Michael LaPine, USA
Although little remembered, the late Dr Rashad Khalifa (1935-1990) once had an explosive impact on the Muslim world. The Egyptian-American made his claim to fame with the so-called “mathematical” miracle in the Quran. His later rejection of Hadith and deletion of two verses of the Quran, which didn’t correspond to his “miracle”, led to Rashad’s infamy. At the end of his life, Dr Khalifa proclaimed he was the “messenger of God.” He also proclaimed himself to be the world leader of a world Islamic government called the United Islamic Nation (UIN). Rashad was murdered in 1990 and Dr Khalifa’s followers proclaimed him a martyr. But what is the truth of this?
We only know about his early life from Dr Khalifa and his followers. Dr Khalifa was born in Kafr El-Zayat, Egypt, in 1933. Rashad claimed his father was an eminent Sufi with thousands of followers. Dr Khalifa graduated from the College of Agriculture in Ain Shams, Egypt, before emigrating to the USA to obtain his Masters in Biochemistry from Arizona State University. He finally obtained his PhD in the same field in Riverside, California. The official biography states he lived in several places in the Middle East before returning to the USA, where he eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona. (“Biography of Dr Rashad Khalifa”, www.submission.org/idx_other_Biography_Khalifa.html)
The story of the doctor’s early life was challenged in the early 2000s by Dr Mabrouk Sharkawy, a fellow Egyptian scientist who studied with Khalifa. Sharkawy notes that Khalifa’s father was not a Sufi shaykh but only a mid-level cleric. Sharkawy also noted the official biography did not mention Khalifa worked in Libya for a brief time in the 1970s. Dr Khalifa claimed to the Libyan government that he had a “secretive” methodology by which he would make the country a protein-rich one. Sharkawy said Dr Khalifa left Libya after being asked pointed questions regarding his method, which proves Rashad was a scam artist. (“An Email from a Person Who Knew Rashad Khalifa”, www.answering-christianity.com/khalifa_email.htm)
The alleged miracle
Dr Rashad Khalifa claimed he put the Quran in the computer and found interesting mathematical anomalies that revolved around the number 19. (“Short History of the Mathematical Miracle”, submission.org/Short_History_of_Miracle.html) Dr Khalifa began a tour of the Muslim world and became famous for his claim that there was a “19-based mathematical miracle” of the Quran. Such people as the famed Islamic debater Ahmad Deedat (Bilal Philips, The Qur’an’s numerical miracle: Hoax and Heresy, Al Furqan Publications, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1987, p. 30) and mathematician and sceptic writer Martin Gardner, took interest in the claim, at least initially (“Mathematical Games”, Scientific American, September 1980, pp. 16-20). What Dr Khalifa tried to do was market his claim based on a few interesting mathematical facts in the Quran that are true and tried to convince the reader that he knew or had found more.
A full elaboration of the mathematical claims is not pertinent, but it may be necessary to go over some of their history. Scientists put Rashad to the test by putting the Quran in the computer. To be brief, not all the numbers presented by Rashad Khalifa added up and his intentional manipulations in the count were found. Moreover, the methodology for how to count was not made clear. Rashad was found to be inconsistent with the data. Gardner asks how we define something as simple as “word”, which is necessary for the counts. (The Numerology of Dr Rashad Khalifa: Notes of a Fringe-Watcher, Skeptic Inquirer, September 1987, cdn.centerforinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/1997/09/22165003/p16.pdf)
Another problem with the mathematical “miracle” is the fact that the Quran is an oral recitation. (Oral Tradition, 4/1-2 (1989): 5-26, hdl.handle.net/10355/65410) Many criticised Dr Khalifa for assuming the Quran was sent down as a published book when the Prophet Muhammadsa received the Quranic revelation verbally and piecemeal over 23 years. The mushaf was composed by humans using human language to record the oral recitation as a means to aid memory. So how could one argue about letter counts when the Quran is part of speech? Dr Khalifa concocted a story that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was literate and wrote the Quran himself as an attempt to bolster the story. However, Dr Khalifa’s attempt at rewriting history (“Muhammad Wrote God’s Revelations With His own Hand”, Appendix 28 of the Authorized English translation of Quran by Rashad Khalifa, Ph.D, submission.org/App28.html) is found to be substandard scholarship and even plagiarism.
Dr Khalifa was correct in identifying problems in the Muslim world like intellectual stagnation and sectarianism. Rashad wanted to use his fame to promote his ideas. Unfortunately, Dr Khalifa’s solutions were not well thought out. When problems were encountered with narrations attributed to the Prophetsa, Dr Khalifa’s solution was to throw out all ahadith as “satanic innovations.” However, Rashad’s rejection of Hadith and the sunnah was hypocritical. He still found ways to use Hadith when it suited him. When Rashad found the reverence toward the prophet to be exaggerated, Dr Khalifa banned the second part of the shahadah as “idolatry.” (“The False Shahadah (Proclamation of Faith)”, www.submission.org/False_Shahadah.html) Ironically, the doctor’s fight against sectarianism led to the creation of a tiny but extremely sectarian group of followers that dismiss all other Muslims as “idolaters”, simply because they mention the name ‘Muhammad’ in salat.
The Egyptian doctor claimed that it was the rejection of Hadith that led to his ouster. However, this was just a story to make Rashad look like a maverick. Bilal Philips, a Salafi scholar, stated it was, in fact, Dr Khalifa’s claim to know the date of the end of the world, which is a violation of Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V188. (“End of the World”, Appendix 25, www.submission.org/App25.html) that led to the doctor’s ouster (Philips, p. 3) The most infamous claim made was that the last two verses of Surah at-Taubah (Ch.9: V.128-129) “violated the math” of the Quran. (“Tampering With the Word of God”, Appendix 24, www.submission.org/App24.html) Dr Khalifa tried to make a historical case for the “forgery” in Appendix 24. He created a myth out of bad chronology, spin-doctoring information and elementary mistakes. The dismissal of the two “false” verses from the Quran did not bring Dr Khalifa admirers for his math miracle. Dr Khalifa claimed that his miracle of the Quran “preserved” the text. But that is not Rashad’s job in the first place. God says in the Holy Quran that “He is responsible” for protecting the Quran (Surah al-Hijr, Ch.15: V10).
The claim to be God’s messenger
Dr Rashad Khalifa’s claim to be the messenger of God was made gradually but not fully until 1989 (“Who is Imam Zaman?”, Muslim Perspective, October 1985, p. 1, www.quranalone.com/SP/09_1985_10.pdf). The claim to divine authority was controversial because of the Muslims’ view regarding Prophet Muhammadsa being the final prophet. Dr Khalifa tried to get around the problem by making a false distinction between prophets and messengers, accomplished by misusing Surah Aal-i-’Imran, Ch.3:82. (“The difference between ‘prophet’ and ‘messenger’ according to Quran”, submission.org/Difference_between_prophet_Messenger.html)
Rashad taught prophets brought books and messengers’ job was to prove the books. At first, Rashad did not base his claim on revelation. During one of his lectures, Rashad surmised his messenger status by trying to open up the Quran randomly and coming to the same verse in the Quran repeatedly. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5uqq0HCG_w) Dr Khalifa’s initial claim to messengership is based on the same structure as the claim to the mathematical composition of the Quran, namely, probability! Rashad felt so certain that he inserted his name into his own Quran translation on at least four occasions! (See 13:30, 25:56, 34:28, 36:3 in Authorised English Translation of Quran by Rashad Khalifa) Allah promises clear guidance based on certainty and pious believers are blessed with vision and dreams. But Rashad promised probability!
False predictions and claim to world leadership
Rashad Khalifa made a number of false predictions that are found throughout his newsletters (Muslim Perspective/MP). He claimed that King Faud would be the final monarch of Saudi Arabia (MP, May 1985. p. 1, www.quranalone.com/SP/04_1985_05.pdf) Dr Khalifa called for the world to join the United Islamic Nation (UIN) which was to be a government run by Rashad himself through the proposed capital in Mecca. (MP, September 1985, www.quranalone.com/SP/08_1985_09.pdf) Membership in this world government is based on rejecting Hadith and destroying tombs. Even to him the leadership scheme sounded laughable but the Dr promised: “There will be a change of government in that region at the rate of at least three governments every two years, until a government comes with the specific objective of joining UIN.” (MP, January 1986, www.quranalone.com/SP/12_1986_01.pdf, p. 1) One can read the subsequent issues of MP to see how Dr Khalifa responded to events about his failed prophecy. Interestingly he never claimed revelation yet. Other false prophecies include his understanding of the splitting of the moon (Surah 54), which he traces to himself with the 1969 landing on the moon and the prophecy (“Splitting of the Moon Prophecy”, www.submission.org/splitting_of_the_moon.html) about the smoke (44:11), which was supposed to happen during his lifetime (“End of the World”, Appendix 25)
Greater than all the prophets
Dr Rashad Khalifa began to make his claim to divine authority soon after the publication of MP began. He started off by writing about the prophecies of Imam Mahdi. But Rashad managed to take a view that puts the doctor at odds with himself. Dr Khalifa writes that the Imam-uz-Zaman will be “greater than any prophet” and even “greater than Muhammad”. (MP, p. 22, www.quranalone.com/SP/09_1985_10.pdf) Predictably the Imam-uz-Zaman will lead the UIN so we have a clear idea of the identity of the Mahdi. (MP, October 1985) Dr Khalifa’s claim to be the Imam-uz-Zaman exposed his hypocrisy. Rashad claimed Muslims exaggerate reverence toward the Holy Prophetsa and quoted Surah al-Baqarah Ch2: V.286 wherein Allah says, “We make no distinction between any of His Messengers.” However, Dr Rashad Khalifa thought he was exempt from this distinction because he was “greater than all the prophets!”
The death of a Muslim scholar
When Ismail Farooqi was murdered, Dr Khalifa titled the October 1986 edition of MP “Ismail Farooqi: To Heaven or Hell.” (www.quranalone.com/SP/21_1986_10.pdf) The newsletter argued that Farooqi was not going to heaven and that there was “evidence herein that the exact opposite” was true. Why did Farooqi “so adamantly oppose the most important Islamic development since the revelation of the Quran?” Rashad asks. (MP, October 1986. p. 1) Dr Khalifa believed Ismail Farooqi was stabbed to death because he rejected the math “miracle” and that his eternal fate was sealed as such. What gave Dr Khalifa the right to claim Farooqi was going to hell? Did God tell Dr Khalifa of Farooqi’s abode? Compare the actions of the false messenger to those of a true one. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa prayed for his enemies, like Abu Jahl, to accept Islam. Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Do not insult the dead, because they have attained the fruits of their deeds. (Sahih al-Bukhari) Rashad should have heeded the Prophet’ssa advice. But Rashad would not, as he thought he was greater than his own Prophetsa!
Rashad’s infamous announcement to divine authority
The Holy Quran says in Surah al-Haqqah that His messenger is not a soothsayer or a poet, but a receptor of revelation. The Surah continues, “And if he had forged [and attributed] any sayings to us, we would surely have seized him by the right hand.” (Ch.69: V.45-46) Dr Khalifa continued spreading falsehoods for a number of years. However, then came out the September 1989 SP (Submitters Perspectives)when Rashad made the following announcement: “Through Gabriel: I was commanded to make this announcement: AFTER I DIE MILLIONS OF BELIEVERS WILL KNOW That I represent the Messiah the Jews have been waiting for, the Christ Christians have been expecting, and the Mehdi the Muslims have been praying for… I am God’s Messenger of the Covenant…” (SP, p. 2, www.quranalone.com/SP/57_1989_09.pdf) Dr Khalifa made predictions many times in the past but never claimed God spoke to him. For the first time, Dr Khalifa claimed to receive revelation. Dr Khalifa’s fate was sealed by Allah. Followers of Dr Khalifa hold their “messenger” as a martyr. They quote Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.62, and other verses where Allah says that people killed the prophets sent to them. But what sense does it make for God to have Dr Khalifa proclaim divine authority only five months prior to his death on 31 January 1989?
The dream and the final warning to Rashad?
God could overlook the doctor’s evil claims until Rashad claimed revelation. There were only five months left for Khalifa to live. But God, in His infinite mercy, warned Dr Khalifa to discontinue deceit. A student of Dr Khalifa reported a dream she had in which she spoke to a person with the appearance of a Muslim scholar. (The audio could be heard here at the 1 hour, 10 minute mark: www.masjidtucson.org/quranstudyaudio/Q-study12_24_89Sura7_12.mp3) The woman was told, “do not testify to that which you have not observed.” Dr Khalifa was satisfied with the dream and interpreted it as a rejection of the second part of the shahadah. However, this dream was reported to Dr Khalifa during a Quran session on December 24, 1989, only five weeks prior to his death and 3 months after Rashad’s purported revelation. Dr Khalifa should have taken the dream as a warning to stop attributing revelations to God, which he never received.
The proof that Dr Khalifa did not die among the righteous comes from the “messenger’s” own words. Remember that in 1986, Dr Khalifa argued Ismaili Farooqi was hellbound because the scholar was stabbed to death after rejecting Rashad’s claims. What message was God trying to give when Rashad’s life was taken on 31 January 1990, only 5 months after the doctor’s claimed revelation? (“Killer of Tucson Imam Gets 25-To-Life Prison Term”, Arizona Daily Star, 5 September 2014, www.tucson.com/news/local/crime/killer-of-tucson-imam-gets-25-to-life-prison-term/article_5dd6930e-6e58-5f81-9ff8-465a5401f1e0.html.) God ended the life of Dr Khalifa in the same manner as the man (Ismaili Farooqi) whom Rashad claimed went to hell!