One of the claims the Muslim make for the divine origin of the Qur’an is that, the Qur’an does not contradict itself in anyway, shape or form. In fact, Muslim often cite a verse of the Qur’an to back up their assertions that the Qur’an has given a challenge to mankind 1400 years ago which is yet to be met, the challenge to prove there is (are) contradictions within the pages of the Qur’an. Here is the verse the Muslim alludes to;
Do they not then consider the Quran carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradictions. – Qur’an 4:82 [Muhsin Khan’s Translation]
Tafsir Ibn Kathir, one of Sunni Muslims most trusted and widely consulted tafsir stated this concerning the verse of the Qur’an:
The Qur’an is True. Allah commands them to contemplate about the Qur’an and forbids them from ignoring it, or ignoring its wise meanings and eloquent words. Allah states that there are no inconsistencies, contradictions, conflicting statements or discrepancies in the Qur’an, because it is a revelation from the Most-Wise, Worthy of all praise. Therefore, the Qur’an is the truth coming from the Truth, Allah. This is why Allah said in another Ayah,.. (Tafsir of Ibn Kathir on Qur’an 4:82)
From this, we glean that the Muslim understanding of this verse is that, there is no contradiction, conflicting statement or discrepancies in the Qur’an. This, I think is very clear for anyone to understand. However, going through the pages of the Qur’an, we not only find one contradiction, but many contradictions, one of which we shall be looking at in this article.
Before showing forth this contradiction and refuting how some Muslims tend to defend it, I do like to point out a very important part of the verse in the Quran we read above, please take note of the part with bold text;
Do they not then consider the Qur’an carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradictions. – Qur’an 4:82 [Muhsin Khan’s Translation]
Now, if we are to go by the statement above, we can infer that, this verse is not claiming that there is no contradiction in the Qur’an, rather, there are not much contradictions in the Qur’an. That is just something I want us to note before going further.
The verses in question are Quran 3:42-45 and Qur’an 19:17-21. While in Quran 3:42-45, we read that it was a group of Angels that ministered to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus, contrary to that, we see from Quran 19:17:21 that there is only one Angel who visited Mary (namely Jibril according to Muslim exegetes) who announced the birth. So the question arises? How many Angel visited Mary One or Many?
In order to make things easy, I do like to lay out the verses in question and then do a comparison and follow up on the responses some Muslims have made so far, especially the one I feel is the strongest of them all.
Qur’an 19:17:21 – One Angel
|Qur’an 3:42,46 – Multiple Angels|
|And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man
|And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.
|She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah.”
|O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].”
|He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.”
|That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed.
|She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”
|[And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].
He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ ”
|He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.”
|She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.
Now, without much guess work, it immediately becomes clear that there is a problem when comparing the two verses of the Qur’an, one states that it was one Angel who appeared to Mary and the other says there are more than one. Now, what do you call that if not contradiction? Well, our Muslim friends says no, it is not a contradiction and there are are explanations to this.
In order to provide an explanation for this, Muslim Apologist have provided some explanations and one of such is that the events described in this verses of the Qur’an are not the same and did not describe the same visitation to Mary. They suggested that at one time, groups of Angels visited Mary, and at other times, Jibril (Gabriel) visited Mary alone which was the reason for the singularity. How authentic is this explanation and response? We shall find out soon.
In order to debunk this excuse that the narratives here are describing two different and not the same visitation to Mary, I have drawn a table below to show that Mary’s expression were the same in the two narratives and couldn’t have been responding to this event twice. What I am saying in essence is, the responses and interaction Mary had with the Angel(s) is the same in showing in the two ayah, thereby proving that that this is talking about the same event.
He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.”
[And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].
She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”
She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.
From the table above, we can see the verses indicating vividly that Mary gave the same responses to Angel or Angels, therefore describing the very same event and not two different events, except the Muslims are willing to tell us that Mary gave two responses twice, one to the groups of Angels, and the other to just one. Again the question arise, if Mary has been responded to and given an answer to her question, why would she ask the same question again? That’s not all, why would Allah have the send Angels to give Mary “a good news” she already had before, how is that ever a news again?
Now, Muslims could have appealed to the same situation we have in the New Testament where a writer could give an emphasis on an aspect of a narration than another writer of the Gospel does, but the problem and the reason why Muslims cant do this is because of the belief that Allah alone is the author of the Qur’an, so how could Allah have given a conflicting account of the same story?
This verse actually poses a problem for modern Muslim apologist who attacks the Bible on the basis of the differences in the synoptic Gospel (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and claim at any given opportunity that there are contradictions here and there in the Bible. However, some Muslim exegetes and interpreters do not have issues with the verse of the Qur’an, in fact they believe that in this particular reference, when the word Angels is mentioned it is actually referring to Jibril, I will cite the works of the two Jalas (Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli (d. 864 ah / 1459 ce) and his pupil Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 ah / 1505 ce) on this as an evidence to back this up, we see the tafsir Al Jalalayn’s note on verse 42 of the 3rd Surah of the Qur’an;
And mention when the angels namely Gabriel said ‘O Mary God has preferred you He has elected you and made you pure of the touch of men; He has preferred you above all women of the worlds that is the inhabitants of your time. – Tafsir Al Jalalayn on Quran 3:42
In fact, this is not the only instances where he did this, the same was acknowledged in verse 45 of Chapter 3 in the Tafsir as well;
Mention when the angels namely Gabriel said ‘O Mary God gives you good tidings of a Word from Him that is a boy whose name is the Messiah Jesus son of Mary He addresses her attributing him to her in order to point out that she will give birth to him without a father for the custom is to attribute the child to its father honoured shall he be in this world through prophethood and the Hereafter through his intercession and the high stations al-darajāt al-‘ulā cf. Q. 2075 and of those brought close to God. – Tafsir Al Jalalayn on Quran 3:45
Just so you dont think this is unique to the two Jalas, the tafsir Tanwîr al-Miqbâs attributed to Ibn Abass also communicates the exact same thing, meaning when this verse of the Qur’an was referring to the Angels, it was indeed talking about Jibril, we read;
((And remember) when the angels) i.e. Gabriel (said: O Mary! Allah giveth you glad tidings of a Word from Him) of a son who shall come into being by means of a Word from Allah, (whose name is the Messiah) because he travels from one country to another; it is also said: the Messiah means the king, (Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world) he has standing and position amidst people in the life of this world (and the Hereafter) he has standing and position with Allah, (and one of those brought near) unto Allah in the Garden of Eden. – Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs on Quran 3:45
Now, this is problematic since we have verses of the Qur’an that shows distinctly how Jibril is is not representing the other Angel but is an entity on his own, for instance we read in Qur’an 2:98
Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and His messengers and Gabriel and Michael – then indeed, Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers.
We also see another example from Quran 7:11 where Allah commanded the Angels to prostrate themselves to Adam, can we say here that this is referring to Gabriel? This just does not add up, we read Qur’an 7:11;
And surely, We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being), then We told the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, and they prostrated, except Iblis (Satan), he refused to be of those who prostrate.
From this, we can see that the problem persisted, while one verse of the Qur’an says an Angel came to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, the other indicated that there are many Angels who came to do the presentation. The solution the Muslim exegetes optin for is to say that when it was talking about Angels, this was referring to Gabriel.
Another Muslim apologist by the name Ansar Al-‘Adl also gave another interesting response using the arabic term present in both narratives, he noted:
“The basis of this explanation is the usage of the words yubashiroke in Sura Al-Imran which means to give glad tidings of a coming event. On the other hand, the verse in Sura Maryam uses the words le ahaba lake which means to “present you with”, implying that the event is to happen there.”
Now, on the surface, this looks like a brilliant response, yet when unpacked will only prove to be more problematic as we shall see. Applying the analogy of Ansar, we can come to this conclusion below;
In Surah 3 since the word yubashiroke is used, this indicated an announcement, nothing is expected to take place at this point, while in Surah 19, the word “le ahaba lake” was used to denote an instant and immediate action to take place at that point in time.
Why is this problematic you may ask? This is so because when we paralleled the story of John’s birth from the two Surah (Quran 19 and 3) which actually precede the story of the angelic visit to Mary in the two Surahs, we discovered that this argument does not hold and crumbles like a pack of cards.
Here again, I have made a simple table for the narratives, especially as it concerns the words for glad tidings in the two Surahs for easy comprehension.
|Quran 3:39||Quran 19:7|
|So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, “Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of John, confirming a word from Allah and [who will be] honorable, abstaining [from women], and a prophet from among the righteous.”
|[He was told], “O Zechariah, indeed We give you good tidings of a boy whose name will be John. We have not assigned to any before [this] name.”
In this two ayah, we can plainly see that the stories are not only the same, but that the words used in Surah Imran was good tidings, while the one in Surah Maryam is also good tiding. If we are to go by the logic of Ansar, these must be different stories since the first was an announcement and the second was also an announcement, then we ask, when was the fulfillment, when was the action performed for this announcement? We can see that this only introduces more problems into the text than solutions.
As we have seen so far, this contradicting remained unresolved as it stand and it violates the verse of the Qur’an together with the claim of the Muslims that there are no contradiction in the Qur’an.