Archive for the ‘Bassam Zawadi’ Category

Response to Bassam Zawadi on Mohamed’s Belief in the Bible

April 11, 2009

Mr. Bassam Zawadi has provided an answer (link to answer) to my recent article (link to article), which demonstrated that Mohamed did not know of the currently prevalent Muslim view that the Bible is corrupt.

Zawadi’s first point of contention is over why Muslims claim that the Bible is corrupt. I had asserted that it is because they are aware that the Bible conflicts with the Koran. Zawadi asserts that this is not true, but that instead it is because “all of our major sources of Islamic authority say so.” There are two problems with Zawadi’s claim. First, the Koran does not say so (and yet must be considered a major source of Islamic authority). Second, while other sources of Islamic authority do say so, our assertion as that these sources say so because it was discovered that the Bible does not agree with the Koran.

Zawadi’s second point of contention is over Surah 62:5. After reviewing the argument presented, Zawadi responds, “However, this is not evidence that the Qur’an doesn’t teach that the Torah has been textually corrupted. This would only prove that this verse in specific does not teach this.” (emphasis is Zawadi’s) With respect to the latter of the two assertions, I would agree that we must limit the force of the verse to the verse itself. In other words, something could be taught elsewhere that is different from (and perhaps even contradictory to) what is taught in this verse. With respect to the first of his two assertions, however, I must respectfully disagree.

Surah 62:5 uses the analogy of a donkey carrying huge books. In this simile, the donkey has the books, but doesn’t understand them. The argument we hear from some Muslims today is that, in essence, we don’t even have the books. Those are conflicting claims. For example, in another article, Zawadi himself states:

There seems to be a misconception amongst Christians. They think that Islam teaches that there once was an original Bible and then the Bible got corrupted. This is not what Islam teaches. We don’t believe that there was an original book of Philippians or Corinthians, which then later on got corrupted. We don’t even believe that these books are divine in the first place. What we believe is that parts of the original revelations sent down to Moses (Torah) and Jesus (Gospel) peace be upon them both still exist in the Bible today. We believe that people came and wrote things from their own and claimed that it was from God. They then went and mixed their own writings with the original revelations (Torah and Gospel) and removed and added to them.

(paragraph breaks omitted)

In his present response, Zawadi goes on to explain that Islam today not only teaches textual corruption but also corruption via hermeneutic. We understand that this is the claim of Islam today, but our point is simply that it is not what Mohamed himself believed, based on the Koranic evidence.

Zawadi seems willing to admit that the portions of the Koran I had identified speak only to the corruption of interpretation (corruption via hermeneutic), for he writes: “What TurretinFan is doing is appealing to verses that only speak about the hermeneutical corruption and tries to give his readers the false impression that this is the only kind of corruption that the Qur’an alludes to.” (emphases are Zawadi’s)

It would be improper simply to highlight text speaking of one kind of change and ignore text speaking of the other kind of change. That, however, has not been done here. And there is a further problem for Zawadi.

Corruption via hermeneutic is corruption via misinterpretation. You cannot misinterpret a text that you don’t have. Since I don’t believe Mohamed was a prophet of God, I don’t have a problem with the idea that Mohamed might have taught two contradictory things. Surely, however, Zawadi does not think that Mohamed contradicted himself. What Zawadi would seem to need to explain is this. How can Jews and Christians misinterpret books that don’t exist?

Moving to the next section of response, Zawadi raises the idea that “Allah only misguides those who are worthy of being misguided.” I think, however, he has misunderstood the thrust of my criticism. I am not questioning whether the verse portrays Allah as someone who does not always tell the truth (perhaps that is something for another debate, if Zawadi believes that Allah can lie). Instead, I am suggesting that verse not only explains that the extant books were misinterpreted, but also suggests why they were misinterpreted. They were misinterpreted because they were not guided by Allah, according to the most natural reading of the verse. In other words, the books exist, but (for whatever reason) Allah did not guide these people and consequently they did not understand the books that they had.

With respect to Surah 2:285, Zawadi challenged the idea that belief in the books that Allah gave is inconsistent with the position that such books no longer exist. Recall that the relevant portion of that verse is:

The Apostle believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles.”

Zawadi essentially argues that since men can believe in an unseen God and in unseen angels, they can also believe in unseen books and unknown and unseen apostles. Zawadi’s distinction here is a bit misleading. Allow me to explain:

1) By way of analogy, consider the idea that we believe that Jesus was crucified. We believe that this happened, though of course it is no longer happening today. We can believe that it happened, without seeing it happening. Likewise, we understand that someone could believe that Allah gave books, without seeing those books.

2) Likewise, by way of analogy, we believe that Jesus had brethren, without knowing all of their names. We don’t have to know their names to believe that Jesus had brethren. Likewise, we understand that someone could believe that Allah gave books, without knowing what those books were.

3) But I think a reasonable person will agree that the verse in question is not merely stating that Mohamed (“the Apostle”) believed that God, the angels, books, and apostles existed. Instead, it is saying that Mohamed believed what God, the angels, the books, and the apostles said.

4) If the content of the books is not only unknown but also unknowable (for example, if the text were hopelessly corrupted), to say that one believes the content of the books is quite strange, to say the least.

Zawadi attempts to explain his own beliefs this way:

Similarly, I believe in Allah’s books by acknowledging and believing that there were indeed revelations sent to the Messengers in the past (Surah 2:136-137). I believe in Allah’s books by believing that there was a true Gospel and true Torah sent to Prophets Jesus and Moses (peace be upon them both) respectively. It is not necessary for these two books to be in my presence in order for me to believe in them, any more than it is necessary for the previous apostles who have all died to be in my presence in order for me to believe in them.

Zawadi’s beliefs, however, are not what Surah 2:285 is talking about. Zawadi’s belief is a belief in the existence of the prophets and books, but not belief in any particular content. Zawadi’s belief then is not in “what has been revealed to him,” but in what has not been revealed to him – a reversal of the verse.

Zawadi also provides an alternative response, in which there is some sort of preserved tablet containing the uncorrupted text. This is not a tablet that Zawadi has seen, and I suppose Zawadi is not even dogmatic about the idea that it exists. Regardless, the preserved tablet’s content is not something that “has been revealed to him” but rather is something that has not been revealed to him. So, while he may (or may not) believe in its existence, he does not believe its content, for he does not even know its content.

In order for anyone to believe the books that Allah gave, one must know what they say. If someone claims to believe that Mohamed is a prophet, but imagines that Mohamed taught that men should eat pork as often as possible, we would all agree (I think) that the person does not believe what Mohamed taught or follow the teachings of Mohamed.

With respect to Surah 20:133, Zawadi argues that a mistake has been made based on reliance on English translations rather than the Arabic original. While I certainly agree that it is important to understand the original languages in order to minimize errors in understanding, Zawadi has not presented an explanation of how the original Arabic reading of the Surah leads one to a different understanding. As far as I know, the original Arabic is as follows:

Surah 20:133 ‏وَقَالُوا۟ لَوْلَا يَأْتِينَا بِـَٔايَةٍۢ مِّن رَّبِّهِۦٓ ۚ أَوَلَمْ تَأْتِهِم بَيِّنَةُ مَا فِى ٱلصُّحُفِ ٱلْأُولَىٰ

Zawadi states that, “The verse in Arabic does not say that the content of the previous books are clear signs. It is saying that there is a clear sign for Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) prophethood in the previous scriptures (i.e. namely its [prophesying] of him).”

I’m not quite sure that Zawadi understands the argument presented here. As I understand his argument, he views the verse as in essence saying, and here I paraphrase (without intending any disrespect and without intending this to substitute for a translation):

133 They ask, “Why doesn’t he give us a sign from Allah (that he is a prophet)?” But hasn’t there already been a clear sign (that Mohamed is a prophet of Allah) provided in(perhaps throughout?) the previous books? 134 And if they hadn’t already been disciplined so greatly before this, they would have said, “Why didn’t you send us a prophet, for then we would have followed your guidance without our present disgrace and shame.”

I can understand this proposed interpretation, but even this proposed interpretation is helpful to the point I was making.

How is it helpful to my point? Even if the point of the verse is to say that these people who are asking for a sign of Mohamed’s prophethood already have the sign in the previous books, it demonstrates that they had those previous books that include the sign. The value of appealing to a supposed sign in the previous books is that those books are trustworthy. If the books were not trustworthy, what good is their testimony for Mohamed’s prophethood?

Thus, even assuming that we should narrowly interpret 20:133 in light of 20:134 (which really seems not to be an issue of the Arabic language at all), Mohamed’s argument based on clear evidence or clear signs in the previous books, requires that these critics have access to the books and have a reason to trust the content of the books.

In response to my question about whether the shift in Islam (from Mohamed’s original position that the Bible was simply misunderstood by the Jews and Christians to the later (though still quite early) position of Islam that the Bible was both misunderstood and corrupted as to its content by Jews and Christians) bothered Muslims, as I think it should, Zawadi replied: “The only thing that concerns me is how you missionaries continue to grossly distort our scriptures. We kindly ask you to please stop and to start learning from the experts.”

I’m quite happy to learn from the experts, and I appreciate the attempts of Zawadi (who apparently views himself as an expert) to explain what he thinks the Koran means. On the other hand, Mr. Zawadi has presented nothing to rebut the argument I presented, namely that the Koran supports my thesis that Mohamed did not believe that the Old Testament was corrupt.

Instead, Mr. Zawadi’s comments, particularly with respect to what he viewed as the translation issues in 20:133-34, have only helped to confirm my original point that the assertion that the Old Testament was corrupt was a later development in Islam, not part of the Koran’s original teachings, and is even at least apparently contradictory to what the Koran has to say.

-TurretinFan

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