Does ḥarrafa imply textual corruption?


In my latest blog post I look at the Qur’an’s usage of the ḥarrafa verb, to try and see whether this verb implies the textual corruption of the previous scriptures.

Happy to reply to comments here or on the original blog post 🙂



Categories: Islam

46 replies

  1. Ibn Abbas was one of the greatest companions of the Prophet. He holds much authority as a Quranic interpreter, for the Prophet Muhammad prayed to Allah to make Ibn Abbas a great commentator of the Qur’an and scholar of Islam in general.

    Based on this, we can clearly see that Ibn Abbas holds much authority when he speaks about religion. Therefore, it would be interesting to see what Ibn Abbas had to say regarding the scriptures of the Christians and Jews…

    Saheeh Bukhari

    Volume 9, Book 93, Number 613:

    Narrated ‘Ikrima:

    Ibn ‘Abbaas said, “How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about their Books while you have Allah’s Book (the Qur’an) which is the most recent of the Books revealed by Allah, and you read it in its pure undistorted form?”

    Volume 9, Book 93, Number 614:

    Narrated ‘Ubaidullah bin ‘Abdullah:

    ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas said, “O the group of Muslims! How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about anything while your Book which Allah has revealed to your Prophet contains the most recent news from Allah and is pure and not distorted? Allah has told you that the people of the Scriptures have changed some of Allah’s Books and distorted it and wrote something with their own hands and said, ‘This is from Allah, so as to have a minor gain for it. Won’t the knowledge that has come to you stop you from asking them? No, by Allah, we have never seen a man from them asking you about that (the Book Al-Qur’an ) which has been revealed to you.

    Ibn Hazm describes the above narrations as…

    The soundest Isnad (chain of transmission) or ascription to Ibn Abbaas, which is exactly our view. There is no difference between the companions on this matter. (Ibn Hazm, Al-Fasl fi’l Milal, Volume 2, p. 3, cited here)

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  2. The View of Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (d. 34 A.H.)

    Ibn Kathir reports Uthman Ibn ‘Affan as saying…

    لِأَنَّهُمْ حَرَّفُوا التَّوْرَاة زَادُوا فِيهَا مَا أَحَبُّوا وَمَحَوْا مِنْهَا مَا يَكْرَهُونَ وَمَحَوْا اِسْم مُحَمَّد – صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – مِنْ التَّوْرَاة وَلِذَلِكَ غَضِبَ اللَّه

    Because they (the Jews) distorted the Torah. They added to it what they liked and erased from it what they hated and they erased the name of Muhammad peace be upon him from the Torah and for that Allah became angry. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Commentary on Surah 2:79)

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    • Thank you Paul – I plan to write an article on these traditions after my next one 🙂

      In the meantime I would say to the interested reader that there was a lengthy discussion of these traditions here – https://bloggingtheology.com/2021/05/04/what-does-muhaymin-mean/

      I would also say that even if these hadith are authentic, and that the early Muslims (or even the Qur’an) thought that the Qur’an taught the textual corruption of the previous scriptures, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what the verb harrafa means. Harrafa is used in one of the traditions you cite, but in a list of accusations – whether these accusations are cumulative (i.e. they both orally corrupt and even textually corrupt) or synonymous (i.e. different verbs are used, all of which express textual corruption) I do not know.

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  3. Paul the first hadith you’ve give dont say verb حرف means distort the text. The report from Ibn Kathir is not count if there is no isnad. You need to give the isnad so we can see if authentic or not.

    Tabari in surah 2 vs 75 also says the correct view is a group of Israelites were told by God to say one thing, but they came back and said something different. Tabari dont say verb حرف means they change the text in this verse

    https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=1&tSoraNo=2&tAyahNo=75&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1

    You need be more careful

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  4. This conclusion is very interesting:
    “Even if we did see textual corruption in these verses, they seem to be speaking about the Jews and not the Christians (and hence not the Gospel). It then becomes important to determine whether this textual corruption happened in the past or the present, which is not always easy to determine;”

    Actually with this verse should be enough to tell us :
    So woe to those who write something down with their own hands and then claim, ‘This is from God,’ in order to make some small gain. Woe to them for what their hands have written! Woe to them for all that they have earned! (Q 2:79, emphasis added)

    In The Quran, Allah is always mentioning Jews for example to us.

    Allah speaks in The Quran 2:79 is not only for Jews but for everyone.

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    • Hi Sam, thank you for your comment 🙂

      Q 2:79 does clearly talk about some kind of textual malpractice – I discuss what it might mean here – https://steelmanapologetics.com/does-q-279-claim-that-the-previous-scriptures-have-been-textually-corrupted/

      But it is not clearly teaching the Muslim position today, which is that both Torah and Gospel were corrupted before the time of Muhammad.

      ‘Allah is always mentioning Jews for example to us’ – well perhaps in a sense, in that any of us can learn from someone else’s behaviour. But this doesn’t mean all of us do, or had done by the time of Muhammad, what they did. The Qur’an distinguishes between the actions of different groups (e.g. Q 5:82).

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    • Hi Richard,

      “But it is not clearly teaching the Muslim position today, which is that both Torah and Gospel were corrupted before the time of Muhammad”

      You are wrong, I am a muslim, The Quran is very clear teaching and telling us about what happen with Torah and Injil.

      If the Bible and Torah now is the same as the time of Muhammad pbuh then:

      1. Do you admit that in OT/Torah there are some errors?

      2. And The New Testament is not The Injil that was given to Jesus pbuh.

      3. If Christian believes that The Bible now is their Holy Book as the words of God then Quran 2:79 is already telling us which is true that they write something down with their own hands and then claim, ‘This is from God,’

      4. Not only that there are some addition and subtraction verses in the Bible (if you don’t want to call it corruption)

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      • You say the Qur’an is very clear, but a number of scholars disagree.

        Most of your questions aren’t on the topic of what the Qur’an has to say about the previous scriptures, and so with all due respect I won’t answer them here. If I do a blog post on those topics then we can discuss it there

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      • Absolutely, the Quran is very clear. I already explained above.

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  5. Interesting article. I would say it’s guilty of reading too much into particular details, however. From an apologetics standpoint Muslims only really need to show that past corruption of the text is a *plausible* reading of the Qurʾānic data; if scripture is ambiguous on a particular point it would make sense to take the view that avoids an external contradiction.

    Some points:

    – Regarding 2:75 I think from any intra-textual reading, it’s almost definitely referring to 2:58 which is in the historical past (and seems to be talking about generations before the contemporary Jews, given that God was still communicating with Jews via prophecy at this time). I don’t think 2:93 is the possible referrent which is obviously Hebrew wordplay on the equivalent account in the Tanakh, but anyway that’s beside the point since both are speaking about the ancient past.

    – This distinction between oral / written scripture is really arbitrary for the simple explanation that there doesn’t seem to be any special quality associated with manuscripts as they are written down as per the Qurʾānic view. The Prophet obviously understood the common mechanism of rendering oral information into text; i.e. dictating to a scribe. It seems entirely *allowable* from a Qurʾānic standpoint that these sorts of ‘oral corruptions’ made it into bible. Here I stress — allowable — see my point above about burden of proof.

    – There are also ṣaḥīḥ ḥadīth that indicate the plausibility of the view that the previous scriptures are textually corrupt (which Paul posted).

    – The other primary evidence is the Qurʾān’s frequent and conscious editing of biblical scripture (e.g. clearing Aaron from the sin of idolatry). You can’t explain cases where the Qur’an does seem to have knowledge of particular biblical stories but then disagrees with them deliberately.

    – There is Q2:79 — which apparently the author has already discussed. It seems plausible to me that it’s not restricted to a particular time since the muḍāriʿ tense does function like that (quite frequently in the Qurʾān). Since الكتاب always (or almost always, I have not checked every single verse) refers to the bible in the Qurʾān the referrent is most probably the bible here. While it’s true that in the immediate context you have accusations about contemporary Jews, the Qurʾān’s arguments are pretty polemical and we quite frequently have a melding of the past into the present. Hence, “you made a covenant to not to shed each others blood” (Q2:83 – presumably during the time of Moses), *here you are doing it now* (contemporary day). Looking at tense alone and contemporary accusations doesn’t necessarily decide their scope. They *could* be read to suggest past alteration (the matter is really left open; again see my caveat on burden of proof).

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    • Case in point on my last point— 3:21 uses muḍāriʿ for a past tense (“they kill prophets”) then immediately talks about a present group (fa-bashshirhum…). 2:79 seems similarly ‘tenseless’.

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      • Hi Taha,

        Thank you for your comments – it is particularly thoughtful and it’s evident you’ve read the article and considered key points.

        I guess a big part of the difference is where we think the burden of proof lies. Given that I think the Qur’an has so many positive verses about the bible (e.g. see here – https://steelmanapologetics.com/quran-verses-affirming-the-reliability-of-the-torah-and-the-gospel/), that when we come across some kind of negative verse, the burden of proof actually suggests that in a debatable case we lean in favour of oral rather than textual corruption.

        Also in terms of the burden of proof – given that Christians, at the time of Muhammad and ever since, have been such a large community for the Qur’an to engage with and try to convince, I find it really surprising if the Qur’an believes in textual corruption that it doesn’t make this clearer. To speak ambiguously on this matter, and to focus so much on concealing and/or oral rather than textual corruption, seems to be the Qur’an focusing on the less important matter and bypassing the elephant in the room.

        Now part of that may be a result of the fact that the Qur’an tends to focus on Jews and how they handle scripture, rather than Christians. But, be that as it may, it still is a result that when the Qur’an speaks of the former scriptures, it rarely seems to accuse them of textual corruption. And that’s not a very helpful; point for the Qur’an to be so ambiguous on.

        ‘– There are also ṣaḥīḥ ḥadīth that indicate the plausibility of the view that the previous scriptures are textually corrupt (which Paul posted).

        – The other primary evidence is the Qurʾān’s frequent and conscious editing of biblical scripture (e.g. clearing Aaron from the sin of idolatry). You can’t explain cases where the Qur’an does seem to have knowledge of particular biblical stories but then disagrees with them deliberately. ‘ – These are important objections. I am writing an article on the latter as we speak, and plan to do so on the former.

        I agree, and hopefully communicated in my article, that the line between past and present can somewhat blend together. I think this is because the Qur’an sees the behaviour of the Jews in the past as linked to how they now believe in the presence, and so these things are mentioned alongside each other. Even so, I still think the weight of the evidence is that Q 2:79 is in the present.

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      • Thanks Richard.

        As per the Qurʾānic view I would stress the continuity between previous scripture and the Qurʾān more than their differences. From my own reading the Qurʾān agrees a lot more with the Bible than it does contradict it, *esp. with reference point to the other communities the Prophet is preaching to*— ie. the meccan Mushrikūn. The majority of Qurʾānic characters are either biblical or otherwise from post-biblical traditions; so are most of its stories (coloured by the Qurʾān’s own theological stance). The unrelenting monotheism is something that could be pulled out of the Hebrew bible; so is its presentation of law and a sort of ‘new covenant’ in sura al baqara etc. I can go on but Qurʾānic intertextuality is a very big field.

        I think your objection really answers itself honestly. If the Prophet is trying to convince the Jews and Christians then appealing to their scriptures — and subtly presenting a revelation that has authority over those (one interpretation of muhaymin) — makes a lot more sense than directly attacking these same scriptures. This is especially prior to modern historical-critical approaches to the bible. And, also see my earlier point.

        Regarding 2:80— That’s not clear because the accusations seem to be different— forging false scripture; and making false statements about the afterlife. These seem to be different acts and it’s not clear how the latter follows the former. It seems more probable that the Qurʾān is just going through a list of issues with its Jewish audience. This is kind of the theme in sura al-baqarah anyway.

        Even then it’s highly debatable that this is restricted to just the Prophet’s contemporaries; esp. given how the Qur’an speaks elsewhere (see my comment on 3:21). Additionally see وقالوا قلوبنا غلف which is polemical (as per an intertextual reading by Reynolds, one of the few things I find convincing from him lol) and isn’t necessarily referring to real people in front of the Prophet.

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      • I agree, there is a lot of overlap as well as difference.

        ‘and subtly presenting a revelation that has authority over those (one interpretation of muhaymin) — makes a lot more sense than directly attacking these same scriptures. This is especially prior to modern historical-critical approaches to the bible.’

        In terms of ‘especially prior to modern historical-critical approaches’, I don’t think this is particularly relevant – even prior to modern HCM approaches, people could clearly articulate the idea that manuscripts had been textually corrupted – some early Christian apologist(s) accused the Jews of doing this to certain messianic prophecies, and Ibn Hazm clearly alleges it in the 11th century. Ibn Hazm is quite unique in just how much detail with which he makes the charge, but I think in the dialogue between Patriarch Timothy 1 and Caliph al-Mahdi there is a clear charge of textual corruption:’“There were in your books many proofs
        and testimonies about Muhammad (Peace be upon him), but you have corrupted
        the books and falsified them.’

        In terms of the Qur’an ‘subtly’ asserting the authority of the Qur’an over the previous scriptures, and that therefore it alleges their textual corruption, I would say its so subtle as to be entirely debatable. But if this is what the Qur’an is saying, it’s so subtle as to be misleading. Here is an analogy:

        Imagine you’re (Person 1) at the office, chatting to a friend (Person 2) about an episode of (insert a television show here). Someone else (Person 3) comes up and says: ‘Oh you’re chatting about X, yes I love that show! Remember when Tommy gave his car to Jonathan, I thought that was so good of him…’

        Now no episode has ever included Tommy giving his car to Jonathan. Now it is possible that Person 3 is subtly trying to allege that actually the episodes have been edited, and they cut out an original scene where Tommy did give a car to Jonathan. But unless Person 3 makes that pretty clear, by saying that he has watched an unedited version, what are Person 1 and Person 2 going to naturally conclude? They will not naturally conclude that Person 3 is claiming to have watched an ‘original, unedited’ version. They will naturally conclude that Person 3 has got confused, or made a mistake.

        The accusation in Q 2:80 is different, but because it’s just introduced ‘And they say/said…’, it seems like we’re still dealing with the Jews from the previous verses. It’s not impossible that we’ve shifted to a completely different group, but that’s not the natural reading I would say.

        What I think Q 3:21 shows is that communities over time can be conflated – the Jews across time have denied God’s signs and slain the prophets. But I don’t think this means, and I’m not saying that you’re saying this, that there aren’t still sometimes time indicators that are more specific. And I think Q 2:80 has such a time indicator – the fact that Muhammad can address them and refute this statement of theirs, shows that they are making it in the present.

        I don’t deny the Qur’an is polemical, sorry I’m not sure what you mean with the reference to Q 2:88

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      • Thanks for the reply Richard.

        “In terms of ‘especially prior to modern historical-critical approaches’, I don’t think this is particularly relevant – even prior to modern HCM approaches, people could clearly ”

        As I said, the Qurʾān derives its authority by stressing continuity with previous scripture — even if not absolute and entirely 1:1 — so focusing on textual discontinuity doesn’t serve well. Additionally, I think the Qurʾān does articulate textual corruption— I think your point would hold if there’s no basis for textual corruption at all.

        “In terms of the Qur’an ‘subtly’ asserting the authority of the Qur’an over the previous scriptures, and that therefore it alleges their textual corruption, I would say its so subtle as to be entirely debatable. But if this is what the Qur’an is saying, it’s so subtle as to be misleading. Here is an analogy:

        (analogy about TV show).”

        With respect this is a really bad analogy. If you have a verse (or verses) that could be plausibly read to be casting doubt over parts of previous scripture, and clear examples of deliberate editing of biblical scripture in a way that clearly intends to contradict it then we have a case for taḥrīf. The notion of the Qurʾān as a corrective over previous traditions is a well represented trend within the study of the Qurʾān and its intertexts with plenty of case examples. See for ex. Zellentin or Griffith. Biblical tradition as a point of *departure* can be seen throughout the Qurʾān. So I think your analogy is a mischaracterization. Nevertheless I hope to read your future article.

        “What I think Q 3:21 shows is that communities over time can be conflated – the Jews across time have denied God’s signs and slain the prophets. But I don’t think this means, and I’m not saying that you’re saying this, that there aren’t still sometimes time indicators that are more specific. And I think Q 2:80 has such a time indicator – the fact that Muhammad can address them and refute this statement of theirs, shows that they are making it in the present.”

        To explain my point further:

        1. If Q2:79 and Q2:80 are different accusations, then they could refer to different groups across time. Q2:78-79 could be including past figures while Q2:80 refers to the present. Since the Qurʾān often does lay polemic against past and present communities side by side this is a coherent way to read 2:79-80. If you deny this then you’d think that the contemporary audience are being accused of killing Prophets in 3:21. And as someone who reads the arabic Qurʾān this sort of rhetorical tactic is something which is very common in the Qurʾan.

        2. My second point is that 2:88 is again not referring to a specific group of people contemporary to the Prophet — though it does intend to reproach them — but is a polemic against Jewish belief about the afterlife. This is similar to how God accuses the Jews of saying God’s hands are tied, or that they say their hearts are uncircumcised etc. It does not seem to be referring to one particular historical event but something that is “trans-historical” to use your words, or otherwise without any sort of tense.

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      • Hi Taha, thank you again for your thoughtful comments,

        I think we’re disagreeing on the analogy and the big picture because we disagree on the details that make up the big picture. I see so many verses suggesting the previous scriptures are reliable, and so few that could even plausibly be read as textual corruption, that to me the analogy is appropriate. You disagree with my understanding of these verses and how to read them, and so for you the analogy doesn’t hold. Fair enough – it’s a huge issue and we probably can’t go through all the relevant verses here in the comments section. But I hope the analogy helps you see how I see the matter, even as I respect you see it differently.

        Yup I’m aware of Griffith and Zellentin. I’m largely responding to Griffith (but not Zellentin, I think Griffith is most relevant here) in the article I’m writing.

        I do think Q 3:21 is somewhat different – there’s a list of bad actions, which is addressed to a trans-historical community, at least that’s how I read it. The reason that the Prophet is told to ‘announce to them’ in the present tense is because there truly are in front of him Jews who belong to that trans-historical community. Its similar to Jesus’ reproach of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, that they are as bad as their ancestors who killed the prophets.

        But maybe you’re right, maybe there could be a seamless shift between Q 2:79 and Q 2:80. But given the predominance of the imperfect verbs in Q 2:76-79, and given how the Qur’an seems to be rebuking them for their action, I think it more naturally is describing the present tense.

        Ah okay, thank you for clarifying about Q 2:88, that’s helpful. I think that ‘our hearts are covered’ there is actually talking about Muhammad’s contemporaries, because of the next verse (‘there came to them a book from God, confirming what is with them’ i.e. the Qur’an came to them confirming the Torah). Q 2:88 is parallel to Q 4:155, where the same expression may genuinely be in the past. I can see how one might therefore think Q 2:88 is about the trans-historical community of Jews, but I think Q 2:89 suggests it is Muhammad’s contemporaries in particular who are in view.

        I think sometimes the same thing or the same expression can be postulated of a particular community but at different concrete times. An example would be that ‘We hear and disobey’ is clearly in the past in Q 2:93, but it is still an issue in Muhammad’s day when Muslims are instructed to say ‘We hear and obey’ (Q 24:51). These two expressions are of course linked in Q 4:46, that one should say the latter and not the former.

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      • I think there’s not too much left here to respond to. Your observation about 3:21 kind of proves my point, ie. the Qurʾān can and does meld past sins into the present. I appealed to this verse precisely because we *know* that slaying prophets is a past event, followed by the condemnation of the present community. So what I’m saying is that it’s a valid way to understand 2:79 similarly (where context does not make it clear cut what period of time this scriptural tampering is delimited to).

        To summarize; there’s nothing inconsistent about me reading 2:79 diachronically (“trans-historically”). Since ومنهم does not necessarily refer to a present group in 2:78 (by analogy of 2:75), even if we assume 2:79 is linked to the prev. verse via ف there’s nothing to rule out this didn’t happen in the past. Additionally, since the Qurʾān does literally use present tenses this way it doesn’t seem tenuous either. Moreover, the overall logic of sūra al-Baqara— the focus on a *continued* trend of types of wrong doing extending into the ancient past— understanding 2:79 as taḥrīf is plausible. At this point the argument in *limiting* taḥrīf to the present becomes so tenuous (with exclusion to other scenarios) it’s just not convincing.

        Anyway, this will be my last reply to this conversation— back to my reading.

        P.S— with those other examples I was talking about a more intertextual understanding where the Qurʾān latches onto particular beliefs and polemically places them on the mouths of its Jewish opponents. You’ll find the articles of Shari Lowin and Reynolds useful on the two verses I mentioned.

        P.P.S Fiʿl Muḍāriʿ is frequently tenseless. If you have Wright’s grammar he discusses this sort of use.

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      • I get your point about Q 3:21 and concede that melding can happen. But this doesn’t mean that everything is melded, the melding still has to be shown to be probable. The way we know its probable in Q 3:21 is because we know that Muhammad’s audience can’t have been killing prophets; by contrast, there is nothing obvious about Q 2:79 or Q 2:75 that means it has to have been in the past. Furthermore I think there is a structural difference between them – when melding occurs in Q 3:21 there is a whole list of things, it does sound like a ‘summing up’ of trans-historical activities; the same is not true in Q 2:80 or in Q 2:79, where different discrete things are listed, and both of them seem separately to be present tense.

        I personally don’t think Q 2:75 is clear whether it refers to past or present. But I think Q 2:76-79 is probably all present, not just because of present tense verbs, but also because the Qur’an’s style of argument here seems to be addressing and rebuking people in the present, and because it seems to echo other Qur’anic passages focusing on people of the Book rejecting Muhammad.

        According to the Qur’an the Jews have been rebellious throughout their history, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t progressed, that in the past they did oral forms of corruption and now, in the time of Muhammad, they are even going so far as written corruption. The Qur’an does have this idea of extra division once revelation has come, and stresses how willfully rebellious the people of the Book are in rejecting Muhammad. Furthermore, one must reconcile two themes in the Qur’an – the rebelliousness of (some) of the People of the Book, with the witness of the former scriptures to the truth of Islam. So it makes sense why the Qur’an might only accuse textual corruption in Muhammad’s day and not before.

        Fair enough if you want to leave it there, I’m sure we could go back and forth for a long time, as we already have. If you do see this though, could you please tell me the specific articles by Lowin and Reynolds so I can give them a read?

        Wright on p. 51 defines the ‘Imperfect’ as describing ‘an unfinished [emphasis] act, one that is just commencing or in progress’. There may well be other usages as you suggest, but I don’t know where in Wright I should find these.

        One of the books I have is Alan Jones’ ‘Arabic through the Qur’an’, and he (99) says ‘The Imperfect stresses the incompleteness of an action or state. Standing on its own, it most frequently translates into an English present or future, though sometimes a verb in the imperfect may have a potential meaning.’ So I don’t deny that it may be frequently tenseless, but I still think the default, and the right contextual understanding in Q 2:79, is that this is a present-tense action.

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      • Well, since this discussion is interesting, I may as well reply to your comment :).

        “I get your point about Q 3:21 and concede that melding can happen. But this doesn’t mean that everything is melded, the melding still has to be shown to be probable. The way we know its probable in Q 3:21 is because we know that Muhammad’s audience can’t have been killing prophets; by contrast, there is nothing obvious about Q 2:79 or Q 2:75 that means it has to have been in the past.”

        What I’m trying to show is that the use of the imperfect tense verbs to indicate actions in the past is found in the Qurʾān. To do that I obviously need to give examples of such a use for events that are clearly placed in the past. It’s literally impossible for me to give examples of past use of the imperfect tense without appealing to these examples.

        So I think you’re missing my point. To word it another way— What is stopping me from interpreting 2:78-79 as a statement that can include past and present misdeeds? As I’ve stated before, this does not contradict the Qurʾān’s statements of confirming previous scripture, because there’s a lot of continuity between them.

        “Furthermore I think there is a structural difference between them – when melding occurs in Q 3:21 there is a whole list of things, it does sound like a ‘summing up’ of trans-historical activities; the same is not true in Q 2:80 or in Q 2:79, where different discrete things are listed, and both of them seem separately to be present tense”

        Why is that relevant though? Per your interpretation, in 3:21-24 you have a very similar usage, where you have the imperfect verbs couched in the past (3:21) then discrete sins of in the present (3:23, 24). So it’s really not unusual to read it this way.

        “According to the Qur’an the Jews have been rebellious throughout their history, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t progressed, that in the past they did oral forms of corruption and now, in the time of Muhammad, they are even going so far as written corruption. The Qur’an does have this idea of extra division once revelation has come, and stresses how willfully rebellious the people of the Book are in rejecting Muhammad. Furthermore, one must reconcile two themes in the Qur’an – the rebelliousness of (some) of the People of the Book, with the witness of the former scriptures to the truth of Islam. So it makes sense why the Qur’an might only accuse textual corruption in Muhammad’s day and not before.”

        Burden of proof— why can’t I, as a Muslim, interpret the Qurʾān to be plausibly referring to past misdeeds with respect to scriptural falsification/corruption, when that is *exactly* what historical-critical approaches to the bible have uncovered? Believers (in any religion) do this all the time— if there’s some ambiguity in language, or if a reading that coheres with reality is plausible, then they are going to opt for it. I mean I am literally not denying that you COULD understand the Qurʾān the way you suggest, it’s just that you haven’t shown me why I’m wrong. If I replaced 2:78—79 with a condemnation of the Jewish audiences of the Prophet in a way that is clearly referring to the past, but using present tense verbs, that would definitely not be out of keeping for the Qurʾān.

        “Wright on p. 51 defines the ‘Imperfect’ as describing ‘an unfinished [emphasis] act, one that is just commencing or in progress’. There may well be other usages as you suggest, but I don’t know where in Wright I should find these.”

        See vol 2 page 18:

        https://archive.org/details/AGrammarOfTheArabicLanguageV1/Gram_Wright2/page/n43/mode/2up

        And it’s evidently a similar use in 3:21, which is trying to condemn them for what the Qur’an perceives is their historical and present tendency.

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      • (continued)

        “I personally don’t think Q 2:75 is clear whether it refers to past or present. But I think Q 2:76-79 is probably all present, not just because of present tense verbs, but also because the Qur’an’s style of argument here seems to be addressing and rebuking people in the present, and because it seems to echo other Qur’anic passages focusing on people of the Book rejecting Muhammad. ”

        Really? Are you sure Q2:75 is not about the past? كان فريق منهم + A context that fits (them replacing God’s word previously in the sura)? It seems very obvious to me.

        Sure, the Qurʾān rebukes people in the present for their present misdeeds… except when it doesn’t. Got it. I really think your argument begs the question a little.

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      • Hi Taha,

        Thank you for your comments, and particularly for the reference to Wright, that was helpful 🙂

        Let me also quickly clarify Q 2:75 and what I meant – yes this is obviously a past tense, what I meant was it’s not clear if this is in the recent past (describing opposition to Muhammad’s ministry) or distant past, one of the episodes of the Children of Israel at the time of Moses.

        ‘What is stopping me from interpreting 2:78-79 as a statement that can include past and present misdeeds?’ – Nothing is stopping you, but I also don’t see good evidence for why we should interpret it thus. I think we can both agree that the use of the imperfect tense suggests that as a baseline, the action is going on in the present. Yes, again we both agree, this can be the continuation of something which began in the past, but I think the burden of proof is on the one alleging that. Otherwise are we to take every single use of the present tense in the Qur’an, and assume that that verbal action was also taking place in the past? Of course not, we need to follow contextual clues to determine when this is and is not happening.

        As a Muslim one may wish to think that Q 2:79 is also taking place in the past, as this may fit with a Muslim’s view on the textual corruption of the previous scriptures. But there are two objections to this: (1) is evidence within the Qur’an elsewhere that Q 2:79 is not teaching this, because the Qur’an more broadly does not teach the previous textual corruption of the former scriptures (I know you may disagree, but this is my perspective), and (2) as a Muslim you may wish to adopt this position, but as a non-Muslim I of course will not wish to adopt it if I don’t think its the most natural reading of the text.

        Please forgive me if you feel like I’m ignoring any of your points or talking past you – if so it is not intentional!

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      • I think that concludes our discussion then- to reiterate, I believe that the Qur’an most probably does preach the corruption of previous scripture and leaves the question of *when* open. Scripture does not have to explain or determine the specifics of everything, especially that which I can go to modern biblical studies for. I also don’t think it’s difficult to harmonize past corruption of scripture with the Qur’an’s other statements. And I think we both know that Christian apologists approach their own scripture with a lot more liberty than what I’ve suggested.

        I could continue this discussion but in the end I don’t think your grammatical/contextual arguments are convincing given the evidence I’ve provided here, so let’s leave it at that.

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      • You believe the Qur’an leaves the question of when open, I believe other Qur’anic verses suggest that the corruption did not occur before the time of Muhammad. We can agree to disagree on this one.

        I agree scripture does not have to explain or be specific about everything, though we disagree about whether your proposal fits with the other Qur’anic verses.

        I do take issue with the idea that the Qur’an is expecting us to read what it says about the Bible in light of modern biblical studies, both because of the anachronism and because of the secular worldview of the latter.

        ‘And I think we both know that Christian apologists approach their own scripture with a lot more liberty than what I’ve suggested.’ Maybe, I cannot defend everything said by other Christian apologists.

        Forgive me, I know you said you wanted to leave it at that, but you provided a summary statement and now so have I. Whether our conversation ends at this point or not, I would like to thank you for a civilised and sophisticated discussion 🙂

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    • Similarly note 2:75 فريق منهم referring to a party in the ancient past. I’d then say 2:78 could refer to the past as well, even if we take it to couple with 2:78.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As I think we’ve both said, it can be tricky with the fluctuating of Arabic tenses, between perfect and imperfect, to locate when the action is happening. But look at v. 80 – the same people as in v. 79 are addressed with a question, showing that they are contemporaries.

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    • The الكتاب is understood not to be the actual scribture but a new creation which they claim is from the scribture. Maybe like ‘bible’ in quotations marks. That’s what Walid Saleh writing in his article. There 3 accuzations with the Jews. “Mispronouncing, hiding and fabricating new scripture”. It’s not talking about corrupting the bible already with them.

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  6. Very simple, if we take the tafsir of ayah 49 into consideration with ayah 48

    “And so judge (you O Muhammad ) between them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they turn you (O Muhammad ) far away from some of that which Allah has sent down to you [THE QURAN] And if they turn away [FROM THE QURAN], then know that Allah’s Will is to punish them for some sins of theirs. And truly, most of men are Fasiqun (rebellious and disobedient to Allah).

    Again, in consideration with ayah 48-49 with proper Quranic exegesis, the multifaceted meanings of Muhayminan, encompasses the notion that whatever in these previous Books conforms to the Qur’an is true, and whatever diverges from the Qur’an is false., therefore, the Qur’an clearly denies the textual reliability of the previous scriptures that obviously directly contradict the Quranic doctrines, theology, especially when you measure Christian Christology against the Quranic view of Jesus (pbuh)

    …. From a Quranic perspective, the forged letters of Paul in the NT, the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew not authored by Matthew the disciple of Jesus, The Greek Gospel of John and the book of Revelations that puts words in the mouth of Jesus, which he never uttered, the forged letters of Peter are all supposed to denote the true Injil of Jesus??? lol…. SMH …. oh dear!

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  7. Very simple Richard, muhaymin guards and protects the truth of what remains in the Injil revealed to Jesus

    Only the Quran can verify the truth of what is in the previous scriptures according to what Allah has revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) to decide the truth of the Injil revealed to Jesus (PBUH)

    What remains of the Injil revealed to Jesus in the scriptures are the true pericopes or sayings of Jesus in the spurious NT that conform to what has been sent down to Muhammad (PBUH).

    An example of the injil revealed to Jesus that the Quran is a muhaymin would be the true pericopes of Jesus such as Jesus teaching, ““it is written and FOREVER REMAINS written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and SERVE HIM ONLY”

    another example of the true Injil revealed to Jesus would be he’s response to The question: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

    Jesus said, “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him.

    These are some examples of the true Injil revealed to Jesus that still remains and of which the Quran is muhaymin, also in consideration with verse 49 that follows

    Richard, the Quran is not a muhaymin that guards and protects the forged letters of Paul in the NT, the spurious canonical Greek Gospels, such as Gospel of Matthew not authored by Matthew the disciple of Jesus, The Greek Gospel of John and the book of Revelations that puts words in the mouth of Jesus, which he never uttered, the forged letters of Peter, just to mention a few……

    are you grasping this critical point? muhaymin guards and protects the truth of what remains in the Injil revealed to Jesus, according to the Quran sent to Muhammad (PBUH) to decide on what the truth about Jesus is 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Did you read the article that is the whole point of this blog post?

      Even if I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said, that doesn’t actually answer what harrafa means.

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      • Purple rain what doe the mufassirun say مُهَيْمِنًا means in surah 5 aya 48? Tabari, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir, Jalalayn?

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  8. Bashar, what the mufassirun say is pretty much summarized by what Maududi – Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi articulates in his tafsir:

    “The use of the word Al-Kitab (the Book) here is very significant. Instead of saying, “The Qur’an confirms whatever has remained intact from the former Books,” it says, “from the Book.” This is to show that the Qur’an and all the Books that were sent down by Allah in different languages and in different ages are in reality one and the same Book which has one and the same Author and one and the same object and aim: they impart one and the same knowledge and teaching to mankind with the only difference that they are couched in different languages and employ different methods to suit the various addresses. Therefore the fact that these Books support and do not refute, confirm and do not contradict, one another, shows that they are all different versions of one and the same Book (Al-Kitab).

    The Arabic word Muhaimin is very comprehensive in meaning. It means one who safeguards, watches over, stands witness,.preserves, and upholds. The Qur’an safeguards “the Book,” for it has preserved within it the teachings of all the former Books. It watches over them in the sense that it will not let go waste then true teachings. It supports and upholds these Books in the sense that it corroborates the Word of God which has remained intact in them. It stands a witness because it bears testimony to the Word of God contained in those Books and helps to sort it out from the interpretations and commentaries of the people which were mixed with it; what is confirmed by the Qur’an is the Word of God and what is against it is that of the people.” Maududi – Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an.

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    • Try again, one mufassir for himself without mixing all together with maududis opinion. You will see there are different opinion.

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      • Bashar, of course there are differences amongst the mufassir on this, which I am fully aware, i think Maududi – Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi presents a reasonable commonality of opinions on these verses from what I’ve gathered, especially with Ibn Kathir’s tafsir

        Do you have a problem with Maududi – Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi’s tafsir on these verses?

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      • Bashar, do you think the Quran is referring to the Injil revealed to Jesus as the forged letters of Paul in the NT, the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew not authored by Matthew the disciple of Jesus, The Greek Gospel of John and the book of Revelations that puts words in the mouth of Jesus, which he never uttered, the forged letters of Peter? 🙂

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    • “(and Muhayminan over it) means entrusted over it, according to Sufyan Ath-Thawri who narrated it from Abu Ishaq from At-Tamimi from Ibn `Abbas. `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “Muhaymin is, `the Trustworthy’. Allah says that the Qur’an is trustworthy over every Divine Book that preceded it.” This was reported from `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Mujahid, Muhammad bin Ka`b, `Atiyyah, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, `Ata’ Al-Khurasani, As-Suddi and Ibn Zayd. Ibn Jarir said, “The Qur’an is trustworthy over the Books that preceded it. Therefore, whatever in these previous Books conforms to the Qur’an is true, and whatever disagrees with the Qur’an is false.” Al-Walibi said that Ibn `Abbas said that Muhayminan means, `Witness’.”

      Mujahid, Qatadah and As-Suddi said the same. Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas said that Muhayminan means, `dominant over the previous Scriptures’. These meanings are similar, as the word Muhaymin includes them all. Consequently, the Qur’an is trustworthy, a witness, and dominant over every Scripture that preceded it. This Glorious Book, which Allah revealed as the Last and Final Book, is the most encompassing, glorious and perfect Book of all times.

      The Qur’an includes all the good aspects of previous Scriptures and even more, which no previous Scripture ever contained. This is why Allah made it trustworthy, a witness and dominant over all Scriptures. Allah promised that He will protect the Qur’an and swore by His Most Honorable Self,” Ibn Kathir > 5:48

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  9. Yes the view maududi gives is not the view of all the commentator I named. Go directly to classical mufassir instead of maududi.

    Quran never mention Paul or his letters by name. Quran only mentions injil and never mention injil text is corrupt.

    Try again please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your confused Bashar, pay attention, I didn’t say Maududi’s view is identical with the view of ALL the mufassirun you named…I mentioned they do have varying opinions… as I said Maududi’s tafsir of those verses and in reference to Muhayminan has some significant >commonality – When the Quran mentions the Injil >revealed to Jesus is the Quran referring to the forged letters of Paul in the NT as the Injil?, the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew not authored by Matthew the disciple of Jesus as the Injil?, The Greek Gospel of John and the book of Revelations that puts words in the mouth of Jesus, which he never uttered as the Injil??, the spurious letters of Peter in the NT as the Injil? lol 🙂

      “(and Muhayminan over it) means entrusted over it, according to Sufyan Ath-Thawri who narrated it from Abu Ishaq from At-Tamimi from Ibn `Abbas. `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “Muhaymin is, `the Trustworthy’. Allah says that the Qur’an is trustworthy over every Divine Book that preceded it.” This was reported from `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Mujahid, Muhammad bin Ka`b, `Atiyyah, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, `Ata’ Al-Khurasani, As-Suddi and Ibn Zayd. Ibn Jarir said, “The Qur’an is trustworthy over the Books that preceded it. Therefore, whatever in these previous Books conforms to the Qur’an is true, and whatever disagrees with the Qur’an is false.” Al-Walibi said that Ibn `Abbas said that Muhayminan means, `Witness’.”

      Mujahid, Qatadah and As-Suddi said the same. Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas said that Muhayminan means, `dominant over the previous Scriptures’. These meanings are similar, as the word Muhaymin includes them all. Consequently, the Qur’an is trustworthy, a witness, and dominant over every Scripture that preceded it. This Glorious Book, which Allah revealed as the Last and Final Book, is the most encompassing, glorious and perfect Book of all times.

      The Qur’an includes all the good aspects of previous Scriptures and even more, which no previous Scripture ever contained. This is why Allah made it trustworthy, a witness and dominant over all Scriptures. Allah promised that He will protect the Qur’an and swore by His Most Honorable Self,” Ibn Kathir > 5:48

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    • Try again Bashar – Answer the Question > When the Quran mentions the Injil >revealed to Jesus – is the Quran referring to the forged letters of Paul in the NT as the Injil?, the canonical Greek Gospel of Matthew not authored by Matthew the disciple of Jesus as the Injil?, The Greek Gospel of John and the book of Revelations that puts words in the mouth of Jesus, which he never uttered as the Injil??, the spurious letters of Peter in the NT as the Injil? lol 🙂

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      • You’re agree then Tabarui, Zamakhshari and Jalalayn not say muhaymin means the previous scripture are corrupt yes? Only Ibn Kathir is close to this view. This why Maududi is not good. Injil is not new testament, Injil is gospel or gospels and Quran never say the txt of gospel is corrupt. Try again please.

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    • Bashar 🙂 Do you have a problem with Ibn Kathir & Maududi – Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi’s tafsir on these verses?

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      • Ibn Kathir is much later than earlier works of tafsir, such as Muqati and al-Tabari.

        Your quote said ‘Ibn Jarir said, “The Qur’an is trustworthy over the Books that preceded it. Therefore, whatever in these previous Books conforms to the Qur’an is true, and whatever disagrees with the Qur’an is false.”’

        I assume this is Ibn Jarir al-Tabari – do correct me if I’m wrong.

        From my recollection of our previous discussion on this (see https://bloggingtheology.com/2021/05/04/what-does-muhaymin-mean/), al-Tabari doesn’t actually say this in his own Tafsir. So I think this may be Ibn Kathir’s commentary here, not al-Tabari’s own statement. Here is what I wrote on that previous post:

        ‘So I have actually read and translated some of Ibn Jarir (al-Tabari) on Q 5:48, specifically what he says on muhaymin. But searching through all of his Arabic commentary on 48-49, I cannot find what Ibn Kathir attributes to him – at least if one takes the quotation marks all the way to the end as you (and this website – http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Al-Maeda/Praising-the-Quran;-the-Comma—) do. Ibn Jarir does indeed talk about the Qur’an being aminan (trustworthy) alayha (over it, concerning it? see the next verb), but also as shahidan alayha (testifying to it) annahu haqq min inda allah (that it is truth from God), hafizan laha (guarding it). How we put all of these things together is of course a matter of interpretation.

        But I do not find Ibn Jarir saying ‘Therefore, whatever in these previous Books conforms to the Qur’an is true, and whatever disagrees with the Qur’an is false.’ Now maybe I’ve missed it, in which case I am very happy to be corrected. Or perhaps Ibn Kathir has reworded it such that I cannot easily find what he is referring to. Or perhaps this latter part of the saying is Ibn Kathir’s explanation of what al-Tabari means when he says ‘aminan alayha’.’

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      • People like Mawdudi and Ibn Kathir come along later and join together all of the different statements that people have made on a topic. But if we want to do a historical analysis, we need to see if there is a shift over time as to how people have understood things – whether things were understood differently early on than later.

        And when we do that, our earliest complete commentator Muqatil (d. 150/767) commenting on the section in Q 5:48 with musaddiqan and muhaymin, just says that the Qur’an is ‘testifying’ (shahidan) that the former scriptures are from God.

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