Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quran Testifies To Its Own Textual Corruption

Sam Shamoun

Muslims may not be aware of the fact that their very own scripture admits that even during the time of Muhammad there were people tampering with the text of the Quran:

Like as We sent down on the dividers, Those who made the Quran INTO SHREDS. So, by your Lord, We would most certainly question them all, As to what they did. S. 15:90-93 Shakir

Here are some of the various ways that Q. 15:91 has been translated:

(So also on such) as have made Qur'an into shreds (as they please). Y. Ali

Those who break the Qur'an into parts. Pickthall

who dismember the Qur'an. Palmer

who have broken the Koran into fragments. Arberry

Who splintered the Quran into diverse parts. Tarif Khalidi

Those who divided the Qur’an into parts. Maulana Muhammad Ali

Those who break the Quran into separate parts. Hamid S. Aziz

Those who have broken the Qur’an into fragments (as they please). Ali Unal

and also divided the Quran believing in some parts and rejecting others. Muhammad Sarwar

and who have broken the Scripture into fragments— Wahiduddin Khan

And severed their Scripture into fragments. Muhammad Ahmed-Samira

It is thus clear from this verse that the words of the Quran were being changed. As the late Islamic Scholar Alphonse Mingana explained:

“Finally, if we understand correctly the following verse of Suratul-Hijr (xv. 90-91): 'As we sent down upon (punished) the dividers (of the Scripture?) who broke up the Koran into parts,' we are tempted to state that even when the Prophet was alive, some changes were noticed in the recital of certain verses of his sacred book. There is nothing very surprising in this fact, since Muhammad could not read or write, and was at the mercy of friends for the writing of his revelations, or, more frequently, of some mercenary amanuenses.” (Mingana, "Three Ancient Korans", The Origins of the Koran – Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq [Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 1998], p. 84; bold emphasis ours)

The evidence also shows that such corruptions to the text continued long after Muhammad’s death. For instance, Mingana records the Muslim reaction to Uthman b. Affan’s burning and wholesale destruction of primary, competing Quranic codices:

“The book, drawn up by this method, continued to be authoritative and the standard text till 29-30 A.H. under the caliphate of 'Uthman. At this time the wonderful faithfulness of Arab memory was defective, and according to a general weakness of human nature, the Believers have been heard reciting the verses of the Koran in a different way. This fact was due specially, it is said, to the hundreds of dialects used in Arabia. Zaid was again asked to put an end to these variations which had begun to scandalize the votaries of the Prophet. That indefatigable compiler, assisted by three men from the tribe of Quraish, started to do what he had already done more than fifteen years before. The previous copies made from the first one written under Abu Bakr were all destroyed by special order of the caliph: the revelation sent down from heaven was one, and the book containing this revelation must be one. The critic remarks that the only guarantee of the authenticity of the Koran is the testimony of Zaid; and for this reason, a scholar who doubts whether a given word has been really used by Muhammad, or whether it has been only employed by Zaid on his own authority, or on the meagre testimony of some Arab reciters, does not transgress the strict laws of high criticism. If the memory of the followers of the Prophet has been found defective from the year 15 to 30 A.H. when Islam was proclaimed over all Arabia, why may it not have been defective from 612 to 632 C.E. when the Prophet was often obliged to defend his own life against terrible aggressors? And if the first recension of Zaid contained always the actual words of Muhammad, why was this compiler not content with re-establishing it in its entirety, and why was the want of a new recension felt by 'Uthman? How can it be that in the short space of fifteen years such wonderful variants could have crept into the few copies preceding the reign of the third caliph that he found himself bound to destroy all those he could find? If 'Uthman was certainly inspired only by religious purposes, why did his enemies call him ‘THE TEARER OF THE BOOKS’ and why did they fasten on him the following stigma: ‘He found the Korans many and left one; HE TORE UP THE BOOK’? …” (Ibid., p. 84-85; bold and capital emphasis ours)

In another article, Mingana cites Muslim historian al-Tabari who wrote that:

“… ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, and ‘Uthman b. Affan wrote the Revelation to the Prophet; but in their absence it was Ubai b. Ka'b and Zaid b. Thabit who wrote it.’ He informs us, too, that the people said to ‘Uthman: ‘The Koran was in MANY BOOKS, and thou discreditedst them all but one’; and after the Prophet's death, ‘People gave him as successor Abu Bakr, who in turn was succeeded by ‘Umar; and both of them acted according to the Book and the Sunnah of the Apostle of God - and praise be to God the Lord of the worlds; then people elected ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan WHO … TORE UP THE BOOK.’” (Ibid., The Transmission of the Koran, p. 102; bold and capital emphasis ours)

In this same article Mingana references another ancient writer regarding the compilation of the Quran. The author whom he quotes was a Christian apologist named Abd al-Masih al-Kindi. Al-Kindi wrote an apology titled The Apology of Al-Kindi at the Court of al-Mamun circa A.D. 830, approximately forty years before al-Bukhari compiled his hadith collection. Al-Kindi mentions the Muslim reaction to the conflicting readings that existed amongst the different Quranic codices that circulated shortly after Muhammad’s death:

Then the people fell to variance in their reading; some read according to the version of 'Ali, which they follow to the present day; some read according to the collection of which we have made mention; one party read according to the text of ibn Mas'ud, and another according to that of Ubai ibn Ka'b. When 'Uthman came to power, and people everywhere differed in their reading, 'Ali sought grounds of accusation against him. One man would read verse one way, and another man another way; and there was change and interpolation, some copies having more and some less. When this was represented to 'Uthman, and the danger urged of division, strife, and apostasy, he thereupon caused to be collected together all the leaves and scraps that he could, together with the copy that was written out at the first. But they did not interfere with that which was in the hands of 'Ali, or of those who followed his reading. Ubai was dead by this time, as for Ibn Mas'ud, they demanded his exemplar, but he refused to give it up. Then they commanded Zaid ibn Thabit, and with him 'Abdallah ibn 'Abbas, to revise and correct the text, eliminating all that was corrupt; they were instructed, when they differed on any reading, word, or name, or to follow the dialect of the Quraish.

When the recension was completed, four exemplars were written out in large text; one was sent to Mecca, and another to Medina; the third was dispatched to Syria, and is to this day at Malatya; the fourth was deposited in Kufa. People say that this last copy is still extant at Kufa, but this is not case, for it was lost in the insurrection of Mukhtar (A.H. 67). The copy of Mecca remained there till the city was stormed by Abu Sarayah (A.H. 200); he did not carry it away; but it is supposed to have been burned in the conflagration. The Medina exemplar was lost in the reign of terror, that is, in the days of Yazid b. Mu'awiah (A.H. 60-64).

After what we have related above, 'Uthman called in all the former leaves and copies, and destroyed them, threatening those held any portion back; and so only some scattered remains, concealed here and there, survived. Ibn Mas'ud, however, retained his exemplar in his own hands, and it was inherited by his posterity, as it is this day; and likewise the collection of 'Ali has descended in his family.

Then followed the business of Hajjaj b. Yusuf, who gathered together every single copy he could lay hold of, and caused to be omitted from the text a great many passages. Among these, they say, were verses revealed concerning the House of the Umayyah with names of certain persons, and concerning the House of 'Abbas also with names. Six copies of the text thus revised were distributed to Egypt, Syria, Medina, Mecca, Kufa, and Basra. After that he called in and destroyed all the preceding copies, even as 'Uthman had done before him. The enmity subsisting between 'Ali and Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman is well known; how each of these entered in the text whatever favored his own claims, and left out what was otherwise. How, then, can we distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit? And what about the losses caused by Hajjaj? The kind of faith that this tyrant held in other matters is well-known; how can we make an arbiter as to the Book of God a man who never ceased play into the hands of the Umayyads whenever he found opportunity? (Ibid., pp. 108-109; bold emphasis ours)

Mingana proceeds to quote what al-Kindi had to say to the Muslim whom was debating:

Then al-Kindi, addressing his Muslim friend, says: ‘All that I have said is drawn from your own authorities, and no single argument has been advanced but what is based on evidence accepted by yourselves; in proof thereof, we have the Kur'an itself, which is a confused heap, with neither system nor order.’ (Ibn Warraq, pp. 109-110; bold emphasis ours)

Lest the Muslims try to brush aside such statements as the ravings of biased anti-Islamic polemicists, they need to keep in mind what al-Kindi wrote. These men weren’t basing their claims on their own opinions or speculations, but were actually deriving them from what the so-called authentic Islamic traditions taught concerning the text of the Quran.

Even now one can find evidence from the Islamic sources themselves to prove that the Muslims did in fact tamper with the text of the Quran.

For instance, al-Bukhari confirms that Muhammad failed to compile the Quran in one manuscript and that Muslims were accusing each other of corrupting their scripture:

III: The Collection of the Qur'an

4702. It is related that Zayd ibn Thabit said, "After the slaughter of people in the Battle of Yamama, Abu Bakr sent for me. 'Umar was with him. Abu Bakr said, ''Umar came to me and said, "Many Qur'an reciters were killed in the Battle of Yamama, and I fear that heavy casualties will be inflicted on the Qur'an reciters in other places and therefore much of the Qur'an will be lost. I think that you should collect the Qur'an together."' Abu Bakr said, 'I said to 'Umar, "How can I do something which the Messenger of Allah did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, it is better." 'Umar kept at me about it until Allah opened my breast to that. I think what 'Umar thinks about that.'"

Zayd continued, "Abu Bakr said, 'You are an intelligent young man and we have no suspicion about you. You used to write down the revelation for the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Therefore you are to search out the Qur'an and collect it.' By Allah, if he had obliged me to move one of the mountains, that would not have been weightier for me than what he commanded to do of collecting the Qur'an. I said, 'How can you do something which the Messenger of Allah did not do?' Abu Bakr said, 'By Allah, it is better.' Abu Bakr continued to keep at me until Allah opened my breast to what Allah had opened the breasts of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I began to search out the Qur'an and collect it from the palm stalks, thin white stones, and the breasts of men until I found end of Surat at-Tawba with Khuzayma al-Ansari which I did not find with anyone else: 'A Messenger has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering is distressful to him...' (9:128)" The copy of the Qur'an in which the Qur'an was collected remained in the possession of Abu Bakr until Allah took him, and then it was with 'Umar until Allah took him, and then it was with Hafsa bint 'Umar."

4703. Anas ibn Malik reported that Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman came to 'Uthman while the people of Syria were conquering Armenia and Azerbaijan with the people of Iraq. Hudhayfa was ALARMED by the difference in their recitation. Hudhayfa said to 'Uthman, "Amir al-Mu'minin! Deliver this Community before they disagree about the Book as the Jews and Christians differed!" So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, "Send us the pages in your possession and we will copy them and then return them to you." So Hafsa sent them to 'Uthman. He ordered Zayd ibn Thabit, 'Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, Sa'id ibn al-'As, and 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn al-Harith ibn Hisham to transcribe copies. 'Uthman said to the group of the three Qurashis, "When you and Zayd ibn Thabit disagree about any of the Qur'an, write it in the dialect of Quraysh. It was revealed in their language." They did that. When they had copied it out, 'Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded that every sheet or copy which had any other form of the Qur'an should be burned. (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 69. Book of the Virtues of the Qur'an; capital and italic emphasis ours)

See also the following English versions of these same ahadith: 1, 2.

Another Islamic source writes:

"If it is asked what was the point of ‘Uthman unifying people under a single copy of the Qur’an when Abu Bakr had already achieved that, then the response is that the aim of ‘Uthman was not to gather people in order to compile the Qur’an. Do you not see that he sent to Hafsa to ask her to give him the copy of the Qur’an so that it could be copied out and then returned to her? ‘Uthman did that BECAUSE PEOPLE WERE DISAGREEING ABOUT THE VARIOUS RECITATIONS owing to the fact that the Companions had spread to different areas AND HAD BEGUN TO STRONGLY DISAGREE, such as the conflict that took place between the people of Iraq and the people of Syria according to Hudhayfa.

"They joined an expedition to Armenia and each group recited what had been transmitted to them. They disagreed and quarrelled AND SOME OF THEM CALLED THE OTHERS UNBELIEVERS, RENOUNCING THEM COMPLETELY, CURSING ONE ANOTHER. Hudhayfa WAS ALARMED at what he saw. As soon as he arrived back to Medina, according al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi, before returning to his house he went to ‘Uthman and said, ‘This Community has reached the stage where it will be destroyed!’ ‘Why?’ asked ‘Uthman. He said, ‘It is about the Book of Allah. I was on this expedition and some of the people of Iraq, Syria and the Hijaz came together.’ Then he described what had happened and said, ‘I fear that they will differ about their Book as the Jews and Christians differed.’

"This is the evidence of the falseness of those who say that the seven ahruf are the seven present readings, because there is no disagreement about them. Suwayd ibn Ghafala reported from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib that ‘Uthman said, ‘What do you think about the copies of the Qur’an? The people have disagreed about the reciters until a man says, "My reading is better than your reading. My reading is better is more excellent than your reading." This is equivalent to disbelief.’ He replied, ‘What is your view, Amr al-Mu’minin?’ He said, ‘I think that we people should agree on one reading. If you differ today, those after you will disagree more strongly.’ ‘Ali said, ‘The correct opinion is yours, Amr al-Mu’minin.’… ‘Uthman returned the pages to Hafsa and he sent a copy of what they had copied out to every region and commanded of what sheet or copy which had any form of the Qur’an should be burned. ‘Uthman did this after gathering the Muhajirin and Ansar and a group of Muslims and consulting them about it…

"Ibn Shihab said that he was told by ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud disliked Zayd ibn Thabit copying out the Qur’an and said, ‘Company of Muslims, withdraw from making copies and entrusting it to one man. By Allah, I became Muslim while he was in the loins of an unbelieving father!’ meaning Zayd ibn Thabit. That is why ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud said, ‘People of Iraq, CONCEAL THE COPIES OF THE QUR’AN YOU HAVE AND CONCEAL THEM. Allah says, "Those who misappropriate will arrive on the Day of Rising with what they have misappropriated."’ (Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley [Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003], Volume I, Introduction: ‘Uthmani Codex, pp. 52-53; capital and underline emphasis ours)

There are several interesting points to glean from the above citation. First, the variations of the Quran were so great that Muslims started attacking each other and accusing one another of disbelief. This refutes the notion that the differences were minor, or merely dialectal in nature.

Second, Hudhayfa’s statement regarding the disagreement among Muslims concerning the Quran being similar to the disagreements that Jews and Christians had in respect to their Scriptures is rather interesting since one of the main differences between them centered on the exact number of Books that God had inspired. For instance, the Jews who reject(ed) Christ did/do not accept the Christian Scriptures, and certain Christians regarded some of the OT apocryphal writings which the Jews had rejected as sacred Scripture. Hence, Hudhayfa’s comparison suggests that the various competing and conflicting Qurans which different Muslim groups were using did not contain the same number of chapters and verses, e.g. some of the Qurans had more chapters and verses than others.

No wonder Uthman decided to burn copies of the Quran which were written by Muhammad’s companions! He had to get rid of the evidence which conclusively proved that the memory of the Muslims miserably failed to fully preserve the original wording of the Quran.

Finally, notice that ‘Uthman decided to get rid of six of the seven ahruf or modes of the Quran, even though the hadith claims that Allah revealed all of them to Muhammad!

Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab:
I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat-al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle, I listened to his recitation and noticed that he was reciting in a way that Allah's Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him while he was still in prayer, but I waited patiently and when he finished his prayer, I put my sheet round his neck (and pulled him) and said, "Who has taught you this Sura which I have heard you reciting?" Hisham said, "Allah's Apostle taught it to me." I said, "You are telling a lie, for he taught it to me in a way different from the way you have recited it!" Then I started leading (dragged) him to Allah's Apostle and said (to the Prophet), "I have heard this man reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way that you have not taught me." The Prophet said: "(O 'Umar) release him! Recite, O Hisham." Hisham recited in the way I heard him reciting. Allah's Apostle said, "It was REVEALED like this." Then Allah's Apostle said, "Recite, O 'Umar!" I recited in the way he had taught me, whereupon he said, "It was REVEALED like this," and added, "The Quran has been REVEALED to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever is easy for you." (See Hadith No. 514, Vol. 6) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 640)

The obvious question to ask is, who gave ‘Uthman and the other Muslims who agreed with him the right to destroy these various modes which Allah (supposedly) revealed to his (alleged) prophet, seeing that none of them were inspired messengers whom Allah spoke with?

In light of such textual tampering, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find Ibn 'Umar making the following candid admission:

`Abdullah b. `Umar reportedly said, 'Let none of you say, “I have got the whole of the Qur'an.” How does he know what all of it is? MUCH OF THE QUR'AN HAS GONE. Let him say instead, “I have got what has survived.”' (Jalal al Din `Abdul Rahman b. Abi Bakr al Suyuti, al-Itqan fi `ulum al-Qur'an, Halabi, Cairo, 1935/1354, Volume 2, p. 25)

Now we have a contradiction!

The evidence which we presented from both the Quran and the early Islamic literature demonstrated that there were specific individuals who were corrupting the text of the Muslim scripture. However, this contradicts the following verses which say that no one is able to corrupt the words of Allah:

Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail." They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. S. 6:114-115

And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him. S. 18:27

If the words of Allah cannot be changed and yet, as the Quran itself admits, there were people that corrupted its text then this leaves us with the following options.

Allah is a deceiver since he had no intention of ever protecting his words or of making sure that no one would corrupt the Quran’s text.

Allah is impotent and incompetent since he wanted to preserve his words but couldn’t. Finite creatures were able to thwart Allah’s purpose in preserving the Quran since they managed to change the text.

The Quran is not the word of Allah which is why he never bothered to preserve it exactly as Muhammad recited it, and didn’t waste his time preventing individuals from changing it.

Now this is already bad enough, but if we add to this the Muslim claim that the Qur’an is eternal and did not merely come into being during Muhammad’s lifetime, then we have an additional problem. So far, the evidence for changes of the Quran contradicts the promise that nobody can change the words of Allah. Thus Allah was either unwilling or unable to uphold this promise. However, if the text of the Quran is eternal and existed (with Allah) before it was revealed to Muhammad, then not only was the promise that “no one can change His Words” (Q. 6:115; 18:27) contained in the eternal Quran and falsified by history, but also the passage Q. 15:90-93 speaking about “… the dividers, those who made the Quran into shreds …” was likewise already contained in it before Muhammad was born. Thus, Allah from eternity contradicted himself by claiming both – the corruption and the unchangeability of the Quran.

So much for the Quran being a perfectly preserved and consistent revelation.

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