Does the Qur’an err in 3:183?

A number of questions have been asked pertaining to the following verse of the Qur’an:

الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَهِدَ إِلَيْنَا أَلاَّ نُؤْمِنَ لِرَسُولٍ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَنَا بِقُرْبَانٍ تَأْكُلُهُ النَّارُ قُلْ قَدْ جَآءَكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِى بِالْبَيِّنَـتِ وَبِالَّذِى قُلْتُمْ فَلِمَ قَتَلْتُمُوهُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَـدِقِينَ

Those (Jews) who said: “Verily, Allah has taken our promise not to believe in any Messenger unless he brings to us an offering which the fire (from heaven) shall devour.” Say: “Verily, there came to you Messengers before me, with clear signs and even with what you speak of; why then did you kill them, if you are truthful?[1]

Arguments raised against the verse[2]

It is stated that the verse raises the following queries:

  • Where is the promise stated in the Torah which the Qur’an quotes?
  • Which prophet brought the fire as a proof of his prophethood?
  • Which prophet was killed in spite of the miracle of the fire brought forth?
  • Is this the Prophet (ﷺ)’s justification for not producing a miracle?
  • Why does the Qur’an blame the Jews of the time of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) for the killings of the past?

Incorrect assumptions

The arguments against the verse are based on some incorrect assumptions. Where does the verse state that the promise has to be in the Torah? Jews have regional books as well which varied according to places; Babylon, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia etc. The Talmud was a semi-secretive book not openly shared by the Jews with the Goyim. It has continued to be added to, removed from, and amended. The Qur’an leaves it to the promise that the Jews narrated without going into details of whether it was in Torah, Talmud, oral tradition, or an interpretation of some verse of the Torah that the Jews had.

Torah had continued to change over time

The arguments raised against the verse assume that the Torah is an uncorrupted and preserved book. It has continued to be corrupted after the prophet Musa (عليه السلام) and what the Jews had in Madina with them was not the same book revealed to Musa (عليه السلام); therefore, to look for something in today’s Torah what had been revealed to Musa (عليه السلام) would not always bring positive results. The Jews of Madina did not dispute this fact with the Muslims which is an implied admission on their part. Perhaps, through oral tradition, they knew of certain ancient and removed passage about prophets bringing fire from heaven which is what they based their beliefs on.

It is even possible, and highly likely, that the Torah further continued to get corrupted even after the Prophet (ﷺ); however, I will not debate that as that would take us away from the original purpose of this paper – ignoring this later corruption claim will still not make a difference to the fact that the Torah we find today is not the same as the one given to Musa (عليه السلام).[3]

Exaggeration in praise of Rabbis

‏(‏ اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ ‏)‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ لَمْ يَكُونُوا يَعْبُدُونَهُمْ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا إِذَا أَحَلُّوا لَهُمْ شَيْئًا اسْتَحَلُّوهُ وَإِذَا حَرَّمُوا عَلَيْهِمْ شَيْئًا حَرَّمُوهُ ‏”‏

Narrated ‘Adi bin Hatim that the Prophet (ﷺ) recited from Surah Bara’ah: They took their rabbis and monks as lords besides Allah (9:31). He said: ‘As for them, they did not worship them, but when they made something lawful for them, they considered it lawful, and when they made something unlawful for them, they considered it unlawful.'”[4]

The Jews exaggerated the status of their Rabbis and considered them to be representatives of God and hence this promise of theirs could be an oral one taken by their Rabbis after the coming of the Prophet (ﷺ) which they attributed to God.

The Qur’an is clear; don’t misread

The wordings of the verse are themselves very clear: there came to you Messengers before me, with clear signs and even with what you speak of; why then did you kill them. Here, the verse speaks of two different things; 1) Messengers who came before the Prophet (ﷺ) brought clear signs from Allah (miracles), and 2) Messengers who brought fire from heaven. When Allah says why then did you kill them, it is only an assumption of the reader that killing refers to both groups of Messengers. Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه), the companion of the Prophet (ﷺ) said: Allah refuted their claim that in their Books, Allah took a covenant from them to only believe in the Messenger whose miracles include fire coming down from the sky that consumes the charity offered by a member of the Messenger’s nation”. This refutation is filled with wisdom as we shall see in next section below.

A false promise?

The promise that the Jews narrated could be a non-existent one as well; they simply made it up not because they wanted to test the Prophet (ﷺ) but because of looking for reasons to deny the one they were once passionately waiting for. The Qur’an did not correct them on this because of above reasons and also the fact that the intent is to refute them and not to go on a back and forth argument. If a person uses flawed logic and he can be refuted on it without being corrected, then that is a ‘two in one’ task achieved. If I say that I can fly or run faster than sound and someone responds with asking that why then do I then travel by car, I would be refuted in a wise way. That counter question is an irrefutable refutation and no one can claim that at least my superhuman powers of flying and running excessively fast still exist as I was not refuted directly. Similarly, when the Jews said that they had a promise from Allah, while it may not have existed (as numerous prophets did not bring fire from heaven), the response from Allah was a checkmate on this flawed logic.

No Bible in Arabic

There was no Bible in Arabic and if Allah had told them that no such promise was made, then they would have most likely twisted their tongues and made up verses[5] and hence the argument would have become repetitive with back and forth never ending discussions and arguments. The Qur’an is filled with wisdom and we witness at least one such case in this verse as well.[6]

Israeli traditions

Every event of the Bani Israel is not found in the Torah; some they recorded in Talmud, some through memory passing it down and some they removed/changed from their books. The Jews who embraced Islam, and even those who didn’t, never raised any such issue against the Qur’an from which it is apparent that the recently claimed issues are mere misconceptions and were never issues to anyone.

We find many narrations from Muslims who were formerly Jewish and yet those narrations are not to be found in the Torah and neither did the narrators claim as such. This further proves the point about oral traditions.

The Prophet () and miracles

Even though this is not a direct question against the verse under discussion, this criticism has been brought up to claim that The Prophet (ﷺ) never brought any miracle which is why this verse was worded as such i.e. it denied the Jewish request of showing a miracle. Once the wisdom element is considered, one would not come up with such an argument. The Prophet (ﷺ) performed numerous miracles by the Will of Allah.[7] There are numerous instances in the Qur’an where a request for miracle, from the disbelievers, has been denied to them for a number of reasons; some were simply mocking and hence they were ignored accordingly while some with hard hearts sought to make fun and they were dealt with accordingly as well. More on this here.

Why blame the Jews for the killings of the past?

The argument here is: ‘The Qur’an is against original sin and sin transferring from one generation or person to another; why then does it blame the Jews at the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) for the killings done by Jews of the past when it says why then did you kill them’. The Jews around the Prophet (ﷺ) were at war with him (ﷺ) and had attempted to kill him (ﷺ) several times and their behaviour was similar to those before them who had succeeded in killing their messengers. In addition, the Jews did not denounce the acts of those before them and associated themselves with them and as the saying goes ‘you are with those whom you associate with’. The Qur’an, therefore, puts them in the same category of people.

Indeed, Allah knows the best.

References and Footnotes:

[1] Qur’an 3:183

[2] Divinely Inspired

[3] The corruption of the Torah

[4] Jami` at-Tirmidhi, vol. 5, book 44, Hadith 3095

[5] “Among them is a group who distort the Book with their tongues so that you think it is from the Book when it is not from the Book. They say, ‘it is from Allah’, but it is not from Allah. They tell a lie against Allah and they know it.” [Qur’an 3:78]

[6] Qur’an refrains from matters that open never ending arguments. There are plenty of other examples as well where the Qur’an made the point without being explicit; one such example is the identity of the sacrificial son of Ibrahim (عليه السلام). If Qur’an had explicitly stated that it was Isma’il (عليه السلام), then the Jews would not have seen the points and arguments raised by the Qur’an and would have stood up with all might to defend their book. That is why the Qur’an did not adopt this approach as it was against wisdom. Even Qur’an orders the believers to argue with the people of the book with wisdom.

[7] Miracles of the Prophet (ﷺ) [1][2]

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