Many years ago, I read the book Why I am not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq. I was a pretty convinced atheist already and read the book long after 9/11. I think it’s important to evaluate multiple sides of a problem, and have read about Sufi, Ahmadiyya, Bahá’í, and orthodox interpretations of Islam. I don’t know everything there is to know but, after reading the Qur’an in its entirety, I decided to write a blog on some of the main contradictions I found.
There are several reasons why Islam is interesting to me. I’m a huge fan of science fiction. In the sci-fi classic Dune, the Fremen are far-future descendants of Muslims living in other planets removed from us by more than 8,000 years. They speak a dialect of Arabic and, by the time they come into existence in the Frank Herbert saga, they are following a future reformer known as “the 3rd Muhammad”. In the sci-fi film Chronicles of Riddick, the futuristic hero arrives in a majority Muslim city known as New Mecca in the planet Helion Prime, which presumably holds the new Kaaba and remnants of the black stone revered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Islam’s legacy also includes beautiful, awe-inspiring architecture. Many speculate that Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Bahá’í Faith is an independent world religion, but its relation to Islam is not different from the relation of Christianity to Judaism.
I read the Qur’an beginning with the last suras (chapters), and moved my way back to the first one. I did this because it is my understanding that the latest suras were “revealed” first (in Mecca), and that the first suras were revealed later (in Medina). I noticed that the progression was from a more Platonic earlier message, to more practical matters and laws later on. The apocalyptic and punitive tone, and the us-versus-them narrative, are seen consistently throughout.
Contradictions in the Qur’an
This Quran could not have been produced by anyone other than God. In fact, it is a confirmation of what preceded it, and an elaboration of the Book. There is no doubt about it—it is from the Lord of the Universe. Or do they say, “He has forged it”? Say, “Then produce a single chapter like it, and call upon whomever you can, apart from God, if you are truthful.” – Qur’an 10:37-38
The Qur’an makes frequent claims of infallibility about itself, saying that it can’t be proven false (41:42), and challenges nonbelievers to “produce a single chapter like it”, a challenge which has already been taken up by many infidels.
Perhaps Muhammad was over-confident in his poetic abilities. The Qur’an is not infallible or without internal contradictions–and also not lacking in external inconsistencies that reveal it as a natural, not supernatural, document. Here are a few of the more obvious contradictions that I found within it. There are many others.
First Contradiction: For Every Community a Warner?
Qur’an 35:24 says “There is no community but a warner has passed through it” (this is repeated in 16:36 and 13:7), whereas in the previous chapter (34:44), Muhammad contradicts this and says of a particular community: “But We gave them no book to study, and We did not send them any warner before you.” Verses 32:3, 28:46 also mention communities to whom no warner has come before. Then in 25:51, the Qur’an completely contradicts itself by saying: “Had We willed, We could have sent to every town a warner.”
Second Contradiction: Mary Aaron’s Sister?
We may forgive Muhammad for saying that Mary gave birth under a palm tree (Qur’an 19:22), rather than at the manger–as the Gospels claim. But when in Qur’an 19:28, Muhammad claims that Mary is the sister of Aaron (and Moses), he is confusing her with a woman who–if she really was a historical person–would have lived over 1,000 years prior to the mother of Jesus.
Third Contradiction: Is There or Isn’t There Compulsion in Islam?
Qur’an 2:256 says that there shall be no compulsion in religion, but this is not applied consistently. It’s typically translated to mean that there should be no forced conversions, but the Islamic world has a huge problem of death penalty for apostasy in many countries. The Qur’an also claims to have “chosen Islam for you” (5:3, although some translations say “approved for you”), and that whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it “won’t be accepted” (3:85).
But there are many other compulsions in the Qur’an: in 2:216–just a few verses prior to the “no compulsion” commandment–it says that fighting is compulsive and obligatory, and in 4:65 it says that believers must fully submit to Muhammad’s decrees. Verse 9:5 could be interpreted as saying that once war is declared, nonbelievers can be given a choice to convert or die. It seems like this “no compulsion” verse is merely a tool for public relations, but is not sincerely applied.
Fourth Contradiction: The Issue of Abrogation
One source of controversy which raises questions about the divine or revealed nature of the Qur’an is in 16:101, and 2:106. It concerns the issue of abrogation, where Muhammad claimed that sometimes some verses were revealed, with replaced previous ones. This seems arbitrary and strange, and acts in effect as a “get out of jail free” card to explain away contradictions.
Fifth Contradiction: “No Soul Bears the Burden of Another?”
In 2:87-93, the Qur’an curses the Jews for killing and rejecting Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad. Can one blame a collective for the deeds of one, or for the deeds of their ancient ancestors? Doesn’t this go against Qur’an 6:164, which says that one only carries one’s own sins?
No soul gets except what it is due, and no soul bears the burdens of another.
Sixth Contradiction: Moses’ Massacre in Exodus 32
In Qur’an 4:153, Muhammad thinks the calf-worshipers were forgiven, but in Qur’an 2:54 we see the orders to execute the cow worshipers. In reality, the second event is what really took place, if we are to believe the final portion of Exodus 32.
Seventh Contradiction: Taking Muhammad as Lord
Nor would he command you to take the angels and the prophets as lords. – Qur’an 3:80
This may sound like the Gospel ordinance to never take any man as master or as rabbi, but elsewhere in the book Muhammad requires people to obey him (3:32, 3:132).
Eighth Contradiction: Mary in the Trinity?
In Qur’an 5:75, Muhammad makes sure that people understand that Mary was merely a mortal, and later in verse 116 it becomes clear that Muhammad thought that Mary was believed to be the third person of the Trinity.
Ninth Contradiction: At Once Merciful and Threatening
The Qur’an, in 42:5 and in the opening verse of almost every chapter, constantly calls Allah forgiving and merciful, yet half of the book consists on threats of hellfire, of vengeance, and of destruction of entire civilizations. While working as a merchant, Muhammad frequently traveled past ruined cities that were no longer inhabited, and heard popular legends about these sites.
And how many a city did We destroy for turning unappreciative of its livelihood? Here are their homes, uninhabited after them, except for a few. And We became the Inheritors. Your Lord never destroys cities without first sending a messenger in their midst, reciting to them Our revelations. And We never destroy the cities, unless their people are wrongdoers. – Qur’an 28:58-59
Words have meaning. If one says “merciful”, then whatever’s being described must look like and feel like mercy. Otherwise, another epithet would be useful and accurate. Perhaps a case can be made that Allah is just, or vindictive, if he massacres wrongdoers? But merciful, that just doesn’t fit the profile of a God who is reputed to have pre-destined infidels to have “their hearts sealed” from belief, then cooks them in fire forever for disbelieving–when this was his own design, as the Qur’an claims.
There’s another layer of contradiction here. Aren’t Syria, northern Nigeria, and Somalia Allah-fearing lands that have been destroyed and are failed states? Salman Rushdie said of India that “it has a problem, and that problem’s name is God”. The same could be said of Israel, and could have been said of Yugoslavia and Ireland when peoples of God of various sects were fighting only a few short years ago. Considering how many societies have destroyed themselves as a result of faith, it can hardly be said that God’s civilization-wrecking powers are due to human infidelity.
Tenth Contradiction: Strange Claims about Ka’aba
The most sacred site in Islam is the black stone that is worshiped by all Muslims five times a day, which is installed at the shrine in Mecca. Qur’an 2:125-129 makes the claim that Abraham and Ismael built Kaaba–however, while trying to discern a historical Abraham, the author Bruce Feiler in his book Abraham questions whether Abraham even existed, proposing the possibility that there may have been many Abrahams, and that even Isaac and Jacob were unrelated patriarchs whose stories got tangled up in an origin myth meant to create one people out of many (Exodus 12:38 mentions that a mixed multitude was originally brought to Canaan by Moses, so that the first Jews were not one single family). So the first problem is that there is no historical record of Abraham or of Ismael, and it is highly suspicious that such specific claims about them building a shrine are being made more than 1,500 years after they are reputed to have lived.
The first house of worship established for mankind is the one at Bekka; blessed, and guidance for all people. – Qur’an 3:96
The Qur’an claims that the Ka’aba was humanity’s first house of worship, but this is highly likely to be false. Göbekli Tepe is older even than the Bible claims Earth to be (by about 6,000 years).
Furthermore, Qur’an 5:97 claims that Ka’aba is to be “a sanctuary for all people“, but this has never been the case. Only Muslims are allowed there. This is not unlike the Bible’s prophecy that God’s temple shall be “a house of prayer for nations”. Both synagogues and churches are also nearly exclusively visited by Jews and Christians. Baha’i temples are the only ones that truly live up to the scriptural claim of the prophet founder of being a sanctuary for all of humanity, as they all have nine doors in all directions that are open to everyone of all religions.
Eleventh Contradiction: Local Gods of Arabia in Wrong Time and Place
And they said, “Do not give up your gods; do not give up Wadd, nor Souwa, nor Yaghoos, and Yaooq, and Nassr.” – Qur’an 71:23
First, the question of whether Noah was a historical figure must be asked, as his Biblical legend seems to have been base on the Mesopotamian tale of Utnapishtim, the events surrounding a posited global flood are not documented in the geological record, and it is unlikely that animals from Antarctica, Australia, and the Americas would have made it to the Middle East and occupied Noah’s Ark.
But let’s put those issues aside: here, it is clear that Muhammad believed that the people of Noah’s time and place worshiped the same gods as those of his own time and place. Not likely.
Twelfth Contradiction: The Satanic Verses
This one is so interesting that I’ll have to dedicate a separate blog to it.
Thirteenth Contradiction: Abraham and his Father
In the Qur’an 19:42-45, Muhammad projected his own theological claims back in time when he claimed that Abraham feared for his father’s fate in the afterlife as a result of his polytheism, but God in the Bible announced to Abraham: “You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.” At no point did it ever seem to Abraham that he and his father would share different afterlife fates.
Do they not ponder the Quran? Had it been from any other than God, they would have found in it much discrepancy – Qur’an 4:82
Why I am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq