THE TAWRAT IN ISLAMIC THINKING
The title Tawrat is given in the Quran and all Muslim works for the Book of Moses (in Hebrew Torah stands for ‘the Law’). The term tawrat is found in the Medina period. Muslim scholars accept that the Tawrat teaches the unity of God yet believe it falls short of the full revelation as it does not give an account of the stated method of prayers (Al-Fath 48:29), the fast, a detailed description of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and alms-giving, nor is there anything regarding heaven and hell. For these reasons the Tawrat is said to have been altered by the Jews.
Despite Muhammad professing that he was establishing the Tawrat of Moses it appears he did not favour it being read in his presence as the following hadith indicates. “Narrated by Byabir ibn Abdullah: Umar ibn al-Khattab brought to Allah’s Messenger a copy of the Tawrat and said: Allah’s Messenger, this is a copy of the Tawrat. He (Allah’s Messenger) kept quiet and he (Umar) began to read it. The (colour) of the face of Allah’s Messenger underwent a change, whereupon Abu Bakr said: Would that your mother mourn you, don’t you see the face of Allah’s Messenger? Umar saw the face of Allah’s Messenger and said: I seek refuge with Allah from the wrath of Allah and the wrath of His Messenger” (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith194)
The Quran and the Tawrat
The Quran indicates that the Tawrat is the name of scripture revealed after the time of Abraham (Al-Imran 3:65) and Jacob (Al-Imran 3:93). Later, Isa comes and confirms the Tawrat (Al-Imran 3:50, Al-Maidah 5:46, As-Saff 61:6) which is considered to be “a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.”
The Quran states that by obedience to the Tawrat the ‘people of the book’ will obtain the reward of Paradise (Al-Maidah 5:46) but those who fail to take up this responsibility are likened to “a donkey which carries huge tomes (but understands them not)” (Al-Jamua 62:5). The Quran claims that in the Taurat there is a binding promise of Paradise to those who “fight in His cause, and slay and are slain” (Al-Tauba 9:111). This Tawrat is also said to contain a prophecy of the coming nabi-ul-ammi (Al-Araf 7:157)
Muhammad exhorted the Jews to study the Tawrat (al-Imran 3:93) and Exodus 21:24, 25 is reproduced in the Quran in the following way: “We ordained therein for them: “Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.” (Al-Maidah 5:45) The sentence quoted in Al-Maidah 5:32 and said to come from the Tawrat “if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” is actually a quotation from the Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5.
The Quran frequently repeats its representation of a number of stories from the Pentateuch adapted for the benefit of Muhammad. Many laws from the Pentateuch are also mentioned but their source and origin are not identified. It seems that Muhammad understood the term Tawrat to cover the whole of the Jewish scriptures, probably also including the zabur.
The traditions and the Tawrat
The Tawrat is also frequently mentioned in the traditions. Here the Jews are reproached for failing to remain faithful to the teaching of the Tawrat.
“Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Apostle said, “Your stay (in this world) in comparison to the stay of the nations preceding you, is like the period between ‘Asr prayer and the sun set (in comparison to a whole day). The people of the Torah were given the Torah and they acted on it till midday and then they were unable to carry on. And they were given (a reward equal to) one Qirat each. Then the people of the Gospel were given the Gospel and they acted on it till ‘Asr Prayer and then they were unable to carry on, so they were given a reward equal to one Qirat each. Then you were given the Qur’an and you acted on it till sunset, therefore you were given (a reward equal to two Qirats each. On that, the people of the Scriptures said, ‘These people (Muslims) did less work than we but they took a bigger reward.’ Allah said (to them). ‘Have I done any oppression to you as regards your rights?’ They said, “No.” Then Allah said, ‘That is My Blessing which I grant to whomsoever I will.’ (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 624)
Moses is named as one who observed the Tawrat and the Jews prided themselves on having this great treasure (Tirmidhi tradition 12) yet, once again it is also pointed out that this possession has benefited them nothing for it contains nothing to compare with the Quran (Tirmidhi Tafsir tradition 3).
The fact that the Jews used to read the Torah in Hebrew and explain it in Arabic put Muhammad in a bit of a quandary, so he advised “Do not believe the people of the Scripture, and do not disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever has been revealed…’ (Al-Imran 3.84) (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 632)
The question of how the Jews dealt with adulterers was raised by Muhammad (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 633) and they were accused of concealing from him the passage in the Tawrat in which the punishment of stoning is prescribed. Deuteronomy 22:13 ff refers to this subject.
How did Muslims deal with the contradictions between the Quran and the Tawrat?
Quranic allusions found both in the Quran and the Traditions aroused the scholars to have a closer acquaintance with the contents of the Tawrat. This was not without its dangers because it brought out certain contradictions between the Quran and the biblical revelation.
As the Jews explained the Hebrew text in Arabic the question was asked whether it should be permitted for the scriptures of foreign religions to be translated into Arabic? Also, the view that asking members of another faith the substance of their revelation began to be deprecated, just as those from other religions should not put questions to Muslims about the contents of the Quran.
The numerous quotations from the Tawrat which are preserved in Islamic canonical and non-canonical material have led some Muslims to the untenable thesis that there was a book called Tawrat different from the Hebrew Torah, from which the quotations were taken. In reality the passages in question are either pure invention or inaccurately modelled on sayings in the Bible or Talmud.
Jews accused of altering the words of the Tawrat
The accusation that the Jews displaced phrases from their context is found in the Quran “Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their (right) places ….. with a twist of their tongues and a slander to Faith.” (An-Nisa 4:46). But the traditions go further and Bukhari states that the possessors of the scripture had altered the book of Allah with their own.
Not all Muslim apologists go so far as to assert deliberate falsification of the text as milder representatives ascribe the Jews to only distortions of meaning. However, apologists like Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) have raised objections to no less than fifty-seven passages in the Torah, attempting to point out impossibilities and contradictions in the text.
The Prophecy of Muhammad in the Tawrat
Muslims are firmly convinced that the Tawrat prophesied the coming of Muhammad. The basis of this belief is found in Al-Araf 7:157 “Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures), in the law and the Gospel.”
In early Islam, definite texts from the Pentateuch and other books of the Old Testament were highlighted to try and prove this point but were not quoted until the middle of the third century A.H. From this time on several passages from the Pentateuch such as Genesis 16:9-12, 17:20, 21:21 (where Paran is identified with Mecca) in respect of Ishmael; Deuteronomy 18:18 in respect of a prophet like Moses and Deuteronomy 33:2, the shining forth of the law from Sinai were used to try and support their case. Such texts as these played a prominent part in in early polemics and they still re-occur again and again, along with additional texts.
The Truth of the Torah
The books of the Old Testament are thirty-nine. The Jews made every effort to preserve their holy books. Muhammad took as inspired, many stories and episodes found in these scriptures and mentioned them in the Quran in a fragmentary and modified manner.
Should a Muslim pick up a copy of the Hebrew Bible he will find that the Old Testament has three major divisions: the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the Prophets and the Writings. The critic will find that in English Bibles the arranged order of the books are different. All the books included in the English Bible are precisely the same as found in the Hebrew Bible but they are arranged according the Old Testament Greek version which was used widely in the early church.
Jews have always looked on the Pentateuch, (torah lit. ’instruction’) as the basis of their instruction in all aspects of their religious, social and personal life. This does not mean that instruction did not take place at the hands of the prophets therefore, sometimes, the whole of the Old Testament has been quoted as the Torah. It provides the background to understanding much in the development of biblical truth: sacrifice, the Law, the Sabbath year etc but the key to this understanding is not in the legal details but in the basic principles set out in the Torah of man’s covenant relationship with a holy God and of the need to live in holiness. The Torah under-girds the ministry of Jesus the Messiah.