10 THE RECENSIONS OF THE QUR'AN

the Qur'an was preserved in the Meccan dialect. An example of the Khalifa's interference is given in the tradition which records that 'Ali wished to write تابوة with ة the others with ت as تابوت and 'Uthman decided in favour of the latter, as being according to the Quraish dialect. This is rather an unfortunate illustration, as تابوت is not an Arabic word, but was borrowed by Muhammad from the Rabbinical Hebrew.1 All the various traditions on such points are intended to show that the recension is according to the Meccan dialect, the language of Gabriel and of Muhammad. It is said by some that the Khalifa had a political motive in his action in this matter, and that he hoped that the settling of doubt as to the Qur'anic text and the production of an authorized edition, would raise him in the estimation of the true believers and so strengthen his party against their adversaries, who were numerous and powerful. This may be so, but he had the support and sanction of the Companions of the Prophet, for without their assent and co-operation it could not have been done. It is evident that the Khalifa collected all the revelations he could procure, and exercised care and caution. Ibn Zubair says: 'I read to 'Uthman the verse, "Such of you as shall die and leave wives shall bequeath their wives a year's maintenance without causing them to quit their homes"2; but the phrase "quit their homes" is abrogated by other verses, 3 so why have you written it?' Then 'Uthman said, 'O my nephew, leave it, I will not change anything from its place.'

The present form of the Qur'an was established by Zaid and his coadjutors. They retained the Bismillah, except at the heading of Sura at-Tauba (ix). The reason they gave for this was that they were in considerable doubt as to whether Suras viii and ix should not come together. At last they finally agreed to separate them, but omitted the Bismillah, as that is a very definite sign of separation. Its absence shows that there was some doubt about the division into two Suras. The arrangement of the Suras is quite arbitrary and depends on no principle at all. Many Suras are very composite. Probably the people could not tell Zaid


1 See Geiger's Judaism and Islam (S.P.C.K., Madras), p. 31, and Noldeke's Geschichtes des Qorans, p. 211.
2 Sura al-Baqara (ii) 240.
3 e.g., v. 234, which limits the obligation to four months and ten days.
CURIOUS LETTERS 11

when various parts which they brought to his notice were revealed, and so the portions got mixed up together without any regard to dates or place. Thus when Muhammad bin Sirin asked 'Akrama whether the Qur'an was to be in chronological order, he said: 'Collect it just as it came down, first portion first, second second, and so on; if men and genii tried they could not do it in this order.'

In fact, the age and the men were uncritical, and the only apparent rule followed was to arrange the portions of a Sura in the best way possible and then to put the longer Suras first in order and the shorter ones last, without any reference to chronological sequence.

Some of the Suras have single letters prefixed to them, the meanings of which it is impossible to determine. These are the letters A.L.M.; A.L.M.R.; A.L.R.; Ta. Ha.; Kaf, Ha Ya, 'Ain, Sad.1 This latter set occurs in the beginning of Sura Maryam (xix) which contains the histories of John the Baptist and of Christ, and which was recited to the King of Abyssinia in the presence of the ambassadors whom Muhammad sent to him. This had led Dr. Sprenger to suppose that these mystic words stand for a Christian symbol, just as the letters I.N.R.I. stand for Jesus Nazarenus Rex Jud├Žorum. So he would make out of these letters the following sentence:

عيسى النصاري ملك اليهوديين

In Arabic, it is not necessary to use the first letter of a word for an abbreviation.2 The most prominent letter in a word can be taken, so Dr. Sprenger takes ک ص ع and ي and supposes the words were written thus and were read, as legends on coins are, read, from below, thus:—

عيسى = ع and النصاري = ص that is, Jesus the Nazarene.
ملك = ک and يهودي = ي that is, King of the Jews. 3

This is very curious but not at all probable. Ibn Khaldun says: 'God has placed these letters in several Suras to show the impossibility of imitating the style of the Qur'an. He also says


1 آلم آلمر آلر طه كهيعص
2 Thus
اخر is represented by خ in الخ , which is equivalent to κ τ λ
3 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. 20, p. 280.