The Critics allege a contradiction against the Quran and ask; who was the first Muslim?
Secular critics such as the sceptics use this claim as well as Christians though I would imagine it was borne out of the Christian camp; it is used in evangelical Christian work such as GJO Moshay’s evangelism .
The critics point to two references from the Quran, 6:14 and 6:161-163, and claim these references show Muhammad as the first Muslim and then the critics turns their attention to another verse of the Quran (7;143) concerning Moses being the first of the believers. Just to further their agenda they may also highlight other Quranic references indicating there were Muslims before Muhammed (pbuh) and Moses namely the first man Adam (S. 2:30, 34-35, 37) and Abraham as well as other Prophets (S. 4:163, S. 6:84) as believers. However they mainly use the Quranic verse about Moses (7:143) and try to put it along side the two concerning Muhammed (6:14 and 6:163) and they then allege contradiction/error
Quite simply, the Quran does not claim Muhammed nor Moses to be the first ever Muslim. The critic imposes a faulty understanding on the Quranic verses and alleges a contradiction when there is no contradiction/error.
Despite this it is still thorough and beneficial to offer explanations in order to clear any confusion as well as help highlight the errors of the critics in the hope they realise their mistakes and abjure themselves and eventually become amongst the guided ones, Insha’Allah
I feel it is logical to begin this simple refutation with analysing the reference concerning Moses and then we shall build upon this in a methodical fashion so the reader can follow with ease. Did the Quran claim Moses to be the first ever believer?
7:143 sees Moses saying he is the first of the believers. However, we do see that this is true as he (Moses) was the first believer amongst his own people.
7:143. And when Mûsa (Moses) came at the time and place appointed by Us, and his Lord spoke to him, he said: “O my Lord! Show me (Yourself), that I may look upon You.” Allâh said: “You cannot see Me, but look upon the mountain if it stands still in its place then you shall see Me.” So when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He made it collapse to dust, and Mûsa (Moses) fell down unconscious. Then when he recovered his senses he said: “Glory be to You, I turn to You in repentance and I am the first of the believers.” 
Moses does not say he is the first believer ‘ever’. He merely claims he is the first of the believers and knowing the context one understands he is not claiming to be the first ever believer from humankind but the first amongst his people to believe, this is apparent as it is a relative term to the “believers” and situational-context tells us that the believers at the time of Moses were essentially the Children of Israel and thus we realise that Moses is referring to himself as the first to believe amongst the Children of Israel.
The critic fails to mention this and tries to present this verse as meaning Moses is the first ever to believe amongst humanity, this is unfair and misleading on the part of the critic especially considering the word “ever” is not in the verse. There is further clarification of the Arabic phrase of the Quran ascribed to Moses (“awwalu almumineena”= “first of the believers”) as there is another reference in the Quran (26:51) where this term comes up and thus explaining the meaning of Moses’ statement of being the “first of the believers (“awwalu almumineena”).
So we use a basic principle of Tafsir (explaining the Quran) by explaining a verse of the Quran (the verse concerning Moses, 7143) by using another part of the Quran (26:51). So what do we learn about the statement of Moses in 7:143 by looking at 26:51?
26:51. “Verily! We really hope that our Lord will forgive us our sins, as we are the first of the believers [in Mûsa (Moses) and in the Monotheism which he has brought from Allâh].” 
The context of this verse is Moses going to Pharaoh and preaching the Message and with the intention of freeing the enslaved Children of Israel.
The verse (26:51) is teaching us what the sorcerers of the pharaoh said when they realised that Moses and Aaron were truthful in their preaching. Thus they became the first to believe amongst the people of Pharaoh and even use the same expression as Moses “awwala almumineena”. It is clear that they are not claiming to be the first ever to believe as Aaron and Moses (two people who were believers before them) were in front of them delivering the Message to Pharaoh and his people and they became believers due to the preaching (miracles) of Moses by the Will of Allah. Therefore we realise the term “awwala almumineena” (first of the believers) in the Quran (7:143) does not mean he is the first ever believer but it is a relative term. Thus we realise that both the sayings of Moses (7:143) and the sorcerers (26:51) are relative to their situations and they are clearly not referring to themselves as the first ever believers but it does mean they are the first believers amongst their own people. We also realise the critics build there argument upon faulty information as well as error. So now we know that Moses was not referring to himself as the first ever believer through the information presented.
However, for thoroughness we can use the same method of Tafsir (i.e. ‘explanation of the Quran by the Quran’ ) to realise that Moses was speaking relative to his own time and people. We need look no further than the Quranic references to Adam (2:30-37) and we deduct that Adam came before Moses and was a believer therefore believed before Moses so we realise that the Quran is not presenting Moses as the first ever believer but as the first believer relative to the time and place Moses was in (i.e. the first to believe amongst his people). This is basic Tafsir and logic which the critic avoids.
The critics have no authority (Tafsir writers such as Ibn Kathir etc) to support their claims which are merely erroneous self-imposed understandings based on ignorance of context and Tafsir. Now we realise that the Quran did not put forward Moses (or the sorcerers) as the first ever Muslim (s) we still have the question; did the Quran claim Muhammed as the first ever Muslim? Well let us focus on the references in question.
It is not up for debate whether Muhammad (pbuh) was the first Muslim or not. Quite simply he was the first Muslim in the sense that Muhammad was the first Muslim (i.e. who has submitted to God) amongst his own people (the Quraish) at that particular phase in history. This is completely correct. Hence there is no contradiction as Adam was the first Muslim ever while Muhammad was the first Muslim amongst his own people.
There are two Quranic references (6:14 and 6:162-163) the critics bring up, so it is appropriate to analyse the two references. The first of the Quranic references the critics cite (6:14) shows that Allah instructs Muhammed to “say” (Qul): “Verily, I am commanded to be the first of those who submit themselves to Allâh (as Muslims).”:
6:14. Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Shall I take as a Walî (helper, protector, etc.) any other than Allâh, the Creator of the heavens and the earth? And it is He Who feeds but is not fed.” Say: “Verily, I am commanded to be the first of those who submit themselves to Allâh (as Muslims).” And be not you (O Muhammad SAW) of the Mushrikûn [polytheists, pagans, idolaters and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allâh]. 
We also note the same applies to the second Quranic reference (6:162-163) in that it also begins with Qul (say) and Mohammed is instructed to say: “… I am the first of the Muslims”:
6: 162. Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Verily, my Salât (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allâh, the Lord of the ‘Alamîn (mankind, jinns and all that exists). 163. “He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.” 
So we see that Muhammed is being instructed to say these words and we can refer to Von Denffer concerning Quranic verses, such as the two cited by the critics (6:14 and 6:162-163), which begin with Qul (say): “More than 200 passages in the Quran open with the word ‘Qul’ (say:), which is an instruction to the Prophet Muhammad to address the words following this introduction to his audience in a particular situation…” 
So the natural question is who is Muhammed’s audience for him to say these words to? The audience were the tribe of Quraish. The Quraish were Muhammed’s people (tribe) .Thus they were his foremost audience. Indeed Muhammed was the first Muslim amongst the Quraish who were a Pagan tribe.
Also we realise his immediate audience resided in Mecca as these two Quranic references are form the Meccan period, this shows that Muhammed’s audience was the Pagan Arabs of Mecca and the foremost of these Pagans in Mecca was his own people, the Quraish tribe. Thus we realise that Muhammad was to teach the Pagan audience in Mecca that he was the first Muslim. This was the context and we realise it is relative to the Quraish and thus refers to him being the first Muslim from amongst the Pagans of Quraish. Note he was not instructed to say this to Adam or earlier Prophets nor was he instructed to say this to the whole of humanity but he was instructed to say it “to his audience” (pg78) who were primarily the Quraish. How the critic misses this context is not worth too much thought at this juncture, the fact of the matter is that the critics completely miss the context and thus fall into error and onto the thorny path of misleading others with their erroneous claims.
Even not knowing the context one can realise that Quran is not referring to Muhammed as the first ever Muslim as the Quran does not qualify it with the word ‘ever’! However there is further unscholarly work on the part of the critic as the context is again realised through the rest of the verse (6:14): And be not you (O Muhammad SAW) of the Mushrikûn [polytheists, pagans, idolaters and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allâh]. 
This shows that Muhammed was instructed by Allah through the Quran to speak relatively to his people who were idolaters/disbelievers (Quraish) Interestingly enough 6:163 uses a similarly structured term as the verse concerning Moses (7:143, “awwala almumineena”), thus we can deduce that “Awwalul-muslimeen” is not a term used by the Quran referring to the first ever Muslim and thus the context needs to be applied. The context shows that Muhammed is the first Muslim relative to his own time and place i.e. the first Muslim amongst his immediate audience (the Quraish) who were the Mushrikun. It is disheartening to see the critics would overlook scholarship of explaining the Quran in favour of their own shoddy, misleading methodology of imposing their own understanding on the Quranic verses they choose to use. If they had an ounce of scholarship they would realise that their own warped understanding should not be imposed upon the Quran as there is a clear methodology to explain (tafsir) the Quran.
To further pour humiliation and refutation on the critic’s claims we can refer to the two undisputed modes of explaining the Quran; “Naturally, the explanation of the Quran by the Quran and the explanation of the Quran by the Prophet are two highest sources for tafsir, which cannot be matched nor superseded by any other source”. 
So let us use the Quran to explain the Quran as “many of the questions which may arise out of a certain passage of the Quran have their explanation in other parts of the very same book, and often there is no need to turn to any sources other than the word of Allah, which in itself contains tafsir”. 
Strangely and worryingly enough we see the critics ignoring the use of the Quran and the Hadith (of the Prophet Muhammed) in favour of their own views. This is intellectual savagery and quite frankly a butchering of the science of tafsir. Now we know the two primary methods of explaining the Quran are the Quran and the Hadith (of the Prophet). So if we use the Quran we realise that Mohammed is not being put forward as the first ever Muslim as the Quran (elsewhere) refers to earlier Prophets who are believers. Hence we realise that the Quranic references (6:163, 6:14) do not teach us that Muhammed is the first ever Muslim.
Now to use the other form of Tafsir we need not look further than these hadith (from the Prophet Muhammed (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 290, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 555 and Volume 1, Book 5, Number 277) to realise that the Muslims (including Muhammed) never believed Muhammed was the first Muslim ever as he mentions other prophets in the past tense and through the text we realise these prophets are indeed believers who came before Muhammed’s time, and these Prophets ( who were believers) existed before Muhammed on this earth and believed before Muhammed as Muhammed had not even been born at the time. So this highlights that the Quran is not teaching us that the Prophet Muhammed is the first ever Muslim contrary to the fanciful claims of the critics.
To further highlight the misleading vehicle which is the critic’s claim we can look to the authoritative Tafsir (explanations) of the relevant verses by the early Muslim scholars, strikingly enough; none of them hold the belief of the critics! So, in essence, the critic abandons scholarship, reasoning and research in favour of their own clouded, ignorant and embarrassing methodology in order to level an accusation of contradiction/error at the Quran. This leads them to arguing a false point and attributing their own inexact, ignorant and distorted views on the Quran and claiming a non-existent contradiction.
The fact remains the Quran does not put either Muhammed or Moses forward as the first ever Muslim. Nor does the Quran put forward Abraham or anybody after the time of Adam as the first Muslim. The Quran does not explicitly tell us who the first ever Muslim was but we can deduce it was Adam.
Thus it becomes clear that there is no contradiction in the Quran and we realise that the critics essentially show themselves to be unscholarly in omitting the context or not knowing the context and thus rendering their work misleading, confusing and full of error.
It is thoroughness to mention the other references a critic may bring up despite these other references not impacting upon what has been mentioned above, however it is still beneficial to know what the critic may bring up such as 2:132, this Quranic reference does not mention anybody as a first Muslim/believer here but critics would bring this up to show Abraham and Jacob to be Muslims (i.e. Muslims before Muhammed). This still does not impact on anything said earlier as the critic argues a straw man and claim the Quran states something which it does not. I stress again; the Quran does mention Muhammed or Moses as being the first EVER Muslims. The context of the Quran is clear, they (Moses and Muhammad) are the first to believe amongst their people.
The critic also cites Quranic references about Adam (2:30-37). Despite these references not exactly saying Adam was the first Muslim we still know by the way of context and deduction that Adam was the first believer in God amongst mankind. This does not impact on the reference concerning Moses (7:143) who was the first of the believers amongst his own people and nor does it impact on the references about Muhammad (6:14 and 6: 161-163) who was commanded to be and indeed was the first to submit to Allah amongst his own Pagan people (Quraish)
The other citations (S. 4:163, S. 6:83-87) the critic may bring forth highlight to us that there were a number of guided people (Messengers) before Muhammed. This is the Muslim believe, all Muslims are aware of this so it should be realised by the critic that this is not knew information to the Muslim. It is also important to reiterate; none of this impacts on the fact that Muhammed and Moses were the first to believe amongst their own people and not the first to believe (ever) amongst human kind.
Also the more astute critics may point to the religion of Hanif and followers of the Abrahamic traditions of the past, however the teachings of Abraham (and Ishmael) became diluted with the gradual introduction of innovations, superstitions and idol-worship. Eventually ‘idolatry spread all over Makkah’ and thus the people left the Abrahamic teachings . This was many years prior to Muhammed’s time so this does not impact on what has been said earlier either. There are traditions of four friends who rejected the idol-worshipping of Mecca and went out in search of an alternative, this does not impact on the fact that Muhammed was the first Muslim amongst the Quraish either.
Finally, after showing the critics to be wrong, it is worthy of mention to bring up the concerted efforts of critics in the past in order to find a critical claim of contradiction/error to stick (concerning the Holy Quran) despite their past work and the work of their contemporaries we see that they have failed and not found anything which people can honestly call a contradiction in the Quran, all this despite their best efforts.
Of course Allah knows best and we ask Allah do guide and help us further. Ameen.
References 1. Anatomy of the Quran by G.J.O Moshay Chick Productions 2007 pg 116
2. 7:143 Translation and explanation of The Noble Quran In the English Language, A Summarized Version of At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih Al-Bukhari By Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan
3. 26:51 Translation and explanation of The Noble Quran In the English Language, A Summarized Version of At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih Al-Bukhari By Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan
4. 6:14 Translation and explanation of The Noble Quran In the English Language, A Summarized Version of At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih Al-Bukhari By Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan
5. 6:162-163 Translation and explanation of The Noble Quran In the English Language, A Summarized Version of At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih Al-Bukhari by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan
6. Ulum al Quran, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran by Ahmad Von Denffer, The Islamic Foundation 2003 pg 124
7. Ulum al Quran, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran by Ahmad Von Denffer, The Islamic Foundation 2003 pg 78
8. Islam A Short History by Karen Armstrong, Phoenix Press, 2001, pg 3
9. Ar-Raheequl-Makhtum by Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Darussalam, 2002 pg 45