Collection of the Qur’an, Part 2
15 Feb, 2009
Introductory Notes: The first part of this study opened our eyes to the fact that the Qur’an was not collected as “one unit” during the time of Muhammad (PBUH). The prophet himself allowed tampering with Qur’anic wording. This was evident when he changed some of the words in the Qur’an as suggested by one of his scribes. Also, the scandal of satanic verses revelations casts doubts on any and all of the Qur’an. How are we to judge which verses are satanic and which are not? When Muhammad (PBUH) died, the Qur’an has already been changed with Muhammad’s approval. It was also not collected as one unit, thus, allowing varieties of claims about which writings belong to the “revealed” Qur’an, and which do not.
- The previous article followed the Qur’an’s formation up to the time when Uthman sanctioned one version, and ordered the destruction of all other “Qur’ans”. To give credit to Uthman, he tried his best to make some order of a chaotic “Qur’an” situation. However, as one might expect, some parts of “unofficial” Qur’anic revelations survived after the time of Uthman, and are still a troubling matter for those, who claim that the Qur’an we have nowadays is the unaltered word of Allah, word by word, letter by letter. We also saw that the frailties of human memory may have contributed to having many versions of the Qur’anic suras and ayas. Humans just remember things in a variety of ways.
In this article, I take readers beyond what we talked about so far. We will go on a journey that follows the Qur’an, and what happened to it, after the “official” Uthmanic version was born.
The Qur’an after Uthman
Orthodox Muslims insist that the Uthmanic official version of the Qur’an is the totality of the revelation by Allah to Muhammad (PBUH). This position, as I have clarified earlier, is not supported by historical facts. It is a dogmatic position adopted by many adamant Muslim apologetics, unsupported by historical facts. Charles Adams observes that the orthodox position is motivated by dogmatic factors and cannot be supported by historical evidence.
As a matter of fact, earlier Muslim scholars and Qur’anic commentators knew that many parts of the Qur’an were lost, perverted, and changed. They realized that there were many variants of the Qur’an. In this sense, those scholars were more objective to the facts than the dogmatic Muslim apologists of today. As-Suyuti (d. 1505), a revered Quranic commentator, quotes the son of second Caliph Umar Al-khattab: “Let no one of you say that he has acquired the entire Koran for how does he know that it is all? Much of the Koran has been lost, thus let him say, ‘I have acquired of it what is available’” He also quotes Ayesha, the beloved wife of the Prophet, that “During the time of the Prophet, the chapter of the Parties used to be two hundred verses when read. When ‘Uthman edited the copies of the Koran, only the current (verses) were recorded”. As-Suyuti records this story about Ubai ibn Ka’b, one of Muhammad’s (PBUH) great companions:
This famous companion asked one of the Muslims, “How many verses in the chapter of the Parties?” He said, “Seventy-Three verses.” He (Ubai) told him, “It used to be almost equal to the chapter of the Cow (my addition: 286 verses!!), and included the verse of the stoning.” The man asked, “What is the verse of the stoning?” He (Ubai) said, “If an old man or woman committed adultery, stone them to death.”
It should be evident to readers by now that many changes did occur in the Qur’an. Such changes include additions, deletion, and just flat out changes and variations of the wordings in the Ayas.
I move now back to discussing the official Uthmanic version of the Qur’an. As I mentioned previously, Uthman attempted to bring order to chaotic version of the Quran. He tried to canonize the Medinan Codex. He sent copies of it to Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufa, and Basra. He ordered the destruction of all others. He tried to standardize the consonantal text, but, alas, many variant traditions of the consonantal text survived well into the fourth Islamic century. This, in my view, was expected. Muhammad (PBUH) was not keen on preserving the Qur’an in its originality. Also, Arab tribes had their own dialects. So, variable versions of the Qur’an were expected. Uthman’s task was impossible right from the start. Also, the consonantal text was unpointed. In Arabic language, this indeed spells catastrophe as to the meaning of words and verses in the Qur’an. Ibn Warraq writes:
….the consonantal text was unpointed, that is to say, the dots that distinguish, for example, a “b” from a “t” or a “th” were missing. Several other letters (f and q; h, and kh; s and d; r and z; s and sh; d and dh, t and z) were indistinguishable (my emphasis). In other words, the Koran was written in a scripta defective. As a result, a great many variant readings were possible according to the way the text was pointed (had the dots added).
What Ibn Warraq is saying here spells disaster. It will be impossible for any human being to decipher the actual meaning of the Qur’an. The Qur’an , at first, was not “dotted”. This is a huge problem in Arabic language. I do not think an English reader will appreciate how big a problem it is without solid examples. Let me give a couple of examples. Take two Arabic words like “Sami” and “Shami”. The two words are written in Arabic the same way except for one minor thing: the word “Sami” has no dots on top of the letter “S”. the word “Shami” has three dots on the same first letter. So the difference between the two words is just three dots on the first letter. Now, the difference in meaning is huge. The word “Sami” in Arabic can be a man’s name, but also means “High in position”. A man with “Sami” morals means a man with high moral values. The word “Shami”, on the other hand, means “Syrian”, or someone from “Sham” (could mean the from the city of Damascus, or from the country of Syria). Here is another example: take the word “Hal” in Arabic (with heavy H). It mean “situation”. In contrast, the word “Khal” may mean “Empty” or “Uncle-on the mother’s side”. Now the difference in writing in the Arabic language between the two words is just one dot on top of the first letter in the word “Khal”. The word “Hal” is not dotted at all. You see, one dot difference can make a huge difference in the meaning of the word in Arabic language. This huge Qur’anic problem cannot be appreciated by an English reader without live examples. I tried to clarify this matter in these two examples.
As if this is not enough, vowels presented another problem for Muslims. Arabic script is consonantal. Vowels influence the meaning in Arabic language. They are represented by orthographical signs above or below letters. So, after settling the problems associated with consonants, Muslims had to decide on which vowels to employ in each case, where there is a wording issue. Using different vowel renders a different meaning!
The above problems eventually led to the growth of different centers with their own traditions on how the Qur’anic texts should be pointed and vowelized. So, it is clear that Uthman did not succeed in getting rid of the older Qur’anic codices. Charles Adams observes about the Qur’an:
…far from being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. Theses variants affected even the ‘Uthmanic’ codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been.”
In conclusion, I hope that the reader has a realistic sense of the impossibility of trying to ascertain the exact meaning of any “verse” or even “word” in the Qur’an. Multiple genuine problems face us, as we have seen in this article, when we try to ascertain the exact meaning of any part of the Qur’an.
In the next article, I will take readers to Islamic scholar Ibn Mujahid (d. 935) and discuss his role in canonizing consonants and limiting vowelization in the Qur’an, and discuss ensuing problems.
4. C. J. Adams, “Quran: The Text and Its History,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, editor-in-chief (NY, London: Macmillan, 1987.), p. 157-76
5. As-Suyuti, Itqan, part 3, p. 72
6. As-Suyuti, Itqan, part 3, p. 73 [author’s note: this chapter currently has 73 verses]
7. Ibn Warraq, The Origins of the Qur’an (New York, 1998), p. 15
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Ibn Kamuna also contributes at faithfreedom.org. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Stop Brain Washing
Date: Friday February 13, 2009
Time: 23:01:48 -0500
again i say that this site is mainly depend on 1_take part of the quran and leave the other and this not accepted. 2_adding some words to the quranic verse to get his intended propaganda in some verses. 3_use arabic names and the site claim that the admins re ex_muslim and this is fake too and using arab names wont support ur propganda. 4_the site show how the admins think with ahtered aginst the other relegion and the site mix. politics in relegion to get his intended propaganda. 5_i added some comments which were in good way and accepted and the site del. them or hide them i cannt find them now. 6_the translation of quran in the site the author mix. some words which renot in quran. and finnaly i advice all non_muslims not to follow the media and the articles that not qualified ..and any one wanna to know about islam i advice him to read the quran and do his own search and dont follow liars and cheaters like whom made that site and actually itis not logic even for non_muslims to allow any one to cheat them even if he was non_muslim too ..b/c cheating isnot accepted ok..and we all see that islam spreeding dailly although all this propaganda aginst it..and inshallah all lairs and cheaters will gain nothing of their propaganda aginst islam.. and although i dont know english alot but i think u get wut i mean ..Stop hatered..Stop brain washing..
Name: Ibn Kammuna
Date: Friday February 13, 2009
Time: 23:51:41 -0500
Dear "Stop Brain Washing", thank you for your comment. I wish your English was better so we can communicate better. This is the second article of a three-part series on collecting the Qur'an.You have a grand accusation about us lying on this site. Sir, you have the two articles, so far, of mine, about collecting the Qur'an posted. Can you please tell me where I lied or distorted the facts? If there are liars it is the Muslim apologetics who keep telling you that the Qur'an we have now is what Muhammad got word for word and letter for letter. Those are the true liars who distort the truth to promote their evil agendas.
Name: caleb singh
Date: Saturday February 14, 2009
Time: 01:35:52 -0500
nice article thanks mr ibn kammuna for the wonderful op ed muslims scholars do not have the guts to expose their books for scholarly and critical analysis because their faith rests on slippery sand and islam and quran will be exposed as a fraud perpetuated on mankind i mean if some body believes a book was composed by material found on shoulder blade bones leaves and stones and was composed to be the word of god one might as well belive in bugs bunny and dragons being true
Name: Collection of the Quran
Date: Saturday February 14, 2009
Time: 11:05:43 -0500
I would say that the quran is a collection of texts from many different sources and oral traditions such as bible, talmud, apokryphals and some arab poetry, collected and recomposed in a hurry, without any revision, leaving so many errors and contradictions.
Date: Wednesday February 18, 2009
Time: 01:46:06 -0500
I beleave.... How ever they try to hide the truth... God will tell the truth by his own way.....
Name: Kamal Das
Date: Friday March 27, 2009
Time: 13:31:34 -0500
Quran is not holy. It preaches violence, loot arson, rape and all other heinous crimes. In the Surah CXI, it says in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, "Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he!....and his wife, the carrier of the firewood, upon her neck a rope of palm-fibre" Such low level curse can't be divine revelation. Abu Lahab was the prophet's uncle and brother in law. If the man was divinely condemned to begin with the prophet would not have married his two daughters with two of his sons. So naturally, all of the business of prophethood grew out of a family feud.