When we gain knowledge from the Quran does it cause us to become more united with the believers or divided?
The expression مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ (millata ib’rāhīma), which means the “religion of Abraham”, occurs eight times in its various forms in the Quran: 2:130, 2:135, 3:95, 6:161, 16:123, 4:125, 12:38, and 22:78)
[2:135] They said, “You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided.” Say, “We follow the religion of Abraham—monotheism—he never was an idol worshiper.”
وَقَالُوا كُونُوا هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ تَهْتَدُوا قُلْ بَلْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
[16:123] Then we inspired you (Muhammad) to follow the religion of Abraham, the monotheist; he never was an idol worshiper.
ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
The Arabic word millat comes from the root م ل ل (mim-lam-lam). This root has the following meanings: to dictate; to embrace a religion; faith; religion; creed.
Does this expression also occur in the Bible?
In order to find out we need to determine what is the Old Testament Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic word millat مِلَّةَ. As both Arabic and Hebrew are semitic languages, they share a lot of similarities, including many relationships between words and roots. Therefore, we can check to see if there exists a Hebrew equivalent root, and it just happens that it does.
The equivalent root to the Quranic Arabic word millat مِلَّةَ in Old Testament Hebrew is מלל (mēm-lamed-lamed). When used as a verb this root in the Hebrew Old Testament has four distinct meanings in the form of מלל (malal). The definition for all four verbs have to do with: separating or severing something from what it’s normally connected to.
One of these four definitions specifically means to circumcise and is a by-form of the verb מול (mul). We see this form used in the following verse of Genesis 17:11.
If we look at all the other occurrences of the word מול (mul) in the Bible, we see this word occurs thirty-six times. There are two verses in the entire Bible where this word is preceded after the name Abraham. These two verses are Genesis 17:26 and Genesis 21:4. Below are both verses showing the the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ (millata ib’rāhīma / the religion of Abraham), which in Old Testament Hebrew occurs as the “circumcision of Abraham”.
This discovery corresponds with the following verse from the Quran where God put Abraham to the test with certain commands that he fulfilled.
[Quran 2:124] Recall that Abraham was put to the test by his Lord, through certain commands, and he fulfilled them. (God) said, “I am appointing you an imam for the people.” He said, “And also my descendants?” He said, “My covenant does not include the transgressors.”
The Jews call this covenant Brit Milah which translates to the “Covenant of Circumcision”.
We read in the Quran in the following passages that at some point in the history of the Children of Israel Mount Sinai was raised above them and the following commandments were given to them.
[Quran 7:171] We raised the mountain above them like an umbrella, and they thought it was going to fall on them: “You shall uphold what we have given you, strongly, and remember the contents thereof, that you may be saved.”
[Quran 2:63] We made a covenant with you, as we raised Mount Sinai above you: “You shall uphold what we have given you strongly, and remember its contents, that you may be saved.”
[Quran 2:93] We made a covenant with you, as we raised Mount Sinai above you, saying, “You shall uphold the commandments we have given you, strongly, and listen.” They said, “We hear, but we disobey.” Their hearts became filled with adoration for the calf, due to their disbelief. Say, “Miserable indeed is what your faith dictates upon you, if you do have any faith.”
[Quran 4:154] And we raised Mount Sinai above them, as we took their covenant. And we said to them, “Enter the gate humbly.” And we said to them, “Do not desecrate the Sabbath.” Indeed, we took from them a solemn covenant.
But where can we find this event in the Bible? In Exodus 19:17 we read about a similar event that contextually appears to match the account in the Quran, but according to most translations it seems to indicate that this event took place at the foot of the mountain as opposed to the mountain being lifted above the Children of Israel.
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot (בְּתַחְתִּ֥ית / bə·ṯaḥ·tîṯ) of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.Exodus 19
We also see that Deuteronomy 4:11, appears to be describing the same event.
1 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.Deuteronomy 4
5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot (תַּ֣חַת / ta·ḥaṯ) of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
The Hebrew word that is translated as “at the foot” (of the mountain) in Exodus 19:7 comes from the Hebrew word תַּחְתִּי (tachti). This word has nineteen occurrences in the Bible and also means beneath, as well as lower or lowest.
We see this word used in the context of beneath three times in Chapter 31 of Ezekiel.
14 so that all the trees by the waters may not be exalted in their stature, nor set their top among the clouds, nor their well-watered mighty ones stand erect in their height. For they have all been given over to death, to the earth beneath (תַּחְתִּ֗ית / taḥ-tîṯ), among the sons of men, with those who go down to the pit.”Ezekiel 31
15 ‘Thus says the Lord God, “On the day when it went down to Sheol I caused lamentations; I closed the deep over it and held back its rivers. And its many waters were stopped up, and I made Lebanon mourn for it, and all the trees of the field wilted away on account of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall when I made it go down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit; and all the well-watered trees of Eden, the choicest and best of Lebanon, were comforted in the earth beneath (תַּחְתִּית֙ / taḥ-tîṯ). 17 They also went down with it to Sheol to those who were slain by the sword; and those who were its strength lived under its shade among the nations.
18 “To which among the trees of Eden are you thus equal in glory and greatness? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth beneath (תַּחְתִּ֗ית / taḥ-tîṯ); you will lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those who were slain by the sword. So is Pharaoh and all his hordes!”’ declares the Lord God.”
Additionally, Deuteronomy 4:11 provides additional support that the mountain was lifted over the heads of the Children of Israel as depicted in the Quran. When we look at the Hebrew word “at the foot” (of the mountain) in Deuteronomy 4:11 we see that the word that is used is תַּחַת / tachath. This word means: underneath, below, or instead of. This word occurs 504 times in the Bible, and is used to mean underneath or below (see: Genesis 1:7, 6:17, 7:19, 18:4, 18:8, 24:9, 35:4, 35:8…) as well as at the foot of.
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ
The root fo the word بِبَكَّةَ used in 3:96 of the Quran is ب ك ك which has the following meanings:
crowding together of people; lacking water; and breaking of the neck.
These meanings are all associated with Mecca as this is where (1) people crowd together for Hajj, (2) aside from occasional rains that cause floods it is a desert and lacks water (3) anyone who attempts to lay siege on the Kaaba is not successful and thus breaks their neck e.g. The People of The Elephant.
Some have the false understanding the the word بِبَكَّةَ comes from the same word as “to weep”. This misunderstanding appears to have originated from the Greek translation of Hebrew of Psalms 84, where the early Greek translators translated the Hebrew word Bakka בכא (ba-k-a) which is a name to the similar-sounding word בכה (be-k-ha) which means “crying or weeping” and translated the mention of “valley of Bakka” in Psaml 84:6 as: ἐν τῇ κοιλάδι τοῦ κλαυθμῶνος “valley of mourning or weeping”. This is an inaccuate translaiton as בכא (ba-k-a) & בכה (be-k-ha) are two completely different words despite sounding similar.
Similarly, in Arabic the word for weeping is بَكَى (ba-ka-ya) which is pronounced as baka, but again is a completely different word than بَكَّةَ (bakka) which is the name Bakka, the ancient name of Mecca.
To put this in perspective for English speakers, this would be equivalent to translating the word “blew” as the color “blue”. Despite sounding the same these words are fundamentally different.
If you are interested to know why God might have used two names for the same location then check out the following article
The name بِبَكَّةَ (Bakka or Becca) used in 3:96 is the ancient name for Mecca.
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ
We can confirm that by looking at the following verse which indicates that this is the location of Abraham’s shrine.
[3:97] In it are clear signs: the station of Abraham. Anyone who enters it shall be granted safe passage. The people owe it to God that they shall observe Hajj to this shrine, when they can afford it. As for those who disbelieve, God does not need anyone.
Additionally 48:24-25, further confirms that Bakka is the same location as Mecca, as this is where the prophet set out for in order to reach the Sacred Masjid to perform his Hajj pilgrimage.
[48:24] He is the One who withheld their hands of aggression against you, and withheld your hands of aggression against them in the valley of Mecca, after He had granted you victory over them. GOD is Seer of everything you do. [48:25] It is they who disbelieved and barred you from the Sacred Masjid, and even prevented your offerings from reaching their destination. There were believing men and women (within the enemy camp) whom you did not know, and you were about to hurt them, unknowingly. GOD thus admits into His mercy whomever He wills. If they persist, He will requite those among them who disbelieve with a painful retribution.
If there is still any doubt, the following verse solidifies that both Becca and Mecca we are to perform Hajj to the Sacred Masjid, and if there were actually to locations then it would create a contradictory understanding of the verses of the Quran.
[2:196] You shall observe the complete rites of Hajj and ‘Umrah for GOD. If you are prevented, you shall send an offering, and do not resume cutting your hair until your offering has reached its destination. If you are ill, or suffering a head injury (and you must cut your hair), you shall expiate by fasting, or giving to charity, or some other form of worship. During the normal Hajj, if you break the state of Ihraam (sanctity) between ‘Umrah and Hajj, you shall expiate by offering an animal sacrifice. If you cannot afford it, you shall fast three days during Hajj and seven when you return home—this completes ten—provided you do not live at the Sacred Mosque (Masjid). You shall observe GOD, and know that GOD is strict in enforcing retribution.
The Quran utilizing two names for the same location is not unique to Mecca and Becca. We see the Quran does the same thing for several other locations as well:
- Medina (9:120) & Yathrib (33:13)
- Thamud (11:67) & Al-Hijr (15:80)
- Ad (41:15) & Erum (89:7) or Dunes (46:21)
God also does this for names of people as well:
- Jacob (2:133) & Israel (2:40)
- Iblees (7:11) & Satan (2:34)
- Jonah (10:98) & Zan-Noon (The one with the N in his name) 21:87
One reason the Quran might have utilized two names for Mecca may be because some scholars attempted to irradiate any mention of Mecca, Hajj, or any religious practices they associated with Arab Muslims from the Bible, except they failed to realize that Mecca and Becca were the same location and left its mention intact in Psalm 84 in discussion about Hajj pilgrimage.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a spring;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
*Note: despite being a desert the valley of Mecca does occasionally flood when the rain season comes.
**Also, some translations of Pslam 84:6 twist the translation to indicate that the Valley of Baka is a place of springs (plural), but if we look at the Hebrew the word for spring is singular, and this corresponds with the Zamzam spring in Mecca. Below is a word for word breakdown of the Hebrew:
According to God, the only source of religious law we are to follow is stated in the Quran.
[6:114] Shall I seek other than GOD as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book fully detailed? Those who received the scripture recognize that it has been revealed from your Lord, truthfully. You shall not harbor any doubt. [6:115] The word of your Lord is complete, in truth and justice. Nothing shall abrogate His words. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.
Regarding prohibitions in the Quran, a simple rule is that anything that is not prohibited in the Quran is by default permissible.
[6:150] Say, “Bring your witnesses who would testify that GOD has prohibited this or that.” If they testify, do not testify with them. Nor shall you follow the opinions of those who reject our revelations, and those who disbelieve in the Hereafter, and those who stray away from their Lord.
Some people abuse this principle to insinuate that many of the sins that are not specifically mentioned in the Quran are therefore permissible since they are not mentioned by name in the Quran. This argument is void, because God doesn’t need to mention every kind of sin by name in order to encompass them, but rather by condemning the general category it will constitute all derivatives of that sin.
For instance, according to 5:90, God informs us that intoxicants, gambling, and the altars of idols are abominations of the devil, and that we should avoid these things.
[5:90] O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed.
Notice that by making such a statement it prohibits all forms of intoxicants, gambling and altars of idols. This does not mean that only certain kinds of intoxicants, gambling, or altars of idols are prohibited, but rather anything that can fall into one of these categories would be prohibited. By doing this, God didn’t need to specify all the multitude of things that would constitute one of these categories, and thus simplifying the religion for us.
In the following two verses, God informs us that His words are infinite, yet out of His mercy he reduced what is necessary for our salvation to these 114 Suras of the Quran.
[31:27] If all the trees on earth were made into pens, and the ocean supplied the ink, augmented by seven more oceans, the words of GOD would not run out. GOD is Almighty, Most Wise.
[18:109] Say, “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, the ocean would run out, before the words of my Lord run out, even if we double the ink supply.”
So when it comes to tattoos there is no verse where the act is specifically prohibited, but I can think of two arguments that people can make attempting to prohibit the action.
Argument #1 – Best Design
In the following verse God informs us that He created the human being in the best design.
[95:4] We created man in the best design.
Some can argue that because of this verse, tattoos would be going against the intended design of man when one modifies their skin to something unnatural. If someone was to have such a hard stance based on this verse, then they would also have to prohibit many other things e.g. piercings, makeup, haircuts, or eyebrow grooming. Because of this I do not see this verse apply to tattoos.
Argument #2 – Distortion
The second argument is based on a claim that Satan made when getting kicked out of the High Society when he stated:
[4:119] “I will mislead them, I will entice them, I will command them to (forbid the eating of certain meats by) marking the ears of livestock, and I will command them to distort the creation of GOD.” Anyone who accepts the devil as a lord, instead of GOD, has incurred a profound loss.
Some have argued that tattoos fall under the distorting of the creation of God. I personally have trouble with this as again this can lead to a slippery slope of prohibitions. If one was to prohibit tattoos because they believe is distorts God’s creation, then they would also have to prohibit hair coloring, plastic surgery, botox, piercings, etc. as well.
Personally I do not see tattoos as prohibited and do not find either of these arguments convincing. That said, it is worth differentiating between something being prohibited and someone having a preference.
When we say something is prohibited we are insinuating that God commanded us not to conduct such acts and if one does they will be committing a sin. A preference on the other hand, does not mean one is committing a sin by choosing not to do an act. For instance, someone can choose not to eat fish, not because they think it is prohibited but because they don’t like the taste. That is fine, but if they are saying that if someone eats fish they will be committing a sin then they would be attributing lies to God.
There are many things we can choose not to do because of personal preferences, but once we say that the action is prohibited then we are saying that God commanded us not to partake in that act and if we do we will be earning sins against our souls.
[29:68] Who is more evil than one who fabricates lies and attributes them to GOD, or rejects the truth when it comes to him? Is Hell not a just retribution for the disbelievers?