Muhammad was illiterate, so he would have been unable to read either the Torah or the Bible.
Neither the Torah nor the Bible were readily available in central Arabia until long after Muhammad’s time. Paper, for example, did not reach Arabia until over a century after Muhammad’s death. The available writing materials were bulky and uneven. It would have required a wheelbarrow to tote the biblical scriptures around.
The vast majority of Muhammad’s people were pagan idolators — neither Jews or Christians — with little or no knowledge of the content of the Torah or the Bible. Christians and Jews were not allowed to live in Makkah, and those passing through were not allowed to share their beliefs. There were Jewish tribes living in Madinah, but Muhammad had been sharing much of the Qur’an for 13 years in Makkah, to those who would listen, before he and his followers migrated to Madinah (by invitation, and to escape persecution).
Muhammad had a life-long reputation for honesty prior to claiming that he was receiving revelation, at the age of 40. He shared the revelations in sections over a 23-year period — 13 years in Makkah and 10 years in Madinah. The Qur’an was not published all at once.
Much of the Qur’an covers materials that are in the Torah and the Bible. If, as Jews and Christians claim to believe, the biblical scriptures are divine revelation, and if, as Muslims claim to believe, the Qur’an is divine revelation, then the similarity of material is explained by the common author — namely, the Almighty.
In covering much of the same materials, the Qur’an differs with the Torah and the Bible in some significant respects, among them:
- The idea that God needs rest. The Qur’an states repeatedly that God never needs rest.
- The idea that God ever makes a mistake. In the story of Noah in the book of Genesis, it is said that God repented of the mistake he had made in creating the human being. The Qur’an makes no such statement, and, in fact, the story of Noah as told in the Qur’an is completely different from the biblical version. In the Qur’an, Noah is a messenger calling on his people to repent; when they reject his message, God tells Noah to build a boat; the boat is open to all who follow Noah, not just his family; the flood is not world-wide, but only drowns those of Noah’s people who don’t get on the boat; Noah’s own son is among those who do not get on the boat, so he drowns, to Noah’s dismay. Nowhere in this story, or in any other story related in the Qur’an, is there even a hint of God making a mistake.
- The idea that the Creator of the entire vastness of the cosmos has a son is rejected with great intensity in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, the son of Mary (called `Eesaa in the Qur’an) does not have a father. God said “Be” and he was, even though Mary had never been touched by a man. (The English version of the name given to us in the New Testament would be “Joshua”; Arabic-speaking Christians call him by the same name as the man who succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites, which is “Joshua” in English.)
Muhammad’s life is well-recorded. He spent his entire life in Arabia, making only one trip to Syria, with a caravan, when he was twelve. As a young man, he herded goats for a living. Later, he became a businessman, managing caravans for a wealthy widow. Impressed by his character, she proposed marriage, and he accepted — at the age of 25, marrying a 40-year-old widow named Khadijah. She bore him several children, only one of which — Fatimah — survived him. Khadijah died as a result of the persecutions Muhammad and his followers endured in Makkah, not long before the hijrah — the migration to Madinah.
This is an issue of integrity. Did Muhammad fabricate the Qur’an? Or is the Qur’an actually what Muhammad claimed it to be — a revelation from God (Allah)? I have read the entire Qur’an several times (in the original and astonishingly poetic Arabic). I was raised on the Bible, and eventually I decided to read the entire King James Version, which I did a few years ago. I have also studied the life of Muhammad and the history of those who came after him, and I have concluded that Muhammad was sincere and honest, and that the Qur’an is an actual revelation from the Almighty. (What happened after the passing of Muhammad is another story entirely! Muslims got some ‘splainin’ to do.)
About the Author
Former Assistant Professor at Fayetteville State University2005-2010
Ph.D. Music Composition, Harvard University, 1973