Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Muhammad and the Apocryphal Gospels

A Rebuttal to Bassam Zawadi

Masud Masihiyyen

The discovery of the astonishing ties between the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy and the Islamic stories about Jesus in the Qur’an has marked the beginning of nightmares for many Muslim apologists who dedicated themselves to defending Islam and Muhammad’s character. Being one of such dawa men who try every possible strategy to clear Muhammad of the guilt of being a reckless borrower, Bassam Zawadi has attempted to write a few rebuttals to Sam Shamoun, an author of the Answering-islam, on the theme of plagiarism. After reading his article on the relation between the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Qur’an (*), I have decided to respond to Zawadi’s arguments point by point below. As his primary argument is that the differences between apocryphal Gospels and the stories about Jesus in the Qur’an suffice to refute the charges of plagiarism, I am going to focus on these differences and prove that Muhammad was not only a borrower, but also a great distorter of the non-canonical Christian writings.

Bassam Zawadi claims that Christians use double standards in their approach by comparing the discussion of Christianity borrowing from paganism with Quranic borrowing from apocryphal gospels. He states:

Similarity does not equal sameness: Christian apologists would claim that just because there are similar features between one story and another that doesn’t necessarily imply that they are the same story, since it’s very likely that a story told could be similar to another story in certain aspects, yet not totally the same.

At this early stage of his debate, Zawadi relies on the principle that similarities do not point at sameness as he knows well that the stories in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy are bafflingly similar to the infancy accounts in the Qur’an. As we shall see below, he will later focus on the differences between such Christian writings and the Islamic scripture to support his argument that Muhammad cannot have practiced plagiarism. Obviously, Zawadi commits the fallacy of straw-man as no Christian apologist claims that the narratives in the Qur’an are exactly the same as the accounts in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy.

So Christian polemicists putting forth the claim that the Qur’an plagiarized from the Infancy Gospel need to be consistent and: Prove that the story found in the Qur’an and Infancy Gospel are the same and not merely similar.

Zawadi here invents a rule and bases it on his straw-man. The Christian polemicists are not supposed to prove something they do not assert. Since no one argues that the stories about Jesus in the Qur’an are the exact copy of the teachings present in some apocryphal Gospels of Infancy, Zawadi’s expectation and invitation are devoid of logic.

More interestingly, Zawadi seems to forget that differences between two texts will not suffice to refute the charges of plagiarism. As similarity does not indicate sameness, some differences between two similar texts do not necessarily dismiss the possibility of one author’s borrowing material from the other, for it is probable that the borrower applied some changes to the texts during the process of plagiarism. As we shall later analyze closely with a few examples, the differences between the accounts in the non-canonical Christian literature and the stories in the Qur’an with regard to Jesus’ infancy are a direct result of not only Muhammad’s plagiarism, but also of his perversion of the texts he made use of.

Using Sam Shamoun’s similar words: "Demonstrate that a God-fearing, monotheistic believer such as Muhammad (peace be upon him) would be interested in plagiarizing such myths in the first place."

Here Zawadi wants us to buy the baseless assertion that Muhammad was “a God-fearing and monotheistic believer”. Besides, no one contends that Muhammad would be interested in plagiarizing such myths. On the contrary, we have ample evidence to substantiate that Muhammad did not know that what he was plagiarizing were myths and legends not included in the canonical writings of the universal Church.

The Christian might object and say that the Qur’an came to confirm the Gospel and Torah and that the story of Jesus in the cradle or making a bird from clay is not found in the Bible, rather it is found in an apocryphal book. However, as we have clearly clarified Islam teaches that the Gospels that Christians adhere to today only contain some truth, while other truth is missing. Hence, it’s possible that the cradle story is true, yet hasn’t found its way into the Bible.

Here Zawadi is simply telling lies to save faces. The Qur’an contains no verse that says only some parts of the Gospel is genuine and reliable. Actually, there is not a single verse in the entire Islamic scripture stipulating that Muslims check and compare the Jewish and Christian scriptures with the supposed revelation given to Muhammad to be sure that the Qur’an functions to confirm the former scriptures.1

The Christian would still insist that this story is not found in the Bible and that this is problematic. In response to this we reply back by saying "lack of evidence does not necessarily imply evidence of absence". The author of John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus did many things (possibly miracles as well) which weren’t recorded (John 21:25), therefore there is a good reason for us to believe that it’s at least possible that this miracle of Jesus was also not recorded.

As Sam Shamoun emphasized in the second part of his rebuttal entitled "Muhammad the Borrower Still!", Zawadi is ignorant of the fact that the Gospel of John presents Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana as the FIRST of the miracles He performed in His ministry. Likewise, John states in 20:30 that the miracles that were not recorded in the book had been performed by Jesus in the presence of the disciples! Zawadi is free to entertain the absurd idea that Jesus chose His disciples when He was still an infant and wrought wonders before them. However, even the chronology of the events in Surah 3 suggests that Jesus chose His apostles when He was an adult (vv 52-53). Thus, we have every good reason to wonder in the presence of which of His disciples Jesus could have worked His miracle of speaking from the cradle.

Someone might argue back that the Gospels teach that Jesus’ ministry began later in life, while the Qur’an seems to indicate that it happened shortly after he was born.

Some may indeed argue this way, but the narratives in the Qur’an on this theme are not clear. According to Surah 19, Jesus’ prophetic ministry began when He was an infant, but what is taught in Surah 3 is not totally compatible with this previous alleged revelation.

Well first of all, this begs the question that whatever the Gospels have said is true.

Zawadi implicitly suggests that whatever the Qur’an says is true. Therefore, the Gospel of John must be misinterpreted and some infancy miracles must be inserted to this Gospel at the expense of its textual coherence and overt teachings contrary to the claims of the Qur’an.

Secondly, it would be possible to harmonize between the two claims if it is necessary. Perhaps, Jesus did this initially as a baby in order to vindicate his mother from the false accusations levelled against her and show that his birth was indeed a miracle from God (if you can believe that a baby can speak then why not believe in a virgin birth?) and then later on in the future Jesus began preaching full time and this is what the Gospel authors were referring to. 

This argument perfectly exposes either Zawadi’s ignorance or his aims to deceive and mislead people. If this is an issue of ignorance, Zawadi does not really know that the canonical Gospels do not teach that baby Jesus had to defend His mother’s chastity. What is worse, he does not even know that of all the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy, only the Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy relates the miracle of infant Jesus’ speech from the cradle and does not by any means associate it with Mary’s accusation by her folk. Thus, in the original source, the occasion and aim of infant Jesus’ miraculous speech have nothing to do with the charges targeting Mary’s chastity. If Zawadi wants to get rid of the disgrace of ignorance, I recommend he read my comprehensive article on Surah 19:37. Below are some parts quoted from that study: 

Naturally, the narrative of baby Jesus’ miraculous speech is missing from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew whilst that of Mary’s accusation by her folk is missing from the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, for it was only Muhammad who combined these two distinct and independent texts in the process of their incorporation into the Qur’an after the necessary modifications. To complicate the issue, the account of baby Jesus’ speech in the Arabic Gospel does not include the statement concerning the disagreement of the sects.

Strikingly, the interpretation of Surah 19:37 in the light of the section in Pseudo-Matthew chapter 12 also accounts for and restores the missing textual coherence between Mary’s interrogation by her folk and infant Jesus’ immediate declaration of His prophetic ministry in Surah 19. In the new and twisted form of the story in the Qur’an we fail to find a link between Mary’s accusation by her people and infant Jesus’ first message delivered from the cradle although the aim of this miraculous speech is implied to address the doubts targeting Mary’s chastity. In the Quranic narrative, Mary does not answer the people who revile her with the charge of fornication, but directs them to her baby. However, infant Jesus neither defends Mary’s chastity nor proves her innocent and pure. Actually, He does not even say that He was born miraculously of a virgin mother or gives the reasons underlying the virgin birth.

The lack of this connection is rather natural if we remember once more that Muhammad copied the miracle of infant Jesus’ speech from the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, which does not relate any of the events that happened prior to Jesus’ birth and was recorded by Pseudo-Mathew. Muhammad’s awkwardly combining two independent non-canonical Christian writings for the production of Surah 19 and making an abrupt leap from Pseudo Matthew chapter 12 to the Arabic Gospel chapter 1 thus caused a shift in the theme of the story from Mary’s chastity to Jesus’ identity. This shift also necessitated the replacement of Mary’s folk (the Jews) in Pseudo-Matthew with Jesus’ followers (Christians) in the traditional commentaries on Surah 19:37.

In short, the problem in view and the erroneous Islamic legends with regard to the interpretation of Surah 19:37 owed their existence to the hasty combination of the two separate non-canonical writings and the accidental ascription of what was said about Mary in the first text to Jesus’ identity in the second. This mistake illustrates another example of the curse of the apocrypha on the Qur’an, particularly on Surah 19. Having ignored the textual coherence in each text, Muhammad thought that he would be able to combine two different Gospels of Infancy quite easily. The steps he followed in the process of combination and reconciliation of the two texts demonstrate how he was mistaken in that presumption and how his unfaithfulness to the original form of the narratives in the apocryphal writings that he plagiarized from gave birth to inconsistencies in the Qur’an.

Evidently, Muhammad’s plagiarism from the two apocryphal Gospels of Infancy was not free of textual modifications. He deliberately changed the texts as he was combining them in a rush, but being incompetent and inept, he fell into error and interposed Jesus’ miraculous speech from the cradle, which he borrowed from the Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy chapter 1, right after the account of Mary’s interrogation and accusation by her folk due to her pregnancy, which he copied from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew chapter 12. From the twisted form of the account borrowed from the Arabic Gospel, he jumped back to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and resumed following the account there, which recounted how some people fell into disagreement about Mary’s chastity even after seeing that she was miraculously cleared of guilt. The outcome of this confusion and interpolation was the erroneous idea that the people witnessing infant Jesus’ miraculous speech in the cradle fell into disagreement.

Furthermore, just because the Infancy Gospel was authored in the second century that does not exclude the possibility that it might have included stories circulating during the first century.

Zawadi is reluctant to take into consideration the possibility that the Infancy Gospels were written after the canonical Gospels by some unknown authors who aimed to promote the idea that Jesus could and did work miracles in His infancy as God incarnate. It is crucial to ask Zawadi the question why the Church did not consider these writings canonical although they did lay emphasis on the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. It is absolutely ironic that the author of the Qur’an raced to incorporate these stories, which basically aimed to promote the tenet of Jesus’ equality with the Father.

I of course agree that we are only dealing with probabilities when it comes to history, however probabilities are dependent upon certain variables. One could not say that something is probable or improbable without working with some kind of background information. I contend that it is more reasonable to state that it is probable that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not plagiarize based on the convergence of the following points: 

Here Zawadi reckons 6 points, all of which are nothing but claims. As usual, he falsely presumes that it is probable and reasonable to substantiate one claim with another.

1) His sincerity and truthfulness

Doubtful assertion lacking evidence. We would like to ask Zawadi a simple question and expect him to answer us sincerely by keeping faithful to the truth. How would Muhammad have maintained his honesty and sincerity while feeling free to edit and pervert the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy for their adaptation to his own book?

2) his illiteracy

Doubtful assertion lacking evidence. Even if Muhammad had been illiterate, this would not have prevented him from having someone do the job of plagiarism. More to the point, illiteracy is not equal to deafness or dumbness. Accordingly, Muhammad would be able to hear these stories told, re-arrange them in his mind intentionally or accidentally, and then tell his new version of the stories. The fact that they were then written down by others does nothing to refute the claim that Muhammad (or whoever was the author of the Qur’an) took elements from the apocryphal gospels and used them to compose his own text.

3) lack of ready access to Jewish and Christian documents

Doubtful assertion lacking evidence. There were some Jews and Christians living in Arabia at that time. The Christian delegation visiting Muhammad in Medina and having a theological debate with him did not come from outer space. Besides, Zawadi’s statement is obscure as he does not specify whether the people in Arabia lacked ready access to the canonical or non-canonical Jewish and Christian documents. While dealing with the history and presence of the Christian texts in Arabia, we must keep in mind that apocryphal stories were more common as they were essentially transmitted orally and reached more people.

4) improbability of the presence of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Hijaz

Doubtful assertion. Further, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was not the only non-canonical Gospel Muhammad plagiarized from. The Qur’an contains narratives obviously adopted from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Gospel of James, and the Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy. Interestingly, the sirah literature also speaks of Muhammad’s caravan journeys to Syria. There he had plenty of opportunity to meet with Christian traders and hear their stories. Moreover, the sirah even specifically mentions an encounter with a monk called Bahira, who, according to the Islamic tradition, recognized Muhammad as a messenger:

 .....  When the caravan reached Busra in Syria, there was a monk there in his cell by the name of Bahira, who was well versed in the knowledge of Christians....There he (Bahira) gained his knowledge from a book that was in the cell, so they allege, handed on from generation to generation....  When Bahira saw him (Muhammad) he stared at him closely, looking at his body and finding traces of his description (in the Christian books)." Quoted from Ibn Ishaq in Silas’ article. (Source)

Zawadi continues:

5) The many striking differences between the Quranic stories and the parallels in the Judeo-Christian documents, with a virtual lack of verbal similarities

Zawadi once again disregards the fact that differences between two similar texts will not refute the charges of plagiarism as being a borrower does not necessarily mean being a dupe and idiot. No Christian apologist defends the fallacious argument that Muhammad copied from apocryphal Christian literature word by word. Indeed, his plagiarism always went hand in hand with textual perversion primarily for the sake of the borrowed material’s adaptation to major Islamic tenets.

While analyzing Muhammad’s abuse of the texts he plagiarized from, we discover that his modifications/replacements were deliberate when the adoption of the material in its original form was unthinkable. Thus, Muhammad did not see anything wrong with distorting the accounts in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy whenever they posed a threat by contradicting his peculiar and innovated teachings. For instance, he copied from the first chapter of the Arabic Gospel the account of infant Jesus’ miraculous speech from the cradle, but replaced Jesus’ statements in the original source with purely Islamic terms that depicted Jesus as a Muslim messenger. Consequently, Jesus in the Qur’an spoke as an infant to say that He was the slave of Allah having a scripture and a prophetic mission whereas Jesus in the Arabic Gospel spoke as an infant to say that He was the Son of Allah, the Logos, who had been sent by His Father for the salvation of the world (mission of a savior).

These major differences display how Muhammad tampered with the original account in the Arabic Infancy Gospel before its incorporation into the Qur’an. Some Muslim apologists who are keen on dreaming and inventing conspiracy theories may contend that the alleged revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad aimed to correct the allegedly distorted version of the story in the genuine Gospel. However, people who may adhere to this theory must prove that Jesus’ statements in the Qur’an had been recorded in the same or at least similar form in a Gospel predating the Islamic scripture. More strikingly, there is nothing in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy to suggest that this narrative was devised in an effort to negate and modify some basic teachings concerning Jesus’ divine identity in sharp contrast to story in the Qur’an, which exhibits Muhammad’s eagerness to deny and replace the existing Christian portrayal of Jesus. This also explains why there is an abrupt interpolation in the Quranic version of the story: infant Jesus’ speech in Surah 19:28-33 is awkwardly interrupted through the addition of a reference to Christians and the denunciation of their belief that Jesus is the Son of God. I laid emphasis on this problem and the reasons underlying it in my article on Surah 19:37:

Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. (verses 34-35)

These verses, which awkwardly disrupt the flow of Jesus’ speech, reveal Muhammad’s real aim in narrating these stories as well as altering them. He deemed it necessary to denounce Christians for calling Jesus the Son of Allah right after baby Jesus’ speech because he knew perfectly well that in the original version of the story baby Jesus identified Himself as the Son of God and God as His Father! 

In short, Muhammad, unlike the author of the Arabic Gospel, did not only state who Jesus was, but also who Jesus was not! His fiction was derived from his aversion to some teachings in the Infancy Gospels. If he had not known anything about the content of infant Jesus’ miraculous speech in the Arabic Gospel and if he had not falsely presumed that Christians considered that book sacred and authoritative, most of the verses in Surah 19 would be missing from the Qur’an today.

Muhammad’s distortion of the apocryphal Christian writings did not always stem from his enmity towards basic Christian tenets though. In some cases, he applied modifications to an account due to his misunderstandings and faulty conclusions. When he encountered some difficulties in the process of plagiarism, he fell into a chain of mistakes and ended up fabricating a totally absurd scenario. The sources he chose for heavy plagiarism also contributed to his confusion. For example, while devising the infancy narrative in Surah 19, he essentially made use of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. However, this Gospel had no implicit or explicit references to confirm what Muhammad heard from Christians about Zechariah and his miraculously born son John as well as the Gospel of James, which included overt references to Zechariah and his family. Considering the absence of Zechariah and his son’s story from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew a great discrepancy, Muhammad decided to correct the text by replacing Mary’s birth narrative with John’s, which also necessitated the replacement of Mary’s parents in the original text with John’s parents in Surah 19. Since Pseudo-Matthew identified Mary’s father Joachim as a person descending from the tribe of Judah and Joachim’s story had a few thematic parallelisms with the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, Muhammad awkwardly identified John’s Father Zechariah in Surah 19 as a man coming from the family of Jacob and inserted into Zechariah’s prayer the phrase “house/family of Jacob”, which was uttered by Jacob in Surah 12:

Lo! I fear my kinsfolk after me, since my wife is barren. Oh, give me from Thy presence a successor who shall inherit of me and inherit (also) of the house of Jacob. And make him, my Lord, acceptable (unto Thee). (Surah 19:5-6 Pickthall)

Thus thy Lord will prefer thee and will teach thee the interpretation of events, and will perfect His grace upon thee and upon the family of Jacob as He perfected it upon thy forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. Lo! thy Lord is Knower, Wise. (Surah 12:6 Pickthall)

As for the lack of verbal similarities mentioned by Zawadi, some of Muhammad’s modifications were actually born of his carefree attitude towards the concept of cohesion and his failure to understand the sense of some idiomatic expressions in the original sources that he borrowed from. For instance, Pseudo-Matthew started his Gospel with the narrative of Mary’s birth and infancy and then continued to recount Jesus’ birth and infancy, which started with the angelic visit and annunciation to Mary. Muhammad, however, first narrated in Surah 19 the story of Zechariah and his son, and then jumped to the narrative about Mary without giving a clue about whether Zechariah and Mary lived in the same period or knew each other. More, Muhammad gave the following information on Mary:

And mention, in the Book, Mary; when she retired from her family into an eastern place; and she took a veil (to screen herself) from them; and we sent unto her our spirit; and he took for her the semblance of a well-made man. Said she, ‘Verily, I take refuge in the Merciful One from thee, if thou art pious.’ (Surah 19: 16-18 Palmer)

A Qur’an-only Muslim reading these verses cannot understand what is meant by Mary’s taking a veil after withdrawing from her family to an eastern place or her motives for this action, but the comparative reading of the following section in Pseudo-Matthew provides aid and clarity:

Again, on the third day, while she was working at the purple with her fingers, there entered a young man of ineffable beauty. And when Mary saw him, she exceedingly feared and trembled. (Pseudo-Matthew chapter 9)

In both accounts, Mary is suddenly visited by a perfect-looking man and is afraid of this experience. Unlike the author of Surah 19, Pseudo-Matthew states the time of this angelic visit: “on the third day, while she was working at the purple with her fingers”. The answer to the questions “on the third day of what” and why Mary’s working at the purple with her fingers at the time of the vision was considered significant can be found in the previous chapter of Pseudo-Matthew:

Then Joseph received Mary, with the other five virgins who were to be with her in Joseph’s house. These virgins were Rebecca, Sephora, Susanna, Abigea, and Cael; to whom the high priest gave the silk, and the blue, and the fine linen, and the scarlet, and the purple, and the fine flax. For they cast lots among themselves what each virgin should do, and the purple for the veil of the temple of the Lord fell to the lot of Mary. (Pseudo-Matthew chapter 8)

With the help of this account, we understand that a messenger of the Lord visited Mary and appeared to her in the form of a perfect man on the third day of her leaving the Temple to settle in Joseph’s house with her virgin friends and while she was sewing the veil/curtain of the temple. Evidently, Muhammad’s deficient and hasty plagiarism from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which corresponded to his unfaithfulness to the order and coherence of the original story, made the story in Surah 19 awkward with many obscure elements.2

Another major discrepancy between Pseudo-Matthew and Surah 19 exemplifies Muhammad’s tampering with the original chronology of the events most probably due to his misinterpretation of some idiomatic expressions and accidentally taking figurative language literally. I have discussed this particular problem in two of my previous articles [1] [2]:

The narrative in Surah 19 contradicts the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew with regard to the time of Mary’s accusation by her folk. In Pseudo-Matthew Mary is accused of an illegitimate affair when she is found pregnant after the angel’s visit (chapter 12) whereas in the 19th chapter of the Qur’an Mary is accused of the same sin as soon as she carries baby Jesus to her folk:

Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. (Surah 19:27)

The idea in verse 27 that Mary was blamed for being unchaste when she was seen with baby Jesus conveys a literal meaning to Pseudo-Matthew’s metaphorical language indicating Mary’s pregnancy:

After these things there arose a great report that Mary was with child. (Pseudo-Matthew chapter 12)

As a result of his distortion of Pseudo-Matthew’s chronology, Muhammad claimed that the miracle of Mary’s eating fresh fruit and drinking water under a palm tree coincided with her delivery and that Mary’s accusation by her people took place after Jesus’ birth. This faulty chronology most probably stemmed from Muhammad’s misreading Pseudo-Matthew’s text and accidentally construing the idiomatic expression “being with child” literally in the sense of Mary’s having a baby in her arms rather than in the sense of her pregnancy, that is, Mary’s having a baby in her womb. The other possibility is that Muhammad had to construe this idiomatic expression literally so as to adapt it to the peculiar chronology of the events he himself created.

Zawadi’s final point:

6) and the many more differences between the Quranic story and the account in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Zawadi had written this rebuttal before I wrote a comprehensive article on Jesus’ ministry and miracles in the Qur’an and presented the possible reasons for the differences between the miracle stories in the apocryphal Infancy Gospels and their counterparts in the Islamic scripture. To give the gist of my project:

The teaching in Surah 3 that Jesus gave life to some birds He had shaped from clay remarks Muhammad’s familiarity with this particular miracle occurring in two apocryphal Gospels of Infancy, but the differences between the original accounts and its current form in the Qur’an point at an indirect plagiarism.

For more information I recommend that Zawadi read my article in its entirety.

Also, Muslims do accept this story as a genuine miracle from the life of Jesus (peace be upon) simply because the Quran says so. For the very same reason we accept the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth and the miracle of his healing the sick and the miracle of raising the dead. Miracles are accepted on faith. Christians ALSO accept the miracle of the virgin birth on faith, among other miracles mentioned in the gospels.

Here Zawadi does not notice that he resorts to the fallacy of false analogy when he compares Jesus’ miraculous birth from a virgin with His alleged miracle of creating birds from clay. Does Zawadi think that Jesus performed the miracle of His birth for His own incarnation as the pre-existing Word and God the Son?

Furthermore, Jesus making a clay bird and giving that bird life is not more "grand" than Jesus actually raising dead men and walking on water. None of these stories are more "legendary" than the other. Thus, on the face of it, there would appear to be no reason to suspect the story of Jesus making a clay bird and miraculously giving it life. Just because it is found in a non-canonical document does not by itself follow that this tradition could not go back to the first century.

Zawadi appears ignorant of the fact that the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy were penned by authors who wanted to provide detailed information on Jesus’ birth and childhood era and ascribed to Child Jesus many miracles for the sake of proving His divinity. This was why most of these miracle stories were naturally associated with Jesus’ peers and His games with them. According to the Qur’an, on the other hand, Jesus gave life to some bird shapes made of clay not in His childhood. Thus, Muhammad distorted the apocryphal miracle stories, which contradicted the teachings about the time of Jesus’ miracles in the canonical writings. Above all, in the canonical accounts Jesus performed ALL of His signs (raising the dead, walking on water…) in front of His disciples.

We may also compare the story about Jesus (peace be upon him) speaking in the cradle where it says in the Infancy Gospel:

"... Jesus spake when he was in the cradle, and said to his mother: "Mary, I am Jesus the Son of God, the Word, which thou didst bring forth according to the declaration of the angel Gabriel, and My Father hath sent me for the salvation of the world."

While in the Qur’an it states:

Surah 19:28-34

"O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and has made me a prophet. And has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, And (has made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.

Notice that in the Infancy Gospel3 Jesus tells his mother that he is the Son of God. That is absent from the Qur’an.

This is nothing surprising when one remembers that Muhammad did not only plagiarize from apocryphal Gospels, but tampered with their content for some reasons.

Christians may argue back that this is because Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not agree with this label, however notice that in the Infancy Gospel Jesus also tells his mother that he is the word. The Qur’an also refers to Jesus (peace be upon him) as a word from Allah. There’s no reason why Muhammad (peace be upon him) wouldn’t have had Jesus saying to his mother that he is a word from Allah if he was indeed plagiarizing, since that could be possibly harmonized with the Qur’an.

Zawadi takes his arguments further by disregarding a few crucial points. First, he has access to the entire Qur’an as a book now, but Muhammad and the early generation of the Muslims living in that era did not have access to the Qur’an in its full form for a comparison and careful check.

Second, the Qur’an identified Jesus as a Word from Allah for the first time in Surah 3, which was devised after Muhammad’s migration to Medina. This designation also ironically came through plagiarism from another famous apocryphal Gospel of Infancy: The Gospel of James.

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah). (Surah 3:45 Pickthall)

And behold an angel of the Lord stood before her saying: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all things, and thou shalt conceive of his word. (Gospel of James chapter XI: 2) 

In the Gospel of James, Jesus’ identification as God’s Word was openly linked to His birth and Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, and Muhammad obviously adopted this teaching in the post-migration period without caring about its theological implications. In the Arabic Gospel of Infancy, however, Jesus spoke and said He was "the Word" right after presenting Himself as the Son of God. Thus, in the Arabic Gospel Jesus’ statement had a different context and the term was more subtle. Additionally, Jesus did not say He was the Word of God, but only the Word, which would make the meaning of the term more complicated for people who were not familiar with the Christian theology stated in John 1:1. Muhammad or his mentor therefore made an attempt to understand this term, but could not come up with anything better than “scripture” in association with Jesus and His prophetic mission. They had to conclude that Jesus’ being the Word meant His having a divine scripture.

Third, we cannot know for sure if Jesus identified Himself as the Logos or the Word in the original language of the text. In Alexander Walker’s translation, Jesus speaks in the cradle and tells His mother that He is the Logos:

We find what follows in the book of Joseph the high priest, who lived in the time of Christ. Some say that he is Caiaphas. He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom you have brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to you; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world. (Arabic Gospel of the Savior’s Infancy chapter 1)

If the Greek term "Logos" was maintained in the Arabic text, its misinterpretation or mistranslation would be easier on Muhammad or his scribe’s side.

Finally, it would be impossible for Muhammad to adapt Jesus’ utterance in Surah 19 to the angelic message in Surah 3 in the post-migration period, for that kind of a belated harmonization would cast doubt on the integrity of the narrative in Surah 19.

There’s also no mention of angel Gabriel in the Qur’an.

Zawadi most likely tries to say that angel Gabriel is not mentioned in the Quranic equivalent of the story in the Arabic Gospel of Infancy. He is right, but this should not surprise us if we remember that Muhammad worked as both a borrower and editor. A closer analysis of this particular discrepancy between the Arabic Gospel and the verses in Surah 19 reveals that Muhammad had some good reasons to omit Gabriel’s name from his suited version.

In the first place, Muhammad never inserted the name Gabriel into Jesus’ birth and infancy narratives in the Qur’an. In Surah 19:17 he claimed that Mary was visited by Allah’s Spirit, who appeared in the form of a perfect man whilst in Surah 3:45 he taught Mary was visited by many angels for the annunciation of Jesus’ birth. He most likely did not specify the name of the angel visiting Mary because he followed the annunciation account in Pseudo-Matthew and in the Gospel of James while creating Surah 19 and 3, respectively. Strikingly, these infancy Gospels did not give the name of the angel/angels appearing to Mary and giving her the good news of Jesus’ birth.4 The author of the Arabic Gospel, on the other hand, placed a reference to Gabriel into Jesus’ first speech because he made an allusion to the infancy narrative in Luke, which said the angel who visited Mary and foretold Jesus’ birth was Gabriel (Luke 1:26-27). As Muhammad did not borrow from Luke’s Gospel and did not mention Gabriel in the verses relating Mary’s angelic vision, he chose to omit the reference while plagiarizing from the Arabic Gospel.

Second, in the original source Infant Jesus addressed His mother when He miraculously spoke from the cradle in order to remind her of the angelic prediction. In contrast, in Surah 19 Infant Jesus addressed the crowd accusing His mother and questioning her chastity. As the angel had not predicted Jesus’ birth to those people, it would be ridiculous for Muhammad to add this detail into Jesus’ speech.


This study based on the comparative analysis of the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy with the narratives of Jesus’ birth and infancy in the Islamic scripture verifies the theory that Muhammad was not only a person that plagiarized from some apocryphal texts recounting Jesus’ infancy, but also a dishonest man that tampered with and abused such texts that he made use of in the formation of the Qur’an. Zawadi’s arguments can easily be rebutted as he establishes them on his wrong premise that Muhammad cannot be considered a borrower because the teachings and narratives in the Qur’an were not identical with what had been recorded in the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy.


1 In such a case, the Qur'an would be confirming itself rather than the content of the previous scriptures.

2 What drove Muhammad to depict Mary as a person going to a place in the east was most likely the Christian tradition associating Jesus’ birth with the East, which can be traced back to Matthew 2:1-2.

3 It is not easy to figure out why Zawadi refers to the Arabic Gospel of Infancy with this generic title.

4 Note that the author of the Gospel of James did not introduce the name of the angel/angels in the account of the annunciation, but mentioned Gabriel in passing in the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (chapter 12) in a comment, which mirrored his dependence on the Gospel of Luke (1:39-56).

Rebuttals to Bassam Zawadi
Answering Islam Home Page