What is the Islamic Attitude Towards Previous Divine Scriptures?
In principle, all divinely revealed scriptures emanate from one and the same source namely Almighty God, as such they convey a basic message that is common to them all. Generally, they all convey the necessity of believing in God, the need for divine authority to guide human conduct, values of morality and justice, and accountability in the hereafter. This is exemplified in the Qurʾān from the following verse:
He has established for you the same religion as that which He enjoined upon Noah, and We revealed to you that which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus, namely that you should remain steadfast in religion and be not divided therein.
Considering this, the Qurʾān confirms the divine authority of all the previously revealed books belonging to the Abrahamic faiths: the Torah(Tawrāt), Psalms (Zabūr) and Gospel (Injīl), as the following verse reads:
And who believe in what has been revealed to you and what was revealed before you, and have firm faith in Hereafter.
More specifically, in a reference to the Torah, the Qurʾān confirms its authority as a source of inspiration and guidance.
We revealed the Torah in which there is guidance and light; and prophets who submitted to God’s will have judged the Jews by the standards thereof.
It is thus observed that the holy Prophet is bound by the guidance that is found in the Torah. Further confirmation of the basic harmony of the divinely revealed laws can be found in the Qurʾānic verse which in reference to the previous prophets, directs the Prophet of Islam to follow their guidance. The verse says:
Those are the ones to whom God has given guidance, so follow their guidance.
Based on this and similar proclamations in the Qurʾān, Muslim scholars unanimously agree that all the revealed religions are different manifestations of an essential unity. This is of course not to say that there are no differences between them. Since each one of the revealed religions was addressed to different nations at differentpoints of times, they each have distinctive features that set them apart from the rest. The Shariah has retained many of the previous laws, while it has in the meantime abrogated or suspended others.
Is there alteration (taḥrīf) in previous divine scriptures?
Alteration of scriptures can occur in the following forms:
1. Misinterpretation of the verses of the Scriptures.
2. Changing in the meaning of the books of God according to one’s own personal or factional interests.
3. Adding one’s own words into the divine text of the scriptures revealed by God which later have become the parts of the divine revelations.
4. Not guarding the original language of the books in which they had been revealed.
The Qurʾān mentions that alteration has occurred in previously revealed divine scriptures. For instance, the Qurʾān states:
Among those who have become Jews, there are some who alter the words from their context, and make a malicious play with their tongues and seek to revile the True Faith.
The context of this verse highlights alteration of divine scriptures that were revealed to the Jews. Firstly, it shows that the Jews tampered with the text of the scriptures. Secondly, they misinterpreted the Scripture and thereby distorted the meaning of the verses of the Book. Lastly, they were in the company of the Prophet and listened to the conversations which took place, and then misreported and misrepresented what they had heard to others.
Elsewhere, the Qurʾān also mentions that alteration has occurred in the form of jealousy (baghyan) and extremism (ghuluww). For example, the Qurʾān mentions:
The true religion with Allah is Islam. The people of the Book adopted many different ways rather than follow the True Way even after the knowledge of Truth had reached them, and this merely due to the state of jealousy (baghyan) against one another.
Building on the previous discussion of taḥrīf, this verse signifies that rather than following what was revealed by God, the people of the book (i.e., those who the previous scriptures was revealed to) went against the true message of God and instead followed their own ways out of jealousy.
Furthermore, the Qurʾān also mentions extremism (ghuluww), whereby the Christians altered the verses of their scriptures and exaggerated the status of Prophet Jesus and propounded the doctrine of the trinity. As can be deciphered in the following verse:
O people of the Book, do not commit “ghuluww” exceeding the limits in your religion, and do not attribute to Allah anything except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God and His command that He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His Messengers and do not say (God is a) trinity. Give up this assertion, it would be better for you.
A point to note is that the Qurʾān confirms that Muslims must believe in the original, untampered previous scriptures which were releveled to selected prophets, but not the current existing books which have been subject to taḥrīf.
Despite the notion of taḥrīf, one may find numerous instances where the Bible is compatible with the Qurʾān. This overlap between the Qurʾān and the Bible can be a source of dialogue and unity between both Muslims and Christians.
Are laws mentioned in previous divine scriptures applicable to Muslims?
It is important to know that Prophet Muhammad was ordered to follow the message of the previous scriptures as a source of guidance for necessary articles of faith such as belief in one God, prophethood and the afterlife.
However, there is a consensus amongst Muslims that the laws mentioned in previous scriptures are not applicable to Muslims, unless they are maintained by the Shariah that was revealed to Prophet Muhammed. This is because some of the laws mentioned in previous scriptures are abrogated by the Qurʾān, which all Muslims believe is the final revelation of God.
The Qurʾān refers to the laws of the previous revelations which have either been upheld or abrogated by Shariah and these can be seen in the following three examples.
1. We can see in the following verse that a previously ordained act, i.e., fasting, was upheld by the Shariah. The Qurʾān commands Muslims to fast (in Ramadhan) just as fasting was commanded for people of the previously revealed books.
O believers, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who came before you that you may attain taqwa [piety/God consciousness].
To give a similar example in the sunnah, which confirms the ruling of a previous religion, we may refer to the hadith that makes sacrifice by slaughtering animals lawful for Muslims. The Prophet said:
Offer sacrifice, as this is the tradition of your ancestor Ibrahim.
2. The Qurʾān or the Sunnah may refer to a ruling of the previous revelation but at the same time abrogate and suspend it, in which case the ruling is to be abandoned and discontinued. An example of this can be found in the Qurʾān where a reference is made to the prohibition of certain varieties of food to the Jews, while at the same time prohibitions are lifted from the Muslims.
And to the Jews We forbade every animal having claws and of oxen and sheep and fat except the fat which is either on their backs or their entrails, or that which sticks to the bones. Thus did We requite them for their rebellion.
The second portion of this text clearly removes the prohibitions that were imposed on the Jews.
3. The Qurʾān or the Sunnah may refer to a ruling of a previous revelation without clarifying the position as to whether it should be abandoned or upheld. Unlike the first two forms, the present situation has given rise to differences of opinion. To give an example, we read in the Qurʾān in a reference to the law of retaliation that was enacted in the Torah.
We ordained therein (Torah) for them, life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal.
Here there is no clarification as to whether the same law has to be observed by the Muslims. In yet another passage in the same chapter the Qurʾān stresses the enormity of murder in the following terms:
We ordained for the children of Israel that anyone who killed a person, unless it be for murder or mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And he who saved it, as if he saved the whole of mankind.
Once again, this verse narrates a law of a previous revelation but does not specify whether this also constitutes a part of the Islamic Shariah. Generally, we find consensus on the present situation that the foregoing is the part of the Islamic Shariah, and the mere fact that the Qurʾān refers to it is sufficient to make the law of retaliation binding on the Muslims. In this regard, the correct view is that the Shariah only abrogates rules that are disagreeable to its teachings. Overall, the Qurʾān confirms the rulings of the previous scriptures insofar as these rulings have not been abrogated or prohibited. Thus, we see an overlap of laws from previously revealed books and the Qurʾān, such that these laws become an integral part of Shariah.
 Quran 42:13
 Quran 2:4
 Quran 5:44
 Quran 6:90
 Mohammed Hashim Kamali, Principles of IslamicJurisprudence. (Islamic texts society, 2003), 307
 Quran 4:46
 Quran 3:19
 Quran 4:171
 Quran 2:183
 Mishkat, Hadith no 1476
 Quran 6:146
 Quran 5:48
 Quran 5:32
 Al-Ghazali, al-Muṣtasfā min ‘ilm al-uṣūl, (Dāral-Thaqāfa, 2018), 136.