The Qur’an we have with us
today is the very one – word for word -- which was revealed to the Prophet
Muhammad (sws). It was collected both in the form of a book and learnt
by heart by many companions of the Prophet (sws) during his own life time
and then transferred verbally as well as in the written form to the next
generations. Such is the monumental nature of this transmission that the
inerrancy of the Qur’anic text is an incontestable reality.
Why is not the Qur’an revealed to him all at once? Thus [is it revealed] that We may strengthen your heart thereby, and We have revealed it gradually and painstakingly. (25:32)
As is evident from the later part of the verse, the Prophet (sws) is solaced by the Almighty that for his proper education and instruction and for that of the people, a gradual process of revealing divine decrees has been employed. Consequently, at various places in the Qur’an, he is told to exercise resolve and patience until the whole of the Qur’an is revealed to him:
Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation is completed to you and pray: O Lord advance me in knowledge. (20:113-4)
The initial verses of Surah A‘la portray another instance where the Prophet (sws) is told to exercise patience about receiving the whole of the Qur’an. He is cited two distinct examples which shed light on a common law of nature: there exists the principle of gradual progression and development in all the phenomena of nature. Everything reaches its culmination after passing through various stages. Consequently, he need not worry. The revelation of the Qur’an will also be gradually completed after passing through various stages:
Glorify the name of your Lord, Most High [O Prophet], Who created [all things], then perfected [them], and Who set their destinies [for them], then [accordingly] showed them the way [to follow], and Who brought forth vegetation, then made it lush green. [In a similar manner, this divine revelation will also gradually reach its end, then] soon We shall [finally] recite it to you; then you will not forget except what Allah pleases. (87:1-18)
With this background, consider now the following verses of the Qur’an which are in fact similar to the above quoted verses ((20:113-4) and (87:1-19)) in their purport. They also direct the Prophet (sws) to exercise patience until all the Qur’an is revealed. Only here, the assurance provided to the Prophet (sws) is through a forceful declaration of the whole scheme of the Almighty about the revelation of the Qur’an. He is assured that it is the responsibility of the Almighty to collect and compile the Qur’an as well as to recite it to him in a certain sequence. It is the Almighty Himself who will preserve the text of the Qur’an as well as the mode of its recital:
[To reveal to them, as soon as possible, the whole of the Qur’an O Prophet!] do not move your tongue swiftly to acquire this [Qur’an]. Verily, upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it, follow this recital [of Ours]. Then upon Us is to explain it [wherever need be].3 (75:16-19)
Let us now reflect simultaneously on these verses and on the following verse of Surah A‘la already quoted before:
Soon We shall [finally] recite it [ -- the Qur’an –] to you; then you will not forget it except what Allah pleases. (87:18)
As a result, we arrive at the following
conclusions about the whole Qur’anic scheme of its own collection
We used to compile the Qur’an from small scraps in the presence of the Messenger. (Hakim, Mustadrak)
The following account also bears witness to the fact that the Qur’an existed as a written document in the time of the Prophet (sws):
Malik said that no one should carry the Mushaf by its strap, nor on a pillow, unless he is clean… (Mu’atta, Kitab Al-Nida’ Li’l-Salah)
Another Hadith informs us about some of the companions who had memorised the Qur’an in its entirety and gone over it with the Prophet before his death:
Narrated Qatadah: I asked Anas Ibn Malik: ‘Who collected the Qur’an at the time of Prophet?’ He replied: ‘Four, all of whom were from the Ansar: Ubay Ibn Ka‘ab, Mu‘adh Ibn Jabal, Zayd Ibn Thabit and Abu Zayd.’(Bukhari, Kitab Fada’ilu’l-Qur’an)
One copy of the Qur’an was placed
in the Masjid-i-Nabawi so that people could make their own copies
from it or learn from it. The pillar of the mosque near which the Mushaf
was placed was called the Ustuwanah-i-Mushaf (The Pillar of
the Mushaf), and is referred to in various Ahadith; (See
for example: Sahih Muslim: Kitabu’l-Salah; Sahih Bukhari: Kitabu’l-Salah).
I have left you something, which if you hold steadfast to, you will never fall into error: the Book of Allah and my established practice…. (Ibn Hisham, Sirah, vol. 4, [Cairo: Maktabah Al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyyah], p. 186)
In the light of this evidence, it can
be safely concluded that Qur’an was collected and compiled in the
form of a book in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws). Consequently,
isolate reports which, contrary to this evidence, mention that this collection
actually took place after the Prophet (sws) by his companions can in no
way be accepted. The narratives, which describe that it was Abu Bakr
(sws) who collected the Qur’an in one Mushaf and it was
‘Uthman (rta) who fearing differences in reading the Qur’an ordered
to make official copies of it, contradict the Qur’an and the norms
of established history, and therefore cannot be accepted.6
To any one who objectively examines the material reported in history on
this subject, it becomes evident that in spite of the painstaking efforts
of the Prophet’s companions, some portions of the Qur’an were lost
forever before it could be compiled in book form7
while some others were found by a sheer stroke of luck at the initiative
of a person who had them8.
Notwithstanding these details, the mere contradiction of such reports with
the Qur’an is proof enough of their spurious nature. Moreover, the
Isnad (chain of narrators) of the narratives which mention this
collection has also been challenged quite convincingly in recent times9.
This article has thus far ventured forth to explain the collection and transmission of the Qur’an. However, owing to certain prevailing concepts, three questions may spring in the mind of the readers:
1. What about the verses of the Qur’an which are thought to be operational yet are not found within the Qur’an?
2. What were the seven readings of the Qur’an on which it was supposed to have been revealed?
3. What are the extant variant readings of the Qur’an?
This article ends with an attempt to answer these questions.
There exists a consensus among Muslim scholars that there are some verses of the Qur’an which do not exist in it yet are operational. In technical parlance, they are called ‘Mansukhu’l Tilawah Dun Al-Hukm’ (whose reading has been withdrawn but whose ruling still exists). Writes Amidi:
Scholars unanimously concede that there are verses which do not exist in the Qur’an whose directive still remains. (Amidi, Al-Ahkam Fi Usuli’l-Ahkam, vol. 2, [Beirut: Daru’l-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1980], p. 201)
In this regard, the most striking example is the verse of stoning found in some of the major books of Hadith literature. One of its texts is reported as follows:
‘Umar said: ‘Refrain from destroying yourself by denying the verse of stoning. Matters should not reach the stage that people should begin to say: "We do not find mention of two punishments (stripes and stoning) in the Book of Allah." No doubt the Prophet did Rajam (stoning to death) and so did we. I swear by Him in whose hands is my life that if I were not fearful of the fact that people would say that ‘Umar has made an addition in the Book of Allah, I would have written the verse: "Stone to death the old man guilty of fornication and the old woman guilty of fornication" in the Qur’an. The reason is that we ourselves have recited this verse [from the Qur’an]’. (Mu’atta, Kitabu’l-Hudud)
While Muslim scholarship14 try to explain this by saying that the directive of Rajam found in such Ahadith abrogates the directive of punishing fornicators found in the Qur’an (24:2), some of the critics of the Qur’an by citing this and other similar examples of such verses found in the Hadith literature say:
It is far more reasonable to conclude that most of the various passages said to have been omitted from the Qur’an were either overlooked, or not known to all the companions, or quite simply forgotten (such as the passage said by Abu Musa to have contained the verse about the insatiable greed of man. cf Sahih Muslim).15
This opinion of our scholars cannot be
accepted and requires serious reconsideration. No verse which is thought
to exist outside the Qur’an can be considered as still operational
in any way. How can a part of the Qur’an be extraneous to it? The
Qur’an we have today is itself a proof on the fact that everything
outside it is not its part in any way.
Yahya narrates from Malik who narrates from Ibn Shahab Zuhri who narrates from ‘Urwah Ibn Zubayr who narrates from ‘Abdu’l-Rahman Ibn ‘Abdu’l-Qari that ‘Umar Ibn Khattab said before me: ‘I heard Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one I read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this surah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: "I have heard Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam reading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one you had read it out to me". The Prophet (sws) said: "Leave him alone [O ‘Umar]". Then he said to Hisham: "Read [it]". [‘Umar says:] He read it out in the same way as he had done before me. [At this,] the Prophet said: "It was revealed thus". Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: "It was revealed thus. This Qur’an has been revealed on seven Ahruf. You can read it in any way you find easy from among them"’. (Mu’atta, Ma Ja’ Fi’l-Qur’an)
On the following grounds, this Hadith
cannot be accepted:
To me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this Hadith is from among matters of Mutashabihat, the meaning of which cannot be understood. (Suyuti, Tanwiru’l-Hawalik, 2nd ed., [Beirut: Daru’l-Jayl, 1993], p. 199)
Secondly, even if the most plausible meaning
that the word Ahruf means the various accents and pronunciations
which existed in the various tribes of Arabia is taken, the text of the
Hadith itself negates this meaning. It is known that both ‘Umar
(rta) and Hisham (rta) belonged to the same tribe: the Quraysh.
Any reading which is grammatically correct by any means17, is according to the script of the Uthmanic codices in any way18 and whose chain of narration is Sahih cannot be rejected. In fact, it is from among the seven Ahruf on which the Qur’an was revealed whether the reading be narrated from the seven great readers or the ten or anyone of acknowledged status besides these. (Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 9)
It is further understood that:
When any of these three criteria is not fulfilled for a reading then such a reading shall be considered weak, or unknown (Shazah), or unacceptable whether it be from the seven readers or the ten or from those who are even greater than these. This is the correct opinion according to the researchers of the past and recent times19. (Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 9)
It is said that the first person to record these readings in the form of a book was Abu ‘Ubayd Qasim Ibn Salam (d:224 AH). He recorded twenty five readings; Abu Ja‘far Tabari (d:310 AH) recorded over twenty readings, while it was Abu Bakr Ibn Mujahid (d: 324 AH) who selected the seven famous ones20. The number selected by Ibn Mujahid (seven) has been objected to by many scholars since this number has led people to think that these seven were the same as the seven Ahruf on which the Qur’an was supposed to have been revealed:
Abu Shamah has said: A group of people say that the seven readings found today are the ones implied by the seven Ahruf mentioned in the Ahadith. However, this is totally against the consensus of the scholars of Islam. This view has arisen only among certain ignorant people. Abu ‘Abbas Ibn ‘Ammar has said: The compiler of the seven readings has done an inappropriate thing. As a result, the masses are faced with a complex situation. People with little knowledge think that the seven Ahruf mean the seven readings. Ibn Mujahid should have either selected a number greater than seven or a number less than seven to avoid this confusion. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi ‘Ulumi’l-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1313 AH], p. 274)
In the opinion of this writer, none of
these readings can be accepted in any way owing to the following reasons:
Verily, Upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it follow this recital [of Ours]. (75:17-18)
It is clear from these verses that the
Almighty recited the Qur’an in a single reading. The words leave
no room for multiple readings of the same word/verses. Furthermore, the
verse emphatically instructs the Prophet (sws) to follow ONLY this particular
The reading of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and Zayd Ibn Thabit and that of all the Muhajirun and the Ansar was one. They would read the Qur’an according to the Qir‘at al-‘Ammah. This is the same reading which was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death by Gabriel. Zayd Ibn Thabit22 was also present in this reading [called] the ‘Ardah-i-Akhirah23. It was in this very reading that he taught the Qur’an to people till his death. (Zarkashi, Burhan, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr, 1980] p. 237)
This reading is generally known today as the Reading of Hafs (Qir’at-i-Hafs). However, its correct name is the Qir‘at al-‘Ammah. In the words of Ibn Sirin (d:110 AH24):
The reading on which the Qur’an was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death is the same according to which people are reading the Qur’an today. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi Ulumi’l-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1343 AH], p. 177)
This is the testimony of a famous person
who died more than seventy years after the Prophet (sws).
… And if you find no water then take for yourselves clean sand or earth and rub therewith your hands and faces. (4:43)
Redundant words, of course, do not exist
in the elegant diction of the Qur’an. Therefore, on the basis of
this internal testimony provided within the verse, the reading arjulikum
stands rejected as well.
There is no difference of opinion about the fact that whatever is contained in the Qur’an is Mutawatir both in totality and in part. To the Ahlu’l-Sunnah, the placements therein and its arrangement are all Mutawatir so that it [the Qur’an] becomes indisputable. This is because it is an acknowledged fact that the Qur’an is a document whose details desire Tawatur …. Consequently, whatever part of the Qur’an has been transmitted through the Ahad (isolate reports) and is not Mutawatir is unquestionably not the Qur’an by any means. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi ‘Ulumi’l-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1343 AH], p. 266)
Now, if the chains of narrators of these
variant readings are examined, none of them can be claimed as Mutawatir.
They may be Mutawatir from their famous originators but they are
certainly not Mutawatir all the way from these originators up to
the Prophet (sws). At best, they can be classified as Ahad (isolate
reports). An example would suffice to illustrate this. Following are the
in which one of the Qurra’, ‘Asim Ibn Abi Najwad Al-Bahdlah (d:
has narrated his reading from the Prophet (sws):
The opinion of the majority is that these readings are Mutawatir. However, one opinion is that they are Mashhur28 …. The truth in this regard is that they are Mutawatir from these seven [Qurr’a]. As far as their Tawatur from the Prophet (sws) is concerned, this is debatable. For the chain of narrators of these seven are found in the books of Qira‘at. These chains are transmission from a single person to another and do not fulfil the condition of Tawatur neither from the first narrator to the last nor in between. (Zarkashi, Burhan, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr, 1980] p. 319)
(v) Not only are these readings isolate reports (Ahad), but also many of the narrators of these readings are not regarded as trustworthy by the scholars of ‘Ilmu’l-Rijal as far as accepting Ahadith from them is concerned. As an example, this is what is written about Hafs Ibn Sulayman, perhaps the most famous and most widely acclaimed of all the disciples of the major Qurra’:
‘Abdu’l-Rahman Ibn Abi Hatim, ‘Umar Ibn Shu‘ayb Sabuni, Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Bukhari, Muslim and Nasa‘i call him Matruku’l-Hadith (From whom Ahadith are not accepted) .… In the opinion of Yahya Ibn Mu‘in as quoted by Abu Qudamah Sarakhsi and ‘Uthman Ibn Sa‘id he is not trustworthy …. ‘Ali Ibn Madini says: he is weak in matters of Hadith and I have forsaken him voluntarily. …. Abu Zur‘ah also says that he is weak in matters of Hadith ….. Salih Muhammad Al-Baghdadi says the Ahadith narrated by him are not worth writing and all of them mention unfamiliar things in religion. Zakariyyah Ibn Yahya Al-Saji narrates from Sammak and ‘Alqamah Ibn Marthad and Qays Ibn Muslim that his Ahadith are not reliable …. ‘Abdu’l-Rahman Ibn Abi Hatim says that he asked his father about Hafs. His father said that his Ahadith are not even worth writing. He is weak in matters of Hadith, cannot be attested to and his Ahadith are not acceptable. Abdu’l-Rahman Ibn Yusuf says that he is a great liar, worthy of being forsaken and forges Ahadith. Hakim Abu Ahmad says: He wastes Ahadith. Yahya Ibn Sa‘id says that he took a book from him but never returned it. He would take books from people and copy them. Abu Ahmad Ibn ‘Addi narrates from Al-Saji and Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Al-Baghdadi and Yahya Ibn Mu‘in that Hafs Ibn Sulayman and Abu Bakr Ibn ‘Ayyash are the most competent of all who know the reading of ‘Asim. Hafs is even more competent than Abu Bakr. However, Hafs is a great liar while Abu Bakr is reliable.29
It seems quite strange that a person so
widely regarded as unreliable (even called a liar) in accepting Hadith
from be regarded as a very dependable person as far the Qur’an is
| 1. In recent times, Farahi
(d:1930), a scholar from the subcontinent, has vehemently presented this
testimony of the Qur’an. Though he was not the first one to direct
the attention of Muslim scholarship towards it, yet the way in which he
has presented it entitles him to be placed among the pioneers of this view.
In later years, Ghamidi (b:1951), a pupil of Farahi’s distinguished
student Islahi (d:1997) has lent precision to the seminal work done
by Farahi in this regard. This article draws heavily from the works
of both these writers. (For details see (i) Farahi, Majmu‘ah Tafasir,
1st ed., [Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991], pp. 206-214, (ii) Ghamidi,
Usul-u-Mubadi, Ishraq, VI (October 1998), 18-25).
2. They did this in order to lend credibility to their contention that some others were also involved in the preparation of the Qur’an and that whenever a section was completed, it was presented:
4. Consequently, according to Farahi, verses which generally begin with the words Kadhalika Yubiyyinu’l Allah (See for example: 2:187, 2:219. 2:266, 3:103, 24:58, 24:61) were placed in this final stage of compilation to explain and elucidate a previously sent down verse.
5. It is evident from the Ahadith literature that each year in the month of Ramadan, archangel Gabriel would recite to the Prophet (sws) the portion of the Qur’an revealed until then. In the last Ramadan of the Prophet’s life, he twice recited the whole of the Qur’an to the Prophet (sws). Abu Hurayrah narrates:
7. Many (of the passages) of the Qur’an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamamah ... but they were not known [by those who] survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abu Bakr, ‘Umar or Uthman [by that time] collected the Qur’an, nor were they found with even one [person] after them. (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitabu’l-Masahif, 1st ed., [Egypt: Al-Matba‘ah al-Rahmaniyyah, 1936], p. 23).
8. John Gilchrist quotes the following account:
He then concludes by saying:
10. See for example (i) Theodore Noldeke, Geschichte des Qorans, Leipzig, 1909-38 in 3 parts, (ii) Arthur Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an, Leiden, 1937 and (iii) John Gilchrist, Jam‘u’l-Qur’an, South Africa: MERCSA, 1989. See also Appendix C.
11. There is, therefore, no need to comment on such spurious reports as Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf changing the Qur’an at eleven places. (See Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitabu’l-Masahif, 1st ed., [Egypt: Al-Matba‘ah al-Rahmaniyyah, 1936], p. 117)
12. This ongoing search has as yet located two hitherto oldest versions written in the Kufic script dated round 100 AH. One of them is preserved today in the Soviet State Library at Tashkent in Uzbekistan in southern Russia, and the other is kept on public display in the Topkapi museum in Istanbul.
13. It is We who have revealed the Qur’an and verily We shall preserve it. (15:9)
14. They maintain that whilst the Qur’an says that a man and a woman guilty of fornication are to be flogged a hundred times, the Ahadith amend this directive by saying that if a married man and a married woman are guilty of fornication, then they shall be stoned to death. In other words, in their opinion, the directive of the Qur’an is only meant for unmarried men and women.
15. John Gilchrist, Jam‘u’l-Qur’an -- The Codification of the Qur’an Text, Internet Version: http://www.answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/Jam/chap4.html)
16. For details see Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 5th ed., vol. 1, [Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1993], pp. 308-317
17. That is even if its construction is not Fasih (eloquent). See Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 10.
18. An example to illustrate this condition is the word Malik and Malik. Since Arabic word (mim) when written between two letters is without an alif (the elongated vowel sound) in these scripts, both these readings, it is alleged, are possible. See Ibn al-Jazari, al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 11.
19. One can estimate this period considering that Ibn al-Jazari died in 833 AH.
20. For further details see Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], pp. 33-35.
21. See Abu’l Hajjaj Mizzi, Tahdhibu’l-Kamal, 2nd ed., vol. 14, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risalah, 1413 AH], p. 410.
22. This of course does not mean that only Zayd was present during the ‘Ardah-i-Akhirah. Other companions would certainly have been present as well. Consequently, the following Hadith tells us that Ibn Mas‘ud was also present:
24. See Abu’l Hajjaj Mizzi, Tahdhibu’l-Kamal, 2nd ed., vol. 25, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risalah, 1413 AH], p. 354.
25. See Appendix D
26. See Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qira’at al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 155.
27. See Abu’l Hajjaj Mizzi, Tahdhibu’l-Kamal, 2nd ed., vol. 13, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risalah, 1413 AH], p. 478.
28. ie widely attested.
29. See Abu’l Hajjaj Mizzi, Tahdhibu’l-Kamal, 2nd ed., vol. 7, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risalah, 1413 AH], pp. 13-15.
30. As pointed out earlier with reference to 75:16-19, this initial recital of the Qur’an was replaced by a final one by the Almighty Himself.