Does the Quran Contain Recycled Myths?

15 Outreasoned Myths

Sohail writes:

I urge you to ponder. Truly, stop to consider the episode in the Qur’an where Muhammad’s skeptics ask him questions to prove his truthfulness, only for them to receive vague and useless responses in return.

It is my belief that religious truth claims are nothing more than recycled myths. Even some contemporaries of Muhammad believed this to be true. They were unmoved by the aesthetic beauty of the Qur’an, and yet they knew classical Arabic better than anyone alive today. The Qur’an itself mentions that some contemporaries of Muhammad found the Qur’an to be nothing more than recycled myths. Muhammad’s detractors found the Qur’an to be linguistically unimpressive. That’s not to say that no passages were moving to Muhammad’s detractors; just that in totality, it did not impress.

Some contemporaries of Muhammad found the Qur’an to be evasive and vague in response to their queries. They believed the Qur’an’s stories to be the recycled fables of the ancients. Qur’an 8:31-33 chronicles these precise objections.

It’s as if repeating the charges without providing an exculpatory response (such as an actual demonstration of divine knowledge or power) somehow makes the charges go away. It doesn’t.


In this section, Sohail cobbles together a number of arguments, aiming to pack as many punches in as possible. He argues:

  1. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) never adequately answered demands for him to prove his truth, and provided merely vague responses in return. 
  2. Quranic stories are recycled myths and were thought to be so by the Prophet’s own contemporaries, as mentioned in the Quran. 
  3. The Quran provides no answer to the objections made, such as an actual demonstration of divine knowledge or power. 

This is truly an extraordinary sequence of missteps. Let’s go through them one by one. 

Firstly, this relates to a video made by the Masked Arab. He is an individual whom we will – one day (if we can get through all these objections eventually) – address. In this video, he argues that Surah Al-Kahf, revealed in response to Jews demanding a sign of the Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) truth, is totally inadequate. He argues that here were Jews, demanding a sign of God’s support for the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and instead, all they got was a wishy-washy chapter that could be-might be-maybe contained some accurate statements about historical events. He argues that the verses of Surah Al-Kahf are entirely vague and non-descript, and contain nothing resembling divine insight, let alone a demonstration of divine power. 

These claims on behalf of the Masked Arab only reveal his lack of understanding of Islamic hadith literature; his lack of understanding of the Quranic verses and finally, his total lack of understanding of human – particularly Jewish and Christian – history. 

Firstly, the claim that Surah Al-Kahf was revealed in response to a Jewish demand for the truth of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) is false. This is narrated by one hadith, but that does not make it authentic. The notion that the Quranic verses were revealed because of contemporary needs is false, and is a lie debunked by the Quranic text itself, which in its opening verses, declares itself a guidance for all times to come, and an eternal book of enlightenment. While some chapters pointedly refer to contemporaneous events, these are always as lessons for the wider community on important issues. To imagine that whole chapters are revealed in response to the absurd demands of one or two individuals is wrong, when the Quran itself decries the notion of providing revelation or miracles on demand: 

And those who have no knowledge say, ‘Why does not Allah speak to us, or a Sign come to us?’ Likewise said those before them similar to their saying. Their hearts are alike. We have certainly made the Signs plain for a people who firmly believe.

Quran 2:119

And they say, ‘Why are not Signs sent down to him from his Lord?’ Say, ‘The Signs are with Allah, and certainly I am a clear Warner.’

Quran 29:51

And they swear their strongest oaths by Allah that if there came to them a Sign, they would surely believe therein. Say, ‘Surely, Signs are with Allah. But what should make you understand that when the Signs come, they will not believe?’

Quran 6:110

The People of the Book ask thee to cause a Book to descend on them from heaven. They asked Moses a greater thing than this: they said, ‘Show us Allah openly.’ Then a destructive punishment overtook them because of their transgression. Then they took the calf for worship after clear Signs had come to them, but We pardoned even that. And We gave Moses manifest authority.

Quran 4:154

Man is made of haste. I will certainly show you My Signs but ask Me not to hasten. And they say, ‘When will this promise be fulfilled, if you are truthful?’ If only the disbelievers knew the time when they will not be able to keep off the fire from their faces nor from their backs, and they will not be helped!

Quran 21:38-40

In the above verses, the term “Sign” or ayah also means a “verse” of the Quran. It is translated as such in many alternative translations. These verses therefore provide a powerful refutation of the notion that any verse of the Quran was revealed simply because non-Muslims demanded it. The idea then that one of the largest chapters of the Quran was revealed because a few Jews demanded it, is totally false from a theological standpoint. That a particular hadith claims as such is an irrelevancy against the weight of the above verses. Hadith set against clear statements of the Quran, hold no validity, unless they can be reconciled to the Quranic statement.

Secondly, the notion that Surah Al-Kahf does not provide evidence of Divine knowledge is false. Such an argument only betrays a lack of knowledge of religious history. 

Surah Al-Kahf is a chapter that discusses in detail a number of matters, relating to the early Christians. It uses a brilliant argument to highlight to Christians the falsity of the doctrine of Jesus’ godhood by highlighting an early split in the Church between those who professed the unity of God and regarded Jesus as only God’s messenger, which is the Quranic position, and those who claimed Jesus was God’s begotten son. It uses Christian history itself to debunk this position, by invoking the memory of those Christians who were driven into caves and persecuted, and yet adhered to their belief in God’s unity.

It is well known that early Christians were persecuted by the Romans for their refusal to partake of pagan celebrations and to worship the emperor, which was required as a feature of Roman religious syncretism. The Quran uses this fact to point out that early Christians were strict believers in Tauhid – the Unity of God. It recalls their sacrifices and, addressing modern-day Christians, asks the rhetorical question – were they wrong to hold fast to God’s unity, and thus suffer the greatest indignities for it? It is a masterful stroke of reasoning, that requires the modern Christian to declare as useless the sacrifices of their forebears and those they honour to the greatest extent, such that – as Surah Al-Kahf points out – they have made saints of those individuals, and worship them

What is particularly extraordinary about the beginning of Surah Al-Kahf (we haven’t even got to the middle or end of it) is that it describes, in detail, the existence of the catacombs in which early Unitarian Christians fled to, and sought refuge in, on and off, for just over 300 years, from persecution by pagan Romans, from the first Bar Kokhba revolt in 70CE till 380CE, when Christianity became the state religion. Interestingly, the Quran even gives the timespan of such persecution to the very year:

And they stayed in their Cave three hundred years, and added nine more.

Quran 18:26

Indeed, the Quran even goes so far as to describe the orientation of the caves in relation to geographical axes. Wonder upon wonder is further heaped upon the reader, when it dawns that these revelations originate from the 7th century in Arabia, where knowledge of the catacombs was nowhere to be found. Indeed, from the 6th century onwards until the 16th century, knowledge of the catacombs was all but lost. So who revealed it to the Prophet of Islam if not God? Perhaps the Masked Arab and Sohail imagine that the Prophet of Islam was an expert in first millennia Roman archaeology, as well as being familiar with astrophysics, plate-tectonics and undersea mountain formation

The Masked Arab – and Sohail by extension – are in such a sad and pitiable condition, that they brazenly advertise their ignorance by claiming that this chapter contains nothing of divine knowledge, despite such brilliant prophetic statements. 

Thirdly, let’s analyse Sohail (and the Masked Arab’s) reasoning that the Quran does not provide any example of divine power in response to demands by contemporaries. When Muslims make claims of religious miracles reported to have been seen at the hand of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) they laugh and declare them to be myths. When the splitting of the moon incident is mentioned, they laugh and guffaw. Yet at other times, they demand the reporting of a miracle to demonstrate the truth of Islam, finding verses of the Quran to be inadequate. This betrays their duplicity and double-standards. Either they must accept claims regarding miracles to be true, or they should satisfy themselves with the verses of the Quran and the miracles contained therein.

Fourthly, the existence of individuals who do not find the Quranic language aesthetically beautiful is not an argument against its aesthetic beauty, in the same way that the existence of people who find arguments for the Earth being a sphere unconvincing, does not make the Earth flat, nor does it mean that the argument for it not being flat are unconvincing! Additionally, the Quran does not leave their objections without a response, as Sohail falsely claims. The Quran makes a reply to them in the verses following the one that Sohail quotes: 

But Allah would not punish them while thou wast among them, and Allah would not punish them while they sought forgiveness. And what excuse have they now that Allah should not punish them, when they hinder men from the Sacred Mosque, and they are not its true guardians? Its true guardians are only those who are righteous, but most of them know not. And their prayer at the House is nothing but whistling and clapping of hands. ‘Taste then the punishment because you disbelieved.’

Quran 8:35-36

This chapter was revealed after the Prophet’s migration from Medina but before his conquest of Mecca. The claim that the Quran is nothing but a human creation is rejoindered by a prophecy that in response to their behaviour, God will punish the Quraish by taking away the Sacred Mosque at Mecca from their control and giving it to the Muslims. While the Prophet was among them or while they sought God’s forgiveness, He would not punish them, but since they expelled the Prophet and advanced in their brazen arrogance, God will now do so for there is no reason not to, states the Quran. 

The implied argument in this is that if this prophecy is from God, then it will be fulfilled and if it is from man, then its fulfilment cannot be relied upon, especially since the Meccans were vastly greater in number and strength, and had the might of all of Arabia behind them. God is demonstrating that the word of man and the word of God are two separate things; a direct refutation of the claim of the idolaters that the Quran is nothing more than the word of man that they could reproduce if they so wished. In the verses that follow are a proof therefore of God’s power – that He would displace the Quraish from their seated authority, and would install His chosen one. 

Is Sohail aware of what followed on from this verse? Was the prophecy not fulfilled to the letter? Was the Quran not vindicated as the word of God? Did the detractors who made such claims that they themselves could produce the like of the Quran if they wished, not themselves become Muslims? Did Abu Sufyan not eat his words? Did the children of Abu Jahl, Waleed and other opponents not all abandon their fathers and attach themselves to the victor of Mecca? 

We know the answer. We know you know the answer, too.