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Taḥrīf (Arabic: تحريف‎, "distortion, alteration") is an Arabic term used by Muslims for the alterations which Islamic tradition claims Jews and Christians have made to Biblical manuscripts, specifically those that make up the Tawrat (or Torah), Zabur (or Psalms) and Injil (or Gospel).

Traditional Muslim scholars,[1] based on Qur'anic and other traditions,[2] maintain that Jews and Christians have changed the word of God. Based on the current Textual criticism scholarly consensus, the most reliable editions[citation needed] of these documents available are the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (the Hebrew Bible Tanakh, or Old Testament) and the Novum Testamentum Graecae (the New Testament, a document relating to the Injil).


The theme of tahrif was first characterised in the writings of Ibn Hazm (10th century), who rejected claims of Mosaic authorship and posited that Ezra was the author of the Torah. He also systematically organised the arguments against the authenticity of the Biblical text in the first (Tanakh) and second part (New Testament) of his book: chronological and geographical inaccuracies and contradictions; theological impossibilities (anthropomorphic expressions, stories of fornication and whoredom, and the attributing of sins to prophets), as well as lack of reliable transmission (tawatur) of the text. He explains how the falsification of the Torah could have taken place while there existed only one copy of the Torah kept by the Aaronic priesthood of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ibn Hazm's arguments had a major impacts upon Muslim literature and scholars, and the themes which he raised with regard to tahrif and other polemical ideas were modified only slightly by some later authors.[3][4][5]

Types of tahrif[edit]

Amin Ahsan Islahi writes about four types of tahrif:[6]

  1. To deliberately interpret something in a manner that is totally opposite to the intention of the author. To distort the pronunciation of a word to such an extent that the word changes completely.
  2. To add to or delete a sentence or discourse in a manner that completely distorts the original meaning. For example, according to Islam, the Jews altered the incident of the migration of the Prophet Abraham in a manner that no one could prove that Abraham had any relationship with the Kaaba.
  3. To translate a word that has two meanings in the meaning that is totally against the context. For example the Aramaic word that is equivalent to the Arabic: ابنibn was translated as "son" whereas it also meant "servant" and "slave".
  4. To raise questions about something that is absolutely clear in order to create uncertainty about it, or to change it completely.

Qur'an and the claim of the distortion of the text itself[edit]

Gary Miller (Abdul-Ahad Omar) believes that the Qur'an criticizes the handling of scripture by some Jews and Christians rather than their holy books. According to Gary Miller, Qur'an only makes the following three accusations:

  • "The Qur'an says some of the Jews and Christians pass over much of what is in their scriptures."
  • "Some of them have changed the words, and this is the one that is misused by Muslims very often giving the impression that once there was a true bible and then somebody hid that one away, then they published a false one. The Qur'an doesn't say that. What it criticizes is that people who have the proper words in front of them, but they don't deliver that up to people. They mistranslate it, or misrepresent it, or they add to the meaning of it. They put a different slant on it." (Qur'an 2:75)
  • "Some people falsely attribute to God what is really written by men."(Qur'an 6:100-102)[citation needed]


Early criticism[edit]

The first Melkite example of doctrinal answer is Anastasius of Sinai (d.c. 700).[7]

The argument of tahrif is also found in an early polemical text attributed to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III[8] with the statement that Jews and Christians share the same, widely known divine text, and that Ezra, the covenantal architect of the Second Temple, was a pious, reliable person. The same arguments appear in later Jewish writings.

Modern criticisms[edit]

Modern critics of tahrif assert that:

  1. There is little physical manuscript evidence of alteration to the Biblical texts. Also devotion of the Jewish people to the Torah and the meticulous copying of text by the Massoretes runs against Muslim charges. The oldest Dead Sea Scrolls versions c. 280 BCE – 68 CE match current usage with only minor variations.[9]
  1. Jews and Christians were hostile to each other. Little agreement could have been achieved. For example in the 1st century St Paul was regularly attacked by the Jews (Acts 23v12) and anti-Jewish attacks were a regular occurrence by 372CE.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ibn Hazm, al-Qurtubi, al-Maqrizi, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim and recently Rahmatullah Kairanawi among many others. (See Izhar ul-Haqq, Ch. 1 Sect. 4 titled (القول في التوراة والإنجيل).
  2. ^ See, for example, Ibn Hajar's explication of Bukhari's
  3. ^ The Encyclopedia of Islam, BRILL
  4. ^ Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century, chapter "An Andalusi-Muslim Literary Typology of Jewish Heresy and Sedition", pp. 56 and further, Tahrif: p. 58, ISBN 0-691-00187-1
  5. ^ Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, p. 146, ISBN 0-691-01082-X
  6. ^ Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 252
  7. ^ See also: John C. Lamoreaux, Early Eastern Christian Responses to Islam (chapter 1) in Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays
  8. ^ A. Jeffery, Ghevond's text of the correspondence between Umar II and Leo III, in Harvard Theol. Review, xxxvii [1944], 269–321
  9. ^ Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div. (April 1995). "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical Integrity". Reason & Revelation (Apologetics Press). 15[4]: 25–30. Retrieved 2008-12-03. 
  10. ^ "St Ambrose and the Jews p1". Retrieved 2008-12-03. 

External links[edit]