Critical Analysis of the Reports that Mention the Collection of Abu Bakr (rta) and the Recension of 'Uthman (rta)
Following is a narrative of S~ahih Bukhariwhich mentions the collection of the Qur'an by Abu Bakr (rta):
Musa Ibn Isma'ilnarrates fromIbrahim Ibn Sa'ad who narrates from Ibn Shihab Zuhri who narrates from 'Ubayd Ibn Sabbaq who narrates from Zayd Ibn Thabit Al-Ansari, one of the scribes of the revelation: 'Abu Bakr sent for me after the casualties among the warriors [of the battle] of Yamamah. 'Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said: "''Umar has come to me and said, the people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of [the battle of] Yamamah, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurra' at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur'an." Abu Bakr added: "I said to 'Umar: "How can I do something which Allah's Apostle has not done?" 'Umar said: [to me]: "By Allah, it is [really] a good thing". So 'Umar kept on pressing trying to persuade me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as 'Umar's." Abu Bakr said [to me]: "You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you [of telling lies or of forgetfulness]; and you used to write the Divine Revelation for Allah's Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur'an and collect it." By Allah, if he [Abu Bakr] had ordered me to shift one of the mountains [from its place], it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur'an. I said to both of them: "How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?" Abu Bakr said: "By Allah, it is [really] a good thing." So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that for which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started locating the Qur'anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula bones, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men. I found with Khuzaymah two verses of Surah Tawbah which I had not found with anybody else [and they were]: 'Verily there has come to you an Apostle [Muhammad] from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He [Muhammad] is ardently anxious over you [to be rightly guided]' (9:128). (Bukhari: Bab Jam 'u'l-Qur'an)
This report cannot be accepted on the following grounds:
1. It is against the Qur'an and some other Ahadith which state that the Qur'an was compiled in the time of the Prophet (sws). This narrative clearly says that it was the companions of the Prophet (sws) who collected it after he died. This is evident from the fact that, according to this narrative, the collection took place only after the battle of Yamamah. Also,Abu Bakr's remark to 'Umar (rta): 'How can I do something which Allah's Apostle has not done?' and the declaration of Zayd (rta) to both Abu Bakr (rta) and 'Umar (rta): 'How dare you do a thing which the Prophet (sws) has not done?' point to this conclusion.
2. An astonishing thing which strikes any person who reads this report is that the companions of the Prophet (sws) were apparently not fully alive to the importance of the collection of the Qur'an. If the Qur'an had not been collected in one place in the time of the Prophet (sws) as alleged, it seems very befitting that the very first task they should have set before themselves after the Prophet's death was to collect and collate their divine book. Instead, they, as this narrative says, only embarked upon this job after the battle of Yamamah, which was fought almost a year after the Prophet's death. Moreover, it is evident from the narrativethat had 'Umar (rta) not insisted on this collection, it might never have taken place. Abu Bakr (rta) and Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta) both were reluctant and 'Umar (rta) had to really assert himself many times before the point could be driven home. All this of course is against common sense and very difficult to believe. Moreover, it questions the integrity of the companions, which is beyond doubt.
3. The reportmentions that the real reason which induced the companions to collect the Qur'an was the death of many reciters of the Qur'an in the battle of Yamamah. It is historically known that out of those killed, there were just 40 companions of the Prophet (sws), which of course should be no cause of any alarm. The historian Ibn Athir31(d: 690 AH) has recorded these names. Among these also, the only famous compiler of the Qur'an to be killed was Salim (rta).
4. According to this report, such a monumental task was entrusted just to one companion: Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta). Many other companions senior to him in age and companionship like the wives of the Prophet (sws), 'Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud (rta), Ubayyi Ibn Ka'ab (rta), Mu'adh Ibn Jabal (rta), most of whom had witnessed the whole of the revelation period, were quite strangely not even consulted. Zayd (rta) was just eleven years old at the time of migration, and it is well known that he did not even belong to the Quraysh in whose tongue the Qur'an was revealed and written.
5. The last part of the narrativeis quite incomprehensible: the closing verses of Surah Tawbah were only found with Khuzaymah Ansari (rta). Notwithstanding the fact that in various other texts of the narrative, the name Abu Khuzaymah (rta) is found, and while some texts mention that only one verse was found with him while others say that two verses were found, this last part is against the Qur'an and established history even if its following interpretation offered by Ibn H~ajar(d:1372 AD), the famous scholar of H~adith, is accepted:
The correct interpretation of Zayd's remark that he had failed to find the verse with anyone else is that he had failed to find it in writing, not that he had failed to find those who bore it in their memories. (Fathu'l-Bari, 1st ed., vol. 9, [Lahore: Daru'l-Nashr Al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, 1981], p. 12)
The written Qur'an existed in its complete form in the time of the Prophet (sws), as has been shown in the main text of this article. It could not have been without these verses.
6. If this collection by Abu Bakr (rta) was a personal endeavour, then of course it loses its real importance, and if it was done at the official level, then we are confronted with another nagging question: Why did not the first caliph make arrangements to implement this as the official script? Apparently, he did not even order to make copies of it. Not even 'Umar (rta), the second caliph, undertook this task.
7. Another question which arises pertains to the custody of the collected text. If it is accepted that the collection of Abu Bakr (rta) was done at the state level then the question arises: Why was the collected Qur'an not transferred to 'Uthman (rta) after the death of 'Umar (rta) ? Instead, we find that it was given into the custody of H~afsah(rta), one of the Prophet's wives. Furthermore, 'Uthman (rta) not even demanded it from H~afsah(rta) until after the against the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
8. Narratives which describe the Uthmanic recension (see below) tell us that this collection done by Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta) was faulty and incomplete since certain verses of Surah Ahzab were not found in it, as was known later. In other words, even if it is accepted that Zayd (rta) was given some assignment of collection, what comes to light is that the written text of Zayd (rta), was quite unbelievably, not even checked for mistakes!
9. If the chain of narrators of this reportis considered, it comes to light that it is a weak report. In the science of H~adith, such a narrativeis called Gharib32 . There is only one narrator in each of its first three links. Only Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta) narrates it. FromZayd (rta), only 'Ubayd Ibn Sabbaq narrates it, and from 'Ubayd Ibn Sabbaq, only Ibn Shihab Zuhri narrates it.33 In other words, for almost three generations this report was only known to very few people. This is quite strange keeping in view the gravity of its contents.
10. No text of this report is without the controversial personality of Ibn Shihab Zuhri (See Appendix D) in its chain of narrators. This of course makes the very origin of this report as suspect and questionable.
11. Two of the earliest books on Muslim history 'The T~abaqat' of Ibn Sa'ad (d: 230 AH)34 , and Tarikhu'l-Umam wa Al-Maluk of Ibn Jarir T~abari(d: 310 AH)35 contain no reference to the events reported in this report. Ibn Sa'ad36gives an elaborate treatment to the life and times of Abu Bakr (rta). T~abarimentions the revolt of Musayalamah with considerable detail37 . However, nowhere do these two historians mention any collection of theQur'an under Abu Bakr (rta). The absence of any reference to the events reported in this narrative in these two earliest books of Islamic history is indeed very strange. The collection of the Qur'an by Abu Bakr (rta) was by no means an insignificant event and deserved mention if it ever took place.
12. The earliest book on H~adith,theMu'atta of Imam Malik (d: 179 AH)38 also is devoid of any such report. Even the S~ahihof ImamMuslim (d: 261 AH)39 , the celebrated scholar of H~adithand a student of Imam Bukhari himself does not mention this report.
Following is another report recorded in S~ahih Bukhariabout the recension of 'Uthman (rta):
Musa narrates from IbrahimIbn Sa'ad who narrates from Ibn ShihabZuhri who narrates from Anas Ibn Malik: H~udhayfah Ibn Al-Yamancame to 'Uthman at the time when the people of Syria and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbaijan. H~udhayfah was afraid of their [the people of Syria and Iraq] differences in the recitation of the Qur'an; so he said to 'Uthman: 'O chief of the believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book [the Qur'an], as Jews and the Christians did before'. So 'Uthman sent a message to H~afsahsaying: "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you". H~afsah sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zayd Ibn Thabit, 'Abdullah Ibn Zubayr, Sa'id Ibn Al-'A%s and 'Abdu'l Rahman Ibn H~arith to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies.'Uthman said to the three Quraysh men: 'In case you disagree with Zayd Ibn Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, write it in the dialect of the Quraysh as the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue'. They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to H~afsah. '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. Zayd Ibn Thabit added: "A verse from Surah Ahzab was missed by me when we made copies of Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaymah Ibn Thabit Ansari. [That verse was]: Among the believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah (33:23).'"
The following observations and questions merit serious consideration, and unless sound answers are given to them, this report also cannot be accepted:
1. After the death of the Prophet (sws), sense and reason demand that the written and oral transmission of the Qur'an would have received a great push at the hands of his successors. With more and more people entering in the folds of Islam, there would have been a great demand to read and learn the Qur'an. The caliphs must have been alive to this demand and would have arranged to make thousands of written copies to be distributed all over their empire. Such would be the scale of this availability of the Qur'anic text together with its true vocalization through its thousands of readers that any one who would read the consonantal text of the Qur'an in a different manner would have stood corrected immediately. In fact, there was hardly any chance that such cases would even have arisen in view of the large scale dissemination of the Qur'an. Ibn H~azamwrites:
When the Prophet (sws) died, all of the Arabian peninsula had embraced Islam from the Red Sea in the west passing through the shores of Yemen to the Persian Gulf in the east and from the Persian Gulf passing through Euphrates along the borders of Syria back to the Red Sea. There are so many cities and places in the Arabia that only the Almighty knows their true number. For example, there is Yemen, Bahrain, Amman, Najd, the two peaks of the T~aytribe, the lands of Mudar,Rabi'ah, Quda'ah, T~a'if, Makkah. In short, all these areas had embraced Islam and there was no city, town or settlement without a mosque. In all these mosques, the Qur'an was read in the five prayers and the Qur'an was taught to men, women and children. It was also written. At the death of the Prophet (sws), there was no difference of any sort between the Muslims. All the Muslims were united and were on the same set of beliefs. Then Abu Bakr became the caliph and remained in office for two and a half years. He waged wars against Rome and Persia. He conquered Yamamah and thereby the number of people who knew the Qur'an increased. Many people like Ubayyi, 'Uthman, 'Umar, 'Ali,Zayd, Abu Zayd and Ibn Mas'ud besides a host of others had already compiled the Qur'an. Not a single city was without written copies of the Qur'an …. Then Abu Bakr died and 'Umar became the caliph. He conquered Persia, Syria, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. In all these Muslim territories, mosques were built and copies of the Qur'an written. The Qur'an continued to be read and taught to the younger generation in the schools of religious instruction. This state of affairs continued for ten years and some months. There were no differences between the Muslims and they were united on one faith. There were not less than one hundred thousand copies of the Qur'an in areas like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and in other areas between them. Then 'Uthman became the caliph and many new territories were conquered and everything received a further impetus. Such was the quantity of the copies of the Qur'an, that no one could have counted them. This state of unity continued till the death of 'Uthman which is 12 years from the time Abu Bakr became the Caliph. (Ibn H~azam, Al-Fasal fi'l-Milal wa al-Ahwa wa al-Nahal, 1st ed., vol. 1, [Maktabah al-Salam], pp. 66-7)
In the light of this, it is difficult to imagine that any difference such as the one referred to in this report would have arisen and become a cause of such great alarm.
2. Even if it is accepted that some differences had arisen in reading the Qur'an at one place, the only step needed was to send written copies of the Qur'an to that place. With the Qur'an already found in great numbers all over the empire, what was the need to send its copies to other places like Basrah, Makkah Bahrain and Yemen? Can it be believed that officially written copies were only sent in the various territories of the empire after people in one small part had begun to differ? Can it be accepted that 'Uthman (rta) and his predecessors never thought of this all important task prior to this?
3. It is known that the Qur'an was revealed and written in the dialect of the Quraysh. In this report, quite strangely, 'Uthman (rta) is seen instructing Zayd (rta) (who himself did not belong to theQuraysh) and the others to make copies in the dialect of the Quraysh in case of any difference. If the version from which the Qur'an was to be copied was already written in the dialect of the Quraysh, no difference could have arisen. Even if any difference would have arisen, how could the view of Zayd (rta) be forsaken since it was his script which the first two Caliphs had already accepted. Moreover, what was the need of forming a committee to correct Zayd (rta), since the original was already written by him and he was just required to make its copies?
4. Once again we are confronted with some missing verses in this narrative. This time it is some verses of Surah Ahzab40 . At this second instance of writing, Zayd (rta) is reported to have remembered them. One can only wonder what more could be attributed to him had he been given a third chance of writing down the Qur'an.
5. If the chain of narrators of this narrativeis considered, it comes to light that this report is also Gharib. There is only one narrator in each of its first two steps. Only Anas Ibn Malik (rta) narrates this report. FromAnas (rta), only Ibn Shihab Zuhri narrates it. This means that for almost half a century, this report was confined to very few people.
6. Here again, no text of this reportis without the controversial personality of Ibn Shihab Zuhri (See Appendix D), in its chain of narrators. Like the previous one, the very origin of this report becomes dubious owing to his presence.
7. What further compounds the unreliability of this narrativeis the fact that the narration of Ibrahim Ibn Sa'ad from Ibn Shihab Zuhri is doubtful since at the time of Zuhri's death he was only sixteen years old and residing in Madinah – a city far off from Aylah near the borders of Egypt whereZuhri lived41 . Consequently, Ibn H~ajrrecords:
S~alih Jazarahsays: His Ahadith narrated from Zuhri are not [as secure as] those from Ibn Ish~aqsince he was very young when he heard Ahadith from Zuhri. (Ibn H~ajar, Tahdhibu'l-Tahdhib, 1st ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru'l-Ma'rifah, 1996], p. 142)
8. Like the previous one, the events reported in this reportfind no mention in the two earliest works on Muslim history 'The T~abaqat' of Ibn Sa'ad (d: 230 AH), and Tarikhu'l-Umam wa Al-Maluk of Ibn Jarir T~abari(d: 310 AH). Consequently, while Ibn Sa'ad records in detail the life and achievements of Zayd Ibn Thabit (rta), nowhere in it does he mention that Zayd (rta) was instrumental in making the copies of the Qur'an at the behest of Abu Bakr (rta)4242 . Similarly, T~abari43mentions the battle at the fronts of Armenia and Azerbaijan with some detail but does not recount that any difference in reading the Qur'an had arisen; he also does not give any reference to the 'Uthmanic redaction. The absence of any reference to the events reported in this narrativein these two earliest books of Islamic history is indeed very strange. These were by no means insignificant events and deserved mention if they ever occurred.
9. Again, theMu'atta of ImamMalik (d: 179 AH) and the S~ahihof ImamMuslim (d: 261 AH), also are devoid of any such report.
The Controversial Personality of Ibn Shihab Zuhri44
His full name is Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Muslim Ibn 'Abdullah Ibn Shihab Zuhri (d:124 AH). While he has been generally regarded as a reliable personality by the scholars of 'Ilmu'l-Rijal, evidence is found to the contrary as well. In fact, this evidence coupled with the fact that he is inevitably found in the chain of narrators of many Ahadith which disparage the status of the Qur'an, that of the first two caliphs as well as that of A%'ishah(rta), the beloved wife of the Prophet (sws)45 cast dense clouds of doubt on his personality.
This contrary evidence shows that Zuhri is guilty of the following:
1.Idraj: In the text of a H~adith, this means the insertion of something in it that does not belong to it without giving any indication of this insertion. (Mahmud T~ahhan, Taysir Mustalih al-H~adith, [Karachi: Qadimi Kutub Khanah], p. 102)
Idrajis prohibited by all the authorities:
Idrajdeliberately done by a narrator is totally prohibited in all its types. Thereis a consensus among the scholars of Fiqh, H~adithand Usul, besides others on this because it is camouflage and deceit and an attribution of something to someone who never said it. Ibn Sam'ani and others besides him say: 'He who deliberately does Idraj becomes unreliable, and a person who changes a passage in any way is a liar'. (Ahmad Muhammad Shakir, Al-Ba'is al-H~athith Sharah Ikhtisaru'l- 'Ulum al-H~adith(Ibn Kathir) 3rd ed., [Cairo:Daru'l-Turath, 1979], p. 64)
It is known that Zuhri was a Mudrij (person who does Idraj):
Zuhriused to explain various Ah~aditha lot and many a time he would not mention the particle [of speech] from which would be known whether the words were from the Prophet (sws) or from Zuhri. So some of his contemporaries would always ask him to separate his words from those of the Prophet (sws). (Sakhawi, Fathu'l-Mughis, vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru'l Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1996], p. 267-8)
Rabi'ahwould say to Ibn Shihab: My situation is totally different from you. Whatever I say, I say it from my own self and you say it on the authority of the Prophet (sws) and so you must be careful, and it is not befitting for a person to waste himself [like this]. (Bukhari, Tacrikhu'l-Kabir, vol. 3, [Beirut:Daru'l-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah], pp. 286-7)
Rabi'ahwould say to Ibn Shihab: When you narrate something according to your own opinion, always inform the people that this is your own view. And when you narrate something from the Prophet (sws), always inform them that it is from the Prophet (sws) so that they do not consider it to be your opinion. (Khatib Baghdadi, Al-Faqih wa Al-Mutafaqqih, vol. 1, [Lahore: Daru'l-Ah~ya al-Sunnah], p. 148)
Ibn Rajabrecords the following opinion of Imam Bukhari:
Zuhriwould narrate Ahadith and on most occasions would insert sentences from his own self. Some of these would be Mursal and some of them would be his own. (Ibn Rajab, Fathu'l-Bari, 1st ed., vol. 5, [Jaddah:DarIbn al-Jawzi, 1996], p. 286)
2. Tadlis: In Asnad, this means the narration from a person, whom a narrator has met, of something which is not heard from him giving the impression that it has actually been heard from him. (Ibn Salah, Muqaddamah, 4th ed., [Multan, Faruqi Kutub Khanah, 157 AH], p. 34)
ImamShu'bah comments on Tadlis in the following words:
It is the brother of falsehood. (Khatib Baghdadi, Al-Kifayah, 1st ed., [Hyderabad: Da'iratu'l-Ma'arif, 1357 AH), p. 355)
It is worse than committing fornication. (Khatib Baghdadi, Al-Kifayah, 1st ed., [Hyderabad: Da'iratu'l-Ma'arif, 1357 AH], p. 356)
That we plunge down from the sky is dearer to me than we do Tadlis in a H~adith.(Khatib Baghdadi, Al-Kifayah, 1st ed., [Hyderabad: Da'iratu'l-Ma'arif, 1357 AH], p. 356)
We will not accept the narration of a Muddalis unless he says Haddathani [It has been narrated to me] or Sami'tu [I have heard]. (Shaf'i, Al-Risalah, [Beirut: Daru'l-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah], p. 380)
Zuhri's Tadlisis recorded in the following words:
Imam Shaf'i, Dara Qutani and many others have attributed Tadlis to Zuhri. (Ibn H~ajar, T~abaqatu'l-Mudallisin, [Cairo:Maktabah Kulliyyat al-Azhar], pps. 32-3)
3. Irsal: It means that the person before a Tabi'i at the beginning of the chain is not mentioned. (Mah~mud T~ahhan, Taysir Mustalih al-H~adith, [Karachi: Qadimi Kutub Khanah], p. 70)
On the status of Mursal Ahadith (Ahadith afflicted with Irsal), authorities say:
In reality, Mursal Ahadith are weak and worthy of being forsaken because they do not fulfil one condition of Maqbul Ahadith [Ahadith which are acceptable], which is Ittisal [continuity in the chain of narrators], and because the status of the person who is not mentioned is unknown as there is a chance that he may not be a Sahabi [companion]. (Mahmud Tahhan, Taysir Mustalih al-H~adith, [Karachi: Qadimi Kutub Khanah], p. 71)
Imam Abu Da'ud says:
Out of the twenty two hundredAhadith narrated by Zuhri only half are Musnad46 [the rest are Mursal]. (Dhahabi, Tadhkiratu'l-H~uffaz, vol. 1, [Beirut: Daru'l-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah], p. 109]
Ibn Hajarrecords the following words about Zuhri in this regard:
Yahya Ibn Sa'idQattan is of the opinion that the Mursalat of Zuhri are baseless. (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhibu'l-Tahdhib, 1st ed., vol. 5, [Beirut: Daru'l-Ma'rifah, 1996], p. 269)
Imam Dhahabi has reported the following words of Yahya Ibn Sa'id Qattan:
The Mursalat of Zuhri are the worst of all since he is a Hafiz. Whenever, he wants he can disclose the name of a person, and whenever he wants he can conceal his name. (Dhahabi, Sayar A'lam al-Nubala, 8th ed., vol. 5, [Beirut: Mu'ssasah al-Risalah, 1992], p. 338)
Imam Shaf'i says:
The Mursalat of Zuhri are baseless since he even narrates from [a person as unreliable as] Sulayman Ibn Arqam. (Dhahabi, Sayar A'lam al-Nubala, 8th ed., vol. 5, [Beirut: Mu'ssasah al-Risalah, 1992], p. 339)
Besides these three major aspects, it seems that Zuhri is guilty of other blemishes as well:
Sometimes, a group of people would present a Hadith to him to corroborate something. So, at times, he would narrate from the whole group and sometimes from one person of that group. This would be according to the way he felt during the narration. Sometimes, he would insert the Hadith narrated by one into that narrated by someone else as he has done so in the Hadith ofIfk besides others. When he would feel lazy, he would narrate Mursal Ahadith, and when he would be feeling fresh, he would narrate Muttasil ones. It is because of this that his companions differ a lot about him. (Zarqani, Sharah Mu'atta, vol. 3, [Beirut, Daru'l-Fikr], p. 377)
In a letter to Imam Malik, Imam Layth Ibn Sa'ad writes:
When we would meet Ibn Shihab, there would arise a difference of opinion in many issues. When any one of us would ask him in writing about some issue, he, in spite of being so learned, would give three very different answers, and he would not even be aware of what he had already said. It is because of this that I have left him – something which you did not like. (Ibn Qayyim, I'lamu'l Muwaqqi'in, vol. 3, [Beirut: Daru'l-Jayl], p. 85)
In the light of this evidence, any narrative none of whose texts is withoutZuhri in its chain of narrators becomes suspect.