Tisdall on the origin of the Quran

The Muhammadan explanation of the origin of Islam therefore, based as it ultimately is upon the Qur'an, is that the sole Source and Fountain-head of the Religion of Islam is God Himself. It had accordingly no human source, and no single part of it was derived directly or indirectly from earlier revelations or from other religions, though it was revealed to confirm the Law and the Gospel, and claims to agree with their original and uncorrupted teaching (cf. Surah LVII., Al Hadid, 26, sqq.).

European readers hardly require proof that such an opinion of the origin of Islam in general and of the Qur'an in particular is untenable. Those who cannot read the book in the original Arabic are enabled to examine its teaching by consulting the various translations of the Qur'an which have been made into various European languages, the best known of the English versions being those by Sale, Rodwell, and Palmer. To an intelligent mind the assertion which we are considering refutes itself. Moreover, the morality of the Qur'an, its view of the Divine Nature, its anachronisms, and its many defects make it impossible for us to doubt that it is Muhammad's own composition. When the Surahs are arranged in the chronological order of their composition and compared with the events in Muhammad's life, we see that there is much truth in the statement that the passages were—not, as Muslims say, revealed, but—composed from time to time, as occasion required, to sanction each new departure made by Muhammad14. The Qur'an is a faithful mirror of the life and character of its author. It breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet's followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad's own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious impostor and open sensualist. All this is clear to every unprejudiced reader the book.

At the same time the question presents itself, Whence did Muhammad borrow the ideas, narratives, the precepts, which he has incorporated into the religion which he founded? Which of these were his own invention, which of them were derived from earlier systems? To what extent had he the means of learning the teachings of those who professed other religions than his own? If he borrowed from other systems, what particular parts of the Qur'an, what religious rites, what conceptions and narratives, what injunctions can be traced to each such source? How much of the result is due to the character of Muhammad himself and to the circumstances of his time? Such are some of the problems which it is our object in this book to solve as clearly and as succinctly as we may. From whatever point of view we may regard the inquiry, it can hardly fail to be interesting. Such an investigation, if honestly pursued, will enable a Muslim to appreciate his ancestral faith at its real and proper value. The student of Comparative Religion will learn from such an analysis how one Ethnic Faith arose in recent historical times, though, if he is wise, he will not be led to formulate rash conclusions from a single instance. The Christian Missionary may so find it important to follow out our investigations, in order to discover in them a new method of leading Muslim inquirers to perceive the untenable nature of their position. Setting aside, however, all such considerations, we proceed to inquire what the Original Sources of the Qur'an really were.

From The Sources of the Quran, by William St. Clair Tisdall


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