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Taḥrīf (Arabic: تحريف "change, corruption") is an Arabic term used by Muslims with regard to what Islamic tradition supposes Jews and Christians to have done to their scriptures. Traditional Muslim scholars,[1] based on Qur'anic and other traditions,[2] maintain that Jews and Christians have changed the word of God.

Types of Tahrif

Amin Ahsan Islahi writes about four types of Tahrif:[3]

  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. For example, the word ‘مروه’ was changed to ‘موره’ or ‘موريا’.
  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 Ka‘bah.
  3. To translate a word that has two meanings in the meaning that is totally against the context. For example, the Hebrew word that is equivalent to the Arabic ‘ابن’ 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.

Origin of tahrif

Tahrif in the first centuries of Islam

According to Camilla Adang, early scholars known to support the lack of change of the Tawrat and Injil are Ibn al-Layth, Ibn Rabban, Ibn Qutayba, Al-Ya'qubi, Al-Tabari, Al-Baqillani, Al-Ma'sudi.[4]

Ibn Hazm

The theme of tahrif found its first detailed elaboration in the writings of Ibn Hazm (10th century), who argued agains Mosaic authorship and accused Ezra of writing the Torah. He also arranged systematically and in scholarly detail 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 impact on later Muslim polemics was great, and the themes which he raised with regard to tahrif and other polemical ideas were updated only slightly by some later authors.[5][6][7]

Criticism of Tahrif

Qur'an and the claim of the corruption of the text itself

Gary Miller 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 [1]:

  • "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."
  • "Some people falsely attribute to God what is really written by men."

Early refutation

Among the earliest Christian documents on Islam in retrospect are the letter Maximus the Confessor wrote between the year 634 and 640 to Peter the Illustrious and the three writings of Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 639) ranging from 634 till 637. Absent from these writings is any sense that the Arabs were spurred by a new religion.
The Melkites, those who had lost their empire, ascribed the success of the Muslims to Christian sins. The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, written between 685 and 692 (Syriac version), state among other things that the Muslims were given to rule over the Christians for their punishment and purification.
The first Melkite example of doctrinal refutation is Anastasius of Sinai (d.c. 700).[8]

The argument of tahrif is also refuted in an early polemical text attributed to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III[9] 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 Christian refutation

Modern Christian rejection of tahrif is based on seven broad arguments:

  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 c280BCE - 68CE match current usage with only minor variations.[10]
  2. There is no satisfactory answer to why Jews and Christians would change their text.
  3. Sura 29:46 implies that at the time of the Quranic revelation the Bible was valid. It would have been impossible in the late 700s for Jews and Christians to have changed the text; they were spread all over the world.
  4. Also, at the time of corruption, there would be too many copies in circulation to change—not to mention the diversity of language.
  5. Jews and Christians were hostile to each other. Little agreement could have been achieved. For example, in the first century St Paul was regularly attacked by the Jews (Acts 23v12) and anti-Jewish attacks were a regular occurrence by 372CE.[11]
  6. Differing new sects would have disagreed with mainline groups over changes. Thus no uniform set of alterations could be made as the Muslim claims.
  7. Former Jews and Christians who became Muslims never mentioned any possibility of deliberate corruption—something we could definitely expect if it were true.[12]

Some modern Christian apologists have used these refutations of tahrif as a weakness of Islam.[13]


  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. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 252
  4. Camilla Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism & the Hebrew Bible from Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm, ISBN 90-04-10034-2.
  5. The Encyclopeadia of Islam, BRILL
  6. 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
  7. Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, p. 146, ISBN 0-691-01082-X
  8. See also: John C. Lamoreaux, Early Eastern Christian Responses to Islam (chapter 1) in Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays
  9. A. Jeffery, Ghevond's text of the correspondence between Umar II and Leo III, in Harvard Theol. Review, xxxvii [1944], 269–321
  10. 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. 
  11. "St Ambrose and the Jews p1". Retrieved 2008-12-03. 
  12. Josh McDowell; John Gilchrist (in en) (Paperback). The Islam Debate. Here's Life Pub. p. 199 pages. ISBN 978-0866051040. Retrieved 2008-11-21.  Pages 52 - 53
  13. "The Last Harvest - The Issue of Bible Corruption". Retrieved 2008-11-21. 

External links

See also

  • Injil
  • Tawrat
  • The Satanic Verses