Consider a second example of a criticism of the Qur’an which
was raised by a questioner. This involves what the Qur’an appears to say about
the nature of earth’s mountains and their purpose. Examples include Suras 16:15,21:31,31:10,78:6-
7. Sura 16:15 says, "And He has cast great mountains in the earth lest it might
be convulsed with you, and rivers and roads that you may go aright." Sura 21:31
says, "And We have made great mountains in the earth lest it might be convulsed
with them, and We have made in it wide ways that they may follow a right direction."
Sura 31:10 says, "He created the heavens without pillars as you see them, and
put mountains upon the earth lest it might convulse with you." I am not a scholar
in Arabic, to say the least, but would agree that this does appear to be a good
example of bad science in the Qur’an. These passages definitely do seem to
be saying that Allah created mountains in order to prevent earthquakes, whereas
we know that mountains definitely do not prevent earthquakes. In fact, they
are the result of earthquakes. I have found a number of other examples of statements
in the Qur?an which represent obvious scientific errors, some of which are listed
Let me move to the question about the inspiration of the Qur’an
in general. I would say that on the whole, it is an amazing book. Of one considers
its literary and its even moral value, coming as it does from a pagan who was
born into a violent, polytheistic society, the Qur’an is an impressive accomplishment.
However, to consider it as inspired by God in the sense that the Bible clearly
is, there is no way that it even comes close to passing this test. The obvious
scientific error mentioned above is one example. Let me supply just a couple of others.
First, right in the context of the Sura regarding the career
of Alexander the Great, there is a scientific blunder of the obvious sort. Consider
Sura 18:86. "He journeyed on a certain road until he reached the West and saw
the sun setting in a pool of black mud. Hard by (ie. near the pool of mud into which
the sun set) he found a certain people. ‘Dhu al Qarnayn,’ We said, ‘You must
either punish them or show them kindness." Muhammad is not the first to spread
around the false idea that the sun sets into a body of water. This rather obvious
error is the result of human thinking on the motion of the sun. It was a common
myth of ancient cultures that the sun sets into a body of water somewhere in
the West. The Qur’an repeats this glaring scientific error.
Another clear scientific misconception in the Qur’an is found
in Sura 21:33. "It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun and
the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course."
The idea that the sun goes in a circular course around the earth was discredited
with the work of Copernicus and Galileo. Geocentrism was the false concept
of the heavens common in the time of the writing of the Qur’an. Unfortunately
for the claim of inerrancy of the Muslim scripture, this false idea slipped
into the Qur’an. When I read Sura 21:33, I see no other way to interpret this
Or consider Sura 34:9. "If We will, We can cause the earth
to cave in beneath their feet or let fragments of the sky fall upon them."
The idea that the heavens were composed of solid crystal spheres has long since
disappeared, but it was the common conception of the ancients, which would explain
this odd statement being in the Qur’an. As I read Islamic commentators, I see
no answer to this fact. One makes the shard of sky be a metaphorical challenge
in people?s life, which is a pretty questionable interpretation of this passage.
Sura 18:9-26 has a fable of three boys and a dog who entered
a cave, fell asleep, and woke 309 years later, as if they had never fallen asleep.
It is hard to take this fable seriously. By the way, there is a parallel version
of this fable in a romantic "Christian" fable known as the "Story of Martyrs" by
Gregory of Tours (AD 538-593). Gregory has the three boys and a dog sleeping
for 200 years in a cave. Most likely, Muhammad borrowed this fable from a romantic
Christian author, not from the angel Gabriel.
There are many rather obvious historical errors in the Qur’an
as well. For example one can find it stated that King David wore an iron coat
of chain mail in Sura 34:9. The problem with this claim is that iron chain
armor was not invented until many centuries after David lived. The Qur’anic commentators
I have read on this gloss over this error.
As a second example, consider the story of Abraham as described in Sura 21:51-71.
Here Muhammad has Abraham confronting his father and family because of the many
family idols which they worship. Abraham smashes all their idols except the
largest one. When confronted, he tells his family that the large idol smashed
the smaller ones. ?It was their chief (idol) who smote them. Ask them (ie.
the idols) if they can speak.? The idolators admit that the idols cannot speak,
at which point Abraham chides them, ?Would you then worship that, instead of God,
which can neither help nor harm you. Shame on you and on your idols! Have you
no sense?? They attempt to burn Abraham to death in a fire, but God makes the
fire cool so that he does not die. Where did this fable come from? Actually
Muhammad borrowed if from Jewish folklore of the second century AD, specifically
from the Midrash Rabbah, which has a virtually identical myth. Which is one
to believe, the Jewish account of Abraham?s life from about 1400 BC or the Qur?anic
account, borrowed from a Jewish folk tale of the second century AD? The Islamic
response is to claim that the account of the life of Abraham in Genesis is inaccurate?
that the version found in the Qur?an was expunged from the original. This is a spurious
Consider a third example of obvious historical inaccuracy in the Qur?an. In
Sura 19:29-33, the writer of the Qur?an has the little baby Jesus talking. The
infant Jesus says, ?I am the servant of God. He has given me the Book and ordained
me a prophet. His blessing is upon me wherever I go, and He has exhorted me to be
steadfast in prayer and to give alms as long as I shall live.? The baby Jesus
continues with his discourse in Sura 19. Quite a vocabulary for an infant!
Did Muhammad receive this information by revelation? Possibly, but it is worth
noting that an apocryphal ?Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ? from second < br> century AD Egypt has a very similar account. Sura 3:49 also has Jesus taking
clay, breathing on it, and turning it into a bird. Is this an accurate record
of an actual event? More likely, Muhammad borrowed it from one of his eleven
wives, two of whom are believed to have been ?Christians.? This Qur?anic fable
is borrowed from the apocryphal ?Gospel? of Thomas which says of Jesus as a young
child, ?Then he took from the bank of the stream some soft clay, and formed
out of it twelve sparrows? Then Jesus, clapping together the palms of his hands,
called to the sparrows, and said to them: ?Go, fly away.?? We can see that there
is no doubt that Muhammad borrowed from both Jewish and Christian myth, which
makes any attempt to describe the Qur?an as inspired by God very difficult to
Another obvious error is found in Sura 7:124 which has Pharaoh
threatening to crucify those who follow Moses over one thousand years before
crucifixion was even invented. In this case, the writer, presumably Muhammad,
should have checked his sources.
Other obvious historical errors in the Qur?an include confusing Ishmael and
Isaac (Sura 37:102), Noah?s fourth son drowning (Sura 20:120), Zechariah (John
the Baptist?s father) is silent for three days (rather than nine months) (Sura
3:41). There are many more examples which could be mentioned. Islamic scholars
typically explain the inconsistency with the Bible record by saying the Bible
is wrong. This argument does not hold up to scrutiny, partly because many or
most of the errors in the Qur?an are actually borrowed from obviously bogus apocryphal
works. In the case of Zechariah, we have to assume that those who actually
knew Jesus? mother got it wrong, while Muhammad got it right over six hundred
years later. This is simply not believable.
The third category of errors in the Qur?an are internal inconsistencies.
There are a great number of examples in which Muhammad or another author makes
statements in one place in the Qur?an which are incontrovertibly in direct oppositio
n to statements elsewhere. This fact is so well known, even to Islamic scholars,
that they have developed a doctrine to explain away the contradictions. The
means of explaining away the obvious errors in the Qur?an are called abrogations.
Apparently, even those who put together the Qur?an in its final form were aware
of the blatant inconsistencies in the Suras, as is clear from Sura 2:106, ?If
we abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better
one or one similar.? This is a striking statement! Can you imagine reading
such an apology in the Bible? In this passage, Allah admits that some of his
early statements need to be abrogated. Islamic scholar Jalalu?d Din says the
number of required abrogations (i.e. corrections, mistakes) in the Qur?an is between five
and five hundred. The passages which must be annulled (mansukh) are called
nazikh. The idea is that more recent passages can annul older passages. One
problem is that it is virtually impossible to tell which of Muhammad?s writings
are older than which.
Examples of inconsistencies in the Qur?an include Sura 2:142-144 in which the
city to which Muslims must bow when praying is changed from Jerusalem to Mecca.
Another abrogation is required to justify the fact that Sura 7:54 lists six
days of creation, while Sura 41_9-12 lists eight days. Sura 17:103 has Pharaoh
drowned with his army, while Sura 10:90-92 has him rescued as a sign to others.
Sura 4:157,158 has Jesus definitely not dying, but being called to Allah, while
Sura 19:33 states that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. Islamic scholars
have a very difficult time with this one. An almost innumerable list of examples
can be given.
In summary, the Qur?an is certainly an amazing book, considering
the time and the circumstances under which it was written. However, the claim
that it is perfect?that it is inspired by an all-powerful God does not hold
up to careful study. Unless my concept of inspiration is mistaken, divine scripture
will not contain material culled from folklore and myth, obvious scientific
errors, or mistakes that even its supporters admit are in the text. Having
said this, I believe Christians need to apply careful scholarship along with fair,
reasonable and respectful treatment of the text of the Qur?an.
Translations of the Qur?an are taken from:
1. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, ?The Meaning of the Holy Qur?an? (Amana Publications,
Beltsville, Maryland, 2001)
2. N. J. Dawood, ?The Koran,? (Penguin Classics, London, England, 1997)