Relation of Shi'a Theology to the Qur'an

Daud Rahbar


This article is far from being a comprehensive account of the Shi'a relation to the Qur'an. Justice to this subject can be done only by delving into the Shi'a Hadith and more particularly into the Tafsir literature produced under the Fatimi and Safawi governments.

The death of 'Ali ibn abi Talib in 661 must represent a turning point in the theology of the partisans of Ahl al-Bait. Until then, these partisans were less enthusiastic for the emphasis of the Qur'an on the Justice of God on the Judgement Day than on a promise of an immanent redress on earth. The Shi'a community at its origin launched a political program to seek redress here on earth. A sense of glory in 'Ali's worldly failure and spiritual triumph did not accompany the thoughts of the community at the time of its inception. The community struggled for 'Ali's worldly success in its earliest days.

Even after 'Ali's assassination the case was not abandoned. The second landmark was the martyrdom of Husayn ibn 'Ali at Karbala' in 61/680 preceded by the alleged poisoning of Hasan ibn 'Ali by Mu'awiya in 669. This established firmly the dynastic caliphate of Banu Umayya. It can be assumed reasonably that this rather conclusive set back rendered the Shi'a community esoteric and at the same time made them inclined to seek comfort in the Qur'an's promise of final redress of political wrongs on the Judgement Day.

However it should be clearly recognized that this recourse to a comfort in the promises of recompense in the hereafter, in the light of the political origin of the community, was a kind of last resort and necessarily half-hearted. Shi'a theology, therefore, while never omitting the justice of God from its exposition, expresses little zeal for the argument that their emphasis on justice is derived from an honest response to the Qur'an's call. For the thought still lurks in their minds that political justice should have been done right here on earth.

The Qur'an is not wanting in reminders of God's earthly retribution. The Shi'a literature, most of which originated after the deaths of 'Ali and his two sons, did not turn to this aspect of divine justice. This reflects that with the weakening of the political aspirations of the Shi'a they cautiously stressed a remote rather than an immanent justice of God. Any vigorous pursuance of the idea of God's immanent justice would have been suppressed by the Umayyads and the 'Abbasids. In fact too loud a drumming on the idea of the final judgement of the Judgement Day would have caused the indignation of those in power by suggesting that they were the damned ones.

The Shi'a, therefore, did not offer any drastic opposition to the excessively transcendental theology formulated under the sponsorship of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid caliphates. In Al-Bab al-Hadi 'Ashar1 of Hasan b. Yusuf b. 'Ali b. al Mutahhar al-Hilli (648/1250-726/1326), sections II and III on the Positive (Thubutiyya) and Privative (Salbiyya) attributes of God take precedence over the section on Allah's justice (Section IV). The Positive attributes enumerated in Section II are these: Allah is Qadir (Powerful), Mukhtar (Free). 'Alim (Knowing), Hayy (Living), Murid (Willer), Mudrik (perceiver), Qadim (Prior), Mutakallim (Speaker) and Sadiq (Veracious).

The Salbiyya qualities of God enumerated in Section III are these: Allah is not compounded (Murakkab); He is neither body (jism) nor accident ('Arad); He is not in a place (makan); He is not subject to pleasure or pain as He has no physical constitution (mizaj); He does not unite with other than Himself; He is not a locus (mahall) for originated things which would imply His being acted upon (infi'al); His ocular vision is not possible; He cannot have a partner (sharik); ideas (ma'ani) and states (ahwal) are denied to the Most High; He is not in need.

We see that in all these descriptions the Shi'a theology is not different fundamentally from Ash'ari theology which later set lastingly the pattern for the whole of Muslim theology. Perhaps the only significant difference in the above list of descriptions is reflected by the inclusion of the attributes Sadiq (Veracious) and Mutakallim (Speaker), the former being reminiscent of the Shi'a trust in God's promise of final redress, and the latter reminiscent of the following tradition attributed to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq:

The Qur'an is neither creator nor created; it is the word of the Creator.

The Shi'a doctrine of the temporal createdness of the Qur'an, like their doctrine of divine justice, did not secure very zealous upholders, nor were they alone in stressing it, for it was as a Mu'tazili doctrine that it asserted itself during Mutawakkil's reign.

The primary implement of Shi'a theology is allegorical exegesis, which is based on traditions relative to Qur'anic passages and attributed to 'Ali. These are great in number. Here we are not able to present an analysis of that allegorical method. We shall only refer to a few verses from the Qur'an which the Shi'a cite to glorify 'Ali or Ahl al-Bait.

The phrase (Verily, God is High ('Ali) and Great) occurs in 4: 38 2 as the ending phrase of that verse which teaches how men should treat women:

Men stand superior to women in that God hath preferred some of them over others, and in that they expend of their wealth: and the virtuous women, devoted, careful (in their husbands') absence, as God has cared for them. But those whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and remove them into bed-chambers and beat them; but if they submit to you, then do not seek a way against them; verily, God is high and great.

Shi'a exegesis is delighted to find that 'Ali is used in this verse as an epithet of God. The epithet 'Ali is used for God again in 42:51. The verse says that revelation and inspiration are by God's decision. The concluding phrase is .

It is not for any mortal that God should speak to him, except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending an apostle and inspiring, by His permission, what He pleases: verily, He is High ('Ali) and wise. (42:50-51).

In both these cases above,3 the Shi'a identification of God and 'Ali is based on a pious play on words rather than on allegorical interpretation. It is ecstatic exegesis.

A passage very popular with the Shi'a is 33:32-33 which reads as follows:

O ye women of the Prophet! ye are not like any other women; if ye fear God then be not too complaisant in speech, or he in whose heart is sickness will lust after you; but speak a reasonable speech.

And stay still in your houses and show not yourselves with the ostentation of the ignorance of yore; and be steadfast in prayer, and give alms, and obey God and His Apostle; - God only wishes to take away from you the horror as people of the House and to purify you thoroughly.

It is evident that the phrase people of the House (Ahl al-Bait), as used in this passage, includes all the members of Muhammad's household. It does not refer exclusively to the five members of the family of Fatima who are Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, her husband 'Ali and their three sons Hasan, Husayn and Muhsin.

Equally far fetched is the Shi'a insistence that the phrase Ahl al-Bait in 11:76 refers to the family of 'Ali:

Said she (Abraham's wife), "Alas for me! shall I bear a son when I am an old woman, and this husband of mine an old man?"
They said, "Dost thou wonder at the bidding of God? God's mercy and blessings upon you, ye people of the house (Ahl al-Bait)." Verily, He is to be praised and glorified.

From a Shi'a tradition explaining allusions in 3:52-54, the Shi'a derive the name Ashab al-Kisa' (The People of the Mantle) for Fatima, 'Ali, Hasan, Husayn and Muhsin. The passage is as follows:

Verily, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from earth, then He said to him BE, and he was; - the truth from thy Lord, so be thou not of those who are in doubt. And whoso disputeth with thee after what has come to thee of knowledge, say, "Come, let us call our sons and yourselves; then we will imprecate and put God's curse on those who lie".

Most commentaries, even sunni, connect this passage with the disputations between Muhammad and the Christian envoys of Najran reported to have taken place in A.H. 10. It is recorded that the Prophet had invited them to accept Islam, but that they refused. The Prophet then invited them to observe the Arab practice of mubahala, which meant that both parties should invoke the curse of God upon whichever of them was wrong. The Shi'a commentaries, however specify that Muhammad came out of his house only with Fatima, 'Ali, Hasan, Husayn and Muhsin, covering them with a mantle (kisa'). Hence the five are called People of the Mantle. The five members whom Muhammad specially regarded as his real kin.

The author of the article on 'Ali in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam has referred to 24:35 among "a vast number of verses" which Shi'a exegesis "regards as evidence of Shi'a claims."

It may be clarified that 24:35 is a passage belonging to a quite different category of Qur'anic passages, that is, those in which the Shi'a have interpolated some words favourable to 'Ali. The verse in the extant 'Uthmanic version reads as follows:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth; His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, ...

A Shi'a version of Ibn Mas'ud, reads as follows:4

God is the light of the heavens and the earth; the semblance of the light of one who believes in Him and loves the People of the House of His Apostle is as a niche in which is lamp, ...

This last instance brings us to the interesting subject of textual variants in the Qur'anic codices of the first three centuries of Islam. To the mind of the present writer, nothing will stir Islamic scholarship into creative activity more than a revival of the discussions of Asbab al-Nuzul (Historical causes of descent of Qur'anic verses) and Mukhtalifat al-Qur'an (Textual variants of the Qur'an). Perhaps with the exception of scholars of al-Azhar and those of Deoband in India and other schools of that kind, educated Muslims are universally unaware of any variance in early codices except in trivial matters of diacritical marks. And the few scholars who are aware of the full details of variance of early codices, are not critically oriented to realise the dynamic resourcefulness of that variance for the future development of Islam. That there continued to exist until the beginning of the fourth century A.H. various editions of the Qur'an after the 'Uthmanic edition had become standard, is a fact which will shock contemporary Muslims greatly. It is impossible to give a full picture of the codices in circulation in the first three centuries in relation to political, social and spiritual motivations in this brief article. The readers are referred to the late Arthur Jeffery's admirable work entitled Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an (Brill 1937). That book rates among the very first to be translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu as insemination for the birth of enlightened Muslim scholarship.

As a ready reference, Muslims are referred to the chapter on Mukhtalifat al-Qur'an in the Itqan of al-Suyuti, a work written in the latter part of the 15th century.

Although on pp. 17-18 of his work, Prof. Jeffery has given a list of the main sources from which the variants have been gathered, the work would have been of much greater value had the sources of each variant been indicated separately.

The same volume by Prof. Jeffery contains his edition of the Kitab al-Masahif of Abu Bakr 'Abdullah ibn abi Da'ud al-Sijistani (230-316 A.H.), a son of Abu Da'ud the author of the famous canonical Hadith work called al-Sunan.

In the rest of this article we shall comment on the Shi'a variants contained in the codices of 'Ali, Ibn Mas'ud and Ja'far al-Sadiq illustrating the nature of Shi'a interpolations or departures from the 'Uthmanic text.

For the very different arrangement of surahs in 'Ali's codex found in the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim, see Arther Jeffery's work (p. 183). However, it is generally believed that 'Ali approved the Uthmanic codex when it was ready and his own codex was burnt.

Five surahs are missing from the codex of 'Ali: Fatiha (1), Ra'd (13), Saba' (34), Tahrim (66), 'Alaq (96).

There seems to be no allusion or implication in surahs 1, 13, 34 and 96 which might have motivated a deliberate Shi'a elimination of these chapters. The absence of Surah 66 (Tahrim) however is interesting. The opening verses (1-5) of the chapter are as follows:

In the name of the merciful and compassionate God.
O thou prophet! wherefore dost thou prohibit what God has made lawful to thee, craving to please thy wives? but God is forgiving, compassionate!
God has allowed you to expiate your oaths; for God is your sovereign, and He is the knowing, the wise!
And when the prophet told as a secret to one of his wives a recent event, and when she gave information thereof and exposed it, he acquainted her with some of it and avoided part of it. But when he informed her of it, she said, "Who told thee this?" he said, "The wise one, the well-aware informed me."
If ye both turn repentant unto God, - for your hearts have swerved - but if ye back each other up against him, - verily God, He is the sovereign; and Gabriel and the righteous of the believers, and the angels after that, will back him up.

The vague allusions in these verses are explained alternatively. The first explanation is attributed by both Muslim and Bukhari to 'Aisha, Muhammad's youngest wife, who report as follows: The Prophet used to stop at the house of his wife Zainab bint Jahsh and partake of honey there. 'Aisha and Hafsa, both being his wives, decided together that at his next visit to either of them, the wife receiving him should say to him, "You smell of maghafir. Have you eaten some maghafir?"5 When the Prophet came to one of them, she said what had been agreed upon. The Prophet said, "I had some honey at the house of Zainab." Thereupon he swore that he would never again drink honey,6 and asked that his oath be kept secret. The verses 1-5 descended allowing Muhammad to break his oath.

The alternative explanation connects the verses with the indignation of 'Aisha or Hafsa respectively over Muhammad's lying with the Coptic girl Mary on the day due to 'Aisha or Hafsa. The account goes on to say that Hafsa was asked by Muhammad to keep the matter secret from other wives. Hafsa however revealed it confidentially to 'Aisha. Muhammad was angry at this betrayal and stayed away from his wives for a whole month. The chapter is said to be intended to free Muhammad from his oath and as a reproof to his wives. (See Palmer's translation of the Qur'an in the Sacred Books of the East Series, Vol. 11. p. 290. f.n.).

The chapter seems to contain allusions, the varying explanations of which give importance to Muhammad's wives 'Aisha and Hafsa. Among Muhammad's wives, the Shi'a hold in veneration only Khadija, the mother of Fatima. And they would not like to see 'Aisha and Hafsa alluded to in the Qur'an in a way implying that Muhammad was fond of them, particularly 'Aisha who remained an adversary of 'Ali and Fatima throughout their lives.

Part II

We continue in this second instalment of our comments on the Shi'a variants of the Codex of 'Ali as reconstructed by Professor Jeffery:

In the 'Uthmanic redaction of the Qur'an verse 2:192 opens with the words:

And fulfil the Pilgrimage and the Visitation to God ... The Codex of 'Ali reads instead as follows:

And perform the Pilgrimage and the Visitation to the House ...

Had the word House been part of the standard Sunni reading, we would readily have accepted it to mean the House of Ka'ba. But since the variant appears in 'Ali's Codex, it may have been intended to mean the family of 'Ali rather than Ka'ba. The suggestion seems far-fetched but cannot be ruled out. The variant reading above is shared by the Codex of 'Ali and the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud.

To both of them is attributed also the reading instead of in the same passage. That reading would make the translation read thus:

And perform the Pilgrimage. And the Visitation is to the House ...7

Let us not make the substitution of the word Allah here by the word bayt too much of a Shi'a operation, for the insertion of the word al-bayt in the passage, in a slightly different way, is to be found in other versions also:

And perform the Pilgrimage and the Visitation to the House ...
(See the Tafsir of Al-Tabari, Bulaq edition, Vol. II: 120.)

Let us conclude by saying: The substitute al-bayt is offered in the Codices of 'Ali and Ibn Mas'ud not necessarily to insert a word dear to the Shi'a. However we can be fairly sure that a Shi'a is always delighted to read the word al-bayt used in a good sense anywhere in the Qur'an.

Among the numerous variants in 'Ali's Codex, the next which is of Shi'a origin is in 26:214-216. The standard 'Uthmanic text of the passage is this:

And warn thy clansmen who are near of kin. And lower thy wing to those of the believers who follow thee; but if they rebel against thee, say, "Verily, I am clear of what ye do ..."

In agreement with Ibn Mas'ud, 'Ali's Codex here has the following reading instead of verse 215 and the opening words of 216:

The translation of the whole passage will read thus with this addition:

And warn thy clansmen who are near of kin.
And they are the people of thy House, from among believers.
But if they disobey thee and thy people among whom are the pure ones, then say, "Verily, I am clear of what ye do.'

The only other interesting variant in 'Ali's Codex is a different reading of Surah al-'Asr (No. 103). The 'Uthmanic reading is this:

By the age8 Verily, man is in loss! Save those who believe and do right, and bid each other be true and bid each other be patient.

'Ali's Codex offers the Surah in the following form:

By the age and the misfortunes of time. Verily, man is in loss. And he is in it until the end of time.

Does this rather pessimistic variant reflect the Shi'a despair over the turn of history? Or did 'Ali actually hear Muhammad on some occasion recite the Surah in this form? We cannot easily decide this. The chapter, according to Nöldeke's theories, belongs to the first period of the Prophet's mission (A.D. 612-617). The portrayals of human destiny in that period were, on the whole, grim.

In all, the Codex of 'Ali, as reconstructed by Prof. Jeffery, has a little over ninety cases of variance with the standard 'Uthmanic redaction. Of these, not more than four suggest Shi'a motivation, two more distinctly, (namely, the omission of Surah 66 entitled Tahrim and the variant for 26:215-216) and two rather dubiosly, (namely, the variant for and the variant reading for the whole of Surah 103).

This fact is indeed amazing at first sight but understandable on closer analysis. It seems that the Shi'a found it more effective to attribute the report of pro-'Ali statements of the Koran to other Companions than to 'Ali himself. As Prof. Jeffery observes (op. cit. p. 21), there are readings in favour of Ahl al-Bayt not only in Shi'a sources, but also in Sunni sources. We know that the Sunni retort to the Shi'a disowning of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman is not by Sunni disowning of 'Ali but by the Sunni owning of all Companions and pointedly of Mu'awiya the persecutor of 'Ali's family. The Sunni Muslims have always vied with the Shi'a in showing veneration to 'Ali, particularly in poetry. We must also remember that the standard Sunni formula of prayer includes the words:

O God! Confer thy blessings upon Muhammad and the descendants of Muhammad as Thou didst confer blessings on Abraham and Abraham's descendants; Verily, Thou art the praiseworthy and the Glorious. And send benediction upon Muhammad and the descendants of Muhammad as Thou didst send benediction upon Abraham and Abraham's descendants; Verily, Thou art Praiseworthy and Glorious.

We now turn to the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud, the codex with the largest number of readings differing from the 'Uthmanic text. These fill as many as eighty-seven pages (pp. 25-113) of Prof. Jeffery's work9, whereas the variants of 'Ali's Codex fill only eight pages (pp. 185-192) of the same work. Not all of these variants are of Shi'a intention of course; we have seen that 'Ali's codex itself has not more than four variances of possibly Shi'a intention out of a total of nearly a hundred variants.

'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud is reported to have been a very close companion of the Prophet and to have enjoyed great prestige as a traditionist. The following quotation from Prof. Jeffery's work about his codex is worth citing10:

We have no information as to when he began to make his Codex. Apparently he began to collect material during the lifetime of the Prophet and worked it up into Codex form when he was established at Kufa and was looked to as the authority on Qur'anic matters. At any rate we find his Codex in use there and followed by the Kufans before the official recension was made by 'Uthman. When 'Uthman sent to Kufa the official copy of his standard text with orders that all other texts should be burned, Ibn Mas'ud refused to give up his copy, being indignant that the text established by a young upstart like Zaid b. Thabit should be given preference to his, since he had been a Muslim while Zaid was still in the loins of an unbeliever11. There seems to have been considerable difference of opinion in Kufa over this question of the Codex some accepting the new text sent by 'Uthman, but a great many continuing to hold by the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud12 which by that time had come to be regarded as the Kufan text. The strength of the position of his Codex in Kufa is well illustrated by the number of secondary Codices of which some information has come down to us and which followed the text of Ibn Mas'ud. It was from its vogue in Kufa that this Codex came to be favoured by Shi'a circles, though one is not disposed to accept as genuine all the Shi'a readings that are attributed to his Codex, nor indeed those found in Sunni sources in favour of Ahl al-Bait.

Now we shall examine those variants of his Codex which are either evidently Shi'a or at least suggest Shi'a intention:

2:24 in the 'Uthmanic text reads as follows:

Why, God is not ashamed to set forth a parable of a gnat, or anything beyond; and as for those who believe, they know that it is truth from the Lord; but as for those who disbelieve, they say, "What is it that God means by this parable?" He leads astray by it many and He guides by it many; -- but he leads astray only the evildoers.

In Ibn Mas'ud's Codex the last part of the verse reads this:

By it (i.e. the parable) many are misguided and many are guided aright by it, and by it only the evildoers go astray.

The variance aims at avoiding a predestinatrian position. The Shi'a, with their consciousness of historical wrongs, would not attribute those wrongs to a divine plan in any way and therefore stressed freedom of human will and human responsibility. The reading therefore seems a Shi'a reading.

Perhaps a similar desire to see human responsibility stressed is behind the variant in this Codex for a phrase in 2:34 relating to the story of Adam's creation: The 'Uthmanic text reads thus:

And we said, "O Adam dwell, thou and thy wife, in paradise, and eat therefrom amply as you wish; but do not draw near this tree or ye will be of the transgressors." And Satan made them backslide therefrom and drove them out from what they were in ...

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the phrase (And Satan suggested evil to them) instead of (And Satan made them slip). The latter reading of course alleviates the burden of responsibility from Adam and Eve whereas the former reading leaves room for their responsibility.

In the 'Uthmanic text 2:42-43 reads as follows:

Seek aid with patience and prayer, though it is a hard thing save for the humble, who think that they will meet their Lord, and that to him will they return.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud reads (who know that they will meet their Lord instead of The reading of the Codex makes the verse more rational any way, though in this particular matter the Shi'a would specially be unhappy about the lax qualification of the humble and would like to strengthen the qualification by replacing the idea of thinking by the idea of knowing.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the following variants in 2:192:

instead of .

instead of . The Codex also offers in place of . For comments on these variants see the opening of the present instalment of this article.


In the 'Uthmanic text, 3:30 reads as follows:

Verily, God has chosen Adam and Noah and Abraham's people, and 'Imran's people, above the worlds, --- a seed, of which one succeeds the other, but God both hears and knows.

On 'Imran in this verse, Professor Palmer has the following footnote in his translation of the Qur'an:

Amram, who according to the Mohammedans, was the father of the Virgin Mary, (Miriam). A confusion seems to have existed in the mind of Mohammed between Miriam 'the Virgin Mary', and Miriam the sister of Moses.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud offers instead of , which reading, Prof. Jeffery reports, is given also from the Imams of Ahl al-Bait. This is in spite of the fact that the verse which follows the one in question begins with the words:

When 'Imran's wife said, 'Lord, I have vowed to Thee what is within my womb, to be dedicated unto Thee ...

In the light of the context, it would have been more reasonable for the Shi'a to add the words than make them take the place of the words .

In the 'Uthmanic text, 5:71 reads as follows:

O thou Apostle! preach what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; if thou do it not thou hast not preached his message, and God will not hold thee free from men, for God guides not people who misbelieve.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud reads thus:

O thou apostle! preach what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; Verily 'Ali is the Mawla (friend, master, helper) of the believers. If thou do it not ...

We have italicized the interpolation. It seems that the originator of this interpolation formed this sentence in praise of 'Ali and then looked for some proper place in the Qur'an to insert it. And finding the job difficult he decided that any place would be just as good as another. So he placed it here. However, it is the feeling of the present writer that there are passages in the Qur'an where the interpolation would have been less conspicuous as a digression. The grafting of the phrase would have been less abortive, for instance, at the end of 3:111:

What ye do of good surely God will not deny, for God knows those who fear. Verily 'Ali is the friend of the believers.

We have chosen the spot for insertion of the phrase again arbitrarily. Anyone conversant with the style of the Qur'an will agree that in spite of sounding better here than in 5:71, the interpolation is very disharmonious with the style of the book. For the Qur'an does not habitually mention Muhammad's contemporaries by name, but by vague allusion. in fact, Zayd ibn Thabit, Muhammad's freedman and adopted son, and Abu Lahab, Muhammad's uncle, are the only two persons among Muhammad's contemporaries actually mentioned by name in the Qur'an. The former is mentioned in 33:37 and the latter in 111:1. Therefore, stylistically, interpolations of passages containing names of Muhammad's contemporaries become conspicuous as oddities. However, the Shi'a might say that here precisely is the point: 'Ali and Ahl al-Bait are exceptional as deserving mention in the Qur an.

The next important variant of interest to our present discussion is in 11:118. The text of the 'Uthmanic redaction is this:

And were there not among the generations before you any endowed with a remnant (of piety or wisdom) forbidding evil doing in the earth, save a few of those whom we saved; but the evil-doers followed what they enjoyed, and were sinners.

In the above translation by Prof. E. H. Palmer, the words 'of piety' within brackets have been supplied by him. The words 'or wisdom' have been supplied by us. No meaningful translation is possible without supplying something here. For the literal translation would read merely "endowed with a remnant", and it is logical to ask, remnant of what? Tabari's Commentary (Bulaq Ed. Vol.12, pp. 83-84) suggests remnant of fahm (understanding) and 'aql (reason).

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has a most fascinating variant in place of the word "-- ." That variant is "-- ," which literally means "guarding oneself fearfully," but as a synonym for may also be rendered as piety. In Shi'a thinking the word taqiyya has assumed very special meanings.

The merit of the variant is that whereas the word needs the supply of some word after it to yield meaning, the word makes full sense without the supply of any word after it. However, this is no criterion for regarding as the authentic reading, for omission of words left for the reader to supply is not unusual for the Qur'an's style. Furthermore, if the reading is adopted, this passage will be the only one in the Qur'an using the infinitive instead of the infinitive .

In Shi'a thinking, taqiyya means avoiding persecution or hardship by concealing motives and plans. Their doctrine of taqiyya evidently sprang not from the variant they read in this Qur'anic passage. Rather, they seem to have proposed this fascinating variant for scriptural support of a religious attitude that had originated in their political needs. Amid persecution the Shi'a minority found concealment of plans and motives to be the only kind of jihad they could launch. This was their means of undermining, to the best of their capacity, the authority of the Sunni caliphate.

Concealing of motives and plans is a universal human trait. All of us conceal our motives and plans, sometimes nobly and sometimes viciously. The distinction of the Shi'a doctrine of Concealment is that with them it is a duty and not a mere permission. At its origin this duty must have served as a means of "pious" non-co-operation with the Sunni governments.

There are passages in the Qur'an that explicitly support the idea of Concealment, though neither the word taqiyya itself nor any other derivative of occurs in those passages. These passages are:

Whoso disbelieves in God after having believed, unless it be one who is forced and whose heart is quiet in the faith, -- but whoso expands his breast to misbelieve, -- on them is wrath from God, and for them is mighty woe! 16:108.

Those who believe shall not take misbelievers for their patrons, rather than believers, and he who does this has no part with God at all, unless, indeed, ye fear some danger from them. But God bids you beware of Himself, for unto him your journey is. 3:27.

Today is perfected for you your religion, and fulfilled upon you is my favour, and I am pleased for you to have Islam for a religion. But he who is forced by hunger, not inclined wilfully to sin, verily, God is forgiving, compassionate. 5:3 13

What ails you that ye do not eat from what God's name is pronounced over, when He has detailed to you what is unlawful for you? Save what ye are forced to; but, verily, many will lead you astray by their fancies, without knowledge. Verily, thy Lord knows best the transgressors. 6:119.

These passages explicitly provide latitude for all Muslims, Sunni as well as Shi'a.

There is one particular passage which contains a derivative of the root and is found in Shi'a literature as scriptural support of their idea of Taqiyya. That is 49:13:

Verily the most honourable of you in the sight of God is the most pious among you; verily, God is knowing, aware!

The Shi'a arbitrarily interpret the phrase here to mean "he among you who exercises Taqiyya most." This is an obvious stretching of the meaning for, in conformity with the use of derivatives of in the rest of the Qur'an, here means "he among you who most guards himself fearfully against divine punishment." See pp. 181-193 of God of Justice, (Brill, 1960) by the present writer.

The readers will benefit by looking at the article on "Taqiyya" in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

We may conclude the present instalment of this essay with two observations on the role of Taqiyya in Shi'a thought:

There is in fact no way of defining the limits within which the Shi'a "Concealment" apparently must have controlled all Shi'a writing. In view of the fact that Concealment has been a universal Shi'a duty, are we not to ask if all written Shi'a literature is a mass of pronouncements that the Shi'a made to conceal rather than make known their real beliefs? The suggestion may seem fantastic, and yet it is realistic. At least we must assume that the Shi'a have habitually concealed much of the intensity of their anti-Sunni feelings, if not also the nature of those feelings. It will also be interesting to enquire into what modifications the doctrine of Taqiyya underwent under the Isma'ili and Safawi governments when the need for Sh'ia concealment was less.

We can assume that all expression of genuine passion among the Shi'a must have taken place in the strict privacy of Shi'a mosques.

The second pertinent point is the relation between the Shi'a zeal for Concealment and the Sunni zeal for Tanzih or transcendental theology aiming at dismissal of belief in divine purpose in history. We can see that a kind of concealment of that to which one is committed is operative even in transcendental theologizing. Both Shi'a Concealment and Sunni Tanzih are compromises which helped Shi'a - Sunni compatibility. The Shi'a and Sunni sects have partaken of each other's attitudes to a degree hitherto not duly recognized.


The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has variants in 16:87 which seem very much to be Shi'a operations. This will become apparent if we read the verse together with that which precedes it and the one which follows it:

86 And on the day when we shall send from every nation a witness; then shall those who misbelieve not be allowed (to excuse themselves), and they shall not be taken back into favour.14

87 And when those who did wrong see the torture, it will not he alleviated on them nor shall they be given respite.

88 And when those who join their partners with God say, 'Our Lord.' these be our partners on whom we used to call beside Thee.' And they shall proffer them the speech, 'Verily, ye are liars!'

The Codex omits the word from 16 : 87 and puts the passive in place of the active This way the verse will read in translation as follows:

And those who were wronged saw the torture; it will not be alleviated on them nor shall they be given respite.

In this altered form the verse is a misfit between 16:86 and 16:88. It makes sense only out of context and as such it seems to be meant by the Shi'a to refer to the persecutions they and Ahl al-Bait were suffering.

24:35 in 'Uthman's redaction begins thus:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth; His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, ...

The reading attributed to Ibn Mas'ud is as follows:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth; the semblance of the light of one who believes in Him and loves the People of the House of His Prophet is as a niche in which is a lamp, ...

'Uthman's redaction 25:1 reads as follows:

Blessed be He who sent down the Discrimination to His servant that he might be unto the world a warner; ...

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the following reading instead:

Blessed be He who sent down the Discrimination on His Prophet and the People of His House from among his descendants who have inherited after him the knowledge of the Book, that they might be unto the world a warner.

For 26:215, the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has a reading which it shares with the Codex of 'Ali. We have already indicated that reading on p. 212 of the July 1961 issue of The Muslim World.

33:25 in the 'Uthmanic text is as follows:

And God drove back the misbelievers in their rage; they gave no advantage; God was enough for the believers in the fight, for God is strong, mighty.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the following reading for the second half of the verse:

God was enough for the believers in the fight in support of 'Ali ibn abi Talib, for God is strong, mighty.

The 'Uthmanic version has the following text for 33:33

And stay still in your houses and show not yourselves with the ostentation of the ignorance of yore; and be steadfast in prayer, and give alms, and obey God and His Apostle; - God only wishes to take away from you the horror O People of the House and to purify you thoroughly.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the following reading for the last portion of the verse: -

God only wishes to take away the horror from the People of the House of His Prophet for they did not worship idols, and to purify them thoroughly.

We have commented on this verse already on p. 94 of the April 1961 issue of The Muslim World.

33:56 in the 'Uthmanic redaction reads as follows:

Verily, God and His angels send benediction on the Prophet. O ye who believe! pray for him and salute him with a salutation.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud gives the following version:

Verily, God and His angels unite 'Ali with the Prophet. O ye who believe! send blessings upon the two of them as God sends blessings upon the two of them, and salute them with a salutation.

In 'Uthman's version 56:10 is a brief verse

And the foremost will be foremost.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has a long version in its place:

And the foremost in belief in the Prophet are 'Ali and his descendants whom God chose from among the Prophet's Companions and made guardians over others. They are the victorious ones who will inherit the Paradise; in it they will abide forever.

59:7 in 'Uthman's version is as follows:

What God gave as spoils to His Apostle of the people of the cities is God's, and the Apostle's, and for kinsfolk, orphans, and the poor, and the wayfarer, so that it should not be circulated amongst the rich men of you.

And what the Apostle gives you, take; and what he forbids you, desist from; and fear God, verily, God is strong in punishing.

The Codex of Ibn Mas'ud has the following words from the word onward:

... so that there be no opposition from your chiefs to the love of the People of the House among you. And whatever he tells you to do obey him and fear God in your opposition, for God is strong in punishing.

97:4 in "Uthman's redaction is as follows:

The angels and the Spirit descend therein,15 by the permission of their Lord with every bidding.

The reading of Ibn Mas'ud is reported as follows:

The angels and the Spirit descend therein from their Lord upon Muhammad and the descendants of Muhammad, with every bidding.

We have exhausted the Shi'a readings from the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud. We turn now to the Codex of Ja'far al-Sadiq which has very few recorded variants. Of these there is only one which is of Shi'a intention: a variant in 33:56. The variant is identical with the one offered by the Codex of Ibn Mas'ud. See 33:56 above.

Readers are referred to the article entitled "Shi'ah Additions to the Koran," by the Rev. Mr. W. St. Clair Tisdall, in the July, 1913, issue of The Muslim World. There they will find, in facsimile, the text of Surah al-Walayat (sic), a surah of Shi'a origin. The article contains an English rendering of that surah as well as of a longer surah, also of Shi'a origin, namely, Surah al-Nurayn. The facsimile mentioned, as well as the texts from which the translations are based, is taken from a manuscript of the Bankipur Library in India. The article contains English translations of numerous other Shi'a additions to the Qur'an found in the Bankipur manuscript.


1 With commentary by Miqdad-i-Fadil al-Hilli, translated into English by W. M. Miller, Luzac 1Q58.

2 All the citations from the Qur'an in this article follow Fluegel's numbering.

3 References to these found in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam in the article on 'Ali ibn abi Talib. Where they are cited in that article, a reference is made to JRAS, 3904, p. 351 as the source.

4 Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an, Arthur Jeffery, Brill 1937, p. 65.

5 A pungent gum.

6 Perhaps meaning: at the house of Zainab.

7 Perhaps meaning: Al-'Umra involves only a circumambulation of the Ka'ba.

8 Or, By the afternoon!

9 Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an; Brill, Leiden, 1937.

10 op cit. PP.20-21.

11 Prof. Jeffery has reference here to Ibn abi Dawood.

12 Prof. Jeffery's footnote: Ibn al-Athir Kamil (ed. Tornberg) III, 86, 87.

13 The context of the passage is lawful and unlawful foods.

14 Translations from the Qur'an are generally based on the version of E. H. Palmer.

15 During Laylat al-Qadr.

The above is the complete series of articles which appeared in The Muslim World during 1960-1961.

Textual Variants of the Qur'an
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