Scholar responds to Muslim polemic directed at the Bible
By Harold Jantz
In The Gentle Answer to the Muslim Accusation of Biblical Falsification, Gordon Nickel has undertaken the challenge of answering Izhar al-Haqq, a polemic directed at the Bible. It came out of a debate between a Shia' Muslim scholar and a Christian missionary in the 1860s and was first published in book form in 1864.
The missionary was thoroughly routed by Rahmat Allah Keiranwi’s use of 19th-century skeptical German scholarship. Out of the debate came a polemic against the Bible, originally in Arabic, then translated into Urdu and English and circulated widely to this day. Nickel had his work cut out for him.
If one accepts the viewpoint of Izhar al-Haqq, one would believe that the reliability of the Old and New Testaments have once and for all times been thoroughly discredited, because they were “altered almost beyond recognition.”
Nickel has a doctorate in Islamic studies and wrote his doctoral thesis on Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Quran and is likely as qualified as any scholar might be to address the claims made in Izhar al-Haqq. His great strength lies in his linguistic abilities that allow him to read early Muslim commentaries in the original languages.
In The Gentle Answer Nickel has set out to respond to the polemic, attempting to make the case for “the reliability of the Bible's witness to Jesus in a manner that matches Jesus' teaching and example.”
He opens with an invitation. “Dear reader,” he writes, “this book is an invitation to read and reason together…to invite friendly conversation between Muslims and non-Muslims. The accusations of the Izhar al-Haqq must be answered. Not to answer might mean to some that the accusations…are correct or that non-Muslims don't know how to answer, [or] have no answer.”
In 493 pages, Nickel takes an approach that essentially asks the same questions of the Quran that are asked of the Bible. What can one say about a reliable text based on manuscript evidence? What do the texts say? What have commentators stated over the centuries, both Muslim and Christian or Jewish, about their Scriptures?
Nickel clearly settles the claim in Izhar al-Haqq that the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures had references to Muhammed that were tampered with so they disappeared. He shows that these manuscripts in some cases go back as far as eight centuries before Muhammed and read the same then as they did in Muhammed's day. He also shows how commentators in the first centuries of Islam wrote approvingly about the integrity of the Old and New Testament texts, even if they disagreed with them. He examines closely what is known about manuscripts of both the biblical testaments and the Quran and shows that in both cases there are manuscript traditions with differences. Neither the Bible nor the Quran can claim only one manuscript tradition, even if many Muslims are taught otherwise. He explains reasons for differences in readings. He also explores both the Muslim and Christian approaches to the most authoritative texts.
The Gentle Answer is written in four sections. It takes some persistence to work through the material in the first three, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The fourth section is a most attractive presentation of the essential message of the Gospel communicated by the New Testament in a way that might appeal to Muslims.
The Gentle Answer is a book written to address a specific challenge—the polemic represented by Izhar al-Haqq. However, readers who come to it will not only have their knowledge of Islam greatly expanded, they will also gain a much greater appreciation for the gospel offered to us in Jesus Christ.
The Gentle Answer, published in 2015 by Bruton Gate, is available through Kindred Productions, the North American MB publishing ministry. Harold Jantz has served as editor of the MB Herald, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches magazine.
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