For a scripture to qualify as divinely revealed it must be totally accurate in its descriptions of reality: the past, the present and the future. The Qur’aan has many stories about previous prophets and their peoples. Some of these stories have elements in them that can be checked out for their accuracy.
One example of the Qur’aan’s precision in its historical descriptions is in the story of Prophet Yoosuf (Joseph), who was sold as a slave in Egypt, but rose to become an important official in the government, which made it possible for him to bring his whole family to live there in honor. Most historians agree that the entry of the Children of Israel into Egypt occurred when the northern half of the country was ruled by the Hyksos, Semitic invaders who were the first non- Egyptians to rule that country since the rise of the Old Kingdom. The Qur’aan always calls the Egyptian ruler who confronted Moses by the title of “Pharaoah.”
Every Egyptian ruler was called by this title starting from the reign of Amenhotep IV in the 14th century BC, but not before that. Yoosuf lived at least two hundred years before Amenhotep IV. The Qur’aan consistently refers to the ruler in Yoosuf’s time, as “ al-malik,” the king:
“The king said, ‘Bring him to me.’ ”
It should be noted that the Bible refers to the ruler of Joseph’s time as “Pharaoah,” which was an anachronism inserted by the scribes who wrote the books of the Old Testament centuries after Moses. Some critics have seized on certain details to try attack the Qur’aan’s historical accuracy. A famous example is the statement of her people to Mary (Ar. Maryam) when she appeared with the baby Jesus after giving birth to him in an isolated place:
“O sister of Aaron! Your father was not an evil man nor was your mother a prostitute!”
The critics argue that the author confused two historical figures: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Miriam, the sister of Aaron. The confusion here is really a result of their ignorance about how the Arabs use their language. The Qur’aan refers to Prophet Hood as the brother of ‘Aad:
“And mention the brother of ‘Aad when he warned his people among the sand dunes.”
The Arabs refer to tribes by the patriarch from whom they are descended. The tribe of ‘Aad was descended from a man named ‘Aad. Hood was not literally that man’s brother, nor was he literally the brother of every member of his tribe, but this is an expression used by the Arabs to indicate association with a people. Mary was a descendant of Aaron. That is why she is referred to as the sister of Aaron. In a similar usage, the New Testament refers to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist as a daughter of Aaron.
Predictions about the Future
The Qur’aan accurately predicted the military victory of the Romans (Byzantines) over the Persians:
The Romans have been defeated in the nearest land; and after their defeat they will conquer, within a few years.”
The Arabic word bid’ is more precise than the English word “few.” Bid‘ is used for a number between three and ten. The Persians dealt the Romans a crushing defeat in the year 616 CE, taking away Greater Syria and Egypt from them and eventually besieging them in their capital of Constantinople. In 622 CE, the Byzantines won a decisive victory against the Persians at the battle of Issus, which allowed them to regain all the lands they had lost. The Qur’aan also accurately predicted that the Muslims would be able to enter Makkah peacefully in order to make ‘umrah’, the Lesser Pilgrimage.
The prediction came in the middle of a long bitter war between the Muslims and the idol worshippers who ruled Makkah. It also promised the Muslims that if they fulfilled the conditions of complete faith and good deeds that Allaah would deputize them to rule the world and would establish their religion and replace the fear they were currently living in with security. That is precisely what happened.
Descriptions of Natural Phenomena
The Qur’aan calls the reader’s attention to numerous natural phenomena that are indicators of Allaah’s power, wisdom, mercy, etc. As humanity’s understanding of the workings of the natural has increased, the miraculous nature of these Qur’aanic descriptions has become manifest. This is not the forum for a detailed discussion of this issue, but a few examples are mentioned by way of illustration.
“The heaven I created by might, and, verily, I am expanding it.
The Arabic word moos‘ioon is an active participle. It indicates an ongoing action that is occurring at the present time and will continue into the future. It was not until the invention of the spectrograph and the development of a huge (100 in. diameter) reflecting telescope that Edward Hubble was able to discover other galaxies in 1926 and to document in 1927 the red shift of their spectra that indicates they are moving away from ours. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says about this: “The implications of this discovery were immense. The universe, long considered static, was expanding.”
Allaah says in Soorah an-Noor:
“Have you not seen how Allaah makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them a heap? And you see raindrops issuing from their midst. He sends down hail from the sky from mountains of hail therein, causing it to fall on whom he wills and averting it from whom he wills.”
Gulf News of Friday, May 30th, 1997 carried the following item:
Earth is bathed by a steady “cosmic rain” of previously undetected objects from outer space that pour vast quantities of water into the atmosphere, according to startling new evidence released Wednesday. The objects, 20- to 40-ton snowballs the size of two-bedroom houses, streak into the atmosphere by the thousands each day, disintegrate harmlessly 600 to 15,000 miles up and deposit large clouds of water vapor that eventually falls on Earth’s surface as rain, according to Louis A.
Frank of the University of Iowa. He led the research team that for the first time has captured images of these objects…taken at both ultraviolet and visible wavelengths by Frank’s specially designed instrument aboard NASA’s year old Polar spacecraft. These examples are just the “tip of the iceberg.” There are other remarkably accurate statements about oceanography, geology, cosmogony, physics, biology, embryology, etymology, hydrology and other subjects.
Contradictions in the Qur’aan
The Qur’aan challenges its readers to find any errors in it if they do not believe it is really from God.
“Will they not consider the Qur’aan carefully? Had it been from other than Allaah, they would have found many contradictions in it.”
The few apparent “contradictions” commonly mentioned by critics are easily explained.
One critic writes: “Calling together or ripping apart? In the process of creation, heaven and earth were first apart and are called to come together [41:11], while 21:30 states they were originally one piece and then ripped apart.”
First let us look at the text of each verse. Verse 30 of Soorah al-Ambiyaa’ states:
“Have not those who disbelieved known that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then I split them apart?
On the other hand, verses 11 and 12 of Soorah Fussilat say:
“And He turned to the heaven, when it was smoke and said to it and the earth: ‘Come, both of you willingly or unwillingly!’ to which both responded, ‘We come in obedience.’ And He decreed that they become seven heavens in two periods of time, and imparted unto each heaven its function.”
It is surprising that a critic educated in an American university would find a contradiction between these two verses, considering that the dominant theory of cosmogony taught in such universities is the Big Bang theory. According to astronomers and physicists, all the matter in the universe emerged from a state of extremely high density and temperature, which then split apart in an explosion that led to a rapid decrease in temperature and density.
This allowed for the formation of certain atomic nuclei. They say that after a million years the universe was sufficiently cool for hydrogen and helium atoms to form. After a few hundred million years, fluctuations in density in the expanding gas cloud led to an eventual separation into galaxies. Clouds of gas in the galaxies then pulled together to form individual stars. This model envisions two stages in the process of creation. The first is an unimaginably dense solid mass. The second is an expanding cloud of high energy particles which eventually cooled enough to be called a gas cloud, from which the galaxies formed.
The two Qur’aanic passages cited by this critic describe two stages in the history of the universe. Neither passage explicitly indicates which state came first, but it is not far-fetched to suppose that there was an original compacted mass that was split asunder, which led to a gaseous (“smoke”) stage, from which the heavens then became differentiated.
The same critic writes: “What was man created from? A blood clot, water , ‘sounding’ (i.e. burned) clay , dust , nothing and this is then denied , earth , a drop of thickened fluid .” Let us look at the verses cited:
“Doesn’t the human being remember that I created him before, when he was nothing.”
“Were they created from nothing or were they themselves the creators?”
“And I created every living thing from water.”
“And Allaah created every crawling creature from water.”
“And He it is who created the human being from water.”
“And, indeed, I have created the human being out of sounding clay, out of dark, smooth mud transmuted.”
“He (Allaah) brought you forth from the earth.”
“And among His signs is that He created you from dust.”
“Read in the name of your Lord who has created—created the human being from a clinging thing.”
“Was he not a drop of fluid that gushed forth?”
“He created the human being from a drop of fluid, then, behold, he becomes an open opponent.”
The perception of contradiction here is a result of confusion between metaphysics, chemistry and biology, and between different stages of the process of biological creation. The first two verses above are dealing with creation in metaphysical terms. In the first verse, Allaah reminds human beings that He created them and all of creation ultimately from nothing, which is one of His most sublime attributes. In the second verse, He poses a rhetorical question to highlight the untenable implication of atheism, “If you deny the existence of God, then do you believe that nothingness brought you into existence?”
Therefore, there is no contradiction between these two verses. The next three verses state that all living creatures, including those that crawl and human beings, are created from water. This is a biological fact that no one denies. All living creatures have water-based physiologies.
The next set of verses state that the human being was created from dust and clay and was brought forth from the earth. There are two acceptable tafseers for these verses. One is that they refer to Aadam, the ancestor of mankind. The other is that they refer to the chemical composition of every human being.
The elements of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc. are present in the earth. Through photosynthesis these elements are transformed into vegetable matter, which human beings consume directly or by eating the flesh of animals that have consumed plants. The source of all living creatures is thus, ultimately, the earth, or, by another expression, the dust of the earth, which when combined with water is called ‘clay.’
The rest of the verses refer to the biological aspects of human creation. The word nutfah is commonly used to refer to male seminal fluid, but it is also linguistically possible to use it to refer to the female reproductive fluids. The fertilized zygote is referred to in the Qur’aan as nutfah amshaaj, that is, ‘a mingled fluid’. In a hadeeth, the word nutfah is explicitly used to refer to the fluid of the woman. It was reported that the Prophet (r) was asked from what the human being was created, and that he replied,
“ He is created from both the nutfah of the man and the nutfah of the woman.”
After fertilization, the embryo implants itself in the uterine wall. It is at this stage that it is called an ‘alaq in Arabic. Therefore, there is no contradiction between any of these verses, al-hamdulillaah.
The Numerical Miracle of the Qur’aan
The most famous proponent of this idea was Rashad Khalifa, an Egyptian biochemist educated in the United States. According to Dr. Khalifa, there is a miraculous numerical code to the Qur’aan based on its “first” verse (Bismillahir- Rahmaanir-Raheem), which consists of 19 letters. This miraculous code is supposedly referred to in verse 30 of Chapter 74 (al-Muddath-thir) which states “Over it are 19.” Based on these two premises, Dr. Rashad claims to have discovered an intricate mathematical pattern involving 19 and its multiples throughout the Qur’aan and especially in what he calls the Qur’aanic initials which precede 29 chapters (Alif, Laam, Meem, etc.).
From this discovery, Dr. Khalifa concludes that the complexity of this mathematical code’s pattern in a literary work of the Qur’aan’s size is far beyond human capabilities, and that it alone constitutes the only real miracle of the Qur’aan which proves its divine origin. He further concludes that 19 and its multiples represent the key to the correct interpretation of the Qur’aan and Islam, and the reason why 19 was chosen is that 19 means “God is One,” which is the message of the Qur’aan.
Many Muslims at first received Khalifa’s theories with uncritical enthusiasm. However, when more rigorous critics began checking his numbers, they found numerous discrepancies and some outright fabrications in his data. His claims were based on the number of times a given letter or word occurs in a given soorah or group of soorahs. It was discovered that he would sometimes treat hamzahs like alifs and sometimes he wouldn’t, depending on the totals he needed in a given soorah to confirm his theory.
Sometimes he counted letters that weren’t there, sometimes he failed to count existing letters, sometimes he counted two words as one, sometimes he added to the Qur’aanic text and sometimes he deleted from it, all for the purpose of making the letter and word counts conform to his theory. On top of that, his letter counts changed over time, depending on whether he wanted to establish a pattern for a soorah by itself or as part of a group of soorahs. When confronted with inconsistencies in his data, he began claiming that certain verses had been inserted into the Qur’aan that did not belong there.
After this clear statement of disbelief he went on to claim knowledge of the exact date of the Day of Judgment and eventually claimed prophethood for himself. He attracted a group of followers in Tucson, Arizona, but his career was cut short when he was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant in 1990.