Systematic apologetics against Islam

I have reposted this text from another thread, found here.

This topic is an area that most Catholics don’t know and which many Americans are unfamiliar: systematic apologetics against Islam. Not just the standard appeals of evangelism, which are important, but an organized, structured analysis of the very historical roots of Islam. What I mean by this “systematic apologetics” is the historical-critical analysis of the Quran and Hadith, which a number of scholars have undertaken (with less of the apologetical thrust I mean). This area of focus has a good many Muslims worried.

I will note that such analyses have been applied to the Bible, and Christianity has survived splendidly (I routinely use these methods in interpreting the Bible). My fundamental contention is that Islam cannot survive the type of historical-critical analysis that have been applied to the Bible. A tentative hypothesis I have is that Islam, in a form similar to the religion espoused today, came into being around 50-80 years after the death of Muhammad.

For example, G.H.A. Juynboll wrote the book Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith, published in 2007. This author used the “Common Link” theory from an earlier critic of hadith, Joseph Schacht, to analyze the six major books of hadith recognized as authentic by Sunni Muslims. This method takes advantage of the isnad, the supposed chain of transmission from Muhammad to the person who recorded it in writing, that accompanies each hadith. Using these isnads, Juynboll concluded that none of the Hadith could be dated before the caliphate of Abd Al-Malik, which lasted from 685-705. Like Schacht before him, Juynboll concluded that the hadith were forged by later people which they refer to as “common links.” This book has Muslims worried, and Western Muslims have called on their greatest scholars, like Jonathan A.C. Brown, to try to rebut it.

Another example of scholarship consistent with the notion that Islam was “engineered” later is the recent book by Fred Donner, Muhammad and the Believers. This widely-respected orientalist has published the theory that Muhammad was a “pan-monotheism” revival leader, and embraced Christians and Jews as part of his movement. This book has been, of course, pilloried by Muslims, but scholars can’t ignore its evidence and argument.

One more big example is the amateur pseudonymous author, Christoph Luxenbeg, who wrote The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Quran. In this work, the author takes advantage of the fact that early Classical Arabic script didn’t include the “diacritic” marks that later scripts did. These marks are essential in determining what letter is being written. He also notes that written Arabic didn’t really exist before the Quran, and that there were other semitic languages, including Syriac, that are closely related to Arabic. He uses Syriac to analyze phrases in the Quran that even don’t make sense in Arabic, and found that the use of Syriac allowed much more reasonable readings to be developed. Muslims have generally attacked this book, and politically-correct orientalists have criticized Luxenberg the amateur for playing with professionals. Still, a number of orientalists have said that his book has changed their field in a fundamental way.

My own personal approach is to analyze the Quran and look for texts within it that have their sources in Christian or Jewish texts. I note that in the end of Sura 5 looks remarkably like the Bread of Life narrative in John 6, and find it extremely odd that the Quran includes a eucharistic narrative. In fact, in the Quran’s story, Allah says that if people don’t believe in Jesus after he brings down the “feast from heaven,” that he will punish them as he’s never punished anyone before. Reminds me a lot of “unless you eat of this bread, you will have no life within you.” It’s hard to pin it directly, given different languages (I don’t speak or read Arabic), but it raises the question: why is it important to Islam that Jesus brought down a “feast for heaven?” To me, it suggest that, like much of the rest of the Quran, the text was copied and edited from previous Christian and Jewish texts, including apocryphal gospels popular in Syria and the Talmud.

To me, this effort is long-term, but it’s the only way that we’re going to be able to really start bringing large numbers of Muslims to faith in Christ and his Church.

Let me know if this helps:

Qur’an 19:22-26Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place. ‏And the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten! ‏So a voice came to her from beneath her: Grieve not, surely thy Lord has provided a stream beneath thee. ‏ And shake towards thee the trunk of the palm-tree, it will drop on thee fresh ripe dates. ‏So eat and drink and cool the eye. Then if thou seest any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent, so I will not speak to any man to-day.

Psuedo-matthew gospel. Written 4th century:**And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.”

Qur’an 5:110When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by My permission, then thou didst breathe into it and it became a bird by My permission; and thou didst heal the blind and the leprous by My permission; and when thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and when I withheld the Children of Israel from thee when thou camest to them with clear arguments – but those of them who disbelieved said: This is nothing but clear enchantment.

Qur’an 3:49 And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission;

Infancy gospel of thomas. 2nd century But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the Sabbath day, went presently away and told his father Joseph, 6. Behold, your boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profanes the Sabbath. 7. Then Joseph came to the place where he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day? 8. Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while you live remember me. 9. So the sparrows fled away, making a noise.

Peace and All Good!!

Thank you very much for this post and May Our Divine Lord Bless you for it! In my experience, it’s not just Americans who are unfamiliar with the topic, most of those I have spoken to in the UK and other European countries are also unaware, although I have seen some very hopeful signs that this may be slowly beginning to change, thanks be to God!

I’m scrambling to find it now, but I did find a section of the Quran that was almost a verbatim copy of the Parable of the Sheep & the goats in the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 25 I’ll post the exact Surah after I found it again (I knew I should have made a note of it, oops :blush:).

It is certainly going to be a long term effort that requires dedication & perseverance but as you so rightly say, it’s the only way progress will be made & souls will be saved.


I think if you want people to take your work seriously, you will need to study Classical Arabic.

I’ve studied both Arabic and Syriac and these statements in particular don’t seem credible to me.

Peace and All Good!!

I think you’re right, in order to better engage with Muslims about Islam, it’s very important to have at least a reasonable grasp of Classical Arabic & the more knowledge of it the better.



were you thinking of writing a book and putting this all together? I know you have done a lot of research in this area. It does seem like any major Christian apologist against Islam ended up being fluent in Arabic and Syriac. Thanks for all you work in the area as well as your numerous posts.

A systematic apologetics against Islam, would be welcomed by Muslims. When ever one tries to prove a contradiction of recorded Islam and or any humanity argument against Islam, The Muslim never answers the question from an Islamic position, the question get’s answered using a Hebrew (Jewish) or Christian history to justify it’s position and prove it’s faith.

Islam never stands on it’s own merit when faced with it’s own scholary contradictions.

If one listens to a Muslim debate, almost every time the Musilm answers with Jewish or Christian history to justify it’s claim never Islam’s revelation from God “to kill the infidels” for example. And when the Muslim get’s cornered or faced with a contradiction of Islam by scholars, everytime the Muslim reverts to the mistranslation, misunderstanding or wrong interpretation of the Quran by the opponent of Islam at the same time the Muslim never answers the contradiction of Islam, the Muslim blames the lack of Aramaic language or blames the parallel of Christianity and Jewish history.

Islam enlightens the carnal mind which returns to dust, yet many convert by such an intellectual and apologetic enlightenment against ignorant Jews and Christians. Which Muslims use to discredit the Jewish and Christian faith with twists from the Quran and a history that never belongs to Islam.

A successful systematic apologetic against Islam would have to take the (Jewish/Christian) historical blow by the Muslim, and hold the Muslim to Islam without distractions and parallels of a history that never belongs to Islam. Then comes the language of Aramaic which is used to defuse contradictions of the Quran almost every time, by the Muslim.

I believe your systematic approach is most useful for both Christians and Muslims.

The bible on the other hand would help the Islamic faith be raised from the carnal mind to the spiritual. Muslims should loose their fear of the bible and allow Muslims to read and own bibles without the fear of an Islamic law of persecution.

If Islam is True? Then it should not fear the bible from which it deny’s as God’s Word, yet it references the bible to justify Islam’s claim, which Islam has no witnesses living in biblical times to hold it’s teachings of Islam today. Therefore “A systematic apologetic against Islam” should hold Islam to it’s own revelation and history to prove it’s truth, without the assistance of a Jewish or Christian history which Islam has no record of to prove its’ truth.

Peace be with you

I am sorry not to have the time to study. What I have done is relied on historical studies of Islam, geography (e.g. noting the proximity of miaphysite and dyophysite Christians to the Hijaz and associated caravan routes), and my own Biblical approach.

As to the statement I made that early Arabic script lacked diacritic points, I will copy this Wikipedia entry on the subject, which refers to “tradition” as the source. Even Muslim tradition acknowledges that it wasn’t until the Umayyad caliphate that the diactritic points were introduced:

  • According to tradition, the first to commission a system of harakat was Muawiyah I of the Umayyad dynasty, when he ordered Ziad Ibn Abih, his wālī in Basra (governed 664–673), to find someone who would devise a method to transcribe correct reading. Ziad Ibn Abih, in turn, appointed Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali for the task. Abu al-Aswad devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. This system of dots predates the i‘jām, dots used to distinguish between different consonants.*

Here is a Muslim page on the topic:’an

Certainly diacritical marks can restrict the possibilities of the meanings of texts, but to say they are “essential” to understanding the text is an overstatement. I would also like to see your evidence that there was no written Arabic prior to the Quran.

It’s interesting to see a non-Muslim suggest the hadiths sunnis follow were not from Muhammad (pbuh&hf) but were forged later. Shia Muslims believe the same but probably not for the same reasons as you. Could you elaborate more on how you came to that conclusion please?

According to Shia Islam. The authentic authoritative source for the prophet’s traditions were carried on by the members of his family the “Ahl al-bayt”, which consisted of his Daughter Fatima, his Nephew Ali, his two grandchildren Hassan & Hussain, and the 9 imams from the descendants of Hussain. (pbuta). We believe that after his death most of the companions motivated by power and wealth betrayed muhammad (pbuh&hf) and sought to create an alternate source of islamic traditions to suit their needs. And so the first split between muslims happened at that time. The school of “Ahl-al-bayt” practiced by most 12er shias today on one side and the school of the companions practiced by sunnis on the other side.

diacritical marks only became relevant as Islam spread to non arab speaking people. In fact, I would argue diacritical marks were not important prior to that because native arabs did not need them to understand the meanings of texts.

Based on what you’ve written before I would suggest that you’re already approaching this from a biased point of view. You’re already biased towards a particular opinion and you’re researching to collect evidence to support that opinion. This could be a problem because more often than not people tend to leave out pieces of information that don’t support their opinion and I hope you wouldn’t do that.

It would be much better in my opinion if you approach it from an objective point of view and then draw your conclusion from there. Whatever it may be.

To add to you remark, I believe the diacritical marks were used in the Quran out of respect to prevent it from being recited in non-Fasih accents/dialects.

Not only in Arabic, but Farsi texts too don’t use diacritic marks except when someone is being taught the language or other rare cases like removing ambiguity from a statement that can have dual meanings.

İt is funny. Quran is directly speech of Allah not Muhammed. Muhammed did not much know about Christianity or Jewish. Muhammed couldn’t read or write. He couldn’t learn all that by hearing. İndeed that shows that Quran is miracle. Because if Muhammed was not prophet of Allah He would never know the facts. Things you mention as contradictory(but in fact it is not) is known by Muslims very well. I am pleased that Christian survey İslam although to find lack.

Would you be willing to supply your source for the illiteracy of Muhammad? Most of the historical and academic evidence I’ve seen indicates that, as a merchant, Muhammad would have been able to both read and write. It would have been required by his occupation.

I am relying on the work of previous scholarship, including those which I cited above. Juynboll, in particular, mapped all the isnads together in the 6 Sunni books of Hadith, and found they couldn’t be traced prior to the early 8th century.

According to Shia Islam. The authentic authoritative source for the prophet’s traditions were carried on by the members of his family the “Ahl al-bayt”, which consisted of his Daughter Fatima, his Nephew Ali, his two grandchildren Hassan & Hussain, and the 9 imams from the descendants of Hussain. (pbuta).

Yet from a Christian perspective, it would seem that Sunnis would dispute that claim as well, leaving us with a conflicting story that doesn’t make us clearly see what really happened. As the name Shia indicates, partisan ideas influenced the split of Sunni and Shia, going back to Ali. So, like all people, it seems that which version of history you (the general, impersonal you, not you in particular) believe is conditioned on which version of history you want to believe. Can you offer me a historically verifiable basis for believing the claims of the Shia? Without that, it is only a matter of faith, it seems.

We believe that after his death most of the companions motivated by power and wealth betrayed muhammad (pbuh&hf) and sought to create an alternate source of islamic traditions to suit their needs. And so the first split between muslims happened at that time. The school of “Ahl-al-bayt” practiced by most 12er shias today on one side and the school of the companions practiced by sunnis on the other side.

Again, you see my problem. If I am to selectively believe the Shia story over the Sunni story, as a non-Muslim, I would need some objective (i.e. independent historical evidence) to do so. Otherwise, it is requisite that I consider both Shia and Sunni claims. I am not aware of a systematic analysis of Shia hadith, which I would attribute to a pro-Sunni bias among many western scholars of Islam. Still, I think it’s worth doing the analysis of Juynboll on the Shia hadith. I would hope a scholar of Shia Islam would take up that challenge.

Guilty as charged. But I am making an appeal to objective historical and philological analysis, which means that I’m open to all information.

I must confess that I start from a bit of factual disagreement with Islam and the Quran. That is, the answer to the question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth die on the cross?” Christians answer yes, Muslims answer no. Outside of Muslims, critical scholars, including non-Christians like Bart Ehrman and Amy-Jill Levine, universally agree that he did (Ehrman cites 11 independent testimonies to the crucifixion of Jesus in his book, “Did Jesus Exist?”). On the other hand, Muslims tell me that Jesus did not die, and (depending on whether you read just the Quran or a hadith) says that Allah changed the appearance of one of Jesus’ companions and allowed him to die instead, while raising Jesus up. The issue here is that using the techniques of modern historiography, I am compelled to look for a naturalistic explanation for events if I can (this is kind of a take on Occam’s Razor). Under modern historiography, the Christian belief that Jesus died on the cross requires no supernatural explanation. This makes it an objectively more probable explanation of the events depicted in the Gospels’ passion narratives than the Muslim account. If I’m thinking like a modern historian, I am compelled to conclude that Jesus died on the cross. As a result, I am forced to conclude that the Quran’s story is factually incorrect and possibly metaphorical (allowing it to remain “true” in the sense that the metaphorical interpretation presented conveys meaning – akin to the Jewish practice of midrash).

This could be a problem because more often than not people tend to leave out pieces of information that don’t support their opinion and I hope you wouldn’t do that.

I absolutely agree.

It would be much better in my opinion if you approach it from an objective point of view and then draw your conclusion from there. Whatever it may be.

Agreed. However, we have already established that I am biased. As an alternative mode of discovering information, in the Western model of jurisprudence and scientific publication, fact-finding is an adversarial process. In court, two parties bring their claims of fact, and any information that support those contentions of fact, to the judge and jury. In scientific publication, one paper reaching a particular conclusion does not establish a truth claim, only establishes a hypothesis that other investigators should try to replicate. If a paper’s conclusions can’t be replicated, they are considered less likely to be true.

If Muslims would like to interact with Catholic apologists, I would recommend a dialogue based on one of these models.

MY understanding of the history of Muhammad is that he was a merchant and traveled throughout the middle East and near East and in his travels he came across many Jews and Christians and listened to their stories. It is also my understanding of the history of those times that there were many groups of Christians who were in schism with the Catholic Church at that time especially the Nestorians and others who did not agree with the councils of the day and went on with their beliefs of Christianity and there were also many gnostic writings that were still being used by those separated Christians, remembering that most people of that tie did not know how to read or write so they would hear what was being read to spoken about and the stories told, by which is how Muhammad came to knew about Jewish and Christian beliefs of those he came into contact with.

It’s not just that Muhammad was a traveling merchant. There were Christian caravans that connected the Hijaz as far south as Medinah with the miaphysite Ghassanid kingdom. One tribe with a Christian branch that traded that far south were the Azd. So the Hijaz included not only Christians, but Christians who viewed each other as herertical. Muhammad’s uncle was supposedly a dyophysite, who viewed the miaphysites as heretical, and many of the arguments they used sound a lot like Muslim arguments against Christology.

As a historian of Abrahamic Traditions, I just wanted to say that you are correct regarding the death of the historical Jesus. There is enough evidence to support the fact that Jesus did exist and taught during this time period. Additionally there are two historical events that are almost universally accepted by historians to have actually happened. The first is Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist and the second is his crucifixion by Pontius Pilot. If anyone would like sources I would be more than happy to supply them! Beyond that everything is up in the air.

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