Critical Analysis: Judaism and Islam

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Islam: A Critical Analysis
By: S.T.
Introduction
Ch.1: Burden Of Proof
Ch.2: Judaism and Islam
Ch.3: Imperfect Text
Ch.4: Qur'anic Grammar
Ch.5: What Others Say
Ch.6: Hypocrisy in Islam
Ch.7: Hell
Ch.8: Violence in Islam
Ch.9: Logical Fallacies
Ch.10: Women in Islam
Ch.11: Muhammad’s Wives
Ch.12: Inheritance Laws
Ch.13: Qur'anic Ethics
Ch.14: Existence of Allah
Ch.15: What is Prophecy?
Ch.16: Unclear Qur'an
Ch.17: The Need for Hadith?
Ch.18: Miscellaneous
Ch.19: Numerical Patterns in the Qur'an
Ch.20: Summary
Ch.20: Quotations
Ch.22: Further Reading


The Quran is filled with biblical stories, for example, most of them told in an extremely elliptical or what has been called an allusive or referential style. For someone who had not read or heard the Bible recited many of these Quranic narratives would make little sense. But they did, obviously, and we can only conclude that Muhammad's audiences were not hearing these stories for the first time, as the already cited remark about "rehashing old stories" [25:5] itself suggests. Thus there were stories of Abraham and Ishmael (or Isaac), of Moses and Solomon, David and Enoch, current in early seventh century Mecca, though we have little idea how or for how long; and when Muhammad "retold" them in his allusive style in the Quran to make some other moral point, God's vengeance for the mistreatment of earlier prophets, to cite one common theme, his listeners might not agree with the point, but they apparently knew well enough what he was referring to.

We, however, cannot follow these narratives so easily, first, perhaps, because they have been broken up or pasted together in ways different from their original recitation, or, more pertinent to our present purpose, because these stories are "biblical" only in the sense that they take characters or incidents from the Bible as their point of departure. But their trajectory is haggadic, the residue, echo, recollection--we are at a loss precisely what to call it--of what is palpaply Jewish midrashim, though which they were, or whence, we cannot even guess. We have only one biblical midrash current in the seventh century Arabia, and that is the Quran itself.
F.E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, 1994, Appendix

The Qur'an constantly refers to Biblical characters. However, Muslims believe the Bible has been corrupted. This creates theological problems:

  1. Why should anyone, with complete certainty, accept a 7th century author(s) description of events occurring 1,000-4,000 years before?
  2. Without accepting the Old Testament/Jewish traditions as a credible source, it is impossible to know what these Qur'anic stories mean. What is the point of believing in stories if one doesn't even know what exactly happened in them?

Who was Elias?

The Qur'an refers to Elias (Ilyas), also called Elijah, only three times.[1] An Old Testament (OT) prophet (1 Kings Chapters 17-21, 2 Kings Chapters 1-2) Elijah was also mentioned in the New Testament. Without accepting the Bible, it is hard to understand what the Qur'anic verses below mean. What is the point of believing that Ilyas was one of the apostles if we know so little about him?

And Zakariya and Yahya and Isa and Ilyas; every one was of the good;
And Ilyas was most surely of the apostles.
Peace be on Ilyas.
In this way the thesis of this treatise has long been recognised as probable, namely that Muhammad in his Quran has borrowed much from Judaism as it presented itself to him in his time, … As we proceed to the enumeration of the individual borrowed stories, the necessity is forced upon us of arranging them in some order. We have no reason for arranging them according to their sources, (Bible, Mishna, Gemara, Midrash, etc.) as Muhammad did not gain his knowledge of these narratives from any of these sources, but was taught them all verbally by those round him, and so they were all of the same value for him, and were all called biblical; furthermore we must pay no attention to their contents, for the narratives are not given as supporting any doctrines of Islam but are merely quoted as records of historical facts; and even in those cases where they are intended to set forth a doctrine, it is almost always either that of the unity of God, or that of the Resurrection of the dead.
Judaism and Islam
Abraham Geiger (1833), Translated by F.M. Young, 1896

Clearly influenced by Judaism/Old Testament, the Qur'an discusses such OT characters as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Job and Jonah.

The Old Testament (OT) stories are compelling. It was widely believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch which describes how over 600,000 people were freed from slavery via the miracles of the ten plagues and splitting of the sea. There was also the account of the miracle of being fed manna from heaven while they lived 40 years in the desert. How could so many people accept such facts if they were false?

However, the evidence for 600,000 witnesses is Biblical testimony, and the evidence that the Bible is true is because there were 600,000 witnesses. This is circular reasoning. Further, very few Biblical events were alleged to have been witnessed by 600,000 people. Also, the Bible claims that the Israelites were stiff-necked people.[2] Hence, not all the witnesses believed.

Modern Bible scholarship demonstrates that the five books of Moses were written by multiple authors’ centuries after the alleged exodus.[3] Moses lived around 1,300 BCE (assuming he even existed), and the earliest author of the five books lived around the 9th century BCE.

Even if the traditional view of Mosaic authorship and Biblical chronology is accepted, problems arise: The accounts of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are recorded a few hundred to roughly 3,000 years after the event. Current events are difficult enough to understand and believe; it is much more difficult to accept testimonies recorded centuries after the fact and without the benefit of modern technologies.

Modern Biblical scholars as well as traditional Muslims believe that the OT is corrupt. Modern Bible scholars also believe that the five books of Moses had multiple authors and hence evolved over time. It is therefore clear that we have no fully reliable Biblical text. When the story of Noah was recorded in the Bible thousands of years after the alleged event, the people listening to these stories had no way of verifying them. Similarly, the Qur'an was written roughly 2,000 years after the exodus, hence there were no witnesses to these Qur'anic stories.

Islam borrowed many Jewish ideas such as prayer, holy land, temple, synagogue, pilgrimage, interest, holy books, angels, fasting, charity, holy language, animal sacrifice, monotheism, prophets, last day, holidays and dietary laws. The concept of Hadith and Talmud are similar as they both are alleged to be based on an oral tradition (eventually written down) used to expand on the written tradition (OT or Qur'an). Arguably, Islam is just another Jewish sect, and given that Judaism was corrupted then it is not hard to accept that so was Islam.

Notes

  1. The King James Version in Matthew 17:4 (as well as other places) refer to the person as Elias, but many other New Testament translators call him Elijah. Also, Maulana Muhammad Ali’s "The Holy Qur'an with English Translation and Commentary" 1995 edition in 37:130 writes: "and Elias is the same as Elijah of the Bible."
  2. Exodus 32:9 "And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people."
  3. See books like Richard Elliott Friedman’s “Who wrote the Bible” and Julius Wellhausen’s "Prolegomena to the History of Israel"


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