Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Brief Guide to the Textual History of the Qu'ran

The following notes are taken from 'Jam al'Quran: The Codification of the Qu'ran Text' written by John Gilchrist, which relies on the Hadith, or Traditions, that are second only to the Qu'ran in authority. This is important in the light of most Muslims' claim that the text of the Qu'ran has been miraculously and perfectly preserved.

Mohammed (A.D. 570 - 632) had various visions during which he claimed to receive the text of the Qu'ran from the angel Gabriel (Jibril). These so-called revelations were generally memorised by his companions or written on various materials, including parchment, white stones and palm-leaf stalks.

Mohammed died without producing a definitive collation of these sayings, and no attempt was made to produce a definitive Qu'ran immediately. Shortly after his death, various tribes rebelled, which led to the Battle of Yamana.
In this battle, several of Mohammed's closest companions, who had devoted themselves to memorising his sayings died, taking with them some which are now lost. The 1st Caliph, Abu Bakr, who led the Nation of Islam after Mohammed's death, saw that the Qu'ran could be lost, so he asked Zaid ibn Thabit to search far and wide for the various fragments and compile them as one codex (i.e. a book as opposed to a scroll).

This codex was kept in private possession by Abu Bakr (the 1st Caliph from A.D. 632-634), then Umar (the 2nd Caliph from A.D. 634-644) and then Hafsah, the daughter of Umar and wife of Mohammed. Nineteen years after Mohammed's death, General Hudayfah ibn al-Yaman led a military expedition into northern Syria. Arguments broke out amongst the various nations in his army over the content of the Qu'ran. Some from Iraq used text derived from a codex prepared by a companion of Mohammed called Abdullah ibn Mas'ud; others from Syria used another text derived from a codex prepared by another companion called Ubayy ibn Ka'b.

The General expressed his concerns to the 3rd Caliph, Uthman, (reigned A.D. 644 - 656) about the consequences of this divergent text-base for the unity of Islam. Uthman turned to Zaid and his codex to provide unity. He appointed three men to assist him in editing this codex (technical term: redaction): an Arabic expert and two men who spoke the local dialect of Arabic which Mohammed spoke. Zaid also came across portions of the Qu'ran that he had previously not included in his original codex.

The competing copies of the Qu'ran, which had many variant readings, including significant omissions, were destroyed through Uthman's power, despite the protests of their owners, including Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, who is described in the Hadith as one of the foremost authorities of the Qu'ran and who Mohammed first instructed to memorise it. The other main text was that of Ubbay, who was described by the 2nd Caliph, Umar, as the best reciter of the Qu'ran. These were the versions of the Qu'ran in public use, not the version produced by Zaid from which the modern Qu'ran is descended.

Despite this, other copies existed at this time, which were also later destroyed, both of which were owned by two of Mohammed's wives, Aishah and Hafsah. These ladies got their scribes to correct the Zaidic version because it disagreed with what they themselves had heard from the Prophet.

Despite this recension by Zaid under Abu Bakr and the subsequent redaction under Uthman, further editing took place under the Governor of Iraq, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, during the Caliphate of Abd al-Malik.

As the Uthamanic recension was distributed throughout the provinces, it came in a consonantal form without vowel points (i.e. not vowels). This led to disputes over what the Qu'ran said. In A.D. 934, the Qu'ranic expert Ibn Mujahid of Baghdad used his political influence to have these variant readings reduced to seven "text-types" (for want of a better word).

Over the centuries, all but two of these readings became unused. Of these two, one has gained the ascendancy: the Hafs, edited by Asim. The other reading is mainly confined to west and north-west Africa and is called the Warsh transmission (Warsh had revised the reading of Nafi).

Can such a preservation be described as "miraculous"? Remember this is all from the Muslim sources, mainly, possibly exclusively from the Hadith.

A good list of various contradictions in the Qu'ran may be found in "The Islamic Invasion: Confronting the World's Fastest Growing Religion" by Robert Morey. There is lots of useful information in it. See also Ron Rhodes' excellent "Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims"


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