The Charge of Distortion of Jewish and Christian Scriptures

Author: 
Prof. Abdullah Saeed
Publication: 
The Muslim World. Vol. 92
Publication Date: 
2002

A significant point of tension between today’s Muslims and the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews and Christians) is the common Muslim belief that the Jewish and Christian scriptures that exist today are corrupted and cannot be relied upon in any matters of faith, religion or law. Although this is a popular view, most classical scholars of the Qur’an were far more cautious in their understanding of Qur’anic texts on this issue. This article explores the Qur’an’s references to distortion of scriptural meaning and text, and the views of scholars, particularly Tabari, Qurtubi, Razi, Ibn Taymiyya and Qutb. Qur’anic words such as tahrif are popularly accepted today as referring to deliberate distortion of scripture; however, classical scholars have interpreted the Qur’an’s references in a number of different ways. Almost all suggested that distortion occurred mainly through interpretation and not in the text itself. Although the Qur’an refers to tahrif (distortion), it also exhibits the utmost respect for previous scriptures. Early Muslims adopted a narrow view of scripture, partly because of the nature of the Qur’an, and also in response to the more established religions of Judaism and Christianity, to assert the ‘purity’ of the Qur’an and Islam. Saeed notes that the Jewish and Christian scriptures that exist today are, according to most scholars, largely unchanged since the time of Muhammad and should be respected now as they were then.