Who Authored the Qur’an?—an Enquiry
~By Abul Kasem
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties”—Francis Bacon (1561-1626) [Quoted from Milestones of Science by Curt Suplee, p.70, published by the National Geographic Society, 2000]
[A note of caution: The content of this article may offend some readers. The writer will not take any responsibility in the event of hurt feeling or damage caused as result of reading this essay. Read this article at your own risk]
This article delves into the very authorship of the Holy Qur’an—a new way of looking at the Holy Qur’an. An enquiry is made using logical reasoning and historical references on the authorship of the Qur’an. Thus this methodology is totally opposed to the blind believers who accept the authenticity of the Qur’an unquestionably. By analysing, dissecting and carefully interpreting the contents of the Qur’an, the Ahadith, Sirah (Muhammad’s biography) the author has identified several parties who had undoubtedly contributed to the composition of the Qur’anic verses. It was not Allah who wrote the Qur’an; it was not even Muhammad alone who did this either. The Qur’an is not the creation of a single entity or a single person. There were several parties involved in the composition, scribing, amending, inserting and deleting the Qur’anic verses. The most important personalities involved in the creation of the Qur’an were: Imrul Qays, Zayd b. Amr, Hasan b. Thabit, Salman, Bahira, ibn Qumta, Waraqa and Ubayy b. Ka’b. Muhammad himself was involved in the make-up of a limited number of verses, but the most influential person who motivated Muhammad in the invention of Islam and the opus of the Qur’an was, perhaps, Zayd b. Amr, who preached ‘Hanifism’. Muhammad later metamorphosed Zayd’s ‘Hanifism’ into Islam. Therefore, the assertion that Islam is not a new religion stands to be true. However, the important finding is that the Qur’an is definitely not the words of Allah—it is a human-made scripture which Muhammad simply passed up as Allah’s final words to mankind. Another important aspect of this essay is that among the ancient religions that the writers of the Qur’an incorporated in it, perhaps the practices of the Sabeans is crucial. In fact, the rituals of 5 prayers and the 30 days fasting were actually adapted from the Sabeans. Qur’an, thus, is a compilation of various religious books that existed during Muhammad’s time. Muhammad, not Allah, simply adopted, picked and chose from various sources and created the Qur’an. While many parties contributed to the Qur’an, Muhammad became its chief editor—to say it plainly.
According to Islam, questioning the Allah’s absolute authorship of the Qur’an is a serious blasphemy. A person may face death sentence simply for nurturing an atom of doubt on Qur’an’s authenticity. The Qur’an is above all. Nothing in the creation of Allah is holier than the Qur’an. However, human being what he is—ever inquisitive—I started doubting Qur’an’s authorship in my very childhood–when I was introduced in the recitation of this Holy Scripture in a very formal manner. I spent a couple of years learning a few introductory verses under the tutorship of a local ‘Hujur’ (Islamic religion teacher) in the local mosque. This ‘Hujur’ taught the Qur’an to a group of us by holding a rattan cane that looked quite shiny as he used to oil the cane every day before his ‘Murid’ (learners) arrived in the mosque. I can vouch that none of us ever liked to study the Qur’an—it was the most boring and the most painful task during our childhood. We simply memorised like parrots, certain verses without understanding a single word of them The ‘Hujur’ also did not know the meanings of those verses. Whenever we asked any question about any verse, the answer was a few stroke of the cane from the ‘Hujur’. The learning of the recitation of the Qur’an became associated with corporeal punishment and child-abuse. Thus, we developed a deep disdain towards the Qur’an recitation in particular a dislike for the Mullahs in general.
Later, after I left my University and started working, a colleague of mine presented me with a copy of the translation of the Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. My colleague was a diehard ‘Tabligi’ (a religious proselytiser) and exhorted me to read the translation carefully. He vouched that after I had comprehended the true messages of the Holy Scripture my life will change for ever—for the better, he insisted. Reluctantly, I started to read the English translation—verse by verse, passage by passage. The more I read, the more I was shocked, disturbed, astonished, bewildered and resentful. I could not believe that a book which is supposed to be the handiwork of the most compassionate, the most merciful and the most forgiving Allah could contain such a terrible amount of hate, terror, call for murder, war, vengeance and most of all a blanket plea for the destruction of all those who do not subscribe to the Qur’anic view of the world. Of course, there were a few verses which were very poetical, beautifully crafted, rhythmic and sometimes rich in spirituality. Apart from those handful ‘good’ stuff I found the vast part of the Qur’an simply nonsensical, and not-to-talk about the those incriminating verses exhorting the believers to murder and wage an unrelenting war (Jihad) against the unbelievers. I started questioning: how could a merciful, compassionate Allah write such a cranky book that is nothing more than a trash and a manual of terror, war and plunder? When my ‘Tabligi’ colleague asked how I was doing with the Qur’an, I simply told him I was doing fine—elaborating further that I discovered plenty of new astonishing materials in the Qur’an which I never thought existed in it. He simply smiled and said, “The Qur’an is wonderful, isn’t it?” I replied, “You said it!”
A few years later, I started to ponder deeply on the Qur’an. Using the works of other translators, as well as the Tafsirs (explanation), I read and re-read the Holy Scripture–several times to make sure that what they translated and explained were absolutely correct. The more I learned about the Qur’an the more I became distraught, disturbed and angry—angry because I felt that I was utterly let down by a killer religion which was imposed on me due to my birth. The stuff I read in the Qur’an jolted me so much that I wanted to find the answer to my perennial question—who really authored the Qur’an? It took me a long time and many years of painstaking work to arrive at the answer of that question. This article tries to answer that question. I had been planning this essay for a long time, and now, after writing it I feel it is for you to ponder too—‘Who authored the Qur’an?’
During my investigative phase I found that a lot of people were involved in the compilation and the construction of the Qur’an. Unknown to the vast majority of Muslims, and buried deep inside the Qur’an, Ahadith and Sirah there are copious evidence to reject, out of hand, the contention that the Qur’an is the creation of Allah. Making Allah the author of the Quran, I think, is the prime lie perpetrated on mankind for more than a millennium. We can, with certainty, say that it was not even Muhammad alone who authored the Qur’an.In fact, the major part of the Qur’an was actually either composed by or inspired and written by a few other individuals. Most notable among them were:
Imrul Qays—an ancient poet of Arabia who died a few decades before Muhammad’s birth
- Zayd b. Amr b. Naufal—an ‘apostate’ of his time who preached and propagated Hanifism
- Labid—another poet
- Hasan b. Thabit—the official poet of Muhammad
- Salman, the Persian—Muhammad’s confidante’ and an advisor
- Bahira—a Nestoraian Christian monk of the Syrian church
- Jabr—a Christian neighbour of Muhammad
- Ibn Qumta—a Christian slave
- Khadijah—Muhammad’s first wife
- Waraqa—Khadijah’s cousin brother
- Ubay b. Ka’b—Muhammad’s secretary and a Qur’an scribe
- Muhammad himself
There were other parties involved too. They were:
- Aisha—Muhammad’s child bride
- Abdallah b. Salam b. al-Harith—a Jewish convert to Islam
- Mukhyariq—a Rabbi and another Jewish convert to Islam
Of course, my list of the possible authors of the Qur’an is not exhaustive. There may be many other parties involved that I might not have even heard of. But for a concise discussion the above list should be ample enough, I guess. In this article I have simply enumerated the contribution of the above sources in the authorship of the Qur’an.
Now, to understand the Qur’an and its writer/s, we must, first of all, recognise the background of Muhammad, purportedly the ultimate and the best creation of Allah.
The Pagan origin of Muhammad
It is an absolute fact that Muhammad was born of pagan parents. His father, Abdullah and his mother, Amina were both pagans and they used to worship many idols. His entire childhood (probably up to his teen) was spent in paganism. To day, many Muslims will find it extremely hard to digest this fact. However, Muhammad’s pagan origin is disclosed by Hisham ibn al-Kalbi. On page 17 of his important work, Kitab al-Asnam (The Book of Idols) he writes (Hisham al-Kalbi,Kitab al-Asnam, p.17):
‘We have been told that the Apostle of God once mentioned al-Uzza saying, “I have offered a white sheep to al-‘Uzza, while I was a follower of the religion of my people.” ‘
In the statement above Muhammad clearly admits his past adherence to paganism—the then religion of the Quraysh.
Initially, Muhammad even eulogized the important gods (or idols) of the pagans by agreeing with the Quraysh—at some point that these gods were the intercessors of Allah. On the same page Hisham ibn al-Kalbi writes:
The Quraysh were wont to circumambulate the Ka’bah and say:
By Allat and al-‘Uzza,
And Manah, the third idol besides.
Verily they are the most exalted females
Whose intercession is to be sought.
These were also called “the Daughters of Allah,” and were supposed to intercede before God. When the Apostle of God was sent god revealed unto him [concerning them] the following:
053.019 Have ye seen Lat. and ‘Uzza,
053.020 And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
053.021 What! for you the male sex, and for Him, the female?
053.022 Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair!
053.023 These are nothing but names which ye have devised,- ye and your fathers,- for which Allah has sent down no authority (whatever). They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire!- Even though there has already come to them Guidance from their Lord! (Hisham ibn al-Kalbi, ‘Kitab al-Asnam,’ p.17)
When Muhammad became an adult and started to attend the annual assembly of poets at Ukaz he was deeply impressed and moved by the thoughts, eloquence, sentiment, freethinking and humanism expounded by many of those poets. He started questioning the idol-worshipping and began to start preaching a new concept of one God, the creator—similar to the concepts of the Jews and the Christians of that time. Nonetheless, he was confused as to which God ought to be his God. Allah, a deity (a moon god–that is why the symbols placed at every mosque is a crescent moon) at that time, was the supreme God of the pagans. Their only fault was that besides Allah, they used to worship as the intercessors for Allah, the supreme other smaller gods/goddesses like: Hubal, Al-lat, Al-Uzza, Manat…etc. So, in the beginning of his new concept of an almighty creator Allah was out of his mind. Besides, at that time the magicians, the soothsayers, the sorcerers, and even the Satan worshippers used to vow by Allah. Thus, Muhammad found it utterly despicable to make Allah his God (ilah).
During those pagan days the people of Yemen used to worship another deity whose name was Ar-Rahman. Muhammad, for a while, adopted the name Ar-Rahman for God in place of Allah. Coincidentally, Ar-Rahman was also the Jewish word Rahmana which was a name for God in the Talmudic period (Noldeke: The Koran, The Origins of the Koran, p.53). Muhammad cleverly thought that by using the word Ar-Rahman he ought to be able to attract to his new ‘religion’, the Jews as well as some pagans.
However, when he declared himself to be the messenger of Ar-Rahman, the Meccans, too, were at a loss and confused. The Meccans did not know of any Ar-Rahman other than the Ar-Rahman of al-Yamamah (some writers say Ar-Rahman was at Yemen). To verify Muhammad’s claim the Quraysh sent a delegation to Medina Jews, as they thought that Ar-Rahman, truly, was a deity in Yemen or Yamamah. Islamic Historian Ibn Sa’d (Ibn Sa’d, vol.i, pp.189-190) writes:
“The Quraysh sent al-Nadr Ibn al-Harith Ibn ‘Alaqamah and ‘Uqbah Ibn abi Mu’ayt and others to the Jews of Yathrib and told them to ask them (Jews) about Muhammad. They came to Medinah and said to them (Jews): We have come to you because a great affair has taken place amidst us. There is a humble orphan who makes a big claim, considering himself to be the messenger of al-Rahman, while we do not know any al-Rahman except the Rahman of al-Yamamah. They said: Give the description before us. They gave his description, on which they asked them who were his followers. They said: The lowly people among us. Thereupon a scholar of from them laughed and said: he is the Prophet whose attributes we find mentioned in our Scriptures; we also know that his people will be most inimical to him.”
When we read, with an unbiased mind, the first 50 Suras (in chronological order) of the Qur’an we note Muhammad’s confusion regrading Lord, Allah and Ar-Rahman. He was quite unsure of whom he should consider as his God (ilah). Here is a summary of the first 50 Suras regarding Muhammad’s idea of his God:
Only Lord—68, 92, 89, 94, 100, 108, 105, 114, 97, 106, 75 (11 Suras)
Ar-Rahman, Lord—55, 36 (2 Suras)
Ar-Rahman, Allah, Lord—20
Allah, Lord—96, 73, 74, 81, 87, 53, 85, 50, 38, 7, 72, 25, 35, 56, 26, 27, 28, 17 (18 Suras)
This demonstrates Muhammad’s initial vacillation, confusion and ignorance of the affairs of his God (ilah).
The Qur’an also confirms that when he started to preach his brand of faith Muhammad was lost, confused and did not know much of religion. Here is what the Qur’an writes:
Muhammad was lost, then Allah guided him 93:7
093.007 And He found thee wandering, and He gave thee guidance.
In the past Muhammad was heedless 12:3, 42:52
012.003 We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Qur’an: before this, thou too was among those who knew it not.
042.052 And thus have We, by Our Command, sent inspiration to thee: thou knewest not (before) what was Revelation, and what was Faith; but We have made the (Qur’an) a Light, wherewith We guide such of Our servants as We will; and verily thou dost guide (men) to the Straight Way,-
So, how did Muhammad learn the basics of his new religion? Enter Imrul Qais and Zayd Ibn Amr.
In ancient Arabia poetry was a passion. Poets were highly regarded in society, and the words of many accomplished poets were regarded as next to god’s words. In a desert land, bereft of much entertainment and natural relaxation, the ancient Arabs used to find solace, peace, tranquillity and even the raging emotion of war and revenge through the mesmerising words of their poets. Poets supplied the Arabs with their mental food. Seven such poets had their verses permanently posted on the walls of Ka’ba. These verses were known as Muallakat or suspended.
The Dictionary of Islam (Hughe’s Dictionary of Islam, p.460) writes that those verses were also known as Muzahhabat or the golden poems because they were written in gold. The authors of those poetical verses were: Zuhair, Trafah, Imrul Qays, Amru ibn Kulsum, al-Haris, Antarah and Labid.
Among those seven immortal poets the most famous was Imrul Qays, the undisputed ‘king’ or the legend of Arabic poetry. He was a prince as his father was an Arab tribal king. Through his passionate devotion to love and poetry he irked his father and was banished from the palace. Thereafter, he lived a solitary life by tending the sheep and keeping alive his undying dedication to poetry. Eventually, he became a wanderer and led a melancholic life when his tribe was almost eliminated in a tribal war. He travelled around and finally arrived at Constantinople. It is said that he was put to death by the Roman ruler of Constantinople because he won the heart of a Roman princess through love and poetry. He died around the year 530-540 A.D., before Muhammad’s birth. His matchless verses were on the lips of many Arabs, and surely Muhammad had memorised many of his superb works. Muhammad is said to have declared Imrul Qais the greatest of Arab poets. No doubt then that he was keenly motivated to emulate Imrul Qais in the very early verses of the Qur’an.
The chroniclers’ of the Qur’an usually list Sura al-Alaq (the clot, Sura 96) as the first revelation of Allah to Muhammad. However, a systematic study of the Qur’an may reveal that that may not be the case at all. In fact, the Dictionary of Islam(Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p.485), citing Islamic sources, writes that some earliest Suras (before the first revelation, Sura 96) are most likely to be:
99—az-Zalzalah (the Earthquake)
103—al-Asr (the Declining Day)
100—al-Adiyat (the Chargers)
1—al-Fatiha (the Opening)
Those Suras were, short, deep in spirituality and enthralling. It may be worthwhile to examine two such short Suras; namely:
Sura 99 (the Earthquake)
099.001 When the earth is shaken to her (utmost) convulsion,
099.002 And the earth throws up her burdens (from within),
099.003 And man cries (distressed): ‘What is the matter with her?’-
099.004 On that Day will she declare her tidings:
099.005 For that thy Lord will have given her inspiration.
099.006 On that Day will men proceed in companies sorted out, to be shown the deeds that they (had done).
099.007 Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it!
099.008 And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it
Sura 103 (the Declining Day)
103.001 By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
103.002 Verily Man is in loss,
103.003 Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
W. St. Calir-Tisdall, the author of the famous essay The Origin of Islam (The Origins of the Koran, pp.235-236), by comparing two passages from the Sabaa Mu’allaqat,finds close similarity with the verses from the Qur’an. Some of these verses are:
054.001 The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder.
093.001 By the Glorious Morning Light,
Commenting on verse 54.1 W. St. Clair-Tisdall writes:
‘It was the custom of the time for and orators to hang up their compositions upon the Ka’aba; and we know the seven Mu’allaqat were exposed. We are told that Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, was one day repeating as she went along the above verse. Just then she met the daughter of Imrul Qays, who cried out, “O that’s what your father has taken from one of my father’s poems, and calls it something that has come down to him out of heaven;” and the story is commonly told amongst the Arabs until now.’
Thus, the relationship between Imrul Qays’ poems and some of the early verses of the Qur’an is pretty obvious. In this connection, W. St. Clair-Tisdall elaborates (The Origins of the Koran, p.236) further:
“The connection between the poetry of Imra’ul Qays and the Koran is so obvious that the Muslims cannot but hold that they existed with the latter in the Heavenly table from all eternity! What then will he answer? That the words were taken from the Koran and entered in the poem?—an impossibility. Or that their writer was not really Imra’ul Qays, but some other who, after the appearance of the Koran, had the audacity to quote them there as they now appear?—rather a difficult thing to prove!”
In fact, the word Allah is found in Muallaqat as well as in the Diwan of poet Labid. So when the Muslims claim the Qur’an to be the words of Allah, do they mean Allah copied the Qur’anic verses from Imrul Qays?
We shall now briefly review the contribution of Zayd ibn Amr to the authorship of the Holy Qur’an.
“The Holy Qur’an,” the internet version of three English translations can be read at:http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/]
Ali, Abdullah, Yusuf, “The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary,” Amana Corp., Brentwood, Maryland, 1983.
al-Bukhari, Muhammad b. Ismail, “Sahi Bukhari,” translated in English by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan: [http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/ ]
Muslim, Abu al-Hussain b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushairi, “Sahi Muslim,” translated in English by Adul Hamid Siddiqui: [http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/ ]
Hughes, Patrick Thomas, “A Dictionary of Islam;” first published in 1886; latest reprint by Kazi Publications Inc,, Chicago, 1994.
“The Origins of the Koran,”edited by Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1998.
Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad b. Yasr, “Sirat Rasul Allah,” translated in English by A. Guillaume; first by published by Oxford University Press, London in 1955; fifteenth reprint by Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 2001.
Ibn Sa’d, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad, “Kitab al-Tabaqat,” vol i, translated in English by S. Moinul Haq, Kitab Bhavan; 1784, Kalam Mahal, Daraya Ganj, New Delhi, India, 1972.
Ibn Sa’d, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad, “Kitab al-Tabaqat,” vol ii, translated in English by S. Moinul Haq, Kitab Bhavan; 1784, Kalam Mahal, Daraya Ganj, New Delhi, India, 1972.
Ibn al-Kalbi, Hisham, “The Book of Idols (Kitab Al-Asnam),” translated in English by Nabih Amin Faris, Princeton University Press, 1952. [http://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kalbi/index.htm ]
al-Misri, Ahmed ibn Naqib, “Raliance of the Traveller (‘Umdat al-Salik),” revised edition, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amana Publications, Bettsville, Maryland, 1999.
Abul Kasem writes from Sydney.