Contradictions in the Quran
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A recurring criticism of the Quran is that it contains contradictory pronouncements, as is argued of many other religious scriptures. The occurrence of these contradictions, critics argue, is particularly problematic in the case of the Quran because the Islamic tradition holds it to be the direct, unmediated word of Allah, or God. Indeed, Quran 4:82 makes the confident assertion: "Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction."
Critics hold that at least some of these contradictions are irresolvable through any reasonable interpretation and that, to resolve them, exegetes must resort to incredible interpretations. While some of the proposed contradictions, critics admit, may be resolved through the doctrine of abrogation, whereby Allah is said to override his previous instructions (through, for instance, permitting alcohol at one point and prohibiting at another), many other contradictions are not resolvable in this manner. Indeed, the Islamic tradition holds that the doctrine of abrogation is only applicable in cases of law and not theology - what Allah says at any point with regards to the divine, the hereafter, history, the day of judgement, or other such non-legal matters, must (and, the tradition holds, does) always hold true. Critics, however, have stated that many, including some of the most problematic, of the proposed contradictions are precisely of the theological, and not legal, variety.
A similar discussion exists between critics and Islamic scholars surrounding supposed contradictions contained in the hadiths.
Parallel narrative passages
Many stories in the Quran are repeated in other surahs. This risks ample opportunity for a human author or editor to unwittingly introduce contradictions between the parallel narratives. Indeed this is the case. Most of the examples in this section are from the Quran Variants website where they are discussed in more depth, with further insights and examples.
Narrative Contradictions in the Quran (pdf)
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The forgiveness of Adam
Academic scholars have noticed that the author or editor of the Quran appears to have combined in verses 2:36-39 the stories of Adam in 7:22-25 and 20:121-124, with the awkward result that Allah tells Adam and company to go down from paradise twice, in verses 2:36 and 2:38.
Moreover, a contradiction was thereby created regarding the timing of Adam's forgiveness by Allah. In Surah 20, Adam is forgiven before the command to descend from paradise (part of a longer section narrated chronologically). In Surah 7 Adam requests forgiveness from Allah, but it does not say whether Allah did forgive him. Instead, it immediately proceeds to the command to descend in 7:24. Surah 2 appears to fix the ambiguity in surah 7 by inserting the descent command seen in surah 7:24 into 2:36 (the whole verse is used word for word by 2:36 in the Arabic text) before Allah's forgiveness which "Then" follows immediately afterwards (Arabic: fa). However, the first part of the command, to descend as enemies of one another is also in 20:123 where the forgiveness has already occurred in the previous verse.
|Quran 2:36-39||Quran 7:22-25||Quran 20:121-124|
|2:36 But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, "Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time."
2:37 Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words, and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.
|7:22 So he made them fall, through deception. And when they tasted of the tree, their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten together over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called to them, "Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you a clear enemy?"
7:23 They said, "Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers."
|20:121 And Adam and his wife ate of it, and their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And Adam disobeyed his Lord and erred.|
20:122 Then his Lord chose him and turned to him in forgiveness and guided [him].
Timing of Allah's instructions to Noah
Two passages telling the story of Noah disagree as to when he was given the instructions about who and what to save in the ship. In 11:40, he receives the instructions when the flood is commanded. In 23:27, instead he receives these instructions earlier, at the same time as he is instructed to build the ark.
|Quran 11:37-40||Quran 23:27|
|11:37 And construct the ship under Our observation and Our inspiration and do not address Me concerning those who have wronged; indeed, they are [to be] drowned."
11:38 And he constructed the ship, and whenever an assembly of the eminent of his people passed by him, they ridiculed him. He said, "If you ridicule us, then we will ridicule you just as you ridicule.
|So We inspired to him, "Construct the ship under Our observation, and Our inspiration, and when Our command comes and the oven overflows, put into the ship from each [creature] two mates and your family, except those for whom the decree [of destruction] has proceeded. And do not address Me concerning those who have wronged; indeed, they are to be drowned.|
Abraham and the idols
Quran 37:87-97 contains a simpler version of the story in which Abraham smashes the idols in Quran 21:57-68. The two versions conflict in terms of where the events take place. In surah 37, everything takes place at the location of the idols. After some dialogue, we see in verse 90 “Then they turned away from him, departing” (fatawallaw ʿanhu mud'birīna); Abraham then smashes the idols; and “Then they came toward him, hastening” (fa-aqbalū ilayhi yaziffūna). Lane's Lexicon entry for the conjunction fa used at the start of 37:94 explains that in such usage as we see here, fa conveys proximate and uninterrupted succession.
In contrast, the longer surah 21 version has the people return to find the smashed idols but Abraham is no longer present there. They send a party to bring him, and then back amidst the idols he shows them the folly of their ways. So in that version it is Abraham who comes to them.
|Quran 21:57-68||Quran 37:87-97|
|21:57 And [I swear] by Allah, I will surely plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away."
21:58 So he made them into fragments, except a large one among them, that they might return to it [and question].
|37:87 Then what is your thought about the Lord of the worlds?"|
37:88 And he cast a look at the stars
Abraham and the Angels
The parallel Guests of Abraham stories in the Quran have been analysed in depth in a paper by Joseph Witztum in order to determine the relative chronology of the parallel passages. Four contradictions between them are particularly notable here and discussed below.
|Quran 11:69-79 (see also Quran 29:31-32||Quran 15:51-60||Quran 51:24-34|
|11:69 And certainly did Our messengers come to Abraham with good tidings; they said, "Peace." He said, "Peace," and did not delay in bringing [them] a roasted calf.
11:70 But when he saw their hands not reaching for it, he distrusted them and felt from them apprehension. They said, "Fear not. We have been sent to the people of Lot."
|15:51 And inform them about the guests of Abraham,
15:52 When they entered upon him and said, "Peace." [Abraham] said, "Indeed, we are fearful of you."
|51:24 Has there reached you the story of the honored guests of Abraham? -|
51:25 When they entered upon him and said, "[We greet you with] peace." He answered, "[And upon you] peace, [you are] a people unknown.
|11:71 And his Wife was standing, and she smiled. Then We gave her good tidings of Isaac and after Isaac, Jacob.
11:72 She said, "Woe to me! Shall I give birth while I am an old woman and this, my husband, is an old man? Indeed, this is an amazing thing!"
|15:54 He said, "Have you given me good tidings although old age has come upon me? Then of what [wonder] do you inform?"
15:55 They said, "We have given you good tidings in truth, so do not be of the despairing."
|51:29 And his wife approached with a cry [of alarm] and struck her face and said, "[I am] a barren old woman!"|
51:30 They said, "Thus has said your Lord; indeed, He is the Wise, the Knowing."
|11:74 And when the fright had left Abraham and the good tidings had reached him, he began to argue with Us concerning the people of Lot.'
11:75 Indeed, Abraham was forbearing, grieving and [frequently] returning [to Allah].
|15:57 [Abraham] said, "Then what is your business [here], O messengers?"
15:58 They said, "Indeed, we have been sent to a people of criminals,
|51:31 [Abraham] said, "Then what is your business [here], O messengers?"|
51:32 They said, "Indeed, we have been sent to a people of criminals
Various contradictions are apparent in these parallels (the first 3 discussed by Witztum in his paper).
1) In Surah 11 and Surah 51 Abraham's fear comes after the angels do not take the food and it is at that point that they reassure him of their mission (either to the people of Lot or to bring him the good tidings). In surah 15 however, Abraham expresses his fear as soon as they arrive exchanging greetings of peace.
2) Abraham's wife receives the good tidings either directly (Surah 11) or indirectly, having overhead the tidings given to Abraham (Surah 51). Her immediate reaction is the same in both versions.
3) In 51:28 (and 15:53) Abraham is only given tidings of a learned boy (singular), which his wife overhears, whereas in 11:71 his wife is directly given tidings both of Isaac and of Jacob. Again, it is notable that her same immediate reaction is given in 51:29 and 11:72, so these are portraying the same moment.
4) In 11:70 the angels calm Abraham's fear by telling him that they have been sent to the people of Lot. Later, in verse 74, he argues with them on behalf of the people of Lot (qawmi lūṭin, again) perhaps having already understood their intention earlier. In surahs 15 and 51 the angels instead respond to Abraham's fear by giving him the good tidings, and it is only later in 15:57 and 51:31 that he seems to learn of their mission to the people of Lot when he asks “Then what” (famā) is their next business.
Lot and the angels
After the business with Abraham and his wife, the angels visit Lot and his family to save them from the destruction coming to the people there.
|Quran 15:61-74||Quran 11:77-83|
|15:61 And when the messengers came to the family of Lot,
15:62 He said, "Indeed, you are people unknown."
|11:77 And when Our messengers, [the angels], came to Lot, he was anguished for them and felt for them great discomfort and said, "This is a trying day."|
11:78 And his people came hastening to him, and before [this] they had been doing evil deeds. He said, "O my people, these are my daughters; they are purer for you. So fear Allah and do not disgrace me concerning my guests. Is there not among you a man of reason?"
Three contradictions are evident in these parallel passages.
1) In surah 15, the angels tell Lot when they first arrive that they are there to save him and his family from the punishment to come. A mob arrives trying to take the visitors and Lot attempts to placate them by offering his daughters. In Q. 11, the sequence of events is very expressly the other way around: the mob events occur first, which leads to the angels explaining how they will save Lot and his family. Although 15:67 starts with the "And" conjunction (like some of the previous verses), the suspicion of contradiction in Q. 15 is well justified from the textual sequence of the elements (this is, after all, a narrative), and from what naturally reads like the angels explaining themselves upon their arrival in the first few verses. This is even apparent from the way Lot addresses them as "people unknown" (qawmun munkarūna) in 15:62, mirroring the way Abraham addressed the angels when he greeted them in 51:25 (see above).
2) Another contradiction concerns the context in which the angels tell Lot of their mission to save him and his family. In 15:61-66, the angels reveal this in response to Lot addressing them as people unknown / strange when they first arrive, alluding in verse 63 to Lot's pleadings to the people in other passages. In surah 11, instead the angels reveal this in order to ease the fear he expresses about the mob.
3) Finally, the accounts conflict in sequencing the elements of Lot's appeal to the mob. In 11:78 he says “these are my daughters” then asks them to “fear Allah and do not disgrace me”. In 15:68-71 instead he asks them to “fear Allah and do not disgrace me”, the mob responds, and then comes the “These are my daughters” element.
Response from Lot's people
Two passages make exclusive statements about the response of Lot's people to his arguments before the visit of the angels. Both verses come across as sweeping statements on the response of Lot's people to his pleadings, perhaps reflective of Muhammad's own experiences, except that each uses categorically exclusive language ("the answer of his people was not but they said...").
|Quran 27:54-57||Quran 29:28-29|
|27:54 And [mention] Lot, when he said to his people, "Do you commit immorality while you are seeing?
27:55 Do you indeed approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a people behaving ignorantly."
|29:28 And [mention] Lot, when he said to his people, "Indeed, you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds.|
29:29 Indeed, you approach men and obstruct the road and commit in your meetings [every] evil." And the answer of his people was not but they said, "Bring us the punishment of Allah, if you should be of the truthful."
Moses meets Allah at the fire
In this example, three accounts of Moses talking with Allah at the fire bear only a passing resemblance to one another. It is worth noting that Quran 4:164 says regarding the nature of the interaction “And Allah spoke to Moses with [direct] speech". Al-Razi notes in his commentary for 20:12 that the Mu’tazilites, Al-Ash’ari and al-Maturidi had different theological views on whether the words of Allah came from via the bush itself, and whether they were audible.
All three versions have “O Moses, Indeed, I am Allah” (or "your Lord") as a common element in the Arabic. However, there is otherwise little attempt at consistency in the variant stories. In surah 27, Allah is introduced as “Lord of the worlds” in the 3rd person and introduces himself with the common element along with another title. In surah 28 we see the opposite sequence with the “Lord of the Worlds” title used in the 1st person after the common introduction.
|Quran 20:10-16||Quran 27:7-9||Quran 28:29-30|
|20:10 When he saw a fire and said to his family, "Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance."||27:7 [Mention] when Moses said to his family, "Indeed, I have perceived a fire. I will bring you from there information or will bring you a burning torch that you may warm yourselves."||28:29 And when Moses had completed the term and was traveling with his family, he perceived from the direction of the mount a fire. He said to his family, "Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire. Perhaps I will bring you from there [some] information or burning wood from the fire that you may warm yourselves."|
|20:11 And when he came to it, he was called, "O Moses,
20:12 Indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa.
|27:8 But when he came to it, he was called, "Blessed is whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it. And exalted is Allah, Lord of the worlds.
27:9 O Moses, indeed it is I - Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise."
|28:30 But when he came to it, he was called from the right side of the valley in a blessed spot - from the tree, "O Moses, indeed I am Allah, Lord of the worlds."|
Moses expresses his fears and asks Allah about Aaron
In this sequence contradiction, Allah has revealed himself at the fire to Moses, who expresses his worries and makes a request. In the surah 26 version, Moses expresses his fear that the people of Pharaoh will deny him; he requests that he be assisted by his brother, Aaron; and finally, Moses mentions that the Egyptians want revenge for someone he had killed. However, in the surah 28 version, these three elements occur in the reverse order.
Regardless of differences that could be simply put down to the vagaries of translation from ancient languages or alternative paraphrases and shortening for brevity, the information content and sequencing is more fundamental and susceptible to contradiction, particularly when the Quran claims that such and such was said by a person on a particular occasion.
|Quran 26:10-17||Quran 28:33-35|
|26:10 And [mention] when your Lord called Moses, [saying], "Go to the wrongdoing people -
26:11 The people of Pharaoh. Will they not fear Allah?"
|28:33 He said, "My Lord, indeed, I killed from among them someone, and I fear they will kill me.|
28:34 And my brother Aaron is more fluent than me in tongue, so send him with me as support, verifying me. Indeed, I fear that they will deny me."
How should Moses describe Allah to Pharaoh?
Quran 20:47-49 narrates Allah's instructions to Moses at the fire and his first encounter with Pharaoh, ending with a display of miracles and Pharaoh's subsequent scheming. In this passage, Allah tells Moses to say that he and Aaron are "messengers of your Lord" and the account of their first encounter begins with Pharaoh asking, "So who is the Lord of you two, O Moses?". However, in Quran 26:16-23 Allah instructs them to use a different title, "Lord of the worlds", which Pharaoh then enquires upon at the start of the narration of their first encounter, again before the display of miracles and Pharaoh's subsequent scheming. Similarly, Quran 7:104 narrates "And Moses said, "O Pharaoh, I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds" on their first encounter.
|Quran 20:47-49||Quran 26:16-23|
|20:47 So go to him and say, 'Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance.
20:48 Indeed, it has been revealed to us that the punishment will be upon whoever denies and turns away.' "
|26:16 Go to Pharaoh and say, 'We are the messengers of the Lord of the worlds,|
26:17 [Commanded to say], "Send with us the Children of Israel."'"
Pharaoh and his Chiefs
Coming after Moses has impressed Pharaoh with the miracles of the serpent and white hand, both surah 7 and 26 immediately then describe a discussion between Pharaoh and his chiefs. In surah 7, Pharaoh asks his council what do they instruct/advise (famādhā tamurūna?), but in surah 26, the same question is transferred from his mouth to the council, apparently asking themselves (in both versions the addressee of the question is plural, and the addressee of the answer is singular i.e. Pharaoh).
|Quran 7:109-112||Quran 26:34-35|
|7:109 Said the eminent among the people of Pharaoh, "Indeed, this is a learned magician
7:110 Who wants to expel you from your land [through magic], so what do you instruct?
|26:34 [Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, "Indeed, this is a learned magician|
26:35 He wants to drive you out of your land by his magic, so what do you advise?
The whole dialogue is identical in Arabic, except for the addition of "by his magic" (bisiḥ'rihi) in verse 26:35 and "send" (ib'ʿath) instead of its synonym (arsil) in 26:36.
This contradiction (and the awkwardness of the surah 7 version) has attracted the attention of numerous academic scholars. Joseph Witztum notes that Muslim exegetes proposed that both Pharaoh and his chiefs asked the same question in the same way despite it being portrayed at the same place in the same dialogue in both versions. Judging the attempted harmonization attempt to be "far from compelling", instead he observes that the mala (chiefs) are a theme of surah 7, mentioned eight times (three of which are in an Egyptian context) and speaking in all but one of them. That compares with this one time in surah 26. It is then easy to see how dialogue could accidentally be transferred into their mouths at some point during composition, editing or transmission. Indeed, it is not uncommon for small details to be merged, transferred or substituted between repeated narratives.
Who believed in Moses?
Some days later, Moses defeats the magicians at the arranged contest by performing the snake miracle again. Three surahs narrate that the magicians then professed their belief in Moses, even defying threats made towards them from Pharaoh. However, surah 10 narrates the same occasion but only mentions the tricks by the magicians without a miracle from Moses. It says that then none believed Moses except for youths/offspring from his people.
There was some discussion by exegetes as to whether “his people” in 10:83 refers to the people of Moses or (awkwardly as al-Tabari notes, since he is only named subsequently) the people of Pharaoh. Regardless, it contradicts the other surahs in which the magicians now believed in him.
|Quran 26:38-51 (see also Quran 7:113-129 and Quran 20:60-76)||Quran 7:161-162|
|26:38 So the magicians were assembled for the appointment of a well-known day.
26:39 And it was said to the people, "Will you congregate
|10:80 So when the magicians came, Moses said to them, "Throw down whatever you will throw."|
10:81 And when they had thrown, Moses said, "What you have brought is [only] magic. Indeed, Allah will expose its worthlessness. Indeed, Allah does not amend the work of corrupters.
Were Pharaoh's army covered by or thrown into the sea?
In the verses shown on the left column, particularly 10:90, we are told that the Egyptians pursued the Israelites across the sea “until when” (ḥattā idhā) they were drowned. They had pursued them across a "dry path through the sea" (20:77), “Then” (fa - see Lexicon note above) the sea covered them (20:78) which had towered on each side (26:63).
However, verses 28:40 and 51:40 on the right column state instead that Allah took (akhadhnāhu) Pharaoh and his army then threw them (fanabadhnāhum) into the sea (fī l-yami).
|Quran 10:90||Quran 28:40|
|And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, "I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims."||So We took him and his soldiers and threw them into the sea. So see how was the end of the wrongdoers.|
|20:77 And We had inspired to Moses, "Travel by night with My servants and strike for them a dry path through the sea; you will not fear being overtaken [by Pharaoh] nor be afraid [of drowning]."
20:78 So Pharaoh pursued them with his soldiers, and there covered them from the sea that which covered them,
|So We took him and his soldiers and cast them into the sea, and he was blameworthy.|
26:63 Then We inspired to Moses, "Strike with your staff the sea," and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.
This contradiction has a parallel in the Biblical book of Exodus, which is discussed in detail by Pamela Barmash. Exodus 14:23-28 contains a prose narrative of the episode, considered by academic scholars to be composed of a number of sometimes contradictory sources. The Egyptians follow the Israelites into the midst of the sea. God “shakes off” (naar) the Egyptians in the midst of the sea as they flee the returning waters. Then it says the returning waters cover their chariots, horsemen and all the forces of Pharaoh. The next chapter, Exodus 15, contains the poetic “Song of the Sea”, in which the piled up waters return and cover the Egyptians in verses 8-10, but elsewhere employs a repeated refrain that God has hurled them into the sea as well as other poetic imagery of shattering them with his fist and of burning them like straw. These images combine to give a metaphor of God as a warrior. Barmash observes that “A historical account is replaced by poetic articulation of religious exuberance”.
Moses berates Aaron about the golden calf
After the golden calf incident, Aaron makes two very different pleadings in surahs 7 and 20 after Moses grabs him. It is possible with some awkwardness to harmonise that he gave the two different excuses, one after the other, though it is further worth noting that in both accounts Aaron's protest begins with the common address “O son of my mother” as Moses grabs him.
|Quran 7:150||Quran 20:90-95|
|And when Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said, "How wretched is that by which you have replaced me after [my departure]. Were you impatient over the matter of your Lord?" And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by [the hair of] his head, pulling him toward him. [Aaron] said, "O son of my mother, indeed the people oppressed me and were about to kill me, so let not the enemies rejoice over me and do not place me among the wrongdoing people."||20:90 And Aaron had already told them before [the return of Moses], "O my people, you are only being tested by it, and indeed, your Lord is the Most Merciful, so follow me and obey my order."|
20:91 They said, "We will never cease being devoted to the calf until Moses returns to us."
Command to the children of Israel upon reaching a town
In very similar passages in which Muhammad is asked to mention an episode occurring some time after the exodus from Egypt, parallel verses invert the order in which Allah quotes himself telling the children of Israel to enter a city gate bowing humbly and request relief of their burdens. Ironically, the next verse in each case complains about Allah's words being changed.
|Quran 2:58-59||Quran 7:161-162|
|2:58 And [recall] when We said, "Enter this city and eat from it wherever you will in [ease and] abundance, and enter the gate bowing humbly and say, 'Relieve us of our burdens.' We will [then] forgive your sins for you, and We will increase the doers of good [in goodness and reward]."
2:59 But those who wronged changed [those words] to a statement other than that which had been said to them, so We sent down upon those who wronged a punishment from the sky because they were defiantly disobeying.
|7:161 And [mention, O Muhammad], when it was said to them, "Dwell in this city and eat from it wherever you will and say, 'Relieve us of our burdens,' and enter the gate bowing humbly; We will [then] forgive you your sins. We will increase the doers of good [in goodness and reward]."|
7:162 But those who wronged among them changed [the words] to a statement other than that which had been said to them. So We sent upon them a punishment from the sky for the wrong that they were doing.
The destruction of Thamud
In 54:26, Allah tells the prophet Salih that tomorrow the people of Thamud will know he is not a liar. If this refers merely to the sending of the she-camel the next day, that would contradict other parallel passages where the she-camel does not lead to them accepting Salih as truthful. See 91:11-14 also shown below, where the same root for liar appears as a verb (kadhabūhu) in “But they denied him and hamstrung her” after Salih presents the she-camel, and at the end of 11:65 where it appears as a noun (makdhūbin). Tommaso Tesei has noted that 91:13-14 is likely a later editing or interpolation, the long sentences breaking the metre of the otherwise short verses in that surah and turning verse 15 into theological nonsense (who could think Allah would fear anything?).
"They will know tomorrow who is the insolent liar" could instead mean that the people of Thamud are to be destroyed that next day and thereby learn that Salih is not a liar. However, according to verse 65 of the surah 11 story, their destruction will instead come three days after they hamstrung the she-camel.
|Quran 54:23-31||Quran 27:7-9||Quran 28:29-30|
|54:23 Thamud denied the warning
54:24 And said, "Is it one human being among us that we should follow? Indeed, we would then be in error and madness.
|11:64 And O my people, this is the she-camel of Allah - [she is] to you a sign. So let her feed upon Allah 's earth and do not touch her with harm, or you will be taken by an impending punishment."
11:65 But they hamstrung her, so he said, "Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days. That is a promise not to be denied."
|91:11 Thamud denied [their prophet] by reason of their transgression,|
91:12 When the most wretched of them was sent forth.
Al-Razi and Al-Qurtubi mention a view that “tomorrow” is just a turn of phrase to indicate the future. Such an explanation is very dubious given that the next verse promises a specific event (the sending of the she-camel) and given that a clearly literal timescale is given to the same people in 11:65.
The destruction of Aad
In a remarkably careless mistake, 41:13 warns that not only Thamud, but both Aad and Thamud were destroyed by a thunderbolt. The next few verses mention a screaming wind sent to Aad over a number of days as a punishment (though without stating that this wind ultimately destroyed them), and goes on to mention the thunderbolt which seized the people of Thamud.
Thamud's sudden destruction by a thunderbolt is narrated also in Quran 51:44, where the thunderbolt seized Thamud as they looked on. The word thunderbolt in these verses is sa'iqatan, which can refer to the sound of a thunderbolt or the lightning bolt itself. Similarly, the instantaneous death of the people of Thamud by a thunderous blast (ṣayḥatan) appears in surah 11 and surah 54 quoted above in the previous section, and by a single blast (ṭāghiyati) in Q. 69:5. They were killed by an earthquake in Q. 7:78, though the word l-rajfatu, needn't mean a literal earthquake, and can mean a convulsion or jolting according to Lane's Lexicon. Thus with some harmonising effort we have a story of sudden thunderous death for the people of Thamud.
However, all other descriptions of Aad's destruction except for 41:13 say that it was by means of a violent wind over a day or number of days, which uprooted its people like trees and left only ruined homes.
In an attempt to rescue the contradiction, Al-Tabari in his tafsir for 41:13 claims that sa'iqatan (thunderbolt) is a catch all term for anything that destroys something, while al-Qurtubi claims that the wind was the sa'iqatan.
|41:13 But if they turn away, then say, "I have warned you of a thunderbolt like the thunderbolt [that struck] 'Aad and Thamud.|
41:14 [That occurred] when the messengers had come to them before them and after them, [saying], "Worship not except Allah." They said, "If our Lord had willed, He would have sent down the angels, so indeed we, in that with which you have been sent, are disbelievers."
|46:24 And when they saw it as a cloud approaching their valleys, they said, "This is a cloud bringing us rain!" Rather, it is that for which you were impatient: a wind, within it a painful punishment,|
46:25 Destroying everything by command of its Lord. And they became so that nothing was seen [of them] except their dwellings. Thus do We recompense the criminal people.
|51:41 And in 'Aad [was a sign], when We sent against them the barren wind.|
51:42 It left nothing of what it came upon but that it made it like disintegrated ruins.
|54:18 'Aad denied; and how [severe] were My punishment and warning.|
54:19 Indeed, We sent upon them a screaming wind on a day of continuous misfortune,
|69:4 Thamud and 'Aad denied the Striking Calamity.|
69:5 So as for Thamud, they were destroyed by the overpowering [blast].
There is possibly a second contradiction concerning the destruction of Aad. Some point to the fact that whereas 41:16 says the wind was sent in "days of misfortune" and 69:7 says the wind was imposed for "seven nights and eight days in succession", 54:19 says it was sent on a "day [singular] of continuous misfortune". Exegetes discussed the word "continuous" in 54:19. Al-Tabari and al-Zamakhshari said the misfortune continued until they were destroyed. Al-Razi mentioned the relevant verses and in order to harmonize them, interpreted "continuous" as indicating further days. He considered two views, that "continuous" relates to the word day or to the word misfortune, preferring the former. The verse itself mentions a "day" singular and the preceding Arabic about when the wind was sent is the same in this verse as in Q. 41:16, which then instead says "days":
arsalnā ʿalayhim rīḥan ṣarṣaran fī yawmi naḥsin mus'tamirri We sent upon them a screaming wind in a day of continuous misfortune
arsalnā ʿalayhim rīḥan ṣarṣaran fī ayyāmin naḥisātin We sent upon them a screaming wind in days of misfortune
Lane's Lexicon has some discussion of the word mus'tamirrin ("continuous") as it is used in this verse and in Q. 54:2 where it is used in the phrase (“passing magic”) in the same grammatical form.
Where is Allah?
Verses such as 2:255 (the famous throne verse) and other anthropomorphic verses have long been a topic of controversy and debate as to what extent they should be taken metaphorically. For the Asharis they were beyond human understanding. To critics, this lack of clear resolution is unsurprising given the apparent contradiction between verses that describe Allah in a location and those that imply he is everywhere.
Upon a throne (arsh and kursi)
His home, the Ka'bah
Can Allah be seen?
Could Allah have a son?
If Allah had willed to choose a son, He could have chosen what He would of that which He hath created.Be He Glorified! He is Allah, the One, the Absolute.
Wonderful Originator of the heavens and the earth; How can He have a son when He has no consort?He created all things, and He hath full knowledge of all things
Is it possible to have a son without a consort?
Can only Allah see the unseen?
No, Solomon can too
Is Allah kind and merciful?
Does Allah forgive everything?
Does Allah forgive worshipping other gods/shirk?
Angels and demons
How many angels helped Muhammad at Badr?
Some claim that one of these could refer to the battle of Uhud, but that was a defeat for the Muslims.
Allah only sends angels with a message
Who could Allah send as messengers (rasulan)?
Only men from amongst a community
Both angels and men
Which was created first; the Heaven or Earth?
How long did it take Allah to create heaven and earth?
Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days? And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds. He placed therein firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and measured therein its sustenance in four Days, alike for (all) who ask;Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower
What was the first man created from?
How long does it take Allah to create?
A long time
Day of Judgement (Qiyamah)
How long will the unbelievers think they remained on Earth?
An afternoon or morning
A day or part of a day
Will disbelievers speak on Qiyamah?
Not willingly, their body parts will speak the truth
Yes, and they can speak lies. Various verses describe dialogue taking place between disbelievers and believers or Allah or angels on the day of resurrection. For example:
Will the disbelievers be blind on the day of resurrection?
Where do disbelievers receive their record book on Judgment day?
On their back
On the left hand
Does evil come from Allah?
Heaven and Hell
Is there a fate other than Heaven or Hell?
Yes, there exists purgatory too
Is intercession possible on the last day?
Will non-Muslims go to hell forever?
Not eternal (Huqb is seventy or eighty years, and every day of it is like one thousand years according to your reckoning in this life—Ibn Kathir)
What will be the food in hell?
Only thorns, or dhari
Could someone bear another's burden?
In some verses the Quran states that no person will bear the sins of another. Academic scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds notes that the Quranic story of Cain and Abel contradicts the maxim. Abel states in Quran 5:29 "Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire." (though Ibn Kathir has a report that some companions said this refers rather to Cain's sin of murdering him and to Cain's previous sins). Regarding this type of contradiction, Reynolds cites such verses as 4:111, 6:164, 17:13-15, 20:12, 39:7, 53:38-42 where each person bears only their own sin, compared to 5:29, 16:25, and 20:13 where someone will bear another's sin. Here are some of those verses and similar examples:
Yes (notice how directly this contradicts the previous example, 17:15)
Who takes people's souls?
Who was the first Muslim?
Muhammad (the square brackets is a commentary not present in the Arabic)
Lot and his family
During the time of Abraham
The disciples of Jesus
How strong is a believer?
One Muslim is more powerful than 10 non-Muslims
One Muslim can overcome two non-Muslims
Can you eat non-halal meat?
How bad is drinking wine?
These verses are traditionally explained as gradual abrogation, while critics see a contradiction as a result of the author changing his mind over time.
It is a wholesome drink
No prohibition on getting drunk as long as you're not praying
It is Satan's handiwork, leave it aside
It is a severe sin
How many sacred months are there?
Can people be compelled to follow Islam?
Yes, unless the disbelievers pay you.
Will Allah reward the good deeds of everyone?
Who sends disbelievers astray?
For whom is salvation?
For all pious theists
For all pious theists
For Muslims only
For Muslims only
How should unbelievers be treated?
They must be attacked
How to deal with an infidel in the family?
People of the Book
Should Muslims have Christians for friends?
Will Jews and Christians be saved from hell?
Is incest okay?
Adam's children did it
Can multiple wives be dealt with justly?
Both verses use the word "justly" (taʿdilū).
Who brought revelation to Muhammad?
Is the Quran clear?
No, letters such as those at the start have an incomprehensible meaning
How long does it take to wean?
30 months (perhaps including 9 months pregnancy)
Gabriel Said Reynolds notes that the idea of two years of suckling comes from the Babylonian Talmud Ketubbot 60a.
As is much discussed in some detail on external websites, the Quranic inheritance laws can in many situations result in the total shares being greater than 100 percent. This was so problematic that the 'awl system had to be created after Muhammad's death to work around the issue.
And for you is half of what your wives leave if they have no child. But if they have a child, for you is one fourth of what they leave, after any bequest they [may have] made or debt. And for the wives is one fourth if you leave no child. But if you leave a child, then for them is an eighth of what you leave, after any bequest you [may have] made or debt. And if a man or woman leaves neither ascendants nor descendants but has a brother or a sister, then for each one of them is a sixth. But if they are more than two, they share a third, after any bequest which was made or debt, as long as there is no detriment [caused]. [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is Knowing and Forbearing.
As well as the above mentioned issue (and the many scenarios for which the Quran provides no answer at all), there are various contradictions concerning the shares of brothers and sisters. Inheritance shares are stipulated for siblings only when the deceased has no surviving parents or children, but contradictory instructions occur in the two verses where this situation is addressed, Quran 4:11-12 and Quran 4:176 (incidentally, the latter verse is oddly appended to the very end of surah al-Nisa). Both these verses set rules for the estate of someone who has "neither ascendants nor descendants" (kalālatan, l-kalālati). In a book dedicated to the exegetical history of this word, Pavel Pavlovitch has established that its original meaning was lost by the last quarter of the first century, with early figures admitting their inability to understand the word, as further evidenced by various narrations and interpretations generated during and after that period. Generally, jurists inferred it to mean a person who dies without a child, nor, it was ultimately decided, surviving parents. A later proposal in the mid 2nd century was that the word instead meant the non-parent or child relatives of the deceased, and that it is the direct object of the preceding verb in verse 12. Either way, the inheritance shares for siblings of a childless deceased person in verse 176 are incompatible with the shares that siblings can receive in verse 12.
- According to verse 12, a brother or sister would each receive a sixth share, but verse 176 says that a brother will have double the share of a sister.
- According to verse 12, multiple siblings will split a third share between them (a sixth each or less), but verse 176 says two sisters will split a two-thirds share.
- According to verse 12, if there is only a sister she will receive a sixth share, but verse 176 says she will receive a half share.
- According to verse 12, if there is only a brother, he will receive a sixth share, but verse 176 says that a brother inherits the entire estate if his sister dies and has no child.
To solve the contradictions, Imam Malik in Al-Muwatta 27:7 is narrated as saying that the generally agreed way of doing things in his experience was to interpret verse 12 as relating to half-siblings by the mother of the deceased, whereas verse 176 was interpreted as relating to siblings by the same father as the deceased. There is no support for these interpretations whatsoever in the verses, which simply refer to brothers and sisters. Al-Tabari in his commentary for verse 12 includes a narration that Sa'd bin Waqas used to add the words "from the mother's side" in his recitation of that verse. It is not obvious why such additional words would not be included in the accepted text or readings of the Quran if they were authentic. Critics further point out that it would be very odd for the situation of half-siblings to be addressed early in Surah al-Nisa and that of full-siblings only in a verse appended to the very end of the surah.
- A version of this page is also available in the following languages: Czech. For additional languages, see the sidebar on the left.
- Narrative Contradictions in the Quran (Direct pdf download link) - Quran Variants
- Contradictions in the Qur'an - Contradictions in the Qur'an, Answering Islam
- 1000 Mistakes - Website dedicated to mistakes in the Qur'an
- A Guide To Quranic Contradictions - By Abul Kasem, April 20, 2008
- The Last Verse of the Quran That It Was Not - Mumin Salih, Islam Watch, September 27, 2009
- Witztum, Joseph. 2011. The Syriac Milieu of the Qur’ ̄an: The Recasting of Biblical Narratives Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA. pp. 69-79
- fa - Lane's Lexicon pp. 2321-2323
- Joseph Witztum. “Thrice upon a Time: Abraham’s Guests and the Study of Intra-Quranic Parallels”. In Holger Zellentin (ed.), The Quran’s Reformation of Judaism and Christianity: Return to the Origins. London: Routledge, 2019, pp. 277–302.
- Witztum, J. (2021) Pharaoh and His Council: Great Minds Think Alike Journal of the American Oriental Society, 139(4), 945–952. https://doi.org/10.7817/jameroriesoci.139.4.0945
- Another example of transferred dialogue relates to the one of the previous contradiction examples. In the quotes in the earlier section we see that Moses mentions to Allah that he killed a man in surahs 26:10-17 and 28:33-35. However, another version in Quran 20:24-47 lacks this element in the words of Moses and instead it is Allah who mentions in verse 40 "And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a [severe] trial."
- Pamela Barmash. 2017. Through the Kaleidoscope of Literary Imagery in Exodus 15: Poetics and Historiography in Service to Religious Exuberance. Hebrew Studies Vol. 58 (2017) pp. 145-172
PDF downloadable at 
- Tommaso Tesei, The Qurʾān(s) in Context(s) Journal Asiatique 309.2 (2021): 185-202 (open access; see pp. 198-200)
- sa'iqatan - Lane's Lexicon p. 1690
- mus'tamirrin - Lane's Lexicon p. 2702
- Stephen J. Vicchio, "Biblical figures in the Islamic faith", USA: Wipf and Stock, 2008, pp. 13-15
- Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary p. 198
- Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary p. 92
- See Chapter 6 Summary and Conclusion in Pavel Pavlovitch, 2016, "The Formation of the Islamic Understanding of Kalāla in the Second Century AH (718–816 CE)", Leiden: Brill