Contradictions in Religious Texts?
A former student of mine posed the following query about a 'contradiction' in the Qur'an:
I was reading Koran and I came across a contradiction . . . . Please compare Albagharah (Second surah) 6-7 to Al-Anfal 12, 13, 14, and 39. Do you think this is a sound argument if one is trying to disapprove Koran?I wonder if my former student really meant "disapprove" . . . or possibly "disprove." Anyway, I don't know the Qur'an very well . . . though I have read it. I'm a bit doubtful about finding contradictions in literary texts since so much depends upon interpretation of ambiguous words, but I sought online for a Qur'an and found this one, which conveniently supplies both Arabic and various English translations. Selecting Shakir's translation for no good reason other than its being listed first -- i.e., at random -- I found the following for al-Baqara 6-7:
Sura 2, Aya 6:Okay, sounds as though Allah prevents belief among some individuals. As for al-Anfaal 12, 13, 14, and 39:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَأَنذَرْتَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تُنذِرْهُمْ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ
Surely those who disbelieve, it being alike to them whether you warn them, or do not warn them, will not believe.
Sura 2, Aya 7:
خَتَمَ اللّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهمْ وَعَلَى سَمْعِهِمْ وَعَلَى أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عظِيمٌ
Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.
Sura 8, Aya 12:Okay, sounds as though Allah orders believers to fight unbelievers and slice off their heads and fingertips (fingertips?) . . . in what context, I don't know. Anyway, after looking at these verses, I replied to my former student:
إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلآئِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُواْ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ الرَّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُواْ فَوْقَ الأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُواْ مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍ
When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.
Sura 8, Aya 13:
ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ شَآقُّواْ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
This is because they acted adversely to Allah and His Messenger; and whoever acts adversely to Allah and His Messenger -- then surely Allah is severe in requiting (evil).
Sura 8, Aya 14:
ذَلِكُمْ فَذُوقُوهُ وَأَنَّ لِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابَ النَّارِ
This -- taste it, and (know) that for the unbelievers is the chastisement of fire.
. . .
Sura 8, Aya 39:
وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لاَ تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلّه فَإِنِ انتَهَوْاْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do.
[Y]our question prompted me to locate an online Qur'an.My former student replied:
As for contradiction . . . do you mean between Allah preventing the belief of some individuals (Al-Bagharah [Second Surah] 6-7) yet also punishing individuals for unbelief (Al-Anfal [Eighth Surah] 12, 13, 14, and 39)?
I guess that the possibility of contradiction depends upon how one interprets these verses.
Why does Allah prevent the belief of some individuals? Are they being punished for prior unbelief that they themselves chose? If so, then the apparent contradiction fades away.
But let's say that Allah predetermines unbelief, then punishes the individual for this unbelief. There is only a contradiction if one assumes that Allah is good, for the contradiction lies in one's expectations of what a most-perfect being would do. Yet . . . perhaps Allah is not good. If not, then the contradiction fades. Allah himself emerges as the problem in this case, however, though one response would be that Allah himself is ground of the distinction between good and evil, the point being that one cannot judge Allah. That response might not satisfy the unbeliever, but unbelievers are cursed by Allah anyway, so who cares what they think?
Anyway, these are a couple of ways out of a potential contradiction. But I am not qualified to argue precisely about the issue, for I know neither the hermeneutics on these verses nor the Arabic necessary to read them for their nuances.
Maybe it is not a contradiction but the way I read it, Allah sounds very cruel by ordering to cut off fingers of infidels eventhough Allah, himself, is preventing them from learning the truth! It seems to me simillar to punishing mentally disabled people for not fulfilling their obligations as healthy people ,if the analogy makes sense. Maybe the contradiction is not among these verses but I see it with the nature of 'the compassionate and the mercyful'.Allah, of course, is often called "the compassionate, the merciful" in the Qur'an I replied:
[I]n literary texts -- broadly understood as literary -- contradictions are hard to pin down, and the Qur'an is a literary text, among other things.And a bullet-proof vest.
One just has to keep asking questions, which is something that the Islamists don't like, but if questions are politely posed, they have to answer.
Except for those Islamists who prefer to shoot the questioner. For that sort, we need harder questions . . .