TheQur'an we have with us today is the very one – word for word -- which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (sws). It was collected both in the form of a book and learnt by heart by many companions of the Prophet (sws) during his own life time and then transferred verbally as well as in the written form to the next generations. Such is the monumental nature of this transmission that the inerrancy of the Qur'anic text is an incontestable reality.
In the following paragraphs, this claim shall be corroborated through the Qur'an itself and through the norms of established history.
The Qur'an, as well as many Ahadith, records the fact that the Qur'an was compiled in the form of a book before the Prophet (sws) left for his heavenly abode.
The verses which record this testimony of the Qur'an1 must be understood in the context and background of the whole Qur'an: The Prophet (sws), it is evident from the Qur'an, was desirous of the fact that his addresseesaccept faith. During the course of his hectic struggle to achieve this end, he encountered stiff opposition from People of the Book and from the Quraysh. However, if this hostility impelled him to increase his efforts on the one hand, it also created in him the yearning to receive the whole of the Qur'an as soon as possible because he thought that the whole and completed message might answer all the questions and doubts raised by his opponents and induce them to accept faith. Furthermore, the piecemeal revelation of the Qur'an was objected to by the Quraysh2.They tauntingly commented on this in the following words:
Why is not the Qur'an revealed to him all at once? Thus [is it revealed] that We may strengthen your heart thereby, and We have revealed it gradually and painstakingly. (25:32)
As is evident from the later part of the verse, the Prophet (sws) is solaced by the Almighty that for his proper education and instruction and for that of the people, a gradual process of revealing divine decrees has been employed. Consequently, at various places in the Qur'an, he is told to exercise resolve and patience until the whole of the Qur'an is revealed to him:
Be not in haste with the Qur'an before its revelation is completed to you and pray: O Lord advance me in knowledge. (20:113-4)
The initial verses of Surah A'la portray another instance where the Prophet (sws) is told to exercise patience about receiving the whole of the Qur'an. He is cited two distinct examples which shed light on a common law of nature: there exists the principle of gradual progression and development in all the phenomena of nature. Everything reaches its culmination after passing through various stages. Consequently, he need not worry. The revelation of the Qur'an will also be gradually completed after passing through various stages:
Glorify the name of your Lord, Most High [O Prophet], Who created [all things], then perfected [them], and Who set their destinies [for them], then [accordingly] showed them the way [to follow], and Who brought forth vegetation, then made it lush green. [In a similar manner, this divine revelation will also gradually reach its end, then] soon We shall [finally] recite it to you; then you will not forget except what Allah pleases. (87:1-18)
With this background, consider now the following verses of the Qur'an which are in fact similar to the above quoted verses ((20:113-4) and (87:1-19)) in their purport. They also direct the Prophet (sws) to exercise patience until all the Qur'an is revealed. Only here, the assurance provided to the Prophet (sws) is through a forceful declaration of the whole scheme of the Almighty about the revelation of the Qur'an. He is assured that it is the responsibility of the Almighty to collect and compile the Qur'an as well as to recite it to him in a certain sequence. It is the Almighty Himself who will preserve the text of the Qur'an as well as the mode of its recital:
[To reveal to them, as soon as possible, the whole of the Qur'an O Prophet!] do not move your tongue swiftly to acquire this [Qur'an]. Verily, upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it, follow this recital [of Ours]. Then upon Us is to explain it [wherever need be].3 (75:16-19)
Let us now reflect simultaneously on these verses and on the following verse of Surah A'la already quoted before:
Soon We shall [finally] recite it [ -- the Qur'an –] to you; then you will not forget it except what Allah pleases. (87:18)
As a result, we arrive at the following conclusions about the whole Qur'anic scheme of its own collection and compilation:
1. The Qur'an was given piecemeal to the Prophet (sws) according to the circumstances which arose and which required divine guidance.
2. Its chronological revelation is of no significance. It was arranged in a new sequence by the Almighty. Once its initial revelation was over, the Almighty through archangel Gabriel read it out to the Prophet (sws) a second time. In this second recital, temporary directives were revised or deleted permanently.
3. This final arrangement and recital was done once the Qur'an had been collected and compiled in the form of a book. It was read out to Prophet (sws) in a manner that it was rendered absolutely secure from any loss or doubt.
4. After this final recital, the Prophet (sws) was bound by the Almighty to follow this recital only. He was not allowed to read it according to the previous recital.
5. In this final recital, if any directive needed further explanation, it was furnished by the Almighty Himself at this time of compilation4.
Consequently, it is clear from the Qur'an that its collection was completed in the very life of the Prophet (sws) by the Almighty. The final recital of the Qur'an, which has been termed as the Arda-i-akhirah (the final presentation)5 by our scholars, constitutes the whole of the Qur'an as revealed to Muhammad (sws).
Many Ahadith also record the compilation of the Qur'anic text in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws). The Prophet (sws) had appointed many amanuenses for this purpose. Zayd (rta) is reported to have said:
We used to compile the Qur'an from small scraps in the presence of the Messenger. (H~akim, Mustadrak)
The following account also bears witness to the fact that the Qur'an existed as a written document in the time of the Prophet (sws):
Maliksaid that no one should carry the Mushaf by its strap, nor on a pillow, unless he is clean… (Mu'atta, Kitab Al-Nida' Li'l-Salah)
Another Hadith informs us about some of the companions who had memorised the Qur'an in its entirety and gone over it with the Prophet before his death:
Narrated Qatadah: I asked Anas Ibn Malik: 'Who collected the Qur'an at the time of Prophet?' He replied: 'Four, all of whom were from the Ansar: Ubay Ibn Ka'ab, Mu'adh Ibn Jabal, Zayd Ibn Thabit and Abu Zayd.'(Bukhari, Kitab Fada'ilu'l-Qur'an)
One copy of the Qur'an was placed in the Masjid-i-Nabawi so that people could make their own copies from it or learn from it. The pillar of the mosque near which the Mushaf was placed was called the Ustuwanah-i-Mushaf (The Pillar of the Mushaf), and is referred to in various Ahadith; (See for example:S~ahih Muslim: Kitabu'l-S~alah; S~ah~ih Bukhari: Kitabu'l-Salah).
The completed Book was referred to by the Prophet (sws) in his last sermon in the following words:
I have left you something, which if you hold steadfast to, you will never fall into error: the Book of Allah and my established practice…. (Ibn Hisham, Sirah, vol. 4, [Cairo: Maktabah Al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyyah], p. 186)
In the light of this evidence, it can be safely concluded that Qur'an was collected and compiled in the form of a book in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws). Consequently, isolate reports which, contrary to this evidence, mention that this collection actually took place after the Prophet (sws) by his companions can in no way be accepted. The narratives, which describe that it was Abu Bakr (sws) who collected the Qur'an in one Mushaf and it was 'Uthman (rta) who fearing differences in reading the Qur'an ordered to make official copies of it, contradict the Qur'an and the norms of established history, and therefore cannot be accepted.6 To any one who objectively examines the material reported in history on this subject, it becomes evident that in spite of the painstaking efforts of the Prophet's companions, some portions of the Qur'an were lost forever before it could be compiled in book form7 while some others were found by a sheer stroke of luck at the initiative of a person who had them8. Notwithstanding these details, the mere contradiction of such reports with the Qur'an is proof enough of their spurious nature. Moreover, the Isnad (chain of narrators) of the narratives which mention this collection has also been challenged quite convincingly in recent times9.
It is by disregarding the testimony of the Qur'an and by insisting on accepting such spurious reports that the collection of the Qur'an has become a subject of worthy and weighty criticism from the Orientalists10. In the opinion of this writer, Muslim scholarship must cling to the Qur'an for its own testimony on its collection for something decisive and certain as well as consistent in this regard. It is this testimony which they should present to their non-Muslim brethren since the authenticity of the words of the Qur'an is beyond doubt; all other sources like Sirat Literature , the H~adithLiterature and the Tafsir Literature are subservient to it. The nature of all these three sources obviously is such that they cannot be termed as error free by any Muslim. Whilst their promiscuous heap may contain pearls of wisdom, yet the presence of unauthentic material in them can in no way be denied. Their 'credit stands on slippery grounds', and contradictory details about the same event may simultaneously exist in their corpus. Therefore, conclusions drawn on their bases cannot be termed as absolutely true. At best, they can be regarded as possibly true.
The situation becomes very grave if one considers the fact that in reality it is the authenticity of scripture that actually draws the dividing line between Muslims and the followers of other divinely revealed faiths. For it is the Muslims who claim that all previous divine scriptures have been interpolated and corrupted and that it is they who have with them a complete authentic script from the Almighty. If the data from which they prove the authenticity of their scripture provides dubious results, then they really have a very heavy task at their hands to reckon with since the sincere seekers of truth in their non-Muslim counterparts are provided with a possible legitimate excuse to reject the Qur'an as the unadulterated word of God.
Consequently, only material from these sources which is in consonance with the view of the Qur'an should be accepted and that which contradicts this view should be rejected.
Once the Qur'an was collected in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws) and memorised by many of his companions, it was transmitted to the next generations both verbally and in script form. In fact, the verbal transmission superseded the written one. For it is this transmission that has actually safeguarded the Qur'anic text which can be read variously if the actual vocalization is not known. Hundreds and thousands of the Prophet's companions learnt it by heart and then passed it on verbally to the next generation, which in turn memorised the text in great numbers and this process is still continuing. This generation to generation transmission is so overwhelming and all-embracing that the transmitted text has been rendered safe and secure from any alteration. Consequently, such is the prodigious nature of this transmission that solitary reports which convey even a slight difference are of no value. In other words, like established historical events which are also conveyed through such generation to generation transfer and which as result cannot be challenged, the text of the Qur'an we have with us, on similar grounds, is also established beyond any doubt. For example, the facts that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington or that Genghiz Khan ravaged Baghdad are reports that have been transmitted from the generations that saw and witnessed these events to the next to the extent that no one can challenge the established nature of these reports. Similar is the case of the mechanism of the transmission of the Qur'an. The Qur'an we have with us today has been transferred by thousands of the companions of the Prophet (sws) with a consensus on the report that this was the very Qur'an revealed to Muhammad (sws). In turn, this generation transferred this Qur'an and this report to the next generation. So, just as the contentions that Napolean never met his fate at Waterloo or that Baghdad was never devastated by Genghis Khan cannot be entertained in the world of reason and rationality since they belie established history, the contention that the Qur'an we have today is not the same as what was revealed to Muhammad can in no way be accepted.11
Also, in this regard, the following points need to be appreciated:
(i) All written texts of the Qur'anare actually compiled and written on the basis of the oral transmission. In other words, written texts are not the real source of the transmission of the Qur'an. They are totally dependent on the oral tradition of transmission, which is the real mode of transmission of the Qur'anic text. Even today, each written text must be attested by the oral tradition of transmission through a H~afizwho has learnt the Qur'an.
(ii) It is the oral transmission which was used later on by the Ummah to write the vowel sounds on the Qur'anic text for the benefit of non-Arab readers.
(iii) The often undertook quest for the oldest written codex of the Qur'an has academic importance only since this has no role in determining the original text of theQur'an, which, as pointed out, is not dependent on written texts.12
In the light of this discussion, it can be safely concluded that the promise of the Almighty mentioned in the Qur'an13regarding its protection and safety has stood fulfilled ever since the Qur'an was revealed and will continue to stand the test of time until the end of this world is heralded.
This article has thus far ventured forth to explain the collection and transmission of the Qur'an. However, owing to certain prevailing concepts, three questions may spring in the mind of the readers:
1. What about the verses of the Qur'an which are thought to be operational yet are not found within the Qur'an?
2. What were the seven readings of the Qur'an on which it was supposed to have been revealed?
3. What are the extant variant readings of the Qur'an?
This article ends with an attempt to answer these questions.
The Extraneous Verses
There exists a consensus among Muslim scholars that there are some verses of the Qur'an which do not exist in it yet are operational. In technical parlance, they are called 'Mansukhu'l Tilawah Dun Al-H~ukm'(whose reading has been withdrawn but whose ruling still exists). Writes A%midi:
Scholars unanimously concede that there are verses which do not exist in the Qur'anwhose directive still remains. (A%midi, Al-Ahkam Fi Usuli'l-Ahkam, vol. 2, [Beirut: Daru'l-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1980], p. 201)
In this regard, the most striking example is the verse of stoning found in some of the major books of H~adithliterature. One of its texts is reported as follows:
'Umarsaid: 'Refrain from destroying yourself by denying the verse of stoning. Matters should not reach the stage that people should begin to say: "We do not find mention of two punishments (stripes and stoning) in the Book of Allah." No doubt the Prophet did Rajam (stoning to death) and so did we. I swear by Him in whose hands is my life that if I were not fearful of the fact that people would say that 'Umar has made an addition in the Book of Allah, I would have written the verse: "Stone to death the old man guilty of fornication and the old woman guilty of fornication" in the Qur'an. The reason is that we ourselves have recited this verse [from the Qur'an]'. (Mu'atta, Kitabu'l-Hudud)
While Muslim scholarship14 try to explain this by saying that the directive of Rajam found in such Ahadith abrogates the directive of punishing fornicators found in the Qur'an (24:2), some of the critics of the Qur'an by citing this and other similar examples of such verses found in the H~adithliterature say:
It is far more reasonable to conclude that most of the various passages said to have been omitted from the Qur'an were either overlooked, or not known to all the companions, or quite simply forgotten (such as the passage said by Abu Musa to have contained the verse about the insatiable greed of man. cf S~ahih Muslim).15
This opinion of our scholars cannot be accepted and requires serious reconsideration. No verse which is thought to exist outside the Qur'an can be considered as still operational in any way. How can a part of the Qur'anbe extraneous to it? The Qur'an we have today is itself a proof on the fact that everything outside it is not its part in any way.
Also, since the doctrine of abrogation16is used by both Muslims and non-Muslims to justify or refute such verses, it seems appropriate here to allude to some important statutes of this doctrine:
(i) Only a Qur'anic verse can abrogate another verse. Consequently, both the abrogating and the abrogated verses exist in the Qur'an. For example: 58:13 abrogates 58:12; similarly 4:11 abrogates 2:180-2. In other words, no abrogated verse of the Qur'an is found outside the Qur'an, and no H~adith can abrogate a Qur'anic directive.
(ii) The word Naskh (abrogation) is not used in the Qur'anas a term, as is generally understood. It was centuries later that 'Naskh' became a term coined by the scholars of Usul.In 2:106, where it occurs, it refers to abrogation of certain directives of previous divine scriptures by the Qur'an. The Qur'anitself does not comment on whether any verse of its verses has been abrogated or not.
(iii) The abrogation found in the Qur'an concerns only laws and directives; it does not in any way relate to beliefs, morality or historical accounts.
The Seven Readings
The following H~adithis generally presented to contend that the Qur'an was actually revealed on seven different readings:
Yahyanarrates from Malik who narrates from Ibn Shahab Zuhri who narrates from 'Urwah Ibn Zubayr who narrates from 'Abdu'l-Rah~man Ibn 'Abdu'l-Qarithat 'Umar Ibn Khat~tabsaid before me: 'I heard H~isham Ibn H~akim Ibn H~izamreading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one I read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this surah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: "I have heard H~isham Ibn H~akim Ibn H~izamreading Surah Furqan in a different way from the one you had read it out to me". The Prophet (sws) said: "Leave him alone [O 'Umar]". Then he said to H~isham:"Read [it]". ['Umar says:] He read it out in the same way as he had done before me. [At this,] the Prophet said: "It was revealed thus". Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: "It was revealed thus. This Qur'an has been revealed on seven Ah~ruf.You can read it in any way you find easy from among them"'. (Mu'at~t~a, Ma Ja' Fi'l-Qur'an)
On the following grounds, this H~adithcannot be accepted:
Firstly, the very meaning of this Hadith has baffled everyone, and no one has ever been able to present a convincing explanation of it. Suyuti has cited forty different interpretations of it in his treatise Al-Itqan fi 'Ulumi'l-Qur'an and after realizing their weakness has admitted in Tanwiru'l-Hawalik, a commentary on the Mu'atta of Imam Malik, that this Hadith should be regarded among the Mutashabihat (ie something whose meaning is not known):
To me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this Hadith is from among matters of Mutashabihat, the meaning of which cannot be understood. (Suyuti, Tanwiru'l-Hawalik, 2nd ed., [Beirut: Daru'l-Jayl, 1993], p. 199)
Secondly, even if the most plausible meaning that the word Ahruf means the various accents and pronunciations which existed in the various tribes of Arabia is taken, the text of the H~adithitself negates this meaning. It is known that both 'Umar (rta) and Hisham (rta) belonged to the same tribe: the Quraysh.
Thirdly, even if it is accepted that this difference was of accent and pronunciation between various tribes, the verb unzila (was revealed) is certainly very inappropriate. The Qur'an has specified that it was revealed in the language of the Prophet's tribe: the Quraysh (See for example: 19:97, 44:58). How can it be accepted that the Almighty Himself revealed the various accents and pronunciations?
Fourthly, it is known that Hisham had accepted Islam on the day Makkah was conquered. If this Hadith is accepted, it would mean that for almost twenty years even the closest companions of the Prophet (sws) like 'Umar (rta) was unaware of the Qur'an being revealed in some other reading. This clandestine teaching of course directly contradicts many verses of the Qur'an which direct the Prophet (sws) to convey and communicate each and every verse of the Qur'an. See for example 5:67.
The Variant Readings
It is alleged that there exist several variant readings of the Qur'an. In this regard, it is said that their amount cannot be fixed and every reading which fulfils the following criteria is acceptable:
Any reading which is grammatically correct by any means1717 , is according to the script of the Uthmanic codices in any way18 and whose chain of narration is Sahih cannot be rejected. In fact, it is from among the seven Ahruf on which the Qur'an was revealed whether the reading be narrated from the seven great readers or the ten or anyone of acknowledged status besides these. (Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi'l-Qira'at al-'ahsr, vol. 1,[Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 9)
It is further understood that:
When any of these three criteria is not fulfilled for a reading then such a reading shall be considered weak, or unknown (Shazah), or unacceptable whether it be from the seven readers or the ten or from those who are even greater than these. This is the correct opinion according to the researchers of the past and recent times19 . (Ibn al-Jazari, Al-Nashr Fi'l-Qira'at al-'ahsr, vol. 1,[Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjariyyah], p. 9)
It is said that the first person to record these readings in the form of a book was Abu 'Ubayd Qasim Ibn Salam (d:224 AH). He recorded twenty five readings; Abu Ja'far Tabari (d:310 AH) recorded over twenty readings, while it was Abu Bakr Ibn Mujahid (d: 324 AH) who selected the seven famous ones20. The number selected by Ibn Mujahid (seven) has been objected to by many scholars since this number has led people to think that these seven were the same as the seven Ahruf on which the Qur'an was supposed to have been revealed:
Abu Shamahhas said: A group of people say that the seven readings found today are the ones implied by the seven Ahruf mentioned in the Ahadith. However, this is totally against the consensus of the scholars of Islam. This view has arisen only among certain ignorant people. Abu 'Abbas Ibn 'Ammar has said: The compiler of the seven readings has done an inappropriate thing. As a result, the masses are faced with a complex situation. People with little knowledge think that the seven Ahruf mean the seven readings. Ibn Mujahid should have either selected a number greater than seven or a number less than seven to avoid this confusion. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi 'Ulumi'l-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1313 AH], p. 274)
In the opinion of this writer, none of these readings can be accepted in any way owing to the following reasons:
(i) The following verses of the Qur'an explicitly tell us that the whole of the Qur'an was recited on ONE READING in a particular way by the Almighty Himself after its revelation was completed:
Verily, Upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it follow this recital [of Ours]. (75:17-18)
It is clear from these verses that the Almighty recited the Qur'an in a single reading. The words leave no room for multiple readings of the same word/verses. Furthermore, the verse emphatically instructs the Prophet (sws) to follow ONLY this particular recital.
(ii) The whole of the Muslim Ummah today, except for a few North African countries, is united in reading the Qur'an in just one way. The variation is so insignificant that it cannot be accepted in any way. These areas of the African continent did not even fall into the mainstream of the Muslim Ummah conquered by the Companions of the Prophet (sws) during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. The only complete reading of the Qur'an which is in vogue in all the mainstream areas from the time of the Prophet (sws) is the Qir'at al-'A%mmah(the universal reading) – the very reading read out to the Prophet (sws) once the revelation of the Qur'an had been completed. It was this very reading which existed among the companions of the Prophet (sws). Abu 'Abdu'l Rahman Sullami (d:105 AH21) narrates:
The reading of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and Zayd Ibn Thabit and that of all the Muhajirun and the Ansar was one. They would read the Qur'an according to the Qir'at al-'A^mmah. This is the same reading which was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death by Gabriel. Zayd Ibn Thabit22 was also present in this reading [called] the 'Ardah-i-Akhirah23 . It was in this very reading that he taught the Qur'an to people till his death. (Zarkashi, Burhan, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru'l-Fikr, 1980] p. 237)
This reading is generally known today as the Reading of Hafs (Qir'at-i-Hafs). However, its correct name is the Qir'at al-'A%mmah. In the words of Ibn Sirin (d:110 AH24 ):
The reading on which the Qur'an was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death is the same according to which people are reading the Qur'an today. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi Ulumi'l-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1343 AH], p. 177)
This is the testimony of a famous person who died more than seventy years after the Prophet (sws).
(iii) If the variant readings which actually change the meaning of a verse are incorporated in the text and reflected upon in light of the coherence of the Divine Book and its sublime language, it becomes evident that the text of the Qur'an totally rejects them on grounds contained within the text.
An example would help in understanding this point:
According to the readings of Hamzah, Abu Amr, and Ibn Kathir we find arjulikum in place of the standard reading of arjulakum in the fifth verse of Surah Ma'idah. This changes the meaning quite drastically. The reading arjulikum would mean that in wudu feet are to be wiped (the Arabic verb for wiping is Masah) as against arjulakum, the standard reading according to which feet are to be washed. An indication within the verse rejects the reading of arjulikum. If read thus (ie in the genitive), the mention of the words ila al-ka'bayn (up to the ankles) after arjulikum means that feet are to be wiped up to the ankles. We know that Masah is basically a symbolic expression signifying the attainment of purity and has been allowed to produce ease. Whereas in case of water, it is necessary that the extent to which the feet are to be washed be known, in case of Masah a mention of this extent is an obvious redundancy. In other words, the words ila al-ka'bayn in this case are superfluous. They only become meaningful if feet are to be washed. Consequently, another verse of the Qur'an, which actually describes Tayammum (dry ablution), mentions the Masah of the face and the hands without specifying the extent to which this Masah is to be done:
… And if you find no water then take for yourselves clean sand or earth and rub therewith your hands and faces. (4:43)
Redundant words, of course, do not exist in the elegant diction of the Qur'an. Therefore, on the basis of this internal testimony provided within the verse, the reading arjulikum stands rejected as well.
This analysis should serve as a pointer at all the variant readings and brings out their fallacy.
(iv) It has already been shown that the Qur'an is Mutawatir (ie such a large number of people have transmitted the Qur'an that the existence of any error in the transmitted text is impossible). There exists a consensus of opinion among the scholars of our Ummah on this as well.25 Consequently, Suyuti asserts:
There is no difference of opinion about the fact that whatever is contained in the Qur'an is Mutawatir both in totality and in part. To the Ahlu'l-Sunnah, the placements therein and its arrangement are all Mutawatir so that it [the Qur'an] becomes indisputable. This is because it is an acknowledged fact that the Qur'an is a document whose details desire Tawatur …. Consequently, whatever part of the Qur'an has been transmitted through the Ahad (isolate reports) and is not Mutawatir is unquestionably not the Qur'an by any means. (Suyuti, Itqan Fi 'Ulumi'l-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydar: Manshurat al-Radi, 1343 AH], p. 266)
Now, if the chains of narrators of these variant readings are examined, none of them can be claimed as Mutawatir. They may be Mutawatir from their famous originators but they are certainly not Mutawatir all the way from these originators up to the Prophet (sws). At best, they can be classified as Ahad (isolate reports). An example would suffice to illustrate this. Following are the three ways26 in which one of the Qurra', 'A%sim Ibn Abi NajwadAl-Bahdlah (d: 127 AH27 ) has narrated his reading from the Prophet (sws):
'Abdu'llah Ibn Mas'ud
Zirr Ibn H~ubaysh Abu 'Abdu'l-Rahman Sullami Abu 'Amr Shaybani
'A%sim Ibn Abi Najwad
H~afs Ibn Sulayman Abu Bakr 'Ayyash
Muh~ammad (sws )
Zayd Ibn Thabit Ubayyi Ibn Ka'ab
Abu 'Abdu'l-Rah~man Sullami
'A%sim Ibn Abi Najwad
H~afs Ibn Sulayman Abu Bakr 'Ayyash
Zirr Ibn H~ubaysh Abu 'Abdu'l-Rahman Sullami
'A%sim Ibn Abi Najwad
H~afs Ibn Sulayman Abu Bakr 'Ayyash
Muslim scholars recognize this very fact, but quite inexplicably most of them still insist on accepting these variant readings:
The opinion of the majority is that these readings are Mutawatir. However, one opinion is that they are Mashhur28 …. The truth in this regard is that they are Mutawatir from these seven [Qurr'a]. As far as their Tawatur from the Prophet (sws) is concerned, this is debatable. For the chain of narrators of these seven are found in the books of Qira'at. These chains are transmission from a single person to another and do not fulfil the condition of Tawatur neither from the first narrator to the last nor in between. (Zarkashi, Burhan, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru'l-Fikr, 1980] p. 319)
(v) Not only are these readings isolate reports (Ahad), but also many of the narrators of these readings are not regarded as trustworthy by the scholars of 'Ilmu'l-Rijal as far as accepting Ahadith from them is concerned. As an example, this is what is written about Hafs Ibn Sulayman, perhaps the most famous and most widely acclaimed of all the disciples of the major Qurra':
'Abdu'l-Rahman Ibn Abi Hatim, 'Umar Ibn Shu'ayb Sabuni, Ahmad Ibn Hambal,Bukhari, Muslim and Nasa'i call him Matruku'l-Hadith (From whom Ahadith are not accepted) .… In the opinion of Yahya Ibn Mu'in as quoted by Abu QudamahSarakhsiand 'UthmanIbn Sa'idhe is not trustworthy …. 'Ali Ibn Madini says: he is weak in matters of Hadith and I have forsaken him voluntarily. …. Abu Zur'ah also says that he is weak in matters of Hadith ….. S~alihMuhammad Al-Baghdadi says the Ahadith narrated by him are not worth writing and all of them mention unfamiliar things in religion. Zakariyyah Ibn Yahya Al-Saji narrates from Sammak and 'Alqamah Ibn Marthad and Qays Ibn Muslim that his Ahadith are not reliable …. 'Abdu'l-Rahman Ibn Abi Hatim says that he asked his father about Hafs. His father said that his Ahadith are not even worth writing. He is weak in matters of Hadith, cannot be attested to and his Ahadith are not acceptable. Abdu'l-Rahman Ibn Yusuf says that he is a great liar, worthy of being forsaken and forges Ahadith. Hakim Abu Ahmad says: He wastes Ahadith. Yahya Ibn Sa'id says that he took a book from him but never returned it. He would take books from people and copy them. Abu Ahmad Ibn 'Addi narrates from Al-Saji and Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Al-Baghdadi and Yahya Ibn Mu'in that Hafs Ibn Sulayman and Abu Bakr Ibn 'Ayyash are the most competent of all who know the reading of 'A%sim. Hafs is even more competent than Abu Bakr. However, Hafs is a great liar while Abu Bakr is reliable.29
It seems quite strange that a person so widely regarded as unreliable (even called a liar) in accepting Hadith from be regarded as a very dependable person as far the Qur'an is concerned.
It is clear from this analysis that these extant readings which are found in books of Tafsir and read and taught in religious schools can in no way be accepted. Whether they originated from insistence by some to cling to the first recital of the Qur'an30 , or were mere explanations of the actual verses written down by the companions in their own codices or, like the extraneous verses, were concocted to disparage the Qur'an is a mystery which perhaps may never be solved. However, this much is certain that they have nothing to do with the text of the Qur'an.