Summit Lecture Series: The Qur’an’s Early History with Nabeel Qureshi

Summit Lecture Series: The Qur’an’s Early History with Nabeel Qureshi March 22, 2016

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In 610AD the first revelation came to Muhammad while he was sitting in a cave he’s praying, he’s fasting and the first revelation comes. The Koran was primarily memorized although people wrote the notes on palm leaf stalks, stones and animal bones. Muhammad died in 623 AD. At no point was the Koran collected before Muhammad died.

So what you have then is Muhammad is reciting revelations to people and he is saying when you pray your prayer recite these revelations, recite this scripture. The term that was used at that time in Arabia for recitations by Christians because Christians were the ones reciting liturgy at the time, they had the Bible readings in their services the liturgical reading of a bible was called Koran. They called it recitations; the Siri word for recitations is Koran. The Christian’s are reciting Bible and it’s called Koran and Muhammad starts reciting recitations to his people and his says this is the liturgy that you’re going to recite while you pray, and he called it Quran. It wasn’t a book that he sat down and wrote, or that his scribes compiled, it was a set of recitations. When Muhammad died they sit down to collect all the recitations. We can imagine there were some difficulties that came in at that time, before we get into that.

This is the issue of the Ahruf, Muhammad says “Jibreel recited the Qur’an to me in one way. Then I requested him (to read it in another way), and continued asking him to recite it in other ways, and he recited it in several ways till he ultimately recited it in seven different ways.”

What in the world is he talking about? The Quran is revealed in seven different ways? Turns out that Muhammad would teach people a certain portion of the Quran and then he would teach other people the same portion of the Quran and when they got together they realized that their portions didn’t match one another’s. To reconcile this Muhammad said the Quran was revealed in seven different ways. Are you seeing how this is not like the New Testament? This is a very different beast. This is an oral text that turns into a written text and it comes with a host of problems.

According to early sources there are multiple ways to recite the Quran. If you ask a Muslim scholar about the Ahruf, “What is the difference between the seven?”, they’re response will be “Only God knows.” One guy spent over thirty years studying the Ahruf and his conclusion was, “I think it’s this, but only God knows.”

Photo: dailysabah
Photo: dailysabah

If the issue isn’t complex enough here is another one for you, chapter 2 verse 106 of the Quran lays down the doctrine of Abrogation.

2:106 – “None of our revelations do we abrogate of cause to be forgotten, but we substitute something better or similar: knowest thought not that God hath power over all things?”

What is the context here? People would come up to Muhammad (non-Muslims) and say, “You taught them this through the Quran and now you’re teaching them something contradictory through the Quran. How is it that you’re teaching them that and now you’re teaching them this?”

Then this verse comes revealed to Muhammad

2:106 – “None of our revelations do we abrogate of cause to be forgotten, but we substitute something better or similar: knowest thought not that God hath power over all things?”

In other words, Yes that was revealed before but Allah can reveal something better if he wants, can’t he?

So you have this concept where you’re able to replace portions of the Quran with later portions. Now Muslims had a really difficult time dealing with this. Today Muslim scholars believe there are three types of Abrogation. We’re not going to get into the details. Ultimately the way it looks in the Quran today there certain commands in the Quran that Muslims don’t follow anymore, because they say it was abrogated. And there are certain commands that aren’t in the Quran, that Muslims do follow because they say the text became abrogated. The reading is no longer found but the command is still there. So it gets really complicated with the Quran and the nature of the Quran. What you need to take away from the doctrine of Abrogation is that certain things in the Quran get superseded by other things in the Quran.

Are you seeing where we’re going with this? How does this make sense with the Muslim position that the Quran has never been changed? Remember from they said all the other scriptures have been changes but the Quran is exactly as it always was, it has never been changed.

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