Watt, Bell and Hewer on the preservation of the Qur’an

Is the Qur’an that we have today the Qur’an that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

William Montgommery Watt was a historian and Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at Edinburgh University. Considered one of the most influential Western thinkers on Islam by non-Muslims and Muslims alike he was indeed a revered personality in the field of Islamic studies.

Richard Bell was a scholar of the Arabic language at Edinburgh University who was and remain as an important source of reference for those interested in the field of Qur’anic studies especially those who are in the business of critiquing the Qur’an.

Chris T. Hewer is grounded in Christian theology, Islamic studies and education. He is the St. Ethelburga Fellow in Christian-Muslim Relations in London.

The following are excerpts of views on the Qur’an by the above mentioned non-Muslim scholars two of whom(Watt & Bell) are very critical commentators on the Qur’an who do not shy from making critical remarks about it. None of them ever believed in the tenets of Islam. One can easily conclude that they had no hidden motives to promote Islam.

Is the Qur’an that we have today the same as the Qur’an in the time of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.?

Watt & Bell:  “The very fact that varying and even contradictory deliverances have been preserved is strong proof that, with perhaps minor exceptions, we have the whole of what was revealed to Muhammad [1] (emphasis added)

“On general grounds then, it may be concluded that the ‘Uthmanic revision was honestly carried out, and reproduced, as closely as was possible to the men in charge of it, what Muhammad had delivered.” [2]

So that means the Qur’an that we have was meticulously preserved in the time of Uthman?

Watt & Bell: “Whatever may have been the form of the Qur’an previously, it is certain that the book still in our hands is essentially the ‘Uthmanic Qur’an…the commission under Zayd must be adjudged to have achieved a wonderful piece of work.” [3]

Is the Qur’an well preserved?

Hewer: “The earliest manuscripts of the Qur’an, which probably date from the early eighth century, are preserved in museums in Tashkent, Sanaa and Istanbul. It must be emphasized repeatedly that the primary deposit of the Qur’an was and still is in the hearts of the memorizers, for whom any written form acted only as an aide memoire. This emphasis prevents any thoughts of discrepencies entering into the recited text. This process of memorization and compilation and compilation of the written form means that the science of manuscript criticism, which is central to New Testament scholarship, is almost non-existent in Islam, as almost no variant readings in ancient manuscripts exist.” [4]

Can the writing style of the Qur’an be imitated?

Hewer: “The Qur’an says of itself that God will preserve it intact without error for all time (Q. 15.9). This is regarded as the primary miracle of Islam. It also challenges those who doubt it, to bring forward ten verses of comparable eloquence of their own composition (Q. 2.23); 52.34). Scholars are agreed that this has not been done. The Qur’an is written in a style that is partly poetic but truly unique and unlike any other form of literature in the Arabic language.” [5]

For more information on the preservation of the Qur’an please refer to our article on the subject Preservation and Reliability of the Qur’an


[1] Watt, W. M. (1970). Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 56

[2] Ibid. p. 51

[3] Ibid. p. 44

[4] Hewer, C. T. R. (2006). Understanding Islam: the First Ten Steps. London: SCM Press. p. 52

[5] Ibid.

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8 Responses to “Watt, Bell and Hewer on the preservation of the Qur’an”

  1. James Denver says:

    Those scholars were Christians. obviously they did not have any vested interest to promote Islam. This is a good article and it shows that the Koran is preserved as Muslims claim.

  2. Rafael Princ says:

    Hmm interesting, especially when you consider the fact that all three gentlemen believe that muhammad plagerized earlier sources, primairly the Judea-christian sources.

    Do you dispuut this fact?

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      That’s a red herring. The issue of ‘plagiarism’ has nothing to do with whether the Qur’an has been meticulously preserved or not. Since you have raised the issue here however I will address it briefly. Montgommery Watt nowhere uses the word plagiarism when discussing the sources of the Qur’an. Bell’s and Watt’s ideas are fully addressed by Muhammad Mohar Ali in ‘The Qur’an and the Orientalists’ in chapters one and two. Montgommery Watt clearly says that the claim that the Prophet Muhammad was an impostor was a medieval war propaganda which is slowly fading away from the minds of Europeans and the Christian world. He also lays down the point that the Prophet Muhammad truly believed that he received revelation from God and preached it with all honesty and sincerity. (In Montgommery Watt, Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an, pp. 17-18 as cited in Muhammad Taqi Usmani (2000). An Approach to the Qur’anic Sciences. Karachi, Pakistan: Darul Ishaat. pp. 290-291).
      C. T. R. Hewer nowhere claims that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. plagiarised from Judeo-Christian sources as you allege. In fact, he considers Muslims cousins in faith which would be strange if he believed that their primary religious material is plagiarised from his own primary material. Hewer writes:
      “God is one and is speaking the Speech of God in the transcendent world. This timeless self-communication of Godwas sent down to all the Prophets that have ever received revelation. The same process of revelation that we have explored with reference to the Qur’an was used in all earlier revelations too. So the Qur’an says revelation was down to Moses (in Hebrew), to Jesus (in Aramaic) and to Muhammad (in Arabic). The sources of all these revelations, and there were others about which we know nothing, was God through the speaking of God, the Kalam of Allah. In this way, Muslims are not troubled by the fact that the Qur’an mentions earlier revelations of episodes in the lives of earlier prophets, such as the accounts of Abraham or Moses. This knowledge was with God and so it is not surprising that God should choose to make mention of these events in the Qur’an.” (Hewer, C. T. R. (2006). Understanding Islam: the First Ten Steps. London: SCM Press. pp. 46-47)

  3. menj says:

    Not many Orientalist scholars are honest in their findings and these men you mentioned are probably the only few among the countless many who have the moral integrity in their profession to admit that the Qur’an was indeed preserved, very much unlike the Bible.

    • Perseveranze says:

      Keep being delluded.

      “Few have failed to be convinced that what is in our copy of the Quran is, in fact, what Muhammad taught, and is expressed in his own words”. – Peters, F. E. (Aug., 1991) “The Quest of the Historical Muhammad.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 291-315.

      • Ibn Anwar says:

        Keep being deluded yourself. It is clear that you have limited understanding of English. The quotation that you have cited proves our position with regards to the preservation of the Qur’an as it is essentially saying that most people are in fact convinced that the Qur’an is what Muhammad taught and expressed. Peters is discussing the historical value of the Qur’an and is candidly admitting that hardly anyone fails to be convinced that the Qur’an that we have in our hands is in fact the same that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. preached and taught. Thank you for furthering the cause of Islam :D.

        • Yusef Guy says:

          Brother Anwar,
          I am extremely grateful for the scholarly, well reasoned, documented, and even humorous arguments presented here. I came across this site and your work entirely by accident but have found a wealth of information here. Please please, do not cease this excellent work!!

          May I suggest that you publicist these articles on Facebook, as there are many Muslim/Christian debate forums that will be greatly benefitted from your attention to detail and rigorous methods of argumentation.

          Thank you

          • Ibn Anwar says:

            Assalamu’alaikum Yusef,
            We are grateful to Allah that he has brought you to our little website. We are tremendously grateful to hear that some of the information furnished on Unveiling Christianity has proven beneficial to you and we assure you that we shall continue to strive to present much more on a number of issues and topics in coming weeks and months, insha’Allah.

            Ibn Anwar & Co.

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