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And indeed, there is among them a party who alter the Scripture with their tongues so you may think it is from the Scripture, but it is not from the Scripture. And they say, "This is from Allah," but it is not from Allah. And they speak untruth about Allah while they know. (Ali 'Imran [3] : 78)

What does it mean to distort with "tongues"? You can only distort what is true. Does this verse mean that the Torah is true? And why does the distortion come only with tongues, and not with hands? And scientists say that the Torah was distorted even before our era. What does it mean?

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The Torah and Injil refer to the revelation revealed to Musa and Isa (AS) respectively and they are obviously true.

Depending on the interpretation someone adopts about the reliability of the current Torah and Gospel, one can have different understandings of what this phrase "distort the scripture with their tongues."

I think the undeniable interpretation one really needs to accept today is that the Torah and Gospel are not reliably preserved for us and there is much falsehood in the Bible as it is today.

However, it needs to be understood that all interpretations would agree that a lot of the Torah is correct and there is much true information in it. They might also agree (to different extents) that Muhammad (SAW) is prophecied in the Torah.

So, when Allah says "distort the scripture with their tongues," that may refer to two things:

  1. The original and historical corruption of their scripture in oral transmission or writing, and the mention of "tongues" here is to emphasize that they did it from their own opinion.

  2. The current verbal distortion of the scripture to hide inconvenient passages that might support Muhammad (SAW) and his prophethood. People have mentioned this could include misinterpretation, changing diacritics, changing letters, etc.

You can only distort what is true

Yes. In the first interpretation, the truth they distorted is the original Torah itself. In the second interpretation, the truth they distort is the true passages in the current Torah that are inconvenient to them.

And Allah knows best.

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The Quran confirms the Torah and the Gospel

It is evident from the Quran and reliable Hadith that Islam is the Religion of God in the succession to Christ, the Jewish Prophets, together with the some remains in the Arabic traditions going back to Abraham and Noach. The Quran never mentions any criticism on the sources and says to confirm the Torah and the Gospel:

From the Holy Quran we read

(2:87)

We gave Moses the Scripture, and sent a succession of messengers after him. And We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear proofs, and We supported him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever a messenger comes to you with anything your souls do not desire, you grew arrogant, calling some impostors, and killing others?

(4:163-166)

We have inspired you, as We had inspired Noah and the prophets after him. And We inspired Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Patriarchs, and Jesus, and Job, and Jonah, and Aaron, and Solomon. And We gave David the Psalms. Some messengers We have already told you about, while some messengers We have not told you about. And God spoke to Moses directly. Messengers delivering good news, and bringing warnings; so that people may have no excuse before God after the coming of the messengers. God is Powerful and Wise. But God bears witness to what He revealed to you. He revealed it with His knowledge. And the angels bear witness. Though God is a sufficient witness.

(57:25-29)

We sent Our messengers with the clear proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that humanity may uphold justice. And We sent down iron, in which is violent force, and benefits for humanity. That God may know who supports Him and His messengers invisibly. God is Strong and Powerful. We sent Noah and Abraham, and established in their line Prophethood and the Scripture. Some of them are guided, but many of them are sinners. Then We sent in their wake Our messengers, and followed up with Jesus son of Mary, and We gave him the Gospel, and instilled in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But as for the monasticism which they invented—We did not ordain it for them—only to seek God’s approval. But they did not observe it with its due observance. So We gave those of them who believed their reward, but many of them are sinful. O you who believe! Fear God, and believe in His Messenger: He will give you a double portion of His mercy, and will give you a light by which you walk, and will forgive you. God is Forgiving and Merciful. That the People of the Book may know that they have no power whatsoever over God’s grace, and that all grace is in God’s hand; He gives it to whomever He wills. God is Possessor of Great Grace.

(5:44-48)

We have revealed the Torah, wherein is guidance and light. The submissive prophets ruled the Jews according to it, so did the rabbis and the scholars, as they were required to protect God’s Book, and were witnesses to it. So do not fear people, but fear Me. And do not sell My revelations for a cheap price. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the unbelievers. And We wrote for them in it: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and an equal wound for a wound; but whoever forgoes it in charity, it will serve as atonement for him. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the evildoers. In their footsteps, We sent Jesus son of Mary, fulfilling the Torah that preceded him; and We gave him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and confirming the Torah that preceded him, and guidance and counsel for the righteous. So let the people of the Gospel rule according to what God revealed in it. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the sinners. And We revealed to you the Book, with truth, confirming the Scripture that preceded it, and a guardian over it. So judge between them according to what God revealed, and do not follow their desires if they differ from the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have assigned a law and a method. Had God willed, He could have made you a single nation, but He tests you through what He has given you. So compete in righteousness. To God is your return, all of you; then He will inform you of what you had disputed.

(5:68)

Say, "O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord."

(10:94-95)

If you are in doubt about what We revealed to you, ask those who read the Scripture before you. The truth has come to you from your Lord, so do not be of those who doubt. And do not be of those who deny God’s revelations, lest you become one of the losers.

From Hadith

It is also related that Muhammad ﷺ had a positive view on the Jewish scriptures

(Al-Bukhari 60:128 / 3461, Sahih)

Narrated Abdullah bin Amr: The Prophet ﷺ said, "Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single sentence, and tell others the stories of Bani Israel, for it is not sinful to do so. And whoever tells a lie on me intentionally, will surely take his place in the (Hell) Fire."

(Abu Dawud 40:99 / 4449, graded hasan by Al-Albani)

A group of Jews came and invited the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to Quff. So he visited them in their school. They said: AbulQasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them. They placed a cushion for the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who sat on it and said: Bring the Torah. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee. He then said: Bring me one who is learned among you. Then a young man was brought. The transmitter then mentioned the rest of the tradition of stoning similar to the one transmitted by Malik from Nafi'.

(Muwatta 41:1 / 1503, graded Sahih, also in Al-Bukhari 86:47 / 6819 and 61:139 / 3635)

Malik related to me from Nafi that Abdullah ibn Umar said, "The Jews came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and mentioned to him that a man and woman from among them had committed adultery. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked them, 'What do you find in the Torah about stoning?' They said, 'We make their wrong action known and flog them.' Abdullah ibn Salam said, 'You have lied! It has stoning for it, so bring the Torah.' They spread it out and one of them placed his hand over the ayat of stoning. Then he read what was before it and what was after it. Abdullah ibn Salam told him to lift his hand. He lifted his hand and there was the ayat of stoning. They said, 'He has spoken the truth, Muhammad. The ayat of stoning is in it.' So the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, gave the order and they were stoned." Abdullah ibn Umar added, "I saw the man leaning over the woman to protect her from the stones." Malik commented, "By leaning he meant throwing himself over her so that the stones fell on him."

(Al-Bukhari 60:87 /3414-3415, Sahih)

Narrated Abu Huraira: Once while a Jew was selling something, he was offered a price that he was not pleased with. So, he said, "No, by Him Who gave Moses superiority over all human beings!" Hearing him, an Ansari man got up and slapped him on the face and said, "You say: By Him Who Gave Moses superiority over all human beings although the Prophet (Muhammad) is present amongst us!" The Jew went to the Prophet and said, "O Abu-l-Qasim! I am under the assurance and contract of security, so what right does so-and-so have to slap me?" The Prophet (ﷺ) asked the other, "Why have you slapped". He told him the whole story. The Prophet (ﷺ) became angry, till anger appeared on his face, and said, "Don't give superiority to any prophet amongst Allah's Prophets, for when the trumpet will be blown, everyone on the earth and in the heavens will become unconscious except those whom Allah will exempt. The trumpet will be blown for the second time and I will be the first to be resurrected to see Moses holding Allah's Throne. I will not know whether the unconsciousness which Moses received on the Day of Tur has been sufficient for him, or has he got up before me. And I do not say that there is anybody who is better than Yunus bin Matta."

(Muslim 43:190 / 2365c, Sahih)

Abu Huraira reported many ahadith from Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) and one is that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said: I am most close to Jesus, son of Mary, among the whole of mankind in this worldly life and the next life. They said: Allah's Messenger how is it? Thereupon he said: Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one and there is no Apostle between us.

(Al-Bukhari 60:116 / 3446)

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "If a person teaches his slave girl good manners properly, educates her properly, and then manumits and marries her, he will get a double reward. And if a man believes in Jesus and then believes in me, he will get a double reward. And if a slave fears his Lord (i.e. Allah) and obeys his masters, he too will get a double reward."

Aberration

The Quran corrects misunderstandings and aberrations among Jews and Christians, saying that this is not the meaning of the Torah and the Gospel. One important passage is the one cited in the question.

There are many other passages supporting this, as I tend to be to long in my answer, I will not cite them in length; the following verses from the Quran are the most severe:

(9:30-35)

The Jews said, “Ezra is the son of God,” and the Christians said, “The Messiah is the son of God.” These are their statements, out of their mouths. They emulate the statements of those who blasphemed before. May God assail them! How deceived they are! They have taken their rabbis and their priests as lords instead of God, as well as the Messiah son of Mary. Although they were commanded to worship none but The One God. There is no god except He. Glory be to Him; High above what they associate with Him. They want to extinguish God’s light with their mouths, but God refuses except to complete His light, even though the disbelievers dislike it. It is He who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, in order to make it prevail over all religions, even though the idolaters dislike it. O you who believe! Many of the rabbis and priests consume people's wealth illicitly, and hinder from God’s path. Those who hoard gold and silver, and do not spend them in God’s cause, inform them of a painful punishment. On the Day when they will be heated in the Fire of Hell, then their foreheads, and their sides, and their backs will be branded with them: “This is what you hoarded for yourselves; so taste what you used to hoard.”

Is the Torah altered?

It is not altered since the Time of Muhammad (ﷺ)

There is absolute evidence that the Torah and the Gospel have not been altered since the time of Muhammad (ﷺ).

  • The Gospel writings (in Greek) exist in full copies from the 4th Century CE onward. Older fragments with no or no significant deviations exist.
  • There are fragments of the Hebrew Torah estimated from the time of the first Temple () but there is no complete Hebrew copy left.
  • The Torah has been copied in tree independent branches: the Jews in Hebrewand the Samaritains in Hebrew and the Christians in the originally Jewish Greek translation and further translations. Although differences exist, it can be proven by this that the transmission is fairly stable at least since 400 BCE (with the Samaritanean version) and 200 BCE (with the Greek translation). The Deuteronomium probably dates from the the time of Josiah (drawn from the fact that it seems to the beginning of the books that end with 2Kins in this time), drawing from older sources. The time of the final redaction of the first 4 books is disputed; the oldest estimation is: in the time of Moses or shortly after, the latest is in the beginning of the second Temple under Ezra who restored the scriptures.

Traceble alterations The major differences between the Samaritainan Torah and the Masoretic (traditional Jewish) Torah can altogether be explained by the Samaritanain faith; minor differences may be explained by inaccuracies while copying. The bifurcation of the two versions took place in the time of the two empires (after Salomo and before the Babylonian captivity). Alterations that have been made befor this can be traced

Claimed alterations

There are many claims that the Torah or the gospel have been altered. They are all unproven.

  • The Torah has been altered by Esra: It is related that the prophet Esra (a.s.) has been the main authority who re-established Judaism after the Babylonean captivity. He has also lead the restauration of the scriptures. There is no evidence that he did not do it according to his best knowledge. Al-Isra 17:1-9 is sometimes interpreted in this sense but there is no indication that Esra did anything wrong. Claims from non-Islamic sources also lack evidence.

The historical development

The fission between those (former polytheists, Christians and Jews) who followed Muhammed (ﷺ) and those who mistrusted him was already a fact during his life. Hence, Muhammed (ﷺ) councelled not to trust those who had rejected him, as it is reported in Al-Bukhari 96:89/7362:

(Narrated Abu Huraira) The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said (to the Muslims). "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.' "

Those from among the Christians and the Jews who accepted Islam did not bring the scriptures with them. Editions of the Torah, the Prophets and the Gospel were available but scarce, and they were written in Aramaic (the Torah maybe in Hebrew, which was not helpful, either), so that hardly anybody among the Muslim were able to read them.

After a short while, the scriptures were considered Jewish and Christian literature, and only those who refused Islam held them. Some scholars had acess to them but the Torah and the Gospel writings were never cited directly, but at the limit on the account of an Islamic Scholar who cited tehm first.

Misunderstanding on the character of the Torah and the Gospel

The Quran is a very particular book because it only contains Prophetic Speech. It does not contain any hadith or explanations. Most Islamic scholars expect that the books of the Torah and the Gospel are the same. But they do not meet those expectations.

Whereas the Gospel accounts can easily be classified as hadith, it is more complicated with the Torah which goes back into prehistoric times. There are people who claim that it is the Word of God written down by Moses. The Deuteronomium puts God in the first person to underline this understanding. Nevertheless, there is much evidence that the Torah is a compilation: Only in a short passage it containing the direct Word of God: The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2–17) are Prophetic Speech, the direct Word of God, and they were preserved in original until the destruction of the First Temple (c. 700 years after Moses). The entire Torah also contains regulations that may go back to Moses (ﷺ), narrations from before him, narrations on him, and probably also rulings that were established after him. For anything but the ten commandments, it is difficult to estimate its authenticity and accuracy.

Discrepencies between the Torah and the Quran

There are differences between the Torah and the Quran.

Many rulings of the Quran go along with the Law according to the Torah. The fact that some rulings are different is not an indication that either is wrong: The Torah Laws were given only to the people of Israel, and until the Quran was revealed, it was unclear to the other people which of those laws are universal. It is evident that the laws given in the Quran and in the teachings of Muhammad (ﷺ) apply to all nations. Differences are explicitly mentioned, affirming that rulings were given in the Torah, but abrogated. For example, the verse

16:24

The Sabbath was decreed only for those who differed about it. Your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection regarding their differences.

confirms that the Sabbath rule has been decreed but that it is no more to be followed.

Accounts in the Quran that are not contained in the Torah are not a problem either. Neither the Torah nor the Quran claim to tell all in full length.

There is a slight difference in the order of creation which may be interpreted as an inaccuracy of the Torah. On the background of our present knowlege, we may see in both an image, a myth, told from God under the aspect "How do I explain them how Creation really was ...".

I am sorry that my answer is long. Any answer that says just yes or no lacks substance, so that I preferred todiscuss the aspects.

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