Objection: “There are many passages in the Qur’an which seem to be very close to the Bible…”

Opponents of Islam say that there are many passages in the Qur’an which seem to be very close to the Bible both in overall content and in specifics, so how can we Muslims preclude the possibility of copying from the Bible to the Qur’an?

Answered by Sharif Randhawa (Researcher at Bayyinah Institute, owner of Qur’anic Musings blog), with slight modifications and an additional note

First of all, arguably the majority of the Qur’an’s parallels are not directly with the Hebrew Tanakh or Greek New Testament, but with Syriac Christian and Aramaic and Rabbinic Jewish traditions—though parallels with Ethiopic Christian, Gnostic, Jewish-Christian, and other texts are also found.  In any case, Western (non-Muslim) Qur’an scholars have come to a consensus in recent decades that it is not precise or accurate to claim that the Qur’an “copies” these traditions in the sense of plagiarizing them.  It is most likely that whatever of these traditions were known in Arabia were circulated primarily orally.  The audience to whom the Qur’an was revealed was to different degrees (thoroughly, in the case of Jews and Christians, and demonstrably to some extent by the pagan Arabs) acquainted with the phraseology, imagery, motifs, and narratives of Near Eastern Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly as expressed in the Aramaic, Syriac, and to some extent Hebrew and Ethiopic traditions.  It is therefore only to be expected that the Qur’an would speak to them through that widely shared religious language, even if we sidetrack the discussion on whether it is a divine revelation.

However, this does not mean that the Qur’an lacks originality.  It is very selective and creative in the way that it employs the various elements of that religious vocabulary and narrative, often transforming them and giving them new meanings that are consistent with its theological worldview.  This is consonant with the Qur’an’s claim to confirm what is correct in the theology of the sacred literature of the Jewish and Christians, and clarify what is not correct.

[Note: The claim of the Qur’an is not that it is bringing forth wholly new information totally unrelated to the context and time in which the Prophet (ﷺ) lived. Besides, this would have had no real impact on the hearts and minds of those who listened to the message of the Qur’an, since the objective of the Qur’an is to move people to worship Allah correctly, not merely to produce a book simply for the sake of producing it, or to show that words can be put together in certain arrangements, or other trivial motives.

And the truth is that, if one wishes to bring up the charge of ‘plagiarizing’ blindly, then this is not restricted to historical narratives related to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As an example, if we consider the core concept of the Oneness of Allah, we notice that the Arabs of the time knew about the Oneness of Allah (in a form which we Muslims consider as distorted). Yet it would be ludicrous to say that Muhammad (ﷺ) simply copied/plagiarized this idea and “added a few bits and pieces here and there”. More examples of this could be brought up, but it is obvious that the committed objector will find “plagiarized parallels” which suit his mind if he wishes to do so.

However, as pointed out above, the proper road to be taken is for the seeker to carefully analyze the Qur’an and consider not only the new concepts and stories that were introduced, but also how those concepts and stories which people may have been familiar with in one way or the other were given revolutionary transformations in both their literary and theological presentation.]