Is the Qur’an indeed in Arabic or is it a mixture of multiple languages?

Foreign Vocabulary in the Qur’an

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

In recent times, works such as Christoph Luxenberg’s Die syro-aramaische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlusselung der Koransprache (The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran) have have emerged that Christian missionaries feel pummels forward their agenda against Islam. Luxenberg’s proposal is that the Qur’an is not completely in Arabic but contains words, phrases and expressions in the Syriac language. Picking up on such views, the Christian missionary thinks he has found the silver bullet to end the Qur’an once and for all. Arguing that since the Qur’an is not in plain Arabic, the Qur’an fails on its own testimony:

إِنَّآ أَنزَلۡنَـٰهُ قُرۡءَٲنًا عَرَبِيًّ۬ا لَّعَلَّكُمۡ تَعۡقِلُونَ

“Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand.” (Surah Yusuf, verse 2)

Luxenberg’s work may seem rather impressive at first glance and the missionary argument may seem potent too, but sadly for both of them, they are horribly and embarrassingly wrong.

Yes, the Arabic Qur’an does contain foreign words that are not just taken from Aramaic but many other different languages as well. By Imam al-Suyuti’s count, the Qur’an incorporates vocabulary from eleven languages that includes Ethiopic, Greek, Persian, Indian, Syriac (Aramaic), Hebrew, Coptic, Nabataean, Turkish, Negro and Berber. Does this impressive list shakes the belief of the Muslim that the Qur’an is inimitable? Long before Luxenberg, whoever he is (the name is actually a pseudonym), was born or his great great great great grandmother was born, the polymath and prolific scholar of Islam Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyuti in the 1400s had already critically looked at the Qur’an and collected, classified and discussed the so called “foreign vocabulary” of the Qur’an. In fact, he wrote complete works on the subject such as ‘ al-Muhadhdhab fima waqa’a fil Qur’an min al-mu’arrab’ (The emendation regarding the foreign words and phrases in the Qur’an) and ‘Mutawakkili fima wara fi al-Qur’an bi al-lughat al-habashiyya wal farisiyya wal rumiyya wal hindiyyah wal siryaniyya wal ibraniyya wal nabatiyya wal qibtiyya wal turkiyya wal zanjiyya wal barbariyya’ (My reliance concerning words in the Qur’an in the Ethiopian, Persian, Greek, Indian, Syriac, Hebrew, Nabataean, Coptic, Turkish, African and Berber languages). Not only did he show that the Qur’an contains words that come from Aramaic, but that it has words from ten other languages too! And that certainly did not shake his belief in the inimitability of the Qur’an as he continued to write hundreds of other books and treatises on numerous different subjects of all branches of Islamic knowledge. But since the Qur’an has all these foreign words from many foreign languages, does it not in fact contradict Surah Yusuf, verse 12 above?

In linguistics, we have this phenomenon called ‘loanwords’ and that simply means that a language borrows words from another language or other languages and the speakers of that language use those “foreign” words as they speak their language. This rather basic definition informs us that once a word from one language is incorporated and is assimilated into another language, it becomes the property of the latter. And so, when an English man says “The Liverpudlians ran amok”, he is speaking perfect English and no fool would come up to him and ask, “Why are you speaking English and Malay in one sentence simultaneously, sir?” The word ‘amok’ is perfectly English even though it is borrowed by the language from the original Malay word ‘amuk’ which means “attacking wildly”. A novice of linguistics knows full well that the vocabulary of any language is built on many vocabularies of other languages. If one were to say “John read a magazine at the cafe near my house”, is he speaking English or some other language? A jester might come and say, “He is speaking Old English, proto-Germanic, Old Frisian, Old Norse, Dutch and Slavonic…” And that’s just for the word ‘read’. Is that how we think about speech and language? Of course not. The basic rule is thus: “A word belongs to that language as long as it is intelligibly used in it by its speakers.”

Revisting the question, “Is Jesus God?”

Is Jesus God?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

The Trinitarians will unanimously sing “Yes” and if we were to ask notable Trinitarian personalities like the heavyweight Christian debater James White, he will surely tell you, “Yes, the Bible says so.” They will unhesitatingly and gladly tell you that Jesus is a member or one of the persons in the Triune Godhead. What is that? That is the belief held by the majority of Christians which says that “The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but they are not three gods, they are one God.” To some, this may sound like a rather wonderful formula, but however magnificent the human intellect, even an Einstein would find this theological equation rather taxing on the mind and indeed it is. So taxing is the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church has for more than a thousand years relegated it to the realm of “mysteries” — one that the most brilliant of souls can never unravel. Ask a Catholic theologian what the Trinity is, a most typical answer that will be readily given is that “it is a mystery”. As “one of America’s most popular interpreters of the Catholic faith and the Bible”, Father Lukefahr writes, “That there are three persons in one God is a mystery we cannot fully understand…” [1]

Though the question “Is Jesus God” seems rather simple and straightforward, the answer or answers that follow — coming from the lips of Christians — are generally varied, many a time haphazard, complicated and even confusing. Is it only confusing to non-Christians and disbelievers of the Trinity? No, it is confusing for not only non-Christians but believers and disbelievers across the board. And this is rightly observed by Greg Deuble (a graduate of the Churches of Christ N.S.W. Bible College in Sydney with pastoral ministries experience around Australia): “To many Christians the doctrine of the Trinity is confusing but accepted “on faith” because the Church “has always taught it.” [2] As someone with a broad experience in evangelical ministries, there is no reason to doubt or contest Deuble’s observation. And Deuble is not alone in testifying to that fact. The great confusion that Christians suffer as they try to explicate the doctrine to themselves and others is perhaps no better articulated than by Professor Millard Erickson, who is one of the most respected Trinitarian systematic theologians of modern times:

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and Revelation

Prophet Muhammad’s Reception of Revelation

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

According to Islamic records, whenever the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. received revelation, except when he dreams it or when the Angel Gabriel comes to him in the form of a man, he would be left with signs of physical discomfort or experience tremendous physical difficulty. To the disbeliever and those critical of Islam, these are signs of a person with psychological problems but to the believer and faithful in the divine, these are signs of a true prophet who walks on the physical plane of existence with a pure heart that is attuned to metaphysical reality whose sublime force leaves noticeable traces on his physical being.

Imagine that as a common man you suddenly receive a special letter or a message from your King or the President of your country, would you not experience utter trepidation as you process the information? Now imagine receiving a special message from the Supreme Creator of the unimaginable universe. What manner of emotional reaction would you experience in such a situation? If you think that you will not feel anything or experience any emotional distress, then you might as well become a wall or a statue of stone with no feelings and emotions.

The Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation:

“The first [kind] of revelation to which the Apostle of God was initiated was the true dream during sleep; and he never saw a dream but it came like the dawn of the mourn (with the clearness of light after darkness). Thereafter the solitude became dear unto him, and he withdrew into seclusion in the cave of Hira’ and there applied himself to ardent devotions. – that is worship – during many nights ere he went home and provided himself with food therefore; then he would return unto Khadijah and provide himself with food for a similar [number of days] – until the truth came unto him whilst he was in the cave of Hira: the angel came unto him and said: “Read! – He said: “I am not of those who read.”
He said [in his narrative]: Then he took me and pressed me until all the strength went out of me; thereupon he released me and said: “Read!” And I said: “I am not of those who read.” Then he took me and pressed me a third time; thereupon he released me and said: “Read in the name of thy Sustainer Who hath created – created man from a clot! Read! And thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful!”
And thus the Apostle of God returned, his heart trembling, and came unto Khadijah bint Khuwailid and said: “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” And they wrapped him up until the awe left him. Then he told Khadijah what happened and said unto her: “Verily, I fear for myself.”- Thereupon Khadijah said: “Nay, by God! Never will God humiliate thee! Behold, thou fulfillest the duties of kinship, and supportest the weak, and bringest gain to the destitute, and art bounteous toward a guest, and helpest those in genuine distress.” [1]

In the Prophet’s first experience of revelation after “al-ru’ya al-salihah fi al-nawm” (the true dream during sleep), he felt like every breath had left him: “Then he took me and pressed me until all strength went out of me…” After the surreal and unearthly ordeal in the cave, he hurried back home to his wife with his heart trembling and he asked his beloved wife Khadijah to wrap him up.

It is clear that when the Prophet first received God’s Word, His revelation, it was truly a mentally and physically strenuous and even devastating experience for him. The detractor will query, “Why did the Prophet fear the divine? Is this not evidence that he actually experienced demonic possession rather than receiving God’s revelation?”

Renowned Christian writer and former nun, Karen Armstrong certainly does not believe so. To her, the Prophet’s s.a.w. reaction was completely natural for a human being on the physical plane. To her, when the divine was unveiled to him from the metaphysical reality, the weight was such that it was life shattering:

“He was able to hear the divine message. And it’s quite clear that revelation — some of the prophets of Israel had this experience too — is devastating. Not a nice peaceful experience, but something that racks them in every limb. Prophet Jeremiah cried aloud, “Ah God, God, “I can’t speak, I’m a child. Your revelation hurts me in every limb.” Isaiah, when he saw his vision of God in the temple, said, I’m dead. I have looked on the Lord of Hosts.” This is a lethal power because the impact of what’s coming through is shattering. Your world as it was before goes.” [2] *

The Nazareth Inscription

Does the “Nazareth Inscription” confirm the resurrection?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

    Some hours ago, an article dated April 1st, 2015 that makes the bold claim that “Caesar confirmed the resurrection” was brought to my attention.* The article is written by Henry B. Smith Jr. who earned his MAR (Master of Arts in Religion) from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is the director of development for the Associates of Biblical Research. In the article, he confidently claims that the so called “Nazareth Inscription” was enacted by Claudius Caesar and it confirms the Christian belief regarding the resurrection of Jesus. What follows is an examination of this claim.

The “Nazareth Inscription” is in Greek but scholars believe that it was translated from Latin. [1] The scanned image below is a transcription of the Greek and its translation by the late premiere Textual Critic Bruce Metzger.

Metzger, B. M. (1980). New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill. p. 76

Metzger, B. M. (1980). New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill. p. 76

“It is my pleasure that graves and tombs—whoever has made them as a pious service for ancestors or children or members of their house—that these remain unmolested in perpetuity. But if any person lay information that another either has destroyed them, or has in any other way cast out the bodies which have been buried there, or with malicious deception has transferred them to other places, to the dishonor of those buried there, or has removed the headstones or other stones, in such a case I command that a trial be instituted, just as if they were concerned with the gods for the pious services of mortals. For beyond all else it shall be obligatory to honor those who have been buried. Let no one remove them for any reason. if anyone does so, however, it is my will that he shall suffer capital punishment on the charge of tomb-robbery.” [2]

Upon close inspection and reading of the “Nazareth Inscription” above, one can safely conclude that it proves nothing concerning the resurrection. Firstly, we do not know for certain that this inscription actually originates from Nazareth as pointed out by Prof. Bruce Metzger: “Nothing is recorded of its previous history except a brief note in Froehner’s handwritten inventory: “Dalle de Marbre envoyee de Nazareth en 1878.” One should observe that the dote does not say “discovered at Nazareth , but “sent from Nazareth.” Whether the marble slab had been erected originally at Nazareth, or had been brought there from some other locality, either in antiquity or in modern times, is quite unknown. In the 1870’s Nazareth (like Jerusalem) was a natural market for dealers in antiquities.” [3] 

Mark Chancey believes that it is likely that it originated in or near Galilee, but he offers no corroborating evidence for this claim. Though we respect his scholarly credentials, that is but guesswork. But despite his conjecture on the likelihood of the inscription’s Galilean origin, he does essentially agree with Metzger that the document that accompanied the inscription says that it was sent from Nazareth and not that it had actually been discovered there:

“Yet, as has often been pointed out, the inscription’s sparse accompanying documentation said only that it had been sent from Nazareth, not that it had been found there. Since Nazareth was heavily involved in the European antiquities trade, it would have been a natural place for the inscription’s finder to take it. Theoretically, it could have come from anywhere; other proposed places of origin include Samaria and Asia Minor.” [4]

And so based on Froehner’s handwritten document, the item containing the inscription may well have been auctioned or sold in Nazareth by one of its many antique dealers and purchased there but not actually originating from the place. As Chancey points out, the item may have originated from Samaria or Asia Minor. In Craig A. Evans’ (a prominent Christian evangelical New Testament scholar) estimation, the slab of marble bearing the inscription is not from Nazareth at all:

“The very interesting “Nazareth Inscription” (SEG VIII 13), which records Caesar’s decree against grave robbery and vandalism, though discovered in Nazareth, is in fact of unknown provenance. In all probability it had not been set up in or near Nazareth.” [5]

Islamic State (Dar al-Islam)

What is an Islamic State?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

The term Islamic State may be variously translated as ‘dar al-Islam’, ‘bilad al-islam’ or ‘dawla islamiyyah’ in Arabic or juristic (fiqhi) terminology.

Many Muslims today believe that in order for a territory to be counted as an Islamic State, one of its essential features is that it must necessarily feature the Islamic penal code (hudud) as part and parcel of its legal system. This view corresponds to Mawdudi’s:

“The Qur’an not only lays down principles of morality and ethics, but also gives guidance in the political, social and economic fields. It prescribes punishment for certain crimes and enunciates principles of monetary and fiscal policy. These cannot be translated into practice unless there is a State to enforce them. And herein lies the necessity of an Islamic State.” [1]

John 5:23 fails the Trinitarian

Does John 5:23 command the Johannine community to worship Jesus as they worship the Father?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Many Trinitarians quickly shout “Jesus is God” when they encounter John 5:23 which says, “that all may honour the son as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.”

Firstly, the word honour does not mean worship. The original word in the verse in Greek is ‘timosi’ which comes from the root ‘timao’. If the word means worship, then Acts 28:10 means that Christians were being worshipped by the grateful islanders of Malta as the word ‘honoured’ (etimesan) that occurs in the verse comes from the same root as ‘timosi’ in John 5:23. So what does ‘timao’ really mean? Let us consult Thayer’s Lexicon to get a better picture of the meaning of the word.

“2. to honor [so uniformly A. V.), to have in honor, to revere, venerate; Sept. for בִּבֵּד : God, Mt. xv. 8; Mk. vii. 6; Jn. v.23; viii. 49; Christ, Jn. v. 23; parents, Mt. xv. 4 sq.; xix. 19; Mk. vii. 10; x. 19; Lk. xviii. 20; Eph. vi. 2; other men, 1 Tim. v. 3; 1 Pet. ii. 17; with πολλαῖς τιμαῖς added, to honor with many honors, Acts xxviii. 10; of God, rewarding Christians with honor and glory in his kingdom, Jn. xii. 26.” [1]

So, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, the word in question is applicable to God, to Jesus, to parents and ordinary men. But what does it mean then to “honour” (revere or venerate as alternatively suggested by Thayer’s Lexicon) Jesus as believers honour the Father? Well, as typical as Trinitarians are in chopping up verses to create a patchwork theology, they do so perfectly here. They cut up the verse and let people only hear the first sentence and ignore the second which belongs in the same verse. The second sentence that says, “Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.” explains the first sentence, that is, just as believers would obey the Father, as Jesus is His instrument, His mouthpiece, His spokesperson, His emissary, His ambassador, His agent (and I don’t think I can make this point clearer with anymore synonyms) and His messenger, they must obey Jesus too. By obeying Jesus as one’s master, one reveres him and in doing so one reveres, that is, obeys the One that sent Him. Additionally, the second verse shows the clear relationship between Jesus and the Father. While Jesus is the inferior who is dispatched (sent), the Father is the superior who sent him. A prophet is never equal to the God that sends him. To suggest otherwise is to completely make senseless the very meaning of the word prophet or ‘navi’ in Hebrew.

An examination of Jeremiah 8:8

Qur’an 5:44, Jeremiah 8:8, the scribes and the corrupted Torah

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

“The Bible has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.” – Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

One of the brothers on my Facebook friends list requested that I clarify Jeremiah 8:8 for him and so the following is a an exposition on the text of Jeremiah 8:8. My interest in the verse piqued when I saw Shabir Ally (now Dr. Shabir Ally) referring to the text in a debate that he had with the irascible Christian missionary Sam Shamoun some 16 years ago. In the debate, during the rebuttal period, Dr. Shabir laments against Shamoun’s accusation against him that he was using an outrageous commentary of Jeremiah 8:8 that he took out of his hat as how a charlatan or a magician might take a rabbit out of his top hat. Dr. Shabir Ally points out, in the rebuttal period, that the interpretation that he offered was not his, but rather, the words and scholarly testimony that are found in the preface of ‘The Bible in Living English’. Indeed, the comments come from scholar and Bible translator Steven Byngton in his book ‘The Bible in Living English’:

“Sometimes even intentional changes were made. Jeremiah 8:8 says that in Jeremiah’s time the commonly accepted copies of the law of Moses were so incorrect as to contain substantial falsehoods: Jeremiah’s words seem to mean that the false matter had been willfully put in; and it would be hard to prove that our copies of the law are not made from the ones that were commonly accepted in Jeremiah’s time.” [1]

In Shamoun’s own rebuttal period, he dismisses Dr. Shabir’s reference as valueless as it comes from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Never mind the genetic fallacy of such an uncouth approach, we shall see that the text and immediate context of Jeremiah 8:8 prove Dr. Shabir’s point and that Byngton’s view is not one that is solitary among Christian Biblical scholars. Some years later, James White came to the scene and wrote a brief attempt at a rebuttal to Dr. Shabir’s use of Jeremiah 8:8. In White’s article, he reasons that, “The context confirms this, for the very next verse says the wise men “have rejected the word of Yahweh,” not that they have somehow managed to corrupt and destroy it. It must exist and be knowable for them to reject it.” [2] Little does White understand, that when someone alters, changes or corrupts any particular message, then by definition he has rejected it. For example, if you send a message to me by mail, then I open it and deliberately make changes and alterations to the original text, I have by doing so rejected the message that I was given. The Christian theologian Paul R. House seems to grasp this point perfectly, “Judah has refused to return to the Lord despite the fact that repentance would be a normal response to their covenant obligations (8:4-7). Why? Because scribes, who were entrusted with transcribing the law, alter it to fit their beliefs (8:8)…Here the law and prophets come very close indeed, for the prophet must preach the law that has been neglected, altered and rejected.” [3]

There is no ambiguity in House’s testimony. Judah was reticent to return to the Lord, because the scribes, whose responsibility was to transcribe and preserve the law, “altered it to fit their beliefs.” And this lends much credence to the claim of the Qur’an:

“It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my ayaat (verses or signs) for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, verse 44)

And according to Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani, in his luminous ‘tafsir’ (commentary) ‘Ma’riful Qur’an’, he comments, “They (the scribes) acted crookedly when they started changing its injunctions…” [4]