When Man Helps God
The Muslims’ efforts to improve the Quran
20 Aug, 2007
When rational people with open minds encounter a false statement, they normally rebuff it and take it as an evidence of deceit. If a person, let us say Mr. Smith, makes a legal statement that he lives in Rome, but it was found out that he actually lives in Paris, then people with sensible reasoning will conclude that Mr. Smith is a deceiver. Of course, there will be the odd ones who are foolish enough to justify the indefensible dishonesty on totally unacceptable grounds such as ‘Mr. Smith actually meant to say Paris not Rome’.
Such a foolish argument is unacceptable to any person with sanity, yet this is exactly how Muslims justify the numerous errors in the Quran; they virtually step outside the world of reality and enter in to another world of fantasy that only exists in their imagination.
To illustrate the mindless irrationality in the Quran, this article will scrutinise the story of prophet Lot as depicted in it.
Prophet Lot’s story is one of the least discussed in the Quran, yet it is packed with lies, deception and immorality of all those involved in the story - from Lot to Mohammed, his Quran as well as those Muslims involved in its interpretation and translation. The article will avoid discussing the ‘miracle’ component of the story and will focus on the morality side of it.
The story of prophet Lot is told in the Quran in both sura Hud (Q.11) and sura Al hijir (Q.15), The story goes like this:
Prophet Lot lived in Sodom, a town believed to have existed in the Jordanian valley. As per the Quran, Its inhabitants practiced homosexuality on a wide scale, despite Lot’s advice to refrain from such practices. Eventually Allah decided to punish the entire town because of their refusal to give up their abominable practice. He sent some angels, appearing in the form of men, with orders to annihilate the town by turning it upside down. The two angels visited Lot in his house in Sodom and disclosed their plan to him, and asked him to leave early in the morning. When the news of the arrival of the guests, apparently handsome men, spread in town, the male population of the town rushed to Lot’s house demanding to have sex with them.
To avoid the shame of allowing his guests to be sexually assaulted, Lot offered his daughters as an alternative!
This how the story is told Sura Hud (Q.11):
Q.11: 78: And his people came to him, rushed on towards him, and already they did evil deeds. He said: O my people! These are my daughters-- they are purer for you, so guard against (the punishment of) Allah and do not disgrace me with regard to my guests; is there not among you one right-minded man?
The same story is told in sura Al Hijr (Q.15) in verses 61-71,
61.Then, when the Messengers (the angels) came unto the family of Lout (Lot).
62. He said: "Verily! You are people unknown to me."
63. They said: "Nay, we have come to you with that (torment) which they have been doubting.
64. "And we have brought to you the truth (the news of the destruction of your nation) and certainly, we tell the truth.
65. "Then travel in a part of the night with your family, and you go behind them in the rear, and let no one amongst you look back, but go on to where you are ordered."
66. And We made known this decree to him, that the root of those (sinners) was to be cut off in the early morning.
67. And the inhabitants of the city came rejoicing (at the news of the young men's arrival).
68. [Lout (Lot)] said: "Verily! these are my guests, so shame me not.
69. "And fear Allâh and disgrace me not."
70. They (people of the city) said: "Did we not forbid you to entertain (or protect) any of the 'Alamîn (people, foreigners, strangers, etc. from us)?"
71. [Lout (Lot)] said: "These (the girls of the nation) are my daughters (to marry lawfully), if you must act (so)."
An unbiased Arabic speaking person reading the above verses, without referring to the tafseer (interpretation) books, would understand that Lot’s prime concern was the protection of his guests. In Lot’s judgement, offering his daughters would bring less shame than letting his guests down. This interpretation, which happened to be the interpretation I learned at school, is designed to paint a picture of total devotion by Lot to the protection of his guests, the angels of Allah. To most Muslims, that is all they need to know because they are not keen to become inquisitive or critical to the Quran. It is fair to assume that the early Arabs who read the Quran did so without opening the tafseer books, which came to existence centuries later. Therefore those Arabs must have understood the apparent meaning of the verses, which happened to agree with what they already knew through their contacts with the Jewish and Christian tribes. Mohammed must have known that the Arabs would understand the obvious meaning of the verses, and should have alerted them to the meaning hidden behind the words, had there been one, but he did not. There is no recorded hadith or correction made by Mohammed to alter the apparent meaning of the above verses.
But the disgraceful image of a prophet offering his daughters as sex slaves to the crowd outside was too difficult to digest or defend by later generations Muslims. Such an appalling behaviour was both unbelievable and inexcusable to the later generations Muslims, although it was not a big concern to Mohammed’s companions who were actively involved in murders and rapes on a large scale. The Islamic history of hijra, (Mohammed and companions’ immigration to Medina), contains some very scandalous stories about the generosity of the Medina Arabs (Ansar) towards the immigrants (Muhajeroon). Islamic history tells us about some kind of brotherhood that was established between the two groups and a few ansars where too generous to their muhajeroon brothers that they offered to share with them their homes and wives! Even if those reports were not true, the fact they were mentioned tells a great deal on what was believable and acceptable during that early stage of Islam, and provides a hint to the level of morality that had prevailed among Mohammed’s companions.
The above two narrations in the Quran do not agree on whether Lot’s guests identified themselves before or after the crowd arrived at his house, which is another blunder that is outside the topic of this article. But according to the narration in sura 15, by the time the crowd arrived, Lot already knew the guests were angels and was aware of their mission. This is another sign of Lot’s inanity. What had made a prophet think that the angels could not defend themselves when they just told him they were going to turn the town upside down?
The Muslim scholars, faced with such inane verses, could neither change nor defend their meaning. So, they came up with two alternative interpretations. In both interpretations they assume they can read the mind of Allah:
The first alternative interpretation suggests that Allah meant to say: ‘Lot offered his daughters in marriage’,
In other words, the advocates of this interpretation say that Lot offered the crowd to have halal sex with his daughters. But this interpretation gives rise to more questions that need answers:
How can any Muslim say that Allah ‘meant to say’? How can any Muslim claim to know what is in the mind of Allah? How do Muslim scholars allow themselves to put words in Allah’s mouth? Why Allah didn’t say marriage? Was it too difficult for Allah to use the word marriage without disturbing the rhyme? And how do we believe that two or three girls can get married to a crowd? And we are not going to make a fuss about why did not Lot bother to ask the girls if they really wanted this marriage? Could it be that Lot was too occupied to think of trivial matters!
The second alternative interpretation suggests that Allah meant to say: ‘Lot did not mean his own daughters but the women of the nation!’ This interpretation again gives rise to most of the above-unanswered questions.
The advocates of this interpretation claim that the nation’s women are considered as daughters to their prophets, therefore Lot must had meant to ask the crowd to go and have lawful sex with their own wives. This interpretation may seem to cause less damage to Lot’s integrity, but proves the lack of any intelligence among the Muslim scholars. This can be gleaned fro the crowd’s answer to Lot in the next verse 11:79.
It is laughable to believe that Lot refers to those women as his daughters and at the same time he plans to burry them alive in the morning! If we were to believe these claims, then these scholars need to work out for us an explanation to why Mohammed, their top prophet, had married and raped dozens of his daughters, otherwise known as the women of the nation? Instead of treating them as sexual objects, why could not Mohammed take Arab women as his daughters?
Let us read verse 11:79:
Q.11: 79. ‘They said: you know that we have no RIGHTS in your daughters and you know well what we want!’
Certainly, the crowd knew well what their rights were. Even the Quran agrees with them on this issue. Indeed, everyone in the crowd knew he had the right to have sex with his own wife, but had no right to have sex with Lot’s daughters. Allah must have meant what He said and the Muslim scholars are wrong!
The word RIGHTS is very crucial in the above verse. Let us read how others have translated this verse:
(Hilali/Khan and others) Q.11: 79 they said: Surely you know that we have neither any desire nor in need of your daughters, and indeed you know well what we want!
The Quran talks about the rights (Arabic=Haq) of the crowd but the translators talk about desire and need!
Just for some added fun let us read the verses 11:78 and 11:79 as translated by OXP:
Q.11: 78 … his people came rushing to Lot, Lot said: O my people! Your wives, who are like my daughters, are permitted for you…(Genesis 19:14 states that Lot offered them his own married daughters. Two daughters and the whole crowd! Nay, a prophet is the father of the nation)
‘Q.11: 79 You know we have little interest in our wives whom you call your daughters and you know well what we want’
There is nothing that stops OXP, and many other translators, from forcing there own understanding on to the readers, never mind that the translation now has little to do with the original verses!
But OXP still has the rudeness to criticise the bible for saying that Lot offered his daughters to the crowd. Didn’t the Quran say exactly the same? Can any body see any difference between what is written in Genesis and what is written in the Quran on this issue? The only difference is that the Muslims claim that ‘Allah did not mean to say that’!
The morality of the story:
We wonder what is the morality to be learned from the story? Perhaps Mohammed wanted to justify to us mass murders! Because early in the morning, the inhabitants of the town were all buried alive! The town was turned upside down by the angels annihilating the entire population. Apparently there were no innocents in that town, not even babies or children!
If that was the lesson to be learnt, then surely Mohammed learned it very well!
Conclusion, the Muslims view of the Quran
One cannot speak with certainty about what really had happened in the early stages of Islam, but the rejection of the Muslim scholars of the obvious meanings of the Quranic verses could be an indication that over the centuries Islam (or the Quran) has been tampered with by Muslims. There is no evidence to suggest that early Muslims had much trouble in understanding the Quran as it was written. They accepted it without having to go through the hassle of twisting its language to extract an acceptable meaning for its verses.
I can go even further and say that on reading Mohammed’s sira and the early Islamic history, one gets a feeling that the Muslims at the time of Mohammed did not take the Quran as seriously as the later generations did. The early Meccan verses were not impressive to the people of Mecca anyway, including Mohammed’s own uncles. The Arabs of Mecca already knew about the subjects addressed by Mohammed’s verses, including all the mythologies and biblical stories. After Mohammed established his state in Medina, Muslims had no option but to show all reverence towards the Quran. But that reverence was similar to the way the esteem demonstrated by the Chinese towards the red book of Mao, or by the Libyans towards the green book of Gaddafi. The release of few verses every few weeks was viewed as a release of a new issue of the official newsletter that reflected Mohammed’s thoughts on the current issues, like his marriages, social relations, politics and wars. Muslims were interested in such issues only at the time, but as time moved on and new issues emerged, so did their interest. After all, nobody likes to read old newsletters. This explains the Muslims’ apathy towards the proper collection of the Quran during Mohammed’s life, considering they believed it to be the word of Allah.
It is only after Mohammed’s death that Muslims started to show an increased interest in the Quran. It is a normal human behaviour that after the death of a leader or a celebrity people start to demonstrate an increased interest of those old speeches, writings or albums. But even at that stage, Muslims were not very fussy about the Quran. Caliph Uthman, who ordered the writing of four copies of the mushaf (the Quran book), had the courage to burn hundreds of verses to put an end to the disagreement between senior Muslims about which verses should be included in his mushaf. Even after the job had been declared complete, a few very senior Muslims like Ibn Masoud refused to recognize it. There were occasions when some Muslims complained to Uthman that some minor mistakes exist in the official mushafs, like replacing the word hakeem with aleem, his response was ‘they (the mistakes) do not make a halal haram or a haram halal’. In other words Uthman admitted the existence of those mistakes but they were too insignificant, in his opinion, to worth the hassle of writing the mushafs again.
Those early Muslims understood the Quran as Mohammed released it. We do not have a single instance where Muslims had a different understanding of the verses from the apparent meaning. This applies to Lot’s story as well as to the logical and scientific blunders that we see throughout the Quran. Mohammed’s companions did not see reasons to feel uncomfortable about the contents or the meanings of the Quran. Broadly speaking, it suited their culture and their time.
Centuries later Muslims were exposed and influenced by other civilizations, some of them started to read the Quran from a different perspective. They became uneasy towards many of the verses that were acceptable in the past. Upon the discovery of the deceit, the great Muslims thinkers like Al Razi, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Rawandi did what any rational person would do- they turned their backs to Mohammed and the Quran. On the other hand, the embarrassed Muslim scholars defended the indefensible mistakes on the grounds that ‘Allah meant to say something different’, a skill they still master to our time.
Mumin Salih is a Middle Eastern ex-Muslim.