Critical Analysis: Imperfect Text

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Islam: A Critical Analysis
By: S.T.
Ch.1: Burden Of Proof
Ch.2: Judaism and Islam
Ch.3: Imperfect Text
Ch.4: Qur'anic Grammar
Ch.5: What Others Say
Ch.6: Hypocrisy in Islam
Ch.7: Hell
Ch.8: Violence in Islam
Ch.9: Logical Fallacies
Ch.10: Women in Islam
Ch.11: Muhammad’s Wives
Ch.12: Inheritance Laws
Ch.13: Qur'anic Ethics
Ch.14: Existence of Allah
Ch.15: What is Prophecy?
Ch.16: Unclear Qur'an
Ch.17: The Need for Hadith?
Ch.18: Miscellaneous
Ch.19: Numerical Patterns in the Qur'an
Ch.20: Summary
Ch.20: Quotations
Ch.22: Further Reading

15:9 and 85:22 are often used to demonstrate that the Qur'an is perfectly preserved.

Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.
Nay! it is a glorious Quran.
In a guarded tablet.
  • It begs the question of what does "Qur'an" or "Reminder" mean. Perhaps, the traditional interpretation that the Quran and Reminder are identical to the current Qur'an is wrong. Much of the Qur'an is mistranslated or misinterpreted so how do we know that the above verses weren’t misinterpreted?
  • How do we know that the Qur'an was correct? Not everything written in a book is true. So the Qur'anic proof that the text was fully preserved is weak.
Muslim scholars themselves, from the early days of Islam, have acknowledged the existence of variants. This tradition has led to the compilation of all variants in a mammoth work of eight volumes, Mucjam al-qira’at al-qur’aniyyah, edited in Kuwait recently. This dictionary lists over ten thousand variants, of which about a thousand are variants of or deviations in the rasm (the basic (unpointed) form, shape, or drawing of the individual word). Gerd-R. Puin, the German scholar most closely involved with the classification of the approximately sixteen thousand sheets or parchments of Koranic fragments discovered in Sanca, Yemen, has uncovered even more variants in the rasm that are not found in the above-mentioned eight-volume dictionary. By comparing the rasm of the Cairo Mushaf with a fragmentary Hijazi Mushaf consisting of eighty-three sheets, which can be tentatively dated to the early eighth century C.E. on stylistic grounds, Puin discovered that the deviations in the Hijazi Mushaf by far outnumber the deviations that have been recorded by the Muslim authorities on the qiraat and which have been collected in the above mentioned encyclopedia. This observation is not specific to the Koranic manuscripts of Yemeni provenance, but it is true for more or less all of the extant manuscripts preserved in Hijazi style.

The Hijazi Korans show differences in the system of counting of verses from the two dozen or so schools of counting; even the sequence of suras is often at variance not only with the Standard Egyptian edition but with the sequence of suras as recorded for the Korans of Ibn Masud and Ubayy b. Kab.
What the Koran really says: Language text and commentary
Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, 2002, p65
As-Suyuti also tells this story about Uba ibn Ka’b, one of the great companions of Muhammad:

This famous companion asked one of the Muslims, "How many verses in the chapter of the Parties?" He said, "Seventy-three verses." He (Uba) told him, "It used to be almost equal to the chapter of the Cow (about 286 verses) and included the verse of the stoning". The man asked, "What is the verse of the stoning?" He (Uba) said, "If an old man or woman committed adultery, stone them to death." …

The problems posed by the scripta defectiva inevitably led to the growth of different centers with their own variant traditions of how the texts should be pointed or vowelized. Despite ‘Uthman’s order to destroy all texts other than his own, it is evident that the older codices survived. As Charles Adams says, "It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even the ‘Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been."
The Origins of the Koran
Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, 1998

Note: one can scan the word “five” or “ten” in the Qur'an and notice that the breastfeeding verse is no longer in the Qur'an.

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with, her) reported that it had been revealed in the Holy Qur'an that ten clear sucklings make the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated (and substituted) by five sucklings and Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) died and it was before that time (found) in the Holy Qur'an (and recited by the Muslims)."
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr ibn Hazm from Amra bint Abd ar-Rahman that A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Amongst what was sent down of the Qur'an was 'ten known sucklings make haram' - then it was abrogated by 'five known sucklings'. When the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, died, it was what is now recited of the Qur'an." Yahya said that Malik said, "One does not act on this."

Rashad Khalifa has written a Qur'an both online and in a book in which he removed verses 9:128-9:129 (see below for his rationalization).

It represents an advance divine proclamation that the idol worshipers were destined to tamper with the Quran by adding 2 false verses (9:128-129). It demonstrates one of the functions of God's mathematical code in the Quran, namely, to guard the Quran against any alteration. It provides additional miraculous features of the Quran's code.

Due to their extraordinary importance, the details are given in Appendices 24 and 29.

One immediate observation is that the number of occurrences of the word "God" at the end of Sura 9 is 1273 (19x67). If the two false verses 128 & 129 are included, this phenomenon--and many more--will vanish.

As we do not have the copies burnt by the Caliphs,[1] one is free to speculate on the reasons for the burnings. Perhaps, discrepancies, contradictions, or other anomalies in the text undermined the ruling class’s authority, so they had to remove those “problems”. Perhaps the then-current text did not support their agenda, so they had to modify the text. Perhaps, the variations between the texts were so enormous, that it was an embarrassment to elaborate on them. So a self-proclaimed group of experts burned the evidence. How can the Caliphs even know whether they burnt all the false copies?

But even assuming that they were sincere, the perfect-text argument is not credible. Allah spoke to Gabriel who spoke to Muhammad. Presumably, no tape recording of these speeches ever took place. There might not have even been words spoken, perhaps Muhammad had silent visions, which were then written down. As the tape recordings and the original Quran do not exist, how can one claim that they are 100% certain that the current version of the Holy Quran is the same as the original words that Allah spoke to Gabriel?

There was only one witness (Muhammad). The apparent character of Muhammad also raises questions. Some people thought he was crazy. He seems to often act in unsavory ways, killing people, marrying many women, engaging in selfish behavior, and so on, and he seems paranoid. In many ways, he is just not a credible source.

Another observation: A student or scholar might be the only one who took notes at a particular lecture, with these notes perfectly preserved. Their survival does not mean that the student perfectly reflected what the lecturer said or that what the lecturer said was even correct.

A discussion of Qur'anic grammar (see chapter 4) also makes clear that the text is corrupt.

...The Quran gives somewhat the same impression of scattered pearls, though these have been reassembled in quite a different, and puzzling, manner. The Quran as we now possess it is arranged in 114 units called suras connected in no obvious fashion, each bearing a name and other introductory formulae, of greatly varying length and more appositely to our present purpose, with little internal unity. There is no narrative framework, of course, and within the unconnected suras there are dislocations, interpolations, abrupt changes of rhyme and parallel versions, a condition that has led both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike to conclude that "it is not unlikely that some of the present suras or parts of them were once joined to others...." By whom? We do not know, nor can we explain the purpose. Nor do we know the aim or the person(s) who arranged the suras in their present order, roughly, the first sura apart, from the longest to the shortest. They are not, in any event, in the order of their revelation, as everyone agrees. But there the agreement ends. Early Muslim scholars settled on a gross division of into "Meccan" and "Medinan" suras, which were labeled accordingly in copies of the Quran, and they even determined the relative sequence of the suras. But this system rested on a number of premises that were and remain unacceptable to modern Western scholars...
Muhammad and the origins of Islam
F. E. Peters, State University of New York Press, Appendix, 1994

Islam supposedly began with Muhammad. Before Muhammad received his revelations, he was not a Muslim. Islam tends to mistrust non-Muslims and considers them non-credible. How can we trust such a messenger?

Verses 2:106 and 10:15 suggest that the Qur'an has been edited:

Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?
And when Our clear communications are recited to them, those who hope not for Our meeting say: Bring a Quran other than this or change it. Say: It does not beseem me that I should change it of myself; I follow naught but what is revealed to me; surely I fear, if I disobey my Lord, the punishment of a mighty day.

According to the Qur'an (10:15), Muhammad changed the Qur'an. Muhammad's excuse was that he was just following orders. But such changes indicate that the Qur'an was incapable of withstanding the test of time.

The Quran is said to have existed eternally in heaven engraved on a stone tablet. The language is Arabic and, even today, it is believed that Arabic is of a stature unattainable by any other language. It is inherently perfect. Speakers of Arabic have a special prestige in the eyes of the Muslim world.

Then why did Muhammad's revelations sometimes differ with the stone tablet?

Qur'anic Authorship

Most Western scholars have accepted the Quran as historically authentic, in the sense of preserving what was promulgated by Muhammad during his lifetime. Some modern scholars, however, chiefly in the Soviet Union, have argued that the text was not merely edited but actually composed under the Caliphs.
Islam: From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople, Volume II – Religion and Society
Bernard Lewis, editor and translator, Walker and Company, USA, 1974 (hardcover), pg. xviii
Mr. Wansbrough insisted that the text of the Koran appeared to be a composite of different voices or texts compiled over dozens if not hundreds of years. After all, scholars agree that there is no evidence of the Koran until 691 - 59 years after Muhammad's death - when the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem was built, carrying several Koranic inscriptions. These inscriptions differ to some degree from the version of the Koran that has been handed down through the centuries, suggesting, scholars say, that the Koran may have still been evolving in the last decade of the seventh century. Moreover, much of what we know as Islam - the lives and sayings of the Prophet - is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad's death.
Radical New Views of Islam and the Origins of the Koran
Alexander Stille, New York Times, March 2, 2002

Since most Qur'anic verses cannot rationally be proven, one must depend on the authority of its author. I don’t see how one can prove that Muhammad wrote each and every verse of the current Qur'an. Books generally are edited by others and authors borrow ideas from other people or sources, and it is hard to prove that the Qur'an was not different in that respect.

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Apostle of Allah and the Last of the prophets; and Allah is cognizant of all things.

If in fact, the Caliph’s wrote or edited some of the Qur'an, it is very hard to theologically defend, as they were not prophets.


  1. Sahih Bukhari 6:61:510: "…. '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. ….."

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