Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Has the Quran’s Challenge Been Met? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

In these particular rebuttals, we are going to tackle leading Muslim taqiyyist Shabir Ally’s attempt of trying to discredit a book titled The True Furqan, which is a Christian attempt of meeting the Quran’s challenge of producing something like it (*; *). Our goal here is to show that, contrary to Ally’s assertions, The True Furqan has seriously undermined the inimitability of the Quran since it shows that the Muslim scripture is anything but miraculous in its structure or teachings.

In one of his shows called Let the Quran Speak, Ally was asked what he thought of The True Furqan. Not surprisingly, Ally claimed to not be impressed and raised some objections against it in order to discredit it in the minds of his viewers, specifically his Muslim audience. One of the problems that Ally mentioned was that the theology of The True Furqan is rather unorthodox since it seems to teach that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one and the same Person, which is a heresy known as modalism or oneness theology (*; *). Ally stated that,

“Moreover, what is to be noticed is that the authors here seem to be taking an unorthodox view of the Christian Trinity. Whereas, for example, in the Gospel according to Matthew, in the last verse it says, ‘Go forth and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,’ there is here a distinction between the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Here in what is called the True Furqan, the author does not make that distinction. He begins by saying Bismillah al-Ab, al-Kalima, al-Ruh al-Quddus. So he is in fact… if I were to translate that straight into English, it would say ‘In the name of the Father, the Word, the Holy Ghost.’ Now in the English language we can maintain the distinction by putting commas in between, but that’s not what he has in the Arabic text here. In the Arabic text here, he has the grammatical form that is known as badil, which means one replaces the other, which means that one is equal to the other; not only equal to, but one is the other. It’s as if we say, ‘George Bush, the President.’ Now our comma separates the two, but it does not make a distinction between the two, because George Bush is the President and the President is George Bush. But if we pay careful attention to Matthew’s Gospel, there is a distinction between the Father and the Son, and there’s a distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yes, our Christian friends believe in the mainstream that these three are one, but the Persons are not to be confused according to the orthodox proclamation of the doctrine of the Trinity, whereas in what is called the True Furqan, that distinction is not maintained. What the True Furqan is saying here in essence is that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is the Son, and Holy Ghost is the Father. So the failure to make this distinction is historically known as a heresy; that has not been the mainstream orthodox, eventual position.” (Let the Quran Speak, “A Possible Challenge to the Quran?”)

Ally then went on to make the following statements in regards to the theological view concerning the Godhead espoused by the author and Shorrosh:

“Well, of course he probably understands his own view better than we understand his own view, but it is clear that his view is not the mainstream Christian view. Sometimes preachers start up their own organizations, they have their own views, and they promote that; they have their supporters and they keep going. It seems that Dr. Anis Shorrosh does have this particular feature about him, that he has started up his own organization, he is the president and master of that, the director, and naturally he has friends and supporters who have helped him to compose this writing. And the particular slant on belief that he has taken is reflected in this book; so he understands his own belief. But at the same time this is not the mainstream belief that we know. The orthodox definition of the Trinity does not allow for the confusion of the Persons in the Godhead: each Person is separate and distinct, but at the same time the three subsists in a single essence that is called Deity. That is the traditional, orthodox belief in the Trinity.

“So we should say then that, while this is not representative of the traditional Christian belief, at the same time it is not a fitting response to the Quranic challenge, because the Quranic challenge would have to be met by someone who sincerely believes he is under inspiration from God, a person who is known for his honesty and trustworthiness, so that we can see that this man is sincere, he is not making this up, and would have to take his message seriously.”

In the first place, it seems that the Arabs of Muhammad’s time were ignorant of this grammatical form called badil, despite the fact that Muslims are repeatedly telling us that they were experts in the language, which is why the Quran came to challenge them to produce something similar if they didn’t believe it came from God.

According to the Muslim expositors, the disbelievers objected whenever Muhammad would use the Bismillah, ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim formula, claiming that they did not know these gods whom Muhammad called ar-Rahman or ar-Rahim:  

(And when it is said to them: "Prostrate yourselves to Ar-Rahman!'' They say: "And what is Ar-Rahman?”) meaning: we do not know Ar-Rahman. They did not like to call Allah by His Name Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), as they objected on the day of (the treaty of) Al-Hudaybiyyah, when the Prophet told the scribe…

<<Write: "In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), Ar-Rahim (the Most Merciful).>> They said, "We do not know Ar-Rahman or Ar-Rahim. Write what you used to write: `Bismika Allahumma (in Your Name, O Allah).’” So Allah revealed the words…

(Say: “Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman, by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names”) (17:110). meaning, He is Allah and He is the Most Gracious. And in this Ayah, Allah said…

“… Makhul reported that one of the idolators heard the Prophet saying when he was prostrating: ‘O Most Gracious, O Most Merciful.’ The idolator said, ‘he claims to pray to One, but he is praying to two!’ Then Allah revealed this Ayah…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 17:110; bold emphasis ours)

“… Allah says, `These people, that We sent you to, disbelieve in the Most Gracious and deny Him, because they dislike describing Allah by Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim (the Most Gracious, Most Merciful).’ This is why on the day of Al-Hudaybiyyah, as Al-Bukhari narrated, they refused to write, ‘In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim,’ saying, ‘We do not know Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim!” Qatadah narrated this words…” (Ibid., Q. 13:30; bold emphasis ours)

One of the idolaters came right out and told Muhammad he did not know what ar-Rahman means: 

“… Ma`mar said that Az-Zuhri narrated, ‘When Suhayl bin `Amr came, he said to the Prophet, “Please conclude a peace treaty with us.” So, the Prophet called `Ali bin Abi Talib and said to him…

(Write: In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim.) Suhayl bin `Amr said, “As for Ar-Rahman, by Allah, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT MEANS. So write: ‘By Your Name, O Allah, as you used to write previously.’” The Muslims said, “By Allah, we will not write except: By the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim.” The Prophet said…

(Write: “In Your Name O Allah”)’…” (Ibid., Q. 48:25-26; bold and capital emphasis ours)

(And when it is said to them: "Prostrate yourselves to Ar-Rahman!” They say: "And what is the Ar-Rahman?”) meaning: we do not know or approve of this Name. (Ibid., Q. 25:59-60; bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir isn’t the only authority to record the confusion of the Arabs over these specific names that Muhammad used to describe his deity:

“The Prophet would often say, ‘O God, O Compassionate One’. So they said, ‘He [Muhammad] forbids us to worship more than one god, and yet he calls upon another [god] together with Him [God]’. The following was then revealed: Say, to them: ‘Invoke God or invoke the Compassionate One, that is to say, invoke Him by either of these [Names] or call upon Him by saying, ‘O God! O Compassionate One!’, whichever (ayyan is conditional; mā is extra), in other words, whichever of these two [Names], you invoke, is beautiful — this [predicate, ‘beautiful’] is indicated by the following [statement]), to Him, to the One called by these two [Names], belong the Most Beautiful Names’, these two [Names] being from among them…” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 17:110; bold emphasis ours)


(Say (unto mankind): Cry unto Allah, or cry unto the Beneficent…) [17:110]. Said Ibn ‘Abbas: “One night in Mecca, The Messenger of Allah stood up for the night vigil prayer. He kept saying in his prostration: ‘O Beneficent, O Merciful!’ And so the idolaters said: ‘Muhammad used to call unto one Allah; now he is calling unto two gods: Allah and the Beneficent. We do not know of anyone by the name of the Beneficent except the beneficent of al-Yamamah (meaning Musaylimah the liar)’, and so Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse”. Said Maymun ibn Mihran: “At the beginning of revelation, the Messenger of Allah used to write ‘In Thy name, O Allah’ until this verse was revealed (Lo! It is from Solomon, and lo, it is: In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful) [27:30], after which he always wrote ‘In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful’. The Arab idolaters then commented: ‘We know this Merciful but who is the Beneficent?’ As a response, Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse”. Said al-Dahhak: “The people of the Book said to the Messenger of Allah: ‘You mention very little the Beneficent and yet Allah mentions this name in the Torah in abundance’. Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse as a response to them”… ('Alī ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul, Q. 17:110; bold emphasis ours)

It seems that Muhammad’s contemporaries were completely oblivious to this grammatical feature known as badil, and therefore had no clue that these were names that Muhammad used to “replace one another, which means that these names are equal to the others; not only equal to, but these names are in fact the others.” After all, had they known of this grammatical form then they surely would have realized that Allah, ar-Rahman, and ar-Rahim are not three separate gods, but names or characteristics of the same deity. It is really unfortunate for them that they did not have Ally around to help them better understand their native language and its peculiar grammatical features.

The foregoing shows that the Arabic conjunction wa (“and”) is not always needed or necessary to distinguish or differentiate between different subjects or persons that are being grouped or brought together. Nor does the omission of the conjunction necessarily imply that one is referring to the same subject, just under different names or characteristics. In certain situations this will have to be determined by the context itself, and not by the use or omission of the conjunction. 

This brings me to my second point. The Quran uses the Arabic conjunction to distinguish itself from the saba’a al-mathani, i.e. the “seven that are repeated,” which some of the expositors take to be the first surah, e.g. al-Fatihah:

And indeed, We have bestowed upon you seven of Al-Mathani (the seven repeatedly recited Verses), (i.e. Surat Al-Fatiha) AND the Grand Qur'an (sab’an mina al-mathanee WA’al-qurana al’atheema). S. 15:87 Hilali-Khan

Note how the following expositors explained this text:

And verily We have given you seven of the oft-repeated [verses] — the Prophet (s) said that this meant [sūrat] al-Fātiha, as reported by the two Shaykhs [Bukhārī and Muslim], since it is repeated in every unit of prayer (rak‘a) — and the great Qur’ān. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn)


(We have given thee seven of the oft repeated (verses)) He says: We honoured you with seven verses of the Qur'an which are read in every unit of the prayer, i.e. the opening chapter of the Book (al-Fatihah); it is also said that this means: We honoured you with the following of the Qur'an, for the whole Qur'an consists of pairs or couples: commands and prohibitions, promises and threats, the lawful and the unlawful, the abrogating and the abrogated, a literal meaning and an allegorical meaning, ambiguous verses and unambiguous verses, news of the past and events of the future, the praise of some people and the rebuke of others, (and the great Qur'an) He says: and We honoured you with the great, glorious and magnificent Qur'an just as We revealed the Torah and Gospel to the Jews and Christians. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs)

Now if we were to employ Ally’s reasoning here we would have to conclude that al-Fatihah is not a part of the Quran, since the verse we cited clearly distinguishes and differentiates it from the Muslim scripture. This is further brought out by the following narration:

Narrated AbuHurayrah

When Allah's Messenger once asked Ubayy ibn Ka'b how he recited in the course of the prayer and he recited Umm al-Qur'an, he said, "By Him in whose hand my soul is, nothing like it has been sent down in the Torah, the Injil, the Zabur, OR THE QUR'AN, and it is seven of the oft-repeated verses and the mighty Qur'an which I have been given."

Tirmidhi transmitted it, and Darimi transmitted from "nothing like it has been sent down," but he did not mention Ubayy ibn Ka'b. Tirmidhi said this is a hasan sahih tradition. (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith – 654, ALIM Online Version)

Umm al-Quran is one of the names given to al-Fatihah. This tradition makes it clear that, just as al-Fatihah is not a part of the Torah/Law, the Injil/Gospel or the Zabur/Psalms, it isn’t a part of the Quran as well, since the above narration differentiates it from all four of these religious scriptures.

But that’s not all. One of Muhammad’s closest companions and memorizers of the Quran, Abdullah ibn Masud did not include al-Fatihah or surahs 113 and 114 in his codex since he believed they were not a part of the Quran:

"Imam Fakhruddin said that the reports in some of the ancient books that Ibn Mas’ud denied that Suratul-Fatiha and the Mu'awwithatayni are part of the Qur’an are embarrassing in their implications… Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani however, in his commentary on the Sahih of al-Bukhari (his famous Fath al-Baari), accepted these reports as sound, quoting authorities who stated that Ibn Mas’ud would not include the two ‘charm’ surahs in his manuscript as Muhammad had, to his knowledge, only commanded that they be used as incantations against evil forces. He regarded the isnad (the chain of transmitters) for this record as totally sound and attempted to harmonise the conflicting records instead, suggesting that Ibn Mas’ud accepted the Fatiha and ‘charm’ surahs as genuinely revealed but was reluctant to inscribe them in his written text.” (John Gilchrist, Jam' Al-Qur'an: The Codification of the Qur'an Text, Chapter 3: The Codices of Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy Ibn Ka'b, p. 68; bold emphasis ours)

And here is what al-Suyuti wrote concerning this issue:

“… Ibn Mas’ud’s codex omits the Fatiha and the last two surahs (of refuge).” (Imam Jalal-al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Suyuti, The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur'an: Al-Itqan fi 'Ulum Al-Qur'an (Great Books of Islamic Civilization), translated by Professor Hamid Algar, Dr. Michael Schub and Mr. Ayman Abdel Haleem, reviewed by Professor Osman S. A. Isma’il al-Bili [Garnet Publishing Limited, UK 2011], Volume 1, p. 153)

Not only did ibn Masud omit these three surahs from his codex, another companion and memorizer actually included two additional chapters in his manuscript for a total of 116 surahs altogether, in contrast to ibn Masud’s 111 and the standard 114 which is found in virtually all the Qurans today:

There were one hundred and twelve surahs in Ibn Masu’d’s codex, because the Mu’awwidhatan (the final two surahs) were not written in it.  There were one hundred and sixteen in Ubayy’s codex, because he added at its end the surahs of al-Hafd and al-Khal.

“Abu ‘Ubayd reported on the authority of Ibn Sirin, who said that Ubayy Ibn Ka‘b wrote in his codex the Fatiha and the Mu’awwidhatan and ‘by God, We beseech your aid’, and by ‘God you its we worship’; Ibn Mas’ud omitted these, and ‘Uthman wrote from them only the Fatiha and the Mu’awwidhatan.

“In his al-Du’a, al-Tabarani reported, by way of ‘Abbad Ibn Yaqub al-Asadi, on the authority of Yahya Ibn Ya’la al-Aslami, on the authority of Ibn Lahi’a, on the authority of Ibn Hubayra, on the authority of ‘Abd Allah Ibn Zubayr al-Ghafiqi, who said that ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan told him, ‘I know of your love for Abu Turab – that is, ‘Ali, even through [sic] you are an uncouth Bedouin.’ Al-Ghafiqi answered, ‘I memorized the Qur’an before your parents met and ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib had taught me two surahs which the Emissary of God had taught him, and which neither you nor your father know: (1) “O God we beseech your help and your forgiveness; we praise You; and do not disbelieve you. We repudiate and ostracize those who sin against you”; (2) “O God, You it is we worship and to You we pray. We prostrate ourselves to be near to You. We hasten to serve You in longing for Your mercy, and we fear Your punishment; indeed, Your punishment is for the unbelievers.”’ 

“Al-Bayhaqi reported, by way of Sufyan al-Thawri, on the authority of Ibn Jurayj, on the authority of ‘Ata’, on the authority of ‘Ubayd Ibn ‘Umayr, that after the ruku, Ibn al-Khattab humbled himself before God, saying: ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Verily, we beseech You and ask Your help; we praise You, and do not disbelieve in You; we repudiate and ostracize those who sin against You. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O God! You it is we worship, and to You we pray and prostrate ourselves; to You we hasten to serve You in longing for Your mercy; we fear Your revenge. Verily Your punishment is for the unbelievers.’

“Ibn Jurayj reported that the reason for the presence of the basmala here is that these are two discrete surahs, in codices of some of the Companions.

“In his Kitab al-Salat (Book of Prayer), Muhammad Ibn Nasr al-Marwazi reported, on the authority of Ubayy Ibn Ka’b, that he would humble himself by reciting these two surahs, and that he had written them down in his codex.

“Ibn Durays reported that Ahmed Ibn Jamil al-Marwazi told him, on the authority of ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Mubarak, on the authority of al-Ajlah Ibn ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Rahman, who said that his father told him that Ibn ‘Abbas’ codex contained the reading of Ubayy and Abu Musa:

‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O God! We ask Your help and Your forgiveness; we give praise to You in the best way, and we do not disbelieve in You. We renounce and ostracize those who sin against You.’

And: ‘O God! You it is we worship, and to You we pray and prostrate ourselves, and You we hasten to serve. We fear Your punishment, and long for Your mercy. Verily, Your punishment is for the unbelievers.’

“Al-Tabarani reported, on the basis of a sound isnad, that Abu Ishaq said: ‘Umayya Ibn ‘Abd Allah Ibn Khalid Ibn Usayd led us in prayer in Khurasan, and he recited these two surahs: “Verily, we beseech your help and your forgiveness…”’

“Al-Bayhaqi and Abu Dawud in his Marasil reported, on the authority of Khalid Ibn Abi ‘Imran, that Gabriel brought down to the Prophet when he was praying and had reached the verse: ‘… not for you is the decision … (to the end of verse)’; when he humbled himself before God, praying for the curse to fall on the tribe of Mudar. 

“Thus some transmitted concerning Ubayy’s codex that it contained one hundred and sixteen surahs. The truth, however, is that it contained one hundred and fifteen surahs:  

Sura al-Fil and Surat Li’Ilafi Quraysh are conflated in it, into one surah. This was transmitted on the authority of al-Sakhawi in his Jamal al-Qurra’, on the authority of Ja’far al-Sadiq and Abu Nahik also.

“I (Suyuit) say: al-Hakim and al-Tabarani related something from one of Umm Hani’s Traditions that denies this: the Emissary of God said: ‘God endowed the Quraysh with seven … (to the end of the hadith)’ in which he said: ‘Verily God revealed a surah about them in which only they were mentioned, viz. Li’Ilafi Quraysh.’

“In al-Hudhali’s al-Kamil, it is related on the authority of one of the Companions, who said: ‘The surahs al-Duha and al-lam Nashrah comprise one surah.’ This is related by the Imam ar-Razi in his tafsir, on the authority of Tawus and ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz.” (Ibid., pp. 155-157; bold emphasis ours)    

The importance in the witness and differences between ibn Masud and Ubayy ibn Kabb cannot be underestimated since these were two of the four men that Muhammad singled out as being the most qualified to teach the Quran:

Narrated Masruq: Abdullah bin Mas'ud was mentioned before Abdullah bin Amr who said, "That is a man I still love, as I heard the Prophet saying, 'Learn the recitation of the Qur'an from four: from Abdullah bin Mas'ud – he started with him – Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Mu'adh bin Jabal and Ubai bin Ka'b". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 153)

Ibn Masud himself claimed that there wasn’t a surah or verse which he did not know when or why it was “revealed”, nor was he aware of anyone who was more qualified than him in this area, a claim which none of the other companions contested. He even went as far as to instruct his followers to hide their copies of the Quran:

Narrated Abdullah (bin Mas'ud): By Allah other than Whom none has the right to be worshipped! There is no Sura revealed in Allah's Book but I know at what place it was revealed; and there is no verse revealed in Allah's Book but I know about whom it was revealed. And if I know that there is somebody who knows Allah's Book better than I, and he is at a place that camels can reach, I would go to him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 51, Number 524)

'Abdullah (b. Mas'ud) reported that he (said to his companions to conceal their copies of the Qur'an) and further said: He who conceals anything he shall have to bring that which he had concealed on the Day of judgment, and then said: After whose mode of recitation you command me to recite? I in fact recited before AIlah's Messenger more than seventy chapters of the Qur'an and the Companions of Allah's Messenger know it that I have better understanding of the Book of Allah (than they do), and if I were to know that someone had better understanding than I, I would have gone to him. Shaqiq said: I sat in the company of the Companions of Muhammad but I did not hear anyone having rejected that (that is, his recitation) or finding fault with it. (Sahih Muslim, Book 031, Number 6022)  

Other traditions report that Ubayy was the best Quranic reciter and that he would not omit anything from his codex which he had directly learned from Muhammad, not even the abrogated verses:

Narrated Ibn Abbas: Umar said, "Our best Qur'an reciter is Ubai and our best judge is 'Ali; and in spite of this, we leave some of the statements of Ubai because Ubai says, 'I do not leave anything that I have heard from Allah's Apostle while Allah: "Whatever verse (Revelations) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We bring a better one or similar to it."’” (2.106) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 8)

And yet, despite Ubayy and ibn Masud being singled out by Muhammad as two of the four men who were the most qualified to teach the Quran, and therefore to know its precise contents, neither of them could agree with each other concerning the exact number of chapters, or even verses, which the Quran consisted of: 

Narrated Zirr bin Hubaish: I asked Ubai bin Ka'b, "O Abu Al-Mundhir! Your brother, Ibn Mas'ud said so-and-so (i.e., the two Mu'awwidhat do not belong to the Quran)." Ubai said, "I asked Allah's Apostle about them, and he said, 'They have been revealed to me, and I have recited them (as a part of the Quran).’" So Ubai added, "So we say as Allah's Apostle has said." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 501)

Putting that issue aside for now, we are certain that Ally would agree that al-Fatihah is indeed an essential part of the Quran, even though Q. 15:87 distinguishes between the two through the use of the conjunction wa. This should therefore make it obvious that the conjunction doesn’t always differentiate between two or more things that are not in some sense identical or the same. To use an English example, the title “The President AND Commander in Chief,” doesn’t refer to two distinct persons, but to two different offices or roles assumed by one and the same individual. As such, we are sure that Ally would argue that the conjunction in Q. 15:87 is meant to highlight a certain aspect of the Muslim scripture without implying that it isn’t an integral component of the Quran itself. It is a point of emphasis, not of differentiating two completely separate things which do not belong together.  

In other words, the use or non-use of the conjunction doesn’t always tell us whether a specific passage is grouping two or more separate or distinct persons or things together, or whether it is depicting different aspects or characteristics of one and the same thing. In certain instances, this will have to be determined by carefully examining the immediate and/or overall contexts of that particular text itself. 

This now brings us to the end of this first part of our rebuttal. It is time to proceed to part 2.