Sam Shamoun and Robert Spencer: Does Islam teach that the Bible has been corrupted?

Last Tuesday night I sat in with Sam Shamoun on his ABN show to discuss what the Islamic texts say about whether or not the Bible has been corrupted.

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Comments

  1. says

    Sam Shamoun dealt with that that slippery young woman during the phone-in at the end beautifully. Tough, but absolutely fair.

    Also, I learned something I didn’t know before about Allah praying, but to whom, or what?

  2. says

    I’ve viewed the first half hour of this video, and I have to say this is great, very witty and funny, and educational.

    The video is also a useful introduction for anyone who wants to learn about, and then discuss with others, the Quran’s many famous problems, absurdities, and contradictions.

  3. says

    A really interesting show,I had before been doubtful that the Koran actually says,the way it is structured,that the GOSPEL has NOT been CORRUPTED.But it is true,it does says,in effect,that the Gospel has NOT been corrupted.Here is a short explanation of why:

    “The Koran approves of the Gospel as it Existed in Muhammad’s Day”

    http://www.antisharia.com/2013/02/21/the-koran-approves-of-the-gospel-as-it-existed-in-muhammads-day/

    AND ALSO

    “The Custom of Several Muslim Dynasties of Killing your own Royal Brothers after the Ruler Dies”

    http://www.antisharia.com/2012/04/25/the-custom-of-several-muslim-dynasties-of-killing-your-own-royal-brothers-after-the-ruler-dies/

  4. says

    Last sentence of my last comment should be

    Perhaps they would rather risk misinterpreting the Qur’an than risk committing shirk.

  5. says

    …and Traeh, in your above comments you wrote things such as

    “…in which winning sometimes becomes more important than the truth.”

    and

    “This is an important question, if you are interested in the true details of this…”

    I think it’s safe to say that all of us are interested in the truth. That’s not the issue. The issue, for me at least, is How much time and effort am I willing to allocate to this particular topic? The answer is “Certainly not much, compared to other issues.” Secondly, Am I content to tentatively accept believing what I think is probably true about this translation, based on the evidence and arguments I’ve considered thus far? Yes.

  6. says

    No doubt you have good reasons for deciding as you do on this issue.

    I believe you missed my point about praying on, versus praying to, perhaps because I buried the point in too lengthy a reply. My point was that the use of “on” suggests that the proper translation is not “praying.” One does not pray “on” someone. One prays to someone. One does however shower blessings “on” someone. You said the use of “on” merely reflects that Allah is above. I explained why that seems to me of questionable relevance.

    But I agree there’s no need to hash further over these details. Prepositions (like “on” and “to”) are among the most difficult parts of a language to master and make sense of anyway. Better for me to go read all the debates on this question, if I’m to pursue it further.

    Thanks though for your intelligent contributions to the discussion.

  7. says

    ”Also, I learned something I didn’t know before about Allah praying, but to whom, or what?”

    Satan, I should think.

  8. says

    Kinana,

    Notice that the vast majority of translations of 33:56 say not that God prays on or for Muhammad, but that God blesses Muhammad — If you check the link, you will find like thirty translations — and 5 of them are non-Muslim translations, and only one of those 5 uses pray. Only one of the Muslim translations even mentions what it calls the literal meaning — that God is praying. Even if that is the “literal” meaning, that in itself does not show it is the intended meaning; words often have several meanings, and very common meanings are often conveyed figuratively — figurative usage of a word can be so common that it becomes a cliche or trope, and hardens into a new literal meaning.

    http://www.islamawakened.com/quran/33/56/default.htm

    Sam Shamoun has debated the Arabic word usually translated in 33:56 as blessing or bless, and I guess Shamoun argues, among other things, that Muslim translators are trying to cover up the Arabic meaning of pray.

    This is one of those cases where, to decide if the translators are covering up the real meaning, one would need to know (or know someone who knows) classical Arabic. Even then, the answer might not be clear.

  9. says

    Traeh,

    You are missing the point. If you watch the video you will see that Shamoun has already acknowledged that the English Quran translations typically use “bless”. But the word is pray, and only an apologetic attempt to rescue the Quran and make it seem sensible twists the word to mean “bless”. I’m definitely in agreement with Sam Shamoun (see video), Zakaria Botros (see the link I provided), Raymond Ibrahim, and many others that the correct translation is “pray,” after having read/heard their arguments. The attempt to make it say “bless” is entirely based on post hoc embarrassment over the suggestion that Allah prays.*

    *Even though a hadith also states outright that Allah does pray.

    The idea that the supreme and only God (Allah, according to Islamic belief) prays is of course absurd, but the Quran contains many absurdities that may not have seemed absurd to the author(s). For example, the Quran also has Allah cursing (to whom?), and swearing by various other things. Why would the supreme Creator make curses or swear by anything? Those are things that humans do when they believe they are invoking their god(s). The authors of the Quran had no problem with Allah cursing, swearing, etc., so why would they have a problem with Allah praying?

    The Quran is loaded with all kinds of absurdities and linguistic oddities, many of which suggest that this “Allah” fellow is quite a strange guy. The pious translators do their best to whitewash these problems, and most other translators in this case have taken a sympathetic view, perhaps in part to avoid controversy by breaking conformity, rather than translate absurd propositions as absurd propositions.

  10. says

    Ok, Kinana, I read the Raymond Ibrahim piece about Boutros on this issue. I’m going to play devil’s advocate, since raising objections is one way to overcome them and understand the issues.

    The original Arabic phrase uttered after Muhammad’s name is Sala Allah “aliyhi we sallam, which literally translates into “Allah pray on him and peace.” This is founded on Koran 33:56, where it says that “Allah and his angels pray (yi-sal-un) on the prophet…”

    At one point or another, every Arabic speaker who reflects on this phrase asks, “Why”and how”does Allah go about praying on Muhammad?”

    In some ways, the above last sentence is the most convincing one in the piece. Ibrahim says every Arabic speaker who reflects on this phrase asks that question. Ibrahim is an Arabic speaker, and claims this oddity is self-evident to all such speakers — if Ibrahim is being accurate, then this is not something debatable that merely bothers one particular school of thought that might be biased.

    Ibrahim continues:

    The standard response from the ulema has been that, in this context, Sala does not mean “pray” but rather “bless.” This is why the phrase states “on him” (“aliyhi) not “to him” (iliyhi): only the latter would clearly mean that Allah prays to Muhammad…

    This raises a question. Does Arabic ever speak of “praying on Allah”? If Arabic only says “praying to Allah”, then it would seem that the usage in 33:56 might be a different meaning — not talking about “prayer.” This is an important question, if you are interested in the true details of this. Ibrahim continues:

    As Father Botros points out, however, there are some problems with this explanation. First of all, rare are the Arabic dictionaries indicating that the word Sala means “to bless”; indeed, the only time Sala means “to bless” is when Allah does it, as in the aforementioned verse, which obviously is never translated as “pray.”

    The above passage seems to merely repeat the question without solving it. We are told that Arab dictionaries translate the word as pray, except when Allah is speaking, and then they translate it as bless.

    Ibrahim continues:

    More telling is when Botros read aloud one of the standard recitations Muslims say at specific events from Al-Majmu’ Al-Nawwawi, vol.8, p.202: “Allah Sala on Muhammad and his family, as you did with Ibrahim and his family.” After a few more recitations, the prayer goes back and says, “Allah bless Muhammad and his family, as you did with Ibrahim and his family…”

    Botros’ pertinent question: If Sala means to “bless,” why then does the recitation go on to use the proper Arabic word for “bless” (Baraka/Barik) in the same exact context? If both mean “bless,” why the redundancy? Surely, then, Sula does not mean bless; does it mean “pray”?

    This again is suggestive, but not conclusive. People often use different words of similar meaning for the sake of emphasis or to avoid repetition of the same word.

    Ibrahim goes on:

    He then read from a very telling hadith recorded in Kitab Al Sunna by Abdullah bin Ahmad, vol.1, p.272: Apparently, when Muhammad reached the 7th heaven during the Isra and Mi’raj, he encountered Gabriel, who immediately said “Shh! Wait, for Allah is praying (Sala).” Muhammad asked: “Does Allah pray?” to which Gabriel said, “Yes, he prays.” Muhammad then asked, “What does he pray?” and Gabriel said “Praise! Praise the Lord!”

    The above strikes me as an important and suggestive bit of evidence, but not conclusive.

    I’m not saying that Spencer, Ibrahim, and Boutros are wrong about this. But the article above isn’t an open and shut case. One may reasonably choose to take Spencer’s, Ibrahim’s and Botros’ word for it, since one generally finds them correct when checked, but that’s not the same thing as seeing for oneself.

    One question I have with regard to this notion that 39 out of 40 translators, including 4 of 5 non-Muslim translations, are all covering up the “true” meaning (pray), is that Muslims do not bother to hide all kinds of things that seem a whole lot worse. They almost all translate the Arabic for “beat” (as in beat your wives) as beat, or scourge or the like. And we know how much brutality and how many other embarrassments are often allowed to come through translations of core Islamic texts. Why then are virtually all Muslim translators and most non-Muslim translators suddenly so consistent in distorting the Qur’an’s meaning in 33:56?

    I have an idea why that might be. The reason they translate the rest of the Qur’an without hiding the brutality is perhaps that they are afraid of altering the Qur’an, which they consider the Inlibration of God. But I can think of a reason they might be afraid to render “pray” accurately in 33:56 — I imagine you can guess the reason on your own, Kinana. But it’s not, or not primarily, that they are lying to non-Muslims, in rendering 33:56. If you and others are correct, and the right meaning is “pray,” the translators mistranslating the Arabic may be stretching the meaning to “bless” in order to avoid anything like shirk. To speak of Allah praying to some other being is shirk, at best. And Muslims are terrified of shirk. Perhaps they would rather misinterpret the Qur’an than risk committing shirk.

  11. says

    Traeh,

    Re your last paragraph in the post I’m replying to right now, I definitely agree that some Muslim translators may be afraid of shirk or being accused of apostasy or blasphemy etc., and I would add that non-Muslim translators might also be afraid of death threats etc. E.g. see Christoph Luxenberg re death threats re alternative translations. I didn’t suggest that the translators were trying to whitewash for non-Muslims only; part of it is they may be whitewashing for their own psychological reasons. The pious translators and the non-Muslim translators might have different reasons for arriving at the same result.

    “The above [hadith specifically addressing the question of whether Allah prays and answering yes that he prays] strikes me as an important and suggestive bit of evidence, but not conclusive.”

    My response to that point is pretty much summed up in the bracketed insertion: the hadith in question addresses the issue specifically and affirms that Allah prays. To counter that clear Islamic evidence, you’d have to show that the hadith was somehow invalid according to Islamic standards, or that there is at least one opposing hadith saying that Allah doesn’t pray.

    “Why then are virtually all Muslim translators and most non-Muslim translators suddenly so consistent in distorting the Qur’an’s meaning in 33:56?”

    Nothing sudden about it. There are numerous examples of consistent whitewashing. Who says they can’t consistently whitewash? The translations are not blind and independent. They read each other. Once one or a few translators make a choice, all the others can then just follow that lead. “Bless” (or other words besides pray) seems like a clever way to avoid an awful lot of problems, for most of the English translators anyway.

    “This raises a question. Does Arabic ever speak of “praying on Allah”? If Arabic only says “praying to Allah”, then it would seem that the usage in 33:56 might be a different meaning — not talking about “prayer.” This is an important question, if you are interested in the true details of this.”

    Not knowing much Arabic, I’m not knowledgeable of Arabic phrasing in general, but “praying on Allah” seems highly unlikely as a normal phrase. In 33:56 the meaning is that Allah sends his prayers down on Muhammad. It seems highly unlikely that a Muslim would say “I am sending my prayers down on Allah”–unless he was trying to get arrested or to provoke jihadists to try to kill him. But the absurdity in 33:56 remains: If Allah is sending his prayers down on Muhammad, that means Allah has prayers to send down, and if he has prayers, then he prays.

    A convenient way out of all of this is to make use of the connotations of the English word “bless,” and I suspect similar distortions have been used in translations into other languages for 33:56.

  12. says

    p.s., Traeh, the instances of Allah in the Quran swearing by various things, as well as instances of Allah cursing, aren’t generally whitewashed by the translators, though they raise the same problem as does Allah praying. I.e., the problem is that Allah is invoking something or someone other than himself (directly) in the swearing-by and (by implication) in the cursing examples.

    As to why translators whitewashed the prayer problem (33:56) and generally not these other problems of the same kind seems arbitrary and a bit of a mystery to me. It does seem Allah sending prayers on (and thus having prayers for) Muhammad in particular is a sore spot for many Muslim scholars and especially embarrassing, since, among other things, it reminds of the allegation which many skeptics have made about Islam since its inception, i.e., that Allah is just Muhammad’s concoction to serve his (Muhammad’s) own desires. Indeed, other parts of Sura 33, including the passage preceding 33:56, seem suspiciously designed to honour Muhammad and give him special privileges and powers. Also see 66:1-5, where Allah sides with Muhammad in a domestic dispute between the latter and his wives.

  13. says

    To Kinana,

    Kinana said:

    Re your last paragraph in the post I’m replying to right now, I definitely agree that some Muslim translators may be afraid of shirk or being accused of apostasy or blasphemy etc., and I would add that non-Muslim translators might also be afraid of death threats etc. E.g. see Christoph Luxenberg re death threats re alternative translations. I didn’t suggest that the translators were trying to whitewash for non-Muslims only; part of it is they may be whitewashing for their own psychological reasons. The pious translators and the non-Muslim translators might have different reasons for arriving at the same result.

    Duly noted.

    Traeh said:

    “The above [hadith specifically addressing the question of whether Allah prays and answering yes that he prays] strikes me as an important and suggestive bit of evidence, but not conclusive.”

    Kinana replied:

    My response to that point is pretty much summed up in the bracketed insertion: the hadith in question addresses the issue specifically and affirms that Allah prays. To counter that clear Islamic evidence, you’d have to show that the hadith was somehow invalid according to Islamic standards, or that there is at least one opposing hadith saying that Allah doesn’t pray.

    Traeh replied:

    Even if there is no opposing hadith, a single hadith — and is it sahih? or of a lower standard? — showing Allah praying does not by itself amount to a Q.E.D., i.e., to conclusive proof that Allah is praying in 33:56. I think you’ll agree that establishing a fundamental rule of interpretation within Islam requires more than a single hadith. One needs the overwhelmingly predominant constellation of canonical texts on the issue in question pointing toward a particular way of interpreting that issue. That hadith is of course significant for the issue at hand, but I’m not sure how much weight it has or how determinative it can be in deciding the meaning of 33:56 in the Qur’an. I’d say it’s one piece of a puzzle.

    Traeh said:

    “Why then are virtually all Muslim translators and most non-Muslim translators suddenly so consistent in distorting the Qur’an’s meaning in 33:56?”

    Kinana replied:

    Nothing sudden about it. There are numerous examples of consistent whitewashing. Who says they can’t consistently whitewash? The translations are not blind and independent. They read each other. Once one or a few translators make a choice, all the others can then just follow that lead. “Bless” (or other words besides pray) seems like a clever way to avoid an awful lot of problems, for most of the English translators anyway.

    Traeh replies:

    But are there examples where virtually all the translators whitewash so radically and in exactly the same way? Seems to me what one finds rather is a lot of un-whitewashed stuff embarrassing to Islam, but also some translators whitewashing it to varying degrees. Notice that in the beat your wife verse, that is what one finds. Some translators use beat, others chastise, others scourge, and a tiny number completely change and humanize the Arabic meaning. Some translators let the Qur’an stand on “beat,” others add a parenthesis after “beat” and insert into that parenthesis a softening phrase not in the Qur’an. You get a range of responses, not virtual unanimity, as with 33:56. And notice that almost all the translators who add softening parentheticals felt compelled to make clear that the softening element is the translator’s addition. So in addition to a drive to whitewash embarrassments, there is a very strong drive to fidelity to the Qur’an. The thing to expect, then, is a mix of translations, with varying degrees of whitewashing, where the embarrassment impulse rules, and varying degrees of fidelity, where fanatical passion for fidelity to the Qur’an rules. Thus the virtual unanimity on 33:56 probably indicates something other than whitewashing. Something else must be going on here.

    Traeh said:

    This raises a question. Does Arabic ever speak of “praying on Allah”? If Arabic only says “praying to Allah”, then it would seem that the usage in 33:56 might be a different meaning — [a meaning] not talking about “prayer.”

    Kinana replied:

    Not knowing much Arabic, I’m not knowledgeable of Arabic phrasing in general, but “praying on Allah” seems highly unlikely as a normal phrase. In 33:56 the meaning is that Allah sends his prayers down on Muhammad. It seems highly unlikely that a Muslim would say “I am sending my prayers down on Allah”–unless he was trying to get arrested or to provoke jihadists to try to kill him. But the absurdity in 33:56 remains: If Allah is sending his prayers down on Muhammad, that means Allah has prayers to send down, and if he has prayers, then he prays.

    Traeh replies:

    Well, looking at all 30 or 40 translations I’m considering, I notice that very few use the word “down”. A few of them use the word “shower”, as in shower blessings, which certainly entails “down.” But most leave out any reference to vertical relations of any kind. In any case, suppose “down” is somehow there in the Arabic. You are saying the verse says something like, “Allah sent prayers down on Muhammad”? And that the use of “on” instead of “to” simply indicates that Allah is obviously above Muhammad and therefore sends things down “on” people like rain, prayers, etc. Therefore, you say, I should not take the use of “praying on” as indicating something very different from “praying to”. The only difference, you say, is an accidental spatial one. Allah is up. Thus he prays “on” to the people below. Still, it seems to me that even though Allah is “up,” there is nothing about that which excludes praying “to” or requires praying “on” what is below. (Maybe in Arabic there is something impossible about using “to” from above downward, but not in English. I make a call “to” my wife whether she is above me in an airplane, or below me in some subterranean cavern.)

    Moreover, if Allah is sending prayers down “on” someone, rather than “to” that someone, that seems different from what is meant by prayer, namely an address “to” a Being for help or communion. If, instead, prayers are sent down “on” someone, that someone is thus made to appear the passive recipient or object of that “prayer” raining down “on” him, not “to” him. The use of “on” — if it is being used in the Arabic — suggests something more like blessings that rain down on us — not appeals “to” us. So this part of the matter still seems uncertain.

    Kinana said:

    p.s., Traeh, the instances of Allah in the Quran swearing by various things, as well as instances of Allah cursing, aren’t generally whitewashed by the translators, though they raise the same problem as does Allah praying. I.e., the problem is that Allah is invoking something or someone other than himself (directly) in the swearing-by and (by implication) in the cursing examples.

    As to why translators whitewashed the prayer problem (33:56) and generally not these other problems of the same kind seems arbitrary and a bit of a mystery to me.

    It does seem Allah sending prayers on (and thus having prayers for) Muhammad in particular is a sore spot for many Muslim scholars and especially embarrassing, since, among other things, it reminds of the allegation which many skeptics have made about Islam since its inception, i.e., that Allah is just Muhammad’s concoction to serve his (Muhammad’s) own desires. Indeed, other parts of Sura 33, including the passage preceding 33:56, seem suspiciously designed to honour Muhammad and give him special privileges and powers. Also see 66:1-5, where Allah sides with Muhammad in a domestic dispute between the latter and his wives.

    Okay. I wouldn’t be surprised if you and Spencer and the others are correct in what you are saying about 33:56. Perhaps someone could prove it or has proved it. I fear though this issue will be forever above my pay grade, insofar as the question might involve intimate knowledge of classical Arabic among other things. And I’m only too conscious of how questions of interpretation and translation sometimes become extremely subtle, and how even very clever people sometimes oversimplify the problems, especially people involved in a great deal of competitive debating, or in some great Cause, in which winning sometimes becomes more important than the truth.

  14. says

    Traeh,

    “Therefore, you say, I should not take the use of “praying on” as indicating something very different from “praying to”.”

    No, no. The important point is that he prays at all. The supreme and only God shouldn’t be praying, period. That’s the problem for the apologists.

    You are unlikely to obtain an absolutely certain answer to this issue. In forming my opinion on the issue I’m going by what’s probably true based on what I know thus far, and all that evidence points to the word in question literally meaning that Allah prays on or sends prayers down on Muhammad. I’m not making any certain conclusions about whether the literal translation is better than the others that use bless or other words like it, just that I’m about 99% sure that the word in question literally is pray, and I’m about 80-90% sure that the translators who use bless instead of pray do so because of their assumptions about Allah, i.e., that he doesn’t pray (because to assume to would be damaging to their beliefs and throw the whole religion into question, etc., etc.), so, they suppose, it must mean some kind of related religious or spiritual gesture.

    If you look at the root form of this word in the Quran, you will see that the vast majority of cases where it is used are translated as pray(er). I believe an exception is being made for 33:56, and few fudgings of a few other instances as well, mainly to keep Allah looking and acting like a supreme and only God is supposed to look.

    There is perhaps a useful analogy also with the word “curse” that is used quite often for q-t-l (kill) words when Allah does it, e.g., 9:30 says Allah curse [literally kill] them. Some time ago I asked Mark Durie whether he thought the translators substituting in curse for kill was an apologetic softening, and he didn’t think so, because even if you go with kill in that case, it’s still worded as a curse. My response to that would be then, very well, leave the word “kill” in there (as a few translations do) and let the reader see it as a curse.

    Likewise, I would suggest with the prayer/bless issue, translators should leave pray in there and let readers interpret it to mean bless if they like. Ha ha, of course, most Quran translators won’t accept that.

    I don’t see much point in wasting further time on this. I’m content with suspecting what’s likely true until some compelling empirical evidence shows my opinion is wrong. To really get closer to the truth of this, you’d have to take on a project something like Christoph Luxenberg’s. Want to spend about a decade of your life studying Syriac, Arabic, etc.? I suspect not. Me neither. That’s definitely outside the scope of my interests in Islam, where I’m more concerned about the truths that Islam permits rape, commands various kinds of murder, regulates and perpetuates slavery, orders warfare against non-believers, etc. I am also somewhat concerned about the unsupported hocus-pocus notions in the Quran, where both prayers and blessings are both superstitious, unsupported, and objectionable concepts, but that’s another issue.