The Opinion of the Early Commentators
The problem with critics like Zakir Naik is that they contradict the early commentators, who had a high view of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Muslim scholar Saeed Abdullah has documented this in his paper The Charge of Distortion of Jewish and Christian Scriptures. 1 He concludes:
Since the “authorized scriptures of Jews and Christians remain very much today as they existed at the time of the Prophet, it is difficult to argue that the Qur’ānic references to Tawrat and Injīl were only to the “pure” Tawrat and Injīl as existed at the time of Moses and Jesus, respectively. If the texts have remained more or less as they were in the seventh century CE, the reverence the Qur’ān has shown them at the time should be retained even today. Many interpreters of the Qur’ān , from Tabari to Razi to Ibn Taymiyya and even Qutb, appear to be inclined to share this view. The wholesale dismissive attitude held by many Muslims in the modern period towards the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity do not seem have the support of either the Qur’ān or the major figures of tafsir.2
Abdullah Ibn Abbas
Ibn Abbas said that,
“the word Tahrif (corruption) signifies to change a thing from its original nature; and that there is no man who could corrupt a single word of what proceeded from God so that the Jews and Christians could corrupt only by misrepresenting the meaning of the words of God.”3
In another book, Ibn Abbas’ statement is repeated:
“They corrupt the word” means “they alter or change its meaning.” Yet no one is able to change even a single word from any Book of God. The meaning is that they interpret the word wrongly.4
Ibn Kathir recorded the same statement of Ibn Abbas:
“As for Allah’s books, they are still preserved and cannot be changed.”5
This is the tafsir of Abdullah Ibn Abbas, cousin of Muhammad and one of the sahaba. Since he is a sahabi, his opinions are held to be above the opinions and commentaries of all other sheikhs who are not sahaba. Who does Zakir Naik think he is, contradicting an authority like Ibn Abbas so confidently?
Tabari (died AD 855)
The renowned commentator Ali Tabari clearly believed that the Jews and Christians still possessed the original scriptures which had been given by them to God:
“.. the first one [Scripture] which came into existence, is the Torah, which is in the hands of the People of the Book … the Gospel which is in the hands of the Christians ..”6
Tabari’s charge was simply that they didn’t understand the true meaning of these scriptures. Even though he wrote against Jews and Christians while in Baghdad, at no time did he charge them with corrupting their scriptures.
Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi(died AD 1210)
Razi confirms that tahrif of the Jews was linguistic tricks they used to change the Prophet’s words.7
In Razi’s interpretation of Baqarah verse 75 on tahrif, he argues that alteration of the words (التَّحْرِيف اللَفْظي al-tahrif al-lafzi ) “is impossible if the speech of God has been manifested to a large number of people’ like the manifestation of the Qur’ān.8” This is exactly what we know about the existent Injīl, that it had been since the beginning manifested to a large number of people. He also says,
There is no statement to indicate that they take a particular word (tilka al-lafzah) out of the Book.9
Ibn Tamiyya states:
Then, among these people [Muslims] there are those who allege (za‘ama) that much of what is in Tawrat and Injīl [today] is false (batil), not of God’s Word. Some of them said that what is false is not much. It is [also said]: “No one has changed any text of the scriptures. Rather they [Jews and Christians] have falsified their meanings by [false] interpretations.” Many Muslims have held both of these views. The correct [view] is the third view, which is that in the world there are true ( sahih ) copies [versions], and these remained until the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and many copies [versions] which are corrupted. Whoever says that nothing in [these] copies [versions] was corrupted he has denied what cannot be denied. Whoever says that, after the Prophet (peace be upon him), all copies [versions] have been corrupted, he has said what is manifestly false . The Qur’ān commands them to judge with what Allah revealed in Tawrat and Injīl. [Allah] informs that in both there is wisdom (hikmah). There is nothing in the Qur’ān to indicate that they altered all copies [versions] .10
Muslim scholar Saeed Abdullah of the University of Melbourne makes the following comment on Taymiyya’s position:
We know from the history of these two religious traditions that by the time the Prophet was preaching in the early seventh century CE, the scriptures of both Jews and Christians were documented. The Tawrat they had at the time is what they have now. The same is true for the Gospels. Since the Qur’ān refers to those same scriptures, its references to them should equally apply in the modern era. This is perhaps the main challenge to Ibn Taymiyya’s position.11
Many other prominent Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali, and Shah Wali Allah agreed with these views. It was not until Ibn Khazem (d. 1064 A.D.) that Muslims began to accuse the Christians and Jews of having irrecoverably corrupted their Bible, that is with textual modifications. This was centuries after Muhammad, contradicting the early authorities like Ibn Abbas.
- Saeed Abdullah, The Charge of Distortion of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, The Muslim World, Vol. 92, Fall 2002
- Saeed Abdullah, The Charge of Distortion of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, The Muslim World, Vol. 92, Fall 2002, p.434-435.
- Recorded by Imam Bukhari (p.1127, line 7), quoted in A Dictionary of Islam by T.P. Hughes, (Kazi Publications, 1994) p.62.
- Al-Bukhari, Kitaab Al-Tawheed, Baab Qawlu Allah Ta’ala, “Bal Huwa Qur’aanun Majeed, fi lawhin Mahfooth – Or, the Book of the Oneness of God, the Chapter of Surat Al-Borooj (no. 85).
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir – Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: March 2000], p. 196
- Tabari, The Book of Religion and Empire , p.51.
- Razi , al-Tafsir; V, part 10, 118.
- Razi, al-Tafsir, 11, part 3, 134.
- Ibn Taymiyya, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, I, 209.