This two-part essay series discusses the issue of contradictions in the Quran. The first essay will delve into how Arabic scholarship has dealt with the topic. The renowned scholar Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti has provided a rigorous methodological approach to engaging with apparent contradictions in the Quran. The essay analyses the important features and applications of Al-Shinqīti’s methodology, as well as evaluating its effectiveness. The second essay delves into how Western scholarship deals with the topic. Six major contradictions in the Quran will be analysed using English-language academic sources in order to better understand them. This essay series hopes to provide readers with a nuanced, informative, and factual overview of the issue of contradictions in the Quran. The facts brought up in this essay series show that any confident assertion that the Qur'an is contradictory is unwarranted.
Discussions on Islam are ubiquitous. Public dialogue related to Muslims is deeply imbedded in societal, cultural, political, and ideological developments around the world. It is not uncommon for discussions to become adversarial. Conflictual views can facilitate fruitful fact-finding. The Quran holds a special position for Muslims around the world. References to the Quran in public dialogue on Islam are easily come by. An adversarial position occurs regarding whether the Quran contains verses that contradict other verses. Modern Biblical scholarship has established that the Old and New Testament contain contradictory verses. It is plausible for modern scholarship to establish the same thing with the Quran. Muslims resist this view. Many non-Muslims as well as ex-Muslims support this view. Other non-Muslims hold no view on this. Fact-finding is necessary to bring clarity and detail to the discussion. A negative or positive answer to this issue provides greater insight into what justification, or lack thereof, Muslims have for placing the Quran in a special position in their general outlook. Knowing this will help people, no matter religious affiliation, to properly conceptualise the Quran’s role in Islam.
The Quran is in the Arabic language. Both Muslims and non-Muslims can agree that the Quran is the most famous Arabic literary work in history. Muslims attribute the linguistic eloquence of the Quran to Divine inspiration. Non-Muslims attribute it to Muhammad’s poetic genius. It is agreed by all parties on this issue that the Quran is best understood in the Arabic language, just as it is agreed by all parties that Shakespeare is best understood in the English language.
There is a sizeable population of Arab non-Muslims in the world. There is also a sizeable number of Arab ex-Muslims across the globe. These Arab non-Muslims and ex-Muslims are familiar with the Arabic language. They can converse, read, and write it. Some are even fluent in it. They understand the Quran far better than non-Arab non-Muslims and non-Arab ex-Muslims who are not familiar with the Arabic language. If there are contradictions in the Quran, Arab non-Muslims and ex-Muslims would be most suited to articulate this.
Across the history of Islam, numerous claims of contradictions in the Quran have been articulated by Arabic-speaking peoples. This is attested to by how the Arabic scholarship on the Quran contains a large volume of scholarly commentary responding to such claims. If no claims of contradiction in the Quran were made, it is difficult to explain the existence of scholarly responses to them in the Arabic scholarship on the Quran.
The Arabic scholarship in the Quran provides a record of claims of contradictions in the Quran by Arab non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, as well as responses to these claims by Arabic language experts in the field of Quranic studies. By looking at this record, all parties can view the historical data on this issue in the context of the Arabic linguistic tradition.
Arabic scholarship in the Quran comprises of numerous Arabic linguists, grammarians, exegetist, etc. One renowned expert in this field is Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti.
Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti studied in the desert of Mauritania under the traditional scholarly system of pedagogy. He looked after camels and sheep in the arid land, as well as memorising the Quran and studying Arabic poetry with teachers who lived in nomadic tents. He carried books of Islamic knowledge on his back as he walked the desert.
He moved to Saudi Arabia where he taught Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) in Masjid Nabawi in the Prophet’s city of Medina. This is the second holiest site in Islam, after the Ka’bah at Mecca. Teaching Quranic commentary there is a mark of honour in Islamic education.
He was the teacher for Shaykh Ibn Baz, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Ibn Uthaymīn, the world renowned Muslim scholar, and Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd, the famous scholar who oversaw the publication of Ibn Al-Qayyim’s books in critical editions in modern print. While the name of Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti may not be well-known outside the narrow circle of Islamic studies, the names of Ibn Baz and Ibn Uthaymīn are widely recognised amongst Muslims. Their names have currency in the public discussion on Islam in Muslim-majority countries as well as Muslim minorities across the world. Bakr Abu Zayd is also well known, although to a lesser degree. Because Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti is the Shaykh of famous scholars, it follows that his scholarly credentials are established.
Al-Shinqīti wrote books that provided important contributions to Islamic studies. His most famous work is Adhwā Al-Bayān, which is a multi-volume Tafsir that focuses on Quranic intertextuality.1 The Tafsir’s primary methodology is to let the Quran explain itself. Moreover, Al-Shinqīṭi wrote a monograph dedicated to dealing with contradictions in the Quran. His book Daf’ Īyhām Al-Idhṭirāb ‘An Ayāt Al-Kitāb provides an extensive treatment of the matter; the book runs close to four hundred pages.2 From this, it is established that Al-Shinqīti is a specialist in the field of Quranic studies, with particular focus on engaging with claims of contradictions in the Quran.
As an expert scholar on the very topic under dispute, Al-Shinqīti’s contribution to the topic is relevant to the dispute. His work can provide expert details that non-experts, from amongst all parties, may not be privy to.
Later in his life, Al-Shinqīti moved to Mecca and taught Tafsir next to the Ka’bah, the holiest site in Islam. He died in Mecca in the year 1973. Because Al-Shinqīti passed away in the late twentieth century, his work records a summation of the most important claims of contradiction in the Quran from early Islam till very recently. His work exhibits a wider-scope of the Arabic scholarship on Quranic studies than other works written at earlier times. Works written before the twentieth-century will neglect to mention contradictions that were articulated later on.
In any dispute, clarification of the central concern is needed. What is meant by contradictions in the Quran? What is the exact relationship between contradictions and the Quran?
Al-Shinqīti’s specialist monograph on the topic is titled Daf’ Īyhām Al-Idhṭirāb ‘An Ayāt Al-Kitāb. The title of his book succinctly expresses his view on what is meant by contradictions in the Quran. He uses the word Idhṭirāb ( ‘inconsistency’) but qualifies it with the word Īyhām ( ‘illusions’). The title has the phrase “illusory inconsistencies” which is what Al-Shinqīṭi calls the ‘contradictions’ in the Quran. Throughout his monograph, Al-Shinqīṭi repeatedly calls the contradictions he highlights as “illusions”.3
In less archaic terms, Al-Shinqīṭi’s view can be rendered as follows: the claims of contradictions in the Quran are really misconceptions that people have. By misunderstanding the Quran, some people thought they identified contradictions in Quranic verses.
The twin notions of misconceptions and misunderstanding play a pivotal role in Al-Shinqīṭi’s monograph. He apologises for mentioning weak ‘contradictions,’ but says that some people who refuse to read the Quran try to purposefully distort the Quranic message.4 For Al-Shinqīṭi, the litany of contradictions in the Quran is merely a list of misunderstandings that he feels duty bound to explain and resolve.
Al-Shinqīṭi does not see any problems in the Quran that need to be solved. All he sees is misconceptions that arise from people not properly understanding the Quran.
The relationship of contradictions to the Quran is that of the uninformed reader to a complex text. The Quran is a complex text. Readers of the Quran who lack vital information, such as details of Arabic linguistics, easily find the complexity of the Quran confusing. The confusion is not in the text itself, but in the reader’s background knowledge. Al-Shinqīṭi holds that the Quranic verses do not contradict each other; rather, how a person understands one verse may contradict how the person understands another verse. By explaining the important background knowledge that readers should have, Al-Shinqīṭi hopes to demonstrate how the misconceptions and misunderstandings are not actually contradictions in the Quran but confusions in how people approach the Quran.
An analogy is warranted. To appreciate Plato, a reader must have background knowledge, such as familiarity with philosophy, the history of civilizations, and awareness of the classical cannon of Western Heritage. A reader who has no background knowledge at all will find it difficult to appreciate Plato. More often than not, such a person will have a confused impression of what Plato is trying to say. What applies to Plato equally applies to the Quran.
Al-Shinqīṭi writes exclusively for an Arabic-speaking audience. The misconceptions and misunderstandings he refers to are done by Arabs who are familiar with the Arabic language. Familiarity is not fluency. And fluency is not expertise. The majority of the world’s population is familiar with the English language through music and movies. Not all of them are fluent in English. In Britain and America, the majority of people could be labelled as fluent in English, at least by international standards. It would be wrong, however, to say they are all experts in English. Not everyone in Britain and America can explain Shakespeare’s grammatical choices in his plays. What holds for Shakespeare’s plays also holds for the Quran. According to Al-Shinqīṭi, familiarity and fluency in Arabic language is not enough to understand the grammatical sophistication of the Quran. Expertise in Arabic linguistics is needed. Where this expertise is not found, even Arab-speaking audiences can be confused about the Arabic in the Quran. This confusion leads to claims of contradictions.
Al-Shinqīṭi provides a methodological approach in engaging with claims of contradictions in the Quran. He is systematic, not ad hoc. This essay will identify five features of his methodological approach. The first feature is Quranic holism; the second feature is copious usage of Quranic verses; the third feature is reliance on Arabic poetry; the fourth feature is usage of Usul Al-Fiqh; the fifth feature is Quranic intertextuality.
After discussing how Al-Shinqīṭi uses these five features, the essay will proceed to analyse ten examples of contradictions of the Quran that Al-Shinqīṭi engages with using his methodology. This will allow all parties to see in a specific and concrete manner how the methodology is used.
Lastly, the essay will provide an evaluation of the overall efficiency of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology, as well as suggestions on how this methodology affects the dispute on whether or not the Quran contains contradictions.
Quranic holism can be defined as ‘viewing the Quran as a whole with all of its verses integrated together to convey a meaning’. This is the first feature of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology. Al-Shinqīṭi organises his book based on Surahs (Quranic chapters) and not based on topics. Al-Shinqīṭi goes through each Surah of the Mushaf, one-by-one, and highlights which verses seem contradictory; he then provides solutions that show the verses are not in fact contradictory.5 This Surah-by-Surah method is vastly different from how many people organise their discussion of Quranic contradictions. Usually, people will group together similar contradictions under topical headings. For instance: ‘contradictions regarding nature’ or ‘contradictions regarding prophets’ etc. The different organisational methods lead to vastly different understandings of the Quran.
The Surah-by-Surah method of Al-Shinqīṭi views the Quran as a holistic whole. The exhaustive, and at times repetitive, analysis Al-Shinqīṭi provides carefully contextualises all the contradictions within the entire Quranic text. The topical method used by many people engages in artificial segmentation, where the Quranic text is chopped up into bite-sized segments, and then presented in such a way as if they contradict one another. This artificial segmentation can occur subconsciously, like when people search the Quran for verses that refer to a specific topic. Such an approach to the Quran is not exhaustive, but selective. Instead of following the flow of the Quranic text, people impose their own arbitrary categories onto the Quranic text.
The second feature of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology is his copious use of Quranic verses. For instance, Al-Shinqīṭi highlights a single verse that seems to contradict the rest of the Quran. He then provides six different verses that mention the same thing as the highlighted single verse.6 In another place, Al-Shinqīṭi points to a single verse that might be considered contradictory to the Quran. He then cites more than ten Quranic verses that say the exact same thing as the single verse.7
This technique of copious citations that Al-Shinqīṭi uses is highly persuasive. The technique shows that the single verse which is claimed to be contradictory to the Quran is actually widespread across the Quran. Many other verses say the same thing as this single so-called contradictory verse. This proves that the single verse is not a minor verse but is a major theme of the Quran. Once readers notice this, the claim of a contradiction becomes more doubtful. It is one thing to say that a single verse was mistakenly written into the Mushaf which contradicts the overall Quranic text. It is another thing to say that a major theme of the Quran contradicts the overall Quranic text. How can this be if the overall Quranic text is comprised of the major theme?
Al-Shinqīṭi’s technique easily shifts the discussion from individual verses to entire themes in the Quran. By doing this, Al-Shinqīṭi is emphasising that Quranic verses cannot be understood individually; rather, they must be understood thematically. By citing copiously from other Quranic verses that also exhibit the same theme, Al-Shinqīṭi demonstrates how the individual verse that may seem contradictory must first be understood in light of the other verses that are thematically similar.
Many people discussing contradictions in the Quran do not use this technique at all. A careful look at their works and arguments shows that these people depend on presenting individual verses and portraying them as contradictory to the Quran. This fails to situate these individual verses into the established themes that comprise the overall Quranic text. If an attempt is made to move this discussion from the level of individual verses to major themes, parties in the dispute will be forced to first explain an individual verse in the light of many other verses in the Quran. Doing so, however, disadvantages certain parties because it will immediately be clear that there is no black-and-white opposition; since, themes can be sufficiently sophisticated enough to interact with each other without any clear-cut contradiction occurring.
The third feature of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology is his heavy reliance on Arabic poetry. This not surprising since Al-Shinqīṭi was an expert in Arabic poetry himself. He used Arabic poetry to understand the Quranic language, because Arabic poetry expressed some of the most eloquent usages of Arabic words and grammatical rules ever recorded. By seeing how the most refined expressions of the Arabic language worked, Al-Shinqīṭi could understand how the Quranic language partakes in the excellence of eloquence.
The emphasis Al-Shinqīṭi gives to Arabic poetry cannot be understated. In explaining one verse, Al-Shinqīṭi provides close to 20 different poetic couplets; he does not provide a single hadith.8 In the context of Arab non-Muslims and Arab ex-Muslims, though they are familiar with the Arabic language, very few would self-identify as an expert in Arabic poetry. They may know of Al-Mutanabbi, the great poet of Islam. They may have even heard some of his poetry; since, Al-Mutanabbi’s poems have become popular aphorisms in the Arab world. But they cannot, if challenged, provide a detailed linguistic analysis of a randomly selected poem of Al-Mutanabbi. Since this is the case, there is no surprise why Al-Shinqīṭi and them have a starkly opposed understanding of the Quran. Al-Shinqīṭi’s understanding of the Quranic text is grounded in specialist appreciation for Arabic poetry. Most of the Arab non-Muslims and Arab ex-Muslims lack this specialisation.
The fourth feature of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology is his continual usage of Uṣūl Al-Fiqh (‘Principles of Fiqh’). Al-Shinqīṭi provides more direct quotations from Marāqi Al-Su’ūd than from any specific Tafsir book. And what is Marāqi Al-Su’ūd? It is a famous primer on Uṣūl Al-Fiqh based on the Maliki Madthab. Al-Shinqīṭi had provided a full commentary of this famous text in another work.9 The importance of Uṣūl Al-Fiqh in understanding the Quran is made clear by how Al-Shinqīṭi quotes extensively from the famous primer.10 It is also made clear by how Al-Shinqīṭi repeatedly uses the phrase “as established in I’lm Al-Uṣūl” when dealing with Quranic verses.11
There is a significant difference between Fiqh and Uṣūl Al-Fiqh. Fiqh is the legal rulings themselves. Uṣūl Al-Fiqh is the principles by which the legal rulings can be deduced. Thus, Uṣūl Al-Fiqh is focused on how the evidences from the Quran & Sunnah can be used validly in inferences. In contrast, Fiqh is the judgements passed by use of legal rules. That is why Al-Shinqīṭi’s use of Uṣūl Al-Fiqh becomes pivotal. He is using the principles for deriving legal rulings from the Quran in order to understand the Quran in a coherent manner. From Al-Shinqīṭi’s perspective, the coherence in the Quran can be found using the same valid inferences that result in the coherence of Fiqh. It must be made abundantly clear here: Al-Shinqīṭi is not saying that the coherence of Fiqh informs our understanding of the Quran; rather, he is saying Uṣūl Al-Fiqh, not Fiqh itself, is what clarifies the coherence of the Quranic text. This difference is substantial, because in the minds of most contemporary readers, when Fiqh is invoked, they directly think of haram and halal rulings. But Uṣūl Al-Fiqh is prior to that; it is before the specific rulings. Al-Shinqīṭi is not talking about fatwas when he says “as established in I’lm Al-Uṣūl”.
Most of those discussing supposedly contradictory verses in the Quran never refer to Uṣūl Al-Fiqh. It could be suggested that this lack of reference is due to most of them being oblivious to the fact that Uṣūl Al-Fiqh has priority when trying to interpret a Quranic verse. Many people would consider it far-fetched that certain principles must be applied onto the Quran before we can rightly interpret it. For them, they think the Quranic text is self-evident and needs no interpretative principles in order to understand it. But what they think is farfetched is actually the standard procedure in Islamic scholarship. The idea of understanding the Quran without using any prior principles at all is an anathema to the entire history of Islam.
The fifth feature of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology is his emphasis on Quranic intertextuality. Al-Shinqīṭi is a proponent of the principle “the best interpretation of the Quran is by the Quran”.12 In one place, Al-Shinqīṭi refers to a view that “many scholars” hold. He rejects this view outright, because it does not conform to some Quranic verses.13 In another place, Al-Shinqīṭi confidently rejects the majority position of the scholars because the Quran has priority over any majority position.14
Many people usually try to force-fit a contradiction into the Quran by saying that so-and-so scholar explained a verse to mean one thing, while another Quranic verse explicitly says the opposite thing. Following Al-Shinqīṭi’s position, it is easy for Muslims to reject any scholarly explanation that does not conform to the Quran itself. Moreover, many people seem to be unaware of the critical understanding needed to deal with the Quran. Throughout his monograph, Al-Shinqīṭi favours Ibn Kathir’s views on Tafsir. This does not stop Al-Shinqīṭi from rejecting Ibn Kathir’s view on a certain issue, and criticising Ibn Kathir for his poor grasp of Fiqh on this issue.15 Despite his deep reliance on the Arabic language, Al-Shinqīṭi rejects the view of Tāj Al-‘Arūs on an issue.16 Tāj Al-‘Arūs is one of the most authoritative sources on Arabic language. Al-Shinqīṭi recognises that just because several major Sahaba interpreted a verse in one way, it does not follow that their interpretation is valid. If Ali and Ibn Abbas interpreted a verse in the same way, this does not mean, in and of itself, that the verse should be interpreted that way. Stronger evidence is needed to accept this interpretation.17
The critical understanding Al-Shinqīṭi exhibits in dealing with the Quran is a result of his prioritisation of Quranic intertextuality. Since the Quran itself has priority over anyone else’s opinion, then Al-Shinqīṭi has the right to take a critical stance that is willing to reject views that many eminent scholars upheld. Quranic intertextuality brings with it a critical perspective that is laudatory in its incisive inquiry.
There is insufficient space in an essay to explain the entire scope of Al-Shinqīṭi’s application of his methodology to the Quran. What follows is a sample of ten contradictions in the Quran that Al-Shinqīṭi resolves using his methodology. While this sample size is small, it does help to convey in a succinct manner the practical aspects of Al-Shinqīṭi’s position on contradictions in the Quran. For those wanting greater depth, they are free to read in full Al-Shinqīṭi’s specialist monograph.
Q.2:2 says “This is a book in which there is no doubt, a guidance to the God-fearing.”
This verse states that the Quran is a guidance specifically to those with Taqwa. This seems to contradict another verse.
Q.2:185 says: “It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind”.
This verse states that the Quran is a guidance even to those who do not have Taqwa.
Al-Shinqīṭi says that a careful reading of the entire Quran shows there are two types of guidance. The first type of guidance is general; the second type of guidance is specific. General guidance is when the evidences and proofs of the truth have been conveyed, even if the people whom it was conveyed to rejected the guidance. This type of guidance is mentioned in Q.41:17, which says: “As for Thamud, We gave them guidance but they preferred blindness”.
Specific guidance is when Allah blesses a person with choosing the truth and following it. This type of guidance is mentioned in Q.6:125, which says: “When God wishes to guide someone, He opens their breast to Islam”.
The Quran is both a general and specific guidance. It is a general guidance, because it provides evidences and proofs of the truth of Tawhid to the entire mankind. It is a specific guidance, because those whom Allah blesses follow the Quran and benefit from its teachings. Based on this, there is no contradiction at all.18
Q.2:7 says: “God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered.”
This verse shows that God stopped people from accepting the truth, by sealing their hearts, ears, and eyes from noticing the truth. This seems to contradict other verses.
Q.18:29 says: “Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so.”
This verse shows that people freely choose disbelief and that God does not stop them in making their own free choice.
Al-Shinqīṭi says that Q.2:7 is not talking about the disbelief of these people; rather, the verse is talking about God’s punishment on them. The sealing of their hearts, ears, and eyes are God’s punishment for their prior freely-chosen disbelief. Al-Shinqīṭi provides copious citations to prove his point. Amongst his citations are:
Moreover, Al-Shinqīṭi stresses that Q.2:7 is self-evidently referring to punishment for prior disbelief; since, Q.2:10 explicitly says so. Q.2:10 says: “There is a disease in their hearts, so God increased their disease”. Here the verse is explicit in mentioning two diseases in their hearts. The first disease is from them. The second disease is from God. Thus, God punished them with further misguidance after they freely-chose to be misguided prior to that. Based on this, Al-Shinqīṭi shows how Q,2:7 does not contradict the free-will of those who choose disbelief.19
Q.2:29 says “It was He who created all that is on the earth for you, then turned to the sky and made the seven heavens”.
This verse states that God created the earth fully first, then only later created the sky. This is further corroborated by Q.41:9-12, which says “Say, ‘How can you disregard the One who created the earth in two Days? How can you set up other gods as His equals? He is the Lord of all the worlds!’ He placed solid mountains on it, blessed it, measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them––all in four Days. Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke––He said to it and the earth, ‘Come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘We come willingly’––and in two Days He formed seven heavens, and assigned an order to each”. So here it is clear the earth was created fully before the sky.
This seems to contradict other verses.
Q.79:27-33 says: “Which is harder to create: you people or the sky that He built, raising it high and perfecting it, giving darkness to its night and bringing out its morning brightness, and the earth, too, He spread out, bringing waters and pastures out of it, and setting ﬁrm mountains [in it] for you and your animals to enjoy?” In this verse, it states God formed the earth after the sky was created.
Al-Shinqīṭi provides a unique solution to this contradiction. He notes that many scholars have provided different explanations on this, but their explanations are extremely weak.20 He acknowledges that Ibn Abbas’s explanation is unsatisfactory.21 Al-Shinqīṭi finds the solution in Quranic intertextuality.22
It is important to keep our focus on the essential details. Al-Shinqīṭi wants to show that the earth was created first, but not fully formed. Then the sky was created and fully formed. After that, God fully formed the earth. Q.2:29 & Q.41:9-13 seem to show that the earth was both created and fully formed before the sky was created and formed. Q.79:27-33 shows that the earth was fully formed after the sky was created and formed.
Al-Shinqīṭi forwards two linguistic points. The first deals with Arabic language. The second deals with Quranic usage.
In the Arabic language, the word Khalq (‘creation’) has two meanings. It can mean Khalq Taqdīr, which is when a person makes a plan prior to starting a project. For instance, when an architect makes the blueprint design for a skyscraper, he is regarded as the creator of the architecture, even though he did not lift his finger in building the actual skyscraper. The word can also mean Khalq Bi Al-Fi’l, which is when something is brought from non-existence into existence. To use the architecture analogy, the builders working in the building site are the ones who brought the skyscraper into its final form. Q.41:9-13 says that God created what is on earth before He created the sky. The verses refer to Khalq Taqdīr and not Khalq Bi Al-Fi’l. This is clear from the verse itself, because Q.41:10 says “measured out its varied provisions”. The Arabic word for “measured” here is Qaddara, which is the same as Taqdīr. Thus, from a close analysis of the Arabic language in Q.41:9-13, it is clear that the creation of the earth which is being described is actually God making the plan, by measuring out the various proportions of what He wants to do to the earth after He finished creating and forming the sky. That is, before creating the sky, Allah had set a plan and blueprint for the architecture of the earth. After God finished creating the sky, He then implemented that plan and blueprint on earth.
In Quranic usage, it is common for a verse to mention all the members within a category by referring to the origins of the category itself. Al-Shinqīṭi cites Q.7:11 as an example of this. Q.7:11 says “We created you, We gave you shape, and then We said to the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ and they did. But not Iblis: he was not one of those who bowed”. The verse refers to all humans, and uses the plural form instead of the singular form, even though it only refers to Adam, who is a single person. Moreover, a plurality of humans did not exist at the time, even from the verse’s own text; yet, the Quran refers to a plurality of humans. Based on this Quranic usage, Q.2:29 becomes easier to comprehend.
Q.2:29 says “It was He who created all that is on the earth for you, then turned to the sky and made the seven heavens”. Following Quranic usage, Al-Shinqīṭi says this verse refers to the origins of the earth, and not the completed form of the earth. In the same way the Quran mentions the creation of all humans by referring to the origins of humans, Q2:29 mentions the creation of all that is on earth by referring to the origins of the earth.
With these two points, Al-Shinqīṭi can easily resolve the contradiction. God first created the origins of the earth (Q.2:29). After that God established a plan for the formation of the earth in accurate measurements (Q.41:9-13). God then created and formed the sky, after which God implemented His plan for forming the earth fully (Q.79:27-33). There is no contradiction here, as is clear.23
What makes Al-Shinqīṭi’s argument persuasive is its lack of extravagance. Al-Shinqīṭi does not invoke any philosophical systems or physical theories by which he tries to resolve the apparent contradiction. Al-Shinqīṭi does not resort to ancient mythologies of world creation in his explanation. What Al-Shinqīṭi does is use the Arabic language and Quranic intertextuality to show a coherent way of understanding all the verses on this issue. Both the Arabic language and Quranic intertextuality are from within the Quranic text itself; since, the Quran is in Arabic and the Quranic usage is (obviously) not foreign to the Quranic text. Thus, Al-Shinqīṭi’s solution cannot be assailed by the charges of being ad hoc.
Q.3:7 says “It is He who has sent this Book down to you [Prophet]. Some of its verses are deﬁnite in meaning––these are the cornerstone of the Book––and others are ambiguous.”
The keywords in this verse are Muhkam (‘definite’) and Mutashābih (‘ambiguous’). The verse says some Quranic verses are Muhkam and some Quranic verses are Mutashābih. This seems to contradict other verses. Q.11:1 says that all Quranic verses are Muhkam. Q.39:23 says that the entire Quran is Mutashābih.
Q.11:1 says “A Book whose verses are Muhkam”.
Q.39:23 says “A Book that is Mutashābih”.
Al-Shinqīṭi emphasises how in the Arabic language, the same word can have different meanings. The word Muhkam can mean ‘definite’. It can also mean ‘perfected’. Al-Shinqīṭi says Q.11:1 refers to the all the Quranic verses being perfect in their eloquence, i.e. linguistic perfection. This is what the word Muhkam means in the verse.
The word Mutashābih can mean ‘ambiguous’. It can also mean ‘similar’. Al-Shinqīṭi says Q.39:23 refers to how all Quranic verses are similar to each other in that all of them are the truth from Allah.
As for Q.3:7, Al-Shinqīṭi says the word Muhkam refers to self-evident verses such as Q.17:39 that says: “Do not set up another god beside God”. Anyone who reads this verse will understand its meaning, even if he is not a scholarly expert. As for Mutashābih, it can have one of two meanings, depending on where the reciter pauses in reading the verse.
The reciter can read Q.3:7 as “only God knows the true meaning and those ﬁrmly grounded in knowledge”. Here the reciter pauses after the phrase “firmly grounded in knowledge”. Based on this, Mutashābih means all the Quranic verses that only Islamic scholars understand, but which the laymen are unqualified to understand. Examples of this include verses pertaining to complex Fiqh issues that the average Muslim lacks expertise in.
The reciter can read Q.3:7 as “only God knows the true meaning” (pause) “And those ﬁrmly grounded in knowledge..”(till end of verse). Here the reciter pauses before the mention of “And those firmly grounded in knowledge”. Based on this, Mutashābih means specifically the letters that appear in the beginning of some Surahs. These are famously known as the Ḥurūf Al-Muqaṭṭa’a. In fact, Chapter 3 of the Quran opens with such a verse: “Alif Lām Mīm”. Only God knows what these letters mean.
Reading Q.3:7 the first way means that many verses in the Quran are Mutashābih, but that the meaning of these verses are known to Islamic scholars. Reading Q.3:7 the second way means that almost all the verses in the Quran are Muhkam.
Al-Shinqīṭi’s response shows the versatility of the Arabic language, with the same words having different meanings, depending on which verses they are found in, and also depending on where a person pauses in his recitation of the same verse.24
Q.4:78 says: “When good fortune comes their way, they say, ‘This is from God,’ but when harm befalls them, they say, ‘This is from you [Prophet].’ Say to them, ‘Both come from God.’ What is the matter with these people that they can barely understand what they are told.” This verse says that both good and bad comes from God. But this seems to contradict the very next verse.
Q.4:79 says: “Anything good that happens to you is from God; anything bad is from yourself.” Here good comes from God and bad comes from the person.
Al-Shinqīṭi says the solution for this is easily found in the Quran. Q.4:78 refers to the pagans of Mecca. By “good fortune” they meant rain and vegetation; since, these were precious in the desert. Whenever it rained in Mecca, the pagans would thank God for the rain. By “bad fortune” they meant droughts and dead crops. Whenever a prolonged drought occurred, and when their vegetation died from lack of water, the pagans of Mecca would curse Muhammad and blame him for their bad fortune. The pagans claimed that Muhammad had a curse upon him which was affecting the entire Mecca.
Using Quranic intertextuality, Al-Shinqīṭi shows how Muhammad’s confrontation with the pagans of Mecca mirrors exactly Moses’ confrontation with the pagans of Pharaonic Egypt. Q.7:130-1 says: “We inﬂicted years of drought and crop failure on Pharaoh’s people, so that they might take heed, then, when something good came their way, they said, ‘This is our due!’. When something bad came, they ascribed it to the evil omen of Moses and those with him, but their ‘evil omen’ was really from God, though most of them did not realize it.” When Egypt had rain and vegetation, Pharaoh saw this as a sign of him being on the truth. When drought and dead crops plagued Egypt, Pharaoh blamed Moses for it. Pharaoh claimed that Moses was an “evil omen” who cursed the land.
In both instances of Muhammad and Moses, the good fortune refers to rain and vegetation. Of course, these comes from God; since, God is the one who created both rain and vegetation. In both instances, the bad fortune was actually a punishment from God to the pagans of Mecca and Egypt. For that reason, both Muhammad and Moses respond to the pagans in the same way. They point out that the bad fortune is not a curse or evil omen on them; rather, the bad fortune is a punishment from God.
Q.4:79 expands on this point. Rain and vegetation are blessings from God that God sends to people out of His Mercy. The punishments from God are the result of the people’s own actions. These punishments come from God’s justice. And God’s justice is always tied to a person’s own actions. As Q.42:30 says “Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands have done”. The misfortune is a punishment from God, as a result of the people’s own actions.
Thus, Q.4:78-9 do not contradict each other; rather, they complement each other nicely. Q.4:78 says that rain and drought, vegetation and dead crops, all of this comes from God. Q4:79 then explains that rain and vegetation is from God’s mercy, whereas drought and dead crops is a punishment from God due to the people’s evil actions. The coherence here is clear.25
Q.6:148 says “The idolaters will say, ‘If God had willed, we would not have ascribed partners to Him––nor would our fathers––or have declared anything forbidden.’ In the same way, those before them continually denied [the truth] until they tasted Our punishment.” This verse, it is claimed, is self-contradictory. Muslims accept that the first part of the verse is true; yet, the Quran labels it false in the second part of the verse.
1st part: “If God had willed, we would not have ascribed partners to Him––nor would our fathers––or have declared anything forbidden.”
2nd part: “In the same way, those before them continually denied [the truth] until they tasted Our punishment”.
The same self-contradiction is found in another verse.
Q.43:20 says “They say, ‘If the Lord of Mercy had willed it, we would not have worshipped them,’ but they do not know that––they are only guessing”. Muslims accept the first part; yet, the second part of the verse rejects it.
1st part: “If the Lord of Mercy had willed it, we would not have worshipped them”.
2nd part: “but they do not know that––they are only guessing”.
Al-Shinqīṭi refers to the famous Arabic aphorism: “A true statement that is used to mean falsehood.” Both Q.6:148 & Q.43:20 criticise the pagans for doing this. Al-Shinqīṭi explains that there is a clear difference between God allowing something, and God loving something. God allows the pagans to freely choose paganism. It does not follow from this that God loves paganism. In Q.6:148 & Q.43:20, the pagans conclude that God loves paganism; since, God allowed them to be pagan. But the Quran is clear that God hates paganism. Q.39:7 says “He is not pleased by disbelief in His servants.” That is why Q.6:148 & Q.43:20 criticise the pagans for using a true statement in order to justify their false beliefs. There is no contradiction here.26
Q.7:6 says “We shall certainly question those to whom messengers were sent–– and We shall question the messengers themselves.” This verse describes how in the Day of Judgment God will question people. This is further supported by Q.15:92-3 that says, “by your Lord, We will question them all about their deeds.”
This seems to contradict other verses in the Quran.
Q.55:39 says “On that Day neither mankind nor jinn will be asked about their sins.” This verse says there will be no questioning in the Day of Judgement.
Q.28:78 says “The guilty will not be questioned about their sins.”
Al-Shinqīṭi refers to both the Arabic language and Quranic usage. In the Arabic language, there are different types of questions. Two major types of questions are: rhetorical and inquisitive. Rhetorical questions are usually asked in the form ‘Why did you do X?’ Inquisitive questions are usually asked in the form ‘Did you do X?’ Rhetorical questions are not aimed at finding new information; rather, their aim is to silence a person. Inquisitive questions aim at finding new information.
In Quranic usage, rhetorical questions are used to humiliate evil people into recognising their own evilness. This is the type of questions the Quran relates to the Day of Judgement. Al-Shinqīṭi gives many examples, amongst them:
Following the Arabic language and Quranic usage, Al-Shinqīṭi makes this adroit point. The Quran affirms that rhetorical questions will be asked in the Day of Judgement. But the Quran denies that inquisitive questions will be asked in the Day of Judgment. This difference is also in line with Islam’s theological teachings. Allah does not need inquisitive questions, because He is All-Knowing. He doesn’t need to find any new information. The questions that are asked in the Day of Judgement are only rhetorical, in that it forces people to acknowledge their evil. Based on this, Q.7:6 & Q.15:92-3 refers to rhetorical questions. Q.55:39 & Q.28:78 refers to inquisitive questions. There is no contradiction between affirming one type of questions and negating another type of questions.27
Q.13:7 says “But you are only there to give warning: each community had their guide”.
This verse states that every community had a Prophet sent to them. This seems to contradict other verses.
36:6 says “To warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, and so they are unaware.”
This verse states that some communities never had any Prophet sent to them.
Al-Shinqīṭi points to Quranic usage. In the Quran, the word ‘guide’ and ‘guidance’ does not only refer to Prophets and the truth, but also to the devils and falsehood. Al-Shinqīṭi provides copious citations to prove this point. From amongst the citations are:
The Quran also describes evil and ignorant people as “Imams,” a word more commonly associated with piety and knowledge.
Following Quranic usage, Al-Shinqīṭi says Q.13:7 refers to how every community has a guide, either to goodness or to evil. The guide to goodness is from the Prophets. The guide to evil is from the devil. Thus, even communities who never got Prophets still had a guide, as is evident from the many evil communities across human history. Al-Shinqīṭi’s solution is an ingenious use of Quranic intertextuality.28
Q.17:97 says “On the Day of Resurrection We shall gather them, lying on their faces, blind, dumb, and deaf”.
This verse says that evil people will be blind and deaf in the Day of Judgement. But this seems to contradict other verses.
Q.18:53 says “The evildoers will see the Fire and they will realize that they are about to fall into it: they will ﬁnd no escape from it.” So they do see.
Q.32:12 says “if only you could see the wrongdoers hang their heads before their Lord: ‘Our Lord, now that we have seen and heard, send us back and we shall do good. [Now] we are convinced.’” So they do speak, see, and hear.
Al-Shinqīṭi refers to Arabic language. In the Arabic language, if something does not bring any benefit to a person, the person can be described as if he lacks that something. In reference to Q.17:97, the evil people are described as blind, because they will not see anything that benefits them; they are described as dumb, because they will not say anything that benefits them; they are described as deaf because they will not hear anything that benefits them. Thus, Q.17:97 does not deny that the evil people will see Hell, or speak pleadingly to God, or hear the judgement passed against them.29
Q.55:35 says “A ﬂash of ﬁre and smoke will be released upon you and no one will come to your aid.” This verse refers to a punishment from God. The very next verse Q.55:36 says “Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny?” The verse describes the punishment of God as blessings. Both verses seem to contradict each other, because one verse talks of God’s punishment and the other describes it as God’s blessings.
Al-Shinqīṭi points out that it is a blessing for the Quran to warn people against God’s punishment; so, they can take heed and avoid it by acting righteously.30
Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology in dealing with Quranic contradictions focuses most on Arabic language and Quranic intertextuality. Al-Shinqīṭi shows how versatile the Arabic language is, where the same word can have multiple different meanings. He also shows how Quranic usage is a fundamental tool in correctly understanding Quranic verses. The prioritisation of Quranic intertextuality allows Al-Shinqīṭi’s position to exhibit an organic interpretation that is grounded in the Quran itself, and is not a foreign imposition onto the Quranic text.
This methodology brings to light a crucial weakness in all claims of contradictions in the Quran. The Quranic text is stable and uniform. There is a consensus amongst all Muslims that the Mushaf is indeed the Quran. The Arabic language has been studied for centuries, and has taken an established form that is the basis for Arabic literary and linguistic scholarship. These two factors will have very little to no change at all in the conceivable future. A hundred years into the future, the Quran will still be the Quran. Muslims will still recite Surah Al-Fatiha in their prayers. And while modern Arabic studies is evolving, the classical Arabic heritage is already established and won’t change. This presents two daunting challenges to any claim of having identified a contradiction in the Quran.
When a person claims the Quran is contradictory, he has to explain two crucial points. Firstly, since the Quran and Arabic literary-linguistic scholarship were stable for many centuries, why is it that Arabic experts in the past never found out about these contradictions? Secondly, since the Quran and classical Arabic heritage won’t change in the foreseeable future, what new feature in the Quran or in classical Arabic heritage did this person find that no one else knew about before?
Both crucial points revolve around the same issue, which is the crucial weakness of all claims of contradictions in the Quran. The issue of contradictions is solely a matter of Arabic language and Quranic intertextuality. Arabic language is stable, while the Quranic usage is constant. These two areas have been settled centuries ago. When people say two verses contradict each other, they have to refer to Arabic language and Quranic usage. If they fail to do so, their claims of contradictions become implausible.
To better understand the point, a comparison can be made with the so-called scientific contradictions in the Quran. From the onset, the notion of new scientific facts contradicting the Quran is plausible. This is because, in principle, no one can say what science will discover in the future. The future of scientific discovery is left wide-open and cannot be specified at all. Thus, it makes sense that a future scientific discovery may contradict the Quran. In contrast, the claim that there is a linguistic contradiction in the Quran is, at the onset, implausible. There is no such thing as ‘future of classical Arabic linguistic discovery’ or ‘future of Quranic intertextual discovery’. Both the categories are already established and solidified. In more laymen terms, scientific contradictions in the Quran is always forward looking into the future (of possible scientific discoveries that may contradict the Quran). But linguistic contradictions in the Quran is always backward looking into the past (to see Arabic language usage in poetry and Quranic usage in the Mushaf). Thus, the claim of Quranic contradictions has a very low probability. In order to prove this claim, people must engage with centuries of established linguistic norms and Quranic interpretative schemes.
Biblical criticism has established that the Old and New Testament contain several contradictions. By analogy, this suggests the plausibility of the Quran being shown as contradictory by way of Quranic criticism. This plausibility still stands, but only in theory. As soon as specific and concrete evidences and facts about the Quran are taken into account, the plausibility is lowered to improbability. Several considerations lower this probability.
The Old and New Testament are not preserved in the original language. Aramaic is a dead language that is no longer read, written, or spoken widely nowadays. The Quran is preserved in its original language. Arabic is a living language. Books in classical Arabic are easily purchased and read in bookstores in Arab countries. Commentaries have been written on these books, as well as discussions held on them. While Modern Standard Arabic does diverge from Classical Arabic in several aspects, there are more similarities between them than there is between the English of the King James Version Bible and Jesus’s own language.
The Old and New Testament exist today in different versions, many of which contain additional books, chapters, verses, or exclude some books, chapters, verses. The Quran exists today in uniform format. Today, there is no version of the Quran in existence which has an extra Surah that all other Mushafs do not have, or new verses that other Mushafs have deleted.
The relative stability of the classical Arabic linguistic tradition and the Quranic corpus must be factored into the probability of the Quran being discovered as contradictory in our times. If Arabic linguistics and Quranic intertextuality are able to explain contradictions as misunderstandings or misconceptions, then it is with an extremely low probability that any contradiction is correct if it entails rejecting Arabic linguistics and Quranic intertextuality. More likely than not, such a contradiction will only be evidence that the reader is misinformed on Arabic linguistics and Quranic intertextuality.
While it is fair to argue based on analogy, it is unfair to neglect relevant evidences that are specific to the matter at hand. The clear differences between the Bible and the Quran entails that one should take into consideration these differences before passing judgement on the plausibility or implausibility of a position.
Al-Shinqīṭi responded to claims of contradictions by Arab-speakers. As previously noted, Arab non-Muslims and Arab ex-Muslims are ideally placed to identify if any contradictions are found in the Quran. They have highlighted some contradictions, but Al-Shinqīṭi has shown that these contradictions are merely misconceptions or misunderstandings due to misinformed readers. All parties in this dispute can agree that alternative interpretations of seemingly contradictory verses have been provided.
To satisfactorily conclude that the verses are indeed contradictory, it must be demonstrated that the alternate interpretations are invalid. It is not enough to label some verses as contradictory; it must be shown that the non-contradictory understanding of these same verses cannot be done.
This can be shown in one of three ways. Firstly, Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology must be shown to be contrary to the Quran. Secondly, a demonstration of how Al-Shinqīṭi misapplied his methodology to the contradictory verses. This must be done in a case-by-case basis; since, specific evidence is needed here. Thirdly, it must be exhibited that even with a solid methodology and proper application, Al-Shinqīṭi’s interpretation still leaves the verses as contradictory.
The chances of success are low in this endeavour. The first way is a dead end; since, Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology relies heavily on the Quran itself. The second way is problematic, because the factual details needed for a case-by-case critique depends on expertise and specialisation. The third way is discounted due to Al-Shinqīṭi affirming a non-contradictory explanation to the verses.
Since a plausible non-contradictory explanation of apparently contradictory verses has been provided, and since the explanation cannot be satisfactorily demonstrated to be invalid, then it is established that the Arabic scholarship on the Quran has sufficiently cast doubt on the claims of the verses being contradictory. With such doubt, it is improper for anyone to maintain that there is in fact contradictory verses. At best, there are some verses that are ambiguous as to their proper interpretation. At worst, the claim of contradiction goes against the clear meaning of the Quran.
If Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology neutralises claims of contradictions by Arab non-Muslims and Arab ex-Muslims, then by extension it also neutralises such claims from non-Arab non-Muslims and non-Arab ex-Muslims. With no familiarity or fluency or expertise in the Arabic language, non-Arab non-Muslims and ex-Muslims are at a disadvantage. Any claim of contradiction they make can easily be invalidated on there being reasonable grounds to doubt if they actually understand Quranic Arabic properly.
English translations of the Quran will not suffice in making a claim of contradiction. All parties can agree that English translations of French post-modernist philosophy, and English translations of Ancient Chinese philosophy, have led to misunderstandings and misconceptions creeping into these translated works. The same applies with English translations of the Quran. Such translations are not immune to the pitfall of having important details getting ‘lost in translation’.
All claims of contradictions in the Quran made by non-Arab non-Muslims and non-Arab ex-Muslims must take into consideration Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology. Those that do not can be criticised easily for lacking crucial background information needed to understand the verses in the first place.
When Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology is understood, a person can effectively identify weaknesses in any claim of contradiction in the Quran. This is especially true if those making the claim are non-Arabic speakers. What follows is one example of an expansive application of Al-Shinqīṭi’s methodology to a contradiction that he did not record or respond to.
WikiIslam has a page on “Contradictions in the Quran”. I randomly picked the following example by scrolling down the page with my eyes closed.
“When do people come back to life?
On the appointed Hour (Day of Judgement):
“And verily the Hour will come: there can be no doubt about it, or about (the fact) that Allah will raise up all who are in the graves” (22:7).
Immediately after their death:
“Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision” (3:169).”31
It is obvious that whoever wrote this can neither read Arabic nor has even the most basic familiarity with Islamic theology (Aqidah). Q.22:7 uses the word Yab’athu ( ‘raised up’) which refers to the Ba’th (‘resurrection’). This verse refers to people being resurrected in the Day of Judgement. The verse itself is explicit in mentioning people coming out of their graves. Q.3:169 has no relation to the resurrection. Indeed, the apparent meaning of the verse refers to the martyrs who are in their graves. Thus, WikiIslam is taking two unrelated verses and pretending they contradict each other. The first verse refers to people leaving their graves during the resurrection. The second verses refers to martyrs in their graves before the resurrection.
Anyone who is familiar with basic Islamic theology will recognise that Q3:169 refers to the life of the Barzakh (of the grave). The verse states that when martyrs die, they will be rewarded with a special type of life while they are in their graves. This life is not a physical life at all, but a spiritual life; since, the resumption of a physical life only occurs after the resurrection in Islamic eschatology. So Q.3:169 refers to the life of the Barzakh, whereas Q.22:7 refers to life of the Akhira. Here, WikiIslam clearly was thinking in manner that has no familiarity with Islam by equating life = life, whereas Islamic theology makes it clear that life of Barzakh ≠ life of Akhira.
If we compare how Al-Shinqīṭi deals with the Quran and how WikiIslam deals with it, we will notice immediately how shallow WikiIslam is in its engagement with the Quranic text. By studying how Islamic scholars dealt with so-called contradictions, Muslims will be able to critique the anti-Islamic narrative on this issue, both from a methodological and textual perspective. This is why learning about Al-Shinqīṭi’s approach to this issue is valuable.
The conflictual position regarding contradictions in the Quran provides an opportunity for fact-finding. The facts cast serious doubt on any claims of contradictions being found in the Quran. Arabic scholarship on the Quran has responded to many such contradictions. Muhammad Amīn Al-Shinqīti has shown that, at least in the context of Arabic linguistics and Quranic intertextuality, many of the contradictions are actually misconceptions and misunderstandings that misinformed readers had of the Quran due to their lack of sufficient background knowledge on the topic. These facts are relevant and specific to the issue at hand. The only way they can be dismissed is if adequate counter-responses are provided. In almost all cases involving non-Arab non-Muslims and non-Arab ex-Muslims, such a counter-response cannot be done in principle due to lack of expertise and specialisation. It is akin to expecting an Average Joe to perform a heart-surgery procedure that is superior to the procedure done by expert heart surgeons. No party to the dispute can reject outright the contributions of Arabic scholarship on the Quran; since, these contributions are highly relevant to the matter. If a party to the dispute does reject highly relevant matters, then its position is invalidated. No case can be reasonably made when a person unreasonably ignores relevancy in evidence. The facts brought up in this essay show that any confident assertion that the Quran is contradictory is unwarranted.