Response to James White on Surah 5, Ayah 47


By

Bassam Zawadi

 

James White has come out with a brief rejoinder to this article of mine.

White said:

The essence of Bassam's interpretation of Surah 5:47 is that the text, though it specifically says , 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!

White is making it appear as if I am contradicting the explicit reading of the text in a way where I am somehow unjustifiably equivocating between the words "Gospel" and "Qur'an". However, this is not the case, nor is it fair to simplify my position as such. The irony as we would soon see is that it is precisely White himself who is committing the fallacy of equivocation.

I am not equivocating as I have just said, rather what I ask people to do is to read the entirety of Islamic scriptural references on this given topic and allow them to communicate the stance Islam has taken on this matter in it's proper context. That is why I said in response to White during my debate with him:

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.

What scriptural references did I have in mind here when I said that we must understand how the Qur'an defines the term "Gospel"? Well, what I primarily had in mind was Surah 5, Ayah 46 (yes, ironically one verse before), which states:

And in their footsteps, We sent 'Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary) confirming the Taurat (Torah) that had come before him, and We gave him the Injeel (Gospel), in which was guidance and light and confirmation of the Taurat (Torah) that had come before it, a guidance and an admonition for Al-Muttaqun

So the Qur'an is quite clear regarding the fact that the divine Gospel was one REVEALED TO Jesus (peace be upon him) and not books WRITTEN ABOUT Jesus (peace be upon him). Given that, it becomes quite clear from the start that the Muslims couldn't have viewed the gospels of Mark, Mathew, Luke and John to have been inspired.

If White wants to deny that the Muslims knew this distinction and were so ignorant enough to not know that the gospels in the possession of the Christians contemporary to their time were gospels WRITTEN ABOUT Jesus (peace be upon him) and not REVEALED TO Jesus (peace be upon him) even according to Christians themselves then White has failed to abide by his own standard of "explanatory power".

How could White even begin to propose that such a scenario is plausible, let alone possible? Is White trying to convince us that Muslims who were living in Abyssinia after escaping persecution in Mecca under the protection of the Christian King were in no way, shape or form exposed to the fact that Christians believed in four gospels written about Jesus (peace be upon him)? How about the Prophet's relationship with Mariyah the Coptic and his interactions with Waraqa bin Nawfal, Bahira the Monk, the Najran Christians, etc.???

Notice, that I am not arguing that these encounters constitute explicit evidence that the Muslims knew the contents of the New Testament as well as White hoped, but rather I am pointing out the implausibility that Muslims, despite all these interactions couldn't have known the very basic and popular fact that Christians held in their possession four gospels WRITTEN ABOUT Jesus (peace be upon him).

And if White concedes that Muslims could have been aware that the Christians had in their possession gospels WRITTEN ABOUT Jesus (peace be upon him), then would White have us believe that all the Muslims were too incompetent to connect the dots by realizing that the Qur'an mentions a Gospel REVEALED TO Jesus (peace be upon him) and hence the gospels WRITTEN ABOUT in the possession of Christians couldn't be the same divine Gospel that the Qur'an makes reference to?

Also, how about the Christian converts to Islam such as Adi bin Hatim who actually at one time questioned the Prophet (peace be upon him) regarding one passage of the Qur'an, which states:

Surah 9:31

They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God AND the Messiah Mary's son, and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no god but He; glory be to Him, above that they associate.

Ibn Kathir in his commentary has it:

Imam Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded a Hadith via several chains of narration, from `Adi bin Hatim, may Allah be pleased with him, who became Christian during the time of Jahiliyyah. When the call of the Messenger of Allah reached his area, `Adi ran away to Ash-Sham, and his sister and several of his people were captured. The Messenger of Allah freed his sister and gave her gifts. So she went to her brother and encouraged him to become Muslim and to go to the Messenger of Allah . `Adi, who was one of the chiefs of his people (the tribe of Tai') and whose father, Hatim At-Ta'i, was known for his generosity, went to Al-Madinah. When the people announced his arrival, `Adi went to the Messenger of Allah wearing a silver cross around his neck. The Messenger of Allah recited this Ayah;

[ ]

(They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah). `Adi commented, "I said, `They did not worship them.''' The Prophet said,

(Yes they did. They (rabbis and monks) prohibited the allowed for them (Christians and Jews) and allowed the prohibited, and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them.) The Messenger of Allah said to `Adi,

: :

(O `Adi what do you say Did you run away (to Ash-Sham) so that 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is the Great) is not pronounced Do you know of anything greater than Allah What made you run away Did you run away so that `La ilaha illallah' is not pronounced Do you know of any deity worthy of worship except Allah)

The Messenger invited `Adi to embrace Islam, and he embraced Islam and pronounced the Testimony of Truth. The face of the Messenger of Allah beamed with pleasure and he said to `Adi,

(Verily, the Jews have earned the anger (of Allah) and the Christians are misguided.) Hudhayfah bin Al-Yaman, `Abdullah bin `Abbas and several others said about the explanation of,

[ ]

(They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah...) that the Christians and Jews obeyed their monks and rabbis in whatever they allowed or prohibited for them. This is why Allah said,

[ ]

(while they were commanded to worship none but One God), Who, whatever He renders prohibited is the prohibited, whatever He allowed is the allowed, whatever He legislates, is to be the law followed, and whatever He decides is to be adhered to; (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Source)

What does this story illustrate? It illustrates that Adi bin Hatim was quite knowledgeable regarding Christianity, at least enough to question the validity of this verse. This of course also occurred before Adi converted to Islam; hence one cannot claim bias on Adi's part here. So why didn't Adi bin Hatim question the Prophet (peace be upon him) by asking him why the Qur'an denies the crucifixion, despite the four gospels attesting to it, if in fact the Qur'an was attesting the textual incorruptibility of the four gospels just as White asserts? Doesn't the absence of such an inquiry from Adi bin Hatim and similar converts such as Salman Al-Farisi and others undermine White's theory in terms of "explanatory power"? This is especially in light of the fact that Muslims didn't shy away from recording such inquiries of the Qur'an.

Furthermore, Islamic tradition records objections put forth by Christians who did not necessarily convert to Islam at times. We read one such example:

Mughira b. Shu'ba reported:

When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read" O sister of Harun" (i. e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus (peace be upon him). When I came back to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them. (Saheeh Muslim, Book 25, hadith no. 5326)

Seeing that Islamic tradition didn't shy away from mentioning Christian inquiries and objections to Islam, why then didn't they (similar to Adi bin Hatim) ask why the Qur'an denies the crucifixion, despite the four gospels attesting to it, if in fact the Qur'an was attesting the textual incorruptibility of the four gospels just as White asserts? Doesn't the absence of such an inquiry from the Christians contemporary to Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) time undermine White's theory in terms of "explanatory power"? This is especially in light of the fact that Muslims didn't shy away from recording such inquiries of the Qur'an.

Given the lack of explanatory scope (by not being able to explain away the absence of all the aforementioned) and predictive power (since if the absence of all the aforementioned don't falsify White's theory, then what would?) in White's theory we see further reason to cast doubt upon White's interpretation. Given all this, it's highly unreasonable to accept White's assertion that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and early Muslims would have understood the implications of 5:47 in the same way that White does.

White said:

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 problem is that White is assuming that when the Qur'an says "Injeel" that it is in reference to the four gospels in the possession of Christians, while the Qur'an has already made it clear that the Injeel was REVEALED TO Jesus (peace be upon him) and wasn't merely WRITTEN ABOUT Jesus (peace be upon him).

The solution to this problem is to allow the entirety of Islamic tradition to speak for itself on this given subject and not simply restrict ourselves to verses that people such as White are attempting to pressure us to do (which is quite inconsistent on his part, as he wouldn't like the same to be done with his scriptures). How do we go about doing this when it comes to this specific topic at hand?

We could do so in the following manner:

- First, bear in mind that the Qur'an calls for Christians and Jews and all of mankind to ultimately follow the Qur'an and not something else (for scriptural references, kindly refer to this article), consequentially entailing that 5:47 cannot be understood to be saying that the Qur'an is calling Christians to be ultimately following the Injeel.

      - Secondly, bear in mind that Islam is quite clear about the fact that the previous scriptures have been abrogated (for example see some ahaadith on the matter) and aren't meant to be followed; consequentially meaning that 5:47 can't be understood to be saying that the Qur'an is calling the Christians to be ultimately following the Injeel.

      - Thirdly, bear in mind that the hadith literature shows that the Prophet's (peace be upon him) companions understood that the Christians corrupted their scriptures (see references here).

      - Fourthly, bear in mind that Surah 7:157 and other passages in the Qur'an say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is mentioned in the Injeel and he is to be followed and that is the only way to attain success. Surely, judging by the Injeel would be following the Injeel and one way of following the Injeel according to the Qur'an would be to recognize the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

      - Fifthly, bear in mind that Surah 5:48 (the verse right after) refers to the Qur'an as a muhaymin, which is more of an onlooker or quality controller over the previous scriptures. At the same time, the verse says that everyone must be judged with the Qur'an. Does this mean that 5:48 directly contradicts 5:47 or does this mean that some of us (such as White) have misunderstood what 5:47 is actually trying to say?

Bearing all the above points in mind we observe that:

            - Islam calls on Christians to embrace Islam and accept the Qur'an as the word of God.

            - Islam states that the previous scriptures have been abrogated.

            - Islam states that the books in the possession of Christians are textually corrupted.

            - Islam states that the Injeel was revealed to Jesus (peace be upon him) and not that it was written about him.

            - Islam states that one of the ways to follow the Injeel is to believe that it predicts the Prophet (peace be upon him).

            - Directly one verse after 5:47 in verse 48, the Qur'an commands the Prophet to judge mankind by the Qur'an.

Given the above points, sound exegesis would dictate that 5:47 is actually calling Christians to judge by the actual and true Injeel (of which glimpses of it could be found scattered throughout the four gospels today and possibly other documents contemporary to the Prophet's time), which would entail acceptance of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and ultimately accepting, believing in and judging by the Qur'an. By bringing all of scripture together in order to formulate an opinion about the matter, we observe that 5:47 cannot reasonably be saying what White wants us to think that it is saying. 

White has objections. For instance, he said:

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.

This is a weak argument. Can White care to tell us why the Qur'an's mentioning of the Torah and Injeel here can't be an emphasis by the Qur'an that true correct judgment by the Torah (the one actually revealed to Moses (peace be upon him)) and Injeel (the one actually revealed to Jesus (peace be upon him)) would entail believing in Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Can White demonstrate why this interpretation which takes into account the entirety of scripture is not plausible?

White said:

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.

Again, this is a failure of White to understand that the Qur'an's usage of the term "Injeel" here is in reference to the actual true Injeel revealed to Jesus (peace be upon him). The Qur'an does not mention that this Injeel is preserved independently in book form and one does not need to understand that the verse is implying such a thing either. Rather, the orthodox position has been that the gospels in the possession of Christians today contain some true elements of the Injeel. In order to truly judge by it correctly, it would require using the Qur'an as a muhaymin (i.e. quality controller) and confirmer of the true parts of the document that the true Injeel is scattered in.

So the message of the Qur'an is to have the Christians judge by the Injeel in order that they eventually come to judge by the Qur'an. This is obvious. How could White even begin to attempt to convince us that the Qur'an is telling the Christians and Jews to just stick to their scriptures (something his interpretation indirectly implies)? If that's the case, then how do we understand all those scriptural references talking about inviting others to Islam?

Again, White is not allowing for the entirety of scripture to speak for itself (something he demands others to do for his scripture) and is simply attempting to restrict us to read 5:43-47 in isolation of everything else. I'm sorry, but that's not how things work.

White said:

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"?

No, I am not saying that it's not in reference to the context provided by ayah 43. Rather, I am disputing the meaning which White is ascribing to the terms "Torah" and "Injeel" in that given context. I also read all the way on to verse 48 (there wasn't even a need to continue onward to 5:66-68, which makes it crystal clear that the Qur'an must be followed right after mentioning the Torah and Gospel), while White only reads on to the first half of verse 47.

The real argument is "believe the Qur'an" because the Qur'an claims that the Torah and Injeel lead us to believe in Muhammad (peace be upon him) who came with the Qur'an (see 7:157).

White said:

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 Injeel was not totally lost. Nowhere does the Qur'an refer to the Injeel revealed to Jesus (peace be upon him) as some sort of documented book. Rather, they were the teachings (revealed of course) of Jesus (peace be upon him) of which some of them could have found their way to the four gospels and possibly even other documents unknown to us today.

How does one know how to distinguish between the false and true statements in the four gospels? Well as Muslims say, it's through the Qur'an as a medium, since it came to confirm what was true and is a quality controller over the previous scriptures (5:48).

White said:

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!

Could White care to show us what is so contradictory and different between what I, Shabir and Abdullah Kunde have said, which would make people's heads "spin"? We are all consistent on the fact that the verse is not calling Christians towards adhering to the four gospels and abandoning the Qur'an and that the Injeel was revealed to (Jesus peace be upon him). Even if we have different ways and methods of articulating that, that doesn't negatively reflect back on us.

White said:

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"!

As I have argued earlier in the article, such a burden would lie on White to demonstrate that the Muslims couldn't have known such a very basic fact such as Christians possessing four different gospels. We are not even discussing the contents of the New Testament here, rather the focus here is on the very public, popular and rudimentary fact that Christians possess four different gospels. What White is proposing is that the Muslims didn't even know such a basic fact. What does White base this on? He bases it on his faulty presupposition that his interpretation of these Qur'anic verses is true. The circular reasoning being employed here by White is quite clear actually.

Also, we are only assuming that all of this is only in reference to the four gospels to begin with. We can't be too sure where else the true Injeel has found its way in to in the documents contemporary to the Prophet's (peace be upon him) time.

White said:

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."

We would like to see this so-called "evidence" that White is referring to. As for White's claim about the Qur'an's "uncritical acceptance of mythological fabrications", one may read this, this and this.

 

 

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