It is the general opinion and testimony of Muslims that (unlike the Bible as they assert) the Quran is clear and uniform. There are no differing versions and documents. There is but one Quran and all Muslims everywhere use the identical text, given word for word by Gabriel to Mohammed who, in turn, recited it to his scribes and companions for recording or memorization. These pieces were collected under the Khalifships of Abu Bakr and Umar by Zaid-ibn-Thabith. When a little later contentions arose between believers because of differing recitations (in prayer), Uthman ordered the text to be edited according to the dialect of the Quraish, and this text is the one before us today.
As we shall see, this is not correct - or it is, to say the least, a very romantic concept.
We must say here, however, that by "different versions" of the Bible is generally meant various translations, which do indeed have differences in phrasing as any one translation of a certain text has when compared to another translation of the same text - translations of the Quran not excepted.
Muslims interpret the honesty Christians display about some variant readings of the Bible MSS as weakness and claim that the Quran never had more than one version. Any differences, they say, concerned variant dialects only and never affected the meaning of the text. This is definitely incorrect as the following paragraphs will prove.
After the sudden death of Mohammed, Zaid-ibn-Thabith was ordered to compile and write down the Quran (Mishkat'ul Masabih). It is attested that at least three revelations were left out. One of these, according to Mohammed's wife, Aysha, with whom he resided at this death, was kept under their bed at the time of Mohammed's death, but was eaten by a domestic animal (related by ibn-Mayah in "Kitabu'l Sunan" with Sahih Muslim, page 740.)
According to the biographer and Hadis compiler Muslim (page 501):
The latter quotations may be from Suras 61:2 and 17:13, but the first, the same length as Sura 9(129 verses) is missing in the Quran! In this case the possible explanation, namely that of abrogation, is unacceptable, for it would render God very human indeed. We conclude that the statement about the completeness of the Quran cannot be maintained - and with that the argument of "nazil" i.e. that it came from heaven and complete as it is.
Another tradition states (Sahih Muslim, page 912, Mishkat II, page 534 and others):
This passage too, is not in the Quran.
At a later date when Uthman was Khalif, he sent for the existing manuscripts in Hafsah's possession and others, had them revised to one text, and copied several times by Zaid-ibn-Thabith and three men of the Quraish tribe.
Uthman sent out one copy of this newly established original to every country and issued orders that every differing compilation or script of the Quran should be burnt. (Mishkat vol.III p.708).
Hafsah's copy of the Quran was burnt by Marrah. Why? Muslims as a rule explain this Hadis (Tradition) as meaning a revision to conform to the language (Quraish) of the original. But we hold that "the difference in the Quran reading" does not only refer to this. Why then burn other codices? Others will reason that the burnt scripts were really corrupt texts. Who was the judge? They were also in writing! Zaid-ibn-Thabith could just as well have used these in his collection.
Much of this chapter is really no more than a compilation of quotations from eminent scholars, linked only by some of my own sentences. Where not mentioned otherwise (and apart from the connecting sentences), the quotations are from "the book The Collection of the Quran" by Dr. J. Burton (University of Cambridge)
"The Quran has made a slight alteration and a significant omission
to the first text: instead of saying By 'al Lat,' etc., it reads,
'Have you considered al-Lat', etc. and the sentence about the exalted maidens is dropped altogether. Subsequently Gabriel came to the prophet and denied that he had revealed the word to him. ('Sirat'ul Rasool' as revised by Ibn Hisham, (vs. 239), Tabari pp. 1 192 ff, al Suhayli, p. 229, Guillaume). The polytheists of Mecca were delighted about this, for these words were those of the chant of the Quraish as they processed around the Ka'aba, but some companions doubted and left Mohammed. Who were the three maidens? The three principle idols in the Ka'aba of pre-Islamic Mecca." (ibid.).
Strange as it may sound, Muslim theologians converted this rather embarrassing account of interpolation or abrogation (however one looks at it) into a story of the victory of light over darkness. A summary of other contentions about the reliability of the Quranic texts will give us more clarity on the subject.
"The canonical traditionists report that Sura 4:95 was dictated by the prophet to his amanuensis Zayd thus: 'Those believers who sit at home are not equal to those who fight in the way of God with their goods and their persons.' A blind man was present and heard the words. He immediately interjected that were he as other men he would certainly fight; whereupon the prophet interposed the words 'except those who suffer from a grave impediment' which stand in the text today." ("Islam" by A. Guillaume, p.191).
We can see from this that even before the collection of the Quran, the assumed scrutiny and exactness of the revelations was violated.
"Abu Bakr collected the Quran between two covers" differs from " 'Uthman formed but a single text": 'Uthman alladi jama'a al masahif 'ala mushaf wahid'.
" 'Uthman united the Muslims on a single text": "Jama'a 'Uthman al nas 'ala hada al mushaf", is not what Abu Bakr did when he jama'a al- Quran'." ("Katibal Mugni" by ibn Sa'id Dani).
There were differing texts
It has been clearly documented that at the time of the collection of the Quran there were a number of differing texts. Four main versions became apparent, which co-existed for a considerable time, though they were not always tolerated.
Alfred Guillaume, perhaps the best-known and accepted Western scholar on Islam from the non-Islamic world, sketched this situation in his book "Islam", thus:
"Without diacritical marks a word could be read active or passive and many consonants could not be distinguished without the diacritical dots which were added afterwards, when and by whom we do not know." ("Collection of the Quran" by John Burton).
It is clear from these statements that Islam has taken up a strange position: It is totally reluctant, not to say opposed, to subject the Quran, the Hadis and other related manuscripts to a critical scrutiny and evaluation; but at the same time uses the materials collected by Western researchers to declare the Bible corrupt. The relatively superficial critical research on Islam by Western scholars is largely unknown to Muslims and frowned upon, but research, particularly critical research, is bound to be document and fact-orientated, and not romantic.
"Relative to the Companion texts, Uthman's is the text without interpolations. Relative to the revealed Quran, Uthman is incomplete."
"Uthman quite ignores the most significant feature of reported variants, namely, the attempt to document differing local approaches to certain legal questions."
That the differences in the texts caused much concern, even antagonism, can be clearly seen in the fact that:
How did the differences occur?
The variant readings were not copied from one another in a faulty manner:
"For the (theological) schools, the Uthmanic and the non Uthmanic Quran traditions were regarded as parallel and equally sovereign."
"That the variant readings appealed to continue to be (sic) associated with individuals among the Companions suggests that they had always been recognized as varying from the generally accepted Quran texts."
There are signs of liberty in arranging the order of the text, at least to some degree:
"Malik had a shorter explanation for the absence of this bismillah. The beginning of Bara'a fell out and its bismillah fell out with it". ("al Itqan" by Jalal al Din)
Variant readings were generally accepted and explained.
"Two opposing doctrines - the invalidation of the ritual purity (wudu') and the contrary doctrine - could both be referred to the Quran, according as the contending fuqaha' read:
Lamastum/Lâmastum; or the permissibility of sexual intercourse with the menstruating woman at the expiry of her period but before she has cleaned herself, and the contrary doctrine, according as they read either yathurna or yattahirna."
"There is an interesting discussion on verses yielding two-fold readings. Abu al Laith reported two views: 1. God had uttered them both; 2. God had uttered only one, but permitted the verse to be read in two possible ways. Samarqanti's own view was that if each of the two readings was susceptible of a distinct interpretation and legal application, God had uttered both. In such instances, the two readings were the equivalent of two distinct revelations. If the two readings yielded a single meaning. God had uttered only one reading, but permitted the other, owing to the differences between the dialects of the peninsular Arabs."
arjulakum - enjoined the washing of the feet
arjulikum - permitted the wiping of the feet' ("al Itqan" by Jalal al Din)."
"...the differences over the Fiqh of this question had called forth the differences in reading."
"Local variation was possible solely within the range demonstrated by readings based on the consonantal framework of the universally agreed text.
The scholars were in consequence driven to seek the liberties they craved in varying the vocalic data (arjulakum/arjulikum), or the diacritical pointing (yathurna/yattahirna), or by questioning the punctuation of the individual verses.
"The reading variants that were indentified had been rationalized by attribution to the several Companions."
But it was not only variant readings based on differing interpretation of vowelling and diacritical marks that caused differences. In certain instances we find words interpolated (or forgotten - depending on the standpoint from which one looks at it):
The above statements are acknowledged by the teaching of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who in his work "Towzihol-Masael" accepts temporary 'marriage':
"If a woman authorizes someone to marry her to a man for a period of ten days, for example, without specifying the exact date, the man may contract the marriage at his pleasure, but if the woman has specified a precise day and hour, the formula must be spoken at that specified time."
"Young boys or girls in full sexual effervescence are kept from getting married before they reach the legal age of majority. This is against the intention of divine laws. Why should the marriage of pubescent girls and boys be forbidden because they are still minors, when they are allowed to listen to the radio and to sexually arousing music?" (from "The Little Green Book" or "Sayings of the Ayatollah Khomeini", Bantam Books).
If the Ayatollah knows no reasons, we do! But that is besides the point here. In another instances the meaning of Sura 5:92 has been altered by the insertion (or omission) of a word. Ghazali relates:
Sarakhsi (A.H. 490) a Hanafi, argued,
Variant readings were common during the life-time of Mohammed.
"A man recited in the presence of Umar who corrected him. The man, incensed, claimed to have recited for the Prophet and he had not corrected him. They carried their dispute to Muhammad. When the Prophet endorsed the man's claim that Muhammad had personally instructed him, doubts sprang up in Umar's mind. Reading Umar's expression, the Prophet struck him on the chest, exclaiming, 'Out devil!' Muhammad then explained 'All the modes of reciting are correct so long as you don't turn a statement on mercy into one on wrath and vice-versa.' "(Tafsir of Tabari).
"It is claimed that the Quran cannot be imitated. So that which is verbally inimitable can scarcely have passed through a phase of multiple wordings when the individual Companions had the Prophet's permission to substitute whichever word chanced to correspond with the meaning revealed by God."
"It may be argued that there may be different readings (texts). The wording of the Quran is not its most relevant feature. The meaning matters above all. Differing readings were known to the Prophet and he lacked the pedantry to object."
"Ubayy entered the mosque and, hearing a man recite, asked him who had instructed him. The man replied that he had been taught by the Prophet. Ubayy went in search of the Prophet. When the man recited. Muhammad said, 'That is correct.' Ubayy protested, 'But you taught me to recite so-and-so,' The Prophet said that Ubayy was right too. 'Right? right?' burst out Ubayy in perplexity. The Prophet struck him on the chest and prayed, 'O God! cause doubt to depart.' Ubayy broke into a sweat as his heart filled with terror. Muhammad disclosed that two angels had come to him. One said, 'Recite the Quran in one form.' The other advised Muhammad to ask for more than this. That was repeated several times until finally the first angel said. 'Very well. Recite it in seven forms.' The Prophet said, 'Each of the forms is grace-giving, protecting, so long as you don't terminate a punishment verse with an expression of mercy, or vice-versa - as you might for example say, Let's go; or, let's be off.' " (Tafsir of Tabari.).
"The different readings have the Prophet's (and Heaven's) approval. Differences in utterance are not material. The meaning is paramount. The differing readings are all equally valid, having been revealed in parallel. The difference appears to consist simply in the use of this as opposed to the synonym. That ought to occasion neither wonder nor alarm, neither squabbling nor scandal. All readings are correct. All readings come down from the days of the Prophet. All readings carry the seal of his approbation.
"Abdullah reports, 'We differed about a Sura, as to whether it consisted of thirty-five or thirty-six verses, so we went to the Prophet who was engaged in conversation with Ali. When we told him we disagee over the reading, his face reddened as he replied, "Those before you perished through their disagreements." He whispered something to Ali who said, "The Prophet commands you to recite as you were taught.' "(Tafsir of Tabari).
"A man complained to the Prophet, Abdullah taught me to recite a Sura of the Quran. Zaid taught me the same Sura and so too did Ubayy. The readings of all three differ. Whose reading ought I to adopt?' The Prophet remained silent. Ali who was at his side replied, 'Every man should recite as he was taught. Each of the readings is acceptable, valid.' " (Tafsir of Tabari).
"Umar said, I heard Hisam b. Hukaim reciting Surat al Furqan and listened to his recital. On observing that he was reading many forms which the Prophet had not taught me, I all but rushed upon him as he prayed. But I waited patiently as he continued, and, collaring him when he had finished, I asked him, 'Who taught you to recite this Sura?' He claimed that the Prophet had taught him. I said, 'By God! you're lying!' I dragged him to the Prophet telling him that I had heard Hisam recite many forms he had not taught me. The Prophet said, 'Let him go. Recite, Hisam.' He recited the reading I had already heard from him. The Prophet said, 'That is how it was revealed.' He then said, 'Recite, Umar', and I recited what he had taught me. He said, 'That's right. That is how it was revealed. This Quran was revealed in seven forms, so recite what is easiest.' "(Tafsir of Tabari). (See also Mishkat vol.III pp. 702-705). Also, Al Baizawi (in his commentary on Suras 3:100, 6:91, 19:35, 28:48, 33:6, 34:18, 38:22, etc.) suggests variations extant in his time. (Mizanu'l Haqq, page 261).
"The scholars were to disapprove of the use by the Muslims of the post-Apostolic ages of isolate Quran readings at prayer. That is not, however, the point of the report. The earliest rationalization of reading variants was that, as all had been revealed, all were equally legitimate. Abu Huraira reports the Prophet as saying, 'The Quran was revealed in seven forms and contention about the Quran is disbelief.' " (Tafsir of Tabari).
We would be eager to know what is meant by 'form'. The whole context of this subject seems to leave no doubt, however, that it is not just a matter of dialect or pronounciation, though partly so.
Tradition speaks of a "final review" of all the given revelation by Gabriel. This does not agree with many of the previous quotations, however.
"al-Bagawi in Sarh al Sunna, concluded, 'The mushaf which has been traditionally accepted represents the final review text. Uthman ordered it to be copied into the mushafs he despatched throughout the empire, simultaneously making away with all the other Quran materials with the aim of preventing differences. Whatever is at variance with the written text is now to be regarded in the same light as that which has been abrogated and withdrawn. It is no longer competent for any man to go beyond the text'. "("Fath al Bari" by ibn Hajan).
"Tabari taught that the Companions agreed to write out that which they were certain represented the text as checked on the occasion of the final review. They were unanimous that all other Quran materials must be abandoned."
"The Qadi Abu Bakr holds 'that the entirety of the Quran, as God revealed it, and as He commanded that it be recorded, such as He did not abrogate, nor withdraw in respect of the wording alone, is represented in the mushaf of Uthman.' "
"In Baqillani's view, therefore, the Uthman mushaf, as collected by Zaid, equals the Quran minus two classes of verses; nask a hukm we al tilawa and naskh al tilawa duna al hukm."
"ibn Zibyan reports that ibn Abbas asked him which of the two texts he recited. He replied the former reading, that of ibn Umm 'Abd (i.e. Abdullah's). 'But.' said ibn Abbas, 'it is the later of two.' "("Fath al Bari" by ibn Hajar).
"Abdullah is himself reported as declaring, 'Did I know of anyone whom camels could reach who had later information on the final review than I have, I should go to him.' "
"Despite the statement attributed to Abdullah that he who denies a single verse of the Quran denies the entire revelation, Abdullah is depicted in the literature as having denied three whole chapters of the Quran!"
"The codex ascribed to Abdullah is said to lack three of the Suras present in our (the Uthmanic) text. The codices ascribed to ibn Abbas, Ubayy and Abu Musa are said to contain two Suras which the Uthmanic text lacks." ("al Itqan" by Jalal al Din).
"The Mutazili scholar al Nazzam is reported to have impugned Abdullah's memory on the ground that he had denied two Suras (sic) which are part of the Book of God. This is a reference, says ibn Qutaiba, to Q 113 and Q 114, and for his attitude Abdullah had justification. Men may opine and opine wrongly. This is possible for prophets and for ordinary mortals more possible still. What induced Abdullah to refrain from recording the two Suras in his mushaf was that he observed that the Prophet used the chapters as charms to invoke the divine protection upon his grandsons, al Hasan and al Husain."
"A similar cause led Ubayy, on the contrary, to copy into his mushaf the two qunut prayers which he noted the Prophet reciting at the ritual service. Abdullah, taking two chapters to be prayers, thought them to be no part of the Quran, while Ubayy, taking two prayers to be Suras, thought that they were part of the Quran."
"Of the two reports, it was that concerning Abdullah's supposed omission of Q 113 and Q 114, but more especially his refusal to record the first Sura, the Fatiha."
"ibn Mas'ud, the eponym of the Quran of the Kufans, is reported to have said, 'I recited from the very mouth of the Prophet some seventy Suras while Zaid still had his ringlets and was playing with his companions.' In a second version, 'The Prophet taught me to recite seventy Suras which I had mastered before Zaid had even become a Muslim.' Or, again, 'Am I to be debarred from copying the mushafs and the job given to a man who was an infidel in his father's reins when I first became a Muslim?' Abdullah is supposed to have enjoined his followers, 'Lay up your Qurans! How can you order me to recite the reading of Zaid, when I recited from the very mouth of the Prophet some seventy Suras?' "
" 'Am I,' asks Abdullah, 'to abandon what I acquired from the very lips of the Prophet?'"
"I went to Abu Musa's house and saw there Abdullah and Hudaifa. I sat with them. They had a mushaf that Uthman had sent ordering them to make their Qurans conform with it. Abu Musa declared that anything in his mushaf and lacking in Uthman's was not to be omitted. Anything in Uthman's and lacking in his own was to be added. Hudaifa asked, 'What is the point of all our work? Nobody in this region will give up the reading of this saikh, meaning Abdullah, and nobody of Yemeni origin will give up the reading of Abu Musa.' " ("Kitab al Masahif" by ibn abi Da'ud).
A very interesting development can be observed. At first the authenticity of a statement would be measured by the seniority of the man in question. This is apparent from the above texts. There came a shift to giving preference to the younger - the one who was aware of the abrogations and the withdrawn texts.
"This resulted, however, in earliness of conversion being driven out in favour of lateness of conversion."
"Yazid b. Mu'awiya was in the mosque in the time of al Walid b. Uqba, sitting in a group among whom was Hudaifa. An official called out, 'Those who follow the reading of Abu Musa, go to the corner nearest the Kinda door. Those who follow Abdullah's reading, go to the corner nearest Abdullah's house. 'Their reading of Q 2:196 did not agree. One group read, 'Perform the pilgrimage to God. 'The others read it, 'Perform the pilgrimage to the Ka'aba' Hudaifa became very angry, his eyes reddened and he rose, parting his qamis at the waist, although in the mosque. This was during the reign of Uthman. Hudaifa exclaimed, 'Will someone go to the Commander of the Faithful, or shall I go myself? This is what happened in the previous dispensations.' " ("Kitab al Masahif" by ibn abi Da'ud).
"Hudaifa said to Uthman, 'Whatever you would do if you heard someone talking of the reading of so-and-so, and the reading of another, as the non-Muslims do , then do it now.'"(" Kitab al Muqni" by b. Sa'id al Dani).
"Hudaifa said, "The Kufans say, "the text of Abdullah"; the Basrans say, "the text of Abu Musa".
By God! if I reach the Commander of the Faithful, I will recommend that he drown these readings.' (Masahif). Abdullah said, 'Do and God will drown you, but not in water!' " (ibid). "Abdullah, Hudaifa and Abu Musa were on the roof of Abu Musa's house. Abdullah said, 'I hear you say such and such.' Hudaifa said,' Yes, I deplore folk talking about this one's reading and that one's reading. They are differing like non Muslims.' Hudaifa continued, 'Abdullah b. Qais, you were sent to the Basrans as governor and teacher. They have adopted your adab, your dialect and your text.'
To b. Mas'ud he said, 'You were sent to the Kufans as their teacher and they have adopted your adab, your dialect and your reading.' "
'In that case,' retorted b Mas'ud, I have not misled them. There is no verse in the Book of God but that I know where and in what connection it was revealed. Did I know of anyone more learned than myself on the subject I should go to him.' (Masahif.).
And yet he differs in content from the Uthmanic version.
"During the reign of Uthman, teachers were teaching this or that reading to their students. When the students met and disagreed about the reading, they reported the differences to their teachers. They would defend their readings, condemning the others as heretical. News of this came to Uthman's ears and he addressed the people, 'You who are here around me are disputing as to the Quran, and pronouncing it differently. It follows that those who are distant in the various regional centres of Islam are even more widely divided. Companions of Muhammad! act in unison; come together and write out an imam (iman?) for the Muslims.' "("Kitab al Masahif" by ibn abi Da'ud).
"The reading disputes were apparently not restricted to the provinces. They appear to have prevailed also at Medina. We are unfortunately given no information on the nature of these differences, nor any explanation as to how they might have arisen. We are told, however, that when the completed mushaf was delivered, Uthman observed certain irregular uses." (ibid.).
"Unanimity is often claimed by appeal to the authority of Ali who is projected as averring that what Uthman had done in respect of the mushaf, and especially in respect of the most sensitive issue of all, the alleged destruction of all Quranic records other than the textus receptus achieved as the result of his initiative, he had done only after the fullest consultation with the Companions. Far from protesting at this highhandedness, they had applauded and blessed his decisiveness."
"By God! he did not act on the mushaf except in the fullest consultation with us, for he said, 'What is your view in this matter of reading? I have heard that some even say, "My reading is superior to yours." This is tantamount to heresy.' We asked him, 'What are you thinking to do?' He replied, 'My view is that we should unite the Muslims on the basis of a single mushaf. That way, there will be no disagreement, no segmentation.' We replied, 'An excellent idea!' Someone then asked, 'Whose is the purest Arabic? and whose the greatest acquaintance with the recitation (alt. Quran)? 'They said that the purest Arabic was that of Sa'id b. al As and that the one most acquainted with the recitation (Quran) was Zaid b. Thabith. Uthman said, 'Let the one write and the other dictate.' The two then set to work and in this way Uthman united the Muslims on the basis of a single text."
"Ali concludes his report with the declaration, 'Had I been in power, I should have done just what Uthman did." (ibid.).
(The above quotations are taken from the book "Collection of the Quran" by Dr. John Burton).
"It is not without interest, that records show that the Quranic text was finally fixed by the two visirs ibn Muqlah and ibn-'Tsa in A.D. 933 (A.H. 311) with the help of the learned ibn Mujahid. Ibn Majahid admitted seven readings, which had developed because of lack of vowel and diacritical marks, as canonical." ("History of the Arabs" by Philip K. Hitti, page 123 as quoted from "Materials for the History of the Text of the Koran" by Arthur Jeffery and "New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of the Koran" by Hartwig Hirschfeld).
All this proves beyond any doubt that the very accusation levelled by Muslims against the Bible, can be reversed and applied far more effectively against the Quran. When a Muslim refers to the Quran as "nazil" he is flying in the teeth of the facts recorded above. Therefore, considering the absence of external and internal evidence that should effectively verify the revelatory character of the Quran, we find it very hard, if not impossible, to accept the Quran as a Message sent by God. This is particularly so, because the Quran contradicts earlier revelation, the evidence for the origin of which is given above. (See pp.3 ff.).
QUESTION: Why do Muslims continually discredit the Bible on grounds that the Quran, though 600 years younger, shows in a very much exaggerated way? Why is the unity of the Quran so strongly taught, when historical records prove the contrary? Were you, dear reader, made aware of the basic facts outlined above?
Christians Ask Muslims: Table of Contents
Answering Islam Home Page