Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Tauhid versus I’jaz al-Quran –

How the text and structure of the Quran violates Islamic Monotheism

Sam Shamoun

Muslims believe that the Quran is miraculous in its structure and that Islam is the purest and strictest form of monotheism on the basis that it affirms unitarianism, i.e. the belief that Allah is a singular person. However a careful examination of the Islamic scripture shows that the Quran is anything but miraculous and that it does not teach absolute monotheism.

In fact, the Quran’s grammatical structure is in direct conflict with the assertion that Allah is uni-personal or that there are no other divine beings besides Allah. There are specific Quranic verses in which the grammar and syntax are actually in direct conflict with its repeated emphasis on divine unicity since these particular texts present more than one divine being. At the very least these passages depict Allah as a plurality of divine persons who order and send one another.

Before we take a look at these particular references the readers need to keep in mind that according to the Islamic belief the Quran was dictated word for word by Allah to Muhammad through various mediums such as Gabriel who was sent to recite the verses to Muhammad. Muhammad was merely a passive recipient whose sole function was to recite the verses of the Quran. As such, the Muslim scripture does not incorporate Muhammad’s personality or use his particular way of speaking since it is the uncreated speech of Allah which was revealed to and through Muhammad. This means that the one who is speaking throughout the Muslim scripture is Allah, not Muhammad, unless of course Allah is quoting the words of others which he then relays to his messenger.

With that said there are certain texts where Allah claims to have been sent or commanded by another. Allah even praises this other who sends and commands him. Here is an example:

And heaven -- We built it with might, and We extend it wide. And the earth -- We spread it forth; O excellent Smoothers! And of everything created We two kinds; haply you will remember. Therefore flee unto God! I am a clear warner from Him to you. And set not up with God another god; I am a clear warner from Him to you. Even so not a Messenger came to those before them but they said, ‘A sorcerer, or a man possessed!’ What, have they bequeathed it one to another? Nay, but they are an insolent people. So turn thou from them; thou wilt not be reproached. And remind; the Reminder profits the believers. I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve Me. I desire of them no provision, neither do I desire that they should feed Me. Surely God is the All-provider, the Possessor of Strength, the Ever-Sure. The evildoers shall have their portion, like the portion of their fellows; so let them not hasten Me! So woe to the unbelievers, for that day of theirs that they are promised. S. 51:47-60 Arberry

Notice that there is no break in the text to indicate that there is more than one speaker; it is one and the same individual speaking all throughout the context. The entity who is speaking in the first person singular and plural, namely Allah, boasts that he built and created the heavens and earth and then breaks out in praise of himself by referring to himself as the excellent smoothers. From there Allah goes on to speak in the first person singular again and claims that he is a clear warner from Allah. He continues to refer to himself in the first person singular a little later on, this time claiming that he created men and jinn to serve him and exhorting mankind to hasten to him.

Here are two other translations of the relevant texts which bring out the fact that Allah claims to be a warner sent from Allah:

Hasten ye then (at once) to God: I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! And make not another an object of worship with God: I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! S. 51:50-51 Y. Ali

Therefore flee unto Allah; lo! I am a plain warner unto you from him. And set not any other god along with Allah; lo! I am a plain warner unto you from Him. Pickthall

Thus, we have here a clear case of Allah claiming to be a warner sent from Allah!

This isn’t the only time where Allah praises or glorifies himself in a context where pronouns are all mixed up together:

Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Further Mosque the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs. He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing. S. 17:1 Arberry

In this passage Allah glorifies Allah for taking his servant on a trip by night to a place that Allah has blessed so that Allah might show Allah’s servant some of his signs. Allah then praises Allah for being the all-hearing, the all-seeing!

Nor is Q. 51:47-60 an isolated instance of Allah speaking of being sent and/or subordinate to another:

Proofs have come unto you from your Lord, so whoso seeth, it is for his own good, and whoso is blind is blind to his own hurt. And I am not a keeper (hafeethin) over you. Thus do We display Our revelations that they may say (unto thee, Muhammad): "THOU hast studied," and that We may make (it) clear for people who have knowledge. Follow that which is inspired in THEE from THY Lord; there is no God save Him; and turn away from the idolaters. Had Allah willed, they had not been idolatrous. WE have not set THEE as a keeper (hafeethan) over them, nor art THOU responsible for them. S. 6:104-107 Pickthall

Here Allah addresses Muhammad’s disbelieving contemporaries and speaks of their lord, claims that he (Allah) is not a keeper over them, mentions the revelations which he sent down, and states that he didn’t send Muhammad to keep watch over the idolators since the latter is not responsible for them.

What makes this particular reference rather interesting is that Allah says that neither he nor Muhammad is a keeper over the disbelievers! Yet if Allah is not their keeper then this must mean that there must be some other Allah, or some other god, who does keep watch over them since the Quran clearly says that Allah is the keeper of mankind!

But if you turn your backs, I have delivered to you that I was sent with unto you, and my Lord will make a people other than you successors; you will not hurt Him in anything. My Lord is Keeper (hafeethun) over everything. S. 11:57

There’s more!

ELIF. LAM. RA. A book whose verses are stablished in wisdom and then set forth with clearness from the Wise, the All-informed - That ye worship none other than God - Verily I come to you from Him charged with warnings, announcements; And that ye seek pardon of your Lord, and then be turned unto Him! Goodly enjoyments will He give you to enjoy until a destined time, and His favours will He bestow on every one who deserves his favours. But if ye turn away, then verily I fear for you the chastisement of the great day. Unto God shall ye return, and over all things is he Potent. Do they not doubly fold up their breasts, that they may hide themselves from Him? But when they enshroud themselves in their garments, doth He not know alike what they conceal and what they shew? For He knoweth the very inmost of their breast. There is no moving thing on earth whose nourishment dependeth not on God; he knoweth its haunts and final resting place: all is in the clear Book. And He it is who hath made the Heavens and the Earth in six days: His throne had stood ere this upon the waters, that He might make proof which of you would excel in works. And if thou say, "After death ye shall surely be raised again," the infidels will certainly exclaim, "This is nothing but pure sorcery." And if WE defer their chastisement to some definite time, they will exclaim, "What keepeth it back?" What! will it not come upon them on a day when there shall be none to avert it from them? And that at which they scoffed shall enclose them in on every side. And if WE cause man to taste our mercy, and then deprive him of it, verily, he is despairing, ungrateful. S. 11:1-9 Rodwell

In this passage Allah says that he has come from Allah, and has been charged by Allah to warn and announce. Allah further claims that Allah created the heavens and the earth, knows all things, and has bestowed his favors and provisions to his creatures. Allah then argues that if he refrains from bringing the promised judgment or withholds his mercy after having given it that either way the disbelievers will complain.

And now our final example:

And so WE have revealed to THEE an Arabic Koran, that THOU mayest warn the Mother of Cities and those who dwell about it, and that THOU mayest warn of the Day of Gathering, wherein is no doubt -- a party in Paradise, and a party in the Blaze. If God had willed, He would have made them one nation; but He admits whomsoever He will into His mercy, and the evildoers shall have neither protector nor helper. Or have they taken to them protectors apart from Him? But God -- He is the Protector; He quickens the dead, and He is powerful over everything. And whatever you are at variance on, the judgment thereof belongs to God. That then is God, MY Lord; in Him I have put MY trust, and to Him I turn, penitent. The Originator of the heavens and the earth; He has appointed for you, of yourselves, pairs, and pairs also of the cattle, therein multiplying you. Like Him there is naught; He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing. S. 42:7-11 Arberry

Allah tells Muhammad that he sent down the Quran in Arabic so that the latter could warn the mother of the cities about the judgment day. Allah then says that Allah could have made them one nation if he wanted to but that Allah admits whomever he wants into his mercy. Allah goes on to claim that Allah is the protector, raises the dead, has power over all things, and that all judgment belongs to Allah. Allah proceeds to then testify that Allah is his lord whom he has put his trust in, and that it is Allah that he (Allah) turns to!

These examples leave Muslims with the following options.

The Quran is not the masterpiece or miracle that Muslims think it is since its verses contain mistakes which actually change the entire theology of Islam altogether. Moreover, the Quran could have avoided this serious mistake of subordinating Allah to another deity by simply inserting specific words such as “Say” (qul). In that way it would have been clear that Allah was no longer speaking but Muhammad was being commanded to speak. Failure to include such words means that the Muslim scripture has Allah being sent and commanded by another god who also happens to be Allah.

The omission of these words such as qul was not accidental since the Quran wanted to communicate the fact that Allah is not the only god and/or that Allah is actually multi-personal. Therefore, Muslims must revise their theology in light of such passages and abandon the notion that Islam teaches unitarianism or even monotheism.

Not all of the Quran is the speech of Allah. Some (much, most?) of it is actually the words of Muhammad and/or some other entity/entities. As such Muslims can no longer claim that every single word of the Quran is the uncreated speech of Allah but must accept the fact that the Muslim scripture is a composite mixture of various speeches, and that Allah’s words are intermingled with the words of his creatures.

Whatever option Muslims choose, the fact remains that the Islamic scripture is anything but miraculous and some of its verses conflict with the notion that Islam presents a uni-personal god or even a single deity. The fact is that the Quran does not consistently proclaim that no other gods besides Allah exist since certain references say there are no other gods but other passages imply that there are.

However, Muslims can reconcile these conflicting passages by admitting that their god is not uni-personal but is a being that exists as a plurality of divine persons, some (or at least one) of whom command(s) and subordinate(s) the others. Or they can acknowledge that the Quran is not entirely the speech of Allah since it contains the words and statements of others which it intermingles with Allah’s words, thereby causing some confusion as to who exactly is speaking or to the exact number of speakers in any given verse!

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