As many readers already know, Muslim-to-Christian convert and apologist Nabeel Qureshi recently passed away. His death at a young age and with such an apparently promising future is one those all-to-regular occurrences that make us ask, “Why God?” But let us not forget that he has left behind many of his thoughts in writing.
Upon hearing of his death I decided to purchase his book No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity. Before taking a deeper look at its contents, I’ll start by saying I recommend the book.
The purpose of the book is to argue “that the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims” (p. 13). This is not the conclusion the Muslim Nabeel wanted to reach:
Leaving Islam meant sacrificing everything I knew and devastating the people I loved most. (p. 25)
I did not want to believe in Christianity at all. (p. 25)
I did not first become disillusioned with Islam, nor did I see the beauty of the gospel. As compelling as I find the Christian message now, I did not find it compelling at all as a Muslim. I believed that Allah was loving, that Muhammad was peaceful, that the Quran was beautiful, that tawhid was the perfect doctrine, and that truly following sharia made one righteous before Allah. I did not feel any need for the gospel, and I certainly did not see it as a superior message. (p. 150)
The first half of the book tries to clear away the relativism that causes people to claim Islam and Christianity are basically the same.
So when I hear people say that Islam and Christianity are basically the same, I have to try to restrain my incredulous response. Are Islam and Christianity the same? My parents certainly do not think so, nor do any of the dozens of friends I lost. This cliche is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of converts who have left Islam for Christianity and vice versa.
Not only are these religions different, but the differences have far greater ramifications than I realized when I converted. I knew that the historical doctrines of the two religions were different, but doctrines do not exist in a vacuum. They work together to impact the way we see the world, which in turn changes who we are. (p. 25)
Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of sharia, a law to follow. Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of God himself, a relationship with him that leads to heart transformation. (p. 45)
He makes this interesting comment about the Quran and the Trinity. I wonder if Muslims agree with assessment.
So the trinity that the Quran denies is actually tritheism, three gods: Allah, Jesus, and Mary. At this point, some Christians argue the Quran gets the Trinity wrong, and this disproves the Quran. Muslims often argue in response that there very well may have been Christians that worshiped Mary, Jesus, and God as a trinity, and that the verses of the Quran are directed toward them. I choose to avoid this discussion, emphasizing instead that the Quran effectively denies polytheism, three gods, not the concept of a triune God as Christianity has traditionally taught.
Throughout the rest of the Quran, Allah regularly says that there is only one God (e.g., 16.51; 47.19; 112.1), but always as a rejection of polytheism. The Quran never rejects the possibility of one God subsisting in three persons. The omission is noteworthy, as this had been the orthodox doctrine of Christianity for centuries before Muhammad and the advent of the Quran. (p. 60)
The second half of the book argues that Christianity, not Islam, is true. Nabeel summarizes his findings:
After thoroughly investigating the truth claims of Islam and Christianity, even while a Muslim, there was no avoiding the obvious truth: The evidence in favor of Christianity was far, far stronger than the evidence for Islam. (p. 290)
Examining the claims of Islam and Christianity over four years, I went from utter conviction in Islam to reluctantly embracing the gospel. The evidence in favor of Christianity was so strong I had no choice. What I discovered during my journey is what I will be sharing in the next five parts of this book. (pp. 151-152)
Studying the following main topics converted Nabeel: (1) Jesus’s death by crucifixion, (2) Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, (3) Jesus’s claim to be God, (4) the prophetic authority of Muhammad, and (5) the divine inspiration of the Quran (p. 155).
On Jesus’s death and resurrection he states:
The most salient point of the evening for me, the one that mattered most to a mind accustomed to thinking in terms of authority, is that virtually no non-Muslim scholar agrees with the Islamic position. For all intents and purposes, there is a unanimous opinion within academia that Jesus died by crucifixion. Although scholarly unanimity is not evidence per se, it was a jarring perspective check. (p. 162)
This last fact [not a single report denying Jesus’ death by crucifixion in the first 100 years after his death] is more compelling when we consider the report that some people were trying to explain why Jesus’ tomb was empty. Instead of arguing that Jesus did not die on the cross, they argued that his body was stolen. So even though there was a perfect opportunity to suggest that Jesus did not die by crucifixion, it appears that this argument did not occur to anyone. (p. 165)
The question that we must consider, given that the cross would elicit such derision and aversion, is, Why would Christians preach such a message? Why not preach an alternative, more attractive message, like Jesus’ survival of the cross, or that, despite appearances, Jesus was never placed on the cross to begin with? Better yet, why not leave the cross out of Christian preaching entirely, teaching that he died by some other means or perhaps never died at all but was raised directly to heaven? All of these would have made the Christian message much more appealing to everyone who heard it.
There is only one probable answer: Jesus actually did die by crucifixion, and the disciples were preaching what they had to preach if they wanted to proclaim the truth. (pp. 168-169)
[T]he Theistic Swoon Theory gives no account for the inception of the Christian church. What was it that drove the early Christians to preach Jesus crucified and resurrected if they had themselves colluded in saving him? Were they liars, or must we discard additional reams of evidence and argue that they did not preach a crucified and resurrected Messiah? Ultimately, this theory requires the investigator to disregard not only all the evidence about Jesus’ death but also our entire understanding of early Christianity, though it is formed from dozens of sources. (p. 176)
But, as far as my investigation on this issue was concerned, I recalled my commitment to objectivity and had to be honest with myself. Would an objective observer conclude that Jesus died by crucifixion? Of course, the atheist and agnostic scholars answered that question for us with a resounding voice: Yes, one certainly would. (p. 182)
Some Muslims try to take biblical verses out of context to argue that the gospels actually say Jesus survived the crucifixion (see A Refutation of Ahmed Deedat’s Crucifixion Or Cruci-fiction for an example). Nabeel responds:
Regarding the biblical verses cited as subtle traces of God’s divine plan, it needs to be pointed out that these verses occur in the context of four Gospels that repeatedly proclaim Jesus prophesied his death and that he did die. To extract verses from their context and say they assert the exact opposite of their context is a poor handling of texts, unless there is good reason to do so.
In this case, not only is there no good reason to do so, but also there is a good reason not to: The verses prophesying and proclaiming Jesus’ death are abundant and clear, whereas these “subtle traces” are often solitary and require an unlikely interpretation. One of the basic rules of proper hermeneutics, whether Quranic or biblical or secular, is to interpret unclear statements in light of clear ones, not the other way around. To ignore the clear statements of Jesus’ death, and to point to these verses as hints that God saved him, is a poor method of investigation. (p. 175)
Muslims often portray the apostle Paul as the corrupter of Jesus’s message. Once again, Nabeel points out the flaw in this reasoning:
So Paul does not rebel against Peter and James. Rather, he submits to their authority. When there is need to correct Peter, Paul does not dare invoke his own authority but reminds Peter of his own standards. Finally, Paul is not the one who absolves Gentiles of following the law; that is Peter, the very disciple who ushered in the era of evangelizing the Gentiles. (p. 202)
Paul could not have had the means because Allah promised to make the disciples insuperable; there is no viable motive for Paul to deceive the church as his efforts earned him only persecution and a death sentence; and there is no model suggested that clarifies how Paul might have had an opportunity to overcome all the disciples and hijack the church. (p. 206)
Note how Nabeel plays of the Quran’s claims about the disciples against the theory about Paul corrupting Jesus’s message. If Paul did corrupt Jesus’s message so thoroughly then the Quran is wrong about what it says about Jesus’s disciples. If Paul did not corrupt Jesus’s message then Jesus’s message is not what the Quran says it was. The Muslim has no way out of the dilemma.
When it comes to Jesus’s claims to be divine Muslims also take Bible verses out of context in an attempt to prove their point.
How could I use verses from John’s gospel to deny the deity of Jesus when that Gospel as a whole certainly proclaimed that Jesus was God? That would be disingenuous, extracting verses out of their context to suit my purposes rather than seeing what they actually say.
It was this realization that led me to change the way I approached the Bible. Instead of searching for verses from the text that I could use to support my Islamic position, I started reading each verse carefully for the meaning it intended to convey. This meant understanding verses in light of one another and having to put the puzzle pieces together. How could John’s gospel call Jesus Lord and God (John 20:28) and say that the universe was created through him (John 1:3), while also saying that “the Father is greater” than Jesus (John 14:28 NIV) and that Jesus can do nothing apart from the Father (John 5:19)? A proper understanding of John’s gospel must account for all these verses, not just some.
The way to account for them, the way that the Christians of Nicaea and Chalcedon accounted for them, is by understanding that Jesus is God, that the Father is God, that the two are not the same person, yet there is only one God. In other words, the only way to account for the teachings of John’s gospel is through a monotheistic model with multiple persons: a Trinitarian model. In this model, the Father is greater than Jesus and Jesus does not do anything apart from the will of the Father, but both the Father and Jesus are God. (pp. 227-228)
Nabeel makes another interesting about Jesus claiming to be God:
To repeat, the one time in the Gospels that Jesus publicly claimed to be the Messiah was the same time he publicly claimed to be God [at his trial]. Since Muslims believe Jesus was the Messiah even though he publicly proclaimed it only once, we cannot demand he proclaim his deity more often or more boldly. He was not in the business of proclaiming his identity over and over again. He chose to wait for the right moment. (pp. 230-231)
The Quran’s claims and the historical evidence clash:
Could I really conclude that the Messiah was so woefully incompetent? Of course not, but that is what Islam requires us to believe if we are to take the historical evidence seriously. The records of Jesus’ identity are not just slightly mismatched with Islamic teachings; the records of Jesus’ identity are categorically incompatible with Islam. If Jesus truly taught tawhid, he was an entirely incompetent Messiah, worse than an abject failure. (p. 237)
The only option that accounted for the historical evidence was that the disciples simply got the facts wrong; but upon consideration, this posed a serious problem for my Islamic belief. If Allah saved Jesus from the cross while making it look like Jesus died, as most Muslims believe, then Allah is responsible for the disciples’ proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Therefore, Allah started Christianity, a false religion that has kept billions away from Islam. Worse, Christians believe Jesus is God because of their faith in his resurrection, yet the Quran tells us that people who believe Jesus is God will go to hell (5.72). Could I really believe that, just to save Jesus from the cross, God deceived the disciples, letting them proclaim that Jesus is the risen Lord and thereby sending billions of people to hell? (p. 237)
The Islamic narratives of Christian origins, and even of Islamic origins, are incompatible with history. In other words, to believe the truth of Islam is to ignore the historical evidence. (p. 291)
Some Muslims claim the text of the New Testament has been corrupted. Nabeel notes it’s more likely that the text of the Quran was corrupted than the text of the New Testament:
Apart from ignorance or bias, I am not sure how anyone can continue to accuse the Bible of corruption when the Quran would stand condemned under consistent scrutiny. Indeed, the history of the Quran was one of the factors that stopped me from accusing the Bible of corruption when I was a Muslim. On account of Uthman’s control over the Quran, there simply is no basis to accuse the Bible of large-scale corruption without condemning the Quran. (pp. 119-120)
Do not take away from this that you should argue the text of the Quran has been corrupted, however. It’s more a matter of applying a consistent standard.
As a Muslim, Nabeel had three arguments in Islam’s favor: “that Muhammad’s life and character testified that he was a prophet; that Muhammad was prophesied in the Bible; and that Muhammad had God-given insight into science” (p. 243). These arguments crumbled upon deeper inspection.
Regarding Muhammad’s character Nabeel discovered:
As far as his conduct with enemies, at times Muhammad would invoke curses upon them and encourage his men to compose insults and abusive poetry. On one occasion, he asked Allah to fill peoples’ homes with flames simply because they delayed the Muslims in their daily prayers. At other times, Muhammad sent assassins to kill his enemies in their sleep, and even to deceive and abuse trust in order to assassinate. He punished some enemies by cutting off their hands and feet, branding their eyes with a heated iron, and causing them to lick the dust until they died. He led battles against unarmed cities. He allowed even women and children to be killed during nighttime raids. On more than one occasion, Muhammad decimated tribes by killing all their men and teenage boys while distributing their women and children as slaves. This is quite contrary to the image of a Muhammad who reluctantly fought only defensive battles.
It also does not appear that Muhammad fought only those who were attacking him. Muhammad said, “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger . . . then they save their lives and property from me.” Muhammad clarifies in another hadith, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.” (pp. 250-251)
While critically studying Jesus’ claim to be God, I had been willing to discard John’s gospel because it was written fifty-five or sixty years after Jesus’ death, even though eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life would still have been alive at that time and in that community. If I treated the accounts of Muhammad’s life the same way, I would have to throw out absolutely everything, and I would have no basis to consider him my prophet. (p. 265)
This is the dilemma I had as a Muslim: Either I could trust the historical sources of Muhammad’s life and find a man I would never want to follow as a prophet, or I could question the sources and have no reason to consider him a prophet. Either way I could not conclude, based on the evidence, that Muhammad was a prophet of God. (pp. 264-265)
I would add that even if Muhammad was a morally excellent man that alone does not make him a prophet of God.
Speaking of scientific miracles in the Quran:
As a Muslim, I believed there were dozens of examples of miraculous scientific knowledge in the Quran, but when I started investigating them carefully, I found that each and every one succumbed to at least one of three critiques: First, the verses were being made to say things they did not assert (much like the “Muhammad in the Bible” prophecies); second, the science was actually well-known before Muhammad’s day (such as embryological development in stages); or third, the science was false (such as the bones developing before muscles). (p. 256)
I would add that a “scientific miracle” would have to involve learning something it was impossible to learn by normal human means (to point to a divine origin) yet still verifiable by normal human means (so mankind can verify it). Suppose a great scientist like Isaac Newton claimed he was a prophet on the basis of his scientific discoveries. If Newton could have learned these things by normal means then that is not evidence he was a prophet; it is evidence he was a gifted scientist. Likewise, even if, for the sake of argument, Muhammad made many scientific discoveries that would only make him a great scientist, not a prophet.
Unlike the Bible, the Quran contains few prophecies we can test it against:
When we consider the prophecies of the Quran carefully, we conclude there are virtually none to even test. (p. 276)
Muslims often believe the Quran has been miraculously preserved. Remember, the Quran started out as the spoken words of Muhammad and was only written down later. This is why part of the oral Quran may not have made its way into the written Quran. Nabeel did not find miraculous preservation:
If, according to the most trustworthy traditions, parts of the Quran were known by only one person, and other parts were missed, and indeed Muslims forgot verses, could it not be that some parts of the Quran were left out altogether? Can we really say such a precarious text has been perfectly preserved?
Unfortunately, we cannot. Sahih Bukhari puts the nail in the coffin by recording this hadith: “Umar said, ‘Ubay was the best of us in the recitation of the Qur’an yet we leave out some of what he recites.’ Ubay says, ‘I have taken it from the mouth of Allah’s Messenger and will not leave it out for anything whatever.'” So the very best reciter of the Quran was adamant that verses of the Quran have been left out. Muhammad himself chose Ubay as one of the best teachers of the Quran, and yet he disagreed with today’s Quran.
To summarize, not only is there no way to prove that the Quran has been perfectly preserved, but it appears to have been disproved: Portions are missing, and one of the greatest teachers of the Quran, hand selected by Muhammad, disagreed with today’s edition of the Quran. There is much, much more to be said against the argument from perfect preservation, but we have confined ourselves to just that evidence present in Sahih Bukhari, and not even all of that. (p. 282)
[F]ew Muslims realize that only one hundred years before, there were about eighty different readings of the Quran in the Muslim world, and that there are significant differences in Qurans even today. (p. 286)
Update: 2018-10-23: Quran’s Alleged Miraculous Preservation
At the request of commenter archivesislam, I’m adding this section to outline Nabeel Qureshi’s reasons for not believing the text of the Quran has been miraculously preserved. Qureshi explicitly states he is only presenting some of the evidence present in Sahih Bukhari. This is not a complete case. His argument can be found in chapter 38 under the heading “Perfect Preservation of the Quranic Text: In What Way Has It Been Perfectly Preserved?”
Qureshi starts by noting Caliph Uthman (r. 644-656) produced an official, edited copy of the Quran and ordered all other copies to be destroyed (Sahih Bukhari 6.61.510). Apparently at this time, a verse (33:23) was initially missed by Said bin Thabit during the copying of the Quran. Since we don’t have the pre-Uthmanic manuscripts it cannot be proven that Uthman’s edition of the Quran preserves the Quran perfectly.
Qureshi’s next point is that the Quran was originally transmitted orally instead of being written down. He cites Sahih Bukhari 6.61.509, where Umar is worried the heavy causalities among those who knew the Quran by heart could lead to a large part of the Quran being lost. Abu Bakr (r. 632-634) eventually had the fragmentary scripts and memories of the Quran collected and written down into one book. The last two verses of the Quran were remembered by a single man, Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari (Sahih Bukhari 6.61.511). Muhammad used to say Muslims tended to forget verses from the Quran (Sahih Bukhari 6.61.550). Even Muhammad himself is said to have forgotten a verse of the Quran (Sahih Bukhari 6.61.558).
The above accounts of parts of the Quran nearly being forgotten forever raise questions about the perfect preservation of the Quran. Qureshi asks (p. 282): “If, according to the most trustworthy traditions, parts of the Quran were known by only one person, and other parts were missed, and indeed Muslims forgot verses, could it not be that some parts of the Quran were left out altogether? Can we really say such a precarious text has been perfectly preserved?”
Qureshi continues by noting Muhammad chose Ubay as one of the best teachers of the Quran (Sahih Bukhari 6.61.521). Sahih Bukhari 6.61.527 says that, despite Ubay being one of the best reciters of the Quran, some of what he recited was left out of the Quran. Ubay insisted what he said was taken from the mouth of Allah’s Apostle. If Ubay was right then today’s Quran is missing verses.
Finally, Qureshi mentions Quran 2:106 (“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?”) and 16:101 (“And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse – and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down – they say, “You, [O Muhammad], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know.”). The Muslim may be okay with Allah abrogating the Quran but the non-Muslim notes the Quran itself says verses of the Quran are forgotten or replaced. This is in tension with the claim the Quran has been miraculously preserved. We may ask which version of the Quran has been miraculously preserved.