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Correcting Some Common Christian Misrepresentations of Islam Pt. 1b

More on the Holy Spirit’s Identity in the Quran

In following up on my original post concerning the Holy Spirit’s identity in the Quran, I want to address the appeal by certain Muslim polemicists to the following verses to prove that the Holy Spirit is Angel Gabriel:

Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by God’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,- S. 2:97 A. Yusuf Ali

Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims. A. Yusuf Ali

These Muslims have erroneously assumed that since the Quran mentions that both the Holy Spirit and Gabriel supposedly brought down the revelation (we say supposedly since neither entity was responsible for anything to Muhammad), this therefore implies that they must be one and the same. Their logic goes something like this:

Allah used the Holy Spirit to bring down the inspiration.

Allah used Gabriel to bring down the inspiration.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is Gabriel.

The problem with this view is that this objection presupposes that the Quran teaches that only one entity brought it’s message down to Muhammad. However, for this logic to be valid the Muslim must prove that the Quran expressly states that Allah used only one being to convey the revelations to his “messenger”. Yet as anyone having read the Quran can verify, the Muslim scripture does not say that Allah used only one being or mode to send down his message to Muhammad. Rather, the Quran expressly says that Allah used more than one messenger to bring down his words.

This brings me to my next point. Q. 16:2 emphatically states that a group of angels come down with the revelations along with the Spirit at the command of Allah:

He sendeth down THE ANGELS WITH THE SPIRIT of His command unto whom He will of His bondmen, (saying): Warn mankind that there is no God save Me, so keep your duty unto Me. Pickthall

This is further confirmed by the following texts: 

And WE (angels) descend not except by the Command of your Lord (O Muhammad). To Him belongs what is before US and what is behind US, and what is between those two, and your Lord is never forgetful, S. 19:64 Hilali-Khan

I swear by the emissary winds, sent one after another (for men’s benefit), By the raging hurricanes, Which scatter clouds to their destined places, Then separate them one from another, Then I swear by the angels who bring down the revelation (fal-mulqiyati), To clear or to warn. Most surely what you are threatened with must come to pass. So when the stars are made to lose their light, And when the heaven is rent asunder, And when the mountains are carried away as dust, And when the apostles are gathered at their appointed time. To what day is the doom fixed? To the day of decision. And what will make you comprehend what the day of decision is? Woe on that day to the rejecters. Did We not destroy the former generations? Then did We follow them up with later ones. Even thus shall We deal with the guilty. Woe on that day to the rejecters. S. 77:1-19 Shakir

Since the context of the above surah speaks of the day of decision, e.g. the day in which Allah will judge everyone for what they have believed and earned, this led certain Muslim commentators and translators such as Shakir to assume that verse 5 must be referring to the angels who brought down revelations such as the Quran for the purpose of warning mankind about this dreadful day. Note, for instance, the following translations and commentaries:

And by the angels that bring the revelations to the Messengers, Hilali-Khan

by the casters of the remembrance, that is, [by] ANGELS that descend with the revelation upon the prophets and messengers, casting the revelation onto the [various] communities [of mankind], (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; bold and capital emphasis ours)

(By those who bring down the Reminder) and He swore by THOSE who bring down THE REVELATIONS, (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; bold and capital emphasis ours)

(By the Mursalat `Urfa.) “The angels.” From Masruq, Abu Ad-Duha, Mujahid in one narrations from him, As-Suddi and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, statements similar to this have been reported. It has been reported from Abu Salih that he said, “These are the Messengers.” In another narration from him (Abu Salih) he said that it means the angels. Abu Salih has also said the meaning of Al-`AsifatAn-NashiratAl-Fariqat and Al-Mulqiyat, that they all refer to the angels. Ath-Thawri narrated from Salamah bin Kuhayl, who reported from Muslim Al-Batin, who reported from Abu Al-`Ubaydayn that he asked Ibn Mas`ud about the meaning of Al-Mursalat `Urfa, and he (Ibn Mas`ud) said, “The wind.” He said the same about Al-`Asifat `Asfa and An-Nashirat Nashra, that they all refer to the wind. Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah all said the same. Ibn Jarir confidently affirmed that Al-`Asifat `Asfa means the wind just as Ibn Mas`ud and those who followed him said. However, he (Ibn Jarir) did not affirm whether An-Nashirat Nashra are the angels or the wind as has preceded. It has been reported from Abu Salih that An-Nashirat Nashra is the rain…

(The Fariqat that separate, the Mulqiyat that remind, excusing or warning.) meaning, the angels. This was said by Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, Masruq, Mujahid, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, As-Suddi and Ath-Thawri. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE OF OPINION HERE, because THEY (THE ANGELS) are the ones who descend with Allah’s command to the Messengers, separating between the truth and falsehood, guidance and misguidance, and the lawful and the forbidden. THEY bring the revelation to the Messengers, which contains exemption or absolvement for the creatures and a warning for them of Allah’s torment if they oppose His command… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“Yet other scholars say that they refer to Allah’s Prophets and Messengers. Ibn Jarir Tabari says that, in this matter, it is safer to observe silence. He says that both possibilities exist, but he prefers not to side with any particular interpretation. There is no doubt about the fact that some of the attributes are more appropriately applicable to the angels of Allah, and cannot fit the winds without unusual stretch of imagination, and others are more appropriately applicable to winds, and cannot apply to angels without a fanciful stretch of imagination. Therefore, Ibn Kathir’s approach seems to be the best. He says that in the first three verses of this Surah, Allah swears oaths by various types of winds. In verses [4] and [5], Allah swears oaths BY THE ANGELS.

“If verses [4] and [5] are applied to the winds, THEN THE IMAGINATION WILL HAVE TO BE STRETCHED FAR TO INTERPRET THEM… The word fariqat is the attribute of the angels ‘who differentiate (between right and wrong) distinctly by bringing down the Divine revelation’. The phrase fal-mulqiyat dhikran also refers to the ‘angels’. The word dhikr ‘Reminder’ refers to the Qur’an or revelation in general. The verse signifies ‘I swear by angels who [by bringing down revelation] separate between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, [and lawful and the forbidden]’. Likewise, I swear by angels who bring down revelation OR QUR’AN TO THE HOLY PROPHET. This interpretation IS PLAIN AND SIMPLE, AND DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY UNDUE STRETCH OF IMAGINATION… (to provide excuses [for the believers] or (to giving warnings to disbelievers… 77:6) This phrase is complement to verse [5]… then bring down the advice. [77:5] The ‘advice refers to the ‘revelation’ that came down upon the Prophets. Verse 6 says that it serves two purposes. In the case of the people of truth and believers, it persuades them to seek excuse from Allah for their shortcomings, and pray for forgiveness; and in the case of the people of falsehood and disbelievers, it contains a warning for them of Allah’s torment, if they oppose His command. (Maariful Qur’an, by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi’, translated by Maulana Ahmed Khalil Aziz, revised ny Maulana Muhammad Taqi ‘Usmani, Volume 8. Surah Muhammad to Surah An-Nas, pp. 675-676; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Could these texts be any clearer that it wasn’t a single heavenly agent that supposedly brought the alleged revelation to Muhammad?

In light of the foregoing, there is absolutely no warrant from the Muslim scripture to assume that only one supposed divine agent was allegedly responsible for “revealing” the Quran to Muhammad since all of the Quranic evidence clearly refutes this assertion. As such, there is no basis to argue that the Holy Spirit and Gabriel must be the same being simply because the Quran attributes the “revelation” of the Qur’an to both of them.

Finally and more importantly, here is Muhammad’s response when he was asked about the identity of the Spirit:

They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration). Say: “The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)” S. 17:85 A. Yusuf Ali

This was a perfect opportunity for Muhammad to come out and say that the Spirit is Gabriel, and yet he didn’t do so. Instead, Muhammad responds by saying that the Spirit, though subordinate to Allah, is a mysterious being whose precise identity is unknown to mankind.

Therefore, this should finally put to rest the claim that the Quran teaches that the Holy Spirit is angel Gabriel.

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