Does the Qur’an contradict monotheism? Part II

It has been alleged that there are a number of passages in the Qur’an which indicate that Islam is not a monotheistic religion and that there are a number of verses which indicate so.[1] It is claimed that if one is to forcefully insert monotheism to such passages, then the Qur’an would lose points to the eloquence argument and hence it would be concluded that either the Qur’an contradicts monotheism or that the Qur’an’s claim to eloquence is unfounded.

Let us examine the verses claimed to contradict monotheism.

Allegation 1

And [We sent] Abraham, when he said to his people, “Worship Allah and fear Him. That is best for you, if you should know. You only worship, besides Allah, idols, and you produce a falsehood. Indeed, those you worship besides Allah do not possess for you [the power of] provision. So seek from Allah provision and worship Him and be grateful to Him. To Him you will be returned.” And if you [people] deny [the message] – already nations before you have denied. And there is not upon the Messenger except [the duty of] clear notification. Have they not considered how Allah begins creation and then repeats it? Indeed that, for Allah, is easy. Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed Allah, over all things, is competent.” He punishes whom He wills and has mercy upon whom He wills, and to Him you will be returned. And you will not cause failure [to Allah] upon the earth or in the heaven. And you have not other than Allah any protector or any helper. And the ones who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and the meeting with Him – those have despaired of My mercy, and they will have a painful punishment. And the answer of Abraham’s people was not but that they said, “Kill him or burn him,” but Allah saved him from the fire. Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe. And [Abraham] said, “You have only taken, other than Allah, idols as [a bond of] affection among you in worldly life. Then on the Day of Resurrection you will deny one another and curse one another, and your refuge will be the Fire, and you will not have any helpers.” And Lot believed him. [Abraham] said, “Indeed, I will emigrate to [the service of] my Lord. Indeed, He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” And We gave to Him Isaac and Jacob and placed in his descendants prophethood and scripture. And We gave him his reward in this world, and indeed, he is in the Hereafter among the righteous.[2]

Allegations against these verses are mainly twofold:

1. Either the Qur’an contradicts monotheism because the passage appears to be stating that the words those have despaired of My mercy, and they will have a painful punishment belong to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).

Or

2.There is no eloquence in the Qur’an and the entire passage is riddled with confusions carrying no sequence.

There is neither contradiction with monotheism nor any confusion and incoherence. The article containing the allegation has itself provided clarification to the first criticism:

Then often as the Quran does an interjection is made, Allah commands Mohammed to “say” or recite something specifically to his people, his tribesmen.

However, a question has been asked:

When do Mohammed’s comments addressing his people stop and when does the story switch back to Abraham?

The question is very much fair and valid. How does one know where the instruction to the Prophet (ﷺ) to proclaim end and the statement of Allah starts and likewise where the statements spoken by Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) start and end.

The Arabic text and the overall context of the Qur’an provides us with the understanding that the Most Merciful is none other than Allah. Keeping the teachings of the Qur’an in mind, one would automatically understand the quoted passages in accordance with the theme of the Qur’an. Even though this provides us answers as to whom each statement is attributed to, it is argued that it requires self-assessment thereby indicating problems in the Qur’an’s eloquence.

Let us examine each of these verses in a little detail.

29:16: And [We sent] Abraham, when he said to his people, “Worship Allah and fear Him. That is best for you, if you should know.

29:17: You only worship, besides Allah, idols, and you produce a falsehood. Indeed, those you worship besides Allah do not possess for you [the power of] provision. So seek from Allah provision and worship Him and be grateful to Him. To Him you will be returned.”

Here it is very clear that it is Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) who is speaking. If we ponder over the words of the verses, we observe that the words of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) are in second person.

29:18: And if you [people] deny [the message] – already nations before you have denied. And there is not upon the Messenger except [the duty of] clear notification.

This is the statement of Allah towards the nation of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).[3] When one reads the passage in Arabic, this makes complete sense and is harmonious as well.

The Arabic text of verse 15 (which is the statement of Allah) ends with “… Aalameen” Verse 16 and 17 end with “… Ta’lamoon” and “… Turja’oon” respectively which are the words of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) and they rhyme with each other. Then verse 18 ends with “… Mubeen”. This is the statement of Allah and notice how beautifully it rhymes with the ending of verse 15 (Aalameen). The change in person is done in a very beautiful and poetic manner.

The proceeding verses follow different rules of rhyme and rhythm however, they are not addressed as they are not relevant to the topic at hand because where the rhythm does not clarify the situation, the direct and actual words do. When one reads the Qur’an in its original language, no such doubts and queries arise. No wonder the pagan Arabs never raised questions against the Qur’an eloquence.

Then in the very next verse, the tense changes from second person to third person:

29:19: Have they not considered how Allah begins creation and then repeats it? Indeed that, for Allah, is easy.

This is the statement of Allah and coming to this conclusion does not require a far-fetched interpretation and can be evidenced from the verse itself where Allah says Have they not considered (third person tense) whereas in the previous verse, it is Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) speaking to people in second person.

29:20: Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed Allah, over all things, is competent.”

These are the words instructed by Allah to the Prophet (ﷺ) to speak. The word Qul (Say/Proclaim) at the start of the sentence makes this very clear. The Prophet (ﷺ) is instructed to speak these words and they have been quoted in second person.

29:21: He punishes whom He wills and has mercy upon whom He wills, and to Him you will be returned.

29:22: And you will not cause failure [to Allah] upon the earth or in the heaven. And you have not other than Allah any protector or any helper.

These two verses also carry the words instructed by Allah to the Prophet (ﷺ) to speak to the people.

29:23: And the ones who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and the meeting with Him – those have despaired of My mercy, and they will have a painful punishment.

In the 23rd verse, we see that the tense used is in third person which is the same as verse 19. i.e. both are the words of Allah and not of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) nor of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام).

Allegation 2

And [Abraham] said, “You have only taken, other than Allah, idols as [a bond of] affection among you in worldly life. Then on the Day of Resurrection you will deny one another and curse one another, and your refuge will be the Fire, and you will not have any helpers.”

And Lot believed him. [Abraham] said, “Indeed, I will emigrate to [the service of] my Lord. Indeed, He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”[4]

Arguments from these verses are the following:

1. The second statement is confusing as to the identity of the speaker. Whether the statement ‘Indeed, I will emigrate…’ are the words of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) or of Prophet Lut (عليه السلام) is not clear from the text of the Qur’an.

2. Using the Qur’an only and not seeking aid of tafaseer (commentaries) would guide one to the conclusion that the speaker is Prophet Lut (عليه السلام) and his migrating to his Lord (Ibrahim) would mean that he committed shirk (polytheism).

Using different translations and utilizing the help of the weakest one to arrive at conclusions is intellectual dishonesty.

As to the first question, a little clarification on Arabic is necessary. Two words/letters are being used for ‘and’ in this passage. Wa (و) and Fa (ف). Wa (و) simply means ‘and’ whereas Fa (ف) refers to that ‘and’ where the follow-up word comes after i.e. there is a sequence. If a person did this and (و) that, it would mean that he did both of these while the sequence is not of importance. However, if a person is said to have done this and (ف) that, it would mean that he did the latter event after the former. Hence, another way to translate (ف) would be ‘and then’.

Verse 24 quotes the response of the nation of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) to him. The verse starts with Fa (ف) and so does verse 26 indicating that Lut (عليه السلام) believed in him (i.e. he accepted his call) after he had delivered the message. Keeping this basic information in mind, let us take a look at the verse again:

Then (Fa) Lot believed him. And (Wa) [Abraham] said, “Indeed, I will emigrate to [the service of] my Lord. Indeed, He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

The previous verse quotes the words of Ibrahim (عليه السلام) stating that the disbelievers had rejected his call, then a little pause is taken stating as to who accepted his message using the word Fa (ف) and then the pause is ended and the words of Ibrahim (عليه السلام) continue again using the word Wa (و) this time.

When translators add words in brackets, it is not that they are using deceit or covering shortcomings but it is due to the fact that a literal translation does not always do justice to the text and the message especially where the language is Arabic and words and letters carry minute and deep meanings. If one were to read the entire passage in Arabic, one would find no issue worth seeking clarification.

As to the second point, even if it is assumed that the speaker is Prophet Lut (عليه السلام), the conclusion of polytheism appears very unwise. Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام), in the previous verse, is quoted as speaking to his nation who had rejected his message and then the next verse informs us that Prophet Lut (عليه السلام) believed in him. Now supposing that it was him who wished to emigrate to his Lord, how would he emigrate to Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) when he was right with him? If he had considered Ibrahim (عليه السلام) as his Lord, then the statement of emigrating to him would not make sense as they were both together. This clearly shows that the Lord of the one planning to emigrate was none other Allah which is indicated by the verse itself.

Conclusion

If one reads the Qur’an with the intent to find faults, then the silly arguments would keep on generating and the list of ‘contradictions’ would never end. However, if one reads the Qur’an with genuine intent to understand it, then most of the questions would be answered by the readers themselves and where problems still persist, a closer look at the Arabic words, letters and sentences would surely end the confusion. The Qur’an is the book of Allah and it neither contains polytheism nor incoherence or departure from eloquence. 

Indeed, Allah knows best.


[2] Qur’an 29:16-27

[3] Refer Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Jalalayn, Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas

[4] Qur’an 29:25, 26

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