Does the Qurʾān Quote Inaccurately?

Does the Qurʾān Quote Inaccurately?

Question:

If the Qurʾān is a linguistic miracle of inimitability and quotes the supplications of Prophets, is this not self-refuting, since a Prophet was able to formulate exact like-wording to that of God?

Answer:

The Qurʾān is the pre-eternal word of Allāh , conveyed in the Arabic language. The vast majority of the Prophets quoted in the Qurʾān did not speak Arabic. The Qurʾānic passages in question are, in fact, paraphrased expressions rendering the Prophets’ supplications from their native tongues into the highest degree of the Arabic language. Had the Qurʾān strictly adhered to verbatim quotations, it would not have remained entirely Arabic. Hence, the modern standards of ‘accurate quoting’ may not be applied to the Holy Qurʾān. As a friend of mine said, it would be like asking why the Qurʾān did not ‘accurately’ reference the letter of Sulaymān.[1]

That the Qurʾān successfully used impeccable language to render the Prophets’ supplications into that of a miraculous nature on par with the rest of the Qurʾān is a miracle in and of itself. Not only does the Qurʾān quote Prophets; it even quotes Iblīs (Satan) and tyrannical rulers like Firʿawn (Pharaoh) – also rendering their words into that of an eloquent nature. In no way does this mean Iblīs and Firʿawn spoke as articulately as the inimitable Qurʾān; rather, it means the Qurʾān is an incredible book which can relate stories in the most perfect way, even by quoting the supplications of the Prophets and the statements of Iblīs as part of a lengthier narrative.

An ideal example is that of Mūsā, who was known to have a speech impediment. Consider the following āyahs:

قَالَ رَبِّ ٱشۡرَحۡ لِي صَدۡرِي ٢٥ وَيَسِّرۡ لِيٓ أَمۡرِي ٢٦ وَٱحۡلُلۡ عُقۡدَةٗ مِّن لِّسَانِي ٢٧ يَفۡقَهُواْ قَوۡلِي ٢٨

“He said: ‘My Lord, put my heart at peace for me, make my task easy for me and remove the knot from my tongue so that they may understand my speech.’”[2]

This passage is indicating to a speech impediment, evident from Firʿawn’s remark:

أَمۡ أَنَا۠ خَيۡرٞ مِّنۡ هَٰذَا ٱلَّذِي هُوَ مَهِينٞ وَلَا يَكَادُ يُبِينُ ٥٢

“Or (do you not see that) I am much better than this one (Mūsā) who is worthless and can hardly express himself?”[3]

Despite this, the Qurʾān duplicates his sincere supplication in impeccable words:

رَبِّ إِنِّي لِمَآ أَنزَلۡتَ إِلَيَّ مِنۡ خَيۡرٖ فَقِيرٞ ٢٤

“My Lord, I am in need of whatever good you send down to me.”[4]

Those familiar with the Arabic language can appreciate this supplication.

Additionally, these supplications came from the Prophets’ hearts and uttered by their tongues at a much later age; the Qurʾān itself is pre-eternal and already contained detailed records of future accounts. Since the objective of their words was the meanings behind them and not the verbatim utterances, the Qurʾān adopted an indirect style of narration. This does not declare Qurʾānic quotations inaccurate in any way.

Take, for example, the episode in Mūsā’s life where he engaged in a public showdown with Egypt’s then-greatest magicians. In Sūrah āHā, when quoting their question as to who should begin their performance, the Qurʾān uses the following words:

قَالُواْ يَٰمُوسَىٰٓ إِمَّآ أَن تُلۡقِيَ وَإِمَّآ أَن نَّكُونَ أَوَّلَ مَنۡ أَلۡقَىٰ ٦٥

“They said: ‘O Mūsā, either you throw (first), or shall we be the first to throw?’”[5]

This very incident is also cited in Sūrat al-Aʿrāf, where the following words are utilised:

قَالُواْ يَٰمُوسَىٰٓ إِمَّآ أَن تُلۡقِيَ وَإِمَّآ أَن نَّكُونَ نَحۡنُ ٱلۡمُلۡقِينَ ١١٥

“They said: ‘O Mūsā, either you throw (first), or shall we (be the first) to throw?’”[6]

Notice how the translation in English is the same: this shows the intent of Mūsā’s people in their proposal has definitely been conveyed in both verses, without jeopardising its interpretation in the least. This should be sufficient for the objective observer to induce the full accuracy of all other quotations in the Qurʾān. As for the inimitability, the reader of the Qurʾān will most definitely notice the different rhyme schemes in the respective chapters. Both verses are in accordance to the rhyme scheme adopted in the passage.

Plenty of examples can be provided to give further backing to the above;[7] this much, however, should suffice, InShāʾAllāh.

Muftī Muhammad Taqi Usmani made a similar argument in his ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, while refuting Margoliouth’s critique on a verse of the Qurʾān.[8]

We surely attest that Allāh  knows best.

Answered by Shahin-ur Rahman.

Friday 2nd Muḥarram 1437 AH / 16th October 2015.


[1] [Al-Naml: 27/30-31].

[2] [ṬāHā: 20/25-28].

[3] [Al-Zukhruf: 43/52].

[4] [Al-Qaṣaṣ: 28/24].

[5] [ṬāHā: 20/65].

[6] [Al-Aʿrāf: 7/115].

[7] For those intrigued, consider all the verses regarding Iblīs’ refusal to prostrate to our father, Ādam n. Notice the usage of the word ‘refused’ in all the verses, then read [ṬāHā: 20/116] in its full context.

[8] See Usmani, Muhammad Taqi, ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān (Urdu), Maktaba Dār al-ʿUlūm Karachi (1415), pp. 216-219.

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