Rebuttal to Andrew Vargo's Article "Was 'Uzayr (Ezra) Called The Son Of God?"
Andrew Vargo's article could be located here. His article was in response to Islamic Awareness's article here. It's best for the readers to read both of these articles before they proceed to read this one.
It should be noted that Ibn Hazm lived during the late 9th and early 10th centuries in Cordoba, Spain. Therefore, his statements are pure conjecture, and are nothing more than an attempt to explain away this error in the Qur'an.
Vargo disputes Ibn Hazm's argument because he lived a long time after the event. However, who said that Ibn Hazm is the one we rely upon? We have the following narration that goes all the way back to Al-Tufayl bin Sakhbara a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who narrates a dream he once saw:
أتيت على نفر من اليهود , فقلت : من أنتم ؟ فقالوا : نحن اليهود , قلت : إنكم لأنتم القوم لولا أنتم تقولون : عزير ابن الله . قالوا : وأنت لأنتم القوم لولا أنكم تقولون : ما شاء الله وشاء محمد . قال : ثم مررت بنفر من النصارى , فقلت : من أنتم ؟ قالوا : نحن النصارى . قلت : إنكم لأنتم القوم لولا أنكم تقولون : المسيح ابن الله . قالوا : وإنكم لأنتم القوم لولا أنكم تقولون : ما شاء الله وشاء محمد . فلما أصبحت أخبرت بها من أخبرت , ثم أتيت النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فأخبرته , فقال : هل أخبرت بها أحدا ؟ فقلت : نعم . فقام , فحمد الله وأثنى عليه ثم قال : أما بعد , فإن طفيلا رأى رؤيا أخبر بها من أخبر منكم , وإنكم قلتم كلمة كان يمنعني كذا وكذا أن أنهاكم عنها , فلا تقولوا : ما شاء الله وشاء محمد , ولكن قولوا : ما شاء الله وحده
I came to a group of Jews and I said to them: "Who are you?" They said: "We are the Jews." I said: "You would have been a great people if it wasn't for your saying that Uzayr is the Son of Allah". They replied: "And you would have been a great people if it wasn't for your saying 'If Allah wills and Muhammad wills'". Then I passed by a group of Christians and said to them: "Who are you?" They replied: "We are the Christians." I then replied: "You would have been a great people if it wasn't for your saying that Christ is the Son of Allah." They replied: "And you would have been a great people if it wasn't for your saying 'If Allah wills and Muhammad wills'". So when I woke up, I told people about it and then I approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) about it. He said: "Did you tell anyone about this?" I said: "Yes." He began to praise Allah and then he said: "Tufayl saw a vision and told you about it and you used to utter a word and I was hesitant to forbid you from saying it. Do not say: 'If Allah wills and Muhammad wills'. Rather say, 'If Allah alone wills'" (This narration has been authenticated by hadith scholar Ahmad Shakir in 'Umdat Al-Tafseer, Volume 1, page 91)
This narration shows that the Muslims at the time understood that there were Jews who were uttering Uzayr's divine son ship. How could such a misunderstanding have taken place from the Muslim side?
Suppose, as in the case of the Qur'an's error that Mary was a member of the Trinity, there was a heretical sect of Jews who believed that Ezra was the Son of God. An all-knowing God would know that the vast majority of the Jews DO NOT believe this. Why is the majority opinion important in this case?
Notice that the Qur'an says "The Jews", and not "some Jews"! This wording indicates that this verse is talking about the mainstream majority of the Jewish community. Notice also that this passage says "The Christians" (referring to the majority of Christians) call Christ the Son of God in spite of the fact that there were heretical groups in Arabia who denied this belief.
Vargo states that "the Jews" in the verse denotes all Jews.
Imam Al-Qurtubi states:
" وَقَالَتْ الْيَهُود " هَذَا لَفْظ خَرَجَ عَلَى الْعُمُوم وَمَعْنَاهُ الْخُصُوص , لِأَنَّ لَيْسَ كُلّ الْيَهُود قَالُوا ذَلِكَ . وَهَذَا مِثْل قَوْله تَعَالَى : " الَّذِينَ قَالَ لَهُمْ النَّاس " [ آل عِمْرَان : 173 ] وَلَمْ يَقُلْ ذَلِكَ كُلّ النَّاس .
"And the Jews said" this expression is stated in a general sense, yet its meaning is specific because not all Jews said that. This is like Allah's saying "those to whom the people said" (3:173), yet not all people said that. (Abu 'Abdullah al-Qurtubi's, Tasfir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 9:30, Source)
In Arabic linguistics the method of referring to a specific group of people by using a general name is known as اطلاق اسم الكل على البعض (itlaaq ism al kull 'ala al ba'd) and this is something very common. Al-Qurtubi gave the example of Surah 3:173 where the Qur'an generally states "people", yet it clearly doesn't mean all people.
An example from the Bible would be:
That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn't see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.
Notice that the verse is saying that "the world" cannot accept the Spirit of Truth. The world consists of both Christians and non-Christians. Would Vargo argue that since the verse says "the world" that means that even Christians cannot accept the Spirit of Truth? Well of course not. He would argue back that the meaning of "the world" must be restricted to disbelievers only.
So why would he allow for such a possibility here, but not for the Qur'an?
It is not really possible for us to know for sure how Muhammad came up with the false conclusion that the Jews believed Ezra to be the Son of God. However, there are a few interesting possibilities.
One possibility is that Muhammad misinterpreted the apocryphal text of 4 Ezra [also know as 2 Esdras], chapter 2:42-48:
I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs.
And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly.
So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these?
He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms.
Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands?
So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord.
Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.
It's unlikely that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would right away assume that since the Jews said "Son of God" then that would mean that it necessitates divine son ship. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was clearly aware of the fact that the Jews could use this phrase in a non-divine way (for example see Surah 5:18).
There is nothing unbelievable about the fact that there existed a small group of Jews living during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Medinah who would have held such a belief. The burden of the proof really is on the Islamic critic's side here. He is the one who needs to provide evidence that shows that the Muslims during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly misunderstood the position that some of the Jews took regarding Ezra or that they completely made it up. Till now, no such evidence has been provided.
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