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Holy Scriptures Examined

Holy Scriptures Examined (K. Mahmud) In his most illuminating and informative article “Islam and Science: concordance or conflict” published in the Review of Religions, Professor Abdus Salam our first Nobel Prize Laureate (Physics, 1979) had occasion to refer to what he called “-the perceptive essay on The Bible, the Quran and Science” written by Maurice Bucaille [First French edition, Paris: Publishers Seghers, 1976. English editions translated by Alastair D. Pannell. Cotonou (Benin Republic): Editions Silva (1977) and Aligarh (India): Crescent Publishing Company, 1980]. This work emphasises the principle that interest in religion should be substantiated with basic and factual information. Origins of beliefs and practices should be known historically and not merely accepted without question. In matters of religion, it is important that reason should not be denied its due importance. This is one of the most interesting, enlightening and topical books to appear on this subject in recent times. It should be read by all serious-minded persons interested in religion and science. It represents the results of a great number of years of independent research by the author, a French doctor and surgeon and member of the French National Academy of Medicine, who has approached his topic wholly from a scientific point of view. This work is intended as an examination of the Quranic and Biblical scriptures in the light of modern scientific knowledge and in terms of their own historical backgrounds. He considers this to be of particular importance today when there is wider interaction between the followers of the Old and New Testaments and the Quran (Jews, Christians and Muslims) and especially in the light of the Second Vatican Council’s decisions for greater dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He states that the Vatican document proceeds to “recognise the past injustice towards the Muslims for which the West, with its Christian education is to blame.” Although little publicity has been given to the exchange of visits which took place between the Vatican and the Grand Ulama of Saudi Arabia in 1974, the author feels that “far too many Christians, brought up in a spirit of open hostility, are against any reflection about Islam on principle.” In order, therefore, to 44 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS combat this attitude, it is better that they see both the Islamic and Christian scriptures in a more historical and scientific light. In beginning his study, the author starts with the origins of the Bible and a historical account of the sources of the present texts of the Old and New Testaments. He states: “The majority of Christians believe that the Gospels were written by direct witnesses of the life of Jesus and therefore constitute unquestionable evidence concerning the events high-lighting his life and preaching . . .” Proceeding further, he then states: “Modern studies on the beginnings of Christianity show that this way of presenting things hardly corresponds to reality . . .”. He then continues in great and interesting detail to trace the history of the books of the Bible through their various recensions and translated texts. A single text of the Old Testament being established from three earlier texts during the first century before Christ and later being translated into Greek to form the Codex Vaticanus located in the Vatican and the Codex Sinaiticus now in the British Museum. By the fifth century Saint Jerome produced the Latin text known as the Vulgate. Later editions and translations of the Bible, the King James Version, the New Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, the Douay Version (Roman Catholic edition) and others are all to be traced back to these earlier recensions. The new Ecumenical Translation of the Old Testament is to be a work of unification attempting to resolve many of the differences existing in the various texts and translations and is now being written by numerous Catholic and Protestant experts. It will result in a process of synthesis. It is then hoped that all the Christian Churches will be able to accept and read one version of the Bible. The author then continues his critical discussion of the Old and New Testaments, quoting many of the latest studies by Christian scholars of the scriptures such as Father Benoit and Boisinard, Prof. O. Culmann’s work on the New Testament, Father Roquet’s Initiation to the Gospels and the writings of Father Kannengiesser. He mentions the sources of the Gospels and many of the Apocryphal Gospels such as the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas and many others, which he states were suppressed by the Church and condemned as being heretical during the first three centuries of the Church’s formation. In fact, in spite of the stand of the church that “Our Holy Mother, the church, has firmly maintained and still maintains with the greatest constancy, that these four Gospels, which it unhesistatingly confirms are historically authentic . . .” He indicates that the commentators of the Ecumenical HOLY SCRIPTURES EXAMINED 45 Translation of the Bible describe the writing of the Gospels as “not to be taken literally,” they are “writings suited to an occasion” and their authors “are writing down the traditions of their own community concerning Jesus.” They are texts “suitable for various circles,” and “the evangelists, each according to his own outlook, have collected and recorded in writing the material given to them by the oral tradition.” He further shows that much in the texts shows itself to be inconsistent and often incompatible with modern scientific data. Turning to the Holy Quran, author states “there is hope today, however, because religions are no longer as inward-looking as they were and many of them are seeking for mutual understanding.” Refering to the Second Vatican Council and the new office for Non- Christian Affairs’ booklet entitled “Orientations for a Dialogue between Christians and Muslims,” he calls attention to some prejudices and misconceptions still held by Christians toward Islam. For example he states that some people repeatedly use the term “Allah” to mean the God of Muslims, as if Muslims believed in a God different from the Christians. The Vatican pamphlet states: “It would seem pointless to maintain that Allah is notreally God, as do certain people in the West!. . .There is no better way of illustrating Islamic faith in God than quoting the following extracts of Lumen Gentle (also produced by the Second Vatican Council): “The Muslims profess the faith of Abraham and worship with us the sole merciful God, who is the future judge of men on the Day of Reckoning . . .” Discussing his own ignorance of Islam in his youth, the French doctor and author of this work indicates how working amongst Muslims led to his curiosity about their beliefs and to a greater understanding of the religion of Islam. He was surprised how this religion was generally distorted and misunderstood by the average person in the West. He then discusses the Quran and confirms that its text, which has been preserved in the original language of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be on him) is of undisputed authenticity. Moreover, although it has “an absolutely basic religious objective,” yet it has much to say about certain laws governing the universe. Beginning with the very first revelation to the Prophet which called attention to the importance of the pen and reading as a means to human knowledge, the Qu’ran goes on to speak on many topics. Reference is continually being made to the order in natural phenomenon and the reader is continually being requested to think of and contemplate these phenomenon so as to know that there is a Creator behind them and that this creation is not in vain. The author states, “what initially strikes the reader confronted for the first time with a text of this kind is the sheer abundance of subjects discussed: the creation, astronomy, the explanation of certain matters concerning the earth, and the animal and vegetable kingdoms, human reproduction.” 46 REVIEW OB RELIGIONS He then proceeds to discuss these topics as found in the Qu’ran and occasionally to compare and contrast the approach of this work with the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. It is not possible in this brief review to give in detail all the important points mentioned by the author in his critique. However, some of the more important points of the Qu’ran to which he draws attention are references in chapter 21 verse 33 and chapter 36 verse 40 to the orbits of the sun and moon; references in chapter 51 verse 47 to the continuous expansion of the universe. References to the creation of life from water in chapter 24 verse 45 and other references which cause the author to state that “whether it deals therefore with the origins of life in general, or the element that gives birth to plants in the soil or the seed of animals, all the statements contained in the Qu’ran on the origin of life are strictly in accordance with modern scientific data. None of the myths on the origins of life which abounded at the time the Qu’ran appeared are mentioned in the text.” All these references to physical phenomena, including references to the existence of animal communities, statements concerning bees, spiders, ants and birds, and remarks on the sources of the constituents of animal milk lead the author to exclaim: “I consider that the existence in the Qur’an of the verse(s) referring to these concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which they were formulated. As is known, today, “when specialists on the nervous system wish to provide striking examples of the prodigious organisation directing animal behaviour, possibly the most referred to animals are bees, spiders and birds (especially migratory birds). Whatever the case there is no doubt that these three groups constitute a model of highly evolved organisation. The fact that the text of the Qur’an refers to this exemplary trio in the animal kingdom is in absolute keeping with the exceptionally interesting character that each of these animals has from a scientific point of view.” In summing up the findings of the author we can quote his own words as they variously appear: “. . .the Qur’an deals with many subjects of interest to science, far more in fact than the Bible. There is no comparison between the limited number of Biblical statements which lead to a confrontation with science, and the profusion of subjects mentioned in the Qur’an that are of a scientific nature. None of the latter can be contested from a scientific point of view; this is the basic fact that emerges from our study.” ” . . . why should we be surprised at this when we know that, for Islam, religion and science have always been considered twin sisters. From the very beginning, Islam directed people to cultivate science; the application of this precept brought with it the prodigious strides in science taken during the great era of Islamic civilisation from which, before the Renaissance, the West itself benefited.” “At the end of this study, a fact that stands forth very clearly is that the predominant opinion held in the West on the texts of the Holy Scriptures we possess today is hardly very realistic. We have seen the conditions, times and ways in which HOLY SCRIPTURES EXAMINED 47 the elements constituting the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Quran were collected and written down: the circumstances attendant upon the birth of the Scriptures for these three Revelations differed widely in each case, a fact which had extremely important consequences concerning the authenticity of the texts and certain aspects of their contents.” “In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad’s day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements in the Quran which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Quran as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.” A Prayer 0 God, in me Thy holy love impart! Enlighten, comfort and purify my heart; Watch o’er my conduct and help me to do, Only those things which are pleasing to You. Let me be a heavenly reflection; Cleansed from all satanic deflection. I want to imitate the Prophet’s life Dissipating darkness and sinful strife I want to bring mankind to Thy throne; To obey, love, and honour Thee alone. I want to suckle Thy divine succour Ready for death’s inevitable hour. Bestow upon me the grace of prayer. Always keeping me in Thy loving care. Help me always to live as You require. Devoted to You like a flame of fire. Illumine my soul with Thy holy light; Hear my prayers in the stillness of night. Grant blessings to this Thy humble servant. Whose prayer to You is deeply fervent (Bashir Ahmad Orchard)