The use of the Quran in Controversy with Muslims

T he ultimate foundation of Islam is the Quran. It is freely quoted in debate by the Muslim, and is a valuable weapon in the hand of the Christian. It will therefore be helpful if certain general principles can be arrived at, which should regulate the use and application to be made of it. The objective that we briefly state in advance is to set limits to the bringing forward of the Quran by the Christian in controversy, and to stimulate in every way constant, systematic reference to the Christian Scriptures,

1. The Quran

Direct attacks and damaging criticisms of the Quran are out of place until it is certain that our Muslim friend will receive them without offence. The respective positions of the Muslim and the Christian towards the Quran are diametrically opposed. The Christian approaches the book with the firm belief that it is not from God. The European writers he has read upon the subject have supported this opinion and brought forward many acceptable proofs.

The Muslim has been trained to look upon the Quran with excessive reverence, and his mind is not open to entertain the possibility of a different estimate. He believes in the plenary and verbal inspiration of the book in the fullest and most unqualified sense of the terms. He regards it as having existed from all eternity, written upon the ‘preserved table’ in heaven, from whence it was brought down by Gabriel and imparted to Muhammad.

Its eloquence is miraculous, so that the united efforts of men and genii could not produce another book like it. It comprehends all sciences, and is the repository of a perfect law. To the individual his Quran is enough for him, and contains all he needs to know for both worlds, it is best and most perfect for the knowledgeable of all things. The Muslim, then, holding such exaggerated opinions is as far as possible removed from that openness and fairness of mind which is capable of receiving the truth. Until there are indications of a more liberal spirit it is worse than useless to directly assail that which he holds so dear and honours with such unbounded reverence.

2. Reference to the Quran is liable to create wrong impressions

The Muslims opinion of the Quran being such as has just been described; we do not desire to do anything to confirm him in those sentiments, but rather to wean him from them. On general grounds, therefore, it is advisable to regulate the use of the Quran both by ourselves and our opponents and keep it within well-defined limits. There is nothing gained by allowing the Muslim to parade the erroneous teaching of his book before us.

We know that as a Muslim, implicitly accepts its teaching; and the enunciation of its dogmas. Their book is the bulwark of a false religion and the vaunted charter of an erroneous system in spite of all the borrowed elements of truth it contains. Yet the system it embodies is untrue, and all the more dangerous and difficult to combat because of the portion of truth which is in it. As a general rule, then, no encouragement should be given to the other side to bring forward the Quran. The impression produced upon the Muslim speaker himself and other Muslims present is not a desirable one, nor one we wish to see fostered. Even the use of the Quran by the Christian in order to prove his points is sometimes stated in words like these, ‘I bring forward these arguments for you because the Quran has weight with you,’ even with this qualification, it can hardly fail to give some colour to the idea that the book possesses an independent value, and is therefore calculated to encourage the Muslim to rely upon it. Reference to the testimony of the Quran has before now provoked the retort that the Christian himself acknowledges its authority. Therefore the point must be made quite clear that although we may have occasion to quote the Quran, yet it is only for our opponents’ sake that we do so, and that we do not acknowledge its authority for ourselves, nor seek its aid to establish the truth of the Christian religion.

3. The difficulty of the effective use of the Quran

The interpretation of the text is an important part of Muslim theology, being itself an exact and elaborate science. There are besides many ways in which the effect of an argument from it may be evaded or minimized. One verse may be capped or answered by another. Questions of grammar, exposition, and interpretation may be raised. The possibilities of obscuring a plain issue and neutralizing the force of an argument, that lie ready to the hand of a subtle arguer, are obvious when we bear in mind the existence of abrogated and abrogating verses and the seven or (as is also alleged) seventy inner meanings said to be contained in the Quran. In the traditions related by Ibn Masud (Mishkatu’l-Masabih, book 2) we read:. the Prophet’ said, ‘the Quran was sent down in seven dialects; and in every one of its sentences there is an external and an internal meaning, for each of them is a high place, from the top of which may be seen the bottom!

All passages labouring under any of the above mentioned disabilities will be avoided by the Christian unless he knows that he both has the balance of authority on his side and also the strength and ability to carry his point. Still, even so, the use of all but a limited number of quotations from the Quran is only too likely to raise a storm of objection, protest and counter-argument.

Additional reasons against arguing from the Quran

It is liable to create a belief that we acknowledge it inwardly in our hearts.

There is a host of differences in the explanations of commentators and the supposed occasions of revelations.

4. The use of the Quran in direct support of distinctive Christian doctrine is inadmissible

It is true that Muhammad regarded Islam in respect of its essential truths as identical with uncorrupted Judaism and Christianity, and declared that the Quran was sent down ‘confirming that Scripture which was revealed before it.’ But these assertions rest upon his ignorance of the real nature of those religions and the contents of their books. To attempt to prove essential Christian doctrine from the Quran is in effect to try and show that Muhammad was ignorant of the true meaning of his supposed revelation. It is as though we were trying to cause the scales to fall from the eyes of the ‘ true believer’ in order that he might at last see clearly and find himself after all a Christian! It is entirely against Islamic consciousness, and will provoke resistance to the uttermost, in the same way as we ourselves should fight strenuously against any attempt to prove to us that we had misread our Gospel, and that if only we understood it aright we should be Muslims!

5. The Quran as a useful weapon?

In spite of all that has been said above, the following matters may be helpful in controversy over the Quran.

  • There are in the pages of the Quran some excellent and sublime references to the glory of Jesus. On the other hand, they fall deeply short of the testimony of Him that we find in the New Testament.
  • The Quran bears striking testimony to the existence and incorruptness of the previous Scriptures, the charge of corruption only being alleged against the Jews, and this not being a falsification of the text, but a perversion of the meaning. The Quran testifies that the Holy Scriptures are from God. On the other hand, the Quran is found to differ from the Bible in important particulars, e.g. the divinity of Christ, His death and atonement and there is no means of salvation.
  • The Quran does show that no reliance can be placed on the intercession of Muhammad as being either granted or being effective.
  • The Quran may also be profitably quoted on the Christian side to refute the extravagant additions of later tradition which glorifies Muhammad and attributes to him countless miracles.

These points, if established and accepted, do not, of course, necessarily turn a Muslim into a Christian; but they should go some way in that direction and at least effect important modifications in his spirit and attitude towards Christianity and prejudices may be removed. Christianity is discovered to be not an altogether baseless, worthless fabric. The difference between Muslim and Christian is found not to be a hopeless, yawning gulf, as was supposed. Further study and inquiry accordingly may not be an absolute waste of time for him. No, the ‘ true believer ‘ can hardly continue to be a good Muslim if he neglects the perusal of those ancient Scriptures of Jew and Christian, so wonderfully attested and eulogized in his own Quran.

Helpful additional positive statements that emerge from the Quran

  • The praise of priests and monks.
  • The miraculous conception of Jesus through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
  • The exalted position given to the Virgin Mary.
  • The acceptance of the miracles of Jesus.
  • The Lord’s ascension to heaven.
  • The absence of means of salvation for Muslims.
  • Muhammad did not come with miracles and wonderful works and had no power to perform them.
  • Muhammad confined the proof of his prophetship to the Quran itself.
  • Proof of sin and error concerning Muhammad himself.
  • Proof of contradictions in the Quran.


6. Arguments from the Quran may be rejected by the Christian.

While the Muslim cannot decline to accept arguments fairly drawn from his Quran, no such necessity lies upon the Christian to endorse them, and he, if need be may reject them on good grounds. For example, the divine Sonship, the deity and crucifixion of Jesus are all denied on the strength of verses of the Quran; and this testimony has the greatest weight with the Muslim. But the case is very different with us, to whom the Quran makes no appeal and comes with no authority. Our refusal to receive its evidence may take this line: ‘ There is no value for you to bring me proofs from a book which I cannot as a Christian accept. Arguments from what is accepted only by one side are obviously futile. Either prove to me that the Quran is true before you argue from it, or else, leaving it on one side, bring forward proofs from outside the Quran either proofs of reason or arguments from the Taurat and Injil, the holy books which we both acknowledge.’

The use of the traditions

When appropriately introduced in argument they are very effective. They are frequently used by Muslims themselves and are well worth the attention and study of the Christian, but they must be well authenticated. As for ourselves, we are not bound to accept the traditions that may be brought forward. As we may decline arguments from the Quran, much more may we refuse the evidence of traditions, if they contradict the clear sense of the Quran (e.g. Muhammad’s miracles, his sinlessness and that of all the prophets), on the ground that we have to do with the Quran, which is the authoritative charter of Islam, and not with the traditions, of which there are many thousands, true and false.

However, we give below two examples illustrating the benefit of being familiar with the traditions and effective use of them .

The use of traditions may be alluded to in order to rebuke incivility or rudeness. Dr. Bruce, was once visiting one of the chief men of Isfahan, and the customary civilities were pointedly omitted; upon which the doctor put the assembly to shame by questioning their right to call themselves Muslims because of their neglect of the well-known traditional precept, ‘Honour the guest, although he be a kafir.’

On one occasion the writer was itinerating near Isfahan when I was overtaken by a party of people, who had been to call on a mulla and welcome him back from Tehran. I had some conversation with the men of the party as we went along, and, after they had passed on, began talking with some others, who seemed to be part of their group. Surprisingly they began to scoff and become abusive, one of them calling me ‘unclean’ and ‘a child of hell.’ So I asked him whether they were commanded by their Prophet to abuse others, and told him the story of Muhammad calling upon the sick Jew, who according to one version of the story, had been a bitterly abusive enemy of his; and moreover, I added that they were not acting as Muslims. To this they had nothing to answer, and went off and the few left behind showed a better spirit.

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