Did Ibn Abbas Believe that the Holy Bible was Corrupt?

Sam Shamoun

Sahih al-Bukhari records Muhammad’s first cousin and close companion Ibn Abbas, considered one of the greatest Islamic scholars of all time, making the claim that all of God’s revealed Books remain uncorrupted. He is reported to have said that no person is able to change any of the words from God’s Scriptures, but that they could distort their meanings by misinterpreting them:

LV. The words of Allah Almighty, "It is indeed a Glorious Qur'an preserved on a Tablet." (85:21-22)

"By the Mount and an Inscribed Book" (52:1-2): Qatada said that "mastur" means "written". "Yasturun" (68:1) means "they inscribe", and the Umm al-Kitab (43:4) is the whole of the Qur'an and its source. [He said that] "ma talfizu" (50:18) means: "He does not say anything but that it is written against him." Ibn 'Abbas said, "Both good and evil are recorded," and "yuharrufuna" (4:46) means "they remove". NO ONE REMOVES THE WORKS[sic] OF ONE OF THE BOOKS OF ALLAH ALMIGHTY, BUT THEY TWIST THEM, INTERPRETING THEM IMPROPERLY. "Dirasatihim: (6:156) means "their recitation" "Wa'iyya" (69:12) is preserving, "ta'iha" (69:12) means to "preserve it". "This Qur'an has been revealed to me by inspiration that I may warn you," meaning the people of Makka, "and all whom it reaches"(6:19) meaning this Qur'an, so he is its warner. (Aisha Bewley, Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, 100. Book of Tawhid (the belief that Allah is One in His Essence, Attributes and Actions); source; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Renowned Sunni commentator Ibn Kathir cited al-Bukhari’s statements from Ibn Abbas regarding the incorruptibility of the Holy Scriptures, as well as the view of another Muslim who also believed that God’s Scriptures couldn’t be corrupted:

Mujahid. Ash-Sha’bi, Al-Hassan, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi' bin Anas said that,

<who distort the Book with their tongues.>

means, "They alter (Allah’s Words)."

Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said that the Ayah means they alter and add although none among Allah’s creation CAN REMOVE THE WORDS OF ALLAH FROM HIS BOOKS, THEY ALTER AND DISTORT THEIR APPARENT MEANINGS. Wahb bin Munabbih said, "The Tawrah and Injil REMAIN AS ALLAH REVEALED THEM, AND NO LETTER IN THEM WAS REMOVED. However, the people misguide others by addition and false interpretation, relying on books that they wrote themselves." Then,

<they say: "This is from Allah," but it is not from Allah;>

As for Allah’s books, THEY ARE STILL PRESERVED AND CANNOT BE CHANGED." Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement … (Tafsir Ibn Kathir – Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: March 2000], p. 196; source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

It would seem pretty clear from the foregoing that the first Muslims (at least two prominent ones) believed that the Scriptures that were revealed before the Quran such as the Torah/Law of Moses and the Injil/Gospel of Jesus remained intact and uncorrupted.

But not everything is as it seems, for we find another narration from Imam Bukhari where Ibn Abbas purportedly taught that Jews and Christians corrupted their Holy Scriptures:

Narrated Ubaidullah bin Abdullah bin Utba:
Ibn Abbas said, "O Muslims? How do you ask the people of the Scriptures, though your Book (i.e. the Quran) which was revealed to His Prophet is the most recent information from Allah and you recite it, the Book that has not been distorted? Allah has revealed to you that the people of the scriptures have changed with their own hands what was revealed to them and they have said (as regards their changed Scriptures): This is from Allah, in order to get some worldly benefit thereby." Ibn Abbas added: "Isn’t the knowledge revealed to you sufficient to prevent you from asking them? By Allah I have never seen any one of them asking (Muslims) about what has been revealed to you." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 850)

Narrated 'Ubaidullah bin ‘Abdullah:
‘Abdullah bin 'Abbas said, "O the group of Muslims! How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about anything while your Book which Allah has revealed to your Prophet contains the most recent news from Allah and is pure and not distorted? Allah has told you that the people of the Scriptures have changed some of Allah’s Books and distorted it and wrote something with their own hands and said, ‘This is from Allah,’ so as to have a minor gain for it. Won’t the knowledge that has come to you stop you from asking them? No, by Allah, we have never seen a man from them asking you about that (the Book Al-Qur'an) which has been revealed to you." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 614; see also Volume 9, Book 92, Number 461)

It should not come as a surprise to the readers that Islamic apologists use this specific narration to prove that the first Muslims did not hold to the textual integrity of the Holy Bible.

This obviously presents us with a dilemma since we have two conflicting reports, both of which are attributed to Ibn Abbas, presenting two contradictory views of the Holy Bible.

There are several ways in which this dilemma can be resolved. The first is to simply accept the fact that al-Bukhari has preserved two conflicting and contradictory traditions regarding Ibn Abbas’ views of the previous Scriptures. This wouldn’t be the only place where al-Bukhari has narrated contradictory reports, some of which we will provide at the conclusion of our discussion.

In light of this, it is the narration which best comports with what the Quran actually teaches that should be accepted as genuine. Since the Quran explicitly confirms the authority and preservation of the former Revelations, the Holy Bible (*), this means that the narration where Ibn Abbas questions the textual integrity of the previous Books must be rejected.

The other approach is to try to reconcile both of these conflicting reports so that one narration doesn’t cancel out the other, and there is a way that this can be done. Note, for instance, what Ibn Abbas allegedly said:

… You read it pure, undistorted and unchanged, and Allah has told you that the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians) changed their scripture and distorted it, and wrote the scripture with their own hands and said, ‘It is from Allah,’ to sell it for a little gain

The above citation seems to be referring to the following Quranic passage:

So woe to those who write the Book with their hands, and then say, ‘This is from Allah,’ that they may sell it for a little price. So woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for their earnings. S. 2:79

We have already demonstrated elsewhere (1; 2) that this specific passage in its respective context is not speaking of Jews and Christians corrupting the text of the Holy Bible. It refers to a specific group (not all) of unlettered Jews that were ignorant of the content of the Scriptures who then went about falsifying their own revelation for monetary gain. Ibn Kathir provides support for this exegesis from his quotation of Wahb ibn Munabbih who said:

… However, the people misguide others by addition and false interpretation, relying on books that they wrote themselves

Wahb was aware that the People of the Book had written books which were used to misguide others, and yet these books had no bearing on the textual integrity and incorruptibility of the Law and the Gospel which he says can never be changed. This supports the position that Sura 2:79 is referring to these uninspired books, not to the books of the Holy Bible, which certain groups such as the Jews wrote by their own authority.

It is also quite plausible that the book(s) that the author of the Quran had in mind was material such as the Talmud, the codification of uninspired oral traditions which the Jews claimed had Divine authority and sanction. The Quran’s stance, if referring to such sources, is similar to the position held by Jesus in regards to these uninspired Jewish traditions:

"So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with "unclean" hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother," and, "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death." But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: "Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban" (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’" Mark 7:5-13

Christ speaks of the Jews nullifying God’s true Word through their interpretations and traditions, which sounds quite like what the Quran is saying. The NT even warns against traditions which contradict God’s revealed Word:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." Colossians 2:8

Even taking the worst-case scenario that this specific citation does refer to Biblical tampering, this still wouldn’t prove wholesale textual corruption. The reference specifically says that only a party of them wrote false revelation and sold it for gain. Yet at the same time the Quran says that there were others who would not allow the revelation to be tampered with for the sake of monetary profit:

And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, and that which has been revealed to you, in that which has been revealed to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the signs of God for miserable gain. For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account. S. 3:199

Thus, these righteous individuals would serve as a check for the others since the former would have uncorrupt copies of the Holy Scriptures in their possession by which to detect any corruptions to the Biblical manuscripts. As Christian author and Islamic scholar E.M. Wherry said:

The inference drawn by modern Muslims from passages like this, that, according to the Quran the Jewish and Christian Scriptures have been corrupted, and are therefore no longer credible, is entirely unjustifiable. Admitting the charge made here against certain Jews to be true (and the Christian need not deny it), it proves nothing concerning the text of present copies. On the contrary, the charge implies the existence, at that date, of genuine copies. (A Comprehensive Commentary On The Quran, Chapter II. Entitled Surat Ul Baqr (The Cow)., p. 318; source)

Another renowned Christian scholar of Islam, Sir William Muir, masterfully summed this all up:

The preceding context refers to ignorant persons who were acquainted only with rabbinical glosses or foolish traditions. It would seem to be the same persons who are here referred to as having written out such glosses or traditions, and then brought them to Mahomet as possessed of divine authority, saying perhaps that they were just as binding as the Scriptures themselves.

Al kitāb means literally "the writing," and not necessarily the Jewish Scriptures. It may, however, be here taken as signifying "the Book"; viz., that which these ignorant Jews wished to be taken for the Scripture,—or as similar in authority with it.

The text, then, describes a class of ignorant Jews who opposed Mahomet; namely, those who wrote out passages probably from their traditions, glosses, or rabbinical books, and brought them forward as authoritative and divine;—such glosses for instance as "that stoning for adultery was not imperative according to the Mosaic Law"; or, such as gave another interpretation to passages of the Old Testament which had been appropriated by Mahomet's adherents as bearing out his claims to be the Prophet that should arise. Therefore Mahomet cursed them for writing out that which was simply human in its origin, and then producing it as if it was possessed of divine authority.

Thus Adul Cāder, the Urdoo translator, in his commentary on the verse:—"These are they who, after their own desire, put things together, and write them out for the common people, and then ascribe them to God or the prophet."

يهه وه لوك هين جو عوام كو أنكي خوشي موافق باتين جور كر لكهه ديتى هين اور نسبت كرتى هين طرف خداكى يا رسول كى

Baidhāwi thus explains the passage:—"And perhaps there is meant that which the Jews wrote out of commentaries (or interpretations) about the punishment of the adulteress."— 1

ولعله أراد به ما كتبوه من التأويلات الزانية

Viewed thus, the allusion clearly is to the improper authority, either habitually, or casually in the present instance, held by the Jewish opponents of Mahomet to attach to the opinions and commentaries of their doctors. There is nothing that can be fairly held to imply any tampering with, or interpolation of, the manuscripts of the Scriptures. The Jews have in all ages been as noted for the scrupulous, and even superstitious, care with which they have preserved the exact text of their sacred books, as the Mahometans themselves for their care of the Corān. Their character in this respect is not affected, nor does it appear that Mahomet intended to impugn it, by the very different accusation that they brought forward the interpretations of their doctors, or rabbinical traditions, or extracts copied from these, and alleged for them an authority equal to that of the Scriptures. That the Jews attached an undue weight, as they have from the earliest times, to the uninspired dicta of their, rabbins, does not imply any defect of veneration, or any want of care, for the inspired Scriptures themselves.

It is, therefore, a gratuitous assumption that, because the Jews made copies of what were merely human compositions, and then produced them before Mahomet as having a divine authority, they in any way tampered with the sacred Scripture. Had they gone even further, and having written out fabricated passages, fraudulently pretended in argument that they were extracts from the Pentateuch (though such a construction of the text is not the natural one), it would not even then have amounted to such a charge; it would not by any means have implied that they altered or interpolated their copies of the Scripture. The charge would in that case have resembled the one which follows in Art. CX., where by "twisting their tongues," or by a deceptive mode of recitation, passages were made to appear to belong to the Scriptures, which did not in reality. But such imputation, like the present, is altogether a different charge from that of corrupting the Manuscripts of the Old Testament.

NOTE, first; the accusation is addressed to the Jews of Medīna alone. Whatever else may be its scope, it does not extend beyond them. For instance, no such imputation is, in any verse of the Corān, ever hinted against the Christians, or their Scriptures.

NOTE, second; the accusation, whatever it was, did not affect the confidence of Mahomet in the genuineness and purity of the Old Testament as then in the hands of, and current amongst, the Jews of Medīna. This is evident from the tenor of all the subsequent passages in which the value and authority of the Scriptures are spoken of in as high, unqualified, and unsuspecting terms as before. (The Coran Its Composition and Teaching; And the Testimony It Bears to the Holy Scriptures, pp. 141-144; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Ibn Abbas may have also been referring to the following verse:

There is among them a section who distort the Book WITH THEIR TONGUES: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, ‘That is from Allah,’ but it is not from Allah. It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it! S. 3:78

Here, the changes and distortion refer to a misinterpretation of the text, i.e. "with their tongues". The people were evidently reciting or quoting certain things and passing it off as being part of the actual text. This view is in accord with Al-Bukhari's citation of Ibn Abbas, where the latter stated that the people changed and distorted the apparent meanings of the scriptures but the text still remained unchanged.

We can therefore conclude from the foregoing that Ibn Abbas (if in fact he actually taught all that al-Bukhari attributed to him) was not claiming that the text of the Holy Scriptures had been corrupted. Rather, Ibn Abbas was only referring to people changing the text BY THEIR TONGUES, i.e. through their misinterpretation, and to books which were written such as the Talmud which in no way impact the textual veracity of those list of Biblical Books which both the Jews and Christians held in their possession.


Here now are some sahih (so-called sound) reports from al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim which contradict each other.

First Contradiction

Narrated Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet was cupped while he was in the state of lhram, and also while he was observing a fast. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 159)

The translator states:

Hadith No. 159 CONTRADICTS the Hadith of Al-Hasan. Apparently the Muslim jurists have given VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS to discard THIS CONTRADICTION: Ash-Shafi’i says, "Both Ahadith are correct, but the one narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas is stronger as regards its series of narrators; yet it is better to avoid cupping while observing Saum (fast). But the verdict is to be taken from the Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas. I have the knowledge that the Prophet's companions and their followers and all Muslim scholars think that cupping does not break one’s Saum (fast)." Ibn Hazm thinks that Al-Hasan’s Hadith is INVALIDATED by another authentic Hadith narrated by Abu Sa’id which goes: "The Prophet permitted cupping for a person observing Saum (fast)." (Fath Al-Bari, Vol. 5, Pages 79-81). (Al-Imam Zain-ud-Din Ahmad bin Abdul Lateef Az-Zubaidi, The Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari Arabic-English, Translated by: Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh Saudi Arabia], p. 446; bold and capital emphasis ours)


Second Contradiction

Did Muhammad wash only once or twice?

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
The Prophet performed ablution by washing the body parts only once. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 159)

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Zaid:
The Prophet performed ablution by washing the body parts twice. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 160)


Third Contradiction

Did Muhammad see his Lord? Reports that say he didn’t:

Narrated Masruq:
I said to 'Aisha, "O Mother! Did Prophet Muhammad see his Lord?" Aisha said, "What you have said makes my hair stand on end! Know that if somebody tells you one of the following three things, he is a liar: Whoever tells you that Muhammad saw his Lord, is a liar." Then Aisha recited the Verse:

'No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is the Most Courteous Well-Acquainted with all things.' (6.103) 'It is not fitting for a human being that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration or from behind a veil.' (42.51) 'Aisha further said, "And whoever tells you that the Prophet knows what is going to happen tomorrow, is a liar." She then recited:

'No soul can know what it will earn tomorrow.' (31.34) She added: "And whoever tells you that he concealed (some of Allah's orders), is a liar." Then she recited: 'O Apostle! Proclaim (the Message) which has been sent down to you from your Lord…' (5.67) 'Aisha added. "But the Prophet saw Gabriel in his true form twice." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 378)

Narrated Masruq:
’Aisha said, "If anyone tells you that Muhammad has seen his Lord, he is a liar, for Allah says: ‘No vision can grasp Him.’ (6.103) And if anyone tells you that Muhammad has seen the Unseen, he is a liar, for Allah says: ‘None has the knowledge of the Unseen but Allah.’" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 477)

Reports that say he did:

It is narrated on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that he (the Holy Prophet) saw (Allah) with, his heart. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0334)

It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Abbas that the words: "The heart belied not what he saw" (al-Qur'an, Iiii. 11) and "Certainly he saw Him in another descent" (al-Qur'an, Iiii. 13) imply that he saw him twice with his heart. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0335)


Fourth Contradiction

Do women nullify prayers or not? Yes they do:

Abu Dharr reported: THE MESSENGER OF 'ALLAH (may peace be upon him) SAID: When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, HIS PRAYER WOULD BE CUT OFF BY (passing of an) ASS, WOMAN, AND BLACK DOG. I said: O Abu Dharr, what feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog? He said: O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) as you are asking me, and he said: The black dog is a devil. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1032)

Abu Huraira reported: THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH (may peace be upon him) SAID: A WOMAN, AN ASS AND A DOG DISRUPT THE PRAYER, but something like the back of a saddle guards against that. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1034)

No they don’t:

Narrated ‘Aisha:
The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey AND A WOMAN (if they pass in front of the praying people)." I said, "You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away, for I disliked to face him." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490)


Fifth Contradiction

How many wives did Solomon sleep with?

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Prophet Solomon who had SIXTY WIVES, once said, "Tonight I will have sexual relation (sleep) with all my wives so that each of them will become pregnant and bring forth (a boy who will grow into) a cavalier and will fight in Allah's Cause." So he slept with his wives and none of them (conceived and) delivered (a child) except one who brought a half (body) boy (deformed). Allah's Prophet said, "If Solomon had said; ‘If Allah Will,’ then each of those women would have delivered a (would-be) cavalier to fight in Allah’s Cause." (See Hadith No. 74 A, Vol. 4). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 561)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Solomon (the son of) David said, ‘Tonight I will sleep with SEVENTY LADIES each of whom will conceive a child who will be a knight fighting for "Allah's Cause."’ His companion said, ‘If Allah will.’ But Solomon did not say so; therefore none of those women got pregnant except one who gave birth to a half child." The Prophet further said, "If the Prophet Solomon had said it (i.e. ‘If Allah will’) he would have begotten children who would have fought in Allah's Cause." Shuaib and Ibn Abi Az-Zinad said, "NINETY (women) IS MORE CORRECT (than seventy)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 635)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
(The Prophet) Solomon said, "Tonight I will sleep with (my) NINETY WIVES, each of whom will get a male child who will fight for Allah’s Cause." On that, his companion (Sufyan said that his companion was an angel) said to him, "Say, ‘If Allah will (Allah willing).’" But Solomon forgot (to say it). He slept with all his wives, but none of the women gave birth to a child, except one who gave birth to a half boy. Abu Huraira added: The Prophet said, "If Solomon had said, ‘If Allah will’ (Allah willing), he would not have been unsuccessful in his action, and would have attained what he had desired." Once Abu Huraira added: Allah apostle said, "If he had accepted." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 79, Number 711)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
(The Prophet) Solomon son of (the Prophet) David said, "Tonight I will go round (i.e. have sexual relations with) ONE HUNDRED WOMEN (my wives) everyone of whom will deliver a male child who will fight in Allah’s Cause." On that an Angel said to him, "Say: ‘If Allah will.’" But Solomon did not say it and forgot to say it. Then he had sexual relations with them but none of them delivered any child except one who delivered a half person. The Prophet said, "If Solomon had said: ‘If Allah will,’ Allah would have fulfilled his (above) desire and that saying would have made him more hopeful." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 169)

The foregoing demonstrates that just because al-Bukhari recorded a statement from Ibn Abbas that seems to imply his belief that the Holy Bible has been corrupted this still doesn’t really prove much since we find other statements of Ibn Abbas claiming that God’s Books can never be changed. One cannot simply assume that one narration is sound without providing evidence why he or she thinks that it is. We feel that we have provided the evidence showing why the quotation from al-Bukhari where Ibn Abbas affirms his belief in the incorruptibility of the Holy Scriptures is sounder since it best comports with the evidence furnished by the Quran itself as well as from the textual transmission of the Holy Bible. Now it is possible of course that Ibn Abbas did believe that the previous Revelations had been corrupted, and if he did then this would only show that he stood against the testimony of his own religious scripture and the evidence of the textual transmission of the Holy Bible which conclusively shows that God has preserved his true Word intact, despite all the variant readings.


Postscript

Muslim polemicist Bassam Zawadi takes a shot at refuting (*) al-Bukhari’s citation from Ibn Abbas regarding the incorruptibility of God’s revealed books. Let us see how well he does.

He writes:

This could be answered in more than one way.

First of all, WHERE IS THE FULL CHAIN OF TRANSMISSION? We can't find any full chain of transmission for this statement attributed to Ibn Abbaas. Famous hadith scholar Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani said regarding this narration...

I did not find it with continuous chain of reporters (mawsoul) on authority of Ibn 'Abbaas in spite of the fact that what is said before it is from his words as well as that is after it....

Many of our folks (ashabena) have explicitly declared that the Torah and the Gospel has been corrupted (hurrifat) in contradiction with what Al-Bukhari mentions here [on authority of Ibn 'Abbaas] (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fath-ul-Bari fe Sharh Sahih-el-Bukhari, Book of "Oneness of God", Chapter 55, Number 6223)

Here is the specific part of Ibn Hajar’s comments that Zawadi somehow overlooked:

… in spite of the fact that what is said before it IS FROM HIS WORDS as well as that is after it…

Ibn Hajar’s comments are rather confusing. Is he saying that the statements which appear both before and after this specific part are definitely the words of Ibn Abbas? Or is he referring to something else? If he is referring to this specific report then how did he know that what appeared before and after Ibn Abbas’ statements regarding the incorruptibility of God’s books are from him when the entire narrative lacks a continuous chain?

Be that as it may, there were other scholars who disagreed with Ibn Hajar and acknowledged that Ibn Abbas did make these comments. Throughout his article Zawadi references Dr. Muhammad Abu Laylah’s book, The Qur’an and the Gospels – A Comparative Study. In this very source the author cites another Muslim scholar who appealed to Ibn Abbas’ statements regarding the textual incorruptibility of the Torah and the Gospel:

… The Andalusian interpreter Ibn ‘Atiyya stated that Tahrif means "to change or transfer something from its original character to another" and that Ibn ‘Abbas held that the Jewish (and possibly the Christian, by implication) corruption and change was to be found in exegesis, the letter of the Torah surviving intact, although a second school of scholars maintained that the letters themselves had been changed on the basis that although the Jews had been asked to safeguard the Torah, unlike the Qur’an it was not safeguarded by God Himself. (Laylah, The Qur’an and the Gospels – A Comparative Study [Al-Falah Foundation for Translation, Publication & Distribution, Third edition, 2005], pp. 145-146; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Moreover, we had earlier cited Ibn Kathir who quoted Ibn Abbas’ words as reported by al-Bukhari. Here is his reference once again, this time with some additional context:

Mujahid. Ash-Sha'bi, Al-Hassan, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi' bin Anas said that,

<who distort the Book with their tongues.>

means, "They alter (Allah's Words)."

Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn 'Abbas said that the Ayah means they alter and add although none among Allah's creation can remove the words of Allah from His books, they alter and distort their apparent meanings. Wahb bin Munabbih said, "The Tawrah and Injil remain as Allah revealed them, and no letter in them was removed. However, the people misguide others by addition and false interpretation, relying on books that they wrote themselves." Then,

<they say: "This is from Allah," but it is not from Allah;>

As for Allah's books, they are still preserved and cannot be changed." Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. However, if Wahb meant the books that are currently in the hands of the People of the Book, then we should state that there is no doubt that they altered, distorted, added to and deleted from them. For instance, the Arabic versions of these books contain tremendous error, many additions and deletions and enormous misinterpretation. Those who rendered these translations have incorrect comprehension in most, rather, all of these translations. If Wahb meant the Books of Allah that He has with Him, then indeed, these Books are preserved and were never changed. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir – Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: March 2000], p. 196; source; bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir disagrees with both Wahb and Ibn Abbas that the previous revelation remained intact. And on what basis does he disagree? On the basis that Arabic versions of the Holy Bible showed textual tampering in the form of additions and deletions! This is equivalent to someone today claiming that the Quran has been corrupted due to the fact that there are additions and omissions among the various English versions (*) or that a specific English translation made by Rashad Khalifa omits Q. 9:128-129 (1, 2)!

The scholarly thing to do is to examine the original languages of the Scriptures and see if the text has remained intact. Once this is done one will discover that the Holy Bible, much like the Quran (*), has come down to us with variant readings. However, these variants do not prove that wholesale corruption to the Biblical text has taken place since the great bulk of these readings are inconsequential and do not affect the meaning of the text. To claim otherwise would actually imply that the Quran along with the Holy Bible, and all other books that were hand copied, have been completely corrupted seeing that such books have come down to us with textual variations. The fact is that, after carefully examining the variant readings, textual scholars have been able to reconstruct roughly 99% of the original text of the NT and it is therefore purely wishful thinking on the part of Muslims to claim that the original reading of the Bible books have been lost or corrupted beyond restoration.

Returning to the issue at hand, how strange that scholars such as Ibn ‘Atiyya and Ibn Kathir could approvingly cite al-Bukhari’s quotation from Ibn Abbas despite the lack of a chain of transmission! Could it be that these scholars realized that for al-Bukhari to even include it in his collection was proof enough for them that the quotation in question must have passed his very strict standard of authentication? After all, don’t Muslim scholars assert that al-Bukhari’s hadith collection is the most authentic book after the Quran? More on this point below.

And all scholars of hadith have agreed that you cannot judge a narration to be authentic unless you have the complete chain of transmission to examine and then conclude if it is authentic or not. Here we see that Imam Tabari just simply quotes Mujahid ibn Jabr Al Makhzumi (d. 104 A.H.) who then quotes the statement. However, there is a 200 hundred-year gap between Imam Tabari and Mujaahid! Where are the two or three people who should have come in the middle of the chain? …

Imam Al-Badr al-'Aini notes in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari...

Al-Bukhari frequently relates reports and sayings of Sahaba and others without isnad (chain of transmission) (Al-Badr Al-'Aini, Umdat-ul-Qari, Volume 1, page 9)

Here we can see that this alleged statement from Ibn Abbaas is one of those examples, therefore it must be rejected.

There are several problems with Zawadi’s assertions. In the first place, this attempt of evasion will not solve the problem for Zawadi but only compound the difficulties for him since all of al-Bukhari’s reports which contain an unbroken chain (isnad) were written over two hundred years after Muhammad’s death. Despite this long gap in time Zawadi erroneously assumes that just because a report provides a chain of transmitters this means that Muslims are able to accurately trace back the origin of a specific report. The circularity of such a position can be easily seen when we bear in mind this late dating of al-Bukhari.

To highlight the circularity of Zawadi’s reasoning note that:

Secondly, as Imam Al-Badr al-'Aini in the above quote from Zawadi noted, the hadith collection of al-Bukhari is filled with subheadings and quotes of specific Muslims without a chain of transmission, just as the following English version amply testifies: http://bewley.virtualave.net/bukhcont.html

If we were to therefore take Zawadi’s criticism seriously this means that a great bulk of al-Bukhari’s collection must be omitted, specifically the quotations that appear under the subheadings that precede the so-called sound reports.

This leads us to our third point. It is often claimed that al-Bukhari was the most careful collector of Muslim traditions, omitting thousands of hadiths that did not meet his strict specifications of authenticity. To help illustrate this fact we quote from the Muslim translator of Al-Bukhari's hadith collection:

It has been UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that Imam Bukhari's work is the most authentic of all the other works in Hadith literature PUT TOGETHER. The authenticity of Al-Bukhari's work is such that the religious learned scholars of Islam said concerning him: "The most authentic book after the Book of Allah (i.e., Al-Qur'an) is Sahih Al-Bukhari." …

Before he recorded each Hadith he would make ablution and offer two Rak’at prayer and supplicate his Lord (Allah). Many religious scholars of Islam tried to find fault in the great remarkable collection- Sahih Al-Bukhari, BUT WITHOUT SUCCESS. It is for this reason, they UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that the most authentic book after the Book of Allah IS Sahih Al-Bukhari. (Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Islamic University, Al-Madina Al-Munawwara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; compilation: Al-Imam Zain-ud-Din Ahmad bin Abdul-Lateef Az-Zubaidi [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, 1994], pp. 18-19; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The following citations are taken from the Islamic Awareness team's response to Andrew Vargo's criticism of Imam al-Bukhari's collection:

* The two sahīh collections did not gather the totality of the authentic ahādīth as proved by al-Bukhārī's testimony: "I have not included in my book al-Jāmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic for fear of [excessive] length.(Footnote 2)"

Footnote 2 says:

He [al-Bukhārī] meant that he did not mention all the turuq [parallel chains of transmission] for each and every hadīth.[1]

To reiterate this in elementary English for the neophyte, Imām al-Bukhārī selected only a few authentic ahādīth from his vast collection. However, he left out certain traditions, despite their authenticity, simply to avoid excessive length and repetition in his al-Jāmic (a discussion about which is given below). If anything, the privilege to make such a gesture is highly complimentary to the authenticity of the Islamic traditions. In another tradition, Imām al-Bukhārī is also reported to have said:

He said, I heard as-Sacdānī say, I heard some of our companions say, Muhammad Ibn Ismācīl said: I selected/published [the content of] this book - meaning the Sahih book - from about 600,000 hadīths/reports. Abū Sacd al-Mālīnī informed us that cAbdullāh Ibn cUdayy informed us: I heard al-Hasan Ibn al-Husayn al-Bukhārī say: "I have not included in my book al-Jāmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic what I could not get hold of."[2]

And:

Imām al-Bukhārī's collection of ahādīth was maintained to be authentic on account of his authority, and it has been maintained as authentic ever since. The neophyte's assertion, that Imām al-Bukhārī regarded almost 99% of his own collection as spurious, is among the most rash and foolhardy statements ever dared by a Christian missionary. On the contrary, the 7,397 refers to the number of hadīths that Imām al-Bukhārī chose to include in his al-Jāmic and left out many authentic narrations from his vast collection for the fear of excessive length.

…Regardless, we will quote the famous trial of Imām al-Bukhārī to show how Maqlub[8] (changed, reversed) ahadīth can be identified with ease by a scholar of hadīth:

The famous trial of al-Bukhārī by the scholars of Baghdad provides a good example of a Maqlūb isnād. The traditionists, in order to test their visitor, al-Bukhārī, appointed ten men, each with ten ahādīth. Now, each hadīth (text) of these ten people was prefixed with the isnād of another. Imām al-Bukhārī listened to each of the ten men as they narrated their ahādīth and denied the correctness of every hadīth. When they had finished narrating these ahādīth, he addressed each person in turn and recounted to him each of his ahādīth with its correct isnād. This trial earned him great honour among the scholars of Baghdad.[9]

(On The Nature Of Hadith Collections Of Imam Al-Bukhari & Muslim; source; bold and italic emphasis ours)

With the foregoing in perspective it should be abundantly clear that al-Bukhari would not include anything which he suspected was fraudulent or that didn’t meet his criteria for authenticity.(1) Thus, for al-Bukhari to include this quotation from Ibn Abbas means that this report must have met his very strict specifications and was fully convinced of its reliability. This further explains why both Ibn ‘Atiyya and Ibn Kathir could quote this narrative without questioning its authenticity.

And yet Zawadi wants his readers to actually believe that al-Bukhari was less stringent at this specific point since he decided to quote a questionable report!

Interestingly, Zawadi agrees with us that one should reconcile this specific narrative with the other narrations that claim that Ibn Abbas seemingly questioned the authority of the Holy Bible:

Secondly, it contradicts the authentic narrations and well-known position of Ibn Abbaas on the matter and that is that he believed that the Jews and Christians textually corrupted their scriptures…

Thirdly, Ibn Abbaas's statement could be reinterpreted in order to be reconciled with the other statements that he has made. And that is that Ibn Abbaas intended to say that they changed what was in their hands of the text which was with them, but they could not change the original true text which is with Allah on al-Lawh al-Mahfudh (preserved tablet) since the speech of Allah is eternal and no one can ever make it go lost completely and removing the words from the books here on earth does not mean that God's words have become totally lost but lost here on earth only.

This is precisely what we have done here. We carefully analyzed all of what Ibn Abbas is reported to have said, both here and in this article, comparing his statements in light of the teachings of the Quran and concluded that the only plausible way of harmonizing these conflicting reports is to assume that Ibn Abbas wasn’t speaking of textual corruption of the Holy Bible. Rather, Ibn Abbas was referring to the Jews and Christians corrupting the Bible through their misinterpretations of their holy Scripture and by writing books that they took to be inspired by God (such as the Talmud) but which further corrupted the plain meaning of the inspired text of God’s Word.  

Endnotes

(1) Now this doesn’t mean that just because this report satisfied al-Bukhari’s criteria for authenticity that this somehow makes it a genuine saying of Ibn Abbas. It simply means that those Muslims who do hold al-Bukhari’s collection in very high esteem must contend with the fact that this narrative met his strict and rigorous standards of reliability and cannot simply dismiss it. Yet as we stated al-Bukhari’s stringent method of authentication cannot guarantee that a narration was passed down accurately for over two hundred years, nor can it guarantee that the names of those who transmitted it actually existed or were reliable preservers of that specific tradition in question.


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