Many Christians may find scholarly articles a bit of a burden just because they tend to be written with the evidence in mind rather than the necessary prophetic implication in mind. When reading such articles I have to try to reign my inclination in and accept that whilst the prophetic implication is my most profound concern, the evidence is material and therefore unavoidable and necessary to form a proper rational and intelligent understanding of the issues. For this reason, I strongly recommend that before you read this article or else shortly after that, you take the trouble to read the research summary in the link at the foot of this article.
Not everyone grasps the prophetic implication of their research, even when the evidence is clearly understood. The findings are usually therefore still presented in an academic or rational context. It is with this knowledge in mind that I write the following short article to highlight my understanding of the implications of this research.
KEY = Codex Ṣanʿāʾ I inferior (648 CE) Codex Ṣanʿāʾ I superior (665 CE)
In the first instance, we would have to say that the Codex Ṣanʿāʾ I inferior, dates to within less than two decades of the death of Muhammed. The relevance of saying that the script inferior of DAM 01-27.1, which forms the central focus of this research, means that in the immediacy of Muhammed’s death there were some Qur’anic texts with significant variations to later Uthmānic texts.
From a prophetic point of view, this challenges the centrality of the Islamic concept of al-lawh al-mahfooz or al-lawh al-mahfuth which forms the underlying prophetic basis for the claim of Islam that the Qur’an has been preserved from eternity past, as an incorruptible word, and that the recitation of Muhammed is according to this preserved tablet. If this were not the case, then there would be no basis for claiming that Muhammed was merely an instrument of recitation. If Muhammed were not a mere instrument of recitation, then he would by default become a party to the recitation itself – and Qur’an (The Recitation) would become inspirational. In Islamic thinking, this would make the Qur’an corrupt, which is precisely how Islam views the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Islam is a claim to superiority and fullness; however, surpassing all other teachings, and encompassing, by a more perfect revelation, all other prophetic utterances. The very first part delivered to Muhammed is set in the context of reluctance on the part of Muhammed which has the effect of enforcing this very idea. So much so, that he is said to have been physically strangled by Gabriel in order to secure his obedience to recite.
This claim to a preserved word, by Islam, is of course often presented by Muslim clerics in a single material context of the written Qur’an, and of itself would not carry too much weight to most Christians therefore. Certainly one central ambition of Islamic clerics is to demonstrate that the Qur’an is a trustworthy source and can be dated to the first few decades after the death of Muhammed. Some clerics take an obvious pleasure in pointing to the early date for the gathering of the Qur’an into a formal collection of Sura’h, as compared to what they perceive to be a “late” date for the canonising of the New Testament. I find these kinds of debates and arguments a complete waste of time, however, in this instance, the early date of this Qur’anic codex is very significant and would be better yielded up according to the research itself rather than laboured over fruitlessly.
I believe that there is considerable evidential significance to this research as well as prophetic and theological implications for Islam. This partly has to do with bringing the Qur’an more into line with how other prophetic writings are viewed and understood generally, as well as creating an opportunity for Muslims themselves to take a more balanced view of the significance and weight of the Qur’an without denuding its overall meaning.
In saying this, I am in no way whatsoever seeking to give the Qur’an any prophetic validity. I am saying that for moderate Muslims this research ought to provide a valid basis for accepting that there are injunctions in the Qur’an which could be ruled to be “of another age” and therefore not “of this age” if the Qur’an itself could be removed from its present mystical and dogmatic presentation. These could include the many instances of Sura’h which advocate harming or subjugating others merely because they cannot accept the teachings of Muhammed for example.
There is in my understanding a fundamental reality which lies at the back of this research which speaks to the very heart of Islam itself.
It has been one of the significant claims of Islam that the Qur’an is an infallible book and represents the will of Allah, recorded in eternity past, which in the fullness of time was received by Muhammed in word perfect form. Such evidence of scribal change, therefore, as the script superior of DAM 01-27.1, demonstrates that the Qur’an is subject to the same scribal fallibility as are the Hebrew and Greek codices. In the case of the Hebrew and Greek codices, this does not lead to profound concerns about the validity of the text and therefore does not impact on the faith of Christians generally speaking. In Islam however, such a claim is blasphemous, regardless as to how it may impact on any given individual Muslim. For this reason alone, Muslims, both scholastic, academic and laity are unable to easily remove from a strict presentation and understanding of the Qur’an itself and therefore cannot freely embrace academic research which questions that strong position.
For Christian scholars, academics and laity, comparative text analysis between Hebrew and Greek codices reflect a confident exercise for many reasons. Not least of these reasons is because Christians have thousands of partial and complete manuscripts from which to base their work. This is however not the case with the Qur’an. Further, in Judaism and Christianity, the Scriptures are prophetic in the true sense, whereas the Qur’an is profoundly lacking in prophecy and is therefore limited in its scope and meaning through time. The Hebrew and Greek scriptures are living words and not merely words written on paper or wood. Even though the finger of God on a stone is the Torah Law, yet even by the reckoning of the Scriptures, the Law of Moses is not of itself able to impart life. What follows the Torah of the Law of Moses, of course, are the many prophets of Israel, as well as a few gentile prophets such a Balaam; both patriarchal, sacred (of kings and priests) and chosen (Apostolic).
All of these prophets spoke of Christ, and through them, we have the evidence of Christ throughout the Scriptures. Through Christ Himself we have the evidence of the Father in heaven Who sent Christ into the world. Therefore we read in the New Testament (Greek Scriptures) “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) It may not be too unkind to suggest that Islam does not have this high confidence to stand upon and so having changed the entire meaning of the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets and the New Testament, Islam has injured itself in this regard.
Al-lawh al-mahfuth theologically speaking is, however, a claim to incorruptibility in the sense that it is a claim that the Qur’an cannot be corrupted because it forms part of the first works of Allah in the laying down of all things that have been laid down. Both ideologically and theologically, therefore, this preserved benefit of Allah must include the very foundation of life and the universe itself. It must also include everything which arises from that place, especially the Qur’an itself as a written record of the recitation delivered by Muhammed. This is expressed firstly, as all things being formed out of water, the creation of a throne, then a pen and then the book to which the pen is applied in the writing of all time until the day of resurrection. Only after these things are the creation of the heavens and the earth revealed according to these first works. This may seem mystical in it’s meaning, as it eludes ordinary reason and resists ordinary theological precepts. It was the writing of this book in heaven from which the Qur’an of the Codex Ṣanʿāʾ I, is not one, but two recited copies, one over the other.
Al-lawh al-mahfuth is often referred to as the protected tablet and is depicted as a type of wooden table before Allah. The creation of the material universe, or else the heavens and the earth as we know them, follows on from this predetermination of life itself as written in the book of the al-lawh al-mahfuth and thus it is not difficult to realise that if the Qur’an can change, then so can the very fabric of the universe change. As life itself is what we see it to be, and cannot change, therefore, in this paradigm of mysticism, the Qur’an cannot change either; otherwise, it is not the Qur’an according to the claim.
The claim is that the Qur’an is protected, and therefore the recitation of Muhammed is perfect, unchanged and immediately presents in meaning and purpose as the book in heaven itself. How can a version of the Qur’an have existed just fifteen or twenty years after Muhammed and another version written over it some thirty years later and at the same time maintain the theological integrity of al-lawh al-mahfuth? In keeping with al-lawh al-mahfuth, Islam emphasises the Qur’an in terms of the work of Gabriel and equally emphasises that Gabriel himself is the Holy Spirit. As the angels are themselves protected from corruption by an absence of any free will of their own, Gabriel as the “holy spirit” is the highest representation of that order, and as such becomes the chosen one to communicate the Qur’an from the protected tablet and the table in heaven down through the heavens to the man, Muhammed.
According to Islam, Muhammed, who though a man and therefore not himself directly al-lawh al-mahfuth, was nevertheless obedient in expressing a perfect recitation. Theologically this is why Islam places so much emphasis on recitation of the Qur’an as an exercise in memory. It is also why the phonetic nuance of the very words themselves makes for a great man of Islam or a mere mediocre man of Islam. In Islam, it can scarcely be exaggerated how important recitation of the Qur’an is. Islam itself, therefore, is a claim that Qur’an is a perfect recitation of a holy book, and consistent with the very name Qur’an, it is a meaning that insists that Muhammed had no more part in its production than did Gabriel himself, who delivered it to Muhammed. This same theological idea is in line with the Islamic teaching that the angels are free from any possibility of corruption and thus represents the surest safeguard in revealing the will and the purposes of Allah.
In Islam, the Qur’an forms part of the very essence of Allah’s eternal will and purposes and represents his foreknowledge of all things. In the case of the Qur’an this, of course, means mankind predominately though not exclusively. The Qur’an which is delivered to Muhammed by Gabriel, and by Muhammed to men, both in its recited form and in its written form, is said to be a book which reflects as an idea of the mind of Allah, and therefore as one of the first activities of Allah before he created the heavens and the earth. This aspect of Islamic theology is, of course, mystical and hence lends itself to Sufism with its mystical ambitions. It is not difficult to see however why Islamic scholars put their livelihood and perhaps even their lives at risk when they make academic efforts to study and understand material reality such as the script inferior and superior of DAM 01-27.1 which clearly shows that the Qur’an in this one extant codex is two books. The fact that two copies of the Qur’an can be read and seen in the very same pages of one book cannot be refuted by anyone at all.
The Qur’an holds such a central meaning in Islam that it is not improper to say that it replaces the Lord Jesus Christ, and forms a predetermined work of Allah’s will in the same meaning as Christ Himself was foreknown of the Father to become the Saviour of the world. In saying this, I am not exaggerating. If the incarnation of the Son of God is essential to Christians, then the meaning of the Qur’an is implicitly the same in importance to Islam. What Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is to Christians, the Qur’an is in meaning and purpose to Islam. In the Greek New Testament, we read “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In Islam, the Qur’an becomes the word of God and Christ becomes a mere man of no worth at all.
I want to say this plainly and clearly.
Islam is a willful and premeditated removal of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Qur’an replaces Christ as the eternal Word of God with a book written in heaven in which Christ becomes a mere prophet by the name of Al’masih Isa. In Islam, the eternal word of God is the Qur’an or recitation of the book written and sealed in heaven. In the Christian faith, this reality belongs to Christ Himself. The measure to which this claim stands in contradiction of the Law, the Prophets and Christ, cannot be overstated. I therefore find time and again that far from being a chaotic book, as many commentators insist, the Qur’an contains repeated allusions to profound spiritual truth, thereby maintaining and upholding the recitation of the Qur’an itself as a sacred and inviolable object of faith to Islam and its adherents. In short, the Qur’an contains a sophisticated and complex underlying set of subliminal teachings and inferences which shows that an intelligent and determined mind wrote it.
For those who know Christ, let it be understood accordingly. If you love Christ and yet claim any parity with Islam you are both deceived and a deceiver. You ought to know it well. If you are a Muslim, then you ought to know that Islam lays waste to the true meaning of Christ and makes of Him a mere prophet. Islam takes that name which belongs to Christ alone, even The Word of God, and lays it down on a mystical book and a recitation mediated by an angel with a man. If therefore Christians say to you that Islam has presented another Christ, it is because Islam does indeed present another Christ.