Ijaz Ahmad is a respected contemporary Muslim apologist, he’s also a good friend of mine. There’s no shortage of polemics on his Facebook page or throughout his blogging activity, well versed in textual criticism and the basics of Christian theology he makes for an interesting conversation partner.  That said I’d like to address the substance of his thoughts, and in doing so will be addressing the Muslim community at large.

Ijaz’s focus seems to be on discussing the reliability of the New Testament. He tends to use a certain methodology that narrows in on minor details about the text and then extrapolates extraordinary and unrealistic hypotheses about either the historicity, or integrity of the Bible. Another issue that Ijaz and others overlook is that when they cite what they believe to be arguments against the Christian faith, the arguments themselves bounce much harder back against Islam itself. Ijaz’s latest blog about the ending of Mark belongs to the latter category.

Mark’s Evocative Ending

To recap, most early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at 16:8, however later manuscripts have an added 11 verses[1]. Most scholars agree that the longer endings are likely not original, although some writers have made plausible suggestions for their inclusion.  Ijaz notes that vs. 8 ends with the word “gar” or, in English “for”, as in “the flowers were for Diane”. Some then conclude then that vs. 8 ends mid-sentence with a word that is pointing towards more, and therefore the NT has lost the ending in Mark. There are several problems with this assumption.

Although there are those who claim that the word “gar” is out of place at the end of vs. 8, those familiar with Greek know that it is a word that, although used as an explanatory conjunction, can be placed at the conclusion of a sentence or a discourse unit. This is why Mark 16:8 is translated as “for they were afraid”, not “they were afraid, for”. Mark’s writing style tends to be choppy to begin with and scholars suggest he may have ended his gospel at vs. 8 to intentionally try and evoke a response in the reader. If for some reason we discover a previously unknown ending to Mark, the argument, from an Islamic perspective, still holds more detriment to one’s own faith than whatever accusations are aimed at the Bible. Furthermore, Islamic apologists often like to cite the shorter ending of Mark as not including a resurrection, but this simply isn’t true. Part of Ijaz’s argument is that the real reason the women were afraid (vs. 8) is because of an unknown ending to the text, however the reason they were “bewildered”, as the text clearly implies, is because they just encountered an angel who told them that their once crucified friend and Lord, has now been raised from the dead:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”-Mark 16:6-8. 

When the Shoe is on the Other Foot

Now, If one were to point the same finger that Ijaz is pointing  towards the Quran we’d find that, unlike the speculation lodged at the NT, Islamic history does explicitly tell us about lost parts of the Quran. Aside from the controlled destruction of textual variants and abrogated portions (which for all intents and purposes practically “destroy” certain passages) there are actual cases where Quranic verses are stated as having been lost before the final collation and therefore removed forever from the text.[2] If these Islamic records are true, then one has to ask what was the purpose of Allah revealing certain revelations from his heavenly tablet, only to have them lost before they could ever make their way into the text? The same logic applies to the abrogated (or annulled) verses in the Quran, why (or how?) were they revealed if their ultimate purpose was to be overthrown a short time after? Does this really constitute truth derived from an all knowing omnipotent Creator, or is it more feasible to say that mere humans were in ultimate control of these ‘revelations’?

The Bible never claims to be a direct dictation from an eternal heavenly tablet. Although God’s word does likely exist in some form in heaven, the reliability of the Bible doesn’t ultimately rest on the continuance of every original verse in the canon. Rather it rests on the substance of which it is composed, the revelation of Jesus’ supernatural life, the power of His resurrection, and the culmination of God’s salvation story as foretold in the Hebrew prophets -facts which would be deducible even if we only had one gospel. Many Christians throughout the world have survived in their faith on only portions of the NT, if any. Jesus is still the same, history is still the same and He still saves to this day. The same cannot be said of the Quran which is the object of faith for Muslims and is said to have been sourced verse by verse from a heavenly tablet. In this case, lost portions, annulled portions, destroyed portions, actually do affect the basis of faith since it reflects on, and demonstrates inconsistency in, the one who allegedly intended it to be transcribed verbatim from heaven.

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A Few Questions For My Friends

My question would be whether my friends in the Islamic faith allow themselves to think as critically about their personal faith as they do about the Bible. If one were to question their own faith as vehemently as they question Christianity, do they think that Islam would withstand the onslaught? What if one ponders the fact for a follower of Islam to criticize the Bible is inconsistent in itself, since the Quran tells its followers to reference the Torah and Gospel in order to validate itself[3] (a fact which makes little sense given the obvious discrepancies, perhaps a subject for another future article). My hope in writing this is to encourage Muslim and Christian alike to investigate their beliefs openly, and think as critically about their own beliefs as they do about the beliefs of others. If anyone desires to seek the truth about God or His nature, whether they’re Muslim or Christian, double standards will only serve to delude the people who hold them from any semblance of reality. There is much more that could be said about the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of the Quran, or other blog posts from Ijaz, but my aim was to be as short and succinct as possible. Again I’d like to restate that I value my friendship with Ijaz and enjoy conversing with him over various issues. May God bless him and the rest of my Muslim friends and family who would consider these issues, May God increase their health and bless their families and spiritual lives. Salaam.

Endnotes

[1] This variant, along with the Pericope Adulterae in John 7:53-8:11 are the most significant variants we know of in the NT. Both however do not affect any Christian doctrines and are well known for being possible additions to the original text.

[2] See Sahih Muslim 5.2286 and C.G. Pfander, The Mizanu’l Haqq., 256. The so called “Satanic Verses” also constitute a portion of the Quran which has been lost.

[3] See S. 10:94 and other similar verses in the Quran.

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