A pedagogic, rationalist, secular, historic, critical study that can overrule in any ontological argument' secularist international debate and hold itself in the highest secular court of law and shut the mouths of the ignoramuses and the intellectuals skeptical of its integrity
By Muhammad Yunus, NewAgeIslam.com
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
There are suggestions to ‘edit out the lines (of the Qur’an) that were meant for a different time and are no longer applicable today.’ If this argument were correct, there would have been innumerable editions of the Qur’an down the fourteen centuries since its introduction. In every era and each region of Islam, the scholars would have spotted verses/ passages that were no relevance and dropped or modified them. But that is not the case. Here are the arguments:
1. The Infallibility of its text as a Divine Speech:
The opening statement of the Qur’an declares that beyond any scruple of doubt, it is a divine writ (2:2). Any suggestion to edit the Qur’an will contradict this very fundamental premise and raise the obvious question – what kind of a divine writ is the Qur’an that needs editing by humans.
The Qur’an also claims to be a book of wisdom (10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4), that is made clear and distinct (12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2), with all kinds of illustrations (17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27) and explanations (7:52, 11:1, 41:3), sent as guidance and mercy for the believers in God (7:52, 16:64, 27:77) and doers of good (31:3), and as truth, guidance and message for all humanity (2:185, 10:108, 14:52).
It also claims to be the divine criteria of right and wrong (2:185, 25:1), the balance of justice for humanity (42:17, 57:25) and the verifier of a part of the previous Scripture that clarifies the differences between the Jews and the Christians (5:15, 5:48, 6:92, 27:76).
All these Qur’anic claims will ring hollow if a bench of jurists or a house of parliamentarians were to delete portions from it to adapt it with civilization realities of their era.
The Qur’an’s concern and seriousness to ensuring the integrity of its text is best reflected in the following early passage harshly threatening the Prophet with a fatal consequence, if he were to add anything into or alter the text of the Qur’an:
“If he (Muhammad) attributed to Us any false speech (69:44), We would seize him by the right hand (45), then We would sever his aorta (46) and none of you could prevent it (69:47).
Given that the Prophet’s followers held him in utmost veneration, the gravity of this warning, however symbolic it might have been, must have heightened their spiritual alertness to ensuring the integrity of the revealed passages as they memorized them. The passage also stood out, as it does to this very day, as a loud testimony to the divinity of the Qur’an. Had Muhammad authored it, he could never put in the passage, as no writer can ever claim to stick to a discourse, word for word; he is evolving over a long span of time, as was the case with the revelation.
2. The Qur’anic claim of preserving the integrity of its text.
As the Qur’anic revelation was underway (610-632), the pagans continued to put pressure on the Prophet to alter the wordings of the revelation (10:15, 11:113) such as by accommodating their deities. The Qur’an declares (6:34, 6:115, 15:9, 18:27, 41:42, 85:21/22)
“The Words of your Lord will be fulfilled truthfully and justly: none can change His Words, for He is All-Knowing and Aware” (6:115).
“Surely We have sent down this Reminder, and surely. We will protect (preserve) it” (15:9).
“Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an (85:21). (Inscribed) in a Tablet (well) guarded (lauh al-mahfuz) (against corruption)” (85:22).
Whatever be the exact meaning of the expression lauh al-mahfuz, rendered as ‘Tablet (well) guarded’ that theologians hotly debated in early centuries of Islam, it denotes a divine commitment to preserve the Qur’an word for word as a cast on stone divine edict that cannot be altered by humans.
These Qur’anic pronouncements serve as irrefutable proof of the integrity of its text. Had there been any alteration of its text in course of the revelation, or any kind of tampering, the Prophet’s enemies as well as the general Arab public would not have embraced Islam during his lifetime as they would seen it contradicting its own claims. And even if, for the sake of argument, they did so under the prevalent historical setting, they would have definitely rejected the Qur’an immediately after the Prophet’s death. However, this did not happen. The Prophet’s immediate successors were as intense in their faith in the Qur’an as their predecessors during the Prophet’s lifetime. The veneration of the Qur’an among the second generation Muslims was so immense that the mere sight of its pages held up on lancer tips brought a raging battle between rival Muslim armies to an immediate halt . Thus, from purely rationalist historical perspective, there can be no iota of doubt that the Qur’an was handed down to the Prophet’s successors and through them to the posterity in its original form.
3. Integrity of the preservation of Qur'an’s original manuscripts (suhuf).
As the diverse indigenous materials (palm leaves, camel hides, white stone, animal bones, hardened clay, wooden tablets etc,) that the Prophet’s scribes had employed to preserve the revelations were compiled into a single book form some 20 years after the Prophet’s death , doubts have been cast about deliberate or inadvertent corruption. But human memory, particularly in relation to a rhythmic composition such as the Qur’an, gets indelibly engraved in the brain. It can fade over time but unlike a written record, it cannot lend itself to a partial deletion or corruption without any detection by the memorizer. In the case of the Qur’an, the huffaz (the memorizers) must have been reciting the Qur’an regularly through those 20 years as any hafiz does this very day. Therefore, there is absolutely no likelihood for any of them to corrupt or forget any word or verse of the Qur’an without noticing a disruption in the rhythmic flow.
4. The dread of the Qur’an among its audience.
As the Qur’an was under revelation, it virtually cast a spell on its listeners. As it testifies, the Meccans kept away from it, deterred others from it and asked people to chat and make noise during its recitation, understandably, to foil its magical effect (41:26). They turned away from it in dread as if they were frightened donkeys fleeing a lion (74:49-51). The truth is all the Arabs that entered Islam in Mecca (610-622), where the Prophet was openly rejected and despised were won over by the compelling effect of the Qur’an. Its lyrical intonation from Muhammad’s mouth mesmerized the listener, overwhelmed and crushed his whole personality and compelled it into submission unawares. The Qur’an’s open challenges to match its literary grandeur or even to find a contradiction in it only heightened their awe and admiration of the Qur’an (for had Muhammad been its author or plagiarized it, he could never make these claims.
“If you (O people,) are in doubt concerning what We have revealed to Our Servant, then produce a chapter like it; and call on your witnesses besides God – if indeed you are truthful (2:23). But if you do not do (it) - and you can never do (it), then heed hellfire, whose fuel is human beings and stones - prepared for the disbelievers” (2:24).
“Don’t they ponder over the Qur’an? Had it been from (someone) other than God, they would have surely found in it much contradiction” (4:82).
“Praise be to God who has revealed to His devotee the Book, and did not put any distortion in it” (18:1).
Therefore the Arabs – both the Prophet’s followers and enemies waited in anxiety and apprehension lest a revelation may declare something terrible for them. In sum, the Arabs saw in the Qur’an unalterable commands of God – His threatening, promises, challenges and strategic guidance that served as the final word on all matters they faced including the killing of their next of kin in the battlefield. It is therefore inconceivable that a handful of Arabs will muster courage and conspire to alter its verses.
5. The Qur’an’s defense against any possible doctoring during the revelation (610-632) or the later years until compilation (632-652).
A historical document is doctored either to glorify its architects/ promoters or record the history in a biased manner or to show those on the opposite side in a negative light. Thus, if the Qur’an were doctored following of its enunciations must have gone through an editing process and either deleted or altered.
5.1 Projecting Muhammad as an ordinary human being
• Muhammad was of humble descent (93:6-93:8).
• He was a human being like others (18:110, 41:6).
• He was not a prominent man in the two towns (Mecca and Medina) (43:31).
• He was unable to harm or benefit himself (10:49) or harm and guide others (72:21).
• He was not capable to show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50).
• He was reproved for ignoring a blind man for his untimely intervention (80:1-10).
• Muhammad deriding the poets despite their role as the transmitters of news in the absence of any other new media (26:221-226).
• Muhammad making loud claims about the consistency of the revelation despite its fragmentary references to different themes (18:1, 39:23, 39:28).
• Muhammad is found helpless in a cave with a companion whose name is not even mentioned (9:40). According to early reports, the other person was his father-in-law and foremost companion, Abu Bakr who later became the first Caliph of Islam.
5.2 Not crediting Muhammad for some of the greatest achievements of his mission or for being the greatest among the Prophets.
• Reproving rather than glorify Muhammad for taking high value captives at Badr (8:67/68).
• Placing Muhammad at a spiritual parity with other Prophets (2:136, 2:285, and 4:152).
• Preventing Muhammad from putting any pressure on his followers to accompany him to the battlefield (at the planes of Uhud) (4:84). This declaration gave a good ground to a faction of his followers who were merely opportunists (known as the Hypocrites) to desert Muhammad on way to the battlefield near Medina where a powerful Meccan army had camped, ready to attack (3:167).
• The verses 8:10, 3:126 clarifying that God’s promise of sending angels down to the battlefield at Badr (624) and Uhud (625) were merely to reassure them.
• The verse 33:52 revoking a permission given to Muhammad barely a few years earlier to have any number of wives (33:50) as an exclusive privilege over other believers who were permitted to have up to four wives. Both the verses were revealed when Muhammad was in late 50’s, and the head of a rapidly growing community, but without a male survivor that was highly prized in his society. There can be no second example in the entire history of mankind of a man occupying the position of a king with unlimited power (as was the case with Muhammad) to take a vow of not contracting any further marriage at the zenith of his career at an age that must have promised him many more decades of life and many more issues including sons from further marriages.
• The reference to the killing of some of the banu Qurayzah (not named as such in the Qur’an) and their expulsion from Medina. Had the Qur’an been doctored the reference to the killing of ‘some of them’ (the banu Qurayzah) must have been removed. The alleged massacre would have then remained unrecorded and spared Muhammad the blame of massacring his adversaries. Ibn Ishaq (d. 738) who lived more than a hundred years after his death (d. 632) put the number of execution at 800-900, which has been quoted by his successors - al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa‘d; but the authenticity of this number was challenged by other early scholars - some of them called Ibn Ishaq a devil, a liar .
• Not crediting Muhammad with any military glory for the integration of Mecca and his march to Tabuk – a bordering outpost of the mighty Roman Empire (48:24, 48:26, 110:1-3).
5.3. Omission of the names of all of the Prophet’s close relatives and companions and of any reference to the traumatic moments of his mission.
The Qur’an does not bear the name or the role or contribution of any of the companions or blood relatives – martyred or living, of the Prophet. It also maintains complete equanimity over the most traumatic and saddest events of the Prophet’s life, notably the death of his wife for some 25 years, Khadija three out of his four daughters, his infant son, his protective uncle, and loss of close relatives in battlefields. Had the Qur’an been doctored the most sorrowful moments of his life must have occupied some place in it for history enhances the glory of its great figures by drawing powerful imageries of his sufferings. There is not a word on the anxiety and agony that must have occupied his mind on receiving the first revelation (96:1-5) as he meditated in a cave above Mecca (96:1-5) - except for an oblique reference in the opening word (mudaththir) of the 74th Sura, that connotes one who is lost in thoughts. There is no reference to the feelings of depression, elation, suspense and anxiety that failures and successes of his protracted mission must have caused him. A doctored Qur’an would have been far more embellished and personalized than the present impersonal and unemotional original version that described his refuge in a cave while fleeing Mecca in only one terse sentence (9:40):
“If you did not help him (Muhammad), (it does not matter), for God did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of two, when they (Muhammad and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, and he said to his companion (Abu Bakr): ‘Do not despair. Surely God is with us.’ Then God sent down His sakinah (tranquility) upon him, and strengthened him with forces invisible and made the word of disbelievers lowly, and the Word of God uppermost, and God is All-Mighty, All-Wise” (9:40).
5.4. Veneration of the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary.
Given the Qur’an’s projection of Muhammad as an ordinary human being as summarily captured under 5.1 above, and its omission of the name of any of his wives and companions (5.3 above), editing of the Qur’an would have straight away removed the verses that venerate the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary – one illustrative passage each rendered below:
"The angels said: "O Mary! God gives you the good news of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous. She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?" He said: "Even so: God creates what He wills: When He has decreed a plan, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is! "And God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead to life by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if you did believe; '(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me” (3:45-50).
“(Thus is) Mary mentioned in the Book: When she withdrew from her family to a place in the East, and secluded herself from them, We sent her Our Spirit, and h16-e appeared to her as a man in perfection. She said: ‘I seek refuge in the Benevolent against you, if you do heed (God)’. He said: ‘I am only an emissary from your Lord, and bring you (the news of) a sinless son’. She said: ‘How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I have not been wayward’? He said: ‘So be it’: Your Lord says, ‘that is easy for Me; and We shall appoint him as a Sign to humanity and a Mercy from Us.’ Thus is the matter decreed” (19:16-21).
Conclusion: As the foregoing tiers of arguments demonstrate, any editing of the Qur’an post the revelation would have inevitably:
i) Compromised the acclaimed infallibility of its text as a Divine Speech (1 above), and led to massive exit from the faith of Islam as Muhammad’s companions and the common Arabs with their mastery in Arabic language would have seen Muhammad as a mere imposter, a charlatan.
ii) Refuted its claim of textual integrity (2 above) with the same consequences as in i) above,
iii) Created confusion among the huffaz (memorizers) and scribes who preserved the text in their breast and available writing materials (3 above) and created many versions of the Qur’an, and raised serious questions about its infallibility / divine character.
iv) Terrified the whole Arab community and warned them of an imminent doom given the awe and dread the Qur’an inspired among them (4 above).
v) Projected Muhammad as an astute politician, a military genius, a chivalrous warrior, an invincible conqueror, a liquidator of the Jews and the pagans, a merciless avenger, an admirer of the opposite sex, a seeker of worldly treasures, pleasure, glory and fame to set an ominously promising precedence for later dynastic rulers (5.1).
vi) Credited Muhammad for the greatest achievements of his mission or for being the greatest among the Prophets (5.2above),
vii) Included the names of the Prophet’s close relatives and companions in the Qur’an (5.2 above)
viii) Punctuated the Qur’an with and references to the traumatic and most melancholy moments of his mission. (5.3)
ix) Removed the passages venerating of the Prophets Jesus and Virgin Mary.
It is simply impossible to explain why none of these listed alterations occurred – that any cursory reader of the Qur’an can readily verify. It was probably this complete absence of self falsification of the Qur’an that led such illustrious scholars as Geoffrey Parrinder and John Burton to make the following observations:
“Concepts of prophesy, inspiration and revelation must be re-examined in view of the undoubted revelation of God in Muhammad and the Qur’an.” 
“The text which has come down to us in the form in which it was organized and approved by the Prophet ….What we have today in our hands, is the mushaf (manuscript) of Muhammad.” .
For the seekers of truth, the debate should end here. The Qur’an as we have in our hands is the exact copy of the mashaf (manuscript) that the Prophet approved and that during its advent (610-632) was simply impossible to edit, and once Uthman’s authenticated version was issued some 20 years after the Prophet’s death, any scope for any alteration / editing was closed for ever. Any possibility of tampering during those 20 years was ruled out by the fact that as a lyrically harmonious litany that was recited every day as the most sacred reading, any attempt at tampering would have been immediately spotted and quashed. Only those half baked in the knowledge regarding its collection and preservation can suspect of it being edited in that transitional period or suggest to editing it. The truth is any attempt at editing will falsify the Qur’an and open a floodgate of editing options and create thousands if not hundreds of its version throwing Islam into a sacramental morass from which there will be no coming out and the Word of God will be gone with the wind – and that cannot happen – for indeed the Qur’an is a Word of God. As for those who the Qur’an confuses, they should probe the verses that are clear and unambiguous (3:7) approach it with a pure heart (56:79), probe into its verses (38:29, 47:24), and seek the best meaning in it (39:18, 39:55).
1. This happened during the encounter between the armies of Caliph Ali and his opponent, Mu‘awiyah, the rebel governor of Syria in the battle of Siffin (657). When Ali’s forces were on the point of victory, Mu‘awiyah’s commander played a ruse. He had his men fasten pages of the Qur’an on tips of spears and raise them up. The sight of the sacred pages brought the fighting to an immediate halt. Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 1937, 10th edition; London 1993, p. 180-181.
2. Some of the Prophet’s foremost companions compiled their own manuscripts (masahif). Zayd bin Thabit, the foremost among the Prophet’s scribes collated all the original sheets (suhuf) within two to three years of the Prophet's death (632). These were retained originally by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632-634), then by the second Caliph, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), then by Hafsah bint ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s widows, and finally authenticated by the special committee set up by the third Caliph, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656). The personal manuscripts of the Prophet’s companions showed nominal differences in spelling, arrangement and numbering of chapters (Suras) and synonyms. Uthman's commission cross checked Hafsah's original sheets (suhuf) with each of these manuscripts as well as with the memorized litany, and arrived at a ‘singular' text, which had the concurrence of all the companions of the Prophet, and was declared authentic without doubt (mutawattir). Some of Uthman’s manuscripts are preserved. He made five copies and sent one copy each to Egypt, Syria and other dominions of Islam. Three of the copies have survived, and modern secular research has also established that except for dots and orthographic marks that were introduced later, they are identical to what we have today. Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum al-Qur’an, U.K. 1983/ Malaysia 1991, p. 163.
3. To quote Rafique Zakaria:
“He (Ibn Ishaq) has been sufficiently meticulous in the collection of facts, but sometimes he does not distinguish between facts and fiction. That is why many of his contemporaries denounced him... Malik, one of the founders of four schools of Muslim theology, who was a contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, called him ‘a devil’. Hisham bin Umara, another prominent theologian of the time said, ‘the rascal lies.’ Imam Hanbal, one of the greatest jurists of Islam refused to rely on the traditions collected by him. There were many other learned men who held similar views about Ibn Ishaq’s works. The same is more or less true of his successors like al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa‘d…” - Muhammad and the Qur’an, London 1992, p. 12.
4. Jesus in the Qur’an, One world Publications, U.S.A., 196, p.173.
5. The Collection of the Qur’an, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1977, p.239’240.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.