How Tahrif (Alteration) Began

Holy Bible, The Torah, The Holy Qur'ân (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Nothing irritated Medieval Christian and Jewish clergy as much as Ibn Hazm’s (994 –1064) vitriolic attacks on the Torah and the Gospels as being basically falsified and corrupted; not only by erroneous interpretations; but also by deliberate deletion of whole verses that predicted the future coming of Prophet Muhammad.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1205) wrote in a letter to Yemen’s Jewish community: “As the Muslims could not find a single proof in the entire (Hebrew) Bible, nor a reference or possible allusion to their prophet which they could utilize, they were compelled to accuse us saying, "You have altered the text of the Torah, and expunged every trace of the name of Mohammed therefrom."

“They could find nothing stronger than this ignominious argument; the falsity of which is easily demonstrated to one and all by the following facts. First, (the Hebrew) Scripture was translated into Syriac, Greek, Persian and Latin hundreds of years before the appearance of Mohammed.

“Secondly, there is a uniform tradition as to the text of the (Hebrew) Bible both in the East (Muslim world) and the West (Christian world), with the result that no differences in the (Hebrew) text exist at all.”

It is my goal to offer a more open minded approach to the issue of Tahrif 1Wikipedia: Taḥrīf (Arabic: تحريف, transl. 'distortion') is an Arabic-language term used by Muslims to refer to the alterations that are believed in Islam to have been made by Jews and Christians to the holy books of Judaism and Christianity—specifically those that make up the Tawrat (or Torah), the Zabur (or Psalms) and the Injil (or Gospel)—which ultimately distorted the originally-revealed words of God. in the 21st century, based on seeking harmony for monotheistic religions rather than scoring “we know it all” points.

A fundamental difference between the Qur’an and the Gospels is that the Christian Church attached the Christian New Testament to the Jewish Old Testament, because the Church needed to use the Hebrew Scriptures to support Paul’s erroneous Trinitarian interpretations of dozens of  verses about the future Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. The Qur’an, like the Hebrew Bible, is an independent, stand alone, revelation which is not based on predictions from earlier revelations.

Religious charges of Tahrif, corruption of sacred scriptures, began with Judaism, Christianity and Manichaenism. Rabbi Elazar ben Yossi HaGelili who lived in the first half of the 2nd century C.E. said: “I said to the Samaritan scribes: You falsified the Torah and gained nothing from that. For you wrote "near the terebinths of Moreh near Shechem," ["near Shechem" being an addition by the Samaritans to their Samaritan Torah]. 2Sifre rabbinic commentary on Deuteronomy piska 56

Independently, Mani, who lived in Persia from 216-274 C.E. and founded the very wide spread Manichaean religion, charged all the other then existing sacred scriptures with tahrif.

The Manichaean version of Genesis is not just a derivative distortion of orthodox scriptures. It is in fact close to some older traditions from earlier stages of the Biblical narrative tradition which were subsequently dropped from their original settings by the final redactors of Genesis, and which are now found in post Biblical Jewish texts like Jubilees and portions of 1 Enoch.

A principal critique Mani levels against some of his prophetic predecessors is that they failed to insure the accurate registration and preservation of their writings, and so these writings; which eventually evolve into the canonical scriptures associated with religions like Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity; were corrupted and falsified by later generations of disciples and followers.

Ibn al-Nadīm reports that ‘Mānī disparaged the other prophets in his writings. He found fault with them and charged them with lies, and maintained that devils had taken possession of them and had spoken using their tongues.’

Christian polemicists have used tahrif claims against Judaism since the time of Justin Martyr (c.100-165 C.E.), who was born of pagan parents. By 132 C.E. he had become a Christian and by the 140’s began charging Jews with the alteration of those portions of Jewish scripture which purportedly predicted the advent of Messiah Jesus and the Christian Church.

Justin Martyr built on the New Testament writing of Paul (2 Corinthians 3:14), “But their (Jewish) minds were closed. Until this very day, the same veil remains over their (Jewish) reading of the Old Testament [and] has not lifted, for only in Christ is it (original sin) done away with.”

Similar accusations would seem to appear in Islam under the label of tahrif (alteration) particularly with regard to two passages about a nameless future ‘comforter’ in the Gospel of John 3Quran 3:78; 4:46; and 5:15.

All of these pre-Qur’an influential religious thinkers were themselves influenced by a non-religious pagan Greek philosopher named Aristotle (384–322 BCE) who believed that truth had to be what is called today: a Zero Sum Game.

Greek philosophy, with its requirement that truth must be unchanging and universal, influenced most teachers of sacred scripture during early Medieval times to believe that religion itself was a zero sum game; the more truth I find in your scripture the less truth there is in mine.

Instead of understanding differing texts as complementary, polemicists made them contradictory and declared the other religion's sacred text to be false.

If religion is to promote peace in our pluralistic world we must reject Aristotle’s zero sum game ideology and develop the pluralistic teachings that already exist within our own sacred scriptures, and especially within the Qur’an: “Those who believe (Muslims), those who advocate Judaism, Christians, Sabeans, whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day, and does good righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, they will not fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:62)

And a Hadith says: “Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion however; is one“. 4Muslim, Book #030, Hadith #5836

Thus, all monotheistic prophets are brothers with the same father (God) but different mothers (mother tongues, motherlands and unique historical circumstances that account for all the differences in their scriptures).

All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but their basic theology can differ only in details. As the sage of Konya, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi says, “Ritual prayer might differ in every religion, but (basic) belief never changes.” 5Fihi Mafih 49

Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other.

The Qur’an states, in opposition to the Greek Zero Sum Game theory of truth, that: “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God's plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day) the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Qur'an 5:48)

So until judgement day comes humans here on earth are limited to the particular truth of their own specific religion.

My own belief is based on a very important Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Abu Huraira relates, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Apostle said (to the Muslims). "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.”' 

Following Prophet Muhammad’s teaching I also neither believe nor disbelieve the Qur'an. If I believed in the Qur'an, I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur'an because I believe that Muhammad was indeed a non-Jewish, Abrahamic prophet; and I respect the Qur'an as a  revelation to a kindred people, in a kindred language.

In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other religion on earth.

Unlike those in the past who played the zero sum game, I do not seek some verse in the Qur'an I can dispute or object to. Indeed, this is what the Qur'an itself teaches. “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning this matter.” (22:67)

Thank God, in 21st century America the majority of most religious groups now believe the teachings of the Qur'an cited above.

A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some  religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.

This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants and 56% of Muslims. 6From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008, Pew Research Center.

Thus, in 21st century United States most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the zero sum mind set and believe in the Qur'an's pluralism teachings. Only those who reject God by disbelief or by unrepentant evil activities will be the losers when Judgement Day comes.  Although many, perhaps most theologians will learn that they might not be as smart as they thought they were.

It is also very important to understand that 'religious pluralism is the will of God' is different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

Thus, issues of justice, truth or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism.

The fundamental idea supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many areas of religion. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self - centered personal egoism type of humility.

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our own prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply.

Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.

This is true, for every human being, even for God's  messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)

Similarly, in the Qur'an Prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (7:116) And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Prophet Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come.

Then Prophet Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father”. (24:36)

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, "Tell me about the Hour". He said: "The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner." 7Muslim book 1 Hadith 1&4

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through his Prophet who taught his followers “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur'an 46:9)

In truth, the only universal religious truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows”


  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Highlights
  Topics: Interfaith, Judeo-Christian, Pluralism, Revelation  Values: Humility
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