Comments On Geiger and Tisdall’s Books On The ‘Sources’ Of The Qur’ân

Comments On Geiger and Tisdall’s Books On The ‘Sources’ Of The Qur’ân

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


It is sometimes said that what Jesus(P) is to Christianity, the Qur’ân holds a similar position in Islam. Therefore, the aim of the evangelical Christian missionaries from ancient times to the present day and probably even in the future, insh’allah, is to show that the Qur’ân is a worthless book copied from the Bible and Muhammad(P) being an imposter.

This trend although germinated from the times of crusades, crystallised in the form of written material in the 19th century by a Jew called Abraham Geiger. He wrote a book titled Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? which dealt with the alleged Jewish sources in the Qur’ân. The methodology of this book is that similarity implies borrowing, therefore Muhammad(P) obtained the contents of the Qur’ân from the Hebrew Bible and rabbanical sources.

This book does not even attempt to show whether the Arabic translation of the Hebrew Bible and rabbanical sources existed in Arabia as well as the Rabbis who taught of Prophet(P). There is also no mention of redaction of the sources of the Qur’ân.

It is not surprising that the Christian missionaries immediately translated it in English to “deal with Muhammadans”.

One year after it had been compiled the essay was published in German, “at an expense of the author,” under the title Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? the title page indicating that the essay had been crowned with the university prize. In 1896, F. M. Young, “a member of the Ladies’ League in Aid of the Delhi Mission” stationed in Bangalore, India, translated the work into English in the hope that it would be of assistance to Christian missionaries in their “dealings with Muhammadans.” Two years later the translation was published in Madras by the Delhi Mission of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.[1]

The Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge did not stop here. Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall wrote a book called The Original Sources Of The Qur’ân in 1905, that was published by this society. This book is basically a rehash of Geiger’s material with some newer ‘sources’ of the Qur’ân sprinked in. Tisdall, like Geiger, makes no attempt to show the existence of the Judeo-Christian sources in Arabic as well as to locate the teachers of the Prophet(P) except to claim the he (i.e., Prophet(P)) had ‘informants’. The aim of this book from the Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge is very transparent.

The Christian missionary may also find it important to follow out our investigations, in order to discover in them a new method of leading Muslim enquirers to perceive the untenable nature of their position.[2]

Tisdall’s The Original Sources Of The Qur’ân is the ‘Gospel’ which is sold by the Christian missionaries to the Muslims along with, of course, the four-fold gospel of the New Testament. The aim of the book is to create doubts in the minds of unsuspecting and naive Muslims who are unaware of the methodologies involved in the above mentioned books. Some of the examples of Tisdall’s poor and embarrassing scholarship are exposed in his discussions concerning the Prophet’s(P) wives teaching him stories from the BibleSalman the Persianthe story of Cain & Abel and the origins of the Samaritan story as possible Judeo-Christian sources of the Qur’ân.

What Do Modern Scholars Say About Tisdall’s Work?

What do modern scholars say about Tisdall’s The Original Sources Of The Qur’ân or the revised version (forwarded by another missionary William Muir) The Sources Of Islam? Commenting about Ibn Warraq’s use of Tisdall’s material in his The Origins Of The Koran: Classic Essays On Islam’s Holy Book, François de Blois says:

The “classic essays” are of unequal value. The worst is St. Clair Tisdall’s decidedly shoddy piece of missionary propaganda. The two by Mingana are not much better. It is surprising that the editor, who in his Why I Am Not A Muslim took a very high posture as a critical rationalist and opponent of all forms of obscurantism, now relies so heavily on writings by Christian polemicists from the nineteenth century.[3]

A similar review by Herbert Berg informs us that:

The essay by St. Clair Tisdall with a forward by Muir seems to have been included for the ‘Christian’ perspective….. It is not particularly scholarly essay or even a polemical one; it is simply a polemic. It uses the salvation history of Christianity to refute that of Muslims. The author is altogether too fond of using words such as ‘foolish’, ‘fanciful’, ‘childish’ and ‘ignorant’ when describing quranic (and for that matter talmudic and midrashic) stories that disgree with his Christian reading of the Old Testament.[4]

In other words, Tisdall’s material is not only a piece of shoddy missionary propaganda but also a baseless and vicious attack on the Qur’ân and the Jewish writings, especially when the author’s views did not match with them.

The material in this book is highly inaccurate and blatantly misleading as one would see on reading the refutation of some of the borrowing theories. “The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge” by any means is sometimes more important than accuracy and truth! We ask Muslims to be aware of this fact.

What About Geiger’s Book?

There is no doubt that Geiger’s work was “original” but modern research has shown that it has a lot of inaccuracies. Commenting on Abraham Geiger’s book Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? Stillman says:

… it did tend to give exaggerated view of the Jewish contribution to the Qur’ân. Many of the traditions that he cites are in oriental Christian as well as talmudic and haggadic literature. Our chronology of rabbinic literature is better today than in Geiger’s, and many more texts – Muslim, Jewish, and Christian – have since being published. In the light of this we know now that in some instances what was thought to be a Jewish haggadic influence in an Islamic text might well be quite the reverse. The Pirqe de Rabbi Eli’ezer, for example, would seem to have been finally redacted after the advent of Islam.[5]

Finally, Stillman says in his conclusion:

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that one should be extremely cautious about assigning specific origins to the story discussed here – or for that matter, any other story in the Qur’ân.[6]

Wheeler gives a similar advice like that of Stillman and emphasizes the fact that:

It is unclear whether, today, one should accept Obermann’s statement that the Qur’ân “as a rule” is dependent upon the earlier Jewish and Christian sources. A more wide-ranging and discerning study, with particular attention to the dates of the so-called “sources,” is needed before concluding that all Jewish or Christian sources, especially those posterior to the Islamic sources they are supposed to have informed, are prior to and therefore influence, but are not influenced, by Islam.[7]

The position of the modern scholarship is never quoted by the Christian missionaries “as a rule”; or else who will buy the ‘good’ news?

Related Articles On The Borrowing Theories Of The Qur’ân

 The Prophet’s Wives Teaching The Bible?

 What About Salman – The Persian?

 Well, Did Not Muhammad Copy Some Verses Of The Qur’ân From Imru’l Qais?

 What Is The Source Of The Story Of Cain & Abel In The Qur’ân: Pirke De-Rabbi Eli’ezer Or Midrash Tanhuma?

 To Moo Or Not To Moo, That Is The Question!

 Is The Qur’ân’s Story Of Solomon & Sheba From Targum Sheni?

Related Articles On The Historical Errors In The Qur’ân

 And No One Had The Name Yahyâ (= John?) Before: A Linguistic & Exegetical Enquiry Into Qur’ân 19:7

Abraham Geiger, 
Judaism And Islam
 (English Translation Of 
Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?)
, 1970, Ktav Publishing House Inc., New York, pp. VIII.
Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, 
The Original Sources Of The Qur’ân,
 1905, Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge, London, pp. 28.
 François de Blois, “
Review of Ibn Warraq’s 
The Origins Of The Koran: Classic Essays On Islam’s Holy Book

Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society
, 2000, Volume 10, Part 11, p. 88.
 Herbert Berg, “
Review of Ibn Warraq’s 
The Origins Of The Koran: Classic Essays On Islam’s Holy Book
Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental & African Studies
, 1999, Volume 62, p. 558.
 Norman A. Stillman, “
The Story Of Cain & Abel In The Qur’ân And The Muslim Commentators: Some Observations
Journal Of Semitic Studies
, 1974, Volume 19, p. 231.
 p. 239.
Brannon M Wheeler, “
The Jewish Origins Of Qur’ân 18:65-82? Reexamining Arent Jan Wensinck’s Theory
Journal Of The American Oriental Society
, 1998, Volume 118, p. 157.