The Qu'ran - Article 2

The aim of this page is to look at the claims that are made about the text of the Quran. Muslims may well be offended by this article. If that is the case stop reading now . This article is written by an atheist and is intended to be read by atheists.

There are 114 chapters called sura in the Quran.They are arranged roughly in order of length with the longer ones first. They are not arranged in any topical, chronological or historical order. This makes it very confusing for Western readers. One of the shortest Suras is 111 :-

The Flame
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. Perdition overtake both hands of Abu Lahab, and he will perish.
2. His wealth and what he earns will not avail him.
3. He shall soon burn in fire that flames,
4. And his wife, the bearer of fuel,
5. Upon her neck a halter of strongly twisted rope.
In The Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

I wonder why a chapter of God's eternal, unchanging, divine revelation is devoted to cursing one poor 6th century Arab and his wife. Does this curse sound like a beneficent, merciful God?

The Quran is supposed to be the Word of God. None of it is supposed to be Muhammad's words. This means that God has to refer to himself in the third person many times. There are also many passages which appear to be Muhammad's words. It is pointed out many times by Muslims that as they have the word 'Say' at the beginning of these speeches, they are commandments from God to Muhammad to say these words. The command 'say' occurs some 350 times in the Quran and it is clear that in many cases it was added just to get round this difficulty. However, Sura 27:91 lacks the magic word 'say'. 'I have been commanded to serve the Lord of this city' is clearly the words of Muhammad.

Muhammad was the first person to recite the Quran and one feature of the Quran is that it was Muhammad who recited that God tells people to not put themselves above Muhammad.

Sura 49

O Ye who believe! Put not yourselves forward before Allah and His Messenger; but fear Allah: for Allah is He Who hears and knows all things.
O ye who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor speak aloud to him in talk, as ye may speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds become vain and ye perceive not.
Those that lower their voices in the presence of Allah's Messenger,- their hearts has Allah tested for piety: for them is Forgiveness and a great Reward.

Muhammad also recited that Allah and the angels bless Muhammad and Muhammad recited that Muslims should also bless Muhammad and salute him with all respect.

Sura 33 Verse 56

Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe! Send ye blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.

Normally, prophets tell believers to respect God, but in the Quran, God tells believers to respect Muhammad.

In Chapter 38 Verse 2 of the Qu'ran, Muhammad was the first person to recite that God would forgive Muhammad of any sins that he had committed and any sins that he would commit in the future :- 'That Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favour unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path'.

It must have been a strange feeling for Muhammad as he declared that the Creator of the Universe would forgive him for anything that he ever did and ever would do, no matter what it was.

The Quran is also supposed to be pure Arabic. Sura 12:1 says 'We have made it an Arabic Quran'. But there are at least 100 foreign words in the Quran. Even 'Quran' itself seems to come from the Syriac.

The Quran is supposed to be eternal, but some verses are cancelled by other verses. This is based on Sura 2:106 "Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?"

Are some words of God to be preferred to other words of God? How can an eternal revelation be forgotten?

Borrowed Stories

Many stories in the Quran are based on Jewish and Christian legends. Even the Quran says that there were people who accused Muhammad of getting his stories from other people. Sura 25:4-5 :-
And those who disbelieve say: This is nothing but a lie which he has forged, and other people have helped him at it; so indeed they have done injustice and uttered a falsehood. And they say: The stories of the ancients he has got them written so these are read out to him morning and evening.

The Quran admits that Muhammad had a foreign teacher but denies that the stories in the Quran come from his teacher, with the wonderful logic that the Quran is in Arabic. Ever heard of translating? Sura 16:103
"And certainly We know that they say: Only a mortal teaches him. The tongue of him whom they reproach is barbarous, and this is clear Arabic tongue."

One place where the Quran borrows from the Old Testament is Sura 2:249

So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allahs permission, and Allah is with the patient.
This is very similar to the story about Gideon in Judges 7:5-7. Why would God want to test an army by seeing how people drink water from a river?

The Quran borrows the legend of the Seven Sleepers from Christianity. (Sura 18.826). In the legend , seven youths escape persecution under Decius by hiding in a cave. They are sealed in and emerge alive two hundred years later. Evidently Muhammad was sufficiently impressed by this story to include it.

The Quran has various tales of Jesus speaking in the cradle and breathing life into birds of clay. These come from apocryphal Christian works.

The Qu'ran - Sura 33 and Zaynab

Sura 33:37-38 of the Qu'ran reads as follows

Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "Retain thou in wedlock thy wife, and fear Allah." But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved his marriage with her, with the necessary formality, We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that in future there may be no difficulty to the Believers in the matter of marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary formality their marriage with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled.

There can be no difficulty to the Prophet in what Allah has indicated to him as a duty. It was the practice of Allah amongst those of old that have passed away. And the command of Allah is a decree determined.

What is the story about these verses? According to Islamic sources, the story is as follows.

Zaid was the adopted son of Muhammad and Zaynab was his wife. One day, Muhammad saw Zaynab. According to Islamic sources, she was in a state of slight undress. Muhammad was 'amazed at her beauty', to quote the biography of Muhammad, written by Martin Lings and published by the Islamic Texts Society. Zaid offered to divorce Zaynab so that Muhammad could marry her. Zaynab was also agreeable to this.

Muslim apologists say that Muhammad did not want to marry Zaynab just for the reason that she was an attractive woman. After all, she was almost forty years old!.

However, Muhammad could not marry her, because society at that time did not allow the marriage of the father to one of his son's wives after divorce, regardless of whether or not the son was a blood relation or an adopted son. As verse 37 from Sura 33 makes clear, Muhammad feared public opinion would turn against him, if this taboo was broken.

Also, Muhammad already had four wives, the maximum number permitted to a Muslim by the Qu'ran.

By a remarkable coincidence, it was only a short while later that Muhammad received the revelation written above, in which Allah said that from now on, it was quite permissible for believers to marry the divorced wife of a son who was merely adopted. O Prophet! Why bannest thou that which Allah hath made lawful for thee, seeking to please thy wives? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The Qu'ran - Sura 66 and Divorce

Sura 66:1-5 of the Qu'ran reads as follows
1. O Prophet! why do you forbid yourself that which Allah has made lawful for you; you seek to please your wives; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
2.Allah indeed has sanctioned for you the expiation of your oaths and Allah is your Protector, and He is the Knowing the Wise.
3. And when the prophet secretly communicated a piece of information to one of his wives-- but when she informed others of it, and Allah made him to know it, he made known part of it and avoided part; so when he informed her of it, she said: Who informed you of this? He said: The Knowing, the one Aware, informed me.
4.If you both turn to Allah, then indeed your hearts are already inclined (to this); and if you back up each other against him, then surely Allah it is Who is his Guardian, and Jibreel and -the believers that do good, and the angels after that are the aiders.
5. Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins.

What is the story behind these verses, according to the Islamic sources?

As Muhammad had many wives, he visited each in turn. Once , Hafsa found Muhammad and Mary together on a day when it was supposed to be Hafsa's turn.

Mary was a perfectly legal concubine of Muhammad, but Hafsa was still upset as she had found them in her hut. Hafsa and Muhammad argued and Muhammad agreed to keep away from Mary, if Hafsa agreed not to tell Muhammad's other wives what had been happening.

However, Hafsa told Aisha and one thing led to another and Muhammad was soon on bad terms with all his wives.

Then, Muhammad had the divine revelation quoted above, allowing him to expiate his oaths and permitting him to threaten to divorce his wives and replace them with more obedient ones.

Naturally, his wives soon caved in.

Even hardened cynics would be pressed to come up with stories better illustrating how convenient for Muhammad the revelations from God were than the stories found in the Islamic biographies of the Prophet.


Chapter 113 in the Quran is known as Al-Falaq (The daybreak)

Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of the dawn,
From the evil of what He has created,
And from the evil of the utterly dark night when it
And from the evil of those who blow on knots,
And from the evil of the envious when he envies

What is the 'evil of those who blow on knots'?

The rather bizarre story behind this chapter of the Qu'ran is that a Jew named Labid was gifted in sorcery. He obtained some combings of the Prophet's hair and tied eleven knots in it. His daughters breathed curses upon each knot. The magic could only be undone by doing the knots.

Sura 113 and Sura 114 total 11 verses. As each verse was recited one of the knots was loosened. Soon the Prophet had made a full recovery.

Muslims call these two chapters 'the two takings of refuge' and recite them for protection against the evil eye.

Was there ever such a strange story behind a Holy Book?

The Islamic story confirming this runs as follows in Bukhari's hadith Volume 8, Book 75, Number 400: ' that Allah's Apostle was affected by magic, so much that he used to think that he had done something which in fact, he did not do, and he invoked his Lord (for a remedy). Then (one day) he said, "O 'Aisha! Do you know that Allah has advised me as to the problem I consulted Him about?" 'Aisha said, "O Allah's Apostle! What's that?" He said, "Two men came to me and one of them sat at my head and the other at my feet, and one of them asked his companion, 'What is wrong with this man?' The latter replied, 'He is under the effect of magic.' The former asked, 'Who has worked magic on him?' The latter replied, 'Labid bin Al-A'sam.' The former asked, 'With what did he work the magic?' The latter replied, 'With a comb and the hair, which are stuck to the comb, and the skin of pollen of a date-palm tree.'

The former asked, 'Where is that?' The latter replied, 'It is in Dharwan.' Dharwan was a well in the dwelling place of the (tribe of) Bani Zuraiq. Allah's Apostle went to that well and returned to 'Aisha, saying, 'By Allah, the water (of the well) was as red as the infusion of Hinna, (1) and the date-palm trees look like the heads of devils.'

'Aisha added, Allah's Apostle came to me and informed me about the well. I asked the Prophet, 'O Allah's Apostle, why didn't you take out the skin of pollen?' He said, 'As for me, Allah has cured me and I hated to draw the attention of the people to such evil (which they might learn and harm others with).' " >


The Quran is a product of its time. It is a product of a human being. Its scope is limited to what Muhammad knew and had been taught. It is not a revelation from God.

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