Photo credit: Ryk Neethling – https://www.flickr.com/photos/rykneethling/4543063042
My own position is (tentatively) that the Qur’an does affirm the reliability of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The Qur’an believes that Jews and Christians have misinterpreted such texts, or even covered things up or maybe written other book(s), but that they have not actually corrupted the texts themselves. The possible exception is that the description of Muhammad has been textually altered – but that’s it. This last one I actually say not on the basis of the Qur’an, but only due to it’s presence in the extra-Qur’anic Islamic literature – if I took the Qur’an only, which I do indeed consider to be more reliable than other Islamic literature, I would not include this caveat.
Some (indeed the majority) of Muslims I have spoken to think that this position is obviously wrong, and one Muslim even told me that no Muslim scholar ever held this. Indeed one source I read suggested that holding to this position was not just mistaken, but indicative of a deceitful heart.
I myself believe the first paragraph tentatively – I would affirm it on probability, but I recognise that many of the relevant texts could be understood to point in either direction. I just think that my interpretation is a slightly more natural reading of numerous texts, and a strongly better reading of at least one or two.
Anyway, the reason I discuss all this is to point out that at least one modern Muslim scholar (Abdullah Saeed) beleives that the Qur’an affirms the reliability of the former scriptures, and that a modern Muslim apologist (Shabir Ally) previously inclined towards this position. According to Dr Ally, ‘For a long time many academics had said what David [Wood] said today’, i.e. that the Qur’an affirms the reliability of the former scriptures. This information comes from the debate between David Wood and Shabir Ally earlier this year – commencing at 26:51 – https://youtu.be/WKqe8fKhfXg?t=1611 . I transcribe the words of Dr Ally:
For a long time many academic scholars had said very much what David had said today, and in fact so many of them had said it that even Abdullah Saeed [whom David earlier quoted, c. 21:45] had been persuaded by it, and for a time I myself was being inclined towards that position as well, to think that it looks like the Qur’an is actually affirming the Torah and the Gospel as it existed at the time when the Qur’an was being revealed, in all it’s totality.
I should note that Dr Ally goes on to say how he believes Sidney Griffith’s book ‘The Bible in Arabic’ is a ‘game-changer’ on this matter, arguing instead that the Qur’an does teach the corruption of the former scriptures. I hope to deal with this in a different article shortly. The point of this article is simply to show that the position I hold is credible enough that many scholars, and even some Muslims [see below for another one], have considered it credible or even held to it.
I advise those who want to read about the history of Muslim understandings of the former scriptures to read at least the first five chapters of ‘The Gentle Answer’, by Gordon Nickel (amongst other works). I don’t have time now to find and quote the ancient Muslim interpreters who hold to my position, but Nickel claims to have found them, and provides quotations in his text. He has a very quotable section on modern scholars (pp. 28-30, Kindle Locations 686-735), from which I get the below.
Scholars who believe the Qur’an itself does not claim the corruption of former scriptures
- William Montgomery Watt (Edinburgh University) [from my brief Islamic studies at university, I got the impression that Watt was a mainstream, well-respected scholar]:
“the Qur’ān does not put forward any general view of the corruption of the text of the Old and New Testaments.” (“The early development,” 53) ‘there is absolutely no suggestion in the Qur’ān that the whole Bible has been corrupted at some time in the distant past, nor that there had been the collusion between Christians and Jews which would have been necessary in order to corrupt the Old Testament’ (‘Muslim-Christian encounters: Perceptions and misperceptions’ (London: Routledge, 1991), 32.)
- Mahmoud Ayoub (Muslim scholar):
‘Contrary to the general Islamic view, the Qur’an does not accuse Jews and Christians of altering the text of their scriptures, but rather of altering the truth which those scriptures contain. The people do this by concealing some of the sacred texts, by misapplying their precepts, or by “altering words from their right position.” However, this refers more to interpretation than to actual addition or deletion of words from the sacred books.’ (Mahmoud Ayoub, “‘ Uzayr in the Qur’an and Muslim tradition,” in Studies in Islamic and Judaic traditions, eds. W.M. Brinner and S.D. Ricks (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 5.)
- Ignazio Di Matteo:“According to the Qur’ān, the text of the holy scriptures has been altered neither before Muḥammad, nor even during his life-time by those Jews and Christians who were not favourably disposed towards his mission. In the Qur’ān taḥrīf means either false interpretation of the passages bearing upon Muḥammad or non-enforcement of the explicit laws of the Pentateuch, such as the stoning punishment.” (Ignazio Di Matteo, “Il ‘Taḥrīf’ od alterazione della Bibbia secondo i musulmani,” Bessarione 38 (1922), 96.)
- Abdullah Saeed (already mentioned above, but here is a quote from him): ‘“In no verse in the Qur’ān is there a denigrating remark about the scriptures of the Jews and Christians. Instead, there is respect and reverence. Any disparaging remarks were about the People of the Book, individuals or groups, and their actions.” (“The charge of distortion of Jewish and Christian scriptures,” The Muslim World 92 (2002), 429.) See 21:45 in the video above for a better quote.
- John Burton (St Andrews) (as with Watt, Burton came up in my studies at university, and I got the impression he was a well-respected scholar – though he does have an unusual theory concerning the Hadith. I had a funny moment at uni when I confused this gentleman with John Barton – the latter was puzzled when I started talking to him about his work on Islam):’Many non-Muslims are still firmly of the belief that Jews and Christians are accused in the Qur’ān of having tampered with the texts of the revelations to the prophets now collected into the Old and New Testaments of their Bible. This is because they regularly encounter such charges in their reading. The accusation is a commonplace charge against the People of the Book by the Muslims, not, however, because of what the Qur’ān says, but because of what the Muslims say the Qur’ān says. In other words, it is mere exegesis.’ (John Burton, “The corruption of the scriptures,” Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies 4 (1992, publ. 1994), 95.)
- Martin Accad (I heard him, and Gordon Nickel, speak at a conference on this very topic run by the Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies. I found it a fascinating day. See here http://cmcsoxford.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Michaelmas-2014.-Final-Web.pdf ): ‘In the Qur’ânic context, taḥrîf is principally an ambiguous accusation raised against the Jews. Moreover, [all four verses containing the verb ḥarrafa] more readily lend themselves to being understood as accusations of misinterpretation, taḥrîf maʿna, rather than textual corruption, taḥrîf lafẓ. One should not therefore too quickly conclude, as most do today, that these verses were automatically understood in the sense of textual corruption of the whole Bible, for this would represent an anachronism.’ (“Corruption and/ or misinterpretation of the Bible: The story of the Islâmic usage of taḥrîf,” Theological Review 24/ 2 (2003), 71.) Nickel notes that Accad’s quote here comes from Accad’s study of ‘twenty-five treatises written by Muslim authors during the first six centuries of Islam’ (Martin Accad. “The Gospels in the Muslim discourse of the ninth to the fourteenth centuries: An exegetical inventorial table,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 14 (2003), 67-91, 205-220, 337-352, 459-79.)
- Matthias Radscheit – concerning the word tahrif (corruption: ‘“That it did not mean falsification of the fixed written Torah or Gospel shows itself— negatively— in that taḥrīf is never connected explicitly with these books, and— positively— by the verses which exhort the ahl al-kitāb to hold to what is in their scriptures.”'(Die koranische Herausforderung: Die taḥaddī-Verse im Rahmen der Polemikpassagen des Korans (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1996), 82-83.)
The purpose of this article is not to convince people of my position. But I hope it might change people’s minds as to the credibility/plausibility of my position – I am not the first to hold to it.
EDIT (28/09/2016) –
One of the comments asks why the Muslims above are modern. The answer is that in a few pages, Nickel gives the nice summary above, which was easier to reproduce. In chapter 3 (and possibly 4 and 5) Nickel discusses older exegetes in greater detail. But there is also a good summary, like the one above, of Muslims who take a comparatively positive view of the former scriptures at p. 118, Kindle location 2585 to p. 122, Kindle location 2685.