TEXTUAL PERFECTION OF THE QUR´AN

 

(A response to John Gilchrist’s booklet JAM’AL QURAN raising questions

about the textual perfection of the Glorious Qur’an)

 

On page 6 of a misleading booklet titled JAM’AL QURAN, a certain Christian scholar named John Gilchrist says concerning the Glorious Qur’an:

 

"Furthermore, I have no doubt that if a book never was the Word of God in the first place, no amount of proof that it had been perfectly transcribed would make it the Word of God.”

 

This very remark openly reveals his hatred towards the Holy Book of Allah and having such a biased attitude against it really makes me wonder whether my writings will make any difference in changing his views on the only existing Perfect Book of Guidance i.e. the Holy Qur’an.  Because of his pride and stubbornness, Allah has sealed his heart from not only accepting the TRUTH but also from even reading and hearing about it.

 

Nevertheless, it is my duty to inform my fellow Muslim brothers the great injustice which he has committed in quoting only half the information from the various Islamic literature sources.  Whether he has done so intentionally or unintentionally is another point of consideration.   Since he has done so, he cannot get away so easily.  In this article, by Allah’s Will and His Guidance, I will reveal the additional facts which he intentionally failed to reveal because they undermine his arguments on the “supposed incompleteness” of the Qur’anic text.

 

As far as a Muslim’s beliefs are concerned, they are firmly rooted in the following verses of the Glorious Qur’an wherein our beloved Allah Almighty says:

 

SURELY, WE OURSELVES HAVE SENT DOWN THE REMINDER, AND WE WILL, MOST SURELY SAFEGUARD IT.  (Surah Al-Hijr: 9)

 

THIS INDEED IS A NOBLE QUR’AN IN A WELL PRESERVED BOOK. (Al-Waaqi’ah : 78-79)

 

SURELY THIS IS A GLORIOUS QUR’AN, IN A WELL-GUARDED TABLET.

(Al-Burooj : 22-23)

 

MOVE NOT THY TONGUE (0 Prophet) IN HASTE.  FOR BEHOLD IT IS FOR US TO GATHER IT (i.e. Al-Qur’an) AND TO CAUSE IT TO BE READ.  (Surah Al-Qiyamah: 16)

 

and internal evidence of the Qur’an itself verifies this claim:

 

WILL THEY NOT THEN MEDITATE UPON THE QUR’AN?  HAD IT BEEN FROM OTHER THAN ALLAH THEY WOULD SURELY HAVE FOUND THEREIN MUCH CONTRADICTIONS. (An-Nisaa : 82)

 

If  Allah  Almighty has  taken  over  the  responsibility of protecting His Revelation, then we Muslims have no doubt whatsoever on the  textual  perfection  of  the  Glorious  Qur’an.  To John Gilchrist, we would say that if a Book is indeed the Word of Allah, then no amount of speculation showing its “supposed incompleteness” will make it to be NOT the Word of Allah.  Furthermore, whatever decision the third Caliph Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) had taken to standardize on one version of the Qur’an must have been taken under extreme care and after very careful investigation.  He was not a person who had the kind of agnostic mentality to treat such a delicate matter of compiling and standardizing Allah's Final Revelation so lightly as portrayed by John Gilchrist in his booklet.  He is projecting on the great personality of the Third Caliph Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) the kind of mentality prevalent amongst Christian academics who are at liberty to constantly revise and re-issue the frequently changing Bible.

 


In the first chapter of his booklet JAM'AL QURAN, John Gilchrist says that there are no records as to exactly how much of the Qur’an was reduced to writing during the lifetime of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, his family and all his companions).  There are many Ahaadith (traditions) which prove that whatever was revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was immediately written down. The following is but ONE such Hadith:

It was customary with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) that when portions of different chapters were revealed, he called one of those persons who used to write the Qur’an and said to him:  'Write this verse in the chapter where such and such verses occur.  (Abu Dawood 2:121) (Ahmad Vol I 57, 69).

 

Although our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not himself write the Qur’an, there are nevertheless many authentic records speaking of at least 15 (fifteen) written copies of the Qur’an during the Prophet’s lifetime.  Since Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) could not read or write, the Christian accusation of him writing the Qur’an with information from the Torah and the Bible is baseless. Authentic historical sources prove this fact and there is also internal evidence in the Qur’an itself.   Allah Almighty says:

 

AND THOU (0 Prophet!) WAST NOT A READER OF ANY SCRIPTURE BEFORE IT NOR DIDST THOU WRITE IT WITH THY RIGHT HAND FOR THEN MIGHT THOSE HAVE DOUBTED WHO FOLLOW FALSEHOOD.  (Surah Al-Ankaboot : 48)

 

Furthermore, if the Qur’an was indeed compiled by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from the Torah and the Bible, then why does the Qur’an not have the same scientific errors contained in the Torah and the Bible?   Instead we find new fresh scientific facts contained in the Qur’an which cannot be found anywhere in  the Torah or the Bible.  For example, the development of the human embryo is described in the Qur’an in such great detail which is neither in the Torah nor the Bible.

 

According to the oldest historical index known as the FIHRIST of Nadeem who lived in the tenth century (4th Century Hijrah), the best known compilations of the  written Qur’an during the Prophet’s lifetime are those of Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA), Ubayy ibn Ka'b (RA) and Zaid bin Thabit (RA).  The Kitab-ul-Masaahif of Abdullah ibn Sulaiman ibn Abi Dawood (page 14) contains a list of the Sahabas of whom it is said that they had their own written collections.  Amongst those mentioned are:


 

Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA)                                                       Ali  (RA)                                  

Abu Musa (RA)                                                                          Anas bin Malik (RA)

Abdullah ibn Amr (RA)                                                             Zaid bin Thabit (RA)

Saalim (RA)                                                                              Ubaid bin Umar (RA)

Ubayy ibn Ka’b (RA)                                                                 Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA)

Hafsah (RA)                                                                              Umar (RA)

Abdullah ibn Zubair (RA)                                                         Ayesha (RA)

Umme Salamah (RA)


 


QURANIC TEXTUAL VARIANTS

 

As far as reports of the Quranic textual variants are concerned, these information are all based on classical sources without any ISNAAD (unbroken chain of authority) to show how the information was obtained and transmitted.  Even Arthur Jeffery in his book MATERIALS FOR THE HISTORY OF THE TEXT OF THE QURAN has drawn his information from classical sources without any ISNAAD.  How then can we have any confidence in such collections and use it for a critical analysis of the Quranic text?  Speaking of the codice of Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA), Nadeem in his FIHRIST says:

I have seen a number of Quranic manuscripts which the transcribers recorded as manuscripts of Ibn Mas'ood (RA).  No two of the Quranic copies were in agreement and most of them were on badly effaced parchment... (Fihrist Vol I page 57)

 

This clearly indicates that  the  various reports of Quranic manuscripts of Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) need to be treated with some caution.  In the Hadith collection of Muslim, there is a report ascribing to Abu Musa (RA) the statement that there was a certain chapter of the Qur’an similar in length and force to the ninth chapter (Surah At-Tawbah) of which only a single verse remained.   But according to the MEEZAN-UL-I'TIDAAL (a critical survey of the narrators of Hadith reports), Suwaid the immediate informer of Muslim was a zindeeq i.e. one who conceals KUFR and makes an outward show of IMAAN.  Therefore, this report must be a clear fabrication.  Other similar reports speaking of the same passage must also be relegated to the same class.

 

Therefore, it must be accepted that random reports of certain verses or chapters which once formed part of the Qur’an have no value at all against the conclusive and collective testimony of the Sahabas which established the purity of the Quranic text. These random reports were fabricated by the enemies who sought to undermine the authority of Islam.  Another fact worth noting is that all reports quoted as affecting the purity of the Quranic text ascribe a certain statement to only ONE man, and in not a single case is there a second man to support it.

 

Two of the persons to whom such reports are ascribed are Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (RA) and Ubayy ibn Ka'b (RA).   In the various books of Ahaadith, we find that Ibn Mas'ood's assertion is against Ubayy's evidence together with the rest of the Sahabas.  Likewise, Ubayy's assertion is against ibn Mas'ood's evidence together with the rest of the Sahabas.  There is not a single assertion impugning the purity of the Quranic text for which even ONE supporting witness can be produced.  Check it out yourself.

 

As far as the missing verses of Surah At-Tawbah which was found with Abu Khuzaimah (RA), Gilchrist has only looked at the English translation of Sahih Al-Bukhari and has therefore misunderstood the Hadith.  The Arabic words of the Hadith read MA'A KHUZAIMAH meaning 'with Khuzaimah'.  The word MA'A is used to mean physical possession and can never imply remembering the verse from memory.   Therefore, the Hadith correctly means that during the compilation of the Qur’an, Abu Khuzaimah (RA) was the only person with whom Zaid bin Thabit (RA) found the last two verses of Surah At-Tawbah which had been written down under the direct supervision of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).  This  was  so  because  the  Qur’an  was  compiled  after  the verification  of each  verse by both means  i.e.  those who memorized it as well as those who had them written down at the instruction of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  In other words, those who remembered the verse was verified by those who had the verse written down in the presence of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).


THE BURNING OF QURANIC MANUSCRIPTS

 

With regard to the burning of other manuscripts of the Qur’an by Caliph Uthman (RA), John Gilchrist in his booklet makes such a big issue of it.  It is recorded in the Kitab-ul-Masaahif (page 12) that when Caliph Uthman (RA) ordered that other manuscripts of the Qur’an be burnt, all the Sahabas unanimously agreed on his decision.  In fact, Caliph Ali (RA) is reported to have said that if Caliph Uthman (RA) had not done so, then he would have done so. (Kitaab-ul-Masaahif – page 12).  Although it is recorded in the Kitab-ul-Masaahif (page 13) that Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) objected to handing over his manuscript of the Qur’an to Caliph Uthman (RA), the same book also records on page 18 that Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) eventually agreed on the standardized version of the Quranic text as compiled by Caliph Uthman (RA).  A question to John Gilchrist then is that if the differences between his personal copy and the standardized version of the Qur’an were so great, then how did a man of such a high calibre as Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) eventually agree with the standardized version of the Caliph Uthman (RA)?  If Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) was forced to agree with Caliph Uthman's compilation, we would have heard of reports of serious conflicts between the Sahabas and Caliph Uthman (RA). But we find no trace whatsoever of any such reports in either the books of Ahaadith or Islamic History.  Why did John Gilchrist conveniently omit these facts in his booklet when quoting so confidently from the Kitab-ul-Masaahif?

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF ABROGATION

 

The Quranic message touch on a variety of subjects, among them being beliefs, history, tales of prophets, Day of Judgement, Paradise and Hell.  While the basic message of Islam remained always the same, the legal rulings have varied throughout the ages.   There is nothing derogatory in this if we believe in progressive revelation.   There is no question of the ‘basic Eternal principles changing aimlessly’, as mentioned by John Gilchrist.

 

The Arabic words NAASIKH and MANSOOKH are both derived from the root word NASAKHA which means to abolish, replace, withdraw or abrogate. Therefore NAASIKH means the abrogating and MANSOOKH means the abrogated.

 


The principle of abrogation is referred to in the Qur’an itself and is NOT a later historical development as claimed by many westernized Muslim scholars. Allah Almighty says:

 

NONE OF OUR REVELATIONS DO WE ABROGATE OR CAUSE IT TO BE FORGOTTON, BUT WE SUBSTITUTE SOMETHING BETTER OR SIMILAR: KNOWEST THOU NOT THAT ALLAH HAS POWER OVER ALL THINGS? (Surah Al-Baqarah: 106)

 

When the message of Islam was presented to the Arabs as something new and different from their normal way of life, it was introduced gradually.  This was done to allow the people to adjust to the new prescriptions gradually.  For example, there are three verses in the Qur’an concerning the drinking of wine.  Wine drinking was very widespread amongst pre-Islamic Arabs and was highly esteemed.  Therefore, the following three verses which led to the total prohibition of intoxicating substances were revealed in stages:

 

O YOU WHO BELIEVE! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PRAY WHILE YOU ARE IN A STATE OF DRUNKENNESS (BUT WAIT) UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SAY …

(Surah An-Nisaa : 43)

 

THEY WILL ASK THEE (0 Prophet!) ABOUT INTOXICANTS AND GAMES OF CHANCE.   SAY: 'IN BOTH THERE IS GREAT EVIL AS WELL AS SOME BENEFIT FOR MEN:  BUT THE EVIL WHICH THEY CAUSE IS GREATER THAN THE BENEFIT WHICH THEY BRING.'     (Surah Al-Baqarah : 290)

 

O YOU WHO BELIEVE! INTOXICANTS AND GAMES OF CHANCE AND IDOLATROUS PRACTICES AND THE DIVINING OF ARROWS ARE ALL A LOATHSOME EVIL OF SATAN'S DOING:  SHUN IT THEN SO THAT YOU CAN BE

SUCCESSFUL.   (Surah Al-Maa'idah: 90)

 

It does not require much reasoning to conclude that the first two verses are abrogated by the third verse.  The knowledge of NAASIKH and MANSOOKH is important because it concerns the correct and exact application of the laws of Allah.   Tafseer (explanation of the Qur’an) or a legal ruling is not acceptable from a person who does not have such knowledge.

 

However, the information about NAASIKH and MANSOOKH cannot be accepted upon mere personal opinion, guesswork or hearsay but must be based on reliable and authentic reports, according to the Usool-ul-Hadith (science of Hadith) and should go back to the Prophet and the Sahabas.  These reports must clearly state which part of the Revelation is NAASIKH and which part is MANSOOKH.

 

All information concerning NAASIKH and MANSOOKH must be treated with great  caution.    The reason  for  this is because two independent  witnesses  must  be  produced  for  all  reports concerning the Quranic text.  The examples of reports which John Gilchrist quotes in his booklet are well known to all Muslim scholars, but these are all based on one witness only.  Caliph Ayesha (RA) alone reported that the verses of 5 or 10 sucklings had been part of the Qur’anic text - see Muslim Vol II : 3241.   The Caliph Umar (RA) alone reported that the verse of stoning had once been part of the Quranic text - see Bukhari Vol 8 - page 539.  These so-called verses are not included as part of the Quranic text precisely because they were not considered reliable as they were based on ONE witness only.  Nevertheless, there remain a small number of verses which, as far as can be ascertained by internal evidence of the Qur’an, have been superceded by other verses in the Qur’an.   This is perfectly acceptable when one believes in the progressive nature of Revelation - A Revelation which was destined to become the FINAL AND UNIVERSAL GUIDANCE for mankind.

 

THE SEVEN DIFFERENT DIALECTS

 

Many authentic and reliable Hadith reports tell us that the Qur’an was actually revealed in Seven Different Modes (SAB'AT-UL-­AHRUF).   This has been narrated by more than ten of the Prophet's Sahabas, amongst them being Abu Bakr (RA), Umar (RA), Uthman (RA), Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) and Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA).  These seven dialects or modes form the basis of several distinct ways of reciting the Qur’an.   They also reflect the different usage at the time of Revelation, comprising variations in pronunciations and even minor differences in wording.  When Caliph Uthman (RA) was standardizing on one version of the Qur’an, he was not standardizing one out of several different Qurans.  There has always been ONE Qur’an.  He was standardizing the Qur’an in the dialect of the Quraysh as evident from many Ahaadith reports.   In fact, the final agreement of Abdullah ibn Mas'ood (RA) with Caliph Uthman (RA) was based on this very point as reported in the Kitab-ul-Masaahif, page l8.  John Gilchrist has very conveniently forgot to quote this fact in his booklet.

 

It must  therefore be noted that the written Qur’an in our possession today is in one of the Seven Dialects i.e.  the Quraysh Dialect whereas the others were transmitted to us orally.

 

CONCLUSION

 

As for the historical evidence relating to the recording of the Qur’an, it would be a lengthy exercise to quote all the reliable Ahaadith giving the accounts of its collation. I shall briefly state the facts that emerge from a study of such Ahaadith, which provide evidence that cannot be disputed by any honest historian, all of whom, in the end rely on the same evidence recorded by the early Muslim historians.

1.       There is evidence from Islamic history that the Qur’an was transcribed from the earliest period of our beloved Prophet Muhammad's mission. It was through hearing someone reciting the Qur’an from the written word that the Caliph Umar accepted Islam. These leaves upon which the Qur’an was written belonged to Caliph Umar's sister, with whom he had become enraged because she had embraced Islam.  It was only when he had promised that he would not destroy them that the leaves of the Qur’an were brought out from their hiding place to be read to him, and it was this reading that transformed him from one who was on his way to slay the Prophet of Islam into a person willing to submit his life for the Prophet and his teachings.

2.       The revelation of the Qur’an was naturally only completed towards the end of our beloved Prophet’s life time.  The Qur’an was collected into one book under the authority of Hadhrat Abu-Bakr, the first Caliph and close companion of our beloved Prophet.  This book was passed on to Hadhrat Umar, the second Caliph and after his demise to Hafsah, his daughter and also a wife of the Holy Prophet(SAW).   (Bukhari 61:3)

3.       It is also clear that there were a number of Arabic dialects current among the Arabs at the time of the Quranic revelation, and the prophet had no objection to each tribe reciting the Qur’an according to their particular dialect.   (Bukhari 61:2 and 61:5)

It should be noted that this does not imply variation in text.  It tells us that different tribes pronounced words in different ways and this relates generally to vowel points.  In some cases a consonant may have been read with an 'a' or an 'i', either as a general alternative or as a dialectic tribal preference, but the meaning remained the same.  In some cases certain letters may have been pronounced differently by different tribes but the meaning remained the same.

Some differences in the vowel points makes no difference to the meaning of a word, while others can add further to our understanding of a word, and as such are sometimes considered by commentators of the Qur’an, when seeking to gain a fuller meaning of a verse. However if the vowel points are changed by someone who does not understand Arabic they may inadvertently change the meaning. This last kind of error was totally unacceptable and it was to guard against this that Hadhrat Uthman made standardized copies.

4.       It was at the time that non-Arabs were becoming Muslims that Caliph Uthman was made aware of the need to fix the pronunciation of the Qur’an in accordance with the Quraysh dialect in which it was originally revealed.  The reason for Caliph Uthman's action was that reports had reached him that there was a danger of non-Arab Muslims abroad differing in their recitation of the Qur´an.  (Bukhari 61:3).   Because non-Arabs may not have fully understood the language they could in some cases make mistakes in recitation that  changed the meaning of the Qur’an.   Anas-ibn-Malik relates that Huzaifah (RA) had been on expeditions to various countries and was shocked at the manner in which some people were reciting the Qur’an.  On his return to Madinah Munawwarah he said to Caliph Uthman,

"O Uthman! Assist this people before they differ in the Book of Allah as the Jews and the Christians differ in their Books."   (Bukhari 61:3).   This prompted the Caliph to take timely action to ensure the preservation of the original text of the Qur’an.  He selected four people to make the copies of the Qur’an.  Of these four, three were of the Quraysh tribe and one was not.  Hadhrat Uthman issued the order that where the one differed with the three, they were to follow the Quraysh dialect, the dialect in which the Qur’an was first revealed. From this report it becomes evident that the vowel points were fixed at this time to accord with the Quraysh dialect.  It should be noted here that Abu-Bakr, Umar and Hafsah, through whose hands the Qur’an copy used by Caliph Uthman had passed, were all of the Quraysh tribe.

 

Here I wish to note one point. Caliph Uthman did not destroy all earlier copies of the Qur’an, because it is reported that he returned Hafsah's copy to her when the standardized copies were completed (Bukhari 61:3).   There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Hafsah's copy of the Qur’an was required to be destroyed, although the rulers to whom the standardized copies were sent were instructed on the authority of Caliph Uthman to destroy all other copies of the Qur’an.

 

The correct Islamic belief concerning the Glorious Qur’an is well known to all Muslims. According to authentic reports in the books of Ahaadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) arranged to  have  the Revelation  written  down  immediately whenever portions of it were revealed.  He also used to collate, once every year, with the Angel Jibra-eel (Alayhis Salaam) the material that had thus far been revealed.  In the last year of his life, they so collated it twice.  When the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) departed from this world, the text of the Qur’an was thus already fixed and all materials were gathered in an orderly fashion, although not written out in book form.  One should bear in mind that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) lived for only nine days after receiving the last Revelation.  The first compiling and writing of the Qur’an in book form was undertaken by the first Caliph Abu Bakr (RA) which was regarded as the official copy.  This copy was then handed over to the second Caliph Umar (RA) and later to his daughter Hafsa (RA), who was also the wife of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).  It was much later, during the Caliphate of Uthman (RA), when all sorts of dialectical differences crept into the recitation of the Quranic text, he formed a committee of the following FOUR renowned scribes:

- Zaid bin Thabit (RA)

- Abdullah bin Zubair (RA)

- Saeed bin al-'Aas (RA)

- Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham (RA)  (Narrated by Bukhari Vol 6 : 510)

 

The Caliph Uthman (RA) borrowed from Ummul Mu’mineen Hafsah (RA) the copy made by Caliph Abu Bakr (RA), recompiled the text in the light of the Quraysh Dialect, had many copies prepared from it and sent them to various rulers of the Muslim World.  Caliph Uthman (RA) also kept one copy for himself.  This version of the text, also known as the Mushaf-e-Uthmani, in fact constitutes  the  IJMAA'  (consensus)  of  the  Sahabas  who unanimously agreed and attested that it contained what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought as Revelation from Allah.  All rulers were ordered by Caliph Uthman (RA) to burn all other personalized copies in their areas.   These facts are reported in the Kitab-ul-Masaahif as well.

 

John Burton's book THE COLLECTION OF THE QUR’AN is the latest attempt by a western orientalist to rewrite the history of the Quranic text.  At the end of his book (pages 239 - 240), he maintains that the text of the Qur’an we now have in our hands is the text which has come down to us in the form in which it was organized and approved by the Prophet...  What we have today in our hands is the mushaf of Muhammad.  Choicest peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family and all his companions.  Ameen.

 

Finally, let us put some questions to John Gilchrist: 

The principles of historical narrations are scientific methods of a very high order developed by the great Muslim Traditionists.   Since John Gilchrist is trying his best to use these principles of historical narrations to do a critical survey of the Quranic text, can he use these very principles for a critical survey of the Biblical text? 

And if he does so, will the Bible stand up to these tests?  Or will it fail miserably?

 


To the Muslims, Allah the Exalted warns them with the following words:

YOU SHALL CERTTAINLY BE TRIED AND TESTED IN YOUR POSSESSIONS AND IN YOUR PERSONAL SELVES; AND YOU SHALL CERTAINLY HEAR MUCH THAT WILL GRIEVE YOU, FROM THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK AND THE POLYTHEISTS.  BUT IF YOU PERSEVERE PATIENTLY AND GUARD AGAINST EVIL, THEN THAT WILL BE A DETERMINING FACTOR IN ALL AFFAIRS.

(Surah Aal Imraan: 186)

 

May Allah, the Most High, accept from me this humble effort and forgive its shortcomings.  May this be a source of guidance for all Muslims to strengthen their IMAAN with regard to the Glorious Qur’an, and fully equip themselves with answers for such enemies of Islam and hypocrites like John Gilchrist.   Ameen.

 

Abdul Haq Abdul Qadir,

Umhlanga Rocks, KZN, South Africa