William Muir on the alleged sources of the Qur'an

Christian missionaries have for long been alleging that Islam is merely counterfeit Christianity. And in their bid to ‘prove’ the same they often resort to some amazing arguments.

A.J. Wensinck, for instance, held that the shahada is a rather an imitation of the Syrian Christians who employed a similar declaration of faith. Confronting the fact that it is an essential part of tashahud recited in daily ritual prayers, he argued that even salah (the ritual Islamic prayer) was also not standardized during Prophet’s (PBUH) lifetime. (See The Muslim Creed p. 19-32 pub. Barnes & Noble, New York 1965)

Even though he fails to show us any historical basis of his claim, he seems adamant on what he concocted.

The above example is only to show the glimpse of the mentality of these pseudo-scholars.

Coming to their theories about the alleged sources of the Qur’an, the following have generally been pressed upon.

  1. Gnostic Christianity
  2. Some apocryphal Christian writings
  3. Indigenous Arab Christian tradition
  4. Syrian-Tradition reaching the Prophet (PBUH) through some Jews and Christians

J.M. Rodwell was one of the people who prescribed to such myths. He writes;

“Biblical reminiscences, Rabbinic legends, Christian traditions mostly drawn from distorted apocryphal sources, and native heathen stories, all first pass through the prophet's fervid mind, and thence issue in strange new forms, …”

And he goes on, needless to say, without giving any evidence;

“… perhaps from other Christians, especially slaves naturalised at Mecca, Muhammad obtained access to the teaching of the Apocryphal Gospels, and to many popular traditions of which those Gospels are the concrete expression.” (The Koran, JM Rodwell Translation with text notes ONLINE SOURCE)

We shall discuss these referring to a section of William Muir’s book ‘The Life of Mahomet’. In this section of his book he discusses some of the theories about the sources of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for his information about Christianity. He discusses ‘probable sources’ through which the Prophet (PBUH) ‘might have obtained’ his information on Christianity found in the Qur’an. In this session we shall generally discuss about the alleged sources. Some of the specific points raised on these lines shall be dealt with in future, insha’Allah. Same holds for the objections raised by Muir about the authenticity of the Message of the Prophet (PBUH).

1- Theory of Gnostic Christianity as source of the Prophet’s information:

Discussing the issue of Crucifixion and Islamic view on it, Muir writes;

“The singular correspondence between the allusions to the crucifixion in the Coran, and the wild speculations of the early heretics, has led to the conjecture that Mahomet acquired his notions of Christianity from a Gnostic teacher. But Gnosticism had disappeared from Egypt before the sixth century, and there is no reason for supposing that it had at any time gained a footing in Arabia. Besides, there is not the slightest affinity between the supernaturalism of the Gnostics and Docete, and the sober rationalism of the Coran.” (The Life of Mahomet vol. 2 p. 306, pub. Smith, Elder & Co., London 1861)

There is absolutely no proof of Gnosticism having being current in any part of Arabia circa seventh century C.E.

2- Apocryphal writings as alleged sources of Qur’an:

Muir then comments about the idea of certain apocryphal writings being the sources of Qur’an and rejects this too. He writes under the heading ‘Apocryphal Gospels not accessible to Mahomet’;

“By others it has been attempted to trace the Christian stories of the Coran to certain apocryphal Gospels supposed to have been within the reach of Mahomet. But, though some few of the details coincide with these spurious writings, the great body of the facts in no wise correspond.” (p. 308)

If someone believes that certain apocryphal writings were actually among the sources of Qur’an then he needs to present us with historical evidence about their being current in and around Arabia during the late sixth and early seventh century C.E. Mere concordance on a few points does not make one book the source of another and to assert this without any positive evidence is tantamount to shooting in the air.

3- Idea of Indigenous Arab Christian Tradition being the source:

William Muir rejects the notion of indigenous Arab tradition or some elements of the same in Makkah or Medina as the sources of Qur’an, the Holy Book brought by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He writes;

“As the sole source of information the indigenous unsatisfactory tradition of Arabia appears to me wholly insufficient to account for the knowledge of Mahomet upon the subject. There is not the slightest ground for believing that either at Mecca or Medina there existed elements of Christian tradition from which could have been framed a narrative agreeing, as that of the Coran does in many points, and even in several of its expressions, with the Gospels genuine and apocryphal, while in others it follows or outstrips the popular legend.” (p. 309)

4- Syrian-Tradition as a source of Prophet’s knowledge on Christianity:

Debunking the myths of Gnostic Christianity, Apocryphal Christian writings and indigenous Arab Traditions being the source of Qur’an William Muir tends to accept another such notion as true. He writes;

“But Tradition, quite sufficient for this end, survived in the southern confines of Syria, and no doubt reached Mahomet through both a Jewish knowledge; and a Christian medium. The general outline the Christian story in the Coran, having a few salient points in accordance with the Gospel and the rest filled up with wild marvels, is just such as we might expect an enquiring Jew to learn from the traditions amongst the lower classes in Judea. Something might be learned too from the Christian slaves of Mecca; but they had generally been carried off from their homes in boyhood, and would remember little more than a few Scripture stories, with perhaps some fragments of the creed. Either the Jew or the Christian may also have heard the opening of the Gospel of Luke, and communicated to Mahomet the outline of the births of John and Jesus, which he transferred to the Coran. It is also possible that some one may have repeated to Mahomet from memory, or read to him from a manuscript, the verses of the Gospel containing these details ;—but this is mere conjecture.” (p. 309-310)

a- It remains a question as to how Muir is so certain that some such tradition had reached though Jewish or Christian sources. True to the Orientalist school of thought he did not find it necessary to share the reference or provide an evidence for his assertion.

b- Calling the points in the Qur’an that differ with the Gospels as ‘wild marvels’ only testifies to his belief that whatever Bible says is ultimately true and the criteria. The fact, however, remains that Gospel accounts are no less marvelous and supernatural than those of Gnosticism and the Docete. An object comparison of the Gospel and Qur’anic narratives will lead one to different conclusions.

c- But despite making these baseless arguments the good part is that in the end Mr. Muir agrees that ‘this is mere conjecture’ and conjecture, no matter how profound and sincere, stands null and void when subject to objective studies.


If some similarities show that the earlier writing is source of the later then perhaps we ought to say that Moses (PBUH) plagiarized even the much celebrated Ten Commandments from the Code of Hammurabi for there are startling similarities between the two. And most certainly the Code of Hammurabi is much older than the Ten Commandments.

While Christians tend to show us different consequences and difference in details between the two, it does not behoove them to neglect the same about the Qur’an and previous scriptures.


The propaganda against Qur’an and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) on this issue hinges on certain similarities between the Qur’an and previous scriptures. Not only that such lies neglect the fact of Qur’an’s claim of coming from the same divine source to which earlier scriptures are attributed, the differences do not prove anything for the veracity of the earlier scriptures in the form current today is itself greatly questionable. In the wake of this reality how can they be made a standard to check against? Moreover, we do not know of any objective criteria to decide as to what all of the earlier scriptures are apocrypha and what all are the canon.

Finally the case of the similarities between the Code of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments and the Christian way to respond to it shows their two-facedness.

In the next article we shall, insha’Allah, discuss the merits of the claims of Rodwell and others that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) owed his knowledge of Jewish and Christian beliefs and history to certain Christian monks and some other information to a companion of him.


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    1. Here are some more examples of Old Testament stories which have been rewritten to become stories about Jesus.

      Below, LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This translation was done at least before 200 BC. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the writers used very often the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), rather than the Hebrew originals. Nowadays, Christians tend to reject the Septuagint, but the Gospel writers were heavily influenced by it, as we shall see below, and used many phrases from it , just as Joseph Smith was heavily influenced by the King James Version and used many phrases from it when writing the Book of Mormon.

      In 2 Kings 4:27-37 a distraught parent of an only child comes to Elisha just as in Mark 5:22-24 (which continues in verses 35-43) a distraught parent of an only child comes to Jesus,pleading for help.

      In both stories someone tries to discourage the parent from bothering Elisha and Jesus.
      In both stories it is unclear to some people in the story whether the child is dead ,dying or asleep.
      In both stories the child is in a house some distance away.
      In both stories a second source comes from the house and confirms that the child is dead.
      In both stories Jesus and Elisha continue anyway to the house.
      In both stories the parent precedes Elisha or Jesus
      In both stories Elisha and Jesus seek a high degree of privacy by turning people out of the house before their miracle .
      The story in Mark is such an obvious rewrite of the story in Kings that if I remind you that Jairus in Mark 5 falls at Jesus's feet, you can guess what the parent in 2 Kings 4 did.
      The name Jairus has 2 meanings. 1 is 'he enlightens'. The other is 'he awakens'. Is not 'he awakens' a remarkably apt name for someone in a resurrection story, where Jesus says that the child is not dead but sleeping?

      As confirmation that Mark used 2 Kings 4 for his stories of the feeding of a crowd, and the raising of a dead child, Mark 5:42 says that after the miracle, the parents were 'amazed with great amazement' (exestesan ekstasei megale), while 2 Kings 4:13 we have 'amazed with all amazement' (exestesas... pasan ten ekstasin tauten)

    2. Jesus, Elijah and Luke

      Jesus in Luke 7 raises the son of a widow from the dead. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah raises the son of a widow from the dead. Both stories employ exactly the same words - and he gave him to his mother.The Greek is 'kai edoken auton te metri autou', copied word for word from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

      An Illustrations page is available for readers to double check my claims

      Did Luke use 1 Kings 17 as a basis for his story? Jesus met the widow at the gate of a city. Elijah met his widow in 1 Kings 17:10. It should come as no surprise that it was at the gate of a city. Luke 7 also copies other phrases from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

      Luke copies 'kai egeneto' (and it came to pass). 'Kai egeneto' is used many, many times in the Greek Old Testament and Luke used this phrase from the Septuagint so much that it has become a cliche. When writing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith also used 'and it came to pass' a lot. Here he was copying from the King James Bible , but we can see that the writer of Luke's Gospel copied in a very similar manner to Joseph Smith.

      Luke writes 'tay pulay tays poleos kai idoo' (to the gate of a city and behold), which is almost identical to the Old Testament Greek of 'tou pulona tays poleos kai idoo'.

      Luke often used the Greek Old Testament for his stories. In Acts 10, Peter is told in a dream to eat unclean animals. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel 4 also has a story of somebody who is asked to eat unpalatable food.

      According to Acts , Peter, an Aramaic-speaking Jew managed, in a moment of terror, to remember the exact phrase from the Greek translation of Ezekiel 4:14! Was it realistic for somebody described in Acts itself as ignorant (idiotes) and illiterate to bring to mind a Greek translation that he would not have known? I think not. I suspect Luke 'borrowed' words from the Greek translation of Ezekiel 4:14 to put into the mouth of Peter. It is not as though it is a common phrase which Peter might have hit on himself. 'Medamos, Kyrie' (By no means,Lord) is used only here and in Acts 11:8.

      It is even more remarkable that Peter managed to reproduce the words of horror that Ezekiel said when he was also told to eat unclean foods, as Peter was supposed to have been present when Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7, long before Acts 10 ever took place.

    3. I think Christians must double check their logic which they apply on Islam. Many New Testament stories are a Midrash of the Old Testament and inspired by them. Word to word similarity can be proven. This is not the case as far as Qur'an is in Arabic. (While NT is in Ancient Greek and so as Septuagint, there is also a masoretic text in Hebrew but that is not ARABIC)