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Errors of fact and errors of interpretation

Reader comment on item: Is Allah God?
in response to reader comment: And the Quraan was not manipulated by people ? Oh please give me break.

Submitted by Carolyn (United States), Oct 13, 2007 at 18:22

There may be errors of fact and errors of interpretation in any text. The first is proof of fallacy. The second is not. Let us go through the claims listed:

1) If Muhammad was illiterate, he could not have written the Qu'ran.

That would be a reason for him not being able to write it without divine intervention. The Qu'ran claims that despite Muhammed's inability to read or write, God commanded him to read, so he read. Thus the above claim is an error of interpretation and whether it is true or not, it is irrelevant to the proof. Interestingly, I do not know of a place where Muhammed was told to write.

HOWEVER, Muhammed was a wealthy merchant. It is highly unlikely that Muhammed would have been illiterate given this trade. This is not a proof against this claim but it makes the claim in the Qu'ran suspect. Thus, if we can prove that Muhammed is literate, it would showcase an error of fact in the Qu'ran. I do not know if this has been done but circumstantial evidence suggests that he was not illiterate.

2) "And wasn't the Quraan created many years after muhammed's death"

Yes -- and no. The following is the generally accepted account: The version we use today was compiled by Caliph Uthman approximately 20 years after Mohammed's death because (guess what!) different Muslim communities had taken to writing it down and reading it DIFFERENTLY. So he standardized it. The fact is that there are words in the Qu'ran that are NOT Arabic. That means that these words could be transliterated into Arabic differently (example in English is the spelling of the Chinese capital city as Beijing or Peking).

The Caliph Uthman ordered all copies of the Qu'ran that were not as officially compiled DESTROYED. That means that we cannot be certain if the textual changes were because of transliteration issues or because (OMG) they contained (what were considered to be) errors. It is also generally accepted that there have been changes in punctuation and diacritic marks that affect how the words are pronounced since the Uthmanic text was compiled. Indeed, early versions of the Qu'ran do differ in these diacritic marks. However, there are no alterations (that have been discerned) in the text itself. The destruction of the alternative texts does lead some scholars to wonder if the Qu'ran had been altered. If an alternative text is found that differs materially, this would be a error in fact but currently all we have is circumstantial evidence that this MIGHT have occurred.

3) "during Ramadan how do muslims in Alaska keep fasting during the day when part of their summer it's day light for weeks in a row with out the sun ever going down"

One can always use Mecca's time. That would again be an error in interpretation, not in fact.

In any case, circumstantial evidence can be used against any religion. To date, there has never been ANY smoking gun evidence against any of the major religions despite the claims of nonbelievers. Each "contradiction" found can be rectified as an "error of interpretation" not of fact. For example, the notion that man was created from a clot of blood cannot be resolved by appeal to evidence--God is supernatural and thus can create man from anything (see also the Biblical tale of causing the sun to stand still -- besides the Bible says that God was created from ) or from nothing. Indeed, the Qu'ran states that man was created from a clot of blood (Surah 96:1-2), from water (Surah 25:54), from clay (Surah 15:26), from dust (Surah 30:20), and from nothing (Surah 19:67).

The believer will believe all of these things (we begin with nothing for God creates all and then mix together blood, water, clay, dust, etc.) while the non-believer will argue for contradiction. The fact is that the Qu'ran (and the Bible) are written is such a tortuous way that one can never find a contradiction because one can always find another interpretation to fit with the facts (for example, how many days does it take to create the world (8 or 6 -- different Surahs appear to indicate different results).

Similarly, in the Bible, did Jesus rise after three days? He dies on Friday night--so shouldn't he rise on Monday night? Instead, he rises on Sunday morning, making 36 hours in the grave but if we count Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it works. Again depends on interpretation.

One last point: One can never argue that the Qu'ran contradicts the Bible and therefore the Qu'ran is wrong. The problem is that Muslims argue that the Bible is corrupted. Therefore, any attempt to try to prove the Qu'ran wrong cannot appeal to the Biblical story for evidence. Similarly, you cannot use the Qu'ran to contradict the Bible, since Christians argue that the Qu'ran is a false book.

Conclusion: Don't try to "debunk" the Bible or the Qu'ran. If you believe, you believe regardless. If you don't, you won't. Countless scholars far more knowledgable than you or I have tried and all have failed (at least from the perspective of believers of the "debunked" religions). You won't convince any true believer of the correctness of your "proof" because, in fact, you can never prove anything with a text that can be manipulated like these books can.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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