Is there a contradiction?
There are a number of passages of the Qur’an where the quoted words appear to be different when they are repeated in another passage. Some Muslims are not too confident approaching this issue while the enemies of Islam have utilized this opportunity to level attacks against the noble faith. It comes as a surprise to the Muslims that followers of the gospels need help and support from the Qur’an to uphold their position. For example, such people have pleaded to the Muslims to accept the Bible as uncorrupted and have now pleaded their case for the differences in the Net Testament from what they find similar passages in the Qur’an.
Before addressing the Qur’anic passages, let us take a look at some straight forward issues with the New Testament:
Who Carries Jesus’ Cross?
In the Passion narratives, did Jesus carry his own cross or not?
Mark 15:21, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26 – Jesus gets help from Simon of Cyrene
John 19:17 – Jesus carries his own cross the whole way
When crucified, Jesus’ cross had an inscription — but what did it say?
Mark 15:26 – The inscription: “The King of the Jews.”
Matthew 27:37 – The inscription: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
The additional words can be explained by the answer that one of the stories mentions part of the inscription whereas the other one mentions the entire inscription. However, the problem still remains. Why do the other references mention a different inscription? Additions are understandable but irreconcilable differences are difficult to understand.
Luke 23:38 – The inscription: “This is the King of the Jews.”
John 19:19 – The inscription: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Jesus and the Thieves:
Some gospels say Jesus was crucified with two thieves, though the Romans never crucified thieves.
Mark – The two thieves are mentioned, but there is no conversation
No conversation can be taken as understandable as pointed out above. However, some issues still remain:
Matthew 27:44 – The two thieves taunt Jesus
Luke 23:39-42 – One thief taunts Jesus and is criticized by the other. Jesus promises the second thief that they would be in Paradise that day, though John and Acts say he did not ascend to heaven until 40 days after his resurrection
John – The two men aren’t described as thieves.
Does Jesus Drink Wine or Vinegar?
Jesus is given something to drink while he is on the cross, but what?
Mark 15:23 – Jesus is given wine mixed with myrrh, but he doesn’t drink
Matthew 27:48, Luke 23:36 – Jesus is given vinegar, but he doesn’t drink
John 19:29-30 – Jesus is given vinegar and he drinks it
Jesus’ Last Words:
Jesus’ last words before dying are important, but no one seems to have written then down.
Mark 15:34-37, Matthew 27:46-50 – Jesus says: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (but they use different Greek words for “God” — Matthew uses “Eli” and Mark uses “Eloi”)
Luke 23:46 – Jesus says: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
John 19:30 – Jesus says: “It is finished.”
Earthquake After the Resurrection:
Was there an earthquake when Jesus died?
Matthew 27:51-53 – At the moment Jesus dies, a massive earth quake strikes and opens tombs where dead people rise again
Mark, Luke, John – No earthquake is mentioned. No earthquake and no massive influx of formerly dead people is mentioned in any historical records, which is strange given how monumental such an event would be.
Some of the differences are reconcilable such as when the incident is partially mentioned. However, when the incident is repeated but defines a different picture, then the real problem remains strong.
These questions pose serious issues for the Christians and the Christian missionaries come to the rescue but not in a positive way. Instead of clarifying or reconciling these differing reports in the New Testament, the missionaries seek for, or rather deliberately create, similar differing irreconcilable reports in the Qur’an. They have attempted to provide passages from the Qur’an where the repetitions in some of the events appear to be described using different words.
Repetitions in the Qur’an
There is no absolute repetition in the Qur’an. Whenever something is repeated, something new is definitely mentioned along with it. Consider the following example where Pharaoh threatens:
I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides; then I will surely crucify you all.”
If this verse is taken in isolation, then one would surely find a problem because history tells us that the punishment of crucifixion (by hanging on the cross) started centuries later. However, when the story is repeated, we find the following:
So I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees…
Please note that the Arabic words in both the verses are the same (i.e. salaba) except for the additional words “on the trunks of palm trees” in the second verse above. Therefore, since the original words do not alter in the repeated verse, we find that there is no contradiction and only the second verse included more details. The threat of punishment was not on the cross but on trunks of palm trees. The repetition style of the Qur’an clarifies several questions that the reader may have.
We can therefore conclude that as far as the repetition of narrations regarding past incidents is concerned it is normally done with a different stress at different places. In other words, the point stressed in a subsequent narration of the same incident is normally quite different than as was stressed in its prior narration(s). This, in effect, implies that a subsequent narration of the same incident in the Qur’an cannot really be termed as a repetition.
If the said established logic is applied to all repetitions, one finds no contradiction in the Qur’an.
Examples cited from the Qur’an
Questionable language of the Bible
Even though this is a different issue to the main theme of the article, but it has still been addressed because the article criticizing the Qur’an had made such allegations. The Bible uses some really harsh words such as using dogs and swine for unbelievers. It is claimed that the Qur’an uses similar language as follows:
Say, “Shall I inform you of [what is] worse than that as penalty from Allah? [It is that of] those whom Allah has cursed and with whom He became angry and made of them (transformed them into) apes and pigs and slaves of ‹taghūt. Those are worse in position and further astray from the sound way.”
The Qur’anic account is very clear that some evil doers had literally been turned into monkeys and pigs. Turning them into metaphors would be an illogical thing to do. Moreover, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has also made it very clear:
Verily, Allah did not cause the race of those which suffered metamorphosis to grow or they were not survived by young ones. Monkeys and swine had been in existence even before (the metamorphosis of the human beings).”
Some other verses of the Qur’an that speak of or compare human beings with animals are all similitudes. If the example of a person is similar to a dog rolling out his tongue in diverse situations or a donkey carrying books, they are similitudes and not insulting language.
Some alleged differences or internal contradictions in the Qur’an
MOSES AND THE BURNING BUSH
|Has the story of Moses Reached Thee? Behold he saw a fire: So he said to his family, “Tarry ye: I perceive a fire; perhaps I can Bring you some burning brand Therefrom, or find some guidance At the fire.” But when he came to the fire, a voice Was heard: “O Moses! “Verily I am thy Lord! Therefore (in My presence) Put off thy shoes: thou art In the sacred valley Tuwa. “I have chosen thee: Listen, then, to the inspiration (Sent to thee). “Verily, I am God: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), And establish regular prayer For celebrating My praise. Verily the hour is coming- My design is to keep it Hidden- for every soul To its reward By the measure of its endeavor. Therefore let not such as Believe not therein But follow their own Lusts, divert thee therefrom, Lest thou perish!” “And what is that in thy right hand, O Moses?” He said, “It is My rod: on it I lean; with it I beat down fodder For my flocks; and In it I find Have Other uses.” (God) said, “Throw it, O Moses!” He threw it, and behold it was a snake Active in motion. (God) said “Seize it And fear not: We shall return it at once To its former condition… Now draw thy hand Close to thy side: It shall come forth white (And shining), without harm (or stain),- As a another Sign,- In order that we may show thee (Two) of our Greater Signs. Go thou to Pharaoh For he has indeed Transgressed all bounds.” [S. 20:9-24]||Behold! Moses said to his family “I perceive A fire; soon will I bring you From there some information, Or I will Bring you A burning brand to light our fuel That ye may Warm yourselves.” But when he came To the (Fire), a voice Was heard: “Blessed are those In the Fire and those around: And Glory to God, The Lord of the Worlds. “O Moses! Verily I am God, the Exalted In Might, the wise!… “Now do throw thy rod!” But when he saw it Moving (of its own accord) As if it had been a snake, He turned back in Retreat, And retraced not his steps: “O Moses!” (it was said), “Fear not: truly, in My presence, Those called as apostles Have no fear,- But if Any have done wrong And have thereafter substituted Good to take the place of the evil, Truly, I am Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. “Now put thy hand into Thy bosom, and it will Come forth white without stain (Or harm): (These are) among The nine Signs (thou wilt take) To Pharaoh and his people: For they are A people Rebellious in transgression.” But when Our Signs came To them, that should opened their eyes, they said: “This is Sorcery manifest!” And they rejected those Signs In iniquity and arrogance, Though their Souls were convinced Thereof: so see what was The end of those Who acted corruptly. [S. 27:7-14]||Now when Moses had fulfilled The term, and was traveling With his family, he perceived A fire in the direction of Mount Tur. He said To his family: “Tarry ye; I perceive a fire; I hope To bring you from there Some information, or a burning Firebrand that ye may warm yourselves.” But when he came To the (Fire), a voice was heard from the right back Of the valley, from a tree In hallowed ground: “O Moses! Verily I am God, the Lord of the Worlds … Now do thou throw thy rod! But when he saw it Moving (of its own accord) As if it had been a snake, He turned back in retreat and retraced not his steps: “O Moses!” (It was said), “Draw near, and fear not; For thou art of those Who are secure.” Move thy hand into thy bosom, and it will Come forth to thy side (To guard) against fear. Those are the two credentials From thy Lord to Pharaoh And his Chiefs: for truly They are a people Rebellious and wicked.” [S. 28:29-33]|
It is alleged that when the story is repeated the words of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) and of Allah change whereas they should have been the same even in repetition. It is argued that the way of expressing could have been different but when the words are quoted of who spoke what, then they should not differ. This argument is completely valid. It is also encouraging for the Muslim to see that, subconsciously, the missionaries hold the Qur’an in such high esteem that they need to go in such excessive details and seek minute issues to make their claim. They have to search for alleged faults in the Qur’an with extra caution and care and go into extreme details and even make use of what an average reader might find as trivial. Since the Qur’an is the word of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, it must stand firm against each and every criticism which it does even against these allegations as well as shown below.
If we look at the quoted passages above and study them in detail, we find complete harmony with logic and common sense as well as with the overall flow of the Qur’an.
When Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) spoke to his family, it appears that he spoke to all of his family including his wives, brother, children. The large group of his family, even if a dozen individuals, would have been slightly scattered and logic dictates that one of these words spoken would have been to his brother and the others to his wives. This logic is not unfounded but can be evidenced by the dignity and self-respect of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام):
When I (wife to be of Prophet Musa) bade him to follow me to our home, he insisted that I walk behind him so he would not observe my form…
Therefore, it appears that his family would have been walking with him but with proper segregation and therefore, he would have to come to them individually to let them know of the fire and his plan to go there. Therefore, if he used different words with different members of his family, to convey the message and his intent, then one should not find a problem with that.
As for the words of Allah, then differences there should not be an issue for the readers of the Qur’an. The differences are in complete harmony with the explaining style of the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an uses different words when it orders the believers to Obey Allah and the Prophet; sometimes it is mentioned as Obey Allah and the Messenger while at other places, it is mentioned as Obey Allah and His Messenger whereas elsewhere it is stated as Obey Allah and obey the Messenger.
In 27:9-10, Allah says: “O Moses! Verily I am Allah the Exalted in Might the Wise! Throw down your stick!” whereas in 28:30-31, Allah says: “O Moses! Verily I am Allah the Lord of the Worlds! Throw down your stick!” The statement of Allah does not differ. Both were spoken, however, one passage quotes a portion of it while the other passage quotes other words of the same sentence.
The same thing is explained using different words. It is not that one statement is claimed to be a repetition of the other statement but rather that all such statements are the actual words of Allah and actually spoken. Therefore, the speaking of Allah with Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) using different words each time should not be an issue of concern for anyone. When Allah gives the order to the Messenger to take off his shoes, He mentions to him that He is His Lord using some words whereas when He orders Him to throw down his stick, Allah mentions again that He is Lord and this time using different words. As we have seen in the “Repetitions in the Qur’an” section above, there is no absolute repetition in the Qur’an and therefore when the words change in the account of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) and his going to the burning bush, the altering statements are simply further additions to words. Differences in words in each passage were all spoken and there is no contradiction in them.
Three varying statements have been alleged in other passages well:
Qur’an 20:22: “Now draw thy hand close to thy side
Qur’an 27:12: “Now put thy hand into thy bosom
Qur’an 28:32: “Move thy hand into thy bosom
These can be reconciled and presented as one statement as follows and Allah knows best:
Now draw thy hand close to thy side, now put thy hand into thy bosom and move thy hand into thy bosom.
Refer to the conclusion at the end for a practical example to understand this concept better.
|“Behold! We sent To thy mother, by inspiration, The Message: `Throw (the child) Into the chest, and throw (The chest) into the river: The river will cast him Up the bank, and he will be taken up by one Who is an enemy to Me And an enemy to him‘: But I cast (the garment Of) love over thee from Me: And (this) in order that Thou mayest be reared Under Mine eye. Behold thy sister goeth forth And saith, `Shall I show you One who will nurse And rear the (child)?‘ So We brought thee back To thy mother, that her eye Might be cooled and she Should not grieve. Then thou didst slay A man, but We saved thee From trouble, and We tried Thee in various ways. Then didst thou tarry a number of years With the people of Midian. Then didst thou come hither As ordained, O Moses!” [S. 20:38-40]||“So we sent this inspiration To the mother of Moses: `Suckle (thy child), but when Thou hast Fears about him, Cast him into the river, But Fear not nor grieve: For We shall restore him To Thee, and We shall make Him one of Our apostles... And she said to the sister Of (Moses), “Follow him”. So she (the sister) Watched him In the character of a stranger. And they knew not. And We ordained that he Refused suck at first, until (His sister came up and) said: “Shall I Point out to you the people Of a house that will nourish And bring him up For you And be sincerely attached To him?… Thus did We restore him To his mother, that Her eye might be comforted, that she might not grieve, and that She might know the promise of God is true: but Most of them do not understand. [S. 28:7,11-13]|
The command of Allah to the mother was Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) varies when it is repeated. However, this is again a very logical matter. Allah has mentioned that only men were made messenger and so we need to find out the method of inspiration to the mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام). To claim that an angel came to her is the only way of inspiration is an incorrect assumption because the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) have made other forms of inspirations very clear to everyone:
“O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”
Both the great prophets took the dream as an inspiration from Allah. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has said:
The true dream is from Allah and the bad dream is from Shaytan.
The dream of the believer is one forty-sixth part of prophethood.
The level of faith of the two great prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (عليهم السلام) was such that they immediately agreed to the inspiration and went ahead with what had been ordered to them. The mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) was not a Prophet and it would be completely human to hesitate and take some time and convincing to go for what Allah had ordered her i.e. to let go of her baby in a basket into the river. Therefore, it would not be a surprise that Allah had inspired her with this order a number of times. Letting go of the baby the first time would normally be expected only from a Prophet of Allah.
The same incident can be looked at using another angle. Allah says in the Qur’an:
And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.
The inspiration of the bee uses the same words used for the mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام). If inspiration is of such a sort that direct words are not uttered but the message is conveyed (either through strong feeling, sixth sense, dream where the event is seen or any other way Allah deems fit), then the differences in the words to the mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) do not matter since she was inspired towards a message whereas the words do not necessarily need to be spoken. Sometimes the apparently different words in the repeated text are either because the different words were also actually spoken and sometimes it is because they were actual repetitions of the message behind the word. Qadi Thanaullah Panipati explains as follows:
وقال فى طه انّى انا ربّك وفى النمل انّه انا الله العزيز الحكيم والمقصود واحد فهو اما رواية بالمعنى او ذكر الله سبحانه فى المحكي بالصفات المذكورة كلها واقتصر فى الحكاية على بعضها
“In Surah Taha Allah said, “it is Me, your Lord” (20:12) and in Surah an-Naml He said, “I am Allah, the Mighty, the Wise.” (27:9), and both ways it refers to the same. It is either narration by meaning or Allah actually mentioned all His attributes at that time but in relating it He mentioned some of it at one time and part of it at another …” 
The example of inspiring the mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) can be explained through both the ways as the inspiration could be without words and hence repetition of this event in the Qur’an carrying different words can be either of the two i.e. varying words in each passage were actually different or the repetition in the later passage is of the message explained so in different words.
The sister of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) repeating the words in a big palace in front of royals should also come as no surprise to anyone. The people in the palace would have been deciding what to do regarding the baby and hence a recommendation from someone being spoken more than once is nothing but natural and each time the recommendation was made, different words were used by the actual speaker.
ISRAEL AND OBEDIENCE
|And remember We said: “Enter this town, and eat of the plenty therein As ye wish; but enter The gate with humility, In posture and in words, And We shall forgive you your faults And increase (the portion of) Those who do good.” But the transgressors Changed the word from that Which had been given them; So we sent on the transgressors A plague from heaven, for that they infringed (Our command) repeatedly. [S. 2:58-59]||And remember it was said to them: “Dwell in this town And eat therein as you wish, But say The word of humility and enter the gate In a posture of humility: We shall forgive you Your faults; We shall increase (The portion of) those Who do good.” But the transgressors among them Changed the word from that Which had Been given them So we sent on them a plague from heaven For that they repeatedly transgressed. [S. 7:161-162]|
When the children of Israel were ordered to enter the town, they had flatly refused:
They said, “O Moses, indeed within it is a people of tyrannical strength, and indeed, we will never enter it until they leave it; but if they leave it, then we will enter.”
And again, they refused just immediately afterwards:
They said, “O Moses, indeed we will not enter it, ever, as long as they are within it; so go, you and your Lord, and fight. Indeed, we are remaining right here.”
It appears that the order to them was repeated by Allah as they had refused earlier on. The repeated order had different words. These two particular verses (5:22, 5:24) are more than sufficient evidence that the different words were not repetitions but rather a different statement all-together.
MOSES AND THE SORCERERS
|They said: “O Moses! Whether wilt thou That thou throw (first) Or that we be the first to throw?” He said, “Nay, throw ye First!” Then behold Their ropes and their rods- So it seemed to him on account of their magic- Began to be in lively motion! So Moses conceived In his mind A (sort of ) fear. We said: “Fear not! For thou hast indeed The upper hand: Throw that which is In thy right hand: Quickly will it swallow up That which they have faked What they have faked Is but a magician’s trick: And the magician thrives not (No matter) where he goes. So the magicians were Thrown down in prostration: They said, “We believe In the Lord of Aaron and Moses.” (Pharaoh) said: “Believe ye In Him before I give You permission? Surely This must be your leader, Who has taught you magic! Be sure I will cut off Your hands and feet On opposite sides, and I Will have you crucified On trunks of palm-trees: So shall ye know for certain, Which of us can give The more severe and the more Lasting punishment.” They said, “Never shall we Regard thee as more than The Clear Signs that have Come to us, or than Him who created us! So decree whatever thou Desirest to decree: for thou Canst only decree (touching) The life of this world. For us, we have believed In our Lord: may He Forgive us our faults, And the magic to which Thou didst compel us: For God is Best And Most Abiding.” [S. 20:65-73]||So when the sorcerers arrived, They said to Pharaoh: “Of course- shall we have a suitable reward if we win?” He said: “Yea, (and more),- For ye shall in that case Be (raised in posts) Nearest (to my person).”Moses said to them, “Throw ye- which ye are about to throw!” So They threw their ropes And their rods, and said: “By the might of Pharaoh It is we who will Certainly win!” Then Moses threw his rod, When, behold, it straightway swallows up all The falsehoods which they fake! Then did the Sorcerers fall down, prostration in adoration, Saying: “We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron.” Said Pharaoh: “Believe ye In Him before I give You permission? Surely he is your leader who has Taught you sorcery! But soon shall ye know!”“Be sure I will cut off Your hands and your feet On opposite sides, and I Will cause you all To die On the cross!” They said: “No matter! For us, we shall but return to our Lord! Only, our desire is That our Lord will forgive us our faults, That We may become Foremost among the Believers!” [S. 26:41-52 (Cf. 7:111-126)]|
The discussion between Pharaoh and magicians would have been long and not in a simplified way where one line was spoken by Pharaoh and one response by the magicians and over. The enormity of the situation would have created a huge hue and cry and there would have been voices all around and several people speaking and a number of speaking at the same time would be a natural occurrence. Since the Qur’an is not a storybook, it merely describes what Pharaoh said and simply describes what the magicians replied. It presents the key points and arguments in a simplified, clarified and a beautiful manner. Instead of presenting the entire dialogue in the style of English literature, where the flow would have been something like Pharaoh said, then the magicians said, then a voice came from so and so, then the Pharaoh said and simultaneously more voices proclaimed such and such and the magicians replied etc., the Quran presents the scenario in its own style which is user oriented and reader friendly. Therefore, when the repetitive story mentions other words, it simply mentions different words spoken during the bigger conversation.
The entire episode of Firawn and Musa (عليه السلام)’s meeting is quite big and lengthy with heated exchanges and there were exchanges back and forth many a times and so to state that the repetitions were all the original quoted words would not be an overstatement and should appear completely logical and acceptable.
Firawn threatening the magicians, after their embracing Islam, more than once using different words each time would not be an unwise assumption.
The magicians were more than one and it would not be incorrect to assume that the magicians did not speak those words all together synchronized as one group and so both the statements were spoken by the magicians separately; one group said ”… Musa and Haroon‘ while the other said ‘… Haroon and Musa‘.
The claim that magicians actually spoke both the statements has many proofs and is also logically more valid.
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, “The magicians were seventy men who were magicians in the morning, but witnesses of faith by the time evening came.” Ibn Abi Hatim also reported that Al-Awza’i said, “When the magicians fell down in prostration, Paradise was raised up before them until they were looking at it.” It is reported from Sa`id bin Jubayr that he said concerning Allah’s statement, فالقى السحرة سجدا (So the magicians fell down prostrate.) “They saw their places (in Paradise) made clear before them while they were in their prostration.” `Ikrimah and Al-Qasim bin Abi Bizzah both said the same.
Key points from this passage are as follows:
1) Magicians were seventy in number
2) To assume that they (all 70 of them) spoke one statement all together synchronized at the same time just appears very difficult to comprehend
3) The magicians after embracing Islam, stayed in prostration for a very long time and spoke in the position of prostration
4) They not just said that they believe in the Lord of Musa and Harun and of Harun and Musa but also said: امنا برب العالمين We believe in the Lord of the Worlds
5) Conclusion: All the different words attributed to the magicians were actually spoken by them and are not mere repetitions of the same statement using different words.
This position has also been adopted by the great scholars Abu Hayyan and Ash-Shi’rawi.
Another point of note is that when Ibn Kathir narrates such passages where one part of the information is in one Surah and another part of the information is in another, he puts them together and uses both the different passages as one story i.e. he considers them as different events of the same happening. For example, in the commentary/explanation of 15th chapter of the Qur’an, Ibn Kathir narrates satan’s refusal (15th chapter) and goes to the seventh chapter as the next statement of satan. In other words Satan said something (mentioned in one chapter) and what he said later (mentioned in another chapter) are different statements from satan and not merely repetitions of the same statement. One might find two statements from satan mentioned in two different chapters as contradictory but Ibn Kathir simply links them and explains one to follow the other.
Ibn Kathir takes the non-repetition approach and takes all the statements as original words as so natural that he does not address it directly and explains the matters in such a way that the alleged differences become clear and no missing links remain.
Even in his book, stories of the Prophets, he has adopted a similar approach of explanation and explains the 15th chapter in conjunction with the seventh chapter as if the words were not repetitions and all words were original and really spoken. Amin Ahsan Islahi has also adopted a similar approach in his exegesis of the Qur’an and has explained the allegedly contradicting statements as original statements instead of repetitions.
One thing that must be remembered here is that whenever a group is quoted and there are variations in the words in repetitions, then the same logic applies i.e. all were spoken by different people in the group. The magicians in the group spoke more than once. They also spoke in group when they asked whether Musa (عليه السلام) would throw first or them. Words differ in repetition and the reason is the same as stated above. Another example would be the discussion between Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) and the idol worshipers where the quoted words of the idol worshipers are different in each repetition.
What is man created from?
It is claimed that the Qur’an contradicts regarding the creation of man and mentions several things as the base of creation of man.
The Qur’an refers to the lowly beginnings of a human being from a drop of sperm, in several verses including the following verse from Surah Al-Qiyamah:
“Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)”?
The Qur’an also mentions in several places that human beings were created from dust. The following verse makes a reference to the origin of human beings:
“(Consider) that We created you out of dust”.
We now know that all the elements present in the human body (i.e. the constituent elements of the human body), are all present in the earth in small or great quantities. This is the scientific explanation for the Qur’anic verse that says that man was created from dust.
In certain verses, the Qur’an says that man was created from sperm, while in certain other verses it says that man was created from dust. However this is not a contradiction. Contradiction means statements, which are opposite or conflicting and both cannot be true simultaneously.
In certain places the Qur’an also says that man was created from water. For instance in Surah Al-Furqan it says:
“It is He Who has created man from water”.
Science has proved all the three statements to be correct. Man has been created from sperm, dust as well as water.
Suppose I say that in order to make a cup of tea one needs water. One also needs tea-leaves or tea powder. The two statements are not contradictory since both water and tea leaves are required in order to make a cup of tea. Furthermore if I want sweet tea I can even add sugar.
Thus there is no contradiction in the Qur’an when it says that man is created from sperm, dust and water. It is not a contradiction but a contradistinction. Contradistinction means speaking about two different concepts on the same subject without conflict. For instance if I say that the man is always truthful and a habitual liar, it is a contradiction, but if I say that a man is always honest, kind and loving, then it is a contradistinction. [Dr. Zakir Naik] Further reading on the topic.
Command to prostrate to Adam:
|And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate before Adam“; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers. [2:34]||And when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.” [15:29]|
It is alleged that when the event of 2:34 is repeated in 15:29, there is a difference in the words quoted. This is a very clear example of improper reading and lack of understanding capabilities. 2:34 speaks of the command given by Allah whereas 15:29 mentions in future tense. In one passage, it is stated as to what is to be done later on while the other passage provides the order for immediate action. They are not repetitions and are separate incidents all-together.
Allah’s instructions to Adam and Hawwa (Eve) (عليهم السلام):
|“O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the garden and eat of the bountiful things therein as ye will, but approach not this tree.” [2:35]||“O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the garden and eat therein as ye will, but approach not this tree.”.” [7:19]|
The full statement could very well be O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the garden and (fa) eat and (wa) eat of the bountiful things as ye will, but approach not this tree. Allah knows best. When Allah ejects Adam and Eve (عليهم السلام) from paradise, words vary in different passages. They can be formed as one harmonious sentence using the same logic. This style has been explained by a practical example in the end below.
Allah’s instructions to Musa (عليه السلام):
|And We inspired to Moses, “Travel by night with My servants; indeed, you will be pursued.” [26:52]||[Allah said], “Then set out with My servants by night. Indeed, you are to be pursued. [44:23]|
Qur’an 26:52 mentions that Allah inspired to Musa (عليه السلام) thereby indicating that He had inspired to him with the order to be obeyed straight away while in 44:23 Allah starts the instruction with ‘then’ indicating that the instruction carried order to be obeyed later on when the right time arrives. Allah knows best. Likewise in 11:81, Allah orders Lut (عليه السلام) with an order requiring immediate action while in 15:65, He orders him with an action that is to be done when the right time arrives. Earlier the plans were revealed so that the great Messengers could prepare accordingly and when the right time arrived, the actual order was given. Naturally, in two different instructions and statements, wordings are bound to differ.
Allah’s instructions to Zakariya (عليه السلام):
|He said: “Your sign will be that thou will speak to no man for three days, except with signals. [3:41]||He said: “Your sign will be that thou will speak to no man for three nights although having no bodily defect.” [19:10]|
The full statement could very well be Your sign will be that thou will speak to no man for three days and three nights, except with signals although having no bodily defects. Allah knows best.
Maryam’s question at the announcement of the birth of Eisa (عليهم السلام):
The question of lady Maryam on the announcement of the birth of a son varies in wordings in the third chapter Ale-Imran and 19th chapter Maryam. When the angel announces the birth of a son, she asks in amazement and surprise. Since this was such a big news and incident, she definitely felt really confused, shocked, surprised and carried all sorts of different emotions. Therefore, asking about it more than once would be very much natural and the words varying in each question would also be very much natural. The same can be said about the varying words in the question of Zakariya (عليه السلام) when he asks as to how he could have a son when he is old and wife barren (third chapter Ale-Imran and 19th chapter Maryam).
The meeting of angels with Ibrahim (عليه السلام)
It is asked as to how one could reconcile the sequence of events in 11:69-71, 15:51-60, and 51:24-37. The summary of criticism here is: After the angels refuse to eat and they sensed Ibrahim (عليه السلام)’s fear, they told him not to fear in 51:28 and told him about the glad tidings of Isaac (عليه السلام), while in 11:70 they told him that they were sent to the people of Lot. So which is it? What did the angels tell Ibrahim (عليه السلام) right after they sensed he was scared after they refused to eat the food? Did they tell him about Isaac (عليه السلام) or about being sent to the people of Lot?
Would it sound logical that the angels (more than two at least) all spoke unanimously in one voice? The angels could have spoken in groups. Assuming they were six; three of them could have given the glad tidings of a child while the other three could have spoken of their mission towards Lut (a.s).
Another possibility is that Allah has described the situation to us and what happened overall and the sequence is not important. It is something similar to how one may describe how his day went; he would describe the events but the sequence would not be relevant and later on he may describe an earlier event. The Sahaba described the events of wars in such a style; they would narrate incidents within the battle when they would discuss and now that we read them, we do not know for sure the correct sequence; we use intellect and supporting evidences to derive a sequence. The same is generally true for Sirah.
The Qur’anic style is left open that we cannot form a sequence with 100% reliability (which is not the purpose as well) while at the same time, room for contradiction is closed.
When a Prophet is quoted speaking to his people:
Messengers of Allah did not simply make one statement or call during their entire prophethood. When a Messenger is quoted giving a message using some words, it does not mean that he gave only that message once, neither does it mean that he gave only that message in the same words every time. Therefore, variations in words quoted to the Messengers of Allah are not a repetition but rather different statements entirely.
Similarly, when Allah instructs His Messengers regarding what to say to the people, the same reason applies for differences in words i.e. these were not variations but rather different statements. Also, if the words in different passages can be joined to form one sentence, then that can be considered as the original single sentence while parts from it have been quoted in different passages. This style has been explained by a practical example in the end below.
When the statements in the Qur’an have been alleged to be repeated, it must be investigated whether they really are repetitions and there needs to be proof for that. Most of the time, such statements are original and different statements than those that had been previously quoted and so to compare two separate statements and calling foul when discovering differences would not be doing justice. Many a times, the message.is quoted using different words; however, there is evidence in the Qur’an when such a way of quoting something is adopted (the case of the mother of Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) stated above).
When something is reproduced from another person, there are two ways of doing it: either you do it word by word or you mention the essence on your own. One is quoting and the other is paraphrasing. The Qur’an has done both and there are evidences for each approach.
A practical example would be as follows:
I said to my friend (Friend 1) while Friend 2 and Friend 3 were listening:
It’s been a long time, where have you been?
Friend 2 quotes me and says that I stated: It’s been a long time.
Friend 3 quotes me and says that I stated: Where have you been?
Both the statements were actually spoken and there is absolutely no contradiction as both are correct. They are not quoting my message, nor explaining it in their own words nor even translating. They are quoting me verbatim and both are correct.
Similarly, if the said logic is applied to all repetitions, one finds no contradiction in the Qur’an.
Indeed, Allah knows best.
References and footnotes:
 Qur’an 7:124
 Qur’an 20:71
 Matthew 7:6, 15:26; Philippians 3:2
 Qur’an 5:60
 Saheeh Muslim 6438
 Qur’an 3:132
 Qur’an 8:20
 Qur’an 24:54
 Qur’an 22:75
 Qur’an 37:102
 Saheeh Bukhari 6583
 Saheeh Bukhari 6586
 Qur’an 16:68
 Al-Tafseer al-Mazhari
 Qur’an 5:22
 Qur’an 5:24
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir