Response to Asif Sheikh on the Quranic Narratives Pt. 1

Recently, a Muslim friend – Asif Ali Shaikh – wrote a response to an article I wrote a while about the inconsistencies of some Quranic narrations. I used the the story of Lot as a case study. In this article, I will be offering a rebuttal to Asif’s response.

In his opening, Asif made a claim that Muslims do not require the story to be told exactly the same way before be valid. He submitted that authors are free to use different words, style and even add different information as long as the stories are complimentary.

In his words;

First of all, it’s not my claim at all and as far as I know, Muslims don’t use the argument either that story needs to be exactly same each time it is told. We Muslims do affirm that the author can use different words, different styles, add different information (i.e. details as long as all stories are aligned / reconciled / complimentary together and aren’t contradictory) and highlight different things every time it narrates the story.

I find this response rather interesting. From the look of his statement, it seems Asif is not like other Muslims who make this claim. This is because this is same claim Christians make for the New Testament. But as we shall see, this is just a claim, he does not really agree with this idea he presented.

Asif continues;

However, following are few problems / concerns we see in Bible which aren’t there in the Quran o there is CONTINUOUS EVOLUTION IN STATUS OF CHRIST and reaction of disciples change as we see different gospels (e.g. hardening of hearts of disciples turn to worship as we move from Gospel of Mark to Mathew (i.e. Compare Mark 6:51-52 with Mathew 14:32-33). These are contradictory. Take e.g. another story where Jesus confesses people before ANGELS OF GOD in Luke 12:8-9 and in same incident, ANGELS OF LORD are replaced by FATHER in Mathew 10:32-33. Angels of Lord isn’t the Father, is it? Accordingly, these are contradcitory stories and thus Muslims allege evolution and change of Bible.

Before going further in giving a response to some of his allegations against the Bible and his defense for his Qur’an, I do like to briefly respond to the charges above.

Asif claims that there has been a continuous evolution in the status of Christ in the Bible. This is neither a new nor original argument to Asif. He only echoes what skeptics and liberals have said for decades regardless of the lack of evidence thereof.

According to Asif, there was an evolution between Mark 6:51-52 and Matthew 14:32-33. Let’s examine these two scriptures and see if there is any substance to such allegation.

Mark 6:51-52 read thus;

51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.

52 For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.

And Matthew 14:32-33 reads as follows;

32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

And Viola! We have a development and an evolution.

Interestingly, he provided an answer for us in his opening statement. I will quote him again and analyze how his words fit perfectly into what’s going on in the Gospel narratives.

First of all, it’s not my claim at all and as far as I know, Muslims don’t use the argument either that story needs to be exactly same each time it is told. We Muslims do affirm that the author can use different words, different styles, add different information (i.e. details as long as all stories are aligned / reconciled / complimentary together and aren’t contradictory) and highlight different things every time it narrates the story.

If Asif agrees that authors are at liberty to use words and also “add different information” to form a more detailed story, then one begins to wonder why he has an issue with Matthew’s narration.

In Matthew’s account, we find him adding the line that Jesus was worshiped. Mark however, only notes that they were in awe. In other words they wondered at what they saw. Is it out of place to say that the people wondered at what they saw and they in turn worship? How on earth is this a contradiction or an evolution in the text?

Before responding to the second reference that Asif gave, I do like to show him that right in the Gospel of Mark, there is an evidence of a high Christology. This will not only destroy this lame argument of the evolution of Christ’s status, but also show that the four Gospels vividly presented Jesus as God.

Just some few chapters away from Mark 6, in Mark 2:2-10, we read of how Jesus did only what God could do, when he forgave a man of his sins. We read;

2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.

3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.

4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,

7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?

8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?

9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?

10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)

If we are to go by Asif’s line of argument and methodology, this simply means there has been development and evolution within the Gospel of Mark itself. We have seen this is nothing but a weak argument that our friends appeal to. They do not appeal to this form of argumentation because it is evidential, but because it has been repeated by a number of Scholars. They have not bothered to check how true it is.

Here is the second reference given by Asif for the evolution of the text according to Luke 12:8-9;

8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess

9 But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.

And Matthew 10:32-33;

32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

From these two narrations, Asif concludes that this is nothing but a contradiction. I am indeed embarrassed that he could come to this conclusion. How would he refer to this as a contradiction just because Matthew record a part that Luke did not mention and Luke vice versa?

I do like to paint a scenario which I hope would help Aisf in assimilating this simple principle. If I were to give a presentation, and during my presentation, I said, “Love conquers all, you can’t love God without loving your fellow men”

If the two individuals were called to write about my presentation, and when they go to this line,

A Writer wrote: “Love conquers all”

B Writer wrote: “you cant love God without loving your fellow men”

Will it be fair to call this a contradiction or that they complement one another? Asif acknowledged that authors can add details to expound on a narration, yet when the Gospel writers do that, he accuses them of contradiction. What kind of methodology is he employing?

I have the impression that Asif has not studied some of these passages well to even interact with them. I may be wrong, but I feel he might likely have seen someone write about this and adapt it without looking very closely into the claim being made. If Asif had done a little reading, he would have discovered that there is nothing contradictory in these accounts.

What’s more? Mark also provided his part of the narration as well, and guess what? it is a reference to both the Father and the Angels!

We read in Mark 8:38;

38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Now, what we have seen demonstrated here is that Mark gives the full narration of what Matthew and Luke partly state in their accounts. This is why we say that the Gospels are complimentary to one another. It will be wrong to say these narrations go against one another, when in reality they are meant to give us a complete picture.

Interestingly, Asif will be stunned to discover that Luke had aforetime recorded Jesus saying this very words in Chapter 9 as it was found in Mark 8, and again, he included both the Angels and the Father.

Luke 9:26 read as follows;

26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.

So, as we have seen, what Asif is bringing up is actually of no substance at all, and could have been easily avoided only if he had looked into these text very closely.

Asif continued;

We see evolution in gospels where Son of God is mentioned very rarely in Gospel of Mark while highly in Gospel of Mathew and John. Similarly we see the term “Father” mentioned rarely in gospel of Mark while mentioned multiple times in Gospel of John. These gospels present completely different theological orientation and thus evolution is pretty visible accordingly and a valid theory. Christians need to prove that there is no evolution.

This is a mere assertion and claim of evolution without any prove to back up such claim. To say that since Mark did not mention Jesus as the Son of God as much as Matthew and John did is a sign of an evolution in the Gospel, is a desperate attempt to make a point where there is none.

In fact, such an attempt clearly shows what Asif admitted in the opening of his article. According to him, an author has the freedom to use any style of writing. This is clearly what the Gospel writers do by emphasizing on the most important aspect they want to present for their audience.

For instance, John in his prologue had already laid out his message portraying Jesus as the divine Logos which is what characterizes his Gospel narration throughout. This is exactly what we expect to see if the Gospel writers are at liberty to write to their audiences and pass on the message about Christ to them.

This is not some development. Rather, it is expected in the literary world. This is not also strange to the Qur’an as well even though it claims to have one author, namely Allah. As I have shown from the first example, this is not a case of an evolution, but a misunderstanding of the freedom the writers have in demonstrating the message of the Gospel to their audience.

Asif asserts further;

For Muslims personally, they consider Quran as their guideline. Whatever of Bible agrees with Quran, they take it as true. Whatever of Bible disagrees to Quran, they call it a change and later edition. Whatever is neutral in Bible, they utilize their personal judgment to decide accordingly. A key thing that need to be seen IN PROVING EVOLUTION OR CHANGE ***IS INTENTION OF THE AUTHOR***. We see different theological inclinations in different gospels of the Bible. We need to ask our Christian friends to show us evolution and reason for such evolution from the author and use similar analysis to compare Quran and see if there is ANY EVOLUTION in the Quran. Currently we don’t see any reasonable evolution in the stories of Quran.

I am thankful to Asif for his honest submission. This clearly shows how the Muslims see the Bible and make judgement on what to take and to be left out. Clearly, we see that whenever there is a theological conflict between the Bible and the Qur’an, the Bible in that portion must have been corrupted and should not be taken seriously. However, whenever it seems to align with Islam, then such verses are considered authentic.

This apologetic view expressed by Asif is not unique to him. Most Muslim Apologists, such as Adnan Rashid, share this view as seen here. This clearly shows the double standard used by Muslims when dealing with the Christian text. I do appreciate Muslims who admit that they do not believe the Bible as the inspired word of God, over those who cherry picking what they think support Islam and discarding those believe contradict the Islamic theology. The later is a faulty evaluation.

Asif asked if we should check the Qur’an to see if there is indeed an evolution, and indeed, there are evolution in the Qur’an. There are lots of examples I could reference on this matter, I will simply ask him to explain the evolution between the Meccan and the Medina Surahs. Can he explain the sudden change between these two Surahs?

For instance, when Muhammad was in Mecca, he could tell the idol worshiper and whoever does not share in his Islamic ideology and worship that they could serve any deity they want to serve, and he stated clearly that they not worship what he worshiped and vice versa, this is an expression of freedom of worship, which includes the idol worshipers as well. We read;

Say, “O disbelievers,

I do not worship what you worship.

Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.

Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.

Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.

For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

Quran 109:1-6

Just for the readers to get a little idea of what this is about, here is the tafsir of Al Jalalayn on this verse, especially, verse 6;

You have your religion idolatry and I have a religion’ Islam this was revealed before he was commanded to wage war against the idolaters all seven Qur’ānic readers omit the yā’ of the genitive possessive construction in wa-liya dīni whether with a pause or without; Ya‘qūb however retains it in both cases.

Tafsir of Al Jalalayn on Quran 109:6

While we see this liberty for everyone to worship whatsoever they desire to worship in the Meccan surah, we see a drastic change and an evolution in another Surah, and guess what? This happens to be a Medinan surah, this is when Muhammad was now in control of the territory both militarily and spiritually, we read;

Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

Quran 9:29

What exactly do we call this if not an evolution? From the atmosphere or a time period when and where everyone can practice and worship in the way they choose to a period where such freedom had been totally taken away because it is now offensive to do such.

We shall continue in the next part to examine Asif’s response on my article and my rebuttal to it as well..