A Contribution of Uthman to the Qur'an

Many Muslims claim that the Qur'an today is the precise reproduction of the Qur'an which God gave to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. Nothing added. Nothing subtracted. No differences at all! Some Muslims would add that Muhammad checked the Qur'an yearly. Before he died, he and Jibril finalized it by reviewing it twice. This and similar claims are intended to assure Muslims and others - that since the Qur'an is God's Word, therefore God has perfectly preserved it, and/or since God has perfectly preserved the Qur'an, therefore the Qur'an is God's Word.

If this claim is correct, how are we to account for the following hadith (tradition) found in the respected collection of Muslim traditions called Mishkat al-Masabih:

Ibn Abbas said he asked Uthman1 what had induced them to deal with al-Anfal2 which is one of the mathani3 and with Bara`a4 which is one with a hundred verses, joining them without writing the line containing "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,"5 and putting it among the seven long ones. When he asked again what had induced them to do that, Uthman replied, "Over a period suras6 with numerous verses would come down to God's messenger, and when something came down to him he would call one of those who wrote and tell him to put these verses in the sura in which such and such is mentioned, and when a verse came down he would tell them to put it in the sura in which such and such is mentioned. Now al-Anfal was one of the first to come down in Medina and Bara`a was among the last of the Qur'an to come down, and the subject-matter of the one resembled that of the other, so because God's messenger was taken without having explained to us whether it belonged to it, for that reason I joined them without writing the line containing `In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,' and put it among the long suras." Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud transmitted it. (tr. by James Robson, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, Vol. I, p. 470)

From the above tradition it is obvious that al-Anfal and Bara`a are separate suras, the former an early Medinan sura and the latter a late Medinan sura. Likewise both suras obviously have similar subject matter. Should, therefore, these two suras be joined together because of their similar subject matter? Yes, concluded Uthman, they should be joined together. So Uthman decided to join them. So, it seems, Uthman also decided to omit "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" between the two suras. So, it seems, Uthman also decided to "put it among the long suras," that is, among the first suras of the Qur'an. Today, of course, it (the two suras) stand as Sura 8 and Sura 9 in the Qur'an without the normal "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful", which introduces all other Qur'anic suras.

Whatever else may be said, the above Hadith itself clearly reveals that Muhammad did not clarify whether the two suras belong together. Putting the two suras together, according to the tradition, was Uthman's decision, not Muhammad's. It was a decision made many years after Muhammad had died. It was a decision which probably affected the content of the Qur'an. (Did "In the name of God..." originally introduce Sura 9?) For sure, Uthman's decision affected the form of the Qur'an! We cannot be certain how it was structured and read before him.


1 Uthman, the third successor to Muhammad.

2 al-Anfal is Sura (chapter) 8 in the Qur'an.

3 mathani: suras with less than 100 verses.

4 Bara`a, also called Tawba, is Sura 9.

5 Every sura in the Qur'an is introduced by "In the name of God..." except Sura 9.

6 sura ("revelation"; for convenience here "chapter'): there are 114 suras in the Qur'an. Their sequence is, roughly, according to length (generally the longer suras are followed by the shorter suras), not according to chronology. The chronological sequence of the suras depends greatly upon the Hadith and other early Muslim source materials.

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