Lecture 05: Revelation
Course: Introduction to Islam
Let’s turn to the fourth great Qur’anic passage (another familiarly titled, Jonah): Sura 10 Ayah 37. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because this is merely repeating things that we’ve already said. I want to make sure that you have these scriptures, these particular ones, highlighted because I think they’re ones that you need to have as open field to ask you about. You should know this particular passage in Sura10 Ayah 37 where it says:
“The Qur’an could not have been composed by any but Allah. It confirms what was revealed before it and fully explains the scriptures.”
This is in a passage where he is in disputation with the Jews. You can see the very next ayah:
“If they [the Jews] say it is your own invention, say, “Compose one chapter like it. Call on your false gods to help you if what you say be true.’”
There are definitely people who will claim it is an invention. The Muslims today say that there’s nothing more sublime than the recitation of the Qur’an, in the Arabic tongue. Notice this whole theme of confirmation is very, very important. Just like in this Mt. Carmel thing: “Call on your false idols to produce a chapter like it.” This is his way of declaring that.
Over in Sura 3 Ayah 3, the opening of that sura, you have the same thing said:
“He has revealed to you the book, with the truth, confirming the scriptures which preceded it for He has already revealed the Torah [that’s the Jewish scriptures] and the Gospel, the Ingil.”
Here, he is explicitly stating in this passage that the Qur’an is meant to confirm the Gospels. Again, you’re going to have a major problem here when the Jews and Christians begin to point out contradictions between the Qur’an and Torah, and the Qur’an and the Ingil. What is Mohammed’s response to that? What does he say? He says you have corrupted it: “If you had the original.” This, by the way, is a major theme among Muslims to this day that we have a corrupted text. You should know, just as matter of record, Mohammed claims in the Qur’an that many of these texts were changed as a reaction against Mohammed. In other words, the Jews were jealous against the Arab movement. They went back and they changed their text, and the Christians especially, they changed their text to firm up particularly the doctrine of Christ to contradict Mohammed’s claim that Jesus was just a prophet. So he claims, that in the original Gospel, Jesus was only a prophet.
You should know that historically, by any objective scholar in the world, this is an impossibility because the distribution of the early text of the New Testament was already so profoundly distributed, particularly throughout Egypt, Syria, and other parts of the world, that it would’ve been impossible to have, by the 7th century a recall, as it were, to recall the text and create alterations and changes. It’s one thing to say “changes” as in corruptions from way back, okay, fair enough. But they don’t claim just that. They claim that certain changes occurred in response – direct response – to Mohammed, which is basically: they’re putting their doctrine of corruption in part on the belief that the Christian scriptures could have been changed in the 7th century. It is simply impossible. We have so many texts that are prior to Mohammed’s birth, even, that we can confirm to any historically-minded person that the text that we have today is – with only minor variation – essentially the text that we have in the 6th century, 5th century. Therefore, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other revelations of the Old Testament have done the same thing as the Greek manuscripts have done for the New Testament. So, this idea of any subsequent changes is an impossibility, frankly. Even though it is widely believed by Muslims to be true, even to this day.
This Qur’anic passage is important because it sets the stage for where we want to go now, and that’s to begin to explore the doctrine of the Qur’an, and some of the key themes in the Qur’an. I think we will do that now. The first is the Islamic view of revelation. This is something which we will have to develop over time, but essentially, the Muslims have two parts to what they believe is – what we would say – the charigma, or the canon of revelation. Islamic revelation contains two parts: one is the Qur’an, and the other is the Hadith. This is what in your Qur’ans is referred to as The Book, or the Scriptures, or The Writings, or The Traditions – there’s different translations of this into English. This represents the main core text of the 114 suras that you have before you. The Hadith represents a collection of traditions about things Mohammed said and did.
These two are agreed on by all Muslims. Though we have different collections of traditions, there’s some variation here. Essentially every Muslim agrees that the Qur’an and the Hadith both represent revelation. They also accept a third component, depending on whether you’re a Suni or Shia, these are two major divisions within Islam, which we’ll look at later. So we have to wait, unfortunately, to fully develop that, and we’ll spend some time to develop this as well.
So right now, we want to develop some key themes in the Qur’an, what the Qur’an says about itself, and certain general themes about the Qur’an. We will eventually develop the full view of revelation, which altogether forms the body of material we call the Shariah. All these things, we’ll have to wait, until we have time to develop them. Right now, we are developing some ideas and thoughts on the Qur’an.
The Qur’an believes and sees itself as the very word of God. To be a Muslim means to submit, that’s what the word islam means, “to submit”. A Muslim: “one who submits”. And of course, one must ask: Submit to what? Or to whom? It is practically speaking, to submit to the revelation of Islam. Because that’s the only way a Muslim knows how to submit to God. That’s the thing, when you don’t have an incarnation, then the text must take the place of that. The text becomes the greatest manifestation of God’s presence on the earth. It’s the way Christ functions in the Christian revelation. The Qur’an represents the way in which one demonstrates the submission to God. So to submit to the Qur’an is to submit to God.
Now the Muslims have an expression, which I don’t think is not on the back – you don’t need to know it – but it’s an interesting expression called the Dar al-Islam, which means The House of Islam. What they basically argue is that the Muslim beliefs represents or are held up by these five pillars, which we’ll look at later, The Five Pillars of Islam. But essentially, the community of faith, the ummah is known as the House of Islam, the Dar al-Islam. Essentially, they’re inviting the world to come into this house. It’s like a metaphorical picture, and the Qur’an represents the basic stuff of the house. This is the structure of the house, the building blocks of the house are found in the Qur’an. And so, this Dar al-Islam, this house of Islam, is essentially built on the foundation of the Qur’an, even though we have other bits to it. The Qur’an represents the foundation of it, this is how you submit and become a Muslim. Throughout the Qur’an, we have clear indications of this dictation theory. Just to mention a few in passing, there are so many, this is a huge doctrine of the Qur’an, Sura 39:28 – I mention, by the way, that some of you may want to follow with the doctrine of revelations that you’ve chosen, and you’ll immediately pick up on many of these. It says in that text that:
“The Qur’an is free from all fault.” This is the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Qur’an. We already referred to 43:1 and following about the Arabic tongue, the “transcript of the eternal book.”
So you have both the doctrine of inerrancy (“It is free from all fault, it is without error”) and the doctrine of this transcription idea, all taught in the Qur’an. Other text – 10:37, 16:89, 16:102 – these are a few other examples which claim, in fact 16:102, it even claims the Holy Spirit this is used in a generic way:
“The Spirit brought it down from your Lord in truth to reassure the faithful, and to give guidance to those who surrender themselves to Allah.”
If changes or abrogation takes place – by the way, in chapter 16 is a key passage which deals with challenges (even by the Arab community on the authenticity of the Qur’an) and one of the problems that occurs in Sura 16 is that they are upset – these are later on, later suras that say: “Hey, changes have occurred [the very point we made earlier]. There are changes that are happening, how do you explain the changes, from one sura to another sura?” And the Qur’an itself openly addresses this in sura 16:100, let me read it for you because this implies a doctrine of essentially, perhaps to be kind, we can say a progressive revelation:
“When you recite the Qur’an, seek refuge in Allah, from a cursed Satan… when we change one verse for another, Allah knows best what he reveals, they say you are an imposter. Indeed, most of them are ignorant men.”
So he is acknowledging the fact that “we” (Allah) – remember this majestic plural – is attributed here of changing verses. When we change verses, they are saying “you” (Mohammed) are an imposter. So Mohammed is saying, “Hey, I’m sorry if you think I’m an imposter because I’m changing verses, but I’m giving it to you as Allah gives it to me. Allah is sovereign, Allah is Lord, Allah has all power. If he wants to say face the kiblah-Jerusalem, and then now we’re changing, we’re facing the Kaaba, that’s His business. If He said during the fast Ramadan, you cannot have sex with your wife during the entire fast, day or night, and then He changes His mind – okay, you can have sex with your wives, but only during the nighttime hours.” This kind of thing occurs. What in the world is going on? He says all should be attributed to Allah. Allah is making concessions or changes based on His own will, and this is not anything you should hold against me. He defends, in the Qur’an itself, he defends the fact that there are changes and abrogations going on. This is not something that has just been trumped up by outsiders.
The doctrine of the Qur’an, and the doctrine of revelation is very, very important in the Qur’an. It’s self-revelation. There’s a lot more text in the Qur’an about its own inerrancy than we have in the New Testament about its inerrancy, so you can appreciate the fact that this is an essential doctrine.
Another big doctrine, which I’ve listed next on the handout, is the Islamic view of creation. There are 59 major references to creation in the Qur’an, and many other references. That is extremely important, in fact the entire 35th sura is entitled “The Creator”, and these ayahs emphasize Allah’s creation. One of the interesting doctrines is this “To Him, all things shall return”, which I’ve counted occurs 49 times in the Qur’an, where he says, “all things shall return”:
“Every breath, every minute on earth, every single waking moment is because of Allah’s mercy, and if He withdraws it, the whole universe crumbles like a house of cards, everything comes from Him, everything must return to Him and be accountable to Him.”
In fact, it’s every interesting to compare, as some have done, the doctrine of creation in Judaism with the doctrine of creation in Islam. In many ways, they are so much alike, and in some ways, they’re very very different. We’ll look at some of the similarities, but the big difference, I think is in tone, in 16:40, you have clearly a doctrine of ex nilo being articulated. Ex nilo, of course, means “out of nothing”. God creating out of nothing; He speaks, and it comes into existence. That is clearly the Muslim view of creation. In the Qur’an, it says:
“When We decree a thing, We need only say ‘be’, and it is.”
Same thing is said, by the way, in 36:82. These are parallel texts. This is the doctrine ex nilo is taught right in the Qur’an. But, what it does, in the Qur’an, is it pictures it as when God creates the world, it’s not just He creates, and He calls it good, like you have in the Old Testament. He creates it, and then He calls the creation to submit to Himself. Submit. So the whole of creation is viewed, in terms of an authoritarian structure of sovereign Lord, and submission to that sovereignty, which is hugely important when you think about Islam today.
Take, for example, just another example, sura 41:10~12 – this is one of the creation accounts:
“He set upon the earth, mountains towering high above it. He pronounced His blessing upon it, and in four days, provided it with sustenance for all alike. Then he made his way to the sky, which would behind a cloud of vapor, and to it into the earth. He said, ‘Will you obey me, or shall I compel you?’ Willingly, they answered, ‘In two days, He formed the sky and the seven heavens and each has its assigned task, etc.” and in each case he calls creation to obey him.
This whole idea of obeying Allah and submitting to Allah is extremely important in the Muslim worldview. It comes out even in the creation account. You even have the mountains being called to submit to Allah, and the clouds called to obey him willingly – “or shall I compel you?” This idea of compelling: it becomes very important in Muslim self-understanding of how God interacts with human beings. If Muslims go anywhere, they phrase “insh’allah.” If God wills, we’ll do this. If God wills, we’ll do that. Again, the idea that we have to constantly be submitting to God’s will. I was on the plane one time in the Muslim world, and I was flying from one part of the Muslim world to another part of the Muslim world – and the whole thing was done, according to Muslim custom, so rather than saying, “We’re going to be leaving Addis Adaba, we’re going to Cairo”, they said, “We’re going to be leaving inshallah, we’re going to do this. We will arrive in Cairo at 2:05, inshallah.” And I was like, “Well I hope Allah wills!” because here we are and everything was “if God wills, we’ll do this, if God wills, we’ll do that”, and well gosh, I hope God wills because otherwise we’ll all be lost and gone. It counts into everything; people will say it constantly “inshallah, inshallah”. It’s kind of part of the whole theology.