A Further Example of the Quran’s Incoherent Structure
There is a specific passage in the Quran which at first glance seems to be a record of the statements made by Satan to Allah; at least this is how many of the Quranic translators have understood it. Yet upon closer inspection the words may not be Satan’s, but may just as well be Allah’s words directed at Satan.
Here is the citation in question:
They invoke in HIS stead only females; they pray to none else than Satan, a rebel Whom Allah cursed, and HE said (wa qala): Surely I will take of Thy bondmen an appointed portion, And surely I will lead them astray, and surely I will arouse desires in them, and surely I will command them and they will cut the cattle’ ears, and surely I will command them and they will change Allah’s creation. Whoso chooseth Satan for a patron (alsh-shaytana waliyyan) instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest. He promiseth them and stirreth up desires in them, and Satan promiseth them only to beguile. S. 4:117-120
Calling this a rather baffling passage would be putting it mildly.
The structure of the sentence is such that one is hard pressed to tell whether the “HE said” (wa qala) refers to Allah, who has just been mentioned, and his subsequent response to Satan who led people to invoke others besides Allah, or whether Satan is meant by these words.
The author(s) of the Quran wrote this passage in such a way that one can make a case that it is actually Allah addressing Satan, telling the adversary that he will mislead his servants, stir up wicked desires in them, command them to change his creation, and that he will make promises to them much like Satan makes promises.
For instance, notice this part of the sentence once again:
Allah cursed him AND SAID (LaAAanahu Allahu WA qala), “I will take an appointed portion of your slaves.” S. 4:118
In this verse we have a conjunction which ties two verbs together. The structure of the Arabic shows that the words “AND SAID” refer to Allah since he is the one who also “cursed.” Therefore, seeing that the wa is used to connect the words which immediately precede it with what follows right afterwards it is difficult to argue that the first verb in the statement, “Allah cursed him AND said,” refers to Allah whereas the second verb refers to Satan.
Hence, it is quite awkward and difficult to maintain that there are two persons in view when the grammar clearly ascribes the action of both verbs to one and the same entity that has already been mentioned, namely Allah.
If, however, some other word(s) was/were used besides the wa qala then it would be possible to say that Satan may be speaking. For example, the author(s) could have written the passage in the following manner if s/he/they wanted to clearly express the fact that the words that immediately follow after “and said” (wa qala) were spoken by Satan instead of Allah:
“Allah cursed him since he said. . .”
LaAAanahu Allahu Iz qala
S/he/they could have also written it this way,
“Allah cursed him because he said. . .”
LaAAanahu Allahu Li annahu qala
But sadly for the Muslims, this is not what the author(s) wrote.
There is additional evidence from the context that Allah is actually speaking to Satan, and not the other way around:
“And most certainly I will lead them astray and excite in them vain desires, and bid them so that they shall slit the ears of the cattle, and most certainly I will bid them so that they shall alter Allah’s creation; and whoever takes the Shaitan for a guardian rather than Allah he indeed shall suffer a manifest loss. He gives them promises and excites vain desires in them; and the Shaitan does not promise them but to deceive.” S. 4:119-120 Hilali-Khan
Notice the words in bold carefully. Are we to actually believe that Satan is supposed to be speaking here and is actually referring to himself in the third person much like Allah does? And doesn’t v. 120 make the case that Allah is the one talking all throughout the context since it is clearly Allah who is warning the people that Satan’s promises are false? Does it make any sense to assume that it is actually Satan who is telling people that his promises are lies?
There is also the problem of Satan already knowing in advance that Allah has appointed a portion of mankind to him:
Allah has cursed him; and he said: Most certainly I will take of Thy servants an appointed portion: S. 4:118 Shakir
How did Satan know that Allah has allotted a certain number of human beings to him when Allah never told him anything about this? Does this mean that Satan is also omniscient?
For these reasons it seems that it is Allah, rather than Satan, that is speaking throughout the entire context of Q. 4:117-120.
A Muslim may wish to argue that Satan must be speaking here on the grounds that Allah doesn’t mislead or arouse sinful desires in people, or that Allah doesn’t deceive anyone.
The problem with this assertion is that, according to the Quran, Allah does in fact mislead and cause people to act wickedly:
What aileth you that ye are become two parties regarding the hypocrites, when Allah cast them back (to disbelief) because of what they earned? Seek ye to guide him whom Allah hath sent astray? He whom Allah sendeth astray, for him thou (O Muhammad) canst not find a road. S. 4:88
Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did. S. 6:108 Y. Ali
And We never sent a messenger save with the language of his folk, that he might make (the message) clear for them. Then Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will. He is the Mighty, the Wise. S. 14:4
And when We would destroy a township We send commandment to its folk who live at ease, and afterward they commit abomination therein, and so the Word (of doom) hath effect for it, and we annihilate it with complete annihilation. S. 17:16
Lo! as for those who believe not in the Hereafter, We have made their works fairseeming unto them so that they are all astray. S. 27:4
The Quran further says that Allah also deceives people:
Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for As-Salat (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little. S. 4:142 Hilali-Khan
It even asserts that Allah actually breathes wickedness into the soul of a person:
By a Soul and Him who balanced it, And BREATHED INTO IT ITS WICKEDNESS and its piety, S. 91:7-8 Rodwell
Here is how Muhammad explained the above verses according to the hadith:
Abu al-Aswad reported that ‘Imran b Husain asked him: What is your view, what the people do today in the world, and strive for, is it something decreed for them or preordained for them or will their fate in the Hereafter be determined by the fact that their Prophets brought them teaching which they did not act upon? I said: Of course, it is something which is predetermined for them and preordained for them. He (further) said: Then, would it not be an injustice (to punish them)? I felt greatly disturbed because of that, and said: Everything is created by Allah and lies in His Power. He would not be questioned as to what He does, but they would be questioned; thereupon he said to me: May Allah have mercy upon you, I did not mean to ask you but for testing your intelligence. Two men of the tribe of Muzaina came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah’s Messenger, what is your opinion that the people do in the world and strive for, is something decreed for them; something preordained for them and will their fate in the Hereafter be determined by the fact that their Prophets brought them teachings which they did not act upon, and thus they became deserving of punishment? Thereupon, he said: Of course, it happens as it is decreed by destiny and preordained for them, and this view is confirmed by this verse of the Book of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious: “Consider the soul and Him Who made it perfect, THEN BREATHED INTO ITS SIN and its piety” (xci. 8). (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6406)
The following narratives provide further substantiation that Allah is personally responsible for causing people to have evil desires and for carrying out their wicked intentions:
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:
I did not see anything so resembling minor sins as what Abu Huraira said from the Prophet, who said, “Allah has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not: The adultery of the eye is the looking (at something which is sinful to look at), and the adultery of the tongue is to utter (what it is unlawful to utter), and the innerself wishes and longs for (adultery) and the private parts turn that into reality or refrain from submitting to the temptation.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 77, Number 609)
Verily Allah has fixed the very portion of adultery which a man will indulge in, and which he OF NECESSITY MUST COMMIT (or there would be no escape from it). (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6421; see also Number 6422)
The Muslim may further reason that the citation cannot be quoting Allah since it mentions him in the third person and speaks of “Thy bondmen”, an obvious reference to the slaves of Allah.
Neither one of these points proves helpful in establishing the Muslim case since the Quran often has Allah speaking in the third person:
And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers. (And remember) when Allah said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve and am setting those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ. S. 3:54-55
And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden? S. 5:116
Moreover, the Quran implies that Satan also has servants since it refers to his hosts, his followers, his friends etc.
Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil (awliyaa alsh-shaytani). Lo! the devil’s strategy is ever weak. S. 4:76 – cf. 18:50
He said: Go forth from hence, degraded, banished. As for such of them as follow thee, surely I will fill hell with all of you. S. 7:18 – cf. 17:63; 38:85
And the hosts of Iblis, together. S. 26:95
The devil hath engrossed them and so hath caused them to forget remembrance of Allah. They are the devil’s party. Lo! is it not the devil’s party who will be the losers? S. 58:19 – cf. 35:6
What the above examples demonstrate is that there is absolutely nothing within the context of Q. 4:117-120 which rules out the fact that Allah is the one that is actually speaking at this point. (We obviously don’t believe that Muhammad’s Allah is god or that the Quran is God’s word. We are simply assuming this for argument’s sake). In fact, all of the grammatical and contextual evidence strongly supports that it is indeed Allah who is talking all throughout the passage rather than Satan.
At the very least, one must accept that Q. 4:117-120 is ambiguous since the text could refer back to either Allah or Satan. The Quran doesn’t help clarify this issue since it portrays Allah as having various characteristics in common with Satan, making it possible that it is Allah talking in this specific passage.
This leaves the Muslims in one of two predicaments:
A Muslim must believe and accept that Allah is a deceiver, a liar, who produces evil in the hearts of people and causes them to sin.
Or a Muslim must admit that the Quran is far from being eloquent and a literary masterpiece since the author(s) of the Quran failed to communicate his/her/their point clearly and eloquently. S/he/they wanted to say one thing but ended up saying something completely different since the author(s) intended to quote Satan at this point but ended up placing these words into the mouth of Allah, and in so doing s/he/they made Allah look and sound like Satan!
Unless noted otherwise all quotations taken from the M. M. Pickthall version of the Quran.
We would like to thank Mutee’a Al-Fadi for his valuable insights and suggestions which were extremely helpful in making our argument much more forceful than what it initially was.