Though Muslims often argue for the divine origin of the Qur’an on grounds that “no error, alteration, or variation” has touched its copies since its inception, such a view does not accurately represent the facts. While it is indeed correct to say that the Qur’an of today is a nearly perfect copy of its seventh-century counterpart, the notion that these copies reflect the exact words as handed down by Muhammad is becoming increasingly problematic.
Historical sources prove that there were several different texts circulating in Syria, Iraq and Armenia prior to the final revision produced by Uthman. Zaid, Muhammad’s long-time secretary, was called in by Uthman to oversee the final and definitive authorized version of the Qur’an. All other copies of the Qur’an were then burned so that there could be no challenge to the authorized text. It remains to be answered why Uthman would have had to produce an authorized version of the Qur’an, if indeed the Qur’an had been perfectly preserved from the beginning!
To quote Alfred Guillaume, one of the best-known non-Muslim scholars on Islam:
“Only the men of Kufa refused the new edition, and their version was certainly extant as late as A.D. 1000. Uthman’s edition to this day remains the authoritative word of God to Muslims. Nevertheless, even now variant readings, involving not only different readings of the vowels but also occasionally a different consonantal text, are recognized as of equal authority one with another!”
When one compares the different transmitted versions of the Qur’an, it becomes evident that there are, in fact, variants among them. While these variants usually involve differences in individual letters, vowels or diacritical marks, the Muslim claim of perfect unity in the copies of the Qur’an is incorrect.
Moreover, since part of the Islamic claim is that God has been giving revelations to mankind throughout history, including the Psalms of David and the four Gospels, one wonders why it is claimed that Allah miraculously preserved the Qur’an in infallible copies, whereas Allah was apparently singularly incapable of accomplishing the same feat with the previous revelations.
Let us weigh the validity of the claim at hand. Just how excellent is the literary quality? Ali Dashti, himself a committed Shiite Muslim, wrote, “The Qur’an contains sentences which are incomplete and not fully intelligible without the aid of commentaries; foreign words, unfamiliar Arabic words, and words used with other than the normal meaning; adjectives and verbs inflected without observance of the concord of gender and number; illogical and ungrammatically applied pronouns which in rhymed passages are often remote from the subjects. These and other such aberrations in the language have given scope to critics who deny the Qur’an’s eloquence. . . . To sum up, more than 100 Qur’anic aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic have been noted” (G. Allen & Unwin, 1985, p. 47). With all the linguistic “aberrations” and instances of incorrect grammar, the Qur’an can hardly claim to be flawless.
Are there errors in the Qur’an? – What about fulfilled prophecy?
Islamic apologists make the claim that the Qur’an predicts Muslims would be victorious at home and abroad (Surah 30:1-5). But this can hardly be utilized as an argument for a divine origin. The prediction that Muslims would be militarily victorious (especially when one considers Muhammad’s overwhelming military force) is not very impressive.
Not only is the time between these predictions and their subsequent fulfillment almost nil, but some argue the prediction of Islamic victory is better understood as a pre-battle victory speech from Muhammad to boost the morale of his troops.
Islamic prophecy does not even come close to the level of the prophecies in the Bible, many of which were written hundreds of years in advance, such as the prediction that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
Are there errors in the Qur’an? – What about scientific insights?
In A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam, Islamic apologist I. A. Ibrahim argues:
“The Qur’an, which was revealed fourteen centuries ago, mentioned facts only recently discovered or proven by scientists. This proves without doubt that the Qur’an must be the literal word of God, revealed by him to the Prophet Muhammad, and that the Qur’an was not authored by Muhammad or by any other human being.”
How valid is this claim? First, conformity to science is not proof of divine inspiration. As modern scientists will admit, scientific models are constantly changing, so they are not an absolute gauge for what is true or false. Second, there are some highly suspect scientific statements in the Qur’an which are ignored by modern Islamic apologists. For example, Surah 23:14 makes the claim that human beings are formed from a clot of blood. Surah 18:86 claims that the sun sets in a spring of murky water. Clearly, even if the claims with respect to scientific insights were valid, the above statements would immediately falsify any such notion of divine inspiration.
Are there errors in the Qur’an? – Are there historical inaccuracies?
While the list of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms is vast, one has been selected for discussion here. Surah 20 relays the incident of the golden calf. In Surah 20:85-88, 95 we read:
“He [Allah] said, ‘We have tempted thy people since thou didist leave them. The Samaratin has led them into error.’ Then Moses returned…and we cast them [(gold) ornaments], as the Samaritan also threw them, into the fire.’ (Then he brought out for them a Calf, a mere body that lowed; and they said, ‘This is your god, and the god of Moses, whom he has forgotten.’)…Moses said, ‘And thou, Samaritan, what was thy business?’”
Now, let us consider this for just a moment. How can a Samaritan have led the Israelites astray at the time of Moses (approx 1400 B.C.) when the city of Samaria was founded by King Omri about 870 B.C.? The Samaritans did not exist until after the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the resettlement of the area under King Sargon II in 722 B.C. with non-Israelites who then adopted a syncretism (mixture) between the religion of the Jews and their own polytheistic background. The Samaritans did not exist until 530 years after Moses. By this mistake alone, the Qur’an can be rendered unreliable and certainly not an inerrant work of God.
Are there errors in the Qur’an? – Conclusion
Having outlined just a handful of many problems and difficulties pertaining to the Qur’an as a divinely inspired work, we are all but forced to reject the Islamic claim that the Qur’an represents an error-free word of God to humanity. When a similar standard is applied to the Bible, the result is self-vindicating, for the Bible emerges flawless.