The following article and discussion have been occasioned by a paper published in the journal BRISMES (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) by Rashad Khalifa called "Computer Analysis of the Quran Text" (1988) which lists 57 mathematical patters of 19 in the Qur'an. This proves, the author claims, that "(1) the Qur'an was not written by humans," and "(2) that the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved" (ibid, p. 7). In response, AbdulraHman [his spelling; common spelling is Abdul-Rahman] Lomax prepared the following article disputing the methodology of the procedure and its results. Following the article are two email discussions elaborating on the discussion. None of these documents mentions the Bahá'í Faith.
For further reading, see the detailed article The Mysterious 19 in the Quran: A Critical Evaluation; for a sympathetic exposition of the "19 miracle," see Mathematical Miracle of the Quran.
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Qur'anin (genetive): 10:15*, 10:61, 15:1.The forms excluded by Khalifa on the basis of meaning other than *the* Qur'an are marked with asterisks. However, since some of the other occurrences could also be referring to other than our Qur'an (a few of them are ambiguous), we are no longer looking at purely objective facts. In particular, the verbs are really a different word ("Recite" instead of "Recitation"), but they are counted in the second and third of Khalifa's statistics.
Qur'anan (accusative): 12:2, 13:31*, 17:106, 20:113, 38:28, 41:3, 41:44*, 42:7, 43:3, 72:1.
Qur'anun (nominative): 36:69, 56:77, 85:21.
Qur'anahu (verb + pronoun): 75:17, 75:18.
1 3 2 4 3 6 4 6 = 19 x 19 x 36686 ^ ^ ^ ^He then asks the question, "what is the probability (chances) for the Basmalah's mathematical composition to occur by coincidence? Can we compute this probability? If we can, how? Based on our assumption of coincidental occurrence, we can treat each number in Facts 2-9 as a random number."
xxxx wrote: "Of course the historical textual issues you have raised are very legitimate and highly fascinating, but I am wondering if you have made a list of which discoveries of Khalifa's are suspect in your view and which ones still stand up to objective verification..."
I did write a long article examining one list of the "miracles," (which, by the way, did not include the kind of work Ali Fazely has done) and I found that, certainly, many of the "facts" are what I would call "interesting." But there is a fundamental problem which has not been addressed by any of the researchers promoting the "miracle":
In any collection of random numbers, one would expect to find some of the numbers to be a multiple of nineteen: this is without any ambiguity whatsoever as to how the numbers are determined, and it is not, by itself, an indication of any sort of pattern in the data. Only if a collection of numbers is chosen by a process which would be expected to be random, that is, which is not biased toward nineteen-divisibility, and substantially more than one out of nineteen numbers turn out to be divisible by nineteen, would one suspect the existence of a pattern.
Khalifa's data is not randomly chosen: it is fairly obvious that only nineteen-divisible statistics are presented, out of a much larger universe of possible statistics. To a certain degree, to non-Arabic speakers, this is not obvious, for the Arabic language, in the way it is written, is subject to a certain ambiguity in terms of exactly what letters are used or how one would define or divide words.
By choosing word definitions, for example, one may alter the count of a word until it comes out to be nineteen divisible.
So far, most Khalifa and Khalifite statistics are anecdotal: they are not part of a pattern that repeats across a universe of many examples. Sometimes the data is presented in a way that makes it appear that there are multiple examples (in fact, the whole 19 thing would make it appear this way), but what I mean by "a universe of multiple examples" is a series of statistics produced by examining all occurrences of a particular kind of pattern.
An example of this would be the counts of initial letters. The count of each initial letter within the sura that it initials would be an item of data of which there are many examples. Does this count come out a multiple of 19 more often than would be expected by chance?
The answer is no. What Khalifa has done is to combine these counts in various arbitrary ways; a consistent method of determining the total has not been used.
But, it may be objected, there are a series of suras which are initialled with alif and other letters. For each one of these suras, according to Khalifa's counts, the total occurrence of the initial letters within each sura is a multiple of nineteen. If true, this is a stunning statistic, not reasonably attributable to chance. However, it turns out that counting alif is not a simple matter, and we do not know how Khalifa did it. His published counts in Visual Presentation can be used to infer his technique, but the results are not consistent. Essentially, we have only his word that these counts are accurate. Further, if one looks at his published data over the years, as he discovered errors in the counting of lam, mim, he always changed his count of alif to compensate for these errors. This published series of inaccurate counts does not inspire confidence in the accuracy of his work.
Now, there has been a lot of work done after Khalifa's assassination, and not all of it involves the number nineteen. Milan Sulc, for example, has found many interesting phenomena with primes, prime and composite ranks, and so forth. However, it remains to be shown that these fascinating numbers are uniquely Qur'anic. Here, the problem is that it is possible to derive any number one wishes through some transformation from the Qur'anic text. Further, what is highly suspicious about Sulc's work is that it generally is based in verse counts; and what is not commonly appreciated is that the versification of the Qur'an is not a matter of consensus; there are many variations generally considered acceptable. But all the work has been done with the Egyptian system used by Khalifa; no serious attempt has been done to determine if the "miracles" apply as well to other systems of versification.
I wrote a document on the issues involved in showing a numerical miracle in the Qur'an. So far, no researcher in this field has even attempted to satisfy or, alternatively, show the inapplicability of the criteria described in that paper. I don't have it in front of me, but, as I recall, these are the criteria:
(1) The text being used must be specified. Believe it or not, there are variations in Qur'anic texts. If one may pick and choose, as Khalifa did, one may amplify the natural occurrence of nineteen-divisibility. An example of this is the count of Sad. Khalifa originally claimed perfection in this count, and pointed to 7:68 as a miracle, for if the word there had been spelled in its conventional spelling, there would have been a missing Sad. Then it was discovered elsewhere that he had missed a Sad. In Visual Presentation, he quietly changed the Sad to a Sin, the conventional spelling. He found manuscript evidence for this in the Tashkent Qur'an, which is certainly very old. However, the Tashkent Qur'an has other variations, including, at one place, a missing Allah. If there are not others, this would make the elimination of 9:128-129 unnecessary to make the count of "Allah" to come out as he claims.
(2) The rules and criteria for counting necessary to reproduce the count, and to make other similar counts, are not explicitly stated. For example, Edip Yuksel once wrote, defending a certain word count, that I should use the word definitions implicit in Abdul-Baqi's concordance. Fine. I obtained a copy, and used it to study all the words in 9:128-129. I found that using the form of the words in Abdul-Baqi, and checking the occurrences of those words for nineteen divisibility, out of eighteen words, one word's count was divisible by nineteen. This was true whether or not 9:128-129 were included or not; of course the word was different in each case (raHiymun with the verses and tawallaw without them.) This kind of comparative and consistent analysis is completely lacking from the Khalifite research, which consists entirely of anecdotes on one side of the question.
(3) Is the data filtered before presentation? The Khalifites provide reams of counts of things that turn out to be multiples of nineteen. But they do not publish all the numbers they found in their search for these phenomena. Rather, only the results which fit the theory are presented. This would be like trying to determine if all Irish are red-haired by counting how many Irish actually have red hair; to determine if a person is Irish, one would consider their appearance, naturally; so anyone without red hair is not counted. One then presents a list of fourteen thousand Irish persons with red hair as proof of the theory that all Irish persons are red haired. Anecdotes, no matter how many there are, do not prove any theory.
Do Qur'anic statistics show a bias toward 19-divisibility? No conclusive research has been done. Is there some other kind of numerical pattern in the Qur'an, sufficiently clear that one could determine whether or not 9:128-129 are part of the Qur'an or not? The research simply has not been done. However, I will say this: it is impossible to prove that there is NOT a pattern, unless the pattern is specified. Specific statement of the pattern in a way that can be verified is something which, so far, has not been done, nor have I ever seen any attempts to do this.
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997
I have written extensively on the subject of Dr. Khalifa and his alleged discoveries. I knew him personally. There is a great deal of information on the web, most of it misleading for those who do not study the matter carefully. The matter has been debated at length in soc.religion.islam, and archives are searchable on dejanews (I get there by searching usenet on www.yahoo.com).
There are many aspects to the so-called "numerical miracle." Only some of them are directly related to the number 19. There are also claimed discoveries using prime and composite indices. It gets pretty complex.
No rigorous studies have been done, to my knowledge. It is notoriously difficult to determine after-the-fact probabilities of a "coincidence," for there is no clear standard for us to judge what events we might consider "miraculous" in advance.
So if the coincidence of two numbers seems amazing, how many *other* possible coincidences would also seem amazing? Without an estimate of this, it is actually impossible to determine a probability that a "miracle" will occur.
Nearly all the claimed discoveries are actually well within the bounds of what can and does occur by chance, and statements to the contrary have, so far, not checked out as true.
That is a summary of the matter, but I will give some details.
In the 1970s, Rashad Khalifa began studying the letter frequencies in the so-called initial letters. He was *looking* for unusual patterns, and he found them, as could be expected. His first "discoveries" did not involve the number 19 at all, and they were so weakly "miraculous" that these early discoveries are not mentioned at all in later publications.
Later, however, he noticed certain facts, and he also found that if he made certain special definitions and selections, other facts began to appear, and the bulk of these involve divisibility by the number 19. Since 19 is mentioned specifically in the Qur'an (74:30) in a context that can be read as a reference to some kind of miracle, this was very attractive, and he pursued it vigorously.
The facts are of various kinds. There are counts of letters in the suras involving initial letters and in a few other places, there are word counts, either in a particular sura or section or in the whole Qur'an, there are counts of the suras themselves.
I'll start with some of the most obvious facts. "Bismillah al-rahman al-rahiym," as it is traditionally written, is written with 19 letters. And there are 114 (6x19) suras in the Qur'an. There are *also* 114 occurrences of the invocation in the Qur'an (one is missing from Sura 9, and there is an extra one at 27:30).
Khalifa and his followers will also be quick to point out that if one starts counting suras at sura 9, the 19th sura would be 27, where the extra bismillah is found. Of course, there are many other arrangements which would also seem significant. Suppose it were in Sura 19? or 28 (28-9=19).
The first revelation was the beginning of sura 96. Khalifa pointed out that this is number 19 from the end of the Qur'an.
So far these statistics are not particularly controversial. Sometimes it is pointed out that the writing of the bismillah is idiosyncratic and that "really" it has more than nineteen letters in it, but had I been asked, long before I knew about Khalifa's work, how many letters there were in the Qur'anic bismillah, I would have had no hesitation to say, "19." But it is still important to note that there are other possible ways of looking at it, for in some of the other statistics, Khalifa and his followers do look at things in idiosyncratic and unusual ways in order to make the numbers come out "perfect."
Then we come to an interesting allegation: that every "word" in the invocation occurs in the Qur'an and exact multiple of 19 times. Here is where things get really slippery. First of all, the term "word" is not precisely defined in Arabic. Even in English, where we might well define a word as a unique collection of letters, separated by spaces, we would still have problems. If we are counting "word," would we count "words," "wordy," "wordless," and the like? By my definition, we would not, for "unique" and "separated by spaces" kill those possibilities. But in counting words in the Qur'an, Khalifa counted some of the various forms and excluded others.
Starting at the beginning, what is the first "word" in the invocation? Is it BSM? How many times does BSM occur in the Qur'an?
It is known that Khalifa used the 'Abdulbaqi concordance. (Sometimes people think he used the computer to count words, but it appears that this was more hype than reality. He is not known to have possessed an accurate computer-readable text of the Qur'an.)
Now, Abdulbaqi lists three occurrences. But, actually, there are 115. Abdulbaqi does not list all the initial bismillahs beyond the first, so there are 112 more. Here we encounter, for the first time, a real question as to "what is the Qur'an" when we attempt to count how many times a particular word occurs "in the Qur'an."
Neither one of these numbers is divisible by 19. What gives? Well, Khalifa did not count BSM. Rather, he counted some forms of ASM (he wrote it as ISM, which is more like how it is pronounced when preceded by bi-; but it is written alif-sin-miym). If I look in 'Abdul-Baqi, under the entry "ASM", sure enough, it says "19" for the number of mentions. But this excludes all the forms with a prefix or suffix, *including the very form that is in the invocation*! It also excludes the plural forms.
In English, if I were to count the number of times "name" occurred in a book, I would certainly count "his name." In Arabic, "his name" is written ASMH, ismuh; so we can see how difficulties arise. By making special rules for counting, one can manipulate the counts and select one which appears to show some remarkable trait. Where no trait is found, one simply goes on to look elsewhere. One out of every 19 numbers that one examines, chosen at random, will be divisible by 19. All it takes is patience, lots of patience and lots of time, to find remarkable statistics.
Is there *really* a miracle here? It is very difficult to *prove* that there is no miracle. What is the standard of proof? *It is undefined.*
Briefly, I will look at the other three "words" in the invocation. they are reported as ALLH, RHMN, and RHYM. Usually the Khalifites will add the vowels; I keep them out because it makes certain things clearer. (A in Arabic, the A that I am writing, is not a vowel, rather it carries vowels or modifies them and serves other purposes. In the original writing of the Qur'an, there were no vowels written, per se. )
If you look in Abdul-Baqi under ALLHu (nominative), you will find 980 mentions listed. ALLHa (accusative) has 592 and ALLHi 1126. (Abdulbaqi says 1125 for the latter; it is a tabulation error, he actually lists 1126).
Abdulbaqi is sometimes arbitrary in how he lists words. In this case, he has listed LLH, though it is written without the alif (A) together with ALLHi, since this combination is always genetive (it is li- plus allah).
Now, 592 + 980 + 1126 = 2698, which is 19 x 142. Bingo.
However, not only have we neglected the initial bismillahs other than the first (and more on that in a moment), which would add 112 mentions, but we have also omitted the other form of the name of God which is found in the Qur'an: ALLHM, allahumma, which means "O Allah." This occurs five times in the book.
And, as it turns out, Abdulbaqi also omitted 1:1 when counting "Allah," so the number in the so-called "numbered verses" turns out to be 2699. (Some Qur'ans number the first bismillah, some do not.) It took Khalifa some years to discover this, however. His published count of Allah in "Visual Presentation of the Miracle" had perhaps a dozen errors in it, even though it looked like a computer printout. When the smoke cleared, it appeared that the true count of Allah in the numbered verses, excluding "Allahumma" but including all other forms, was 2699.
Khalifa's response, ultimately, was to find something that he could remove from the Qur'an, and he picked the most likely candidate, the two verses at the end of Sura 9. This reduces the count to 2698, and also eliminates some fancy footwork which was earlier necessary to avoid counting RHYM in those verses.
And the other two "words" are "RHYM" and "RHMN." They are always written Rahman and Rahim by the Khalifites, probably because it obscures the fact that the words which are *really* in the invocation are ALRHYM and ALRHMN.
ALRHMN occurs in the numbered verses of the Qur'an 57 times. There is no other form of RHMN in the Qur'an. This statistic is genuine and requires no manipulation, except the selection of "numbered verses."
ALRHYM occurs 95 times. RHYMA occurs 20 times. Abdulbaqi, again, is somewhat arbitrary in his classification, since forms without the definite article AL- are listed with ALRHYM. Khalifa lumped these together, and excluded the mention at 9:128 on the grounds that it referred to the Prophet, not Allah. Later he excluded it on the basis of a certain well-known hadith reported from Zayd ibn Thabit indicating that these two verses (9:128-129) were found *only* with Ibn Khuzayma.
With the exclusion, the number is 114. Note that plural forms are also excluded.
Khalifa also claimed to have found a pattern of 19 in the letter counts of the initial letters. The bulk of his work is utterly unverifiable; he used no known consistent method of counting the letter alif. In spite of his statements, regarding the bismillah, that one simply counted what was written, he sometimes counted alif where there was a hamza and sometimes not, and he did not do this consistently.
It's a mess. But most of his followers have never tried to actually verify his work, beyond counting, say, the letter Qaf in Sura Qaf (50). Don't bother: there are 57, and likewise there are 57 Qaf in Sura ash-Shura (42). To examine all these statistics in detail and to show how they have been selected from a larger universe of statistics which are *not* divisible by 19 is a complex task. The information looks very interesting when it is presented in isolation; when one starts to realize how many different ways there are to count these letters and words and so forth, one's level of amazement can decline a bit!
There is currently a web site which purports to show a statistical proof that the initial letter data is truly an amazing miracle. It is the first attempt by a Khalifite (albeit a heterodox one, being in opposition to most of Khalifa's followers and acknowledging that Khalifa made many mistakes) to actually apply statistical principles. I have yet to examine it in detail; from a superficial examination it appears that he has himself done some data selection; essentially, there are an unlimited number of ways to analyze the data; if one picks a way that produces an amplified occurrence of 19-divisibility, it is not surprising that one finds an amplified occurrence.... The writer of this page is Omar Farouq; I suspect that a search of soc.religion.islam on his name might come up with a post containing the URL.
>I'm not sure if I can help you. I know these calculations which all
>come out to the number 19, were done by a somewhat eccentric Iman in
>Tucson where I used to live. I think his name was Khalid. He had kind
>of a cult-following of Muslims who accepted only the Qur'an and not
>hadith as authentic. As I recall he was eventually assasinated by
>some right-wing Muslim group. There must be something on the web
>about this. Do you want me to post this on Islam-L?
Khalifa is not the only one who has worked with this concept, but he is the best-known. Dr. Cesar Majul found some of the remarkable statistics; he later parted with Khalifa when Khalifa started making outrageous claims about himself and about other aspects of Islam. Khalifa did assert that "following any other source of religion other than the Qur'an" is explicity forbidden in the Qur'an; he also claimed to be the so-called Messenger of the Covenant (wa idh ahadna n-nabiyyiyn....). He was apparently assassinated by Furqan; there was one conviction for conspiracy in connection with it.
There are also a few sects, particularly among the African-American community, which claim special significance in the number 19 and point to the kinds of facts that Khalifa asserted. It is not clear to me that any of these claims predate Khalifa's work; if they do not, it is quite likely that they were taken from it. Khalifa was *very* popular and widely known for a while, since he was purportedly showing "scientific, mathematical evidence" that the Qur'an was perfectly preserved" and that it was impossible for it to have been of human origin.
Had his data involving the letter alif been accurate and verifiable, it might indeed have had some such significance. Unfortunately, it appears far more likely that his search for patterns was the source of the patterns that he found.