1. The Story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan
The Story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan of Islamic philosopher and thinker Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Tufayl was a compelling read, and it presents a theory on how a mind would naturally discover about his Creator, assuming he has an objective, scientific, rational and reasoning mind. He presents a path that is assumed to certainly lead to the logical conclusions Hayy Ibn Yaqzan had reached. The implied argument for one God is compelling within the logic of his arguments: if bodies change, that is, if the same matter receives different forms, this implies a giver of forms. He looks for a giver of forms among the bodies that surround him, but he realizes that they are all produced, which implies the existence of a producer. The argument that there must be a producer if there are beings that are produced is impeccable. However, the shift in numbers from producers to one producer is again assumed. So clearly there was no absolute basis for the conclusion that there was only One producer, as monotheists like Jews, Christians, and Muslims have assumed.
Not that I am arguing against monotheism. I believe in one God because I know that if there were two equally powerful forces, than there could be two rules for anything in the universe with these two rules being equally valid in a sort of first-come first served arrangement. Or that two of these Superior Intelligence Beings would have to agree on the rules so they would not clash. But if there were two forces, the fact that one would be inhibited making Superior Decisions already limits His powers, which contradicts the assumed essence of the Creator as being All Powerful.
My point really is the gap in the argument in favor of monotheism, or of the belief in One God espoused not only by Islam, but also by Christianity and Judaism. In fact Catholic Christianity and some Protestant Christian denominations have their concept of a Trinitarian God, one God with three “persons” or godheads—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. . And again, not that I agree with this confusing, contrived Catholic dogma. My point is, the conclusion cannot be absolutely established that there is one God in the argument presented in the story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.
In the history of civilizations, monotheism initially came from Judaism, which Christianity inherited, and Islamic revelation also later upheld. Again I do not intend to dispute either monotheism or polytheism because in a religious debate, no one really wins. What is surely a winning thesis is that in the history of civilizations, two basic theories about the nature of God have been offered: monotheism, which argues on One Producer, as theorized by the fictitious character Hayys (speaking for the author Ibn Tufayl), and polytheism, the belief in several divinities, which some other religions like Hinduism adhere to. The Romans and the Greeks also believe in the plurality of their gods, even if among these gods, Jupiter was apparently the most powerful and the most feared. The Muslims lump these polytheists as their extreme opposites in belief, and have even cursed them as infidels. In fact polytheism goes against the very core belief of Islam, and if this core belief is to be pursued most logically, Islam cannot seem to co-exist peacefully with polytheistic Hindus, because Hinduism is a direct affront to the Islamic logic of One God.
The Quran teaches respect for other religions, and even considers Christians as closest to Muslims in the eyes of Allah (Quran, Surah V verses 85-88)– lucky for Christians who at least have some close similarity of perspective with Muslims– but such theoretical logic as presented above on the assertion of One Producer can become the basis and source of future intolerance against polytheists.
All told, I am impressed by the thought for it is well ahead of its years. For example, I had not known that Islamic/Arabic wisdom antedated many of the environmental concerns of the present age. Take these lines from the story: And whenever such fruit with nourishing flesh– such as apples, plums, and the like– are not accessible, he should then eat of those fruits that had nothing edible in them but their seeds– such as walnuts and chestnuts or the vegetables that had not yet reached the limit of their perfect growth– but on condition in both cases that he should prefer the vegetables that are more abundant and endowed with greater force of reproduction. He was never to extract any of their roots or destroy their seeds. And if none of these (edible plants) was to be had, then he could take some animals or their eggs, on condition– inasmuch as the animals were concerned– that he take the more numerous and not exterminate any one species. (As translated by George Atiyeh, p. 5 my emphasis).
In addition I found this wealth of wisdom that for the first time gave me an insight on applying charity not just to animals but also to plants : (Emulation of the divine includes): removing (the cause of the plight) of every animal or plant he sees to be in need, diseased, injured, or facing an impediment. … separate the harmful plant … without injuring the harmful one, and … take care to water it whenever that was possible (Atiyeh’s translation, p. 6).
The Hadith of the Angel Gabriel as
A Foundation of Islam
The most fundamental revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was the announcement of the Angel Gabriel which commanded the illiterate Prophet to read.
Read! That was the command from the Angel, to which the Prophet replied, he could not read. But the command was insistent, and Gabriel made commitment that a miracle was to happen : In the name of the Lord Who created, created man from a clot (of blood).
The hadith tells us that one of the great miracles in Muhammad’s first encounter with Gabriel was that Muhammad, an illiterate man, by the miracle of God, was not only made capable of reading, but was entrusted with the Quran, the “locked” scripture that would be the final scripture for God’s Revelation to Man.
Scholars of the Quran wonder at the mystical beauty of the Book that was handed to Muhammad, the spiritual wealth of its content, the unsurpassed beauty of its language that had become the literary standard in the Arabic language. I do not know Arabic so I can only take those descriptions as givens, but a quick survey of an English translation of the Quran with notations from A. Yusuf Ali showed me the depths of its literature, and the logic of many Islamic doctrines.
Its apologists point to these literary attributes and assert passionately that such a scriptural masterpiece could not have been the intellectual product of an illiterate. The extent of its expressive content cover not just those that were encompassed in the Old and New Testaments of the Jewish-Christian scripture, and it has a defined referential citations or direct quotes from celestial characters like Jesus Christ. The Quran showed conviction when making direct references to hitherto unknown celestial remarks from such Islam revered prophets as Jesus Christ, and the question to a non-believer is whether such reported quotations were authentically celestial, imagined, created as literature, or plain hoax.
Those inclined to question the authenticity of the claim that it was the Angel Gabriel who implanted the inspired words into the mind of Muhammad would have to contend with the tremendous scholarship involved in producing a systematic consistent body of “divinely and (in its language) unsurpassed religious literature as proof of what adherents describe Quran : an eternal and living miracle. As pointed out in an Islamic website ( “Some Miracles of the Prophet Muhammad”) the Quran is the greatest miracle of Islam: “A number of miracles were bestowed upon and performed by Prophet Muhammad …. to establish the proof of his prophethood. The greatest miracle bestowed upon him was the revelation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is miraculous in a number of aspects: Its linguistic perfection and inimitability, its validation by recent historical, archaeological, and scientific discoveries, its prophecies and so on. Unlike the miracles of other prophets before him, the miracle of Quran is eternal.’’
The hadith of the Angel Gabriel as the foundation of Islam, like all other hadiths, undergo a process of scientific verification. In Islam, the recording of authentic events is known as the Science of Traditions (Arabic: Ahadith). The same on-line reference explains that the hadith system is “ an exacting and comprehensive system developed by early Muslim scholars to verify the chain of transmission of these accounts, as well as investigating the trustworthiness and capability of every narrator at every level of the chain. This thorough authentication process ensures that these accounts are real, validated narrations…” (http://www.sunnah.org/history/miracles_of_Prophet.htm#Splitting).
My readings from Islamic sources in the internet asserted that the Quran “corrected” many inaccuracies in previous scriptures that had misled Jews and Christians, which the Quran described as “the People of the Book.” Among these corrections include: for example, those passages in the Old Testament that made Solomon a fornicator or a practioner of magic (surah II verse102) or those passages in the New Testament that made Jesus Christ (Issah) appear like an insolent son by calling his mother, “woman”.
Among many other more fundamental corrections: There were attributions to Jesus Christ talking to Allah in which Jesus disowned the diversion from the path of correctness which made him “god” , as in this from Surah V verse 75: “They do blaspheme who say: God is Christ the son of Mary: But said Christ: O children of Israel,
Worship God, my Lord and your Lord….” And in Surah verse 78: “ Christ the son of Mary Was no more than an Apostle… his mother was a woman of truth…” There were many other fundamental items of revelation that came from the Quran, “locked” as it were, to prevent any future misrepresentation of Revelation, and it was believed that everything started with the miracle of Gabriel’s Hadith to Muhammad.
All said, the great Islamic Revelation was in fact a continuation of the ancient religion handed down to the prophets which included the Jewish prophets, among them Jesus Christ. Starting off from the great announcement of the Angel Gabriel, who was also the same angel who announced the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ to his
Mother Mary, the illiterate Prophet Muhammad miraculously received the Sealed Revelation that was embodied in the Quran.
On top of his ministry as a “Corrector” of blasphemous departures from the original teachings of the prophets, the Prophet of Islam was a leader in the league of Moses, and was given the Apostleship of the Last and Final Revelation in the Quran: now the first article of faith in Islam, summed up in this declaration of the Faith: “ There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet.” When Muslims proclaim God’s oneness and Muhammad’s apostleship, they also confirm the apostleship of the prophets and Jesus Christ and those who preceded Muhammad, the Last and the Seal of the Prophets.
Interpreting the Quran : Limitations
In Interpreting the Muslim Sacred Book
As argued above, the Quran is a “locked” scripture. Strictly speaking, Muslim scholars believe it cannot be or it should not be translated. No other book past and present has remained the same, it was argued. Muslims believe that their sacred book has retained every word handed down by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and to the present day, not a word of it had ever been corrupted.
Adherents believe that the Quran was handed down to Muhammad as a miracle of God’s mercy to mankind, who had inherited corrupted scriptures that perverted the teachings of the prophets, according to the Islamic belief.
The Quran itself refers to the “People of the Book” referring to Jews and Christians, who were handed the same revelations, but whose religious leaders had corrupted the revelation as revealed to the prophets . The “Book” in what the Quran termed “People of the Book” refers to Divine Revelation, and in contradistinction, it should be differentiated from the written distorted scripture. Revelation refers to the content of Allah’s message. Muslim scholars contend that the teachings of the prophets are easy enough to deduce, and the Quran in no uncertain terms had identified those corrections to distortions to the revelation, locked in its pages for posterity.
Of interest to Christians are some of the Quranic corrections to the distortion of the revelation, among which are included: the divinity of Jesus Christ, who was “elevated” to the post of God in the written gospels. In the Quran, Jesus Christ spoke with absolute certainty that he was a mere apostle of Allah. (Surah V verses 75,78)–as
quoted or reported by the Angel Gabriel. The Quran itself accepts the validity of the teachings of all prophets from Moses to Jesus Christ as emanating from the
same Source: From the God of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Therefore, the teachings cannot change, because they all came from the same Source.
THE SEAL OF REVELATION
Now as the seal of all scripture, the interpretation of True Revelation , according to Muslim belief, must perforce be based on the Quranic text. The Christian Bible and the Jewish Old Testament, are essentially divine revelations but the authenticity and
accuracy of their content in reflecting the True Revelation must be measured against the Quran, as the locked scripture.
Muslim scholars have enumerated many of the ‘blasphemous distortions’ to revelation in the Bible and some of them were enumerated in the previous essay. But there are many more, and with the Quran, these distortions can be discerned by reason..
Adherents believe that the Quran could stand up to reason, and unlike Christian “mysteries”, Islam does not hide anything it cannot explain as a “mystery”–such as the arguably “contrived” explanation of the Christian “trinity” which its apologists describe as a “mystery”.
THE ROLE OF REASON
Muslim apologists of the Quran would argue that Islam does not need to hide in some mysterious explanations, in that the Quranic texts are plain and consistent with reason. For example, the Christian concept of the Trinity defies simple logic as it goes against the very explicit revelation that there is but One God.
ROLE OF THE HADITH/TRADITION
So reason is another important consideration with regard to the interpretation of the Quran, as could be seen very clearly here. However, Islamic tradition also have hadiths that supplement understanding of the Quranic text. The hadiths from various Islamic saints and doctors of the faith guide the faithful in understanding what the mystical language and content impart.
Islamic scholars are proud and pleased to point out proof of the divine origins of the Quran from many of its now validated and scientifically-proven truths, which include for example Gabriel’s definition of God’s creation of man: that Allah created man from a clot of blood. Islamic scholars assert that this revelation antedated modern findings about the fertilization of the embryo. Among other many scientifically proved revelations from the Quran are proofs of the duality of mountains (mountain formations have equivalent underneath structures of similar shape), the roundness of the earth, etc..
PLAIN, SELF-EVIDENT REVELATION
In surah II verse 102 the Quran cites revelation as something that is almost self-evident and ingrained among the People of the Book (which group together Muslims, Jews and the Christians ): “…An Apostle from God, /Confirming what was with them,/ A party of the People of the Book/Threw away the Book of God/ Behind their backs/ As if (it had been something)/ They did not know!” . The scholar A. Yusof, explained in his footnote to this Quranic revelation that The Book of God here being referred to is no less than the previous revelations, which included the gospels of Jesus Christ and the writings of the prophets, but that these books had been obviously corrupted, as when Solomon was
accused in the book as a doer of Babylonian magic. (v.102), but that the distortions were easy enough for anyone to discern, as for example: Solomon as a prophet cannot be a sorcerer.
Islam recognizes a Science of Tradition (Ahadith inArabic)– the process of interpreting certain passages in the Quran from the verification and confirmation of the trustworthiness of all sources of information and interpretation, in each stage of information to the validation of sayings, actions, or clarifications of stories and historical accounts, in many cases with the direct hand of Prophet Muhammad himself.
So aside from the Muslim belief that the Quran stands in its unadulterated majesty as handed down, as Muslims believe– by Gabriel to Muhammad—the interpretation of its text is guided by hadiths and tradition.
CONFLICTS IN INTERPRETATION
Nevertheless, there are also published and on-line rebuttals of Islamic claims that the Quran had been impeccably handed down from the past to the present. In fact the disunity of several Muslim sects in many details of recitation and even in quranic contents are cited as proofs of limitations or challenges to the quranic claim of incorruptibility.
A partisan and obviously anti-Islam book A Perfect Quran (Or so it was made to appear to them ) a critique with a clear Christian-oriented religious bias, said of those who served as the Prophet’s scribes who wrote down the Quran: “We note and trace Surname 13
admissions by both modern and classical Islamic scholars that Muhammad’s scribes did not know how to write properly and that the early followers copied their errors; that
‘Uthman’s scribes made further errors making ‘Uthman’s texts not identical, and that later followers copied these errors.”
A close reading of the book found on-line ( http://www.aperfectquran.co.uk/) quotes a certain Islamic scholar which it said, was the first to make a clear Islamic admission that the Quranic text has undergone changes. Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi who wrote An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qura’aan (al-Hadaayah Publishing, 1999, ISBN – 1 898649 32 4)made the most forthright statements against the Quran yet printed in English by a follower of Islam.
Claims of divine scripture is not a unique claim of adherents of Islam. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or the Mormons also claim that their Prophet Joseph Smith received scriptural golden plates from an angel they called Moroni. Christians themselves believe that the Bible is the “holy word of God” .
These considered, belief and interpretation of the Quran presuppose precedent faith, because unless one is a believer of Islam, the claim of the Quran being the Seal of Revelation, may meet the same skeptical reception from unbelievers.
In interpreting the Quran, the cultural divide between a non-Arabic reader and an Arabic reader presents a major difficulty, particularly in relation to the Islamic assertion of the impossibility of translating Quran to another language. Islamic scholars seem to assume the universality of Arabic among Muslims, the language in
which the Seal of the Scripture is locked. Other world scriptures have no such limitation on translation, and Bible adherents even pride in their scripture as being the most translated of all books.
From a very common layman’s perspective, the idea that God would keep his words in written form and in a culture-excluive language like Latin or Arabic alone seems to overlook the fact that literacy as a world achievement is only universal among advanced nations in the 21st century. There is little possibility that during the time of Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, the situation of universal literacy was any better, in any universal language.
Bonus question: Women and Gender
As Non-Issues in this Course
The appreciation of an entire religious philosophy– and the civilization that gave birth to it– initially demands understanding of its totality in its own terms, and not in terms of foreign perspectives or issues– inimical or prejudicial, or indifferent or totally alien and antagonistic or patronizing – towards its validity or values.
The dominance of Western thinking on many issues in the world today, brought about by its military and economic dominance, does not give it the license to impose its perspectives and values, particularly on civilizations and cultures that have their own respective validities and appropriateness in their own spheres of influence.
To say otherwise could justify Hitler’s Germanic and racist theory as a correct alternative, had he won the War. In the same manner, American military superiority did not make right his dishonest invasion of Iraq, which the American people had quietly and
by default, allowed Mr. Bush to pursue, despite the now proven fact that he lied about the evidence of that country had near- nuclear capability.
Gender and women issues are western issues that have no immediate prior relevance in a civilization that have its own well-defined roles for men and women. Gender and sex politics are uniquely American issues brought about by the American experience, one that has been largely characterized by massive inequalities and exploitative relationships. In Muslim societies for example, the issue of race is a dead
issue as far back as the time of Muhammad, whose concept of God — just and compassionate — did not countenance the subjugation of peoples on the basis of the color
of their skin. Islam had long eradicated what America was just learning to understand when they proudly elected their first black president last November 2008.
In practically all cultures and civilizations, women played defined and improving social positions as these civilizations moved over time. Progress in the status of men, races, women, sexual orientations, nations vis a vis nations, etc. marked the history of all civilizations. Islamic cultures generally have assigned roles for women on the basis of Quranic standards, with their own own social logic and defined moralities. For example, women in Islamic societies are the vanguards of family and custodians of children.
The fact that there is less juvenile delinquency in Islamic societies could be argued as a plus point for this assigned role. In contrast, American women have social and political careers to show for their broken families, high divorce rates, and irascible children who are trained to report their own parents to the police. Which one is better is a matter of choice and cultural predilection.
Cited Works and References
Ali, A. Yusof. (trans.) The Holy Qur’an. Text, Translationk and Commentary.
Maryland: Amana Corp, 1983.
Atiyeh, George N.(trans.) Hayy Ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185), New York: Cornell
University Press, 1963. Retrieved also from: wwwlb.aub.edu.lb/~webcsp/reading_selections/CVSP202/Hayy-ibn-Yaqzan-Ibn-Tufayl.doc
Brother Mark, “A Perfect Quran?”, Retrieved Nov. 28, 2008.
Robinson, Neal, Islam: A Concise Introduction. Washington (DC: Georgetown
University Press, 1999.
Other Internet sourced readings:
Islam: Muhammad and his legacy . Article retrieved Nov. 28, 2008.
Krause,David. The Principles and Politics of Salat. Retrieved Nov. 28, 2008 from :
“Some Miracles of the Prophet Muhammad” Retrieved Nov. 27,2008 from: