Uncomfortable Questions for the Qur'an

Apologetic Paper by Jay Smith - 14th May 1995


  1. Muslim Claims for the Qur'an

  2. Disturbing Questions

    1. Do we have the Uthmanic Recension?
    2. What do archeology and the external documents tell us?

      1. Qibla
      2. Jews
      3. Mecca
      4. Dome on the Rock
      5. Muhammad
      6. Muslim
      7. Prayer
      8. Hajj

  3. Conclusion

A: Muslim Claims for the Qur'an:

  1. Uthmanic recension unchanged for 1,400 years

    1. Collated in 650. (Muhammad died in 632)
    2. Canonized in 651 by Zaid ibn Thabit
    3. 4 copies sent to Medina, Mecca, Kufa and Damascus.

  2. The perfect word of God

    1. No errors
    2. No contradictions
    3. Superior to all other books ("mother of all books" S.43:3)

      1. Literary qualities
      2. Perfect Arabic
      3. Universal application.
      4. Cannot be reproduced. "Produce another Sura like it" (S.2:23).

    4. Direct revelation - no human mediation

      1. Replication of the eternal tablets in paradise. (Sura 85).

  3. The seal of all revelations

    1. The final revelation
    2. Supercedes previous revelations.

  4. Blueprint for every aspect of life

    1. Social agenda
    2. Morality
    3. Political programme
    4. Economics
    5. Education.

B: Disturbing Questions

Whose criteria will I use? Which Court of Appeal?

  1. The experts (Orientalists).

    1. Question of bias
    2. Is there an agenda? YES! We all have an agenda.

  2. What is Orientalism? Who are the Orientalists?

    1. History, Anthropology, Sociology, Philology, Phonology,Etymology.
    2. Patricia Crone, John Wansbrough, Michael Cook, G. Hawting, A.Jeffery

  3. Orientalists formulated their methodology using the Bible. Christians didn't run away, but defended the Bible using the scholarly criteria. Thus the Bible was strengthened for the Christians because it held up to the most severe criticism.

B1: Do We Have Uthmanic Recension?

Where are the copies?
  1. Most important book. Foundation of Islam.
  2. THUS, must have been written on durable material.
  3. Durable material existed. Codices... 4th century (Syniaticus, Alexandrinus).

    1. Ubayy Ka'b, Ibn Masud, Abu Musa, and Hafsa codices.
    2. Uthmanic recension. Not a scroll but a codex.

Muslims claim there are two.
(Topkapi and Sammarkand MSS)

How do we date scripts? Ink; medium (Papyrus-4th cent-paper.); script.

  1. Ma'il 7th-9th century Medina and Mecca.
  2. Mashq 7th century onwards.
  3. Kufic 8th-11th century.
  4. Naskh 11th century till today.

Modern scriptology since the 1950's has discovered the earlier scripts.
Noldeke, Hawting, Schacht, Lings all date the Topkapi and Sammarkand to the 9th century. Practical observations: Quraish=Mecca, Kufa=636 A.D.=Persia.

Earliest copy of the Qur'an is the Ma'il in British Library
Date by Lings=790.

We do not have the Uthmanic recension. We have the Qur'an that has existed for only the last 1,200 years.

150 year gap!!! Where are the documents? There are no earlier Qur'ans! WHY!!! Could there have been a change, an evolution up until the Umayyad period? It is likely that the Qur'an was not canonized in the 7th century, but in the 9th century. HOW DO WE KNOW? We use archeology and External sources.

B2: What Do Archaeology and the External Documents Tell Us?


B2i. Qibla

Qibla was canonized (finalized) in the Qur'an in 624 towards Mecca (S.2:144, 149-150) Yet, Mosques uncovered between 650-705 do not have Qiblas facing Mecca.

  1. Wasit in Iraq. Qibla points North instead of s.w.
  2. Baladhuri stated that the Qibla in the first Kufan mosque (Iraq) faced West.
  3. Fustat in Egypt. The Qibla points North-East towards Jerusalem instead of s.e.
  4. Jacob of Odessa (Christian bishop) in 705 said Egyptian Muslims (Haggarenes) prayed towards Jerusalem, like Christians.
  5. (Cook) Earliest evidence for direction of prayer (thus their sanctuary) points much further north than Mecca. In fact no mosques have been found from this period which face towards Mecca. Some Jordanian mosques also face north, while there are certain North African mosques (from much later) which face south.
  6. "They didn't know the direction." Yet these were desert traders, caravaneers!

What is happening here? Why are the prayers not towards Mecca?

Possible reasons:

  1. There was still a good relationship with Jews, so no need to change the Qibla
  2. Mecca was not yet well-known.


B2ii: Jews

  1. The Qur'an says Muhammad split with Jews in 624, & thus moved the Qibla (S.2:144).
  2. Yet, Greek sources speak of "the Jews who mixed with the Saracens, and of danger of falling into the hands of these Jews and Saracens."
  3. An Armenian Chronicler in 660 says Jews & Ishmaelites were together upto 640, with common Abrahamic platform. They had set out to conquer Palestine.
  4. The break came immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem in 640. Thus, documental evidence conflicts with the Qur'an over when Muh. split with Jews.

B2iii: Mecca

Was not yet significant at that time

  1. Muslims say: "Mecca is the centre of Islam, and the center of history"

    1. "The first sanctuary appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah, a blessed place, a guidance for the peoples" (S.3:96)
    2. Adam placed the black stone in the original Ka'bah there.
    3. Abraham and Ishmael rebuilt the Ka'bah there.
    4. Thus this is the 1st and most important city in the world!

  2. Muslims say: "Mecca was the center of the trading routes."

    1. Yet, Mecca was not on the trading route. It's in a valley, no water, not like Taif, 100 miles away (cheaper to ship 1,250 miles than go by camel 50 miles).
    2. Yet, except for a city called "Makoraba" by geographer Ptolomy= 2nd century, no mention of Mecca, or Ka'bah in any document, until late 7th century (Cook-74). Why?

So, what is going on here? If Mecca was not the center of the Muslim world, then what was? The answer is simple. It seems that Jerusalem and not Mecca was the center and sanctuary of the Haggarenes, or Maghrebites upto 700 A.D. Take for instance another fact:

B2iv: Dome on the Rock

  1. Built by Abd al-Malik (governor of Jerusalem) in 691. It is not a mosque, but a sanctuary! Considered the 3rd most holy place, to commemorate the Mi'raj.
  2. Yet nothing is inscribed about the Mi'raj, but polemic verses about Jesus.
  3. Why? Because this was the center of Islam then and not Mecca.
  4. In fact, the inscriptions are supposedly Qur'anic, both at the dome and on coins from this period, yet they don't coincide with the present Qur'an (Cook:74).
  5. Thus, if this is from the Qur'an, how could it have been canonized at this time?

Other Problems which point to a changing revelation:

B2v: Muhammad

Muhammad, a merchant and a conqueror up till the late 7th century, but no mention as prophet until into the 8th century, and then only in Muslim literature (Maghazi?).

B2vi: 'Muslim'

'Muslim' was the name first used in late 7th century.

  1. Athanasius (684) in Syriac used Maghrayes.
  2. Jacob of Odessa (705) mentions them as Haggarenes. (Ishmaelites, Saracen, Muhajirun)

B2vii: Prayer

Umar II (717-720), the pious caliph, didn't know about details of the prayer.

Qur'an in Suras 11:114; 17:78-79; 20:130; 30:17-18 speaks only of 3 prayers. Where do we get 5 prayers? From the Hadith, compiled 200-250 years later (Zoroastrians).

B2viii: Hajj

Suleyman (715-717) went to Mecca to ask about Hajj. Chose to follow Malik.

C: Conclusion

So what can we say about the Uthmanic Recension? Where is it? Why do we not have any copies? Modern scriptology proves that the Topkapi and Sammarkand are 200 years later.

Archaeology shows us that much of what the Qur'an maintains does not coincide with the data which we posess:

  1. The Qibla was not fixed until the next century
  2. the Jews still retained a relationship with the Arabs until at least 640
  3. Mecca was unknown until the end of the 7th century
  4. the earliest Qur'anic writings do not coincide with the Qur'an which we have today
  5. the number of prayers as well as the Hajj was not formalized until after 717
  6. Muhammad was not known as a prophet, nor was the word "Muslim" used until the end of the 7th century.

These are what archaeology and external sources say!

They all contradict the Qur'an which we have today, and add to the suspicion that the Qur'an which we now read is NOT the same as that which was collated and canonized in 650 A.D. by Uthman (if indeed it even existed at that time). One can only assume that there must have been an evolution in the Qur'anic text. Consequently, the only thing we can say with a certainty is that only the documents which we now possess (from 790 A.D.) are the same as that which is in our hands today, written 160 years after Muhammad's death, & 1,200 yrs. ago.

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