Apologetic Paper (Joseph Smith) - May 1995
How many of you have been in a conversation with a Muslim, and you find that soon there are irreconcilable differences between you? You ask the Muslim why he or she says the things they do, and they respond that they only repeat what they have learned from the Qur'an. In reply you claim that what you believe also comes from the Word of God, the Bible. It doesn't take long before you realize that neither side can agree because the authority for what you believe and say is at a variance to what they believe and say. Our Bible contradicts much of what their Qur'an says, and this fact alone will continue to negate many worthwhile conversations which we may wish to indulge in.
So, what is the solution? If two documents are in contradiction, the first thing to do is ascertain whether the contradictions can be explained adequately. And if not, then we must conclude that one of the two documents is false. Therefore, before we get into serious dialogue with a Muslim we must ask the question of whether the authority for our respective beliefs (the Qur'an and the Bible) can stand up to verification, and whether they can stand up to a critical analysis of their authenticity.
This is an immensely complex and difficult subject. Both Islam and Christianity claim to receive their beliefs from revealed truth, which they find in their respective scriptures. Consequently, to suspect the source for revealed truth, the scriptures for each faith, is to put the integrity of both Christianity and Islam on trial.
Obviously this is a task that no-one should take lightly, and I don't intend to do so here. For that reason, I have decided not to attempt a simplistic analysis concerning the authority of the Qur'an and the Bible in one single paper. Instead I will begin by dealing with the authority of the Qur'an in this paper and then turn my attention to the authority for our own scriptures, the Bible, in a follow-up paper.
In no way do I claim to know all the answers, nor will I be so pretentious as to assume that I can exhaustively argue the question of authority for both the Qur'an and the Bible in these two papers. These studies are nothing more than mere "overviews," with the hope that they will stimulate you to continue studying these very important areas in your own time, so that you too will "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).
When we observe the two faiths, we see immediately that they are in conflict with one another concerning their scriptures. Muslims believe that their scripture, the Qur'an, is the 'final revelation,' while Christians believe only the Bible (including the Old and New Testaments) can claim true authority.
If we were to delve into the contents of each scripture we would find that the two are at variance with one another in a number of areas: stories have changed, characters are missing and entire sections do not exist in one but do in the other.
In order to delineate which is correct, we will need to take each revelation separately and ask whether it can stand up to scrutiny, whether it can hold firm under critical analysis, and whether it can claim to be indeed the true revelation from God. Let us then start with the authority for the Qur'an. Normally when one begins any research into the Qur'an, the first question which should be asked is how we know that it is what it claims to be, the final word of God? In order to answer that question we would need to go to the sources of the Qur'an to ascertain its authenticity.
As you well know, going to the sources of the Qur'an is much more difficult then one would usually assume, as we have so little data with which to use. In another paper (The problems with Sources of Islam) I have dealt with the problems which exist when confronted by the dearth of material on the sources of the Qur'an, so I won't repeat those arguments here.
Suffice it to say, that the only real source we have for the Qur'an is the book itself, and what Muslim Traditions tell us concerning how that book came to be created. Because of their late compilations (200-300 years after the event), and the contradicting documentation which we now possess prior to 750 C.E., I find it difficult to consider either of them as valid or authentic as source material.
However, since we are attempting to compare the Qur'an with our own scriptures, I will, for the time being, set aside my prejudices, and assume, for argument's sake, that the traditions are correct. In other words, I will take the position of current orthodox Muslim scholarship and presume that the Qur'an was compiled in the years 646-650 C.E., from material which originated with the man Muhammad before his death in 632 C.E.
It is from this premise that I will attempt to respond to the question of whether the Qur'an can claim to be the final and most perfect revelation of God's word to humanity.