By Ansar Al ‘Adl
The allegation is as follows:
The infinite loop problem Sura 26:192,195,196: “It (the Qur’an) is indeed a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds, … in clear Arabic speech and indeed IT (the Qur’an) is in the writings of the earlier (prophets).” Now, the ‘earlier writings’ are the Torah and the Injil for example, written in Hebrew and Greek. HOW can an ARABIC Qur’an be contained in books of other languages? Furthermore, it would have to contain this very passage of the Qur’an since the Qur’an is properly contained in them. Hence these earlier writings have to be contained in yet other earlier writings and we are in an infinite loop, which is absurd.
Verses in question:
26:192-196. And truly, this (the Qur’ân) is a revelation from the Lord of the ‘Alamîn (mankind, jinns and all that exists), Which the trustworthy Rûh [Jibrael (Gabriel)] has brought down; Upon your heart (O Muhammad ) that you may be (one) of the warners, In the plain Arabic language. And verily, it is in the Scriptures of former people.
- The allegation of the critic is that these verses of the Qur’an necessitate that the Qur’an must be contained, completely word-for-word in the previous scriptures due to the phrase “it is in the scriptures of former people”. This claim, however, has no basis in language. Stating that one thing is “in” another does not necessitate that it be contained completely in the referred object/location. Consider the following examples:
He was lying in bed. – Meaning that he was resting on the surface of the bed.
Look! You’re in the Newspaper! – Meaning that this person is mentioned or referred to in the newspaper.
Everything the mechanic said was in the manual that we lost last year. – Meaning that the guidance given by the mechanic was also the same information/message that was available in the manual.
The above three examples demonstrate that the claim is baseless. The Qur’an is in the previous scriptures as well, which does not necessitate that it be contained completely in the previous scriptures.
2. Concerning the statement that the Qur’an is “in the scriptures of former people”, there is a required supressed meaning associated with the verse. This is the meaning that is commonly placed in the brackets in a translation. One possible meaning is that the Qur’an is [referred to] in the previous scriptures. This is similar to the second example cited under the first point, “you’re in the newspaper“. Just as the person is mentioned in the newspaper, the Qur’an is also mentioned in previous scriptures. This is the interpretation given by Imaam Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqi (d. 1372CE) in his renowned Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Azim:
Allah says [that] this Qur’an was mentioned and referred to in the previous Scriptures that were left behind by their Prophets who foretold it in ancient times and more recently. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 7, p. 276)
Other scholars have interpreted the verse to mean that the Qur’anic message was given in previous revelations as well, i.e. they all carried the same essential teachings. This is similar to the other example, Everything the mechanic said was in the manual that we lost last year. Thus, both the Qur’an and the previous scriptures gave the same guidance, just as both the mechanic and the manual gave the same guidance. As Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979 CE) mentions in his popular commentary, Tafheem Al-Qur’an:
(196) [a revelation embodied] in the Scriptures of former people.
The same message, the same Revelation, and the same Divine teachings can be found in all the previous Scriptures. The same call to worship the One True God, the same belief in the Hereafter, and the same invitation to follow the Prophets were also stressed in those earlier Scriptures. All the Books which have come down from God denounce associating others with Him in His Divinity. All of them ask people to shun materialism. All call people to the True Path which is inextricably linked with the idea of man’s accountability to God. All demand from man one and the same thing: that he should give up all notions of his own sovereignty in deference to the Divine commands brought by the Prophets. In this respect, there is nothing novel in the Qur’an; there is nothing in it which was not part of the teachings of the previous Prophets. (Maududi, Towards Understanding the Qur’an, The Islamic Foundation 1995, vol. 7, p.114 fn. 122)
Based on the above explanation, the verse would be rendered as And verily it is [preaching the same message as that found] in the Scriptures of former people. Thus, the understood meaning of the verse is that the Qur’an carries the same message as that of previous revelations from God. As Muhammad Asad writes:
(196) And, verily, [the essence of] this [revelation] is indeed found in the ancient books of divine wisdom [as well]. [Lit., “in the scriptures (zubur, sing. zabur) of the ancients” (see 21: 105). This interpretation of the above verse – advanced among others by Zamakhshari and Baydawi (and, according to the former, attributed to Imam Abu Hanifah as well) – is in full consonance with the oft-repeated Quranic doctrine that the basic teachings revealed to Muhammad are in their purport (manni) identical with those preached by the earlier prophets. (Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, The Book Foundation 2003, emphasis added)
In light of the above explanation, it should be clear that the meaning of vers 26:196 is not that the arabic verses of the Qur’an are found in previous revelations, but that the Qur’anic message is the same as that found in previous revelations, and the Qur’an itself has been referred to in the previous revelations.