Is Allah A Messenger?
Or is Gabriel God?

Sam Shamoun

The Quran, in many places, claims to be Allah’s word which he produced and sent down:

And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah (kalama Allahi), and afterward convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not. S. 9:6 Pickthall

This Qur'an is not such as can be produced by other than God; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book - wherein there is no doubt - from the Lord of the worlds. S. 10:37 Y. Ali

We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that ye may learn wisdom. S. 12:2 Y. Ali

A sending down from the Lord of all Being. S. 69:43 Arberry

The Quran further claims that one mighty in power, presumably Allah, revealed it to Muhammad:

Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: He was taught by one Mighty in Power (Al-Quwa), Endued with Wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form); While he was in the highest part of the horizon: Then he approached and came closer, And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer; So did (God) convey the inspiration to His Servant - (conveyed) what He (meant) to convey. The (Prophet's) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw? For indeed he saw him at a second descent, Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass: Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest (Al-Kubra)! S. 53:2-18 Y. Ali

The reference to His servant clearly shows that this is Allah who is described as being mighty in power and the one that supposedly appeared to Muhammad to convey the revelation to him.

Yet in two other places the Quran claims to be the word of an unnamed messenger:

it is the speech (qawlu) of a noble Messenger (rasoolin kareemin) ... S. 69:40 Arberry

This unnamed messenger is taken by many Muslims to be either Gabriel or Muhammad, as the following version points out:

That this is verily the word of an honoured Messenger [i.e. Jibrael (Gabriel) or Muhammad SAW which he has brought from Allah]. Hilali-Khan

Apparently, Shakir and Sher Ali were both troubled by the claim that the Quran is the speech of a messenger that they decided to distort what the Arabic actually says:

Most surely, it is the Word brought by an honored Apostle, Shakir

That it is, surely, the word brought by a noble Messenger, Sher Ali

Here is the other citation stating that the Quran is the speech of a messenger:

truly this is the word (qawlu) of a noble Messenger (rasoolin kareemin) having power, with the Lord of the Throne secure, S. 81:19-20 Arberry

Note, once again, how Sher Ali changed the meaning of the Arabic:

That this is, surely, the word revealed to a noble Messenger,

He is joined by Hilali-Khan who insert parenthetical comments to dilute the plain meaning and implication of this particular reference:

Verily, this is the Word (this Qur'an brought by) a most honourable messenger [Jibrael (Gabriel), from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)].

One can see from the above examples the difficulties Muslims had with these specific references.

One can further see their dilemma from the way certain Muslim expositors tried to explain these particular texts. For instance, this commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas says regarding Q. 69:40 that:

(That it) i.e. the Qur'an (is indeed the speech of an illustrious messenger) He says: the Qur'an is the Word of Allah which Gabriel brought down to an illustrious messenger, i.e. Muhammad (pbuh). (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

Another renowned commentator, Ibn Kathir, writes in reference to Q. 81:19-21:

The Qur'an is the Speech of Allah

Allah swears by His creation, in which some of His signs can be seen in His creatures. These also indicate the perfection of His Names and Attributes. He then swears by the hidden things that they cannot see. This is an oath swearing that the Qur'an is His Speech, His inspiration and His revelation to His servant and Messenger, whom He chose to convey His Message, and the Messenger carried out this trust faithfully. So Allah says…

<So I swear by whatsoever you see, and by whatsoever you see not, that this is verily the word of an honored Messenger.> meaning, Muhammad . Allah gave this description to him, a description which carries the meaning of conveying, because the duty of a messenger is to convey from the sender. Therefore, Allah gave this description to the angelic Messenger in Surat At-Takwir, where he said…

<Verily, this is the Word of (this Qur'an brought by) a most honorable messenger. Owner of power (and high rank) with Allah, the Lord of the Throne. Obeyed and trustworthy.> (81:19-21) And here, it refers to Jibril ... (Source)

These Muslims were trying to reconcile the claim that the Quran is the word of some messenger with their belief that the Quran is Allah’s eternal speech. They try to interpret these citations in light of their presupposition that Allah communicated the Quran to Muhammad through Gabriel.

In other words, they are trying hard to make these references comport with their a priori assumption that the Quran is not other than the speech of Allah, so it cannot be said to be the speech of someone else.

But sadly for these Muslim translators and expositors neither Q. 69:40 nor Q. 81:19 says that the Quran is Allah’s speech which was communicated through a messenger. The references plainly say that the Quran is actually the speech of some particular messenger.

These Muslims were also confused regarding the precise identity of this messenger, i.e. was he Gabriel or Muhammad? Or is this some other messenger not explicitly mentioned in the Quran?

Yet if we allow the Quran to speak for itself then we are left with one of two possibilities, either of which leaves Muslims with some problems:

Yet for Allah to function as his own apostle entails that he assume some kind of visible appearance. After all, an apostle is one who is sent to another to convey a message, and the Quran and ahadith indicate that those specific messengers who are other than human beings often do this by appearing as humans:

And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East, And had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit (Roohana) and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art God-fearing. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord (ana rasoolu rabbiki), that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. S. 19:16-19 Pickthall

Narrated Abu Huraira:

One day while Allah's Apostle was sitting with the people, a man came to him walking and said, "O Allah’s Apostle. What is Belief?" The Prophet said, "Belief is to believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Apostles, and the meeting with Him, and to believe in the Resurrection." The man asked, "O Allah's Apostle What is Islam?" The Prophet replied, "Islam is to worship Allah and not worship anything besides Him, to offer prayers perfectly, to pay the (compulsory) charity i.e. Zakat and to fast the month of Ramadan." The man again asked, "O Allah's Apostle What is Ihsan (i.e. perfection or Benevolence)?" The Prophet said, "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (take it for granted that) Allah sees you." The man further asked, "O Allah's Apostle When will the Hour be established?"

The Prophet replied, "The one who is asked about it does not know more than the questioner does, but I will describe to you its portents. When the lady slave gives birth to her mistress, that will be of its portents; when the bare-footed naked people become the chiefs of the people, that will be of its portents. The Hour is one of five things which nobody knows except Allah. Verily, the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs." (31.34) Then the man left. The Prophet said, "Call him back to me." They went to call him back but could not see him. The Prophet said, "That was Gabriel who came to teach the people their religion." (See Hadith No. 47 Vol 1) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 300)

In light of this, wouldn’t this provide some evidence that Allah assumed human likeness in at least some of the instances where he assumed the role of a messenger?

Further Reading

The Incoherence of the Qur'an
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page