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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In tracking back a couple of articles, I came across a blog called "From the Front Lines" published by the Apologetics Resource Center with contributions by Dr. Steve Cowan and Jason Dollar. The blog seems to be a fine example of practical application of Christian apologetics in today's society. I looks to be a fine, developing resource.

Following up on Weekend Fisher's fine post on evangelizing Muslims, "From the Front Lines" has a post entitled "Why the Bible and not the Qur'an?", which tackles the claim by followers of Islam that the Qur'an must be true because of its literary beauty. The post reads:

The most popular argument given for the Qur'an's inspiration is its supposed literary elegance. One Muslim apologist, Yusuf Ali, says, “No human composition could contain the beauty, power, and spiritual insight of the Qur'an.” Muhammad himself said, “This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than God” (Sura 10:37). In fact, the Qur’an lays down a challenge which Muslims believe has never been met: “And if you are in doubt as to what we have revealed from time to time to our servant, then produce a sura like unto it” (Sura 2:23). The challenge is for someone to produce a literary work of equal quality to the Qur’an. Supposedly, if this could be done, the Qur’an would be shown to be a merely human work. But, the Muslim is confident that it cannot be done.

This is a very entertaining argument because I agree that all things beautiful are inspired by God. God as the source of all light, must, in my opinion, be the inspiration for anything that man can devise that is beautiful.

Of course, Dr. Cowan takes on the premise that the Qur'an is exceedingly beautful by pointing out that some Muslim scholars argue that it is not in any way superior to other Muslim writings. He also points out that there is a very subjective element in determining whether the Qur'an is the most beautiful of all books. But I don't think you even have to go that far in analyzing this argument. Accepting the premise for the sake of argument that the Qur'an is the most beautiful book ever written, it does not seem to follow that it must be from God.

I am not the least bit inclined to believe that simply because God is the inspiration, that all things beautiful are Godly or inspired in and of themselves. There are many beautiful sonnets that have nothing to do with God, even though the beauty that comes only from God is used as a tool for the transmission of the text. Some beautiful artwork are not odes to God but odes to paganism -- simply look at much of the tremendous art that was uncovered in the tomb of the Egyptian boy-king King Tutankhamun. It does not seem to me to follow at all that simply because something is beautifully written that it must be a direct message from God.

While I think it is important to understand the main teachings of the Islamic faith as taught to through the Qur'an to most effectively counter Muslim arguments for its truth, I think this is one area where common sense and real world experience points out the fallacious nature of the argument.

4 comments:

I would really emphasize the value of having some of Christ's basic teachings memorized. The best answer to the challenge "produce a Surah like it" is to recite the beatitudes, or the "love your enemies" section of the Sermon on the Mount, or the sheep and the goats. Jesus' teachings are not merely powerful and beautiful, but I have seen Muslims who are simply and honestly amazed at the power of Christ's teaching. I've even seen the same effect with the "neither height nor depth ... nothing can separate you from the love of God" section of Paul's letter to the Romans. People can argue all day over whose writings are from God, but *reciting* (or if online, quoting) can be much more to the point.

Parts of the Qur'an are virtually undecipherable because of the archaic nature of the original script (before the introduction of certain diacritical markings to distinguish between letters), obscure vocabulary, and similar factors.

This site takes a very strident tone, but seems to reflect an awareness of the linguistic situation. Here is the money quote:

During the Qur’an’s first century, the emerging Arabic alphabet did not have diacritical points, and letters were omitted. The text Uthman canonized, if this actually occurred, was a bare consonantal text with no marks to show verse endings, to distinguish consonants, or vowels. Without them it is impossible to comprehend the intended meaning of the text. In the introduction to his translation of the Qur’an, Dawood said, “Owing to the fact that the Kufic script in which the eighth and ninth century Qur’ans were originally written contained no indication of vowels or diacritical points, variant readings are recognized by Muslims as of equal authority.”
For example, without the diacritical points the following words would be indistinguishable: repent, plant, house, girl, and abide, as are rich and stupid. There are thousands of Arabic words like these in which the meaning changes depending upon the placement of the diacritical marks. Yet the Qur’an was neither revealed nor initially scribed with these designations. Thus men had to guess as to what Allah was trying to say. The Qur’an cannot be letter for letter as Allah revealed it, because without the diacritical points and vowels, the identity of most letters is missing.
The principles of sound Arabic demand that words have diacritical points and their letters should be written in complete form. It is inconceivable that God would have revealed a book in such an inferior condition. To demonstrate the magnitude of this problem, try to establish the meaning of the following sentences extracted from this page with vowels removed along with one out of every five consonants and punctuation:
ltrs r ssng h smlst pncpls snd rc lngg mnd tt wrd hv dctcl pts nd hr ltrs shd be wttn n mplt fm t s nmprhnbl th gd wl hv rvd bk n ch n nrr cndn t. Now, imagine trying to do this without having an intelligible text right before your eyes. Then, to equate this challenge to deciphering the Qur’an, remove every fifth word and replace some of those that remain with an unknown vocabulary. This is what you would have left: r ssng h adgh snd rc lngg tt wrd hv dctcl nd hr ltrs shd be n mplt fm @$%&*! th wl hv rvd bk n ch n nrr cndn. Try to make sense of that.

Kind of hard to argue for "beauty" in a text that almost no one can actually read :-)

WF, I certainly agree with your approach. Since you have more experience with dealing with Muslims, I find your advice to be very practical and I intend to remember it. My post, however, was just directed towards the one argument and what I see as a logical flaw that leaps out at me about it.

DP, thank you for the information. I was certainly not aware of the problems in the Koran, and, as I said in my initial post, I think the best apologetics towards that group will come from people who are well-acquainted with the Koran and the teachings of Islam. Your information is very helpful.

Sure, your argument is completely logically sound, I've got no objections to the argument per se.

Though having read the Qur'an in English translation, I'll have to say that if there's beauty to it, it doesn't survive translation well. I will say that the shorter surahs at the back of the book (generally written earlier, before Mohammed's turn to violence) are typically more appealing than the longer surahs at the front of the book (generally written later, after Mohammed left Mecca with the vow to return and produce slaughter).

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