By: J. Luis Dizon
Having been involved in Christian-Muslim apologetics for over six years, I have run across many interesting arguments for the Islamic position. One that has come up quite a few times lately is the claim that the Qur’an contains mathematical miracles. Basically, it is said that the word counts of certain sections of the Qur’an, as well as the number of instances certain words appear in the Qur’an, is too amazing to have been coincidental, and therefore must be evidence of its divine origin. The idea was first put forward in the late 1960s by Rashad Khalifa of United Submitters International (a Qur’an Onlyist sect that rejects the validity of hadiths). The most notable modern proponent of this argument is Islamic apologist Dr. Shabir Ally, who has used it in no less than six debates he has done in the past seven years.
The problem with this argument is that it is an example of what is known as The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. This fallacy involves cherry-picking data clusters to suit an argument, or finding a pattern to fit a presumption. It is described as such:
This ‘false cause’ fallacy is coined after a marksman shooting randomly at barns and then painting bullseye targets around the spot where the most bullet holes appear, making it appear as if he’s a really good shot. Clusters naturally appear by chance, but don’t necessarily indicate that there is a causal relationship.
Example: The makers of Sugarette Candy Drinks point to research showing that of the five countries where Sugarette drinks sell the most units, three of them are in the top ten healthiest countries on Earth, therefore Sugarette drinks are healthy.
Numerical patterns are inevitable, and they can occur in any piece of literature (including the Bible). To produce a “numerical miracle,” all one has to do is find the right words occurring in the right numbers. There are no fixed criteria for what does and doesn’t constitute a numerical miracle, making the enterprise entirely subjective. As one other examiner of these numerical miracle claims points out:
The more we analyze these supposed mathematical miracles and the more questions we pose, the sooner we find out that Islamic propagandists have become crafty enough to evade consistency in their selection. They first detect some numerical coincidences in the Islamic scripture and then seek the ways of formulating them as miracles. In the process of fabrication or invention, the step of collecting some data is followed by the step of testing them in order to see how these coincidences or identical numbers could be brought together on a common ground. Unsurprisingly, this ground of concordance is also determined by these miracle inventors, who benefit from a wide range of possibilities and options.
A good example of this problem is the word “day.” It is claimed that certain permutations of the word “day” (يوم) occur 365 times in the Qur’an, which is too amazing to be a coincidence. The problem with this claim becomes apparent once one considers the facts: The word “day” actually occurs 475 times in the Qur’an. Thirty of those instances are plural (ايام) or dual (يومين), so subtracting them yields 445 instances of “day” in the singular. To arrive at 365 instances, one must arbitrarily de-select all instances of “day” with suffixes, while leaving in all instances with prefixes but no suffixes. Once all these are factored in, the highly subjective nature of the argument becomes obvious.
Also, many conservative Muslim scholars reject the use of numerical miracles. For example, Bilal Philips devotes an entire book to refuting the idea, entitled The Qur’an’s Numerical Miracle: Hoax and Heresy. The reasons why Muslim scholars reject the numerical miracle argument include the following:
- Numerical miracles were unknown to Muslims before the 20th century. Surely something as important to this should’ve been known to the earliest Muslims.
- These numerical miracles require the fudging of data, or sometimes even the alteration of the Qur’anic text.
- The purveyors of numerical miracles (e.g. Rashad Khalifa) eventually arrive at heretical views on Islam due to their pursuit of these theories.
Hence, we see that the argument is not convincing even to other educated Muslims, to say nothing of how it is perceived by non-Muslims. This, combined with the subjective nature of the argument, are compelling reasons why any Muslim who wishes to be taken seriously by non-Muslims should abandon the concept of “numerical miracles” as an argument for the Islamic position.
 See his dialogue last month with Dean Canonico on the birth narratives of Jesus (https://youtu.be/Z1BscODw9UM?t=1h6m46s), his debate last November with David Wood on the Trinity Channel (https://youtu.be/8qunUypvBQ4), his dialogue last October with Andy Bannister and Justin Trottier on “What Does the Good Society Look Like?” (https://youtu.be/X0knmNLSRKw?t=1h54m13s), his debate last March with Andy Bannister on “Is There Hope for the Future?” (https://youtu.be/MuGUbZouu1U?t=7m34s), his September 2014 debate with Jay Smith on “Which is the Word of God? The Bible or the Qur’an?” (https://youtu.be/fWHV9VnOJtc?t=54m26s), and his February 2009 debate with William Lane Craig on “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” (https://youtu.be/5-9-vWtTcU8?t=1h40m39s). He has also mentioned it on his TV show, Let the Qur’an Speak (https://youtu.be/7dPdeFdxJVk).
 “The Texas Sharpshooter.” Your Logical Fallacy Is (Accessed 29 January 2016), https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/the-texas-sharpshooter
 An example of someone using the exact same argument to prove the divine origin of the Bible is the book is Dr. Grant Jeffery’s The Signature of God: Astonishing Biblical Discoveries (Tyndale House Publishers, 1997). A University of Toronto graduate (like Dr. Ally), Dr. Jeffery presents various arguments for the reliability of the Bible. He dedicates chapter 12 of this book to mathematical miracles in the Bible in its original languages as evidence for its divine origin. I will not repeat his arguments here. Suffice to say, I don’t expect anyone (Christian or otherwise) to find them compelling, and the validity of Christianity stands on more objective bases than these.
 Masud Masihiyyen, “Gambling With Numbers,” Answering Islam (29 January 2016), http://answering-islam.org/authors/masihiyyen/numerical_miracles_309.html
 Abdulrahman Lomax, “On the Claim that the Word ‘Day’ Occurs in the Qur’an 365 Times,” Answering Islam (Accessed 29 January 2016), http://answering-islam.org/Religions/Numerics/365hoax.html
 (Riyadh: Al-Furqan Publications, 1987). Download link: http://www.muslim-library.com/dl/books/English_THE_QURANS_NUMERICAL_MIRACLE_HOAX_OR_HERESY.pdf