Some Thoughts on the Notion of "Religious Borrowing"

Is Islam really a concoction of Judaism and Christianity, as some would like to believe?

  Source: [] Published: Pre 2000


  When it is said to them: "What is it that your Lord has revealed?" They say: "Tales of the Ancients!"
The Noble Qur'an, 16:24


In the Name of Allaah, The Beneficent, The Merciful

Once, while browsing the soc.religion.islam newsgroup on the Internet, I came across the following comment:

>>Also, the story of Abraham being rescued from the fires of Nimrod is also found in Jewish traditions.

My response was:

So what's your point? Do you think that this necessarily means the story is made-up, borrowed, or false? I know that you didn't say this, but I was just wondering what the point of your comment was. The story of the Great Flood during the time of Noah, peace be upon him, is mentioned in the Gilgamesh Epic, which was written about 3000 B.C. Does this means that this story is not true because it is contained in another earlier source?

Now I'm not talking about anyone in particular, but in my humble opinion, the opponents and critics of Islam have not changed their arguments much since the times of the pagan/idol worshipping Arabs. The Qur'an records some of their statements as follows:

The unbelievers say: "These are nothing but tales of the ancients." (Qur'an 6:25)

"These are nothing but tales of the ancients." (Qur'an 8:31)

When it is said to them: "What is it that your Lord has revealed?" They say: "Tales of the Ancients!" (Qur'an 16:24)

And they say: "Tales of the ancients which he has caused to be written: and they are dictated before him morning and evening." (Qur'an 25:5)

"It is true we were promised this we and our fathers before (us): these are nothing but tales of the ancients." (Qur'an 27:68)

"Tales of the men of old" (Qur'an 68:15)

On the issue of so-called religious borrowing, I'd like to quote the late Dr. Isma'il al-Faruqi: "Original Semitic, or Ur-Semitisch, religion was not a tradition which belonged exclusively to the Jews, but was common to the whole family of Semitic peoples. The version of that tradition embodied in the Old Testament is peculiar to the Jews since they have canonized it as scripture. Earlier Jews or Hebrews had that tradition as well as others which have not survived. Jewish dispersions since the Assyrian conquest in 722 B. C. must have caused some of these traditions to dissolve into those of other Semitic peoples, just as the citizens of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, has dissolved with the countryside surrounding them. There is more than sufficient evidence, internal to the Old Testament, to prove that other records of revelation existed which were either edited, reformed or lost by the generations. There is, in addition, ample evidence from Mesopotamia texts dating centuries and millennia before the earliest Hebrew texts, where variants of the Jewish revelations may be read. The pre-Islamic Hanafi tradition which regarded the religious tradition of Ibrahim (Abraham) to Jesus as the true religion of God, and with which the Prophet Muhammad identified his revelation, was certainly one of those variants living in the memory of Peninsula Arabs. Only thus may the problem of borrowing between the two religions be solved. That Islam borrowed from Judaism certain notions or traditions - as Abraham Geiger, Abraham Katsch and C. C. Torrey have claimed with no little superficiality or temerity - is as true as the claim that Judaism borrowed from the Mesopotamians those same notions and traditions. Ancient Near East stories of Creation, of Moses' birth and career, of Joseph and Job, of Noah and the Deluge, and the notions of the Word of God, the God of the Mountain, of the Covenant, the law, revelation, service of God, have all been derived from older Mesopotamian traditions. These studies equally point out that the Hebrews have indeed borrowed from the Canaanites their Hebrew language, priestly system, sacrificial ritual, temple worship, as well as their whole religious calendar of agricultural occasions; and from the Persians, their Paradise and Hell, the Day of Judgment, Messianism, sacrementalism, angelogy and demonology, apocryphal version of the end, soteriology and eschatology. For the appearance of each of these notions or theories in the Jewish tradition is dated and can be shown to have occurred at or after the Jews' contact with those people." And continuing, he says: "We reject the notion of borrowing as superficial and simplistic. We do not deny interaction between peoples concerned; but we maintain that what constitutes a religion is not the individual elements which may coincidentally or otherwise be found in other traditions, but the essence or structure in accordance with which all elements have been welded together in an integral whole . . . The foregoing analysis is the way a secular historical scholarship would follow to explain the communion between Judaism and Islam on one side, with the religions of ancient Mesopotamia, on the other. There is an easier, simpler and far more straight-forward explanation which is that of Islam. That is that fact that all religions, and in this special sense, the Semitic family of religions, come from one source, namely God." And further: "It is an altogether different matter that Judaism has been subject to criticism by Islam. Having acknowledged a Jewish religious tradition and identified itself with it, Islam could criticize from within, just as the Jewish prophets did . . . The object of criticism is never the religion of God, the revelation given to the prophets, but the historical recording or empirical texts claimed to be divine, and the actual practice of Jews in history. This very task, practically every Jewish Prophet from David to Malachi had assumed and fulfilled in much the same way as the Qur'anic revelation had done . . . It is a criticism of the Jews' religious practice in terms of Jewish primordial religion. Islam never doubts the revealed status of the Torah . . . Islam recognizes that God has specially favored the Jews . . . The covenant equally stipulates that if the Jews fail to keep their part of the covenant, God will inflict upon them His punishment . . . God's judgment is never arbitrary, never unjust, never not-due, not-earned by him upon whom it falls. The Jews do ascribe such arbitrariness to God in order to maintain their otherwise unjustifiable election. Judaism asserts that God chose Abraham and ordered him to leave his city and people and emigrate; but it gives no reason for the choice (Genesis 12:1). This election of Abraham is nowhere justified. It is asserted to be "in the flesh" (Genesis 17:10) and made to pass biologically to his descendants regardless of their piety or conduct (Isaiah 9:6, 63:1-16). The Qur'an was the first to proclaim Abraham's emigration was due to his conversion from the idolatry of his people to the true religion of God revealed to him, to their attempted persecution of him from which God saved him by a miracle (Qur'an: 21:51-73). Its narrative found its way to Jewish literature in the Middle Ages, especially in the Midrash Hagadol which was discovered in Yemen in the 18th century." ( The above quotations are from: Islam and the Problem of Israel, by Dr. Isma'il Raji al-Faruqi, pp. 75-79.) That brings us to another question: do the Jewish texts which contain the story of Abraham, peace be upon him, being saved from Nimrod's fire pre-date or post-date the Qur'an? And if so, in who's opinion? And even if they pre-date it, so what?

Another point: according to the Rev. Kenneth Cragg, the infamous Christian missionary author, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, compromised his "prophetic role" by emigrated from Mecca to Medina in order to escape the persecution of the pagan Arabs (i.e. the ones who believed in God but worshipped others - saints, angels - along with Him). If Muhammad compromised his prophecy by doing this, then why not Abraham? And if Moses, peace be upon him, did not forsake his prophethood by fleeing from the tyranny of Pharoah's Egypt to a place where he and his followers could worship the One True God , then why did Muhammad, peace be upon him? Remember, even Moses and the Children of Israel defended (and even established) their belief through force of arms! Just a thought . . . 

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