Apologetic Paper (Joseph Smith) - May 1995, cont.
F: The Qur'an's Supposed Universal Qualities
Another claim by Muslims for the authority of the Qur'an is its universal application for all people and for all time. Yet is this the case?
There are many who believe that the Qur'an follows so closely the life and thought of the Arab world during the 7th-9th centuries, that indeed it was written for that specific environment, and not as a universal document for all peoples. suras 16:103; 26:195; and 42:7 point to its uniquely Arabic character.
In fact, the Qur'an, rather than being a universal document served to provide personal advantages for Muhammad. Examples of this can be found in suras: 33:36-38 (Zayd and Zaynab), 50-52 (rotation of wives and special privilege of Muhammad), 53-54 (privacy of Muhammad, and non marriage to his widows) and 66:1 (abstaining from wives or honey?-see Yusuf Ali's note no.5529). Why would a document written for the benefit of all of humanity refer to personal incidents of one man? Do we find similar examples in the previous scriptures and prophets?
Indeed, it seems that Muhammad was the right prophet for the Arabs. He took their culture and universalized it. Take for instance these three examples:
1. The Arabs gloried in their language; Muhammad declared it the divine language, maintaining that the everlasting tablets in heaven recorded the original revelations in the Arabic script. Yet, he seemed to forget the fact that all the previous scriptures were written in Hebrew and Greek and not Arabic.
2. The Arabs gloried in their traditional practices and customs of the desert; practices such as predatory war, slavery, polygamy, and concubinage. Muhammad impressed upon all these usages the seal of a divine sanction. Yet it is these very areas which have proved such a stumbling-block to the western world ever since, as they reflect little of the ethos of the preceding scriptures; an ethos which guides the laws and practices of much of the modern world today.
3. The Arabs gloried in the holiness of Mecca. Muhammad made it the only portal whereby men could enter paradise. Yet there is no extra-Qur'anic documentation that Mecca was much more than a small nondescript hamlet until well into the 7th century. It was not situated on the coast, nor did it have an adequate water supply, like its neighbour Taif, which, unlike Mecca, was well-known as a rest-stop on the caravan routes.
Therefore, one can say that Muhammad took the Arab people just as he found them, and while he applied some new direction, he declared much that they did to be very good and sacred from change (Shorrosh 1988:180).
There are other examples of a specific Arabic influence on the Qur'an; two of which are the status of women, and the use of the sword.
F1: The Inferiority of Women in the Qur'an
Women in the Qur'an have an inferior status to that of men. While the Qur'an permits women to participate in battle, it also allows a Muslim husband to cast his wife adrift without giving a single reason or notice, while the same right is not reserved for the woman. The husband possesses absolute, immediate, and unquestioned power of divorce (suras 2:224-230 and 33:49).
Women are to be absolutely obedient, and can be beaten (or scourged) for being rebellious in sura 4:34 (Yusuf Ali adds "lightly," yet the Arabic does not allow this inclusion). No privilege of a corresponding nature is reserved for the wife. Men have double the inheritance of women (sura 4:11,176). In addition to the four wives allowed by law, a Muslim man can have an unlimited number of slave girls as concubines (or sexual partners) according to sura al-Nisa 4:24-25.
Even paradise creates inequalities for women. suras 55:56; 56:36 and 78:33 state that paradise is a place where there are beautiful young virgins waiting to serve the "righteous" (sura 78:31). These virgins, we are told, will have beautiful, big, lustrous eyes (sura 56:22); they will be Maidens who are chaste, who avert their eyes out of purity (sura 55:56, Yusuf Ali's note no.5210), and have a delicate pink complexion (sura 55:58, Yusuf Ali's note no.5211). Nowhere are we told what awaits the Muslim women of this world in paradise: the Muslim mothers and sisters. One wonders who these virgin maidens are, and where they come from?
With Qur'anic pronouncements such as we have read in the preceding chapters it is not surprising that much of the Muslim world today reflects in its laws and societal makeup such a total bias against women?
Though statistics are hard to find, we do know that, currently, of the twenty-three countries with the worst records of jobs for women (women making up only ten to twenty percent of all workers), seventeen are Muslim countries (Kidron 1991:96-97). Similarly, of the eleven countries with the worst record for disparagement of opportunity between men and women, ten are Muslim states. The widest gaps were found in three Muslim countries: Bangla Desh, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (Kidron 1991:57).
Another revealing statistic shows that of the twelve states with the worst records for unequal treatment of girls, seven are Muslim states. The bottom three listed are UAE, Bahrain, and Brunei (Kidron 1991:56).
While one may justifiably argue that this is not representative of true Islamic teaching, it does show us how those in Muslim countries, using the Qur'an as their foundation treat their women, and what we might expect if we were living in that type of environment.
With this kind of data before us we need to ask whether the Qur'an is God's absolute word for all people for all time, and if so, then why only half of the world's population (its males) receive full benefit from its laws, while the other half (its women) continue in an unequal relationship?
Does not the previous revelation, the Bible, have a more universalistic and wholesome concern for women? Take for instance Ephesians 5:22-25 where we find the true ideal for a relationship, saying: "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her." This scripture demands a sacrificial love by the husband, one which puts the interests of the loved one before that of his own. This sacrificial love is best explained in 1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-8.
It is understandable, then, why so many people in the West see Islam as an archaic and barbaric religion, which forces people back into the mentality of the middle ages, where women had no rights or freedoms to create their own destiny, and where men could do with their wives as they pleased.
F2: The "Sword" Found in the Qur'an
Concerning the 'sword' in the Qur'an, the testimony of Islam today is that of a religion which condones violence for the sake of Allah.
Though many Muslims try to deny this, they have to agree that there are ample examples of violence found not only within the Qur'an, but also exemplified within the life of the prophet Muhammad.
While in Mecca, Muhammad was surrounded by enemies, and while there he taught his followers toleration, according to sura 2:256, which says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error..." As a minor player, surrounded by enemies he did well to receive this 'convenient' revelation. But the call for toleration changed when his power was established in Medina, once the charter had been written which regulated life between the various differing groups.
Muhammad needed a livelihood for himself and those who had come with him from Mecca. Thus he undertook a number of "expeditions," sending groups of his soldiers out to raid Meccan caravans in order to find booty.
Though there was a rule in the Hijaz at that time not to fight during the "holy month," Muhammad, nonetheless sent a number of his troops to raid an unsuspecting trading caravan. This caused havoc in his own camp because a Meccan had been killed in the month in which bloodshed was forbidden. Promptly another 'convenient revelation' came which authorized the attack (read sura 2:217).
Later on, in 624 C.E., after having been in Medina for two years, a Meccan caravan of 1,000 men was passing close to the south-west of Medina. Muhammad, with only 300 men went out to attack it at the battle of Badr. He defeated the Meccans, and consequently received tremendous status, which helped his army grow.
The Medinans participated in further battles, some of which they won (i.e. the battle of the trenches) and others which they lost (the battle of Uhud). In fact, Muhammad himself is known to have conducted 27 battles and planned 39 others.
Muslims, however, continue to downplay any emphasis on violence within the Qur'an, and they emphatically insist that the Jihad, or Holy War was only a means of defence, and was never used as an offensive act. Sahih Muslim III makes this point, saying, "the sword has not been used recklessly by the Muslims; it has been wielded purely with humane feelings in the wider interest of humanity" (Sahih Muslim III, pg.938).
In the Mishkat II we find an explanation for Jihad:
"[Jihad] is the best method of earning both spiritual and temporal. If victory is won, there is enormous booty and conquest of a country which cannot be equalled to any other source of earnings. If there is defeat or death, there is ever-lasting Paradise and a great spiritual benefit. This sort of Jihad is conditional upon pure motive, i.e. for establishing the kingdom of Allah on earth (Mishkat II, pg.253) Also in Mishkat II we learn with regard to Jihad, that: Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: To whichever village you go and settle therein, there is your share therein, and whichever village disobeys Allah and His Messenger, its one-fifth is for Allah and His Messenger, and the remainder is for you (Muslim, Mishkat II, pg.412)."
The claim that Muslims acted only in self-defense is simply untrue. What were Muslims defending in North Africa, or Spain, France, India, Persia, Syria, Anatolia or the Balkans? These countries all had previous civilizations, many of which were more sophisticated than that of Islam, yet they all (outside of France) fell during the conquests of Islam in the first few hundred years, and their cultures were soon eradicated by that of Islam. Does that not evidence a rather offensive interpretation for Jihad?
We can understand the authority for this history when we read certain passages from the Qur'an, which, itself stipulates a particularly strong use of violence. The full impact of invective against the unbeliever can be found in sura 9:5 which says, "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush..." Of like nature is sura 47:4 which says, "When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them..."
Similarly sura 9:29 states: "...Make war upon such of those to whom the scriptures have been given as believe not in Allah, or in the last day, and who forbid not what Allah and his apostle have forbidden... until they pay tribute..." And in sura 8:39 we find, "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression. And there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do."
The murder of between 600-700 Banu Kuraiza Medinan Jewish males by the sword, and the slavery of their women give testimony to this sura (Nehls pg.117)
According to the Dictionary of Islam we read:
"When an infidel's country is conquered by a Muslim ruler, its inhabitants are offered three alternatives:
1. the reception of Islam, in which case the conquered became enfranchised citizens of the Muslim state
2. the payment of Jizya tax, by which unbelievers obtained "protection" and became Dhimmis, provided they were not idolaters, and
3. death by the sword to those who would not pay the Jizya tax."
(Dictionary of Islam, pg. 243).
War is sanctioned in Islam, with enormous rewards promised to those who fight for Allah, according to sura 4:74. Later in verse 84, Muhammad gives himself the divine order to fight. This is the verse which is the basis for calling Islam "the religion of the sword" (Shorrosh 1988:174).
In sura 5:33 the Qur'an orders those who fight Allah and his messenger to be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off; or they can be expelled out of the land. In sura 48:16-17, we read that all who die "fighting in the ways of the Lord" (Jihad) are richly rewarded, but those who retreat are sorely punished.
The first blood shed under Muhammad was carried out by a blind disciple named Umair, who stabbed and killed a woman named Asma while she slept suckling her baby because she had criticized Muhammad with poetic verses. Upon hearing of this Muhammad said "Behold a man that hath assisted the Lord and His prophet. Call him not blind, call him rather 'Umair,' the seeing." (Nehls pg.122).
Therefore, when those of us who are Christians read these suras, and see the example of the prophet himself, we find a total rejection of the previous teachings of Jesus who calls us to live in peace and put away the sword. We then are incredulous when we hear Muslims claim that Islam is the religion of peace. The record speaks for itself.
For those countries who aspire to use Islamic law, statistics prove revealing. According to the 1994 State of the World Atlas, while only five northern countries (i.e. western) are categorized as "Terror States" (those involved in using assassination, disappearances and torture), twenty-eight of the thirty-two Muslim states fall into this category (except UAE, Qatar and Mali) (Kidron 1991:62-63).
Furthermore, it seems that most Muslim countries today are following the example of their prophet and are involved in some sort of armed conflict. It is difficult to know where the truth lies. While the West documents and publishes its criminal activities openly, the Muslim countries say very little. Lists which delineate where each country stands in relation to murders, sex offenses and criminality include most of the western countries, yet only four Muslim countries out of the thirty-two have offered statistics for the number of internal murders, while only six out of the thirty-two have offered a list of sex offenses, and only four of the thirty-two have divulged their level of criminality. Therefore, until more Muslim countries are willing to come forward with statistics, it is impossible to evaluate the claim which they make: that western states have a higher degree of degradation and criminality than that of Muslim states.
We do know, however, that in the 1980's, of the fourteen countries who were involved in ongoing "general wars," nine of them were Muslim countries, while only one was a non-western Christian country.
Why, we wonder, are so many Muslim countries embroiled in so many wars, many of which are against other Muslims? Muslims answer that these are not good examples because they are not authentic Muslim states. Yet, can we not say that to the contrary, these countries do indeed follow the examples which we find so readily not only within the text of the Qur'an, but within the life of the prophet, and in the history of the first few centuries of Islam. Muhammad's life, and the Qur'an which he gave to the world, both give sufficient authority for the sword in Islam. While this may cause the 20th century western Muslim to squirm uncomfortably, it cannot be denied that there is ample precedent for violence within their scriptures and within their own history. What we choose to ask, however, is whether the witness of violence within Islam exemplifies the heart of a loving and compassionate God, one who calls Himself merciful; or whether it rather exemplifies the character of 7th century Arabia, with all its brutal desert tribal disputes and warfare?
Compare the opposing concept of Jesus:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one kilometre, go with him two kilometres. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:38-44)
So what can we say about the authority of the Qur'an? Can we say it is a divinely inspired book sent by Allah for all of humanity, for all time? Can it claim supernatural as well as literary qualities, which not only place it above other revelations, but point to its divine origins? Much of what I have offered you here points to the fact that the Qur'an lacks in all three qualities, and seems to reflect more the life and times of its supposed mediator than that of the heart of a universal God. The idolatrous tendency of Muslims towards the Qur'an, as well as the confusion of its literary makeup, and the special conditions given to Muhammad, point to a book put together by one man, or as we now know, a group of much later men, than an inspired piece of God's revealed word.
If one were to contrast the 66 books of the Bible written over hundreds of years by at least 40 different authors, with the Qur'an which came through one man, Muhammad, during his lifetime, there would be no contest as to which was the superior literature. In the final analysis, the Qur'an simply does not fit the breadth of vision, nor the literary style or structure of that found in the Old and New Testament. To go from the Bible to the Qur'an is to go from the superior to the inferior, from the authentic to the counterfeit, from God's perspective to that of an individual, caught up and controlled by his own world and times.
I end this section with a quote from an expert on the Qur'an, Dr. Tisdall, who says:
"The Qur'an breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet's followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad's own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious imposter and open sensualist." (Tisdall 27)
G: The Collation, or Collection, of the Qur'anic Text
We now take the discussion concerning the authority for the Qur'an away from its makeup and ask the question of how it came to us. We will give special emphasis on the problems which we find with its collation. We will also ask why, if it is the Word of God, so much of its content is not only self-contradictory, but is in error with the facts as we know them? From there we will then consider where the Qur'an received much of its material, or from where many of its stories were derived. Let's then begin with the alleged collection of the Qur'anic text.
Muslims claim that the Qur'an is perfect in its textual history, that there are no textual defects (as they say we have in our Bible). They maintain that it is perfect not only in its content and style, but the order and script as we have it today is an exact parallel of the preserved tablets in heaven. This, they contend, is so because Allah has preserved it.
Therefore, the Qur'an, they feel, must be the Word of God. While we have already looked at the content and style of the Qur'an and found it wanting, the claim to its textual purity is an assertion which we need to examine in greater detail.
G1: The Periods of Revelation
According to Muslim Tradition the "revelations" of the suras (or books) were received by the prophet Muhammad, via the angel Jibril (Gabriel) within three periods. The first is referred to as the 1st Meccan period, and lasted between 611-615 C.E. During this time the suras contain many of the warnings, and much of the leading ideas concerning who Allah is, and what He expected of His creation (i.e. suras 1, 51-53, 55-56, 68-70, 73-75, 77-97, 99-104, 111- 114).
The 2nd period, referred to as the 2nd Meccan period (between 616-622 C.E.) had longer suras, dealing with doctrines, many of which echoed Biblical material. It was during this time that Islam makes the claim of being the one true religion (i.e. suras 6-7, 10-21, 23, 25-32, 34-46, 50, 54, 67, 71-72, 76).
The third period, referred to as the Medinan period (between 623-632 C.E.) centered in Medina and lasted roughly ten years, until Muhammad's death in 632 C.E. There is a distinct shift in content during this period. Divine approval is given for Muhammad's leadership, and much of the material deals with local historical events. There is a change from the preaching of divine matters, to that of governing. Consequently, the suras are much more political and social in their makeup (suras 2-5, 8-9, 22-24, 33, 37, 47-49, 57-59, 60-66, 98, 110).
G2: The Method of Collection
While there is ongoing discussion concerning whether Muhammad ever received any revelations, there is considerably more skepticism concerning whether or not the Qur'an which we have today is indeed made up entirely of those revelations which he did supposedly receive.
Many Muslims ardently contend that the Qur'an which is in our hands today was in its completed form even before the death of Muhammad, and that the collation of the texts after his death was simply an exercise in amassing that which had already existed. There are even those who believe that many of the companions of the prophet had memorized the text, and it is they who could have been used to corroborate the final collation by Muhammad's secretary, Zaid ibn Thabit. If these assertions are true, then indeed we do have a revelation which is well worth studying. History, however, points to quite a different scenario, one which most Muslims find it difficult to maintain.
Muslim Tradition tells us that Muhammad had not foreseen his death, and so had made no preparations for the gathering of his revelations, in order to place them into one document. Thus, according to tradition, it was left up to Muhammad's followers to write down what had been said.
Al Bukhari, a Muslim scholar of the 9th-10th century, and the most authoritative of the Muslim tradition compilers, writes that whenever Muhammad fell into one of his unpredictable trances his revelations were written on whatever was handy at the time. The leg or thigh bones of dead animals were used, as well as palm leaves, parchments, papers, skins, mats, stones, and bark. And when there was nothing at hand the attempt was made by his disciples to memorize it as closely as possible.
The principle disciples at that time were: Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Abu Musa, and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, all of whom were close companions of Muhammad.
According to Sahih Bukhari, during the years following Muhammad's death, passages of the Qur'an were lost irretrievably when a number of reciters died at the Battle of Yamama. This incident together with the Qur'an's automatic completion as a revelation, now that its mediator had passed away, compelled a companion of the prophet named Hazrat Omar to suggest to the current caliph, Abu Bakr, that the existing revelations be collected.
Initially the aging caliph demurred, as he was not willing to do what the prophet had not done. However, he later changed his mind, due to the crisis caused by the death of the reciters at Yamama. The secretary of Muhammad, Zaid ibn Thabit was commissioned by Abu Bakr to collect the sayings of the prophet and put them into a document.
G2i: Zaid's Collection
Zaid's reply, according to Bukhari, is interesting. He is purported to have said that it would have been easier if they had demanded that he shift a mountain then collect the suras of the Qur'an. The reason for this rather odd statement becomes obvious when we find that, in his search for the passages of the Qur'an he was forced to use as his sources the leg or thigh bones of dead animals, as well as palm leaves, parchments, papers, skins, mats, stones, bark, and the memories of the prophet's companions (Bukhari, vol.6, pg.477).
This shows that there were no Muslims at that time who had memorized the entire Qur'an by heart, otherwise the collection would have been a simple task. Had there been individuals who knew the Qur'an by heart, Zaid would only have had to go to any one of the companions and write down what they dictated. Instead, Zaid was overwhelmed by the assignment, and was forced to "search" for the passages from these men who had memorized certain segments. He also had to refer to rather strange objects to find the ayas he needed. These are hardly reliable sources for a supposed "perfect" copy of the eternal tablets which exist in heaven.
What evidence, we ask, is there that his final copy was complete? It is immediately apparent that the official copy of the Qur'an rested on very fragile sources. There is no way that anyone can maintain with certainty that Zaid collected all the sayings of the prophet. Had some of the objects been lost, or thrown away? Did some of the ayas die with the companions who were killed at the battle of Yamama? We are left with more questions then answers.
In Sahih Bukhari (volume 6, page 478) Zaid is quoted as saying that he found the last verses of sura 9 (verses 128 and 129) from a certain individual. Then he continues by saying that he found this verse from no-one else. In other words there was no-one else who knew this verse. Thus had he not traced it from this one man, he would not have traced it at all!
This leads us to only one possible conclusion: that we can never be sure that the Qur'an which was finally compiled was, in fact, complete! Zaid concedes that he had to find this one verse from this one man. This underlines the fact that there was no-one who knew the Qur'an by heart, and thus could corroborate that Zaid's copy was complete.
Consequently the final composition of the Qur'an depended on the discretion of one man; not on the revelation of God, but on an ordinary fallible man, who put together, with the resources which he had available, what he believed to be a complete Qur'an. This flies in the face of the bold claim by Muslims that the book is now, and was then, complete.
Zaid's text was given to Hafsah, one of the wives of Muhammad, and the daughter of Umar, the 2nd Caliph. We then pick up the story with the reign of Uthman, the 3rd Caliph.
G2ii: Competing Collections
In Sahih Bukhari, (vol. 6, pg.479) we read that there were at this time different readings of the Qur'an in the different provinces of the Muslim world. A number of the companions of Muhammad had compiled their own codices of the text. In other words, though Zaid had collated the official text under Abu Bakr, there were other texts which were circulating which were considered authoritative as well.
The two most popular codices were those of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, whose manuscript became the standard for the area of Iraq, and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, whose manuscript became standard in Syria.
These and other extant codices were basically consistent with each other in their general content, but a large number of variant readings, many seriously affecting the text, existed in all the manuscripts such that no two codices were entirely the same (which we'll talk about later).
In addition, the texts were being recited in varying dialects in the different provinces of the Muslim world. During the 7th century, Arabic was composed in a so-called scriptio defectiva in which only the consonants were written. Since there was no vowels, the vocalization was left to the reader. Some verbs could be read as active or passive, while some nouns could be read with different case endings, and some forms could be read as either nouns or verbs.
G3: The Standardization of One Text
Consequently, during the reign of Uthman, the third Caliph, a deliberate attempt was made to standardize the Qur'an and impose a single text upon the whole Muslim community.
The codex of Zaid ibn Thabit, taken from the manuscript of Hafsah, was chosen by Uthman for this purpose, to the consternation of both Mas'ud and Ibn Ka'b. Zaid ibn Thabit was a much younger man, who had not yet been born at the time Mas'ud had recited 70 suras by heart before Muhammad.
According to Muslim tradition Zaid's codice was chosen by Uthman because the language used, the 'Quraishi dialect,' was local to Mecca, and so had become the standard Arabic. Tradition maintains that Zaid, along with three scholars of the Quraishi tribe of Mecca, had written the codice in this Quraishi dialect, as it had been revealed to Muhammad in this dialect. Linguists today, however, are still at a quandary to know what exactly this Quraishi dialect was, as it doesn't exist today and therefore cannot be identified. Furthermore, the dialect which we find in the present Qur'an does not differ from the language which was current in other parts of the Hijaz at that time. While it makes for a good theory, it has little historical evidence with which to back it up.
A further reason for the choice of Zaid's codice, according to tradition, was that it had been kept in virtual seclusion for many years, and so had not attracted the publicity as one of the varying texts, as had the codices of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b. Ironically, by virtue of their popularity, Mas'ud's and Ka'b's codices were rejected as sources for the final Qur'an and supplanted by the codice of an individual who neither had the notoriety, nor the experience, and whose text (as we shall soon discover) had never been selected as authoritative by the prophet, as had the other two.
Consequently, copies of Zaid's codice were then sent out and dispersed throughout every Muslim province, while all the other manuscripts were summarily destroyed.
It is evident from this discussion that the final choice for an authoritative text had little to do with its authenticity, but had more to do with the fact that it was not a controversial manuscript. It is also evident that there were no two Qur'ans which existed at that time which were exactly alike. This tradition tells us that other whole copies did exist, yet not one of the other texts were spared the order for their destruction. We must conclude that the destruction of the other manuscripts was a drastic effort to standardize the Qur'anic text. While we may have one standard text today, there is no proof that it corresponds with the original. We can only say that it may possibly be similar to the Uthmanic recension, a recension which was one of many. Yet, what evidence is there that in all instances it was the correct one? We don't know as we have no others with which to compare.
G4: The Missing Verses
This then brings up another difficult problem: how can we be sure that what Zaid ibn Thabit included in his codice (or manuscript) contained the full revelation of Muhammad's revelation? The fact is we simply cannot. We are forced to rely on Muslim tradition to tell us. Yet, interestingly, it is Muslim tradition which informs us that Zaid himself initially cast doubt on his own codice.
G4i: Sura 33:23
According to Sahih Bukhari (volume 6, pg.79), despite the fact that Zaid's text had been copied out and sent to the seven different cities, Zaid suddenly remembered that a verse which the prophet had quoted earlier was missing from his text. Zaid is quoted as saying that this missing verse was verse 23 of sura 33, which says, "Among the believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah." So he searched for the verse until he found it with Hussaima ibn al Ansari.
Thus, we find that after the copies had been sent out claiming to be the only authentic and complete copies of the Qur'an available, Zaid, and he alone, recorded a verse which was missing; a verse which, once again, was only found with one man.
This resembles the previous occasion where a verse was only found with one man. The conclusion is obvious: initially all of those seven copies which were sent out to the provinces were imperfect. But even more concerning is the fact that it was due to the recollection of one man, and the memory of another that the Qur'an was finally completed. Once again it is obvious that there simply could not have been any man at that time who knew the whole Qur'an by heart. This is yet another instance which contradicts the argument posed by Muslims that the Qur'an had been memorized by certain men during the early days of Islam.
But of more importance is the troubling question of whether there were perhaps other verses which were overlooked or were left out. The answer to this question can be found in another of the authoritative traditions, that of Sahih Muslim.
G4ii: The Verse on Stoning
Muslim maintains that key passages were missing from Zaid's text. The most famous is the verse of stoning. All the major traditions speak of this missing verse. According to Ibn Ishaq's version (pg. 684) we read:
"God sent Muhammad, and sent down the scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning. Umar says, 'We read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle [Muhammad] stoned, and we stoned after him. I fear that in the time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God's book, and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily, stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery."
Therefore, according to Umar, the stoning verse was part of the original Qur'an, the revelation which Allah sent down. But now it is missing. In many of the traditions we find numerous reports of adulterous men and women who were stoned by the prophet and his companions. Yet today we read in the Qur'an, sura 24:32 that the penalty for adultery is 100 lashes. Umar said adultery was not only a capital offence, but one which demanded stoning. That verse is now missing from the Qur'an, and that is why Umar raised this issue.
Muslims will need to ask themselves whether indeed their Qur'an can claim to be the same as that passed down by Muhammad to his companions? With evidence such as this the Qur'an in our possession today becomes all the more suspect.
G5: The Variations Between the Codices
Yet that is not all. Another glaring problem with Zaid's text is that it differed from the other codices which coexisted with his.
Arthur Jeffery has done the classic work on the variants of the early codices in his book Materials for the history of the Text of the Qur'an, printed in 1937. The three main codices which he lists are those which we have referred to earlier, and include:
1. Ibn Mas'ud ('Abd Allah b. Mas'ud) (died 653), from Kufa, in Iraq. It is he who is reported to have learned 70 suras directly from Muhammad, and was appointed by Muhammad as one of the first teachers of Qur'anic recitation (according to Ibn Sa'd). Mas'ud became a leading authority on the Qur'an and hadith in Kufa, Iraq. He refused to destroy his copy of the Qur'an or stop teaching it when the Uthmanic recension was made official.
2. Ubayy b. Ka'b (died 649) a Medinan Muslim who was associated with Damascus, Syria. Prior to that he was a secretary for the prophet, and was considered by some to be more prominent than Mas'ud in Qur'anic understanding, during the prophet's lifetime. Ubayy's codice had two extra suras. He destroyed his codice after the Uthmanic recension.
3. Abu Musa (died 662), a Yemenite, though his codice was accepted in Basra, where he served as governor under Umar. His codex was large and it contained the two extra suras of Ubayy's codex, and other verses not found in other codices (Jeffery, pp.209-211).
In addition to these three Jeffery classifies 12 other codices belonging to the companions of the prophet, which were considered as primary.
One of these Ali b. Abi Talib (d.661) a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, is said to have been the first to collect the Qur'an after the prophet's death, and to have arranged the suras in some sort of chronological order.
According to Jeffery, there were thousands of variations between the different codices.
G5i: Abdullah ibn Mas'ud's Codex
Take for instance the codice of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, a very close companion of the prophet, according to the traditions. As we know it was he who refused to hand over his manuscript after the order went out from Uthman for all existing copies to be burned.
There is much evidence today to show that, in fact, his text is far more reliable than Hafsah's manuscript, which we know to be the one collated by Zaid ibn Thabit. Ibn Mas'ud alone was present with Muhammad when he reviewed the content of the Qur'an every year during the month of Rammadan.
In the well-known collection of traditions by Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.441), we read these words:
"Ibn Abbas asked, 'Which of the two readings of the Qur'an do you prefer?' [The prophet] answered, 'The reading of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud.' Verily the Qur'an was recited before the apostle of Allah, once in every Rammadan, except the last year when it was recited twice. Then Abdullah ibn Mas'ud came to him, and he learned what was altered and abrogated."
Thus no-one knew the Qur'an better then he did. In the same tradition by Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.442) it says:
"No sura was revealed but I [Mas'ud] knew about it and what was revealed. If I had known anyone knowing more of the book of Allah than me, I would have gone to him."
Ibn Mas'ud lays claim here to be the foremost authority of the text of the Qur'an. In fact, it is Sahih Muslim (vol. 4, pg.1312) who informs us that Mas'ud knew seventy suras by heart, and was considered to have a better understanding of the Qur'an then the other companions of the prophet. He recited these seventy passages before the prophet and the companions, and no-one disputed with him.
In Sahih Bukhari (vol. 5, pgs.96-97) we read that Muhammad himself singled out Abdullah ibn Mas'ud as the first and foremost authority on the Qur'an.
According to Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.444) Mas'ud learned his seventy suras while Zaid was still a youth. Thus his authority should have been greater as he knew so much of the Qur'an long before Zaid became a man.
Arthur Jeffery in his book points out several thousand variants taken from over thirty "main sources." Of special note are those which he found between the codex of Ibn Mas'ud and that of Zaid ibn Thabit. He also found that Mas'ud's codex agreed with the other codices which existed at the expense of Zaid's text (while we don't have the time to go into all the variations, it might be helpful if you could obtain a copy of Arthur Jeffrey's book: Materials for the history of the Text of the Qur'an).
According to Jeffery, Abu Mas'ud's Codex was different from the Uthmanic text in several different ways:
1. It did not contain the Fatiha (the opening sura, sura 1), nor the two charm suras (suras 113 and 114).
2. It contained different vowels within the same consonantal text (Jeffery 25-113).
3. It contained Shi'ite readings (i.e. suras 5:67; 24:35; 26:215; 33:25,33,56; 42:23; 47:29; 56:10; 59:7; 60:3; 75:17-19) (Jeffery 40,65,68).
4. Entire phrases were different, such as: a.sura 3:19: Mas'ud has "The way of the Hanifs" instead of "Behold, the [true] religion (din) of God is Islam." b.sura 3:39: Mas'ud has "Then Gabriel called to him, 'O Zachariah'", instead of the Uthmanic reading: "Then the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary." c.Only his codice begins sura 9 with the Bismilah, while the Uthmanic text does not ("bismi 'llahi 'l-rahmani 'l-rahim" meaning, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate").
5. Finally, the order of the suras in Ibn Mas'ud's codex is different from the Uthmanic text in that Mas'ud's list arranges the suras more closely in order of descending length.
G5ii: Ubayy Ka'b's Codex
Ubayy Ka'b's codex also had variations. Though there are those who disagree, it seems to have been less important than Ibn Mas'ud's, as it was not the source of any secondary codices.
It included two suras not found in the Uthmanic or Ibn Mas'ud's texts: the surat al-Khal', with three verses, and surat al-Hafd, with six verses (Jeffery pg. 180ff). Al-Fadl b. Shadhan is said to have seen a copy of Ubayy's 116 suras (rather than the 114 of Uthman's) in a village near Basra in the middle of the 3rd century A.H. (10th century C.E.).
The order of suras in Ubayy's codex is said to have differed from that of Uthman's.
G6: Conclusions on the Collation of the Qur'anic Text
These variations in the codices show that the original text of the Qur'an cannot have been perfect. The fact that a little known secretary (Zaid ibn Thabit) was chosen as the final arbiter of the Qur'anic text points to possible political interference. The admission by this secretary that the task of collating the verses was unduly daunting and his consequent pronouncement that one verse was initially missing from his finished text (sura 33:23) while another verse, according to authoritative sources, is still missing (the stoning verse) puts even more suspicion on its authenticity.
On top of that, the many variations which exist between Zaid's text and those of supposedly more authoritative collators (Mas'ud and Ka'b) can only add to the perception of many today that the Uthmanic Qur'an which we supposedly have today leaves us with more doubt than assurance for its authority as the perfect word of God.
Yet that is not all. We also know from Muslim tradition that the Uthmanic Qur'an had to be reviewed and amended to meet the Caliph's standard for a single approved text even after Uthman's death. This was carried out by al-Hajjaj, the governor of Kufa, who made eleven distinct amendments and corrections to the text, which were later reduced to seven readings.
If the other codices were in existence today, one could compare the one with the other to ascertain which could claim to be closest to the original. Even Hafsah's copy, the original from which the final text was taken, was later destroyed by Mirwan, the governor of Medina. But for what reason???
Does this act not intimate that there were problems between the other copies, possibly glaring contradictions, which needed to be thrown out? Can we really believe that the rest were destroyed simply because Uthman wished to have only one manuscript which conformed to the Quraishi dialect (if indeed such a dialect existed)? Why then burn the other codices? If, as some contend today, the other codices were only personal reminisces of the writers, then why did the prophet give those codices so much authority during his lifetime? Furthermore, how could Uthman claim to judge one from the other now that Muhammad was no longer around?
There are certain scholars today who believe that Zaid ibn Thabit and his co-workers could have reworked the Arabic, so as to make the text literately sophisticated and thus seemingly superior to other Arabic works of its time; and thus create the claim that this was indeed the illiterate Muhammad's one miracle.
There are others, such as John Wansbrough from SOAS, who go even further, contending that all of the accounts about companion codices and individual variants were fabricated by later Muslim jurists and philologers. He asserts that the collection stories and the accounts of the companion codices arose in order to give an ancient authority to a text that was not even compiled until the 9th century or later.
He feels that the text of the Qur'an was so fluid that the multiple accounts (i.e. of the punishment stories) represent "variant traditions" of different metropolitan centres (such as Kufa, Basra, Medina etc.), and that as late as the 9th century a consonantal textus receptus ne varietur still had not been achieved. Today, his work is taking on greater authority within scholarly circles.
Unfortunately we will never know the real story, because the originals (if indeed they ever existed) which could have told us so much were destroyed. All we have are the copies written years after the originals by those who were then ordered to destroy their originals. There are, therefore, no manuscripts to compare with to give the current Qur'an authenticity, as we have with the Bible.
For those who may wonder why this is so important, let me provide an example: If after I had read this paper out-loud, everyone was to then write down all I had said from memory when they returned home, there would certainly be a number of variations. But we could find out these variations by putting them all together and comparing the many copies one against the other, as the same errors would not be written at the same place by everyone. The final result would be a rendering which is pretty close to what I had said originally. But if we destroyed all of the copies except one, there would be no means of comparing, and all precision would be lost. Our only hope would be that the one which remained was as close to what I had said as possible. Yet we would have no other rendering or example to really know for sure.
Consequently, the greater number of copies preserved, the more certitude we would have of the original text. The Qur'an has only one doctored manuscript to go on, while the New Testament has over 24,000 manuscripts in existence, from a variety of backgrounds, from which to compare!!! Can you see the difference?!
It is therefore quite clear that that which is known as the Textus Receptus of the Qur'an (the text considered authoritative in the Muslim world today) cannot lay claim to be the Textus Originalis (the genuine original text).
The current Qur'anic text which is read throughout the Muslim world is merely Zaid's version, duly corrected where necessary, and later amended by al-Hajjaj. Consequently, the 'official' text as it currently stands was only arrived at through an extended process of amendments, recensions, eliminations and an imposed standardization of a preferred text at the initiative of one caliph, and not by a prophetic direction of divine decree.
In conclusion one can safely say that there is relative authenticity of the text in the sense that it adequately retains the gist and content of what was originally there. There is, however, no evidence to support the cherished Muslim hypothesis that the Qur'an has been preserved absolutely intact to the last dot and letter, as so many Muslims claim (For further reading see Jam' al-Qur'an, by Gilchrist).
Yet, even if we were to let the issue rest, concerning whether or not the Qur'an which we have now is the same as that which Muhammad related to his followers, we would still need to ask whether its authority might not be impinged upon due to the numerous errors and contradictions which can be found within its pages. It is to that question that we now proceed.