Part 1: THE SAMENESS ILLUSION
COMPONENTS OF THE PROCESS
Since every Muslim without exception believes that Allah is the direct author of the Qur’an – regardless of sect, levels of piety, education, or any other consideration – it is important to understand the process of how this “revelation” was delivered to “humankind” through Muhammad.
Having introduced the “same and not the same” theme as well as the resultant corruption charges, we turn our attention to how these themes play out in the form and method of Qur’anic “revelation”. For if the Allah of Islam were to be the same as the Lord God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, the concept and the format of his revelations would at least be more than “sufficiently similar” if not precisely the same. But in fact, far from being an issue of direct correspondence, there is no resemblance whatsoever, as to the process or the end result.
In order to comprehend the total lack of resemblance on the one hand, and the high level of foundational differences on the other, we need to consider how the Islamic source – the Eternal Tablet, i.e. “Mother of the Book” – emerged on the scene through Muhammad, and then how this event led to the final Qur’an. According to Islamic documentation this involved a four-pronged and intertwined process, composed of:
- The “Wahy” (i.e. Islamic inspiration);
- “Tanzil” (i.e. coming down);
- “Jibril” (i.e. agent of communication), and
- “Asbab Annuzul” (i.e. the reasons for coming down).
Generally speaking, Qur’anic “revelation” is a complex process occurring in stages, but culminating in the ultimate delivery of Allah’s final book, the Qur’an, to Muhammad.
At first it involved the initial “coming down” of the entire “Eternal Tablet” that has inscribed on it all of the divine information, or text needed by humankind, from the highest heaven (i.e. 7th heaven) to the lowest heaven (i.e. 1st heaven) near to the Earth. According to Islamic sources, this would have included all of the previous Judeo-Christian revelations.
This alleged “coming down” of the “Eternal Tablet” is said to have happened during the month of Ramadan at the beginning of Muhammad’s mission in 610 AD.
Surah 2:185, “The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an came down, a guidance for all humankind and clear proofs of guidance and criterion….”
Once the Eternal Tablet made it to the nearest heaven to earth, Muhammad needed to continue to receive information from it. The subsequent transmission of this information was said to have been communicated through angel Jibril (i.e. the Islamic version of “Gabriel”) directly to Muhammad’s heart, as in Surah 2:97:
“Say, ‘Whoever is an enemy to Jibril – it is none but he who has brought the Qur’an down upon your heart, (O Muhammad), by permission of Allah, confirming that which was before it and as guidance and good tidings for the believers.’”
This step of transmission to Muhammad’s “heart” is termed “inspiration” (Wahy), whereby Muhammad would in turn repeat Jibril’s inspired words, or dictate them out loud to his human record keepers bit by bit. This piecemeal process was accomplished mostly through inquiry as specific situations arose during his proclamations from 610 AD up until his death in 632 AD.
In what follows we provide basic descriptions of each component of this process—primarily to demonstrate indelibly how distant and distinct this entire process is from the revelation of the Biblical scriptures.
THE “WAHY” (ISLAMIC INSPIRATION)
“Wahy” is an Arabic term meaning “inspiration”. All supernatural communication between Allah and his messengers is said to be through angelic beings who in turn communicate with the prophets and messengers of Allah.
The Islamic concept of “inspiration” is shrouded in secrecy. However, the Qur’an declares three forms of Wahy as per Surah 42:51:
(a) By inspiration,
(b) From behind a veil, or
(c) Through an angelic messenger.
In sharp contrast to the Lord God of the Bible, Allah never speaks directly to any man, as we see in:
“It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger to reveal, with Allah’s permission, what Allah wills: for he is most high, most wise.” (Surah 42:51)
Every messenger/prophet like Ibrahim, Moosa, or Issa received Wahy limited to their people and their time:
“We did send apostles before thee and appointed for them wives and children: and it was never the part of an apostle to bring a Sign except as Allah permitted (or commanded). For each period is a Book” (Surah 13:38);
while Muhammad had a final and superior status,
“ 2…Your companion (Muhammad) has neither gone astray nor has erred. 3 Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. 4 It is only an inspiration that is inspired. 5 He has been taught by one mighty in power,” (Surah 53:2-5)
a status that is intended for all humankind, as well as for the Jinn, and for all eternity:
Surah 21:107, “And we have sent you (O Muhammad) not but as a mercy for the worlds (all creation composed of angelic beings, Jinn, humans, and satanic beings).”
Surah 68:52, “But it is nothing less than a message to all the worlds.”
Surah 81:27, “This is no less than a message to all the worlds.”
So we have established that Muhammad’s “message” is for all creation and for all time. However, his message is not only composed of “inspired words”, but also his “person” —meaning that all of his actions, and behaviours are also “Wahy.”
SEVERE IMPLICATIONS: MUHAMMAD’S VERY “ACTIONS” ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “REVELATION”
What does that mean? Not just his “words” are considered “Wahy”, but his actions are considered Wahy, as well, and therefore authoritative—meaning the way he walks, the way he eats, the way he trims his beard, the positions he takes for prayer—everything.
Surah 68:4, “And you (Muhammad) are an exalted standard of character.”
Surah 33:21, “Ye have indeed in the apostle of Allah (Muhammad) a beautiful pattern of conduct for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the final day and who engages much in the praise of Allah.”
As one can easily deduce, this elevation of all of Muhammad’s words, deeds, and actions as a “model” of behaviour is close to embodiment, and clearly sets the rationale as to the importance of Muhammad’s “Sunnah” as the second most important of the Islamic sources for Islamic Jurisprudence.
A further implication is that the Qur’an cannot be implemented without the Sunnah as referenced by the Surahs above and others, as the prayer rituals are contained in the Sunnah not the Qur’an. And this is just one simple and key example to illustrate the implications as elaborated upon in chapter 4.
TANZIL (COMING DOWN)
Tanzil literally means, “coming down”. It is derived from the Arabic root word Nazala— “to come down”. The notion of Tanzil emerges from the belief that the Qur’an itself is embodied physically in the Eternal Tablet (i.e. the “Mother of the Book”) and is normally situated up above in the highest heavens, while humankind and Jinn are said to inhabit the earth. Therefore, in between the earth and heavens there are seven heavens and seven earths.
Surah 65:12, “Allah is he who created seven firmaments and of the earth a similar number. Through the midst of them (all) descends his command: that you may know that Allah has power over all things, and that Allah comprehends all things…”
So the Tanzil refers to the physical action of the Tablet – containing all previous and current editions of the Qur’an, including what the Qur’an refers to as the “Tawrat, Zaboor, and Injeel” – having literally “come down” through the seven layers of the heavens to hover near the earth in the lowest level of the outer atmospheric realm.
It is from this nearby vantage point that it was “communicated” piecemeal (case-by-case) to Muhammad through the courier services of the angel Jibril.
The process of the Tanzil as described above has been claimed to have been the same throughout history, including all the previous 103 books discussed earlier, that came down from the Eternal Tablet to earlier prophets and messengers – from Adam to Issa – prior to the 7th century when the “corrected version” and final instalment of the Qur’an came down to Muhammad.
Surah 3:3, “He has sent down upon you, (O Muhammad), the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And he brought down the Tawrat and the Injeel.”
Note that it is not only the process of the “coming down” that is being claimed as being the “same”, it is the textual content of the Tawrat, Zaboor and the Injeel as well that are held to confirm the Qur’an.
JIBRIL: THE AGENT/MEDIUM OF THE COMING DOWN
The Qur’an declares that the angelic agent of this coming down and the inspiration (Tanzil and Wahy) is Jibril, who Muslim scholars associate with the Angel Gabriel, as mentioned earlier, and as referenced in Surah 2:97-98,
“97. Say (O Muhammad): ‘Whoever is an enemy to Jibril (Gabriel), for indeed he has brought it (this Qur’an) down to your heart by Allah’s permission, confirming what came before it [i.e. the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] and guidance and glad tidings for the believers. 98. ‘Whoever is an enemy to Allah, his angels, his messengers, Jibril (Gabriel) and Mikael (Michael), then Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers (i.e. non-Muslims).’”
Jibril is universally agreed upon by Islamic scholars, as well as ordinary Muslims, as the same being as the Archangel Gabriel of the Biblical scriptures, although Jibril is constitutionally different, in every way—as we shall demonstrate.
Now this Jibril is also referred to as Ruh-Al-Qudus (literally, holy spirit, not to be confused with the Biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God) according to Surah 16:102.
“Say (O Muhammad) Ruh-ul-Qudus (literally, holy spirit): has brought it down (the Qur’an) from your Lord with truth, that it may make firm and strengthen those who believe (Muslims) and as a guidance and glad tidings to those who have submitted (to Allah as Muslims).”
In Surah 26:192-193, Jibril is referred to as Ruh Al-Amin (trustworthy spirit):
“192 And truly, this (the Qur’an) is a revelation from the Lord of the worlds (humankind, Jinns and all that exists), 193 which the Ruh-Al Amin [Jibril] has brought down.”
To add to the complexity of the situation, although the word, “Ruh” corresponds to the word “spirit”, we are reminded in Surah 17:85 that Muhammad’s understanding of the “spirit” is limited:
Surah 17:85, “And they ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the Ruh (the spirit); Say: ‘The Ruh (the spirit): it is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge (regarding the spirit), you have been given only a little.’”
Who is this Jibril? Is he the same as the angel Gabriel we find in the Biblical scriptures? Could he be the one who appeared to the Prophet Daniel (who is not mentioned in the Qur’an, by the way), or to the Virgin Mary? Or is he some other being?
This aspect is critical in our exposure of the issues, since the nature of “revelation” in Islam and therefore the identity of Jibril are inextricably intertwined.
As a test, hypothetically—would the Gabriel of the Bible really say any of these?
(a) Surah 2:97, “Say (O Muhammad): ‘Whoever is an enemy to Jibril, for indeed he has brought this Qur’an down to your heart by Allah’s permission, confirming what came before it and guidance and glad tidings for the believers….”
(b) Surah 2:98, “Whoever is an enemy to Allah, his Angels, his messengers, Jibril and Mikael, then Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers.”
(c) Surah 66:4, “If you two (Muhammad’s wives) repent to Allah, [it is good] for your hearts deviated; but if you support one another against him, Allah is his protector, and Jibril, and the righteous among the believers; and, after that, the angels are his supporters.”
(d) Surah 19:17, “She (Maryam) placed a screen to screen herself from them; then we sent to her our spirit [angel Jibril], and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.”
And most especially the following Surah makes claims about Issa being taught by Jibril while in the cradle to defend his mother against charges of moral impropriety as well as other outrageous claims:
(a) Surah 19:27-31, “Then, carrying him, she brought him to her folk and they said, ‘O Maryam, truly you have done a curious thing! O sister of Aaron your father was not a wicked man, nor was your mother unchaste’. Thereat she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we talk to one who is in the cradle?’ He said, ‘Lo, I am Allah’s servant. He has given me the scripture and made me a prophet. And he has made me blessed wherever I may be and he has enjoined upon me prayer and alms giving, as long as I remain alive; and he made me dutiful towards my mother. And he has not made me arrogant, wretched. And peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!’”
(b) Surah 5:110, “[Remember] when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection), ‘O Issa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), remember my favor to you and to your mother when I supported you with Ruh-ul-Qudus (Jibril) so that you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and when I taught you writing, wisdom, the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel); and when you made out of the clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by my permission, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by my permission, and you healed those born blind, and the lepers by my permission, and when you brought forth the dead by my permission; and when I restrained the children of Israel from you, since you came unto them with clear proofs, and the disbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic.’”
But above all, the Biblical Gabriel would never deny the crucifixion of Jesus:
(c) Surah 4:157, “For their saying that, ‘We killed Christ Issa the son of Maryam the Apostle of Allah’; but they killed him not nor crucified him but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.”
In short, as this hypothetical line of questionings attests, the Islamic Jibril is far from being the same as the Biblical Archangel Gabriel. So we can rest assured that the Jibril of the Qur’an is a completely different being, with a completely different message.
ASBAB ANNUZUL: THE REASONS FOR THE “COMING DOWN”
Every time Muhammad was faced with a situation or event to comment on and resolve, he had to “ask” and then “wait” to receive the “revelation” that would “come down” via the “Wahy”.
Hence, the entire discipline of “Asbab Annuzul”, which translates to “The Reasons for Coming Down”. The prerequisite regarding the “reasons for the coming down”, is used heavily by Muslim scholars and expositors to provide the background events associated with the issue at hand in order to facilitate current and future decisions for guidance or judgment. The overwhelming majority of the Qur’anic text “came down” in bits and pieces based on the particular issue at hand.
A familiar term that might capture those instances whereby Muhammad received “Wahy” in response to events or questions arising from within his Muslim community or challenges presented to him by non-Muslims might best be illustrated by the Western judicial term “case-by-case basis”. However, this does not mean that all of the “revelation” was in response to such current events of the time.
One could then say that this process of inquiry produced a type of “situational ethics” through the establishment of a framework of prescribed and mandated answers to all the questions of humankind under the guise of being the revelation of “Allah’s will”.
As we shall see, there is no set of absolutes, but instead the completed Qur’an provides at best a situational “guidance” or “straight path” based on rules, mandates, and prescribed actions, combined with the separate but integral model of Muhammad’s application of such “guidance” that he was to be emulated during his lifetime and forever by Muslims. This explains why the Qur’an cannot be applied without constant reference to the Sunnah of Muhammad.