1. THE MUSHAF: AN INCOMPLETE RECORD OF THE QUR'AN TEXT.
We have already seen that on the Day of Yamama not long after Muhammad's death texts of the Qur'an that were said to have been known only to those who perished in the battle were irretrievably lost. We also find many other instances in the historical record of the Qur'an text where individual verses and, at times, lengthy portions are said to have been omitted from it. There is, in fact, a virtually unanimous opinion among the early historians that the Qur'an, as it stands, is incomplete. Abdullah ibn Umar, in the earliest days of Islam, was quite emphatic about this:
It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: "Let none of you say 'I have acquired the whole of the Qur'an'. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur'an has disappeared? Rather let him say 'I have acquired what has survived.'" (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.524).
There are a number of examples that could be quoted but we shall confine ourselves to perhaps the most well-known of these to prove the point. A typical case relates to a verse which is said to have read:
The religion with Allah is al-Hanifiyyah (the Upright Way) rather than that of the Jews or the Christians, and those who do good will not go unrewarded. (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.525).
According to at-Tirmithi in his Kitab al-Tafsir, one of the sections of his Jami', his collection of hadith records which rates as one of the six major works of authentic tradition literature in Islam alongside the Sahihs of al-Bukhari and Muslim and the three sunan works of Abu Dawud, an-Nasai and Ibn Maja, this verse at one time formed part of Suratul-Bayyinah (Surah 98) in the Qur'an (Nöldeke, Geschichte, 1.242). This is quite possible as it fits well into the context of the short surah which contains, in other verses, some of the words appearing in the missing text, such as diin (religion, v.5), 'aml (to do, v.7), and hunafa (upright, v.4), and also contrasts the way of Allah with the beliefs of the Jews and the Christians.
It is also significant to note here that, whereas the standard text of Surah 3.19 today reads innadiina 'indallaahil-Islaam - "the religion before Allah is al-Islam (i.e. the Submission)", Ibn Mas'ud read in place of al-Islam the title al-Hanifiyyah, i.e. "the Upright Way" (Jeffery, Materials, p.32), thus coinciding with the text said to have been part of Surah 98 by at-Tirmithi. At the beginning of Muhammad's mission there were a number of people in Arabia who disclaimed the worship of idols and called themselves hunafa, specifically meaning those who follow the upright way and who scorn the false creeds surrounding them.
It may well be that Muhammad first chose this same title al-Hanfiyyah to describe his own faith but, as his religion took on its own unique identity, he substituted al-Islam for it and called believers Muslims, signifying that they were not only followers of the right way but, at the same time, submitters to Allah who reveals that way and commands obedience to it. This would account for the lapse of the earlier title in the Qur'an and the omission of the verse we have been considering from its text.
We have evidence of a whole section of the Qur'an that is now said to be missing in the as-sunan al-Kubra of al-Baihaqi, an extensive collection of hadith records not regarded as authentic as the six major works we have mentioned but nonetheless of great interest and importance. Ubayy ibn Ka'b is said to have recalled a time when Suratul-Ahzab (the thirty-third Surah) once was the same length as Suratul-Baqarah (the second Surah), which means it must have had at least two hundred verses not found in its text today (Al-Baihaqi, As-Sunan al-Kubra, Vol. 8, p.211). Significantly this missing section is said to have contained the verses commanding the death sentence for adulterers, which we shall shortly consider.
There are further evidences of whole surahs said to be missing from the Qur'an as it is today. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, one of the early authorities on the Qur'an text and a companion of Muhammad, is reported to have said to the reciters of Basra:
We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: "If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust". ( Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p.501).
The one verse he said he could recall is one of the well-known texts said to be missing from the Qur'an and we shall give separate attention to it shortly. Abu Musa went on to say:
We used to recite a surah similar to one of the Musabbihaat, and I no longer remember it, but this much I have indeed preserved: 'O you who truly believe, why do you preach that which you do not practise?' (and) 'that is inscribed on your necks as a witness and you will be examined about it on the Day of Resurrection'. (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.526).
The tradition as here quoted follows the record of it in the Sahih Muslim where it is recorded after the statement about the surah resembling the ninth surah and containing the verse about the son of Adam (Vol. 2, p.501). The Musabbihaat are those surahs of the Qur'an (numbers 57, 59, 61, 62 and 64) which begin with the words Sabbaha (or yusabbihu) lillaahi maa fiis-samaawati wal-ardth - "Let everything praise Allah that is in the heavens and the earth" (cf. Nöldeke, 1.245).
The words of the first verse mentioned by Abu Musa are exactly the same as those found in Surah 61.2 while the second text is very similar to Surah 17.13 ("We have fastened every man's fate on his neck and on the Day of Resurrection We shall bring out an inscription which he will see spread out") which would explain why he particularly recalled these two verses.
Those Muslims who claim that the Qur'an is exactly the same today as it was when first delivered by Muhammad, nothing varied, added or omitted, have to reckon with such evidences that much is indeed missing from the standardised text. Some take the convenient and easy way out and simply declare such records to be fabricated, but others, more inclined to take them seriously, have another answer to the problem. They say such passages have been abrogated and that such abrogation was decreed by Allah himself during Muhammad's own lifetime while the Qur'an was still being completed. Let us give some attention to this claim.
2. AL-NASKH WA AL-MANSUKH: THE DOCTRINE OF ABROGATION.
This is a doctrine which is spurned by many Muslims who believe it reflects most unfavourably on the supposed textual perfection of the Qur'an, but one that is generally accepted by the more conservative Muslims and orthodox maulanas such as Desai. The doctrine is based fairly and squarely on the teaching of the Qur'an itself, in particular the following verse:
None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God hath power over all things? Surah 2.106
In the early days of Islam this text was taken to mean that parts of the Qur'an could become mansukh (abrogated) while other fresh revelations, the naskh texts, were sent down to replace them. Both the great commentators al-Baidawi and Zamakshari taught emphatically that the abrogated verses should no longer be recited and that any laws based on them were to be regarded as annulled. It was generally believed that the abrogated verses were deleted from the Qur'an by Jibril (the angel said to have transmitted the Qur'an to Muhammad - Surah 2.98), though in many cases both the original text and the one abrogating its dicta are said to have been retained and are still part of the Qur'an text.
The relevant verse plainly states that Allah does indeed abrogate some of his ayat ("revelations"), a word often used for the text of the Qur'an itself as in Surah 3.7 where it is said that some of the ayat of the Scripture (al-Kitab) sent down to Muhammad are basic and whose meaning is obvious whereas others are allegorical (cf. also Surah 11.1). There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Qur'an does teach an abrogation of the ayat of Allah and, as this very word is used in the book for its own texts, the interpretation that it was actual verses of the Qur'an that were abrogated cannot be challenged on the grounds of exegetical fairness or probability. The word ayat is a very common Qur'anic word usually meaning the "signs" of Allah (that is, his supernatural or other portents for mankind), but it is quite obvious that it cannot be these that are said to have been abrogated. The text can only refer to revelations of scripture, it cannot refer to historical signs once these have occurred as a warning to the nations. Muslim scholars are well aware of this and the only question then is, which scriptures are in fact being spoken of here?
Thus those modern Muslim scholars who deny that any of the verses of the Qur'an have been abrogated teach instead that this text refers to the revelations of Allah to the Jews and Christians beforehand. This interpretation is unacceptable as the Qur'an nowhere specifically uses the word ayat to describe the texts of the Tawraat (the Law, the Scripture of the Jews, said to have been given to them by Moses) and the Injil (the Gospel, the Scripture of the Christians, said to have been given to them by Jesus), nor does it suggest that these previous scriptures were ever abrogated.
On the contrary the Qur'an claims to be a scripture musadiqallimaa bayna yadayhi - "confirming what went before it" (Surah 3.3), namely the Tawraat and the Injil which are specifically mentioned in the next clause. The Qur'an thus is said not to be the means of abrogating the previous revelations but rather the very opposite, namely of establishing them. Elsewhere the Jews are expressly commanded to judge by what is written in their scripture rather than come to Muhammad for judgment (Surah 5.47) and the Christians are commanded to do likewise (Surah 5.50). In addition both the Jews and the Christians are called upon to stand fast by the Tawraat and the Injil respectively and all that their Lord had revealed to them. (Surah 5.71).
The abrogation of which the Qur'an speaks, therefore, cannot refer to the previous scriptures and can only refer to the texts of the Qur'an itself, the interpretation universally placed on the verse in the earliest days of Islam. The problem for modern Muslim writers is that the Qur'an claims to proceed from a "preserved tablet" (lawhim-mahfuudh - Surah 85.22) and the question obviously arises - if parts of the Qur'an have been abrogated and eliminated, were they on the original heavenly tablet or not? If they were, then the Qur'an today is not an exact replica of the text on that tablet for they could not have been removed from it, the Qur'an being regarded as Allah's eternal speech. If they were not on the tablet, however, how did they come to be delivered to Muhammad as part of the text? We are right back at the original popular sentiment that the Qur'an has been preserved perfectly to the last dot and letter by Allah himself, nothing varied, added, omitted or, in consequence, "abrogated". To maintain this popular hypothesis modern Muslim writers thus have to resort to a clearly unacceptable interpretation of Surah 2.106, one which cannot be derived ex facie from the text, in preference over the obvious and more reasonable interpretation of the early historians of Islam, namely that parts of the Qur'an text itself have been abrogated.
The doctrine is unpalatable to thinking Muslims for other reasons, for example it represents Allah as a divine author who revokes his earlier announcements as though he had cause to change his mind or had, in time, discovered a better course of action. Nonetheless the text must be taken to mean what it was originally intended to mean, not what modern Muslim writers would like to force it to mean according to their own inclinations.
There are other passages in the Qur'an which clearly support the obvious interpretation, such as the following text:
When We substitute one revelation for another - and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), - they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not. Surah 16.101
This verse quite clearly refers to the substitution and elimination of texts of the Qur'an itself for it does not say that Allah replaces one kitab (the Tawraat or the Injil, for example) with another, but rather that he substitutes one ayah for another ayah and, as we have seen, in the Qur'an this refers to the verses of the book itself and not to the previous revelations. It was in fact this very claim, that Allah himself had replaced some of the earlier texts of the Qur'an, that made Muhammad's opponents accuse him of being a forger, for this appeared to be a very convenient manner of explaining away earlier texts which Muhammad had by that time forgotten or replaced.
Having established that the Qur'an does teach that Allah did, in fact, abrogate and cancel earlier passages revealed to Muhammad, one would think that acceptance of this principle would suffice to prove that the Qur'an, as it is today, is incomplete. That, in fact, is just how modern Muslim writers see it and so they reject the doctrine of abrogation. Certainly the Qur'an cannot be regarded as an exact replica of all that was delivered to Muhammad, nor can it be claimed that nothing has been lost or omitted. Yet we find Desai using this very doctrine of abrogation as an argument for the perfection of the Qur'an text! He says:
Abrogation of verses by Allah Ta'ala during the time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) while the incidence of Wahi (Revelation) was in progress is a fact well-known to all. ... Once a verse has been abrogated on the authority of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), it cannot be included in the Qur'aanic text any longer. (Desai, The Quraan Unimpeachable, pp.48,49).
The argument goes that the missing passages of the Qur'an referred to in the hadith literature cannot be adduced as evidence that the Qur'an is incomplete or imperfect. It is summarily assumed that every text of the Qur'an that could not be traced at the time of its compilation, or which was omitted for some other reason, must have duly been abrogated by Allah. Therefore nothing is actually "missing" from the text - whatever has been omitted has been expunged by divine decree so that what remains is an exact record of what Allah intended to survive. We find that even Umar, troubled by Ubayy ibn Ka'b's excellent knowledge of the Qur'an, when confronted with texts known to the companion but not to the Caliph, likewise claimed that they must have been abrogated:
Narrated Ibn Abbas: Umar said "Ubayy was the best of us in the recitation (of the Qur'an) yet we leave some of what he recites". Ubayy says, "I have taken it from the mouth of Allah's Apostle (saw) and will not leave it for anything whatever". But Allah said: None of Our revelations do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We substitute something better or similar (2.106). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.489).
Quite obviously Ubayy was convinced that he should not forego anything he had learnt directly from Muhammad himself and the only recourse of those unfamiliar with the verses he was reciting was to regard them as passages that Allah must have abrogated.
We do have one clear case where a verse not found in the Qur'an today is, in the hadith literature, indeed said to have been abrogated. While Muhammad was based in Medina some of the tribes resident near the city and who professed allegiance to him requested assistance against their enemies. Muhammad accordingly despatched seventy of the ansar who, when they reached Bi'r Ma'una (the well of Ma'una) were duly massacred by members of the tribes they had been sent down to assist. Anas ibn Malik said:
We used to read a verse of the Qur'an revealed in their connection, but later the verse was cancelled. It was: "convey to our people on our behalf the information that we have met our Lord, and He is pleased with us, and has made us pleased". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, p.288).
The word used for "cancelled" in this hadith is rufa'a which, in its original form rafa'a, means "to take away, remove, abolish or eliminate". It is thus clearly taught in this text that a verse, clearly said to have been part of the Qur'an itself, was later abrogated. The text was widely recorded and amongst the sources for it we find Ibn Sa'd, at-Tabari, al-Waqidi and Muslim (Nöldeke, Geschichte, 1.246). Elsewhere we read that the relevant text was "sent down in a Qur'an verse until it was withdrawn" (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, p.527), another clear proof that the verse was originally a part of the Qur'an text. The difficulty here, and with all the other passages of the Qur'an reported in the hadith literature as now omitted from the text, is that one cannot find a reason why it should have been "abrogated" or what "better or similar" verse duly came in its place.
The Qur'an plainly states, in both Surahs 2.106 and 16.101, that Allah substitutes such a "better or similar" verse for the original text. Thus we are told in one place of the Qur'an that intoxicating wine has both good and bad effects (Surah 2.219) and that Muslims should not come to their prayers in a state of intoxication (Surah 4.43). Later, however, the consumption of wine was forbidden altogether (Surah 5.93-94) and the latter verses are said to have been substituted for the former verses (which nevertheless remain in the Qur'an text). This is a reasonable and consistent example of what we would expect to find when the Qur'an says that not one of Allah's revelations are abrogated without something else coming in its place.
The hadith quoted about the mutual pleasure of Allah and those slain at Bi'r Ma'una, however, does not tell us what came in place of the verse said to have been withdrawn. The same goes for all the other passages we have mentioned - what came in their place? What was the naskh that took the place of the mansukh?
It is far more reasonable to conclude that most of the various passages said to have been omitted from the Qur'an were either overlooked, or not known to all the companions, or quite simply forgotten (such as the passage said by Abu Musa to have contained the verse about the insatiable greed of man - cf. Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p.501). Desai's attempt to blanket every passage said to have been omitted from the Qur'an under the cover of the doctrine of divine abrogation appears to be an expedient means of explaining away the imperfections in the original collection of the Qur'an and the ultimate incompleteness of the text. Let us conclude with a consideration of two famous passages said to have been part of the Qur'an but eventually omitted from it.
3. THE MISSING VERSE ON THE INSATIABLE GREED OF MAN.
We have already quoted from the Sahih Muslim the verse about the greed of the son of Adam who, even if he were to be given two valleys full of riches would covet yet a third and nothing would satisfy him. This tradition, to the effect that this passage once formed a part of the Qur'an text, is so widely reported that it must be authentic in its basic details. As-Suyuti's selection of some of the other hadith records quoting this text shows just how extensive the authorities for it were, one of which reads:
Abu Waqid al-Laithii said, "When the messenger of Allah (saw) received the revelation we would come to him and he would teach us what had been revealed. (I came) to him and he said 'It was suddenly communicated to me one day: Verily Allah says, We sent down wealth to maintain prayer and deeds of charity, and if the son of Adam had a valley he would leave it in search for another like it and, if he got another like it, he would press on for a third, and nothing would satisfy the stomach of the son of Adam but dust, yet Allah is relenting towards those who relent.'" (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.525).
This record is followed by a similar tradition, where Ubayy ibn Ka'b is said to be the original transmitter, giving the verse in much the same words, except that the companion expressly stated that Muhammad had quoted this verse as part of the Qur'an (al-Qur'an in the text) which he had been commanded to recite to them. Following this is the tradition of Abu Musa, similar to the record of it in the Sahih Muslim, which states that the verse was from a surah resembling Suratul-Bara'ah in length, except that in this case Abu Musa is not said to have forgotten it but rather that it had subsequently been withdrawn (thumma rafa'at - "then it was taken away"), the verse on the greed of the son of Adam alone being preserved (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, p.525).
It is also said by some authorities that the verse was read by Ubayy ibn Ka'b just after Surah 10.25 in his codex (Jeffery, Materials, p.135) while other records state that it was also reported by Anas ibn Malik, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Zubair and others (Nöldeke, Geschichte, 1.234) but with none of these being sure, as Ubayy most certainly was, whether it was part of the Qur'an text or not (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p.500). The tradition was, thus, mutawatir, a well-attested hadith confirmed by a number of companions whose authority could not be questioned or challenged.
This verse is expressly said to have been a part of the Qur'an text that was revealed to Muhammad in the two records of the hadith deriving from Abu Waqid and Ubayy ibn Ka'b and, in the narrative of Abu Musa recorded in as-Suyuti's selection, it is stated to have been one of the Qur'an verses, indeed a portion of a whole surah, that was abrogated. It is also acknowledged as such in the works of commentators on the Qur'an such as Abu Ubaid in his Fadhail al-Qur'an and Muhammad ibn Hazm in his Kitab al-Nasikh wa'l Mansukh, both authors stating that it was a valid text of the Qur'an before it was withdrawn. It is thus one of many passages which, although Allah is said to have caused it to be forgotten upon its retraction, remained in the memories of the companions and has duly been preserved as one of the missing verses of the Qur'an.
4. UMAR AND THE VERSES OF STONING FOR ADULTERY.
One of the most well-known passages said in hadith records to be missing from the Qur'an relates to the so-called "stoning verses" wherein Muhammad is said to have been commanded to stone to death married people who commit adultery. The records all state that the second Caliph of Islam, Umar, once brought the existence of these missing verses to the attention of the Muslim public during one of his sermons from the minbar (the pulpit) of the mosque in Medina. Umar is reported as narrating the matter as follows:
Allah sent Muhammad (saw) with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the Verse of the Rajam (the stoning of married persons, male and female, who commit adultery) and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle (saw) did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that after a long time has passed, somebody will say, 'By Allah, we do not find the Verse of the Rajam in Allah's Book', and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation which Allah has revealed. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, p.539).
In the Qur'an as it stands today the only punishment prescribed for adulterers is a hundred stripes (Surah 24.2), no distinction being made between the married or unmarried state of each of the parties involved. Umar, however, clearly stated that Allah had originally revealed a passage prescribing rajam (stoning to death) for adulterers. From the original Arabic text of the narrative in the Sahih of Bukhari as quoted above it can be seen quite clearly that Umar was convinced that this passage was originally a part of the Qur'an text. The key words are wa anzala alayhil-kitaaba fakaana mimmaa anzalallaahu aayaatur-rajm, meaning literally, "And He sent down to him the Scripture (viz. the Qur'an), and part of what Allah sent down (therein) was the verse of stoning".
In another record of this incident we find that Umar added: "Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery, if proof stands or pregnancy is clear or confession is made" (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.684). Both the records of the tradition in the Sahih of Bukhari and the Sirat of Ibn Ishaq add that Umar mentioned another missing verse which was once part of the kitabullah (viz. the Qur'an) which the earliest of Muhammad's companions used to recite, namely "O people! Do not claim to be the offspring of other than your fathers, as it is disbelief on your part to claim to be the offspring of other than your real father." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, p.540).
In both narratives there is a prologue where we find Umar cautioning against any attempt to deny what he was saying, warning that those who could not accept what he was about to disclose were not thereby entitled to tell lies about him (that is, to say that he did not disclose it). He obviously was very serious about what he was doing and anticipated an adverse reaction from those Muslims of a later generation who were not aware of the missing verses which clearly contradicted the injunction in Surah 24.2, or that Muhammad had in fact stoned adulterers to death. That he did so is clear from the following hadith:
Ibn Shihab reported that a man in the time of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) acknowledged having committed adultery and confessed it four times. The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) then ordered and he was stoned. " (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.350).
There are numerous other records of instances similar to this one where Muhammad had adulterers stoned to death. What was, in fact, the "Verse of Stoning"? It is mentioned in the following tradition:
Zirr ibn Hubaish reported: "Ubayy ibn Ka'b said to me, 'What is the extent of Suratul-Ahzab?' I said, 'Seventy, or seventy-three verses'. He said, 'Yet it used to be equal to Suratul-Baqarah and in it we recited the verse of stoning'. I said, 'And what is the verse of stoning'? He replied, 'The fornicators among the married men (ash-shaikh) and married women (ash-shaikhah), stone them as an exemplary punishment from Allah, and Allah is Mighty and Wise."' (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.524).
Whereas the Qur'an makes no distinction in Surah 24.2 between the married or unmarried state of those who are guilty of fornication (it simply calls them az-zaaniyatu waz-zaanii - "the female and male fornicators"), the text as given in the above tradition only states that married men and women who are caught in adultery should be stoned (the actual meaning of the word is "old" or "adult" men and women, implying married persons).
This has led to much discussion in Muslim writings about the meaning of the verse. The general understanding among Muslim scholars of earlier generations was that any portion of the Qur'an totally abrogated by Allah was also caused to be entirely forgotten (on the strength of Surah 2.106: nansakh ... aw nunsihaa naati - "abrogate ... or cause to be forgotten", the two being taken together as an entity). So when a verse was found to be retained in the memory of a companion as distinguished as Umar, it was assumed that, whereas the text may indeed have been withdrawn from the Qur'an, teaching and prescription found in it nevertheless binding as part of the sunnah of the Prophet of Islam. The dilemma was generally resolved by presuming that the Qur'anic command to impose one hundred stripes on fornicators applied only to unmarried persons, whereas married persons guilty of actual adultery were to be stoned according to the sunnah. Numerous other solutions to the issue have been proposed and the subject has been exhaustively treated in the various works of historical Islamic literature.
We are not here concerned with the theological or legal implications of the doctrine of abrogation, however, but only with the actual compilation of the Qur'an text itself. The question here is, was this verse once a part of the Qur'an text or not and, if it was, why is it now omitted from its pages? From the traditions quoted thus far we can see that it was clearly regarded by Umar as part of the original Qur'an text, yet in another tradition we read that Umar had some hesitancy about it:
Zaid ibn Thabit and Sa'id ibn al-As were writing out the mushaf (the written codex of the Qur'an) and when they came to this verse Zaid said, "I heard the messenger of Allah (saw) say: 'The adult men and women who commit adultery, stone them as a punishment"'. Umar said, "When it was revealed I went to the Prophet (saw) and said, 'Shall I write it?', but he seemed very reluctant". (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.528).
This hadith, however, irrespective of its isnad (its chain of transmitters), has some obvious contradictions in its content (its matn). It places Umar with Zaid and Sa'id ibn al-As at the time when the Qur'an was being copied out by the latter two men together and, as this is known to have occurred at Uthman's instigation long after Umar's death, Umar could hardly have so discoursed with them. In any event most of the other hadith records make it quite plain that Umar had no doubt that the stoning verse was originally part of the Qur'an text and it was for this reason that he was so serious about its retention.
It was occasionally argued that the hadith records of the existence of the stoning verse all attribute its origin to just one man, Umar, thus making it dependent on khabar al-wahid, the report of only one witness, and therefore unreliable. The prominence of that one witness, however, just could not be summarily ignored. It was no less a personality than Umar ibn al-Khattab, one of Muhammad's earliest and most well-known companions, who reported the existence of the verse which he claimed he received directly from Muhammad himself and, when such a report was given during his reign as Caliph over the whole Muslim community, it could not be disregarded or considered lightly.
Nonetheless modern Muslim writers, determined to discount even the slightest possibility that anything originally revealed as part of the Qur'an text has now been omitted therefrom for whatever reason, seek to reject the claim that the stoning verse was ever part of the Qur'an. Siddique, for example, unable to simply brush the records aside, claims that Umar made a mistake! In the context of his comments on the stoning verse he says, "As for 'Umar (ra) we know that he was a great mujtahid, but he also made mistakes which are documented in the hadith" (Al-Balaagh, op,cit., p.2). On what grounds does a twentieth-century Muslim writer accuse the great Caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab, of making a mistake about something he experienced directly during Muhammad's own lifetime? On no other ground than that Umar's disclosure undermines the popular Muslim sentiment that the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved with nothing varied or omitted.
He goes on to claim, like many other scholars, that Uthman was not talking of the Qur'an when he spoke of the command to stone adulterers as being part of the "Book of Allah" (kitabullah) but rather of the Tawraat as Muhammad is said in some of the hadith records to have stoned Jews who committed adultery according to the prescribed laws of their own scripture. The hadith records quite clearly state, however, that Umar claimed that the verse had been revealed to Muhammad and that he himself would have considered writing it into Allah's revealed scripture were it not that some people would have claimed that he was adding to it. He is recorded as saying:
"See that you do not forget the verse about stoning and say: We do not find it in the Book of Allah; the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) had ordered stoning and we too have done so, after him. By the Lord Who holds possession of my life, if people should not accuse me of adding to the Book of Allah, I would have this transcribed therein: Ash-shaikhu wash-shaikhatu ithaa zanayaa faarjumuu humaa We have read this verse". (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.352).
As the verse is expressly said to have been revealed to Muhammad in the other hadith records, it is hard to see how Umar could have contemplated writing it into the Tawraat! The Caliph's total ignorance of the Hebrew language should also be given some consideration!
Desai contradicts Siddique by freely acknowledging that the stoning verse was indeed a part of the original text of the Qur'an but, as he conveniently does with all texts now said to be omitted from the Qur'an, he claims that it was subsequently abrogated (The Quraan Unimpeachable, p.48). Because its existence was preserved and as other records of Muhammad's capital punishment upon adulterers were also handed down in the hadith texts, he states that it was one of the mansukhut tilawah, that is, texts whose recitation has been cancelled while the laws expounded in them have been retained (op.cit.). Such verses, he points out, are unlike other Qur'anic texts where the recitation has been retained but the laws contained therein (the hukm, the "effects") have been cancelled and abrogated.
Writers like Siddique immediately sense the weakness of such arguments and the consequent vulnerability of the Qur'an to the charge that it was undergoing some strange mutations in respect of the development of its text and teaching during the time of its deliverance. Only credulous conservative writers like Desai can fail to see that the doctrine of abrogation, in its various forms, has a deliberate weakening effect on the overall authenticity of the Qur'an text as it stands today. In any event there is nothing in Umar's declaration on the pulpit that day to suggest that the ayatur-rajm was ever abrogated. His bold statement that he would write it into the Qur'an himself were it not for the anticipated charge that he had tampered with the text is clear evidence that he considered it to be a valid passage whose exclusion from the Qur'an was to be regretted. Even if he had no hope of persuading the Muslim community to reinstate it in the text (particularly if it had formed a portion of a whole section that was lost), he was determined to publicise and establish its existence as part of the original Qur'an as delivered to Muhammad.
The doctrine of abrogation is constantly shown up as a weak explanation of the disappearance of certain texts from the Qur'an. A good example can be found in a further hadith which was widely reported and which stated that the Qur'an originally contained a law forbidding marriage between two people who had been breastfed by the same woman. The Tradition reads as follows:
A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that it had been revealed in the Qur'an that ten clear sucklings make the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated by five sucklings and Allah's Apostle (saw) died and before that time it was found in the Qur'an. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p.740).
It is clearly stated that the Qur'an had originally contained a verse prescribing a prohibition on the marriage of two people who had been breastfed by the same woman at least ten times. This verse was then abrogated and another was substituted for it, restricting the number to five. Where is this verse in the Qur'an? It too is missing - has it also been abrogated? If so, what came in its place? It is in traditions like these that the doctrine of abrogation is shown to be extremely vulnerable on closer analysis.
One verse, the naskh, is said to have replaced the abrogated verse, the mansukh. Yet in this case even the naskh has become mansukh! One must surely look for a more reasonable explanation. It appears that, during his lifetime, Muhammad did indeed proclaim that certain passages were abrogated by others, but from the examples we have studied, it appears that sometimes the original verses had quite simply dropped out of the recitation of the Qur'an for whatever reason - they were overlooked, forgotten, replaced, etc. - and after the death of Muhammad it became convenient to explain away the omission of such verses as the result of divine abrogation. In many cases, however, particularly those we have studied, there are evidences that they were omitted for other reasons and no mention of their supposed abrogation appears in the text of the relevant hadith.
This chapter has illustrated quite sufficiently that the Qur'an, as it stands today, is somewhat incomplete. Numerous individual verses and, at times, whole passages, are said to have once formed part of the original text and the attempt to evade the implications by suggesting that all such passages must have been abrogated simply because of the fact of their omission from the standardised text cannot overcome the key problem facing those Muslims who claim that the Qur'an has been preserved absolutely intact to the last dot and letter, nothing added, omitted or varied, indicating a divine oversight of its transmission. The text as it stands today just cannot sincerely be regarded by the Muslims as an exact replica of the "preserved tablet" in heaven from which it was all said to have been delivered to Muhammad. While nothing can be shown to have been added to the text or interpolated into it, much of what was there in the beginning is quite obviously missing from it now and, in comparison with that supposed heavenly original, it cannot be regarded as perfect and complete.
Desai uses the doctrine of abrogation to explain away the omission of certain key texts from the Qur'an and thereby he seeks to maintain the hypothesis that the Qur'an today is exactly as Allah intended it to be. How does he get around the wealth of variant readings found in all the early codices of the Qur'an before Uthman's order that all but one of them should be destroyed? Let us in the next chapter analyse his arguments and investigate the doctrine of the seven different readings of the Qur'an.
Jam' Al-Qur'an: Table of contents
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