Keith Small wrote that any religion professing to be the sole foundation of truth should never shy away from any form of scrutiny. He wrote;
“Many people of all faiths and no faith have come to realize that religious tradition cannot be followed blindly. If a religion is to commend itself in this age, it must be open to the hardest and best questions put to it. We no longer live in a world where religious communities can keep themselves aloof from the criticism and scrutiny of others who don’t share their beliefs and values.”
When considering the most revered book of Islam, I want to look at three points that are essential when considering its history. In part one of this article, I will show that there is a lot of speculation concerning the content of the book’s origins.
Tales of the Ancients.
It is no secret that Islam’s most revered book contains narratives that bare a strange resemblance to some myths that were penned before the origins of the Qur’an. Surah Al Furqan (25.5) records an explicit accusation that Muhammad repeated the ‘tales of the ancients’ (6.25, 8.31, 16.24, 23.83, 27.68, 46.17, 68.15, 83.13).
“And they say: “Tales of the ancients, which he has caused to be written and they are dictated before him morning and evening.”
The Sahih International translation says;
“And they say, “Legends of the former peoples which he has written down, and they are dictated to him morning and afternoon.”
Historically Muhammad was accused of repeating and incorporating previous odes from before the revelation of the Qur’an, including it as a sacred revelation. Missionary Rev. W. T. St. Clair- Tisdall, tracks foreign elements within the Qur’an from Jewish folklore, Gnostic sources, as well as Zoroastrian and Buddhist tales. These sources were known to be false theologically and historically but were effortlessly validated and included in the Qur’anic text as divine revelation. Tisdall at the turn of the 1900s laments that;
“the influence of true and genuine Christian teaching upon the Quran and upon Islam in general has been very slight indeed, while on the other hand apocryphal traditions and in certain respects heretical doctrines have a claim to be considered as forming one of the original sources of Muhammadan faith.”
There are numerous examples of these legends and folk stories included in the Qur’an, but for the sake of time I will give just two examples. In Surah Al-Anbiya (21.51-70), the story relates how Abraham frowns upon his Father idolatry smashing the Idols he venerated. This story is found in the ‘Midrash B’reish it Rabba’ (38.12-13) where it is attributed to a Jewish Rabbi, Hiyya, who devised the story to show the perils of idolatry. Rabbi Hiyya’s tale was discussed by early church-Father Jerome (347-419/420) and was also mentioned in the Jewish ‘Book of Jubilees, ‘ which dates to the 2nd century and the Babylonian Talmud.
In another part of the Qur’an, we find a story relating to Jesus speaking supernaturally from the cradle. The source of this story comes directly from the ‘Arabic Gospel of the infancy of the Saviour. Surah Maryam (19.29-31) and Surah Ali’ Imran (3.46), includes this narrative as a historical certainty. At the same time, we know it is merely a deduction from early gnostic sources influenced by an early pseudo-Christianity. Peter Townsend writes;
“Muhammad was clearly unaware of the actual origins of this story, i.e. that it does not appear in the Gospels, and is therefore willing to grant it exalted status as the Word of Allah.”
Some Muslims attempt to say that these early renditions were deductions from a prior revealed text that could have contained the original words of Allah, but there is no historical account for this claim to be validated. Rev. W. T. St. Clair-Tisdall, therefore, concludes that when we look at the source of Muhammad’s revelation;
“we find that the first “source” of the Koran and tradition consisted of the notion, customs, and religious beliefs, existing around Muhammad.”
The author of the Qur’an clearly cannot tell fact from fiction. And these stories are counted as fact.
Previous Revelations and the preaching of past Prophets.
It is no secret that Muhammad held the previously revealed texts in high regard, even though there is very little evidence that he read any of them. Sidney Griffith argues that neither the Jewish nor the Christian books were available in Arabic at the time of the Qur’an ‘s origins. It does not seem like Muhammad had an intimate knowledge of what was contained within these texts. Three earlier Scriptures are mentioned in the Qur’an, the Tawrāt (Arabic: توراة), the Injl (Arabic: إنجيل), and the Zabūr (Arabic: زَبُورُ) which corresponds with the Judeo-Christian books, the Torah, the Gospel, and the Psalms. Gordon Nickel writes that;
“None of the verses in the Qur’an that explicitly mention the names Tawrāt, Injíl, or Zabūr makes a negative statement about these earlier Scriptures. There is no hint in any of these verses that the earlier scriptures exist in a corrupt or falsified state-which is the accusation of Muslim polemicists against the Bible.”
Muhammad never seemed to bother Christians or Jews about the content of their books and even affirmed the authority of their texts until he realized that the very documents he affirmed contradicted his ‘new’ revelation. Even then, he still refers to the meaning being supposedly mistranslated but in no way hints to the fact that the manuscripts were distorted. Gabriel Said Reynolds writes;
“Early Islam was faced with a similar choice in regard to the Jewish and Christian Bible. Muslims, in theory, could have considered the Bible authoritative Scripture. There are some signs that the author of the Qur’an attributed such authority to the Bible. In one place the divine voice of the Qur’an commands its Prophet to confer with those “who read the Book” in times of doubt (Q 5:47)… in other passages (e.g., Q 2”42, 59, 79; 3:71, 187; 4:46; 5:13; 7:162), the Qur’an suggests that the Jews (especially) and the Christians (also) have misread scripture, have hidden passages, or have pretended that things which they themselves have fabricated are Scripture.”
It is impossible to make any sense of the narratives of the Qur’an without referencing the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. The reader should note that the Qur’an is solely reliant on these previous Scriptures to give context to its own narrative. The Qur’an is therefore not only reliant on divine inspiration but equally dependent on these previous texts. The context of the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet shows that Muhammad tried to collaborate his new revelations by leaning on the previously revealed Scriptures. Gabriel Said Reynolds writes;
“the Qur’an’s author also played an active role in developing Biblical material. The Qur’an has not simply borrowed material from Jews and Christians. Instead, it has consciously reshaped Biblical material to advance its own religious claims.”
It is generally assumed that Muhammad was mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Sura Al-A’raf (7) 157 notes,
“Those who follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures), – in the Law and the Gospel…”
Another passage in Sura As-Saf (61) 6 states plainly;
“And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said, ‘O children of Israel! I am the apostle of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving glad tidings of an Apostle to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.’”
A note (416) from Yusuf Ali’s Translation of the Qur’an mentions this reality by stating:
“… In the Old Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in Deut. 18:18… In the New Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in the Gospel of St. John 14:16, 15:26 and 16:7… The Greek word translated ‘Comforter’ is ‘Paracletos,’ which is an easy corruption from ‘Periclytos,’ which is almost a literal translation of ‘Muhammad’ or ‘Ahmad’. … Further, there were other Gospels that have perished, but of which traces still remain, which were even more specific in their reference to Muhammad…”
Both Christians and Jews have refuted this notion entirely and have shown that Muhammad could not have been the one mentioned in both Deuteronomy and John’s Gospel. Moses spoke of the qualification for the Prophet to come in Deuteronomy 18, and this Prophet needed to come from amongst his Jewish brethren (v/18) for them (v/15) speaking in the name of Yahweh (v/20). Muhammad fulfilled none of these. We also find that Stephen unequivocally identifies this passage as foretelling Jesus and not Muhammad (Acts7:37). The previous Scriptures in no way affirm the Prophet of Islam to be evident in its pages. So, when the Qur’an says in Surah Al-Mu’Minum (23) 23 that; “We sent a long line of prophets for your instruction” which according to the Hadith is 124,000 ‘Nabi’s’ beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are oblivious to the evidence of this that is supposedly so. Rev. Richard P. Bailey gives a chart that lists only about 133 from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Jesus makes it clear that all of the previous Scriptures speak about Him and not another Prophet to come. He declares in Luke 24;
“25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Jesus claims that He is the central message of the whole sweep of the Old Testament. When Christ speaks to the religious Jews, he claims as Messiah that His presence should be central to the fulfilled expectation of the Old Testament Scriptures in John’s Gospel account (5:39).
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
In Matthew’s account (5:17) Jesus makes it clear.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Even though Muhammad, the author of the Qur’an, and Muslims claim that he was foretold and expected in the previous revelations and the preaching of past Prophets, we struggle to find this to be so.
From the beginning, Muhammad was accused of plagiarism and external natural influence on his revelations. In Surah Al-Nahl (16) 103-104 it says;
“We know indeed that they say, “It is a man that teaches him.” The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notable foreign while this is Arabic pure and clear. Those who believe not in the Signs of Allah, Allah will not guide them and theirs will be a grievous Penalty.” (Yusef Ali’s translation)
In Al-Kindy’s Apology, he relates a story that shows very clearly that Muhammad’s source of revelation could have been a Nestorian Monk, Sergius, who introduced Muhammad to some of the supposed revelations he received. Al-Kindy writes;
“The disclosure may be bitter, but it will be wholesome in the end.” He then proceeds to give a lengthy account of the origin of the Coran.1 His story in short is this. “Sergius, a Nestorian monk, was excommunicated for a certain offence. To expiate it, he set out on a mission to Arabia, and reached Mecca, which he found inhabited by Jews and idolaters. There he met Mahomet, with whom he had intimate converse, and persuaded him, after being instructed in the faith of Nestorius, to abandon heathenism, and become his disciple.”
The accusations of external influences upon the revelation of Muhammad seems to be numerous. The Sahih International translation says in Al Furqan (25) 4;
“And those who disbelieve say, “This [Qur’an] is not except a falsehood he invented, and another people assisted him in it.” But they have committed an injustice and a lie.”
There was not just an accusation of plagiarism but also the invention and incorporation of legends, fables, as well as simple myths. In Surah Al-An’am (6) 25 it states;
“And among them are some who give ear to thee; but WE have put veils on their hearts, that they should not understand, and deafness in their ears. And even if they see every Sign, they would not believe therein, so much so that when they come to thee, disputing with thee, those who disbelieve say, `This is nothing but fables of the ancients.’”
Numerous passages within the Qur’an shows quite clearly that everyone suspected these revelations to be tales of the ancients (8:31, 16:24, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). Another passage, Surah Al-Furqan (25) 4-6, says that Muhammad was accused of being instructed ‘day and night’ about these tales from the past. It reads;
“And those who disbelieve say, “This [Qur’an] is not except a falsehood he invented, and another people assisted him in it.” But they have committed an injustice and a lie. And they say, “Legends of the former peoples which he has written down, and they are dictated to him morning and afternoon.”
The Study Qur’an notes that;
“Some commentators name specific people who were learned in the Torah, but then became followers of the Prophet, and it was alleged that he took stories from them. Many commentators connect these verses with a certain Nadr ibn al-Harith of the Quraysh, a storyteller who would recite stories from Persian history and myth; the disbelievers would compare his stories with the Quran and announce in the Prophet’s presence that al-Harith’s stories were better.”
Early sources account emphatically that Muhammad was thoroughly instructed by various individuals like non-Arab slaves, a Christian blacksmith , Jabr and Yasar, Suheib son of Sinan. Even further, we find that some individuals were transcribers that wrote down the revelations for Muhammad as if it was his own. Shahih Bukhari writes;
“Narrated Anas: There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Al-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on, he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: “Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him.”
Waraqa Ibn Nawfal was named as one such individual that taught the Prophet of Islam. Narrated ‘Aisha: Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3
“Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa bin Naufal bin Asad bin ‘Abdul ‘Uzza, who, during the pre-Islamic Period became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to Waraqa, “Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!” Waraqa asked, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” Allah’s Apostle described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Allah’s Apostle asked, “Will they drive me out?” Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said, “Anyone (man) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility, and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days Waraqa died.”
When we look at the plethora of accusations late Iranian Muslim scholar Ali Dashti wrote:
“A process of this kind had begun in Mohammad’s mind during his childhood and had prompted him to meet and talk with Christian monks and priests on his Syrian journey instead of spending all his time on commercial business. On his way back, through the lands of Medyan and the Ad and Thamud, he had heard the legends of the local people. In Mecca itself, he had exchanges and visits with followers of the scriptural religions. He had sat for hours in Jabr’s shop near the hill of Marwa and had been in constant touch with Khadija’s cousin Waraqa b. Nawfal, who is said to have translated a part of the New Testament into Arabic. All these experiences are likely to have turned the ever-present disquiet in his inner mind into turmoil. There is a reference in the Qoran to Mohammad’s long and frequent talks with Jabr. The Qorayshites alleged that Mohammad had learned the words of the Qoran from Jabr, who was a foreigner… The biographies of the Prophet mention several other followers of the scriptures and possessors of knowledge with whom he exchanged visits before the start of his mission, e.g. Aesh, the sage of the Howayteb tribe, Salman ol-Farsi, and Belal the Abyssinian. Abu Bakr also had discussions with him at that time and agreed with him.”
There is simply no doubt that Muhammad had some external influence apart from the Angel Jibreel (جبريل “Gabriel”) for his revelation. Muhammad deemed the ‘tales from the ancients’ to have some value, and these tales are therefore found in the Qur’anic text as inspired (waḫy). The Author of the Qur’an also approves the previous revelations, the Tawrāt (Arabic: توراة), the Injíl (Arabic: إنجيل), and the Zabūr (Arabic: زَبُورُ), to be inspired books that he attached to his own perceived revelation. Lastly, the author of the Qur’an also listens to the instructions given by people around his Prophet. Their opinions then find themselves collated within the central book of Islam.
 Holy Books have a History, Pg. iv.
 The Original Sources of The Quran, Society for the promotion of Christian Knowledge, London, Pg.210 – 211 1905.
 Read: https://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/borrowing.htm
 The Origins of the Quran, Pg.235.
 The Bible in Arabic, Pg.41-51.
 The Gentle Answer, Pg.23.
 The Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary, Pg.1.
 Ibid, Pg.3.
 The Apology of Al Kindy, Pg.70. can be accessed here: https://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kindi/p070-071.htm
 The Study Quran, Pg.891.
 “traditions mention the names of several persons, one of whom (Jabar), according to the disbelievers of Makkah taught the Holy Prophet; however, one thing particularly noteworthy about all these persons is that they were non-Arab slaves. Whosoever he might be, the fact that he used to recite the Torah and the Gospel and had an acquaintance with the Holy Prophet, gave an opportunity to the disbelievers for spreading this false report that it was the particular slave who was the real author of the Holy Qur’an, but Muhammad (Allah’s peace be upon him) presented it as the Word of God.” Source: http://englishtafsir.com/Quran/16/index.html#sdfootnote107sym
 “a foreign (i.e., non-Arab) man who lived among them as the servant of some of the clans of Quraysh and who used to sell goods by As-Safa. Maybe the Messenger of Allah used to sit with him sometimes and talk to him a little, but he was a foreigner who did not know much Arabic, only enough simple phrases to answer questions when he had to.” Tafsir Ibn Kathir.
 Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism edited by John Andrew Morrow, Pg.252.
 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, Pg.21- 22.
Thank you Ps Rudolph for taking the time to shed light on this matter. This is very enlightening and helpful. Blessings
My pleasure 🙂