Qur’an’s Tahrif And 70 Faces Of Torah Bridge Differences Between Abrahamic Religions – OpEd


One of the most complex and misunderstood concepts in the Qur’an is Tahrif. The term Tahrif does not occur in the Quran, but there are four verses claiming that some people have tampered with the pre-Qur’an sacred texts of other people (Qur’an 2:75; 4:46; 5:13; 5:41). 

The term Tahrif is also used to refer to the Shi’a charge that parts of the Quran in which Ali ‘s authority is given divine sanction, have been removed.

Al-Raghib al-‘Isfahani, in his Mufradat al-Qur’an, also defines `tahrif as a way of interpreting a certain speech or writing so that it appears to denote two different meanings.’ According to this definition, tahrif is not an alteration of the actual words and phrases of another sacred text, but the alteration of its meanings. It is in this sense that tahrif has been used in the following Qur’anic verse: “Some of the Jews pervert words (yuharrifuna) from their meanings…(4:46)

The verse indicates that many Jews used to alter the meanings of the scripture while keeping its actual words (what the Jews call Midrash).

Since the Qur’an states that its message is to confirm the scriptures of God’s previous prophets, one might think that the Qur’an offers nothing new; but that is not correct. 

As the last of the Abrahamic revelations, the Qur’an offers important ways for monotheistic religions in general, like the Sabian non-Abrahamic religions that have become Hanif; and the specific People of the Book religions [based on Torah, Zabur and Gospel] to bridge the divisions between Judaism and Christianity that arose over the centuries. 

Bridging these religious divisions by honoring them, and not despising them, is central to the Qur’an’s message. “He has ordained for you that religion which He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein. Difficult for those who associate others with Allah is that [monotheism] to which you invite them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]. (42:13)

Since the generations of the Crusaders, no generation in the past has needed the Qur’an’s directions about the importance of religions mutual respect and harmony seeking, than those who now live in a 21st century of growing religious intolerance. Believers who have different understandings of various verses in sacred scriptures are not engaged in Tahrif; they are engaged in Midrash (expanding the meaning of the text) but not to make it more and more strict as Orthodox rabbis did to Jewish dietary and family purity laws. As Quran 5:87 “O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allah has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.”

And as Quran 5:4 states: “They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, “Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah .” Indeed, Allah is swift in account.” 

First, the Qur’an inform us that all monotheistic religions and their believers will be rewarded by Allah: “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear [of the fire] for them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

Religious pluralism as well as racial and language differences will always be the will of Allah:
“If your Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind One People: but they will never cease to be diverse.” (11:118) 

This has been true from the beginning: “From among Allah’s signs are the creation of heaven and the earth and the difference of your tongues and the variation of your colors.” (30:22)

Second, Allah judges each and every monotheistic believer by his or her righteousness, which includes how well they know and love outsiders from other nations and tribes:”O mankind! We created you from male and female [Adam and Eve] and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (and not despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he [or she] who is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is fully informed.” (49:13) 

The Quran’s respect for diversity in tribal, ethnic, national, and religious differences is a positive statement parallel to the Bible’s negative depiction of the Tower of Babel, in which God cures mankind of termite like conformity [“having only one language with only a few words’ Genesis 11:1] and skyscraper arrogance in making for themselves a name [Genesis 11:4]. So God disperses mankind worldwide into different groups with different languages. 

No human will ever know who is correct about religious disputes between and within the different monotheistic religions as the Qur’an declares, “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 the matter, but continue to call people to your Lord.,..God will judge between (all of) you on the Day of Resurrection about what you used to differ”. (22:67&69) 

And our debates about religious differences must never be arrogantly self-righteous. They must be mutually humble and respectful: “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (29:46)

Third, the Qur’an opposes the tendency of humans to create differences and divisions that divide the monotheistic religions from each other; and even create splits within each religion that lead to disrespect for other believers; and even charges of heresy and betrayal. 

While religious, national and language differences and divisions are Allah’s will and must be respected; exaggerating them in order to self-righteously claim a greater truth than others have, or more closeness to God than others, is condemned by the Qur’an. 

For different religions: “We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so compete to [do] good. To Allah you all return together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (5:48)

And for different sects within each religion: “Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not be divided [into sects]. And remember Allah’s blessing upon you when you were enemies [of each other], then He brought your hearts together, so you became brothers with His blessing. And you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, when He saved you from it. Thus does Allah clarify His signs for you so that you may be guided.” (3:103)

Finally, there is an example that points to one important hidden cause of religious self-righteousness: “Certainly We settled the Children of Israel in a worthy settlement [the Land of Israel} and We provided them with all the good things, and they did not differ until [after] the knowledge had come to them. Your Lord will indeed judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that about which they used to differ.” (10:93)

What is this knowledge that came to them after the time of the Hebrew Bible prophets? What is this knowledge that is also mentioned in other situations like: “… and those who were given the Book did not differ except after knowledge had come to them, out of transgression with one another… “(3:19)

“…Maintain the religion, and do not be divided in it… They did not divide [into sects] except after the knowledge [theology] had come to them out of transgression with one another…” (42:13-14)

I believe the knowledge is Greek philosophy; which influenced most religious scholar’s thinking and understanding’s of many verses in their sacred scripture. Greek philosophy completely lacked the advantage of Divine revelations. Greek philosophy relied on human reasoning which often is simply a rationalization of our desires and our egos.

Religious truth in Europe, and then in the Middle East, became a zero sum game: anything positive said about another religion was seen as weakening your own side. The goal was not to modestly try to harmonize various religious perspectives of the one and only God; but to self-righteously exaggerate religious differences, well beyond any reasonable understanding of the two sides.

In a zero sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own. This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle, and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both of them must be false. They cannot both be true.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture. 

But in the Middle Ages almost all readers thought of revelation as a zero sum sport like tennis; rather than a multiple-win, co-operative sport like mountain climbing. This would mean that if my religion is true, yours must be false.

This philosophical logic influenced all monotheistic religions and overcame most of the clear statements in the Qur’an to the contrary. It still remains in many of the Medieval scriptural commentaries to this day.

My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source. Prophets are all brothers; they have the same “father” (God) and different “mothers” (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras).

All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but their monotheistic theology can differ only in small and unessential details. Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify or abrogate each other; they only cast additional light on each other.

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