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Has the Qur'an been perfectly preserved?

Muslims claim that the Qur’an was not changed. It is a reason for a Muslim to believe that it is therefore a holy book, protected by God. This assumption raises questions to both Muslims as non-Muslims. Reason to do an evaluation about the history of the Qur’an to test the preservation.

Context of preservation

Preservation is the act of keeping something the same or of preventing it from being damaged [1]. A usual reaction of a Muslim about the preservation of the Qur’an is that it has been protected in a perfect way. They even want to mention that there has not been even a small change in the Qur’an:

“no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an” [2]

“Unlike earlier scriptures the Qur'an has been preserved unchanged in its original Arabic text since the time of revelation, as God had promised within it. History witnessed the fulfillment of that promise, for the Book of God remains to date exactly as it was revealed to the Prophet and recited by him. Immediately memorized and recorded by large numbers of his companions, it was passed on in exactly the same form by thousands of Muslims generation after generation up until the present day.” [3]

“We already know that the Holy Qur'an is the infallible Word of God, revealed to our Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhummed Mustapha (Peace be upon him) word for word, through the agency of the Archangel Jibraeel, (known as Gabriel in English), and perfectly preserved and protected from human tampering for the past fourteen hundred years!” [4]

Since the Qur’an is the foundation of Islam, every Muslim needs to have trust in the preservation of this book without modification. But not only neutral readers of the Qur’an, but also Muslims have questions about the preservation of the Qur’an. Before our conclusion, the following evaluations will be done:
  1. Muhammad’s background before the Qur’an
  2. Compilation according to the Qur’an
  3. Compilation of the Qur’an in Muhammad’s time
  4. Abu Bakr version of the Qur’an
  5. Uthman version of the Qur’an
  6. Other Qur’an versions
  7. Modern version of the Qur’an

1. Muhammad’s background before the Qur’an

Muhammad visited as a salesman many market places in Arab countries, including Syria. Probably he collected much religious knowledge in his life during meetings with Jews and Christians. They told him new religious ideas, including Bible knowledge and that there is only one God. Muhammad could not distinguish Judaism from Christianity, but thought they were “People of the Book” as later written in the Qur’an. Later he discovered Jews and Christians have different religions and since that period his language changes again [5]. The impression in the Qur’an of Jews and Christians are according history in agreement with how they were observed by Arabs in 7th century. But this is not how Jews and Christians were in reality. For example, during 7th century in Arab were perhaps only a few Christians who possibly believed in three gods (Qur’an 5:73). Almost all Christians never believed in three gods. Non-Muslims are able to explain the complications in the Qur’an by the possibility that Muhammad had received the messages from his unconscious [6].

2. Compilation according to the Qur’an

The Qur’an is the heart of Islam and claims to be the verbally inspired Word of God, copied from the original in heaven Qur’an describes its creation with supernatural events. The Qur’an also claims to be the full and final revelation of God (Qur’an 10:37) through Muhammad, the last and greatest of the prophets. [7]The original Qur’an was supposed to be in heaven on tablets (Qur’an 85:22) and has been communicated word for word from the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. Since the Night of Power (Lailatul-Qadr) the angel Gabriel started to give messages to Muhammad (Qur’an 97:1-5; 25:32) [8]. Since the Qur’an is with Muhammad, not even the smallest variation or defect should has been introduced in the Qur’an: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” (Qur’an 15:9). The suggestion has been made that the Qur’an has the highest level of preservation and is not changed. The Qur'an is telling us that it is a revelation from Allah to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. The revelation came in steps and the whole period of revelation was 23 years.

3. Compilation of the Qur’an in Muhammad’s time

a. Copy process in an oral way

Muhammad had communicated his messages in an oral way. The believers memorized the messages for meditation and worship. This is the form Muhammad gave as it left him, the first Qur’an. Muhammad dictated his work to secretaries who were responsible for the collection of the Qur’an:

“I asked Anas bin Malik: "Who collected the Qur'an at the time of the Prophet ?" He replied, "Four, all of whom were from the Ansar: Ubai bin Ka'b, Mu'adh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Zaid.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 525)

An alternative information resource is the Hadith, a collection of stories about the life of Muhammad and his followers, including the collections of Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawud. We have noticed that even Muhammad was not able to memorize the Qur’an in a perfect way:

“The Prophet heard a man reciting the Qur'an in the mosque and said, "May Allah bestow His Mercy on him, as he has reminded me of such-and-such Verses of such a Surah."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 556, see also Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Number 1720)

“The Prophet prayed (and the subnarrator Ibrahim said, "I do not know whether he prayed more or less than usual"), and when he had finished the prayers he was asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Has there been any change in the prayers?" He said, "What is it?' The people said, "You have prayed so much and so much." So the Prophet bent his legs, faced the Qibla and performed two prostrations (of Sahu) and finished his prayers with Taslim (by turning his face to right and left saying: 'As-Salamu'Alaikum-Warahmat-ullah'). When he turned his face to us he said, "If there had been anything changed in the prayer, surely I would have informed you but I am a human being like you and liable to forget like you. So if I forget remind me and if anyone of you is doubtful about his prayer, he should follow what he thinks to be correct and complete his prayer accordingly and finish it and do two prostrations (of Sahu)."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 394; Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 3, Number 1015 )

Muhammad also edited Qur’an verses:

“There was revealed: 'Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.' (4.95) The Prophet said, "Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot)."' Then he said, "Write: 'Not equal are those Believers who sit..", and at that time 'Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man was sitting behind the Prophet . He said, "O Allah's Apostle! What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?" So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: 'Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.' (4.95)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 512; see also Sahih Muslim, Book 20, Numbers 4676-4677).

b. More than one Qur’an version in Muhammad’s time

There were different editions of the Qur’an when Muhammad was still alive:

“I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper, and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, "Who taught you this Sura which I heard you reciting?" He replied, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You have told a lie, for Allah's Apostle has taught it to me in a different way from yours." So I dragged him to Allah's Apostle and said (to Allah's Apostle): "I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven't taught me!" On that Allah's Apostle said, "Release him, (O 'Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!" Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way," and added, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited it as he had taught me. Allah's Apostle then said, "It was revealed in this way. This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you)."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 514)

“I heard a person reciting a (Quranic) Verse in a certain way, and I had heard the Prophet reciting the same Verse in a different way. So I took him to the Prophet and informed him of that but I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face, and then he said, "Both of you are correct, so don't differ, for the nations before you differed, so they were destroyed."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 682)

4. Abu Bakr version of the Qur’an

After Muhammad’s death a process was started to collect all messages into one book. The information had been recorded on paper, stones, palm-leaves, bones and leather. The Qur’an became a collection of manuscripts kept by Abu Bakr. This was a provisional edition of the Qur’an, although historians doubt if the size was already the complete Qur’an. It was transferred to Umar Bin Khattah, the second caliph. In 644, Umar ordered to collect the whole collection of messages. When there were many people who had memorize the complete Qur’an this task would have been easy. This is the Muslim hypothesis. But it was not easy at all, because the information was registered on many different resources and it was extensive search for the text from a variety of sources [9]. The task was performed by one of Muhammad’s most trusted secretaries:

“… Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him...” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509)

5. Uthman version of the Qur’an

Uthman Ibin Affan decided as third caliph that the new Muslims made mistakes in reading the Qur’an because of differences in Arabic dialect [10]. He wanted around the year 650 to have a standard Qur’an. Uthman asked Zaid bin Thabit and three other members of the Quraish tribe to transcribe the text (suhuf) into a single codex (mushaf wahid) and to arrange the verses (surahs) properly in agreement with the dialect of the Quraish. The intention was to compile it as standard dialect. Uthman immediately made several thousands of copies of Abu Bakr’s Qur’an version and ordered that all other Qur’an text be burnt:

“Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before." So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.' (33.23)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510)

The result was the Uthman version of the Qur’an, a single codex (mushaf wahid).

6. Other Qur’an versions

a. Ibn Masud version of the Qur’an

There has been opposition to Uthman’s new Qur’an version by Abdullah ibn Masud who was against it. Abdullah ibn Masud was personally commissioned by Muhammad to teach the Qur’an:

“'Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned 'Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, 'Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: 'Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu'adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.' "” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521)

“The Prophet said to me, "Recite Quran to me." I said to him. "Shall I recite (it) to you while it has been revealed to you?" He said, "I like to hear it from another person."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 576)

Abdullah ibn Masud had the authority and governance from Muhammad to teach the Qur’an to others. However Uthman as third caliph had the political power to overrule Abdullah ibn Masud: “his work was no matter of removing dialectical peculiarities in reading but was a necessary stroke of policy to establish a standard text for the whole empire … there is evidence that for quire a while the Muslims in Kufa were divided into two factions, those who accepted the Uthmanic text, and those who stood by Ibn Masud, who had refused his codex to be burned… there can be little doubt that the text canonized by Uthman was only one among the several types of text in existence at the time” [11] Ibn Masud’s Qur’an variant had been used openly in ritual prayer and even taught as the dominant tradition. It is possible that without the forced action of Uthman for a standard Qur’an, the Ibn Masud’s Qur’an would be the most frequent version [12] In case Uthman was not able to provide a single Qur’an version there would be many Qur’an versions today.

b. Examples of other Qur’an versions

In the Hadith are references to Qur’an verses who are not in the Uthman version of the Qur’an and the modern version. The lost verses are still present in the Hadith [13]. Some examples of the lost verses [14]. One lost Qur’an verse is about Rajam, the stoning for adultery:

“... Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the Verse of the Rajam (the stoning of married person (male & female) who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that after a long time has passed, somebody will say, 'By Allah, we do not find the Verse of the Rajam in Allah's Book,' and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation which Allah has revealed...” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 817).

An other example of a lost Qur’an verse is about the son of Adam:

“... We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Sura) Bara’at (sura 9). I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: “If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.” (Sahih Muslim, 1050, Book 5, Hadith 2286)

Shi’ite Muslims, who are a minority in Islam, claim that second caliph Uthman on purpose has deleted many Qur’an verses about Ali [15].

7. Modern version of the Qur’an

Modern edition of the Qur’an became available in 1923 by king Fuad I of Egypt. The work has been performed by scholars of the al-Azha university in Cairo on the basis of the Iraqi textual tradition [16]. It is the largest Qur’an version distribution in the world today, sometimes called “Egyptian Standard Edition”. However even Later, this version has been modified with several updates [17]. In the research for Qur’an text review some recent discoveries have been made with early Qur’an manuscripts in Yemen. Comparison of the modern version of the Qur’an to other copies of the Qur’an had as result that differences have been found. Muslims have noticed that the modern Qur’an has chapters from different periods in the life of Muhammadwith bad editing and its contents are not in a smart way arranged [Arthur Jeffrey, Materials for the history of the text of the Qur'an: the old codices, Brill, Leiden, 1937, 47.]This is enough to have doubts to the claim of many Muslims that the Qur’an of today has not even a small error.

Conclusion

The oral communication of the Qur’an has been transformed into text by writing the verses in stages. Then forced standardization has been performed by destroying all other Qur’an versions. It has been a process of many centuries. Recent research shows from existing Qur’an copy already small errors. For non-Muslims the difficulties in the Qur’an can be explained with historical research en with the assumption that Muhammad’s messages came from his own mind. For a Muslim, there are so much references in the Qur’an to the Bible, that it is possible for the believer to find a way to eternal salvation. We see that more and more Muslims are able to find this way to find personal peace with God and guidance for life [18].

Notes

  1. Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University, 1999, preservation.
  2. Mazhar Kazi, Evident Miracles in the Qur’an, Crescent, Richmond Hill, 1997, 42-43.
  3. Saheeh International (ed), Clear Your Doubts About Islam: 50 Answers to Common Questions, Dar Abul-Qasim, Jeddah, 2008, 28.
  4. Ahmed Deedat, Is the Bible God’s Word?, IslamHouse.com, 2019, Chapter Three, Separating the wheat from the chaff.
  5. Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian environment, University of Edinburgh, London, 1926.
  6. W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad, in: Mircea Eliade, The Encyclopedia of Religion, Volume 10, MacMillan, New York, 1987, 144.
  7. Norman L. Geisler, Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Baker, 2002, 183.
  8. Ibrahimkhan O. Deshmukh, The Gospel and Islam, GLS Publishing, Mumbai, 2011, 78-79.
  9. John Gilchrist, Jam' Al-Qur'an - The Codification of the Qur'an Text, Jesus to the Muslims, 1989, 21.
  10. Ibid, 42.
  11. Arthur Jeffrey, Materials for the history of the text of the Qur'an: the old codices, Brill, Leiden, 1937, 8.
  12. Ramon Harvey, The Legal Epistemology of Qur’anic Variants: The Readings of Ibn Masʿūd in Kufan fiqh and the Ḥanafī madhhab, in: Journal of Qur’anic Studies 19.1, 2017, 72-101.
  13. Yasin Dutton, Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1, January 2012, 1-49.
  14. Jalaluddin Suyuti, Muneer Fareed (tr), Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an, 2017, Chapter Nasikh and Mansukh, 13-14.

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