One of the salient arguments in Biblical Quranism (the quranist approach which seeks to elaborate and conjoin Quran with the Bible) is that the Prophet was told to ask those who read the Bible if he was in doubt. This is an interpretation of Chapter 10 Verse 94. The Saheeh International translation reads:
So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.
At first glance, reading the translation above, it would be easy to see why Biblical Quranists have come to see this as evidence for their approach. However, there are a few questions which prevent us from accepting their interpretation.
- Why would Allah offer a solution for the problem of doubt by simply asking other people?
The problem was that the Reader (lets assume it refers to Muhammad for the purposes of this discussion) experiences doubt. How is he meant to allay doubt by simply asking people who read another text? Moreover, the text is not defined and nor are ‘those who read’. Biblical Quranists are making assumptions based on their confirmation bias.
Quran does not operate upon such an epistemology (science of validating knowledge) where agreement from another party as a means to allay doubt. Rather, 41/53 tells that confirmation of its truth must come from two sources, signs in the horizons and in the soul (ayat fil afaq wa fil anfus). Thus , aspects of reality are what confirms the text, not other texts. 10/94 must be read in light of this.
- What is ‘the book’ in this context?
Biblical Quranists are quick to make the assumption that ‘al-kitab’ in this context refers to the Bible. The translation quoted above also says ‘the scripture’ in order to tend its readers towards the idea of a scripture. The word ‘al-kitab’ is a proper noun and refers to a ‘kitab’ (writ, something arranged and meaningful) within each context. Examples in include
- 2/2 where ‘that al-kitab’ refers to ‘alif laam meem’
b. 6/38 where ‘al-kitab’ refers to orders found in the natural world
c. 27/40 where ‘knowledge from al-kitab’ refers to the knowledge of bringing a throne in the blink of an eye, metaphorically speaking.
Al-kitab can also refer to the Quran itself, as per 15/1. All prophets are said to bring ‘al-kitab’ (in singular) with truth (2/213). This notion of a singular system for all prophets is further confirmed by 41/43 which says that everything said to the Reader has been said to messengers before. 46/9 adds to this by instructing the Reader to say that he is not an innovation among the messengers. This shows that another text, especially one that philosophically and theologically differs from Quran, does not fit into the Quranic scheme.
So what is ‘al-kitab’ in 10/94?
Upon looking at the context which is the story of musa and firaun (from 10/75-93), ‘al-kitab’ seems to refer to the system of musa (kitabu musa , also mentioned in 46/12). Our interpretation seems further strengthened by the fact that the verses starts with a ‘so’ (fa in the original text). So if one is one is doubt about what is descended in this context, ask those who read the book of musa.
- What does it mean to ask ‘those who read before you’
Following the assumption that ‘al-kitab’ refers to a scripture, it is no surprise that ‘those who read’ is the translation for the word Quranic word ‘yaqra’oona’ in 10/94. Indeed, in modern Arabic, it would be the translation. However, the word ‘qara’a’ also refers to the act of compiling and producing something from that compilation. Indeed, in Quran itself (2/228), ‘quru’in’ refers to the coagulation in the female which can be part of a foetus. As per the first two points above, we feel a better translation would be ‘those who bring together the message (of the system of musa)’.
In this context, these people are those who have studied oppressive systems (firaun being the archetype of oppression) and produced meaningful discourses with real-life applications. This is what is meant by ‘kitaabu musa’. By understanding the specifics of what is needed, the Reader may partially remove doubts and proceed with the project. We say partially because another part comes from the rest of 10/94, analyzed below.
- What is ‘the truth’ in this context?
The truth (al-haqq) in the verse is understood to mean the Quranic text. However, this would mean that Allah is making a circular assertion – He is telling the Reader to not dbout because He tells the reader that the Quran comes from Him. The text is ratifying the text, so to speak. Furthermore, if the Reader is to seek verification from the Bible (also claimed to be from Allah) this would be doubly circular (spherical reasoning, if you will!).
If we examine other verses speaking about ‘al-haqq’, we will find that al-haqq occurs in external elements as well. It is how doubt is removed. In 17/81, the act of salat ultimately brings forth truth and justice and thus removes falsehood.
10/94 mentions the phrase ‘be do not those who doubt’ (falaa takunanna min al-mumtareen). This is the exact same notion as mentioned in 3/60 except for the plurality of ‘takunanna’ which is singular there as ‘takun’. 3/60 refers to isa and his system which will bring truth (3/45-59) exemplified in the state of adam (3/59). As such, 10/94 is offering the Reader a solution through the personality of isa. The signs of isa are also called ‘dhikr al-hakeem’ or the decisive vivification (3/58). This decisiveness will remove all doubt from the Reader.
- The confirmation from the context.
In our analysis of al-kitab above, we looked at the context before 10/94. What about the context afterwards? 10/95 tells us about those who deconfirm the signs of Allah (kadhdhaboo bi ayatillah) and became of the losers. The word ‘kadhdhaboo’ is the opposite of ‘saddaqoo’ (to confirm). Hence, these people are not applying the signs of Allah. 10/96-97 speaks of those who will not believe in each sign till the painful punishment came to them. Once again we are dealing with application rather than confirmation from another text.
It should be noted that this essay is not a critique of the Bible. The Bible contains great narratives which confers great wisdom. Rather, this essay seeks to find the best way to apply the principles put forth in Quran and to achieve an integrated reading of the text.