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The Collection and Sources of the Qu'ran


1. Modern Muslim Attitudes to the Text of the Qur'an.

It is universally believed throughout The Muslim World that the Qur'an in circulation today is precisely that which Allah revealed to Muhammad, that nothing whatsoever has been changed, that no passage has been omitted from the text, that no man added to it, and that, down to the last letter, it has been preserved intact by the power of God. This hypothesis is then summarily adduced as proof that the book must be the Word of God, one which the Qur'an itself sets forth: Innaa nahnu nazzalnaath-thikraa wa innaa lahuu lahaafidhuun - "Indeed We sent down the Admonition, and will verily guard it" (Surah 15.9). Muslim writers boldly allege:

It is true that the Qur'an has been exceptionally well preserved and its text is very much that which was first compiled at the inception of Islam. Even Christian scholars have been quick to admit this fact:

Nonetheless a study of the early collection of the book will show that the popular sentiments of the Muslims, as expressed in the quotes above, are not entirely supported by the evidences at hand. One cannot help immediately detecting, in these quotes, certain claims that suggest that the wish is father to the thought. Zafrulla Khan goes so far as to allege that even the vowel points of the Qur'an are totally unchanged to this day, and yet the history of the Qur'an text shows that diacritical points distinguishing the Arabic consonants and the relative vowel points were only introduced at least two hundred years after Muhammad's death. The earliest Qur'ans, in kufic and other scripts, all had only seventeen consonants (whereas the Arabic letters distinguished by diacritical points, etc., today number twenty- nine) and none were accompanied by vowel points. Likewise scrupulous human preservation of the text can hardly be termed a divine miracle. No more does the preservation of the text in the memories of the qurra (Qur'an "readers") justify this claim. No amount of human effort, no matter how remarkably punctilious or scrupulous it may be, can be adduced as proof of a divine miracle.

As we analyse the history of the text of the Qur'an we will find that, like the Bible, it has suffered from variant readings and other vagaries, notwithstanding the fact that it has been carefully preserved as a whole. This statement anticipates the only conclusion that can be drawn from an analysis of the evidences:

Before proceeding, it is useful to point out at this stage that the Muslim attitude to the Qur'an does not derive from an exhaustive study of the historical evidences available but rather from preferred presuppositions. The Qur'an has never been subjected to the form of textual criticism so intensively applied to the Bible in recent times. Muslims mistake this as a sign that the Qur'an does not suffer from the minor textual defects found in the Biblical texts. Once one ventures upon such an analysis, however, one finds that the results are invariably the same, as we shall see.

When the early Muslims began to have contact with Christian communities they discovered that the teachings of the Bible contradicted those of the Qur'an in many ways and that they were fundamentally Jewish and Christian rather than supportive of Islam as the Qur'an claims. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and the Muslims immediately felt bound to allege that the Biblical texts must have been corrupted, and so it is to this day. The claims for the purity of the Qur'an text, allowing not the slightest "corruption", were a natural corollary to this allegation and are made, consciously or otherwise, for this very purpose to the present day. An objective study of the sources, however, will show that "the textual history of the Qur'an is very similar to that of the Bible" (Guillaume, Islam, p. 58), and that the Muslim efforts to push the transmission of the texts of the two books to opposite extremes is the product purely of wishful thinking.

2. The Qur'an at the End of Muhammad's Life.

Muhammad's death was quite unexpected, so much so that Umar threatened to despatch to the same fate those who dared to allege that it had occurred. What was the state of the Qur'an itself at this untimely juncture? The records in the Hadith are somewhat confusing but all agree on one point - the collection of the Qur'an text into its final form only took place after Muhammad's death.

This is the general opinion of most Western scholars who have made a study of the compilation of the Qur'an. Jeffery was the scholar par excellence in this field among English-speaking students of the subject and in another work he again makes the same point:

As pointed out already, the early traditions are not always clear, but we do believe that a very sound conclusion can be drawn from them and one consistent with the evidences. Nonetheless one does find some scholars seeking to discount the traditions and thereby establish favoured hypotheses. One such scholar is John Burton who, in a recent work, has sought to prove that the Qur'an text that has been handed down was in fact quite simply that which Muhammad himself actually defined, collected and arranged towards the end of his life. He is constrained to admit, however, that his thesis is ex vacuo as far as the evidences are concerned and indeed somewhat contrary to them. He duly allows that the traditions, while conflicting at times, are nevertheless unanimous in teaching that the Qur'an was not collected in its present form before Muhammad's death:

It is widely stated in the works of Hadith that the first attempt to collect the Qur'an was only made during Abu Bakr's short reign as caliph after Muhammad's death. A widespread revolt followed his demise in Arabia and, in one of Abu Bakr's major campaigns to quell it, at the Battle of Yamama, many of the qurra were killed. This event allegedly prompted him to endeavour to preserve the Qur'an in a written, collected form. One of the narratives reads:

Zaid is then said to have responded to the appeal and set about collecting the text of the book. One thing is clear from the narrative - the collection of the Qur'an is said to have been one thing expressly which Allah's Apostle did not do. On the other hand it is taught elsewhere in the Hadith that at least four companions had collected the whole Qur'an during Muhammad's lifetime, one of whom was the same Zaid:

Another early collector of Hadith adds that there was a fifth but that there was some dispute as to his identity. He is said to have been one Tamim al-Dari (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 457). One detects immediately a degree of uncertainty about the early collection of the Qur'an text.

The other tradition from Bukhari, attested by all other major works of Hadith, makes it plain, however, that the actual collection of the Qur'an was only undertaken after Muhammad's death. This tradition, as pointed out already, was very widely attested. Zaid clearly knew the Qur'an well but the suggestion that he knew it perfectly, and in its entirety, is contradicted by this statement attributed to him:

It was quite obviously a widespread search that Zaid conducted and the statement that one passage (Surah 9.128-129) was found with only one man shows that no one knew the whole book by heart. He could not find another supposed hafiz who knew it. It is then stated that the completed text was kept by Abu Bakr and, after his death, by his successor Umar and, upon his demise, by his daughter Hafsah.

Let it be said, in passing, that the sources relied on by Zaid - date palms, white stones, etc. - were hardly conducive to the compilation of a perfect text from which nothing was lacking. What evidence is there that he did, in fact, remarkably compose a perfect copy from such brittle resources? Indeed, if anyone had known the whole book by heart, all his efforts would have been unnecessary. Any one of the qurra could simply have dictated it to him. The steps he took, however, strongly imply that the texts of the Qur'an were loosely scattered in various places and that those he consulted generally knew and remembered different texts. Furthermore the mushaf (the written codex) that he finally compiled was, let it be noted, assembled not by the decree or direction of the Almighty but purely at his own personal discretion, no matter how careful he almost certainly was to arrange an authentic copy.

3. The Uthmanic Collection of the Qur'an.

The traditions would have us believe that the first official collection of the Qur'an was therefore made by the caliph Abu Bakr and yet we find that, instead of being copied and promulgated as the standard text of the Qur'an, it was strangely preserved, if not concealed, in the private possession of the first two caliphs and thereafter under the bed, so tradition tells us, of Hafsah, very much a recluse after the death of Muhammad.

We shall return to this question to give a probable answer shortly. In the meantime, however, it is of great interest to us to find that during the reign of the third caliph Uthman this copy was brought to the fore as word was brought from the out-lying provinces that the Muslims in these areas were reciting the Qur'an in different ways. The sequel is set out in the following tradition:

This tradition informs us quite clearly that other manuscripts of the Qur'an, some in sections, others complete, had been written out and that they were in use elsewhere in the conquered territories. Uthman's order that they should be burnt indicates that there were serious textual differences between them and the manuscript in Hafsah's possession.

It is practically certain that none of the other texts was identical to that compiled by Zaid for Abu Bakr, as not one was allowed to be spared destruction. Uthman's drastic action implies that the differences between these texts were serious textual variants and that they affected not just the manner of the recitation of the Qur'an but its actual form and content. Therefore the Qur'an text that has been handed down through the centuries is not that to which the companions of Muhammad gave their unqualified assent but purely one form of it, uncorroborated in every point by the others in circulation, which was finally established as the standard text to the exclusion of the others.

Indeed even the commission by Uthman to Zaid and the other three redactors indicates that Hafsah's copy of the Qur'an had hardly been regarded as an infallible text per se. The direction given that the text should be standardised in the Quraysh dialect shows that the four men were given some liberty to revise Hafsah's manuscript where they considered this necessary to bring it into line with its original language. Indeed the reason for this is most informative: "This was because Zaid was a Madinite while his colleagues were Quraish" (Ali, The Religion of lslam, p. 26). It is to be presumed that, as Zaid was the sole compiler of Hafsah's text, there were Medinese dialectal variants in his work which needed to be corrected by the other three. Furthermore the Hadith go on to inform us that even after this recension by the four scribes, Zaid recalled a verse which was lost:

The verse was Surah 33.23. Accordingly even this copy can hardly be regarded as a perfect collection of the Qur'an to the last word or letter, nothing added or missing from it. It is truly said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and, whereas the Qur'an may have been remarkably transcribed, even perhaps to the point of inerrancy, from the time of Uthman, the weak link is the first one and it is found just at this point where the evidences show that the argument for the textual perfection of the Qur'an cannot be taken back from the time of Uthman to Muhammad himself.

Among the other texts destroyed were two by the wellknown and highly respected qurra Abdullah bin Mas'ud and Ubayy bin Katb, the latter in fact being known as sayyidul-qurra - the "Master of the Readers". It is said of his text:

We will have more to say about the other famous companion of Muhammad shortly. Nonetheless, even though their codices were actually destroyed, records were kept of the readings in them which differed from those in the text standardised by Uthman.

Accordingly we must conclude that the text which was finally imposed on The Muslim World by Uthman was not one which his predecessors Abu Bakr and Umar had established as the standard text of the Qur'an but rather merely one among a whole selection of codices compiled by different qurra and other companions of Muhammad. This explains the unusual solitude which surrounds the preservation of Zaid's text from the time of its compilation under Abu Bakr to its public exposure during Uthman's reign. It is not that Zaid's text was perfect and the others imperfect - Zaid's text was simply one among many which was singled out to be the preferred text.

It needs to be repeated that these were actual varying written collections of the Qur'an. The suggestions by modern Muslim writers that the only differences in those days in the recitation of the Qur'an were found purely in the pronunciation of vowel points cannot be seriously sustained. It is only written texts that can be consigned to the flames, not niceties of pronunciation of vowel points that do not appear in the written text. It must be presumed that there were actual consonantal and, indeed, clausal variants in their texts.

Why, then, did Uthman not order a general revision of the whole Qur'an by calling in the prominent qurra for a broadly- based convention to compile as authentic a text as possible? Why did he summarily impose Zaid's text on the whole Muslim world, the recension of only one man uncorroborated by others, as the standard text of the Qur'an? A study of the circumstances of the time answers this question. Uthman was a most unpopular caliph, accused by some of Muhammad's more prominent and influential companions of catering for his own household, the descendants of Umayya, who had generally opposed Islam until given no choice but to throw in their lot with Muhammad after the conquest of Mecca. Uthman was placing many of these in high positions - an act destined to rupture Islam after his death. It was through this action that irreligious men like Mu'awiya and Yazid, descendants of Muhammad's archenemy Abu Sufyan, subsequently obtained control of the caliphate.

This danger was noticed by the more loyal and religious followers of Muhammad, especially the qurra who had much influence in the empire, "a class of men who had acquired, thanks to their being continually with the Prophet, a fairly complete knowledge of the Koranic revelations and of all the customs and rules of life, culled from the reformer" (Caetani, "Uthman and the Recension of the Koran", The Muslim World, Vol. 5, p. 386). As the Qur'an remained the final authority in all matters of life and conduct in Islam, these men were a severe threat to Uthman's untidy reign and their authority as experts in the text and teaching of the Qur'an gave them much influence over the centres beyond Uthman's immediate control in Medina. Indeed the manuscripts compiled by these men soon became the standard texts in these cent res.

The purpose, therefore, of Uthman's decree was not just to standardise a text of the Qur'an for the whole Muslim world but to remove with one stroke the growing influence of the qurra and to nullify the threat that they posed. Quite clearly the caliph sought to undermine their authority in religious matters by destroying their Qur'anic esteem.

We are not therefore surprised to find that this highhanded political blow aroused the anger of the qurra and other more religious factions even more against the caliph and that they succeeded in murdering him not long afterward.

It is most probable that this was the real reason for Uthman's action and one which contributed to his assassination. The standardising of the Qur'an text was purely incidental to his efforts to establish control over the Muslim empire and to neutralise the potential of a revolution headed by those whose influence was assured through their knowledge of the Qur'an.

It does not suit Islamic tradition to admit as much and it was certainly to its advantage to have a standard text universally accepted in the world of Islam. Later contacts with the Christian world made this eventuality all the more suitable to the Muslim cause. A single Qur'an text proved to be a healthy foundation for an attack on the supposed variations and differences in the Christian scriptures. The evidence of the manner in which that text became universalised, however, was seen to be its own Achilles Heel and therefore it became very convenient to remould it into the form in which we now have it, where the codex of Abu Bakr is not seen as a private copy in the possession of the caliph but rather as one publicly declared to be an official recension.

Uthman's action then is not seen for what it really was - a stroke of policy against the influential qurra through the enforcement of the text of the Qur'an in his possession to the exclusion of rival texts - but rather as a pious reestablishment of the authority of a text long before publicly drafted as the standard text of the Qur'an. If nothing else, Abu Bakr's prompt action to privately conceal and store the manuscript compiled by Zaid undermines this theory and very strongly supports the contention that it was merely a personal copy, a codex no more important or accurate than all the others simultaneously being compiled.

4. The Codex of Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud.

A special degree of attention should be given to the codex of the Qur'an compiled by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud of whom we have heard already. The Hadith which refer to his exceptional knowledge of the Qur'an are well worth recording here as they undergird the conclusions already drawn about Uthman's text. Ibn Mas'ud was a very early convert to Islam and the first to proclaim Muhammad's message openly in Mecca. When his codex was ordered to be destroyed in favour of Zaid's text, he said:

He had been one of Muhammad's closest companions and had obtained quite a reputation as a reader of the Qur'an. At Kufa his text was widely recognised as authoritative and authentic as we have already seen.

Ibn Mas'ud certainly had a head-start over Zaid who only became a Muslim after the Hijrah. In his book The Sublime Qur'an and Orientalism, Mohammad Khalifa states that this Zaid ibn Thabit was "among the first to believe in Islam" and that he was appointed as one of Muhammad's scribes (p. 36). It seems the author is confusing him with Zaid ibn Harithah who was Muhammad's adopted son (the husband of Zaynab who married Muhammad after her divorce from him) and who was indeed one of the first to believe his message. The compiler of Abu Bakr's codex, however, came from Medina and only followed Islam some years later. Furthermore it is expressly stated in many works of Hadith that Ibn Mas'ud was one of the foremost authorities on the Qur'an text, if not its most prominent scholar and champion:

The same tradition in the Sahih Muslim also makes special mention of the fact that Muhammad deliberately named Ibn Mas'ud first, implying that he was the foremost authority on the Qur'an (Vol. 4, p. 1312). Zaid is not even mentioned in the list. Yet another tradition says that Ibn Mas'ud delivered a sermon in Kufa when Uthman's order concerning the uniform reading of the Qur'an was issued. He declared:

The transmitter of the tradition, Shaqiq ibn Salamah, added: "Subsequently I sat in the circles of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, and others but none contradicted his statement" (op. cit.). Another tradition from the same source says that when Abu Zabyan, an early convert to Islam, was asked which of the two readings of the Qur'an he preferred, that is, the reading of Zaid or that of Ibn Mas'ud, he replied the latter, adding that whenever Gabriel revealed or recited the Qur'an to Muhammad during Ramadan each year, Ibn Mas'ud was the first to learn of it (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 441).

It therefore appears from the aforegoing traditions that Ibn Mas'ud was widely regarded as a far greater authority on the text of the Qur'an than Zaid and, as Muhammad specifically singled him out as the first person to whom anyone should go who wished to learn it, his codex had far better grounds for being regarded as the best text available. It ia little wonder that he sought to disobey the caliph's order and preserve his copy. Indeed the record of the textual variants between his text and that of Zaid is very substantial. One or two will be mentioned shortly. All this proves quite conclusively that Zaid's codex can hardly be regarded as a perfect reproduction, to the last letter and with nothing omitted, of the Qur'an as it was handed down by Muhammad to his companions. Such a conviction may appeal to the popular sentiments of the Muslims but it is seriously undermined by the wealth of evidences left to us in the Hadith - the other great historical heritage of Islam.

Some Muslim writers seek to avoid the implications by alleging that the textual variants in the collections of Ibn Mas'ud and others were purely marginal glosses and notes (so Khalifa, The Sublime Qur'an and Orientalism, p. 49), just as they claim that such variants were confined to vowel points and did not affect the text of the Qur'an itself. The records thus far considered show quite plainly that the reason given by Uthman for his order against the other written manuscripts of the Qur'an text was that they contained serious textual variants and differed from his text and from one another. Little more need be said to show that such arguments of Muslim apologists today are hardly founded on an objective analysis of the evidences at hand but rather upon the desire to uphold their preferred claim that the Qur'an has not been altered in any way.

If it should be alleged, as it sometimes is, that the evidences considered are based purely on the Hadith and are therefore unreliable, it must be said that there is no alternative chain of evidence anywhere in the history of Islam to tell us how the Qur'an came to be written in the form in which we now have it. There is no other source to consult. Those who claim that its present form is its own testimony must tell us who transcribed it from Muhammad, what evidence they have to prove conclusively that it is complete and always accurate, and on what authority they make these claims.

In fact the Qur'an is a most unsuitable testimony to its own supposed textual perfection. It is a terribly disjointed book. Its surahs are not arranged in any sort of chronological order and the various passages in these surahs deal with all sorts of issues, more often than not having no connection with one another. A compact narrative like the Book of Esther in the Bible might well be its own testimony in this respect but the Qur'an, a collection of fragmentary texts and passages compiled into an unharmonious whole without respect to sequence or theme, is not the kind of book that can testify to its own textual accuracy.

The records in the Hadith, on the other hand, are an historical heritage, indeed the historical heritage, in Islam, informing us how the Qur'an was reduced to its present form. One cannot prefer bold, wishful claims in favour of the Qur'an's supposed perfection, unsupported by any facts or evidences, against a factual and historical record widely reported in different works to the contrary. Such evidences cannot be dismissed in favour of pure speculation.

5. The Case of the "Stoning verses".

Widely reported in the Hadith is a tradition which makes Umar report that the punishment for adultery, according to the Kitab Allah, the "Book of Allah", was death by stoning, notwithstanding the verse found in the Qur'an today which prescribes a different penalty:

The tradition referred to is found in all the recognised works of Hadith and reads as follows in one of them:

Not only did Umar make this disclosure but he also gave a fairly sensitive prologue to it to explain what he was going to say and why he was doing so. The preamble reads as follows in another record of the tradition:

In Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasulullah Umar is recorded as saying that if anyone could not receive (that is, assent to) what he was to say, he was not entitled to deny that he had said it. It is quit clear that he was very serious about what he wished to convey and anticipated a mixed reaction. It appears that the "stoning verse" (the ayatur-rajam) was, by the time he made his disclosure, not only omitted from the Qur'an but was generally unknown to the younger section of the Muslim community. He obviously expected that there would be an adverse reaction to his statement, especially as the verse he promoted was at variance with the penalty prescribed in Surah 24.2:

There is concrete evidence that there was much substance in his claim, notwithstanding the fact that the verse was not known widely. Firstly, had it come from an obscure source, it might well have been discounted, but coming from one of the closest and most prominent of Muhammad 'a companions, it can hardly be summarily ignored or gainsaid. Secondly, there are many traditions which record that Muhammad did indeed pass the stoning penalty on adulterers. Here is an example:

In the record of Umar's speech from the pulpit in this same work of Hadith, a part of the actual verse is recorded and Umar is said to have recited it to the congregation assembled in the mosque in Medina. It reads: ash-shaykhu washshaykhatu ithaa zanayaa faarjumuu humaa - "the adult men and women who commit adultery, stone them" (Muwatta Imam Malik, p. 352). Some Muslims say it is hard to find a place in the Qur'an where these words can be interposed, yet other works state that they belonged to a much larger passage now missing from the Qur'an. Abu Ubaid's Kitab Fada'il al-Qur'an contains a folio on verses missing from the Qur'an, which includes the "stoning verse", and gives it in its complete form:

The same folio has another tradition in which Umar is said to have declared: "Some people say, 'What is this about the stoning? there is nothing in Allah's book except scourging', whereas the Apostle stoned and we stoned with him. By Allah, were it not that people might say that Umar had added something to Allah's book, I would have written it in just as it was revealed,' (op. cit., p. 63). This supports the suggestions that Umar's apprehensions about his disclosure stemmed partly from the fact that it was contrary to the teaching of the Qur'an as it now stands in Surah 24.2. The same tradition recorded about the lengthy passage missing from Surah 33 (Suratul-Ahaab) is also recorded in the as-Sunanul-Kubra of Ahmad ibn al-Husain al- Baihaqi and is quoted on page 80 of Burton's The Collection of the Qur'an. The writer adds that "this version of the stoning verse is a fair imitation of the Qur'an style" (op. cit.). It is also useful to point out that in another tradition regarding the punishment for stoning two men brought a case to Muhammad and expressly requested him to decide it "in accordance with the Book of Allah". The one man's bachelor son had committed adultery with the other's wife. Muhammad then said "I will take a decision for you both in accordance with the Book of Allah" (Muwatta Imam Malik, p. 351). The boy was to be whipped a hundred times and exiled for a year, the woman was duly stoned after admitting the adultery. The tradition makes it clear that the sentences were expressly in terms of the revealed "Book of Allah" (i.e. the Qur'an) and harmonises the apparently contradictory penalties by prescribing flogging for the unmarried and stoning for the married. This interpretation of Muhammad's sunnah holds in many schools of Islamic jurisprudence to this day.

There are some Muslims who try to find proof of stoning for adulterers in the Qur'an as it stands today, and they usually refer to a verse which states that women guilty of lewdness should be confined to their houses till death overtakes them (Surah 4.15). It takes a fertile imagination to make these somewhat vague words teach expressly that those guilty of adultery are to be stoned! In any event, if the command was retained in the Qur'an, Umar would hardly have spoken as he did, saying that it was only his fear that he would be reviled for adding to the Qur'an that restrained him from summarily inserting the missing verse. Furthermore, Umar claimed that the verse not only prescribed the supreme penalty but that it was to be expressly by stoning. That verse is now missing from the Qur'an and that is why Umar raised the issue. A better assessment of the situation is found in this quote:

This same author, however, has an ingenious solution to the problem of the missing verses. He alleges that when Umar spoke of the Kitab Allah he was not referring to the Qur'an but to the Jewish Torah and adds: "In all likelihood Umar only spoke of rajm as the punishment for adultery in the Mosaic law and he was misunderstood" (p. 620). On top of this he has the audacity to conclude: "That the present Torah does not give stoning as the punishment for adultery is clear proof that the text has been altered" (p. 618)! Such an elliptical line of reasoning almost defies comment. On the other hand it is hardly likely that Umar would have spoken of the Torah, not by its common name, but as Kitab Allah, when he must have known that his hearers would automatically presume that he was speaking of the Qur'an. Likewise his insistence that the verse was one of those revealed to Muhammad makes it extremely unlikely that he was contemplating writing it into the Torah! It is also most improbable that he would have handled the matter as delicately and sensitively as he did had he been referring to any other book than the Qur'an itself, the sacred scripture of Islam.

The widespread stoning of adulterers in Muhammad's time does tend to imply that the verse disclosed by Umar was originally a part of the Qur'an text. If so, it is just one of those passages that is now excluded from the Qur'an (more will be mentioned shortly), proving that the Qur'an text, as we have it today, is somewhat incomplete.

6. Variant Readings in the Qur'an.

A selection of the more prominent variant readings that were known to exist will serve to illustrate, in closing, what has thusfar been said. Although the early Qur'an manuscripts of Ibn Mas'ud and others were destroyed, a record was kept of the differences that existed between the various texts that had been compiled.

In the book quoted Arthur Jeffery lists, on page 17, the thirty-one different books and records consulted which list the various different readings between the texts. Jeffery's own list in his book is a composition of the many hundreds of variant readings recorded in these works. In many cases there is agreement between a number of the codices on readings that differ with the Uthmanic text in each case.

To start with, Surah 2.275 begins allathiina yaakuluunar-ribaa laa yaquumuuna - "those who devour usury will not stand . Ibn Mas'ud's text had the same introduction, but after the last word there was added the expression yawmal qiyaamati, that is, on the "Day of Judgment" (Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, p. 31). Talha's codex also recorded this variant as part of the original text (op. cit., p. 343).

In the same surah we find that, whereas verse nine begins Yukhaadi'uunallaaha - "they would deceive Allah", Ibn Mas'ud's text read Yakhda'uunallaaha - "they do deceive Allah". The compiler comments that the Uthmanic form "may be regarded as an attempt to soften the idea of deceiving Allah which is suggested by the alternative reading" (Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, p. 16). In many cases one finds that the variants in the extra-Uthmanic texts tend to improve or elaborate on the Uthmanic form (e.g. the gloss in Surah 2.275), whereas on other occasions, as here, the reverse is true. In the case of Surah 2.9 it appears that the Uthmanic form is an adaptation of the original which was probably regarded as too harsh and theologically questionable.

Still on the same surah, Ibn Mas'ud had an interesting variant reading in the first verse. It reads in the authorised Uthmanic text Thaalikal kitaabu laa rayba fiih - "This is the Scripture of which there is no doubt" (Surah 2.1). Ibn Mas'ud's text began Tanziilul kitaabu, making the whole verse read "It is the Scripture sent down, of which there is no doubt". The word used for sending down, tanzil, is commonly used in conjunction with the Qur'an itself elsewhere in its text (e.g. Surah 36.2-5 where al-Qur'aanul-Hakiim, "the Wise Qur'an", is described as being tanziilal-'Azitsir-Rahiim - "sent down by the Mighty, the Merciful").

Surah 5.92, in the accepted text, contains the clause fasiyaamu thalaathati ayyaam - "fast for three days". Many of the other codices supplementing the Uthmanic text but agreeing with one another, add the expression mutataabi'aat, meaning that the expiation for an unfulfilled oath was a fast on three successive days. Among those who had this reading were the famous Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka-'b. It was also included in the texts of Ibn Abbas, Satid ibn Jubair and other less prominent qurra.

A very famous variant reading occurs in Surah 3.19 which reads in the authorised text Innaddiina 'indallaahil Islaam - "the religion before God is Islam", i.e., the Submission. Ibn Mas'ud's text is said to have had the word al- Hanifiyyah - "the True Way" in place of Islaam (Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, p. 32). This may well be an earlier title for Muhammad's religion, especially as there were a group of monotheistic "hanifs", as they were called, in Mecca during his early days. Significantly both titles are applied to Abraham in the same surah. He is called haniifaam-muslimaan, being, "true in faith, submissive" (Surah 3.67).

Another writer also concludes that the variant reading in Ibn Mas'ud's text suggests "that at one time Haniflyya was used to denote the doctrine preached by Mohammed and was only later replaced by Islam" (Gibb, Mohammedanism, p. 26). Yet another writer says of the word al-Hanifiyyah:

These readings we have considered are only a fraction of the number recorded in the works cited by Arthur Jeffery but they do serve to show to what extent the earliest codices of the Qur'an differed from one another. The codex of Abu Bakr which Uthman finally authorised at the expense of all the others was, so it appears, just one among many, varying with all of them to one degree or another. There may be one standard text of the Qur'an today, but the evidence weighs heavily against the assertion that this text, merely a reproduction of just one of the early codices, is coincidentally a perfect replica of the original Qur'an, to the very last letter, as it was delivered by Muhammad to his companions.

In closing it will be useful to mention a few further passages affecting the text of the Qur'an spoken of in the major works of Hadith. Surah 2.238 urges the Muslims to observe their prayers carefully, and emphasises salaatil wusta - the "middle prayer". Ayishah is reported to have told Abu Yunus, her freedman, to add in the words wa salaatil 'asr - "and the afternoon prayer" - to the text of the Qur'an as "she had heard it so from the Apostle of Allah" (Muwatta Imam Malik, p. 64; so also Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1, p. 108).

It is also widely reported that the Qur'an originally contained a law forbidding marriage between two people who had been breast-fed by the same woman.

Ayishah clearly stated that the verses, one abrogating the other, were part of the Qur'an text. Today neither is found in it. In another similar tradition we read that Abu Musa al-Ashari told the qurra of Baara, an early Muslim centre in the province of Iraq:

In these few pages we have merely considered a selection of evidences regarding the collection of the Qur'an and its early textual history. Nevertheless the material reviewed shows quite conclusively that there is no substance in the claim that the Bible has been corrupted while the Qur'an has been preserved totally free of textual error. This is a pious sentiment and nothing more than an expedient fallacy of the Muslims. Indeed it is fair to say that the history of the Biblical text compares most favourably with that of the Qur'an. What is good for the goose here is equally good for the gander. There are a number of variant readings in the Bible and the authority of one or two short passages is uncertain, but we have seen in these pages that precisely the same legacy is found in the history of the Qur'an text. No one can summarily dismiss the evidences - they are too widespread and well-grounded in authoritative works to be casually ignored in favour of cherished presuppositions. Furthermore there is yet another consideration:

As the text of the Bible covers a period of nearly two thousand years and a host of different authors, and dates centuries before the Qur'an, it is quite remarkable to find that the variant readings in its text are no more prevalent or extensive than similar readings and passages affecting the Qur'an. If such variant readings are not found in the early manuscripts of the Qur'an surviving to this day, it is not because they never existed. The Christian Church has, in the interests of truth, carefully preserved the variant readings that are found in the early Biblical texts, but the Muslims at the time of Uthman deemed it more expedient to destroy the variant readings found in the Qur'an in the interests of standardising one harmonious text for posterity (even though the contents remain assembled together in an unharmonious whole). Here alone lies the difference between the textual history of the two books - and it is not one which works to the advantage of the Qur'an.

Muhammad and The Religion of Islam: Table of Contents

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