Author’s Note. The article below is a response to a question, so it will begin with
the question which motivated its writing.
I was looking online about the Qur’an and found claims of errors which seem
impossible to deny. For example, With regard to Sura 18:83-100 which is about Alexander
the Great, which seems proposterous as he is said to have the importance of
a prophet and yet he was a sinner and an idolater, and was ruthless. It also
said he built a huge wall to keep an army out, which has no historical basis.
What is your view on this? What is your general opinion on errors in the Qur’an?
Some of my Muslim friends say that the Qur’an is without error. These same people
try to destroy the credibility of the Bible by saying it is full of errors. Can give
you an example of a error in the Qur’an (for example what it says about mountains
in Suras 16:15,21:13,31:10,78:6-7) Could you also give me your opinion on the
You ask whether the Qur’an is "perfect" as its supporters claim,
or whether it has blatant errors–ones which cannot be logically explained away
by a reasonable person. Your comments imply categories of possible errors,
1. Internal inconsistencies
2. Historical errors and
3. Errors of fact relating to scientific claims in the Muslim scripture.
My response is that, despite the claims of Muslim apologists, yes, there are
absolutely clear examples of mistakes in the Qur’an. The only way those who
argue that the Qur’an is perfect can deal with these is by ignoring the questions. I
?have considered this matter carefully, and done quite a bit of study of the
Qur’an myself to test these claims.
First, let me say that it is important for anyone who would criticize
the Muslim scripture to be both careful and fair. I am very sensitive to this because
I have seen innumerable examples of such unfair and unreasonable attacks on
the validity of the Bible as an inspired text. Many have made unfounded claims about
the Bible in all three of the categories listed above. Many have claimed that the
Bible is loaded with blatant scientific errors, historical inaccuracies and
obvious inconsistencies with itself. I have considered many dozens of these
attacks and found all of them to be false. Some of them come from people who have
no care for accuracy and fairness, but are simply looking for mud to sling around.
Such people find supposed "inconsistencies" in the Bible which are so easily
explained by anyone who understands the Bible as to be downright silly. Ot
hers have looked with a more careful eye and still found what they feel to be
mistakes in the Bible. I have found that these do not hold up well to careful
The point is this, in the spirit of the golden rule, which was given
to us by Jesus, we should be very careful in pointing out "errors" in the Qur’an. M
any "Christian" groups have not done a good job here. There is a tendency to pass
along all charges against the Qur’an, whether they are substantiated by careful
scholarship or not. Even when we discover blatant signs of human wisdom in the
Muslim scripture, we should not resort to childish behavior when pointing out
the mistakes. Let me suggest a more fair way to develop Christian comparative apologetics
as they relate to Islam. For those Christians who would explain and compare the Qur’an
to the Bible, what should be done first and foremost is to read and study the
Qur’an itself. The second priority should be to read the works of Islamic apologists. How do
they explain and defend the Qur’an? Dead last priority should be given to reading
the "dirt" on Islam to be found in the works of Christian apologists–especially
those who are not sufficiently careful.
One way to come to the realization that this is a wise path is to
read the typical attacks on the Bible which come from the pens of Islamic critics. I
f one reads the books or peruses the web sites of Islamic apologists, one will
discover immediately that most of these criticisms are very shallow. The attac
ks on biblical science, supposed inconsistencies and historical errors one will
find at most anti-Christian websites–especially at Islamic-oriented ones represents
almost uniformly poor scholarship. It comes from people who have not bothered
to test their attacks by carefully reading the Bible or by simply asking a Christian
scholar whether their arguments will stand up to reasoned analysis. It is my
experience that the great majority of the arguments against biblical infallibility
are the result of people not understanding the Bible itself. It becomes glaringly
obvious that the majority of such critics get almost all their material, not
from carefully reading the Bible or from bouncing their ideas off of Christian
believers, but from trolling the other anti-Bible groups for ?dirt? on the B
If we find such behavior to be offensive, then the golden rule would
dictate that Christian apologists ought to be far more fair and considered in
their analysis of other religions and their scripture. I have read material at quite
a few web sites devoted to "disproving" the Qur’an. The average quality of
the material used at these sites may be somewhat over that of their opposite
foes, but not by much. As intimated above, I find that most of the dirt one finds
on the Qur’an is recycled material from others sources which shows little if
any sign of coming from someone who has actually read the Qur’an, and even more
importantly, from an understanding of current Islamic theology or Qur’anic interpretation.
?I will admit that careful analysis of the Qur?an and a commitment to listen
to Islamic scholars is a lofty goal which may require a considerable amount
of work, but as the old saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing well.
You ask a general question about the Qur’an, but you also ask specific
questions about criticisms you have read. This is a good way to approach the
subject. First, let me consider the example you raise about Sura 18:83-100. Is this
a legitimate example of a blatant error in the Qur’an? First of all, the person you
quote assumes that this passage in the Qur’an definitely refers to Alexander
the Great. I did a bit of research and found that it is true that many Islamic scholars
have interpreted this as a reference to Alexander. It would appear, though, that this
is not universally the case. To quote from Islamic scholar Abdullah Yusef Ali;
"Literally, ‘the Two-horned one,’ or the king with two horns. Who was he? In wha
t age, and where did he live? The Qur’an gives us no material on which we can
base a positive answer. Nor is it necessary to find an answer, as the story is treated
as a Parable. Popular opinion identifies Dhu al Quarayn (the ruler in Sura 18:83-100)
with Alexander the Great. An alternative suggestion is an ancient Persian King, or
a prehistoric Himyarite King." As I read it (in English translation, of course),
it is not obvious to me at all that this passage has to be a reference to Alexander.
?In fact, Alexander is best described as a one-horned one rather than a two-horned
ruler. Persia is better described as a two-horned kingdom (see Daniel chapter eight
and my book, Daniel, Prophet to the Nations, www.ipibooks.com). Without doing
a thorough treatment of this example, let me give a preliminary conclusion. If we were
to assume that the Qur’an is inspired by God, and if we can also assume that
Sura 18:83-100 is indeed intended to be a literal description of the work of
Alexander the Great, then you would indeed have a possible example of an error
in the Qur’an. There is no way to understand Alexander as a man of faith according
to Islam! However, if I were trying to develop a clear and fair case against
the inspiration of the Qur’an, I would not use this example for the simple reason
that it is debatable. I would prefer to use examples which would hold up to scrutiny
even in the face of open discussion with Islamic apologists.
You give a second example. This involves what the Qur’an appears to say
about the nature of earth’s mountains and their purpose. Examples, as you mention,
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 below.
Let me move to your question about my opinion 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 you
mention above is one example. Let me supply just a couple of others.
First, right in the context of the Sura you mention above 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.
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 passage!
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.
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 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. H
ere 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 Quranic 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 argument.
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 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 support.
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 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. Th
is 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 the those who actually knew Jesus?
mother got it wrong, while Muhammad got it right over six hundred years later. T
his 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 opposition 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 (ie 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 Me
cca. 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. 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,
2. N. J. Dawood, ?The Koran,? (Penguin Classics, London, England, 1997)