Is Islam Internally Consistent?

  • "Can they not consider the Koran? Were it from any other than God, they would surely have found in it many contradictions." (Sura 4:84).

The medieval Pact of Omar gives the ground rules for life as a dhimmi under Muslim rule. Amongst all the expected admonitions to keep your head down, keep quiet, give up your seat to a Muslim, etc., comes a surprise: "We shall not teach the Qur'an to our children. We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it." (Pact of Omar). Why did the Muslim conquerors have to keep their holy book out of Christian hands? Was the Koran not an asset in winning adherents to their faith?

In fact, the Koran is a bruised reed that pierces the hands of those who lean on it. It does not stand up to 'opposition research.' Beyond failing to live up to its advertised status as confirmation of prior scripture, it has its own set of problems with internal coherence. If this book is not handled lovingly and carefully by already-convinced believers, it is prone to fly apart, breaking into pieces along the same fault lines where Mohammed ibn Abdallah cobbled it together. The Christian material which went into its formation does not sit easily with the Jewish material, and neither readily tolerates the survivals from Arab paganism: the Jesus who breathed life into clay birds is not the same Jesus as he who denied he was more than a prophet; the sinless Jesus cannot co-exist with the Jesus who is a lesser prophet than the sinful Mohammed. Some examples of the many problems this work presents its faithful expositors:


  Day of Judgment


  Adulterers: Stoned, Whipped or Immurred?

  Every Which Way

  Pharaoh: Drowned or Saved?

  Family values

  Change or No Change?

  Jonah and the Whale

  When Does Jesus Die?

  Satanic Verses

  Only a Sinner

  Mind Cures

  The Hadith

  Works, Faith or Mercy


  Marriage to Christians

  No Warner

  Perspicuous, or Not

  No Distinction

Need a Koran?


Later verses of the Koran supersede earlier:

"Whatever verses we cancel, or cause thee to forget, we bring a better or its like. Knowest thou not that God hath power over all things?" (Sura 2:100);
"And when we change one (sign) verse for another, and God knoweth best what he revealeth, they say, 'Thou art only a fabricator.' Nay! but most of them have no knowledge." (Sura 16:103).

Those verses which are 'cancelled' cannot be harmonized with those which remain; this provision is on its face an admission of contradiction in the Koran at its original reading.

A similar provision is followed regarding Mohammed's practice: "Zuhri, on this matter of fasting when travelling, is credited with the dictum: 'They used to follow the latest of the Prophet's enactments,' judging that to have abrogated all other reports on the subject." (An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton, p. 66). Ubai, a reciter of the Koran, is criticized for talking too much!: "Umar said, 'Our best Qu'ran reciter is Ubai and our best judge is 'Ali; and in spite of this, we leave some of the statements of Ubai because Ubai says, "I do not leave anything that I have heard from Allah's Apostle" while Allah: 'Whatever verse (revelations) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We bring a better one or similar to it.'" (Hadith, Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 8).

Ibn Ishaq offers as an example of abrogation, the odds believers were expected to brave when going into battle: "Then He said: 'O prophet, God is sufficient for thee and the believers who follow thee. O prophet, exhort the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast ones among you they will overcome two hundred, and if there are a hundred of you they will overcome a thousand unbelievers for they are a senseless people,' i.e. they do not fight with a good intention nor for truth nor have they knowledge of what is good and what is evil.

"'Abdullah b. Abu Najih from 'Ata' b. Abu Ribah from 'Abdullah b. 'Abbas told me that when this verse came down it came as a shock to the Muslims who too k it hard that twenty should have to fight two hundred, and a hundred fight a thousand. So God relieved them and cancelled the verse with another saying : 'Now has God relieved you and He knows that there is weakness amongst you, so if there are a hundred steadfast they shall overcome two hundred  and if there are a thousand of you they hall overcome two thousand by God's permission, for God is with the steadfast.' ('Abdullah) said, 'When they numbered half of the enemy it was wrong for them to run from them; but if they were less than half they were not bound to fight and it was permissible for them to withdraw.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 326). One wonders which version is in the eternal Koran in heaven, the harsher or the more lenient. The original, with its 1:10 odds, remains as Sura 8:66. But so is the improved version, as the very next verse.

All of this churn and revision is counter-intuitive to what one expects from God's revelation, because, "It is the Law of God which has taken course aforetime. Thou wilt not find any change in the Law of God." (Sura 48:23, quoted p. 113, The Heart of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr). Are all these erasures and false starts found on the heavenly exemplar of the Koran? Is it a tablet made from Play-Doh?

In any case, the Koran's remarks on its own self-consistency are not the least of its inconsistencies. On the one hand, the Koran is proclaimed to be in "unison" with itself: "The best of recitals hath God sent down — a book in unison with itself, and teaching by iteration." (Sura 39:24). Yet a protocol is also provided, the rule of abrogation...for reconciling its contradictions!

Some of abrogated material, like the Satanic verses, has been expunged, but some remains in the Koran. Why does any abrogated material remain in its place?:

"Narrated Ibn Az-Zubair:

"I said to 'Uthman bin 'Affan (while he was collecting the Qur'an) regarding the Verse:— 'Those of you who die and leave wives . . ." (2.240) "This Verse was abrogated by another Verse. So why should you write it? (Or leave it in the Qur'an)?' 'Uthman said. 'O son of my brother! I will not shift anything of it from its place.'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 53)

The logic of abrogation rolled onward until later generations were heard teaching that Islam abrogated Christianity and Judaism: "The tenth principle: Is that Allah — the Exalted — has sent Prophet Muhammad — the praise and peace be upon him — as the seal of the prophets and as an abrogator of all previous Religions before him; the religions of the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians." (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, pp. 170-171). The unlettered prophet naively thought, when he started out, that his new teaching confirmed prior revelation; by the time later generations were obliged to concede it did not confirm but contradicted the Bible, they had nowhere to go but 'abrogation.' Why, it may be wondered, is God so confused His revelation adds up to a mass of self-contradiction? Or perhaps God only inspired some of this material, not all; and the part conceded by all as inspired is the earlier, not the later.

The idea that there is no contradiction in the body of material left behind by Mohammed ibn Abdallah really cannot be sustained against the experience of generations who have wrestled with these problems; indeed even the author himself could not bring this material into order. In the end Muslims must concur with the Koran itself, that this is a book whose interpretation is known only to God:

"He it is who hath sent down to thee ‘the Book.’ Some of its signs are of themselves perspicuous;— these are the basis of the Book — and others are figurative. But they whose hearts are given to err, follow its figures, craving discord, craving an interpretation; yet none knoweth its interpretation but God." (Koran Sura 3:5).

It is not up to the interpreter to reconcile the contradictions in this material, because they cannot be reconciled.

Day of Judgment

How long is the day of judgment? Maybe a thousand years:

"From the Heaven to the Earth He governeth all things: hereafter shall they come up to Him on a day whose length shall be a thousand of such years as ye reckon." (Sura 32:4).

After all, Sura 22:46 says a day is a thousand years: "And they will bid thee to hasten the chastisement. But God cannot fail His threat. And verily, a day with thy Lord is a thousand years, as ye reckon them!" (Sura 22:46). Or maybe fifty thousand:

"A suitor sued for punishment to light suddenly
On the infidels: none can hinder
God from inflicting it, the master of those ASCENTS,
By which the angels and the spirit ascend to him in a day, whose length is fifty thousand years." (Sura 70:1-4).

On the subject of 'days,' in how many 'days' did God create the world? Maybe six:

"We created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six days, and no weariness touched us." (Sura 50:38).

Or maybe eight (2+4+2):

"SAY: Do ye indeed disbelieve in Him who in two days created the earth? and do ye assign Him peers? The Lord of the Worlds is He!
"And he hath placed on the earth the firm mountains which tower above it; and He hath blessed it, and distributed food throughout it, for the cravings of all alike, in four days:
"Then He applied himself to the Heaven, which then was but smoke: and to it and to the Earth He said, ‘Come ye, whether in obedience or against your will?’ and they both said, ‘We come obedient.’
"And He made them seven heavens in two days, and in each heaven made known its office: And we furnished the lower heaven with lights and guardian angels. This, the disposition of the Almighty, the All-knowing." (Sura 41:9-12).


How much of her husband's estate does a widow inherit by law? An eighth, or a year's maintenance and the house?:

"And such of you as shall die and leave wives, shall bequeath their wives a year's maintenance without causing them to quit their homes; but if they quit them of their own accord, then no blame shall attach to you for any disposition they may make of themselves in a fair way. And God is Mighty, Wise." (Sura 2:241).
"And your wives shall have a fourth part of what ye leave, if ye have no issue; but if ye have issue, then they shall have an eighth part of what ye leave, after paying the bequests ye shall bequeath, and debts." (Sura 4:14).

It is up to Muslim jurists to reconcile this patchwork of ad hoc provisions. Though not obvious what the order is, later verses abrogate earlier. Tradition clarifies the order:

"'But if they leave there is no blame on you,... ' (2.240) Ibn 'Abbas said: The above Verse has cancelled the order of spending the period of the 'Iddah at her late husband's house, and so she could spend her period of the 'Iddah wherever she likes." (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 256.)

Adulterers: Fit to be Stoned, Whipped or Immurred?

What's the Islamic punishment for adultery? One suggestion: "If any of your women be guilty of whoredom, then bring four witnesses against them from among yourselves; and if they bear witness to the fact, shut them up within their houses till death release them, or God make some way for them." (Sura 4:19). Students of ancient Roman history will recall a similar punishment was applied against wayward Vestal Virgins, who were literally immurred within the city walls:

"Thereupon strict inquiry was made by everyone, and at last information was given to the pontiffs that one of the virgins who guarded the sacred fire, Opimia by name, had lost her virginity and was polluting the holy rites. The pontiffs, having by tortures and other proofs found that the information was true, took from her head the fillets, and solemnly conducting her through the Forum, buried her alive inside the city walls." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book VIII, Chapter 89, p. 277, Loeb Volume 5).

Plutarch adds detail to the picture:

"She that breaks her vow of celibacy is buried alive at the Colline Gate, at which there is a mound of earth which stretches some way inside the city wall. In it they construct an underground chamber, of small size, which is entered from above. In it is a bed with bedding, and a lamp burning; and also some small means of supporting life, such as bread, a little water in a vessel, milk, and oil, as though they wished to avoid the pollution of one who had been consecrated with such holy ceremonies dying of hunger." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Numa, Chapter X, Volume I, pp. 75-76).

According to Rodwell, this Koranic punishment, mirroring that of wayward Vestal Virgins, was actually enforced in the early days: "Women found guilty of adultery and fornication were punished at the first rise of Islam, by being literally immured." (p. 440, Everyman Koran, Rodwell's notes).

Or perhaps a hundred lashes?: "The whore and the whoremonger — scourge each of them with an hundred stripes; and let not compassion keep you from carrying out the sentence of God..." (Sura 24:2).

Or how about stoning, a punishment not found in the Koran, but reported by tradition:

"Bukhari...from Abu Salama from Jabir: 'A man who had become a Muslim came to the Prophet, God's benediction and peace be on him, and confessed to fornication.  The Prophet turned away from him.  This happened until the man had confessed four times.  Then the Prophet said to him, "Are you insane?" "No," he said. "Are you married?" He replied, "Yes," and the Prophet ordered him to be stoned at the Musalla [mosque outside Medina]. When the stones struck him, he ran away, but he was caught and stoned until he was dead.'" (Hadith, quoted from Al-Bukhari, 'Kitab al-Jam 'i al Sahih,' p. 82, Islam, John Alden Williams).

Omar was a partisan of stoning:

  • "'Umar sat in the pulpit, and when the muezzins were silent he praised God as was fitting and said: 'I am about to say to you today something which God has willed that I should say and I do not know whether perhaps it is my last utterance. He who understands and heeds it let him take it with him whithersoever he goes; and as for him who fears that he will not heed it, he may not deny that I said it. God sent Muhammad and sent down the scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning; we read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle stoned (adulterers) and we stoned them after him. I fear that in time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God's book and thereby go astray by neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery, if proof stands or pregnancy is clear or confession is made. Then we read in what we read from God's book: "Do not desire to have ancestors other than your own for it is infidelity so to do."'"
  • (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 684).

What perfect confusion! According to Omar, the Koran specified the punishment of stoning; where is this verse now? Did the camel eat it? No, the sheep! That's one theory. Another possibility is suggested by Sura 4:30, "And whoever of you is not rich enough to marry free believing women, then let him marry such of your believing maidens as have fallen into our hands as slaves; God well knoweth your faith. . .If after marriage they commit adultery, then inflict upon them half the penalty enacted for free married women." (Sura 4:29-30). Since stoning and immurring cannot be done by halves, this suggests a financial penalty.

Mohammed's reported practice is important, not in spite of the Koran, but because of it: "O ye who believe! obey God and obey the apostle, and those among you invested with authority; and if in aught ye differ, bring it before God and the apostle, if ye believe in God and in the latter day." (Sura 4:62). Stoning might have come from the Bible. Mohammed was greatly offended that the Jews did not at that time enforce their own law, a consequence of exile and the destruction of the temple: "They said to him: If that is the case he ought to be put to death! He replied: Since we have been exiled from our land, we have no authority to put to death; do you do with him what you please." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth, 58a.) If so, this serves as a confession that God's word is more self-consistent.

Since entire nations live under Islamic law, these questions cannot be evaded. Tradition and the Koran supply a thicket of contradictions through which Islamic jurists must wade.  When General Zia Ul-haq imposed Islamic law on Pakistan, he went with stoning: "The punishment for illicit sex, for an adult Muslim, was to 'be stoned to death at a public place'; for a non-Muslim, a hundred-stripe public whipping, with the possibility of death for rape. 'The punishment of stoning to death awarded under section 5 or section 6 shall be executed in the following manner namely: Such of the witnesses who deposed against the convict as may be available shall start stoning him and, while stoning is being carried on, he may be shot, whereupon stoning and shooting shall be stopped.'" (quoted from 'Combined Set of Islamic Laws, 1979', by V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers, p. 165).

Zia was relying on a traditional solution to the problem which presupposes a 'forgotten' Koranic verse specifying stoning:

"In the course of a public address to the believers of Madina, Umar insists that the duties have been established and the obligations put in place. Men had been left in perfect clarity. Should they thereafter stray from the path, it would be their own doing. They must not neglect the stoning-'verse,' which would be the result of someone's saying, 'But we don't find two penalties in the Book of God.' Umar insists that the Prophet had stoned and the caliphs after him had stoned. Only the fear that he might be accused of 'adding to the Book of God' prevented him from then and there writing into the text: 'the mature male and female, stone them to death.' 'We certainly recited this verse in the ritual prayers.'" (Malik, 'Muwatta,' quoted in 'An Introduction to the Hadith,' John Burton, p. 83).

The hadith collection Sahih Bukhari records Omar's scruple:

"When we reached Medina, 'Umar (in a Friday Khutba-sermon) said, 'No doubt, Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed to him the Book (Quran), and among what was revealed, was the Verse of Ar-Rajm (stoning adulterers to death).'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 92, Number 424).

In Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 82, Number 718, the information is added that "we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him." So if you believe these unimpeachable Islamic sources, you understand that Koran as we have it is missing a verse, and the punishment laid down for adultery in the extant text is the wrong one! Further riling this jumbled mess are combo mix-and-match punishments, such as whipping for the man and stoning for the woman.

Every Which Way

For someone claiming divine guidance, Mohammed had trouble making up his mind.  Should the people pray facing Jerusalem, or Mecca? He turned them first one way, then the other:

"Narrated Al-Bara' (bin 'Azib): When the Prophet came to Medina, he stayed first with his grandfathers or maternal uncles from Ansar. He offered his prayers facing Baitul-Maqdis (Jerusalem) for sixteen or seventeen months, but he wished that he could pray facing the Ka'ba (at Mecca). The first prayer which he offered facing the Ka'ba was the 'Asr prayer in the company of some people. Then one of those who had offered that prayer with him came out and passed by some people in a mosque who were bowing during their prayers (facing Jerusalem). He said addressing them, 'By Allah, I testify that I have prayed with Allah's Apostle facing Mecca (Ka'ba).' Hearing that, those people changed their direction towards the Ka'ba immediately. Jews and the people of the scriptures used to be pleased to see the Prophet facing Jerusalem in prayers but when he changed his direction towards the Ka'ba, during the prayers, they disapproved of it." (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 39.)

According to Mohammed, the confusion originated with God Himself:

"We appointed the kebla which thou formerly hadst, only that we might know him who followeth the apostle, from him who turneth on his heels: The change is a difficulty, but not to those whom God hath guided...We have seen thee turning thy face towards every part of Heaven; but we will have thee turn to a kebla which shall please thee.  Turn then thy face towards the sacred Mosque, and wherever ye be, turn your faces towards that part..." (Sura 2:138-139).

Did Pharaoh Drown?

Saved: "And we led the children of Israel through the sea; and Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in eager and hostile sort until, when the drowning overtook him, he said, 'I believe that there is no God but he on whom the children of Israel believe, and I am none of the Muslims.'...But this day will we rescue thee with thy body that thou mayest be a sign to those who shall be after thee; but truly, most men are of our signs regardless!'" (Sura 10:90-92).

Drowned: "So Pharaoh sought to drive them out of the land; but we drowned him and all of his followers.  And after his death, we said to the children of Israel, 'Dwell ye in the land'..." (Sura 17:105-106); "But we seized on him and his hosts and cast them into the sea: Behold, then, the end of the wrongful doers. . ." (Sura 28:40); "And when they had angered us, we took vengeance on them, and we drowned them all." (Sura 43:55).

The unlettered prophet displays a similar confusion about the outcome of Noah's flood. As in the Bible, in Sura 21, Noah is saved with his family:

"And remember Noah when aforetime he cried to us and we heard him, and delivered him and his family from the great calamity; And we helped him against the people who treated our signs as impostures. An evil people verily were they, and we drowned them all." (Sura 21:76-77).

Sura 11, however, introduces a little set-piece in which Noah expostulates with a son, not otherwise known,— he is absent from the Bible,— who is left behind:

"And the Ark moved on with them amid waves like mountains: and Noah called to his son — for he was apart — ‘Embark with us, O my child! and be not with the unbelievers.’

"He said, ‘I will betake me to a mountain that shall secure me from the water.’ He said, ‘None shall be secure this day from the decree of God, save him on whom He shall have mercy.’ And a wave passed between them, and he was among the drowned." (Sura 11:44-45).

Need a Koran?

Family Values

"Why, O Prophet! dost thou hold that to be FORBIDDEN which God hath made lawful to thee, from a desire to please thy wives, since God is Lenient, Merciful?...'Haply if he put you both away, his Lord will give him in exchange other wives better than you, Muslims, believers, devout, penitent, obedient, observant of fasting, both known of men and virgins.'" (Sura 66:1-5). One "forbidden" thing made lawful was Mary, a Christian slave girl from Egypt.

In the Hadith, Mohammed is held up as living under the same rules as everybody else: "Bukhari...from A'isha: 'The prophet did something and thus permitted it for others, but some people still abstained from it.  And that came to the Prophet, and he went into the pulpit, and praised God.  Then he said, 'What ails these people who refrain from a thing I have done? For by God, I know God better than they do, and I am more fearful of offending him.'" (The Hadith, p. 82, Islam, John Alden Williams).

Yet as a matter of fact, he lived by a different set of rules than he laid on them. Muslim men are allowed up to four wives: "And if ye are apprehensive that ye shall not deal fairly with orphans, then, of other women who seem good in your eyes, marry but two, or three, or four; and if ye still fear that ye shall not act equitably, then one only; or the slaves whom ye have acquired: this will make justice on your part easier..." (Sura 4:2).  Yet he collected wives like some folks collect postage stamps — by special permit, it would seem: "O Prophet! we allow thee thy wives whom thou hast dowered, and the slaves whom thy right hand possesseth out of the booty which God hath granted thee, and the daughters of thy uncle, and of thy paternal and maternal aunts who fled with thee to Medina, and any believing woman who hath given herself up to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to wed her — a Privilege for thee above the rest of the Faithful." (Sura 33:49).  His wife A'isha said it all when she told Mohammed, "Truly thy Lord makes haste to do thy pleasure." (quoted p. 40, The Emergence of Islam, Mostafa Vaziri).

The wife-count varies from nine to eleven; one authority's wife count is eleven actual, thirteen nominal: "He married thirteen women: Khadija d. Khuwaylid, his first wife whom her father Khuwaylid b. Asad, or according to others her brother 'Amr, married to him. The apostle gave her as dowry twenty she-camels.. . . He married 'A'isha in Mecca when she was a child of seven and lived with her in Medina when she was nine or ten."  (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Ibn Hisham's notes, A. Guillaume, p. 792). But, "The apostle consummated his marriage with eleven women, two of whom died before him, namely Khadija and Zaynab. He died leaving the nine we have mentioned. With two he had no marital relations, namely Asma' d. al-Nu'man, the Kindite woman, whom he married and found to be suffering from leprosy and so returned to her people with a suitable gift; and 'Amra d. Yazid the Kilab woman who was recently an unbeliever." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Ibn Hisham's notes, A. Guillaume, p. 794). All were Muslim Arabs except for one Jewish lady; he never married Mary, his Coptic Christian slave-girl who bore him Ibrahim.

"Narrated Qatada:

"Anas bin Malik said, "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven)." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 5, Number 268).

Eleven or nine; at any rate, not four. Why not? If Mohammed is, after all, not the example for believers to follow because he is a special case, then how can they know in which cases his example is safe to follow and in which it is not?

Change or No Change?

The Bible and the Koran agree that man is not permitted to change the word of God, and that God does not change His decrees. The Koran goes even further, boasting that no change can be made in the word of God:

"Before thee have apostles already been charged with falsehood: but they bore the charge and the wrong with constancy, till our help came to them;—for none can change the words of God." (Sura 6:34).
"And the words of thy Lord are perfect in truth and in justice: none can change his words: He is the Hearing, Knowing." (Sura 6:115).

Yet Mohammed also accuses the Jews, who debated with him the concordance between the Koran and the Law...of changing the words of God:

"Hast thou not remarked those to whom a part of the Scriptures hath been given? Vendors are they of error, and are desirous that ye go astray from the way. But God knoweth your enemies; and God is a sufficient patron, and God is a sufficient helper! Among the Jews are those who displace the words of their scriptures, and say, ‘We have heard, and we have not obeyed. Hear thou, but as one that heareth not; and LOOK AT US;’ perplexing with their tongues, and wounding the Faith by their revilings." (Sura 4:48).
"O Apostle! let not those who vie with one another in speeding to infidelity vex thee;— of those who say with their mouths, ‘We believe,’ but whose hearts believe not;— or of the Jews — listeners to a lie — listeners to others — but who come not to thee. They shift the words of the law from their places, and say, ‘If this be brought to you, receive it; but if this be not brought to you, then beware of it.’ For him whom God would mislead, thou canst in no wise prevail with God!" (Sura 5:45)
"But for their breaking their covenant we have cursed them, and have hardened their hearts. They shift the words of Scripture from their places, and have forgotten part of what they were taught. Thou wilt not cease to discover deceit on their part, except in a few of them. But forgive them, and pass it over: verily, God loveth those who act generously!" (Sura 5:16).

Does Mohammed mean to say that they can try to shift the words of Scripture, but can't get away with it? Yet his followers allege that they, and the Christians, have gotten away with it, having succeeded in corrupting the Bible, thus explaining the many discrepancies between Holy Writ and the Koran. Or does he mean you can get away with it with the Bible, but not the Koran? But one of his transcriptionists, by his own report, got away with it with the Koran, receiving a (later commuted) death sentence in return. Or does Mohammed mean that, what man can freely do, God cannot do? But he says "none."

If Mohammed's intent is only to communicate that the words of a speaker who changes the words of God, are no longer the words of God, one must wonder, why belabor the obvious.

  Ask the Christians

  No Change



  Strange Bed-Fellows

  The Gospel of Barnabas

  Scripture Wresting

  Islamic History


Jonah and the Whale

Mohammed reports that Jonah was sent as an apostle:

"Jonas, too, was one of the Apostles,
When he fled unto the laden ship...
And we sent him to a hundred thousand persons, or even more,
And because they believed, we continued their enjoyments for a season." (Sura 37:139-149).

The "even more" were the Ninevites, as the Bible confirms. Jonah was a Hebrew, sent to the great city of Nineveh: “So he said to them, 'I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” (Jonah 1:9).

But the Koran also says that prophets are only sent to those of their native tongue:

"And in order that He might speak plainly to them, we have not sent any Apostle, save with the speech of his own people; but God misleadeth whom He will, and whom He will he guideth: and He is the mighty, the Wise." (Sura 14:4).

But the Ninevites did not speak Hebrew!

The evident confusion in the Koran seems to stem from its eclectic origin as a pastiche:

"Muslims generally are confused about Islam because it has many conflicting teachings. Most of them do not admit it, but evidences in the Qur'an and the Hadith prove that Islam heavily borrowed tenets from pre-Islamic Arabian idol worship, Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. Indiscriminate borrowing and unsystematic adoption from eclectic sources have led to the plethora of inconsistencies that renders Islamic teachings deficient in consensus, thus betraying Prophet Muhammad's claims that he received revelations from God." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 211).

When Does Jesus Die?

Mohammed ibn Abdallah denied that Jesus died upon a Roman cross, explaining instead that he was caught up to God: "No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself." (Sura 4:156). This is repeated elsewhere, ". . .I was a witness of their actions while I stayed among them; but since thou hast taken me to Thyself, Thou hast Thyself watched them. . ." (Sura 5:117). In thus denying the reality of the Lord's crucifixion, Mohammed makes a prediction:

"There shall not be one of the people of the Book but shall believe in Him before his death, and in the day of resurrection, He will be a witness against them." (Sura 4:157).

This seems to project Jesus' death into the eschatological future, because many of the people of the Book do not now believe in Him. But Mohammed shows no awareness of any contemporaneously surviving prophet:

"Mohammed is no more than an apostle; other apostles have already passed away before him: if he die, therefore, or be slain, will ye turn upon your heels?" (Sura 3:138).

If some prior apostle had not passed away, then what point is this verse making? If Mohammed ibn Abdallah were a greater prophet than Jesus, as some fatuously claim, why did he not expect the same extraordinary gift of rapture to heaven? Prior prophets, we are told, lived and died as mortals:

"And we sent none, previous to thee, but men to whom we have revealed ourselves. Ask ye the people who are warned by Scriptures, if ye know it not. We gave them not bodies which could dispense with food: and they were not to live for ever." (Sura 21:8-9).

Sura 3:48 fails to clarify the issue: "Remember when God said, ‘O Jesus! verily I will cause thee to die, and will take thee up to myself and deliver thee from those who believe not; and I will place those who follow thee above those who believe not, until the day of resurrection. Then, to me is your return, and wherein ye differ will I decide between you." Did He in fact die on the cross before being taken up to God? Some translators, sensing a problem, try to soften the language. In another place Jesus is made to say, "'And the peace of God was on me the day I was born, and will be the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised to life.’" (Sura 19:34). Muslims expect the Messiah to die after His glorious, and vindictive, return; will that be the second time He dies? Why twice? There seems a certain element of confusion here.

Closer to home, some make the allegation that Mohammed's own death, at the age of sixty-three, was hastened by poisoning: "The Jews in Arabia wanted to get rid of Prophet Muhammad because he had decimated their kindred. . .They eventually succeeded in their quest. Muhammad ate the poisoned lamb and, 'The poison gradually took root in his system and the Prophet's health deteriorated.' He subsequently died from its complications." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 249). If Mohammed, purportedly a greater prophet than Jesus, could die at the hands of a murderer, then what is the conceptual problem with Jesus' very well attested death on a cross? Even pagan historians make note of it.

The Koran's teaching on Jesus places many road-blocks in the path of any would-be harmonizer. Mohammed's attitude toward the people of the Book, both Jews and Christians, hardened, as their unbelief became apparent. First he turned to the Christians, then to the Jews, but was left in the end friendless. Thus the Christians traverse the circuit from honored predecessors in the faith to outright idolaters. There is no way to harmonize these differing attitudes. Further divergence along this trajectory occurred after Mohammed's death, as his successors were made aware the New Testament contradicts the Koran. The gospel was accordingly taken out of the hands of the Christians, where Mohammed thought it resided:

"But if the people of the Book believe and have the fear of God, we will surely put away their sins from them, and will bring them into gardens of delight: and if that they observe the law and the Evangel, and what hath been sent down to them from their Lord, they shall surely have their fill of good things from above them and from beneath their feet." (Koran, Sura 5:70)

Notice that Mohammed shows no suspicion that the Christians don't actually have the Evangel, which is what latter-day Muslims were obliged to claim, as it was brought to their attention that the real-life Evangel contradicts the Koran. The gospel thus disappeared, leaving the reader of the Koran to wonder how the Christians might be expected to "observe" a lost religion.

Muslims reconcile this conflicting material in a variety of ways. Many believe Jesus never died. Others speculate along 'Da Vinci Code' lines: one modern-day offshoot of Islam teaches that Jesus survived the crucifixion, but was not caught up to heaven; instead he relocated to India. Perhaps the next block-buster novel will connect the dots, and give us Jesus the dead-beat dad, who fled all the way to India to avoid paying child support for his poor little abandoned French infant!

Biblically it is not possible for the Messiah to have died of old age, or in a traffic accident, or a slip and fall in the bathtub. He must be numbered among the transgressors: "And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12). To be "numbered with the transgressors" means to be judged, by a competent authority, a transgressor of the law, as was Jesus.

To be the Messiah, to fit the prophetic criterion, Jesus had to suffer. Part of the problem is that Mohammed seems unable to attach any positive value to suffering, to say nothing of finding atonement by that route. This is anomalous, given that, especially in the Shi'ite tradition of Islam, a high value is placed on martyrdom. Even though he was aware many of the prophets had been slain, and the Hadith even floats the theory that he himself was a homicide victim, by poisoning, Muslims insist that God would not have allowed a righteous prophet like Jesus to suffer at the hands of unrighteous men. "Of old we accepted the covenant of the children of Israel, and sent apostles to them. Oft as an Apostle came to them with that for which they had no desire, some they treated as liars, and some they slew; And they reckoned that no harm would come it:— but they became blind and deaf!" (Sura 5:74-75). "SAY: Why then have ye of old slain God's prophets, if ye are indeed believers?" (Sura 2:85). If the prophets of old were slain by wicked men, and some certainly were, then why do Muslims say such a thing could not have happened to Jesus?

The lack of clarity in the Koran about Jesus' fate, when ever He died if He did die, or will die if He has not yet (there is no resurrection, no joyful Easter morning in Islam; where there is no cross, there is no crown), leaves room for a wide range of interpretation and speculation amongst today's Muslims. The underlying lack of clarity stems, it would appear, from the various sources Mohammed ibn Abdallah cobbled together, without understanding their differences. The docetic opinion that Jesus cannot have died on the cross because death has no affinity with Deity chafes uncomfortably, bound up with Mohammed's denial of Jesus' deity, but there it is.

Satanic verses

The tale of the 'Satanic verses' does not originate with foes of Islam, but from early Islamic historians like Ibn Ishaq. Sura 53:19-20 reads as follows: "Do you see Al-Lat and Al-Ozza, And Manat the third idol besides?" As the Koran now stands, this is followed by ridicule of the idea that Allah would have only daughters while humankind preferred sons.  At its first reading, though, Mohammed delivered these lines next: "These are the exalted females, [or, sublime swans] And truly their intercession may be expected". The blatant polytheism of these verses met with controversy, and Mohammed later withdrew them.

Here's the story:

"Mohammed's softened attitude, which found expression in such actions as occasionally inviting pagans to his home for food and drink, was conciliatory.  However, his promise that any who followed him would become his brother, executor and successor, found no grounds for conversion among his clan, so he decided to seek other solutions.  The accounts in some early traditions suggest that he came up with an extremely incautious plan to offer as a compromise.  To please the Quaraysh, he praised three of their goddesses (in lines known as satanic verses).  This concession was a severe blow to his prophecy.  Ibn Ishaq reports: 'When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God, he longed that there should come to him from God a message that should reconcile his people to him.' [Ibn Ishaq, d. 150/767, The Life of Mohammed, the earliest biography of Mohammed.]
"Thus, verses 53:19-20 refer to the three female idols: al-Uzza, al-Manat, and al-Lat.  As the Koran suggests, the Meccans regarded them as daughters of another male deity (to whom Mohammed referred as Allah).  Tabari (d. 310/923) a Sunni historian, indicates that, in the presence of worshippers, Mohammed added, 'These are the exalted goddesses whose intercession with the Deity (Allah) is to be sought.'
"Among his own followers, Mohammed was for a time suspect because of this 'undivine' remark, but his message was nevertheless an attempt to bring him closer to his tribe.  The attempt might have been an outgrowth of Mohammed's examination of the psychological aspects of compromise Ibn Ishaq reports: 'When the Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods, and they listened to him, while the believers were holding that what their prophet brought them from the Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or a slip.'
"The implications of this gesture caused many Christians and Jews to believe that the sect had renounced its monotheism and that Mohammed had reverted to his original polytheism. 'Mohammed temporarily yielded to the temptation to allow the pagan gods a place in his religion.  The move was in human terms a dramatic success.  But it was not monotheism.' [Cook, 'Mohammed', p. 17].  The impulse to engage in such a compromising exercise proved unsuitable to his prophecy. He was aggrieved. Ibn Ishaq reports:
"'Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said, "What have you done, Mohammed? You have recited to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you.' Satan had intercepted something into his desires as he had on his tongue.  So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses.
"'"Are yours the males and His the females? That indeed were an unfair division! They are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which Allah hath revealed no warrant..."'"

(The Emergence of Islam: Prophecy, Imamate, and Messianism in Perspective, Mostafa Vaziri, Ph.D., Chapter 1, Mohammed in Mecca, pp. 18-20.)

Only a Sinner

Mohammed was a self-professed sinner in need of forgiveness:

"'Walk righteously, sacrifice and be of good cheer,' he said, 'but none will enter Heaven on account of his deeds.' 'Not even you?' he was asked. 'Not even I,' he replied, 'unless God smother me in forgiveness and mercy.'" (Hadith quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton, see Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 70, Number 577.)
"Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: None amongst you can get into Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone. They said: Allah's Messenger, not even you? Thereupon he said: Not even I, but that Allah should wrap me in His Grace and Mercy." (Hadith Sahih Muslim Book 039, Number 6764).
"Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle saying. 'By Allah! I ask for forgiveness from Allah and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Invocations, Volume 8, Book 75, Number 319).

How dangerous can it be to imitate a man who, by his own confession, needs to be smothered in forgiveness and mercy? How would you know whether what you're imitating is one of those seventy-plus things for which Mohammed had repented?

Muslims insist on finding Mohammed's biography edifying and his life morally exemplary. Purportedly God thinks so, too: "Verily you have in the Messenger of God an excellent exemplar for him who looks to God and the Last Day and remembers God often." (Sura 33:21, quoted p. 28, The Heart of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr). But to outsiders, the events of this man's life break the mold of what we expect from a religious founder. When did Jesus ever accept the gift of a slave girl, as Mohammed gratefully accepted Mary, the Egyptian Christian slave? When did Gautama Buddha ever mug a passing caravan, as Mohammed and his band proposed to do at Buwat? The Koran even specifies Mohammed's share of the booty (Sura 8:42). Whatever the merits of Gautama Buddha's religious innovation, you cannot call him a common thief. While there were admirable moments in this man's career, Mohammed was ultimately willing to use violence and trickery to achieve his aims. When we see people in the third world who have set themselves up in Mohammed's profession today, we call them 'war-lords.'

Aspects of Mohammed's life-style, such as polygamy, find precedent in the patriarchs. The patriarchs are great exemplars of salvation by faith. Certainly the Bible makes clear this is the ground on which they stand in claiming salvation:

“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.'” (Romans 4:1-8).

Those who want to follow the patriarchs into the Kingdom should join them in clinging to Christ, not set them up as tutors in a works program they never endorsed. Much less wise to follow the kings who openly violated the law in multiplying wives: "Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself." (Deuteronomy 17:17).

A man cannot safely emulate Mohammed in marrying a child bride, a girl beneath the age of consent: "At this time Mohammed married Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, who was then ten or eleven years old. She was a beautiful, delicate, and amiable young girl, emerging out of childhood and blossoming into full womanhood. Although she was fully grown, she was still quite attracted by amusement and play...In Mohammed, she found not only a sympathetic and loving husband but also a compassionate father who was not at all offended by her inclination to play games and amuse herself with trifles." (Muhammad H. Haykal, The Life of Mohammed, pp. 183-184). Earlier sources say that she was nine. She was still of an age to play with dolls: "Mohammed had enjoyed playing with his own daughters when they were small and he sometimes joined Aisha's games. One day, she remembered, 'the Prophet came in while I was playing with my dolls...'" (Karen Armstrong, Mohammed, A Biography of the Prophet, p. 157). You can go to jail for that! So why play the perilous game of emulating a mere man, and a sinful man at that?

Need a biography of the prophet Mohammed?:

Washington Irving
Mohammed and His

Muslims accuse Christian critics of Mohammed's character of launching an ad hominem attack. While it is usually bad logic to drag in an interlocutor's character, it cannot be overlooked that this man founded of religion one of whose tenets is the imitation of himself. But imitating Mohammed may involve the hapless imitator in grave moral peril. Mohammed had an adopted son named Zaid. Yet one day he announced, "Muhammad is not the father of any man among you..." (Sura 33:40). Why did he disinherit this blameless young man, one of his earliest followers? It turns out that adoption, a near-universal human custom which brings together two populations who very badly need one another: orphan children and childless couples,— displeases God. Who knew? This discovery was sent down to humankind just at the moment when Mohammed, who already had a sizeable harem, desired to marry Zaid's soon-to-be sex-wife, a move that would have scandalized even the pagan Arabs. But God, you see, not only allowed this marriage, but demanded it: "And when Zaid had settled concerning her to divorce her, we married her to thee, that it might not be a crime in the faithful to marry the wives of their adopted sons, when they have settled the affair concerning them. And the behest of God is to be performed." (Sura 33:37). From that point on, adoption was an offense against God:

"'The child belongs to the bed and the adulterer must be stoned. He who claims as father him who is not his father, or a client a master who is not his master, on him rests the curse of God, the angels, and men everywhere. God will not receive from him compensatory atonement, however great.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 652)

It's a good thing 'Allah' spoke up when He did, because the neighbors were scandalized; even in their times of ignorance, the Arabs had not condoned a man marrying his daughter-in-law. His morals were lower than theirs! The pagans come in for a scolding in the Koran, because they did not acknowledge the unity of God, and because they bowed down to idols. Certainly they deserve a correcting, but from a man whose morals are lower than theirs? Pagans have wandered wildly in their searching after morality, but this doesn't mean they have all failed to understand it is scandalous to marry the spouse of your own child. The pagan Cicero spoke scathingly of a woman who married her son-in-law:

"The mother-in-law marries the son-in-law, no one looking favorably on the deed, no one approving it, all foreboding a dismal end to it. Oh, the incredible wickedness of the woman, and, with the exception of this one single instance, unheard of since the world began! Oh, the unbridled and unrestrained lust! Oh, the extraordinary audacity of her conduct! To think that she did not fear (even if she disregarded the anger of the gods and the scorn of men) that nuptial night and those bridal torches! that she did not dread the threshold of that chamber! nor the bed of her daughter! nor those very walls, the witnesses of the former wedding! She broke down and overthrew everything in her passion and her madness; lust got the better of shame, audacity subdued fear, mad passion conquered reason." (Cicero, Against Cluentius, 14-15).

Another pagan moralist, Maximus of Tyre, though plunged in the thick darkness and ignorance of polytheism, could nevertheless see clearly what the unlettered Arabian prophet could not:

"Thus too, neither the tall Indian virgin, nor the Mede with her tiara, nor the Dardan with her mitre, neither the Carian armed, nor the Lydian with her song, neither the Ionic nor the Hellespontic maid could lead the mighty Xerxes to love, who engaged the Greeks at Salamis and Plataea, and who beheld and was the lord of so many beautiful bodies; but he became enamored with Amestris, the wife of his son. O most base love! which, neglecting grateful food, requires such as is bitter and not fit to be eaten, through intemperate license abusing the power of love." (Maximus of Tyre, The Dissertations, Dissertation X, pp. 108-109).

Maximus goes on insightfully to explain that it is excessive power that leads to these abuses: "For when you deprive the soul of knowledge, but afford it power, you impart to crimes an influx, a license, and a passage." (Maximus of Tyre, The Dissertations, Dissertation X, p. 1109). Is that the case here? Don't even think of crossing GodandHisApostle; when you criticize one, the Other gets angry:

"And it is not for a believer, man or woman, to have any choice in their affairs, when God and His Apostle have decreed a matter: and whoever disobeyeth God and His Apostle, erreth with palpable error." (Sura 33:36)

As time goes by, there is more and more of this material in the Koran: "Whoso obeyeth the Apostle, in so doing obeyeth God. . ." (Sura 4:82). Adoption is the answer to prayer for two groups who badly need one another: orphan children and would-be parents who cannot bear a child themselves. It is respected by other religions, such as Judaism: "'Bore Jered.' [1 Chronicles, iv. 18]. Did she bear him — she only reared him? From this we may infer that whoso rears an orphan is the same as if she bore him." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Megilla, Chapter 1, Kindle location 33898). "This teaches thee that whoever brings up an orphan in  his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him." (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 19b).

The early Christian work the Apostolic Constitutions encourages adoption: "When any Christian becomes an orphan, whether it be a young man or a maid, it is good that some one of the brethren who is without a child should take the young man, and esteem him in the place of a son; and he that has a son about the same age, and that is marriageable, should marry the maid to him: for they which do so perform a great work, and become, fathers to the orphans, and shall receive the reward of this charity from the Lord God." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 4, Section 1, Chapter 1, p. 860). Yet Islam cannot respect this necessary and benevolent institution, for the sake of gratifying one man's lust.

There is a depressing trajectory in this man's life which mirrors what would later become of Joseph Smith in the American wilderness. He begins in all earnestness, enduring persecution and ridicule to share his awe of God and the last day. But he is not a voice in the wilderness; he amasses followers, and with followers come power. And power corrupts. Later we see him, not enduring ridicule, but murdering the ridiculers. The final absurdity comes when he and Joseph solemnly intone to the lady-folk poised at the thresh-hold of the harem that their entry is just exactly what God wants, no, demands.

Mind Cures

As noted, the Koran points to the Hadith by holding up the person and example of Mohammed as fit subject for emulation. But the Hadith contain such subversive information as Aisha's accusation that the Prophet was mentally ill:

"Narrated 'Aisha: 'Magic was worked on the Prophet so that he began to fancy that he was doing a thing which he was not actually doing. One day he invoked (Allah) for a long period and then said, "I feel that Allah has inspired me as how to cure myself. Two persons came to me (in my dream) and sat, one by my head and the other by my feet. One of them asked the other, "What is the ailment of this man?" The other replied, 'He has been bewitched" The first asked, 'Who has bewitched him?' The other replied, 'Lubaid bin Al-A'sam.' The first one asked, 'What material has he used?' The other replied, 'A comb, the hair gathered on it, and the outer skin of the pollen of the male date-palm.' The first asked, 'Where is that?' The other replied, 'It is in the well of Dharwan.' " So, the Prophet went out towards the well and then returned and said to me on his return, "Its date-palms (the date-palms near the well) are like the heads of the devils." I asked, "Did you take out those things with which the magic was worked?" He said, "No, for I have been cured by Allah and I am afraid that this action may spread evil amongst the people." Later on the well was filled up with earth.'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 490.)

If Mohammed did, at times, "fancy that he was doing a thing which he was not actually doing," he was, to put it plainly, delusional.

Muslims chide the Christians for worshipping Jesus as God incarnate. This was not, as they think, a gradual process of elevation that began after Jesus' departure, because even during His earthly ministry Jesus claimed to be God. However, a strange thing began to happen to Mohammed ibn Abdallah, a man whom everyone acknowledges to have been a mere man, after his demise. He himself condemned the Christians for worshipping at the site of Jesus' empty tomb:

"'A'isha reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said during his illness from which he never recovered: Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians that they took the graves of their prophets as mosques. She ('A'isha) reported: Had it not been so, his (Prophet's) grave would have been in an open place, but it could not be due to the fear that it may not be taken as a mosque." (Hadith, Sahih al Muslim, Book 004, Number 1079, Chapter 47).

You'll never guess what Mohammed's own tomb, which is not empty, is today.


The Hadith

You can find a tradition that says just about anything, there is such a wealth of this material, including that the Koran alone suffices: "'By God, you can lay nothing to my charge. I allow only what the Quran allows and forbid only what the Quran forbids.'" (Mohammed is the speaker, The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 682). However, most Muslims do not believe that. As noted, reminiscences by Mohammed's contemporaries are very important to Islam. The contradictions between this material and the Koran are too numerous to list. For instance, is intercession futile or possible? The Koran generally says futile:

"And fear ye the day when soul shall not satisfy for soul at all, nor shall any intercession be accepted from them, nor shall any ransom be taken, neither shall they be helped." (Sura 2:45).

"And quit those who make their religion a sport and a pastime, and whom this present life hath deceived: warn them hereby that every soul will be consigned to doom for its own works: patron or intercessor, beside God, shall it have none: and could it compensate with fullest compensation, it would not be accepted from it." (Koran, Sura 6:69).

"Ask thou forgiveness for them, or ask it not, it will be the same. If thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times, God will by no means forgive them. This, for that they believe not in God and His Apostle! And God guideth not the ungodly people." (Sura 9:81).

"And when the trumpet shall be sounded, the ties of kindred between them shall cease on that day; neither shall they ask each other's help.
"They whose balances shall be heavy, shall be the blest." (Sura 23:103-104).
"For his own good only shall the guided yield to guidance, and to his own loss only shall the erring err; and the heavy laden shall not be laden with another's load." (Sura 17:16).

"The soul burdened with its own works shall not be burdened with the burden of another: hereafter shall ye return to your Lord, and he will tell you of all your works, for he knoweth the very secrets of your breasts." (Sura 39:9).

Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq implies futility: "The apostle smiled when I had made a long story and said, 'Get behind me, 'Umar. I have been given the choice and I have chosen. It was said to me, "Ask pardon for them or ask it not. If you ask pardon for them seventy times God will not pardon them." Did I know that if I added to the seventy he would be forgiven I would add thereto.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 623).

But the hadith give us Mohammed himself as intercessor, another case in which his post-mortem attributes expand into the realm of the divine:

"Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I shall be pre-eminent amongst the descendants of Adam on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first intercessor and the first whose intercession will be accepted (by Allah)." (Hadith, Sahih Muslim, Book 30, Chapter 2, Number 5655).

"On the Day of Resurrection the people will fall on their knees and every nation will follow their prophet and they will say, 'O so-and-so! intercede (for us with Allah), 'till (the right) intercession is given to the Prophet (Mohammed) and tahat will be the day when Allah will raise him into a station of praise and glory." (Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 242).
"God will assemble the believers on the Day of Judgment. They will say, 'If only we could find an advocate to plead our cause and relieve us of this predicament.' [...] Mentioning the sin he committed, he will advise them to try Christ, God's creature and prophet, His word and His spirit. Christ will say, 'I'm not the one. Ask Muhammad, the man whom God forgave all his sins, early and late.' They will then come to me and I shall go and ask God for permission to enter and will be ushered into His presence. On seeing Him, I shall fall down in obeisance where He will leave me as long as He pleases. Then I shall be told to rise. I shall be told, 'Speak and you will be heard; ask, and you will be given; beg permission to intercede, and it will be granted.'" (see Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 236, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 3; quoted here from pp. 95-96, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton.)

Could a more perfect and complete contradiction be found? Though the authenticity of the hadith is open to question, these traditions are an inextricable part of Islam. The problem with this material is apparent on its face: each hadith begins with a chain of attestation, reminiscent of the child's game of 'telephone.' 'Suzy' told Harry who told Sally. . .' Each hand-off of the authenticated 'tradition' invites embellishment or omission. Indeed, the hadith contradict each other: for each tradition, there is an equal and opposite tradition,— which in turn contradict the Koran. . .which is not itself internally consistent! Whether the folkloric material collected in the Koran is all of the same authorship is open to question.

The Satanic verses, mentioned above, tie in to this matter of intercession. Who were the 'sublime swans,' the female deities adored by the Meccans? They were intercessors:

“Do you see Al-Lat and Al-Ozza, And Manat the third idol besides?
“These are the exalted females, [or, sublime swans, exalted cranes]
“And truly their intercession may be expected.”
(Sura 53:19-21 as originally delivered).

Whether as a survival from the text as originally delivered, with its sublime intercessors, or for some other reason, even some of the Koranic texts seem to leave room for intercession, otherwise strictly interdicted: "Verily your Lord is God who hath made the Heavens and the Earth in six days — then mounted his throne to rule all things: None can intercede with him till after his permission: This is God your Lord: therefore serve him: Will ye not reflect?" (Koran Sura 10:3). Another: "No intercession shall avail on that day, save his whom the God of Mercy shall allow to intercede, and whose words he shall approve." (Koran Sura 20:108). Does it really need to be said, that it is wholly up to God to accept or withhold intercession by third parties?: "Say: Intercession is wholly with God: His the kingdom of the Heavens and of the Earth! (Koran Sura 39:45). Is it not self-evident it's up to Him what He allows or interdicts?: "No intercession shall avail with Him but that which He shall Himself allow." (Koran Sura 34:22). Something must have dropped out of the text that would make sense of this strange hesitancy. Perhaps, given permission, the sublime swans are in after all! But by the time he delivered Sura 30 (the Koran as it stands however is not in chronological order), Mohammed seems persuaded there were no gods who were intercessors: "And they shall have no intercessors from among the gods whom they have joined with God, and they shall deny the gods they joined with Him." (Koran Sura 30:12). Since this is what the 'sublime swans' basically were, they are at  last ejected. But wait: have they been escorted out, only to leave room for Mohammed to enter in more exalted guise?: "The gods whom they call upon beside Him shall not be able to intercede for others: they only shall be able who bore witness to the truth and knew it." (Koran Sura 43:86). At a minimum, we will have to describe the evidence as mixed!

Confronted with this blooming and buzzing confusion in the sources, some propose the theory that Mohammed never existed. But while this theory admirably explains one problem: 'confusion,'— it withdraws any possible explanation from other phenomena previously thought well explained. These occasionally heard denials of Mohammed's historicity suffer from the same disability as all other conspiracy theories: they take the long way around, and so William of Ockham's razor slices them to shreds. Which makes more sense: a.) that the Arab hordes poured out of Arabia to conquer much of the world, their enthusiasm fired up by a new 'prophet' who promised secular delights if they died in the struggle, or b.) that the Arab hordes poured out of Arabia for no special reason, and conquered much of the world as an after-thought, thereupon requiring a newly minted mythology justifying said conquest? The conventional wisdom, the consensus trance, that Mohammed really existed, is of such unparalleled economy, reach and explanatory power, that if Mohammed had not existed, we would almost be compelled to invent him! While the 'non-existence' theory is not viable, falling far short in parsimony and explanatory reach, it is plausible to imagine that, as the infant community cherished and amassed its treasured oracles scrawled upon camel scapulas, their quantity may have seemed somewhat meager and in need of augmentation.

What do Muslims make of these foundational contradictions at the heart of their faith? Some embrace the concept of intercession, as do the Shi'ites, like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, who sees the intercession of the Prophet and the surrounding panoply of saints as useful in all manner of circumstances: "The Coronovirus is not such a big tragedy and this country has surmounted graver ones. However, beseeching God, seeking intercession from the Prophet and his Household, and the prayers of the pure youth and pious are very effective in repelling major tragedies,' Khamenei said. 'I don't want to  say its's unimportant, but let's not exaggerate it either.'" (quoted in news article, "Iran: 23 Lawmakers have Tested Positive for Chinese Coronovirus, by Frances Martel, March 3, 2020.) Given the founding contradictions, Islam is what you make of it.

There is a well-warranted concern today about the prevalence of 'Islamophobia.' Nevertheless this religion's standing in the public mind would be even lower if more people were familiar with the Hadith, which give us not Mohammed the poet but Mohammed the executioner and warlord. Truth to tell, the terrorists' interpretation of Islam is not so off-the-wall that one can fairly say they have hijacked a peaceful religion; on the other hand, neither is it so obvious or inescapable as to justify the plain fact that most Muslims do not share their view. One must wonder what sanction there is for Mohammed the Intercessor, given that he himself says, "SAY: I am no apostle of new doctrines: neither know I what will be done with me or you." (Koran, Sura 49:8). In spite of his self-admitted helpless ignorance, Mohammed the intercessor for his people has long been a fixture of popular Islamic piety; this fond hope is enshrined in the very early slogans inscribed on the wall of the Jerusalem mosque: "Muhammad is the Messenger of God. . .The blessing of God be on him. May He accept his intercession on the Day of Judgment on behalf of his people." (Quotations from the Dome of the Rock, Did Muhammad Exist? Robert Spencer, Kindle location 937).

While some modern critics dismiss almost all of the traditional hadith as forgeries reflecting the political conditions of a later day, there is a 'Gresham's Law' in matters of authenticity that militates against doing so. Fakes which are not believed to be genuine achieve little or nothing. Once a fake is unmasked as such, people lose interest; who today even reads Ossian? So those who argue in this way must square the circle: the hadith are generally bogus, but most of the people involved in the large-scale social endeavor to compile and study these traditions, were not aware of this. Conspiracy theorists tell us that this type of thing happens all the time. But when they tell us, that NORAD was ordered to stand down on 9/11, we must wonder, with all the people who must have been aware of this situation, how come none of them subsequently stood before the TV cameras and set the record straight? One might reply, under conditions of political totalitarianism, where free inquiry and public discussion are not allowed, such a plot might succeed. In actual fact, one finds upon inspecting real-life totalitarian societies, like the former Soviet Union, that the public in such places is disposed to believe nothing of what the government says, not all of it. So the proposal that the hadith could have been faked by the subsequent political leadership, but no one would have been able to unravel their machinations, is more problematical than it seems. Its seems more likely to me that, in the main, the contradictions in this material go back to Mohammed himself, and his first followers, who in their life-time traversed the social distance from the lowly status of a persecuted minority sect in Mecca to the dominant warlord clan in Medina. This change in circumstance brought about a change in attitude during the foundation generation.

Of course somebody is innovating at least some of the time; the 'It's Ali' and 'It's not Ali' material cannot both be genuine. To be a Muslim, one must develop a tolerance for contradiction most people do not naturally have. There is an entire body of 'scholarship' which grew up precisely to paper over the contradictions in the source material. Muslims will warn you not to bother to read their sources without 'guidance' from these 'scholars,' and they are right: there is no way any thinking person can reconcile 'Mohammed intercedes' with 'Mohammed cannot intercede' without a bevy of 'scholars' in attendance, to change the subject. The tradition can't seem to make up its mind on this topic. For instance, we discover that Mohammed interceded for his pagan uncle Abu Talib, who protected him, managing to accomplish on his behalf. . .that he is in such a shallow place of hell-fire that his brains boil?:

"That he said to the Prophet, 'You have not been of any avail to your uncle (Abu Talib) (though) by Allah, he used to protect you and used to become angry on your behalf.' The Prophet said, 'He is in a shallow fire, and had it not been for me, he would have been in the bottom of the (Hell) Fire." (Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 222).
"That he heard the Prophet when somebody mentioned his uncle (i.e. Abu Talib), saying, 'Perhaps my intercession will be helpful to him on the Day of Resurrection so that he may be put in a shallow fire reaching only up to his ankles. His brain will boil from it." (Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 224).

Confusion on this level would see to be symptomatic of a larger problem. Do Muslims realize they need an intercessor, but having none, end up imagining this fallible man might be called upon to only make their brains boil?

Works, Faith, or Mercy

Mohammed denied the Biblical basis of salvation: the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. What he substituted in its place is a hopeless muddle, Mohammed variously proclaiming 1.) Salvation by works, including the terrifying promise that mankind will receive at God's hand just exactly what we deserve:

"Fear the day wherein ye shall return to God: then shall every soul be rewarded according to its desert, and none shall have injustice done to them." (Sura 2:281).
"It is not the Prophet who will defraud you; — But he who shall defraud, shall come forth with his defraudings on the day of the resurrection: then shall every soul be paid what it hath merited, and they shall not be treated with injustice." (Sura 3:155).
"But how, when we shall assemble them together for the day of (which) whose coming there is no doubt, and when every soul shall be paid what it hath earned, and they shall not be wronged?" (Sura 3:24).
"And some say, 'O our Lord! give us good in this world and good in the next, and keep us from the torment of the fire.' They shall have the lot which they have merited: and God is swift to reckon." (Sura 2:198).
"Man acquires nothing but what he himself has earned; none of his deeds is lost and each will count on the Day of Judgment." (Sura 53:40, quoted p. 560, The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal).

"And truly thy Lord will repay every one according to their works! for He is well aware of what they do." (Sura 11:113).

The idea that Islam is a pure religion of salvation-by-works is readily understood and correspondingly popular, for instance with this outside observer:

"Perhaps the clearest expression of this doctrine, besides the Letter of James itself, is to be found, as already remarked, in the Koran, which repeatedly reiterates the Jamesian 'believe and do good works.' Here, Muhammad, clearly the heir to some of these underground traditions, over and over again avers the doctrine of Salvation by 'works' and 'works' alone, that is, it is your works stored up in Heaven, or as he puts it, that 'you send before you' that will 'save' you on the Judgment Day. No intercession by another is acceptable nor, for instance, would it then be possible for someone else 'to die for your sins.' This is a basic tenet of the Koran and it, quite clearly, emanates from one unequivocal source." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 417)

Unequivocal! Except, maybe. . .

2.) Salvation by faith (understood not in its New Testament meaning of absolute personal trust, but as assent to a proposition, namely the unity of God):

"Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, 'Whoever said..."None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of an atom will be taken out of Hell." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 42).
"The Prophet asked Mu'adh, 'Do you know what God can claim from men? That they worship Him and Him alone. Do you know what they can claim from Him? If they do that, that He will not punish them.'" (Bukhari, quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton).
"The Prophet said, 'There has just come to me a messenger from God to inform me to be of good cheer, for whichever of my people died without associating any partner with God will enter Heaven. I asked him, 'Even if he commits adultery, or even if he steals?' and he said, 'Even so.'" (Bukhari, quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton).
"Narrated Abu Dharr: 'I came to the Prophet while he was wearing white clothes and sleeping. Then I went back to him again after he had got up from his sleep. He said, "Nobody says: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah' and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise." I said, "Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft?" He said. "Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft."'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 717.)
"When he came, I could not remain patient and asked him, "O Allah's Prophet! Let Allah get me sacrificed for you! Whom were you speaking to by the side of Al-Harra? I did not hear anybody responding to your talk." He said, "It was Gabriel who appeared to me beside Al-Harra and said, 'Give the good news to your followers that whoever dies without having worshipped anything besides Allah, will enter Paradise.' I said, 'O Gabriel! Even if he had committed theft or committed illegal sexual intercourse?' He said, 'Yes.'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 450.)

3.) God's arbitrary mercy, awarded or withheld according to no rational nor comprehensible schedule:

". . .and whom He pleaseth will He forgive, and whom He pleaseth will He punish; for God is All-powerful." (Sura 2:284).
"Whatever is in the Heavens and the Earth is God’s! He forgiveth whom He will, and whom He will, chastiseth: for God is Forgiving, Merciful." (Sura 3:129).
"'Walk righteously, sacrifice and be of good cheer,' he said, 'but none will enter Heaven on account of his deeds.' 'Not even you?' he was asked. 'Not even I,' he replied, 'unless God smother me in forgiveness and mercy.'" (Bukhari, quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton.)
"Verily, God will not forgive the union of other gods with Himself! But other than this will He forgive to whom He pleaseth." (Sura 4:51).

"If ye avoid the great sins which ye are forbidden, we will blot out your faults, and we will cause you to enter Paradise with honorable entry." (Sura 4:35)
"When God created the universe, He wrote in His Book, so binding Himself, 'My mercy will overcome My wrath.' He has kept that Book by Him on the throne." (Bukhari, quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton.)

or some combination of the three. (There are also, of course, ad hoc salvation plans like 'die in battle and go straight to heaven.') Mohammed himself pleads for mercy, not the justice he sometimes preached: "O our Lord!...blot out our sins and forgive us, and have pity on us." (Sura 2:286);

"O our Lord! forgive us then our sin, and hide away from us our evil deeds, and cause us to die with the righteous." (Sura 3:191).

Here is one latter-day combo plan, with hell softened to purgatory for the believer, and intercession, elsewhere denied, approved:

"One should believe that the believer in the Oneness of Allah (if he encounters Hell on account of his sins) will be released from Hell fire after he has been punished, so that there will not remain in Hell one single believer.
"One should believe in the intercession of the prophets, of the learned, and of the martyrs, then the rest of the believers — each according to his influence and rank before Allah.

"Whosoever remains of the believers and has no intercessor will be released through he Grace of Allah, the Mighty, the Glorified. Therefore not one single believer will abide in Hell forever; whosoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought out from there." (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, pp. 22-23)

Or at any rate, one can always hope. Muslims are instructed to pray for pardon at each daybreak:

"Who say, ‘O our Lord! we have indeed believed; pardon us our sins, and keep us from the torment of the fire;’— The patient, and the truthful, the lowly, and the charitable, and they who seek pardon at each daybreak." (Koran Sura 3:14-15).

I mean, who knows?

The Bible does not rule out the theoretical possibility of 1.) salvation by works, but reports the set of those thus saved to be empty: "For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:23). The criterion of righteousness is not, as some Muslims imagine, 51% good somehow mystically cancelling out the 49% bad: ". . .for the good deeds drive away the evil deeds" (Sura 11:116), but God's holiness:

Even demons make the Muslim profession of faith: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19). They are not saved! The Koran itself recognizes the problem of sin: "Should God punish men for their perverse doings, he would not leave on earth a moving thing! but to an appointed term doth He respite them; and when their term is come, they shall not delay or advance it an hour." (Koran Sura 16:62). Not one moving thing! "If, moreover, God should chastise men according to their deserts, He would not leave even a reptile on the back of the earth! But to an appointed time doth He respite them." (Koran Sura 35:44). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

God is a God of justice, as well as of mercy. How can both these demands be met? At the cross they meet. It may be objected, a similar list of antitheses can be compiled from the Bible. But the Bible also includes sustained argumentation, such as Paul's letters, explaining how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. That is lacking here.

As is understandable, the result of this confusion is not assurance, but rather, "According to one condition, 'Whoever says, "I am a believer," is an infidel; and whoever says, "I am learned," is ignorant."' (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, p. 251). Because they seek salvation without a Savior, they cannot rest in any of these three salvation plans, but run from one to the next. Thus all three have found proponents down through the years; their quarrel cannot be resolved, because all were proclaimed by Mohammed.


Back during the Cold War, communists in Western countries were great champions of civil liberties. They naturally wanted to be free to express their views, unpopular though those might be. When the communists succeeded in gaining power, however, their devotion to free speech withered, and was shown to have been only a tactic, not a principle they lived by. Certainly they did not allow dissenters to express their views, once they had the power to orchestrate silence.

After departing Mecca for Medina, Mohammed received a fraudulent vision promising the community would be able to complete the pilgrimage to the Kaba, still an idol-filled shrine. The tribe of the Quraysh stood in their way, although "The ancient sanctuary of Makkah was not a property of the Quraysh but of all the Arabs together...The fact that one tribe worshipped one idol rather than another never permitted the Quraysh to forbid any tribe from visiting the Kabah, from circumambulating it, or from filling any religious duties or acts of worship demanded by the tribe's loyalty to that god." (The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal, p. 342). Mohammed therefore stood upon his rights as an Arab and demanded to make the pilgrimage, even inviting pagan Arab tribes to join him to underscore the basis of his demand. In the Koran at this time, God purportedly expresses indignation at the Quraysh for arrogantly blocking entry to the shrine to those who wanted to worship: "And why should they not be punished by God when they prevent men from entering the Holy Mosque for worship?" (Koran 8:34-36, quoted p. 341, The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal).

Times change, civil disorder convulsed Arabia, and Mohammed ended up on top, holding the keys to the Kabah. Forgotten now was any claim that all Arabs have a right to visit. Only Muslims are welcome, thank you very much: "This is a complete absolution from God and His Prophet regarding all obligation arising from pacts made with the associationists [idolaters]...The associationists are anathema. After this year they shall not approach the holy Mosque." (Koran 9:1-36, quoted pp. 465-466, The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal). "After he [Ali] finished his recitation of the Qur'an, he continued in his own words: 'O Men, no unbeliever will enter Paradise; no associationist will perform pilgrimage after this year; and no naked man will be allowed to circumambulate the Holy House.'" (The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal, p. 466).

It is noteworthy that all the tolerant language in the Koran is heard before the community acquires the military strength to silence its detractors. After that, there is no further talk of tolerance.

Marriage to Christians

The status of the 'People of the Book,' the Christians and the Jews, was a difficult problem for Mohammed which underwent evolution as his initial optimism was replaced by bitterness at their rejection of his prophetic mission. So let's look at the stages. Sura 5:7 seems to give the green light for marriages between Muslims and Christian ladies:

"This day, things healthful are legalized to you, and the meats of those who have received the Scriptures are allowed to you, as your meats are to them. And you are permitted to marry virtuous women who are believers, and virtuous women of those who have received the Scriptures before you, when you shall have provided them their portions, living chastely with them without fornication, and without taking concubines. Vain the works of him who shall renounce the faith! and in the next world he shall be of the lost." (Koran Sura 5:7).

The narrator seems to intend to define two groups, one of which are from "those who have received the Scriptures before you." So it's all good, right? Not according to the later community:

"Whenever Ibn 'Umar was asked about marrying a Christian lady or a Jewess, he would say: 'Allah has made it unlawful for the believers to marry ladies who ascribe partners in worship to Allah, and I do not know of a greater thing, as regards to ascribing partners in worship, etc. to Allah, than that a lady should say that Jesus is her Lord although he is just one of Allah's slaves.'" (Hadith, Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 209).

All Christians say that Jesus is Lord. So what is the policy? Is it perfectly clear?

No Warner

For this next example, I'm indebted to Sam Shamoun, who offers many brilliant arguments against Islam on his blog. Some of the time, Mohammed seems to be anticipating a complaint from the people to whom he was sent, that they are making their first acquaintance with a written revelation:

"Blessed, too, this Book which we have sent down. Wherefore follow it and fear God, that ye may find mercy:
"Lest ye should say, ‘The Scriptures were indeed sent down only unto two peoples before us, but we were not able to go deep into their studies:’
"Or lest ye should say, ‘If a book had been sent down to us, we had surely followed the guidance better than they.’ But now hath a clear exposition come to you from your Lord, and a guidance and a mercy. Who then is more wicked than he who treateth the signs of God as lies, and turneth aside from them? We will recompense those who turn aside from our signs with an evil punishment, because they have turned aside." (Koran, Sura 6:156-158).

He himself says specifically that no warner had come to them prior to his own mission:

"Nor wast thou on the slope of Sinai when we called to Moses, but it is of the mercy of thy Lord that thou warnest a people, to whom no warner had come before thee, to the intent that they should reflect:
And that they should not say when a calamity shall befall them for their previous handy work, ‘O our Lord! why hast thou not sent an Apostle to us? Then we should have followed thy signs and have been of the believers.’" (Sura 28:46-47).

"Will they say, He hath forged it? Nay, it is the truth from thy Lord that thou mayest warn a people to whom no warner hath come before thee, that haply they may be guided." (Sura 32:2).

The people are unaware they have been visited before: "They swore by God with their mightiest oath that should a preacher come to them they would yield to guidance more than any people: but when the preacher came to them it only increased in them their estrangement, Their haughtiness on earth and their plotting of evil!" (Sura 35:40). Neither they nor heir fathers were warned: "A revelation of the Mighty, the Merciful, That thou shouldest warn a people whose fathers were not warned and therefore lived in heedlessness!" (Sura 36:4-5). Again, no warner was sent to them: "Yet have we given them no books in which to study deeply, nor have we sent any one to them before thee, charged with warnings." (Sura 34:43). Or, in the form of a question, "Have we ere this given them a Book? and do they possess it still?" (Sura 43:20).

So far, so good: the Koran teaches that the Arabs to whom Mohammed ibn Abdallah preached had heard no warner before him. Or had they? The Koran also teaches that every people has had its warner, including the descendants of Ishmael:

"This is our reasoning with which we furnished Abraham against his people: We uplift to grades of wisdom whom we will; Verily thy Lord is Wise, Knowing.
"And we gave him Isaac and Jacob, and guided both aright; and we had before guided Noah; and among the descendants of Abraham, David and Solomon, and Job and Joseph, and Moses and Aaron: Thus do we recompense the righteous:
"And Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elias: all were just persons:
"And Ismael and Elisha and Jonas and Lot: all these have we favored above mankind:
"And some of their fathers, and of their offspring, and of their brethren: and we chose them, and guided them into the straight way.
"This is God’s guidance: He guideth by it such of his servants as he will: But if they join other gods with Him, vain assuredly shall be all their works.
"These are they to whom we gave the Scripture and Wisdom and Prophecy: but if these their posterity believe not therein, we will entrust these gifts to a people who will not disbelieve therein.
"These are they whom God hath guided: follow therefore their guidance. SAY: No pay do I ask of you for this: Verily it is no other than the teaching for all creatures." (Sura 6:83-90)
"Verily we have revealed to thee as we revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him, and as we revealed to Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and Jesus, and Job, and Jonah, and Aaron, and Solomon; and to David gave we Psalms.
Of some apostles we have told thee before: of other apostles we have not told thee — And discoursing did God discourse with Moses — Apostles charged to announce and to warn, that men, after those apostles, might have no plea against God. And God is Mighty, Wise!" (Sura 4:161-163)

"And commemorate lsmael in ‘the Book;’ for he was true to his promise, and was an Apostle, a Prophet;
And he enjoined prayer and almsgiving on his people, and was well pleasing to his Lord." (Sura 19:55-56).

Ishmael is, according to the Koran, not only a writing prophet, but the ancestor of the people of Mecca, the very same people to whom Mohammed was 'sent:'

"And when Abraham, with lsmael, raised the foundations of the House, they said, ‘O our Lord! accept it from us; for thou art the Hearer, the Knower." (Sura 2:121).

So there you have it: Ishmael, a writing prophet according to the Koran, personally laid the foundation for the house of worship at Mecca and taught the people of that place, to whom, moreover, "no warner" was ever sent.

Perspicuous. . .or Not

Some of the time, Mohammed ibn Abdallah insists that the Koran is a book remarkable for its perspecuitiy. Clarity, lucidity, and exposition in detail are ascribed to this new revelation:

"Elif. Lam. Ra. A book whose verses are stablished in wisdom and then set forth with clearness — from the Wise, the All-informed —
That ye worship none other than God — Verily I come to you from Him charged with warnings, announcements;. . . (Koran Sura 11:1).
"Elif. Lam. Ra. These are the signs of the Book, and of a lucid recital [Koran]." (Sura 115:1).

"O men! now hath a proof come to you from your Lord, and we have sent down to you a clear light." (Sura 4:174).

"Ha. Mim. By this clear book!" (Sura 44:1).

The Koran was supposed to be a book that would end quarrels, not start them! Some of it, however, it turns out, is not perspicuous at all:

"He it is who hath sent down to thee ‘the Book.’ Some of its signs are of themselves perspicuous;— these are the basis [literally 'mother'] of the Book — and others are figurative. But they whose hearts are given to err, follow its figures, craving discord, craving an interpretation; yet none knoweth its interpretation but God. And the stable in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it: it is all from our Lord.’ But none will bear this in mind, save men endued with understanding." (Koran Sura 3:5).

It's possible this admission was elicted by the ease with which Christian detractors used his new revelation to prove their old one; some of the material that got incorporated into the Koran, like the 'Clay Birds,' still bears the marks of its origin in circles which confessed the deity of Jesus Christ. If it turns out that some of the time the Koran is clear, other times it's not, then it is in this respect like most human productions. Why make the claim if you can't substantiate it?

No Distinction

Some of the time, Mohammed ibn Abdallah believes that God, and the faithful, make no distinction between His servants, the prophets:

  • “The apostle believeth in that which hath been sent down from his Lord, as do the faithful also. Each one believeth in God, and His Angels, and His Books, and His Apostles: we make no distinction between any of His Apostles.”
  • (Koran Sura 2:285).

  • “And they who believe on God and his Apostles, and make no difference between them — these! we will bestow on them their reward at last.”
  • (Koran Sura 4:151).

The believers make no distinction between these former prophets, because God does not: "Say ye: ‘We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes: and that which hath been given to Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. No difference do we make between any of them: and to God are we resigned (Muslims).’" (Koran Sura 2:130).

"SAY: We believe in God, and in what hath been sent down to us, and what hath been sent down to Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, and Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord. We make no difference between them. And to Him are we resigned (Muslims)." (Koran Sura 3:78).

This levelling tendency persists through some of the Hadith: "The Prophet became angry, till anger appeared on his face, and said, 'Don't give superiority to any prophet amongst Allah's Prophets, for when the trumpet will be blown, everyone on the earth and in the heavens will become unconscious except those whom Allah will exempt. The trumpet will be blown for the second time and I will be the first to be resurrected to see Moses holding Allah's Throne.'" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 626).

Some of the time, though, he thinks, not only is there a distinction, there is a well-delineated hierarchy. Far from being all on a level, some prophets are distinctly better than others:

  • Some of the apostles we have endowed more highly than others: Those to whom God has spoken, He hath raised to the lofiest grade, and to Jesus the Son of Mary we gave manifest signs, and we strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.”
  • (Koran Sura 2:254).

  • Higher gifts have we given to some of the prophets than to others, and the Psalter we gave to David.”
  • (Koran Sura 17:57).

If there is no distinction, how can there be any hierarchy? But once we open up the spectrum, guess who leaps to the head of the pack? Our friend Mohammed ibn Abdallah, who has got over his early shyness and diffidence.

Mohammed ibn Abdallah was given his own escorted tour of heaven, and he found there, not democratic levelling, but planetary spheres ranked in order of importance, with their distinguished occupants:

"When I went (over the sixth heaven), there I saw Moses. Gabriel said (to me),' This is Moses; pay him your greeting. So I greeted him and he returned the greetings to me and said, 'You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.' When I left him (i.e. Moses) he wept. Someone asked him, 'What makes you weep?' Moses said, 'I weep because after me there has been sent (as Prophet) a young man whose followers will enter Paradise in greater numbers than my followers.' Then Gabriel ascended with me to the seventh heaven and asked for its gate to be opened. It was asked, 'Who is it?' Gabriel replied, 'Gabriel.' It was asked,' Who is accompanying you?' Gabriel replied, 'Muhammad.' It was asked, 'Has he been called?' Gabriel replied in the affirmative. Then it was said, 'He is welcomed. What an excellent visit his is!'

"So when I went (over the seventh heaven), there I saw Abraham. Gabriel said (to me), 'This is your father; pay your greetings to him.' So I greeted him and he returned the greetings to me and said, 'You are welcomed, O pious son and pious Prophet.'. . .”
(Hadith, Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 227).

So which is it? No distinction, or concentric, hierarchical spheres? It seems like Mohammed's ambition blossomed as the years went by. At the start of his prophetic career, he would have been overjoyed to be accepted as a prophet among prophets, just one of the crowd. By the end, his sycophants, and his own ego, had convinced him he was the big cheese, the favored prophet. By the way, whence come these concentric spheres? From Ptolemaic astronomy:

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