Islam teaches that God revealed eternal truth to prophets prior to Muhammad, including the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Islam also recognizes the legitimacy of the sacred scriptures written by these prophets. This does not mean, however, that Muslims believe everything found in the Hebrew Bible today. Because the original manuscripts have been lost and their message has been altered, Islam does not consider the Hebrew scriptures to be trustworthy.
The Hebrew Bible in the Quran
As "The Encyclopedia of Islam" observes, Islam teaches that God revealed divine truth through a series of prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, starting with Adam and continuing through such noted biblical figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. The prophets transmitted these revelations through sacred scriptures. The Quran refers to the revelation contained in the Hebrew Bible as the Suhuf Ibrahim (scrolls of Abraham), Suhuf Musa (scrolls of Moses), Tawrat (Torah) and Zabul (Psalms). Muslim scholars have described these scriptures as an expression of the truth written in God's unchanging "Preserved Tablet" in heaven.
The Problem of Tahrif
Unlike the Quran's perfect recitation of God's eternal truth in the heavenly Preserved Tablet, the Hebrew Bible is said to suffer from a range of imperfections. First, the revelation sent to the Israelites was transmitted in the Hebrew language, not the original Arabic, and the Quran has superseded this inherently imperfect version of God's eternal truth. A more troubling flaw from the Islamic perspective is that the Tawrat and Zabul in their current form suffer from severe tahrif, a term from the Quran that refers to such flaws as corruption, changes and forgery. Over time unbelieving editors excised offensive truth and introduced errors not found in the lost original texts.
Interpreting the Hebrew Bible
The interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Islam reflects its mixed nature as a book that contains divine revelation but is also superseded and corrupt. On the one hand, Muslim scholars have a identified a number of passages in the current Hebrew scriptures that are flawed or inconsistent with the Quran. For example, Islam teaches that God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Ishmael, not Isaac. Likewise, the story of Israel worshiping the golden calf differs from the Hebrew version in making a Samaritan goldsmith, not the prophet Aaron, responsible for creating the idol. Conversely, Islam also teaches that the Hebrew Bible contains prophecies of Muhammad, which has given rise to a long tradition of works identifying passages where the Prophet can be found.
Muhammad on Believing the Hebrew Bible
In the Hadith, collected sayings and incidents from the life of Muhammad, the Prophet himself directly addresses the question of whether Muslims should believe the Hebrew scriptures. According to an account attributed to a companion of Muhammad named Abu Hurairah, Jewish "People of the Book" used to read their scriptures to Muslims in Hebrew and explain the readings in Arabic. In response, Muhammad is reported to have said, "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.'" As noted by Rabbi Allen Maller in an essay for IslamiCity, the passage is not an outright rejection of the Hebrew Bible, but reflects the Islamic doctrine that both the Quran and the Hebrew Scriptures express eternal truth.
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- Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. A-K, Index, volume 1; Josef W.. Meri and Jere L. Bacharach, eds.
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