to say that they changed what was in their hands of the text which was with them, but they could not change the original true text which is with Allah on al-Lawh al-Mahfudh (preserved tablet) since the speech of Allah is eternal and no one can ever make it go lost completely and removing the words from the books here on earth does not mean that God's words have become totally lost but lost here on earth only. 

Ibn Kathir says in his commentary of Surah 85, Verse 22...  

(Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an.) meaning, magnificent and noble.

(In Al-Lawh Al-Mahfuz!) meaning, among the most high gathering, guarded from any increase, decrease, distortion, or change. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Source)

Here we see that the Qur'an is also preserved in the Preserved Tablet from being corrupted and this strongly raises the possibility that this is what Ibn Abbaas was referring to when he made (assuming that he did) that statement. His intention was to say that the speech of God is in the Preserved Tablet (including the original Torah and Gospel) and cannot be changed. 

This will be clarified more when we look at the statement of Ibn Abi Haatim later on. ....

And Wahb ibn Munabbih said: The Torah and Gospel are just as Allah the Most High has revealed them. Not a single letter has been changed from them, however they (Jews and Christians) mislead by distortion of interpretation and by books that they themselves used to write from themselves. Then they would say that it is from Allah and it is not from Allah. As for the books of Allah, they are preserved and they have not changed.

Ibn Abi Haatim (d. 68 A.H.) narrated "However, if Wahb meant the books that are currently in the hands of the People of the Book, then we should state that there is no doubt that they altered, distorted, added to and deleted from them. For instance, the Arabic versions of these books contain tremendous error, many additions and deletions and enormous misinterpretation. Those who rendered these translations have incorrect comprehension in most, rather, all of these translations. If Wahb meant the Books of Allah that He has with Him, then indeed, these Books are preserved and were never changed." (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 3:78, Source)

If you recall the discussion above regarding Ibn Abbaas's suspicious statement alluded to him, now we can understand it better. Notice what Ibn Abi Haatim says at the end...

 If Wahb meant the Books of Allah that He has with Him, then indeed, these Books are preserved and were never changed."

So clearly, it was the position of the early Muslims such as Ibn Abi Haatim that the books that were preserved are the ones that are with God and not the ones that the Christians and Jews here on planet earth currently have in their possession.   

However, Shamoun must tell me how on earth he can reinterpret the following pieces of evidence that Ibn Abbas supported the idea of textual corruption.

Evidence # 1:

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 9, Book 93, Number 613:

Narrated 'Ikrima:

Ibn 'Abbaas said, "How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about their Books while you have Allah's Book (the Qur'an) which is the most recent of the Books revealed by Allah, and you read it in its pure undistorted form?"

Volume 9, Book 93, Number 614:

Narrated 'Ubaidullah bin 'Abdullah:

'Abdullah bin 'Abbaas said, "O the group of Muslims! How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about anything while your Book, which Allah has revealed to your Prophet contains the most recent news from Allah and is pure and not distorted? Allah has told you that the people of the Scriptures have changed some of Allah's Books and distorted it and wrote something with their own hands and said, 'This is from Allah, so as to have a minor gain for it. Won't the knowledge that has come to you stop you from asking them? No, by Allah, we have never seen a man from them asking you about that (the Book Al-Qur'an ) which has been revealed to you.

Ibn Abbas is clearly saying that the Books of the people of the book (Jews and Christians) are distorted and impure.

Shamoun can't interpret these hadiths to mean that Ibn Abbas was talking about some books that the Jews and Christians wrote their false interpretations in while they had the uncorrupted books somewhere else in their possession. Sam's doing so will require desperation and evidence he doesn't have. The plain reading of the hadith talks about the textual corruption of the Christian and Jewish scriptures.

Evidence # 2:

Ibn Abbaas said in his commentary on Surah 2:79...

(Therefore woe) severe punishment, and it is said this means: a valley in Hell (be unto those who write the Scripture with their hands) change the description and traits of Muhammad (pbuh) in the Book (and then say, " This is) in the Book that has come (from Allah " , that they may purchase) through changing and altering it (a small gain therewith) a small gain in terms of means of subsistence and surplus of property. (Woe unto them) theirs is a severe punishment (for what their hands have written) have altered (and woe unto them) and theirs is a severe punishment (for what they earn thereby) of unlawful earnings and bribes. (Ibn Abbaas, Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn Abbâs, Commentary on Surah 2:79, Source

Ibn Abbas says that the traits and descriptions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were changed in the Book. How clear can it get? Shamoun's reinterpretation will require desperation and evidence that he doesn't have, for the plain reading of the commentary claims the idea of textual corruption.

Evidence # 3:

Another narration regarding Ibn Abbaas:

كانت ملوك بعد عيسى بن مريم عليه الصلاة والسلام بدلوا التوراة والإنجيل وكان فيهم مؤمنون يقرؤون التوراة قيل لملوكهم ما نجد شتما أشد من شتم يشتمونا هؤلاء إنهم يقرؤون { ومن لم يحكم بما أنزل الله فأولئك هم الكافرون } وهؤلاء الآيات مع ما يعيبونا به في أعمالنا في قراءتهم فادعهم فليقرؤوا كما نقرأ وليؤمنوا كما آمنا فدعاهم فجمعهم وعرض عليهم القتل أو يتركوا قراءة التوراة والإنجيل إلا ما بدلوا منها

Narrated by Sa'eed ibn Juabair: Ibn Abbaas said: The kings after the time of Jesus the son of Mary, peace be upon him, substituted the Torah and Gospel, and there used to be amongst them believers who were reading the Torah. It was said to the kings: We do not find an insult greater than the insult of those that read: And those who do not rule by what Allah has revealed, they are disbelievers) and their recitation of these similar kinds of verses, which they shame us with in our daily activities. So tell them to read just as we read and let them believe just as we believe.' So the king summoned them and gathered them together. He proposed either death to them or that they leave the recitation of the Torah and Gospel except what they substitute in place of it. [(Sunan Al Nisaa'i, hadith no. 5305), Source, Sheikh Nasr Al Deen Al Albani authenticated this narration in Sunan Al Nisaa'i, hadith no. 5400]

So here we see that Ibn Abbaas talks about how the kings of the past used to force people to switch to their corrupted version of the scriptures. This clearly indicates that their scriptures contained false writings; thus, the scriptures that the masses were using were textually corrupted. Since the kings forced the people to switch to their scriptures or had them killed, this meant that the true, uncorrupted scriptures were lost.  

Shamoun's reinterpretation will require desperation and evidence that he doesn't have, for the commentary's plain reading claims the idea of textual corruption.

Shamoun will continue to provide desperate arguments to do anything to keep his favorite argument (Qur'an affirming the Bible) going. Unfortunately for him, this argument has officially been flushed down the toilet.

We hope Shamoun can learn to be objective and admit defeat.



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