Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Quran Blunder

An Inspired Apocryphal Fable?

Sam Shamoun

The Quran records the disbelievers leveling the accusation against Muhammad that his so-called revelations were nothing more than a hodge-podge and rehashing of the myths and fables which they had already known and heard:

And whenever Our messages were conveyed to them, they would say, "We have heard [all this] before; if we wanted, we could certainly compose sayings like these [ourselves]: they are nothing but fables of ancient times!" S. 8:31 Muhammad Asad

When it is said to them, "What is it that your Lord has revealed?” they say, “Tales of the ancients!” S. 16:24 Y. Ali – cf. Q. 6:25; 23:83; 27:68; 46:17; 68:15; 83:13

A careful examination of the stories of the Quran confirms that the disbelievers were correct since the Islamic scripture is indeed filled with the apocryphal tales and legendary stories of the Jews, Christians, and polytheists of Muhammad’s time.

In fact, what makes this rather interesting is that the Quran nowhere denies this accusation but simply states that it was Allah who sent down these myths and fairy-tales to Muhammad in order to have him write them down:

Those who rejected said, "This is but a falsehood that he invented and other people have helped him with it; for they have come with what is wrong and fabricated." They said, "Tales of the people of old, he wrote them down while they were being dictated to him morning and evening." Say, "It was sent down by the One who knows the secrets in the heavens and the earth. He is always Forgiving, Compassionate." S. 25:4-6 Quran Reformist Translation (QRT)

Here is an example of an apocryphal story which managed to find its way within the Muslim scripture, one which has some rather damaging implications for the Quran’s alleged divine origin:

Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam. Behold! they each presented a sacrifice (to Allah): It was accepted from one, but not from the other. Said the latter: "Be sure I will slay thee." "Surely," said the former, "Allah doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous." If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear Allah, the cherisher of the worlds. The (selfish) soul of the other led him to the murder of his brother: he murdered him, and became (himself) one of the lost ones. Then Allah sent a raven, who scratched the ground, to show him how to hide the shame of his brother. "Woe is me!" said he; "Was I not even able to be as this raven, and to hide the shame of my brother?" then he became full of regrets– On that account: WE ORDAINED FOR THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. S. 5:27-32 Y. Ali

As can be seen from the context, this is supposed to be referring to Cain slaying Abel out of envy and hatred, even though they are never explicitly mentioned by name. So much for the Quranic boast that it is a book which thoroughly and clearly explains its verses:

In their history verily there is a lesson for men of understanding. It is no invented story but a confirmation of the existing (Scripture) and a detailed explanation of everything, and a guidance and a mercy for folk who believe. S. 12:111 Pickthall

A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail;- a Qur'an in Arabic, for people who understand;-S. 41:3 Y. Ali

Returning to the topic at hand, the Islamic scripture has basically taken a section from a later Jewish commentary on the Torah, particularly a Jewish rabbi’s reflection on a certain formulation found in the story of Cain and Abel,

“We find it said in the case of Cain who murdered his brother, The voice of thy brother's bloods crieth (Genesis 4.10). It is not said here blood in the singular, but bloods in the plural, that is, his own blood and the blood of his seed. Man was created single in order to show that to him who kills a single individual it shall be reckoned that he has slain the whole race, but to him who preserves the life of a single individual it is counted that he hath preserved the whole race.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin, 4.5)

And attempted to pass it off as a revelation which directly came from Allah to the Israelites. Note, once again, what v. 32 specifically says:

Because of this DID WE ORDAIN unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind. And, indeed, there came unto them Our apostles with all evidence of the truth: yet, behold, notwithstanding all this, many of them go on committing all manner of excesses on earth. Muhammad Asad

It is evident from the context that Muhammad and/or the author(s) of the Quran erroneously assumed that God revealed this command concerning manslaughter to the Israelites through an inspired apostle which he had sent to them.

However, this creates major problems for the Muslims since the statement doesn’t come from an inspired Scripture, but from a source which was composed centuries after the time of Christ. This means that this decree could not have been given by a direct revelation from God through an apostle or prophet, since Muhammad is reported to have said that there were no prophets between him and Christ:

Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 55, Number 651)

Now if there were no prophets during that six hundred year interval between Jesus and Muhammad then there could not have been any revelation or commandments given to anyone.

Moreover, we would expect to find this alleged revelation concerning manslaughter in the Torah which God revealed to Moses, since this is the section of the OT which specifically mentions Cain and Abel (cf. Genesis 4).

In fact, the following Muslim commentary basically concurs with us since it states that this decree is found in the Torah:

(For that) because Cain wrongfully killed Abel (cause We decreed for the Children of Israel) in the Torah (that whosoever killeth a human being for other than man slaughter) i.e. premeditatedly (or corruption in the earth) or because of idolatry, (it shall be as if be had killed all mankind) Hell will be decreed for him for premeditatedly and wrongfully killing a human being, as though he killed all mankind, (and whoso saveth the life of one) whoever abstains from killing a person, (it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind) Paradise will be decreed for him for sparing one soul, as though he spared the lives of all mankind. (Our messengers came unto them) i.e. the Children of Israel (of old with clear proofs) with commands, prohibitions and signs, (but afterwards lo! many of them) the Children of Israel (became) after the messengers (prodigals in the earth) ascribing partners to Allah. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; bold and underline emphasis ours)

This makes absolute sense since the Quran itself states that Moses received a Book that clearly explains all things in detail:

Then, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book [the Taurat (Torah)], to complete (Our Favour) upon those who would do right, and explaining all things in detail and a guidance and a mercy that they might believe in the meeting with their Lord. S. 6:154 Hilali-Khan

He said: O Musa! surely I have chosen you above the people with My messages and with My words, therefore take hold of what I give to you and be of the grateful ones. And We ordained for him in the tablets admonition of every kind and clear explanation of all things; so take hold of them with firmness and enjoin your people to take hold of what is best thereof; I will show you the abode of the transgressors. S. 7:144-145 Sher Ali

Here is how some of the commentators interpreted the claim made in the above passages concerning the comprehensive nature of the Torah:

(… complete for that which is best, and explaining all things in detail…”) means; ‘We made the Book that We revealed to Musa, a complete and comprehensive Book, sufficient for what he needs to complete his Law.’ (Tafisr Ibn Kathir, Q. 6:154; bold emphasis ours)


Then (thumma is for [describing events in a] sequence) We gave Moses the Scripture, the Torah, complete, in grace, for him who does good, by observing it, and a detailing, an explanation, of all things, needed for religion, and as a guidance and a mercy, that perhaps they, that is, the Children of Israel, might believe in the encounter with their Lord, through the Resurrection. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 6:154; bold emphasis ours)

The hadiths further corroborate this point:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger as saying: There was an argument between Adam and Moses in the presence of their Lord. Adam came the better of Moses. Moses said: Are you that Adam whom Allah created with His Hand and breathed into him His spirit, and commanded angels to fall in prostration before him and He made you live in Paradise with comfort and ease. Then you caused the people to get down to the earth because of your lapse. Adam said: Are you that Moses whom Allah selected for His Messengership and for His conversation with him and conferred upon you THE TABLETS, IN WHICH EVERYTHING WAS CLEARLY EXPLAINED and granted you the audience in order to have confidential talk with you. What is your opinion, how long Torah would have been written before I was created? Moses said: Forty years before. Adam said: Did you not see these words: Adam committed an error and he was enticed to (do so). He (Moses) said: Yes. Whereupon, he (Adam) said: Do you then blame me for an act which Allah had ordained for me forty years before He created me? Allah's Messenger said: This is how Adam came the better of Moses. (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6411)

Hence, such a divine saying would surely have been included within the Torah seeing that this is where the story of Cain killing Abel his brother is explicitly mentioned. However, such is not the case since the Torah does not contain this supposed divine statement, and therefore means that the Muslim scripture is mistaken.

Now a Muslim cannot raise the old canard of the Bible being corrupted in order to explain away this gross blunder within their own respective scripture. The reason why they can’t is because Muhammad explicitly testified that the Torah which the Jews of his day possessed was the very revelation which God had sent down, just as the following passages indicate:

“But how will they come to you for judgement when THEY ALREADY HAVE THE TORAH which enshrines God's own judgement? Soon after, they will turn their backs: they are no true believers. We have revealed the Torah, in which there IS guidance and light. By it the prophets who submitted to God judged the Jews, and so did the rabbis and the divines, according to God's Book which had been committed to their keeping and to which they themselves were witnesses. Have no fear of man; fear Me, and do not sell My revelations for a paltry sum. Unbelievers are those who do not judge according to God's revelations. We decreed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a wound for a wound. But if a man charitably forbears from retaliation, his remission shall atone for him. Transgressors are those that do not judge according to God's revelations.” S. 5:43-45 N. J. Dawood

Muhammad is told to exhort the Jews to consult their Torah for judgment, since they obviously had it with them, as opposed to coming to him for legal counsel. He even tells them quite plainly that they are unbelievers and transgressors if they fail to judge by the Torah. This clearly doesn’t sound like a man who thought that the Scriptures of the Jews were corrupted so that they no longer reflected what the original revelation which God sent down contained. And:

“those who follow the Messenger, the Unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down WITH THEM in the Torah and the Gospel, commanding them to do right and forbidding them to do wrong, making good things halal for them and bad things haram for them, relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them. Those who have iman in him and honour him and help him, and follow the Light that has been sent down with him, they are the ones who are successful.´” S. 7:157 Aisha Bewley

Once again, this verse presupposes that the Jews of Muhammad’s day still possessed the uncorrupt Torah which God had revealed through Moses. The same applies to the Christians and their Gospel.

The hadiths further confirm that this is what Muhammad actually believed concerning the Scriptures in the possession of the Jews and Christians of his time:

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah to Quff. So he visited them in their school. They said: Abul’Qasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah who sat on it and said: Bring the Torah. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee. He then said: Bring me one who is learned among you. Then a young man was brought. The transmitter then mentioned the rest of the tradition of stoning similar to the one transmitted by Malik from Nafi' (No. 4431). (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4434)

Muhammad asks for the copy of the Torah which the Jews had, placed it on a cushion out of respect, and plainly testified that he believed it to be that which God had revealed!

This isn’t the only time where Muhammad bore witness that the Scriptures that the Jews had at that time were the very revelations that God had sent down:

“The apostle wrote to the Jews of Khaybar according to what a freedman of the family of Zayd b. Thabit told me from ‘Ikrima or from Sa‘id b. Jubayr from Ibn ‘Abbas: ‘In the name of God the compassionate the merciful from Muhammad the apostle of God friend and brother of Moses WHO CONFIRMS WHAT MOSES BROUGHT. God says to you, O scripture folk, and you will find it in your scripture “Muhammad is the apostle of God; and those with him are severe against the unbelievers, merciful among themselves. Thou seest them bowing, falling prostrate seeking bounty and acceptance from God. The mark of their prostrations is on their foreheads. That is their likeness in the Torah and in the Gospel like a seed which sends forth its shoot and strengthens it and it becomes thick and rises straight upon its stalk delighting the sowers that He may anger the unbelievers with them. God has promised those who believe and do well forgiveness and a great reward.” I adjure you by God, AND BY WHAT HE HAS SENT DOWN TO YOU, by the manna and quails He gave as food to your tribes before you, and by His drying up the sea for your fathers when He delivered them from Pharaoh and his works, that you tell me, DO YOU FIND IN WHAT HE SENT DOWN TO YOU that you should believe in Muhammad? IF YOU DO NOT FIND THAT IN YOUR SCRIPTURE THEN THERE IS NO COMPULSION UPON YOU. "The right path has become plainly distinguished from error" so I call you to God and His Prophet’ (313).” (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], p. 256; capital emphasis ours)


“According to what I heard from ‘Ikrima, freedman of Ibn ‘Abbas or from Sa‘id b. Jubayr from Ibn ‘Abbas, Jews used to hope that the apostle would be a help to them against Aus and Khazraj before his mission began; and when God sent him from among the Arabs they disbelieved in him and contradicted what they had formerly said about him. Mu‘adh b. Jabal and Bishr b. al-Bara’ b. Ma‘rur brother of B. Salama said to them: ‘O Jews, fear God and become Muslims, for you used to hope for Muhammad’s help against us when we were polytheists and to tell us that he would be sent and describe him to us.’ Salam b. Mishkam, one of the B. al-Nadir, said, ‘He has not brought us anything we recognize and he is not the one we spoke of to you.’ So God sent down about that saying of theirs: ‘And when a book comes to them from God CONFIRMING what they have, though beforehand they were asking for help against those who disbelieve, when there came to them what they knew, they disbelieved in it, so God’s curse rests on the unbelievers.’”

“Malik b. al-Sayf said when the apostle had been sent and they were reminded of the condition that had been imposed on them and what God had covenanted with them concerning him, ‘No covenant was ever made with us about Muhammad.’ So God sent down concerning him: ‘Is it not that whenever they make a covenant a party of them set it aside? Nay most of them do not believe.’

“Abu Saluba al-Fityuni said to the apostle: ‘O Muhammad, you have not brought us anything we recognize and God has not sent down to you any sign that we should follow you.’ So God sent concerning his words, ‘We have sent down to thee plain signs and only evildoers disbelieve in them.” (Ibid, p. 257; bold, capital and italic emphasis ours)


“Rafi b. Haritha and Sallam b. Mishkam and Malik b. al-Sayf and Rafi b. Huraymila came to him [Muhammad] and said: ‘Do you not allege that you follow the religion of Abraham and believe in the Torah WHICH WE HAVE and testify that it is the truth from God?’ He replied, ‘CERTAINLY, but you have sinned and broken the covenant CONTAINED THEREIN and concealed what you were ordered to make plain to men, and I dissociate myself from your sin.’ They said, ‘We hold by WHAT WE HAVE. We live according to the guidance and the truth and we do not believe in you and we will not follow you.’ So God sent down concerning them: ‘Say, O Scripture folk, you have no standing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has been sent down from your Lord. What has been sent down to thee from they Lord will assuredly increase many of them in error and unbelief. But be not sad because of the unbelieving people.’” (Ibid, p. 268; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Muhammad even plainly testified that the Jews and Christians of his day were still reading and reciting the Scriptures which God had revealed, such as the Torah, despite the fact that he also accused them of failing to act upon what was contained within them:

Narrated Ziyad ibn Labid

Allah's Messenger spoke of something and said: It will happen when knowledge will be no more. I said: Allah's Messenger, how will knowledge vanish despite the fact that we will be reciting the Qur'an and teaching its recitation to our children and our children will teach its recitation to their children up to the Day of Resurrection? Thereupon he said: Ziyad, may your mother weep over you. I was of the opinion that you were one of those who have greatest understanding of religion in Medina. Do these Jews and Christians not recite the Torah and the Bible but not act according to what is contained in them?

Transmitted by Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi. Al-Tirmidhi Hadith, Number 105 – Alim Online Version)

This poses a major dilemma for any Muslim who would try to argue that the Torah which we currently possess has been corrupted, which is why the divine legislation concerning manslaughter is nowhere to be found.

Since we possess copies of the Hebrew Bible which predate Muhammad’s time, we know for certain what the Torah would have looked like all throughout the centuries. The Torah which the Jews have always possessed, the Torah which Muhammad himself bore witness to, is virtually identical to what we currently have today in the Holy Bible. And yet this supposed divine decree does not appear in any of these OT manuscripts that God has preserved.

Therefore, the only honest conclusion that one can arrive at is that the Quran contains a serious blunder since God never revealed any such legislation concerning the affects and consequences of murdering someone.

What must have happened is that Muhammad and/or the author(s) of the Quran heard this story concerning Cain and Abel, and erroneously assumed that this must have been based on a revelation that came from God. He/they then went ahead and included it within the Muslim scripture and made the mistake of attributing the decree found within this Jewish tradition concerning manslaughter to God himself.

It seems that the disbelievers were right after all. Muhammad simply rehashed the fairy-tales and apocryphal stories which he heard orally and tried to pass them off as revelations which he received from God.

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