Narrative on the Changes made in the Qur’ān by al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf

Narrative on the Changes made in the Qur’ān by al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf


I. Introduction

It is reported in a narrative that al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf (d. 95 AH) in his time changed the Qur'ān at eleven places. No Muslim scholar regards this report to be authentic. However, some western scholars while relying on this report believe that al-H@ajjāj was responsible for a minor recension of the Qur'ān.[1]

In this article, this narrative shall be critically analyzed.

II. Text of the Narrative

حدثنا عبد الله حدثنا أبو حاتم السجستاني حدثنا عباد ابن صهيب عن عوف ابن أبي جميلة أن الحجاج بن يوسف غير في مصحف عثمان أحد عشر حرفا قال كانت في البقرة س 2 آ 259 لم يتسن وانظر بغير هاء فغيرها لم يتسنه بالهاء وكانت في المائدة س 5 آ 48 شريعة ومنهاجا فغيرها شرعة ومنهاجا وكانت في يونس س 10 آ 22 هو الذي ينشركم فغيره يسيركم وكانت في يوسف س 12 آ 45 آتيكم بتأويله فغيرها أنا أنبئكم بتأويله وكانت في المؤمنين س 23 آ 85 87 89 سيقولون لله لله لله ثلاثتهن فجعل الأخريين الله الله وكان في الشعراء في قصة نوح ( س 26 آ 116 ) ( من المخرجين ) وفي قصة لوط ( آ 167 ) ( من المرجومين ) فغير قصة نوح ( من المرجومين) وقصة لوط ( من المخرجين ) وكانت في الشعراء في قصة نوح س 26 آ 116 من المخرجين وفي قصة لوط من المرجومين فغير قصة نوح من المرجومين وقصة لوط من المخرجين وكانت في الزخرف الزخرف 32 نحن قسمنا بينهم معايشهم فغيرها معيشتهم وكانت في الذين كفروا محمد 15 من ماء غير ياسن فغيرها من ماء غير آسن وكانت في الحديد الحديد 7 فالذين آمنوا منكم واتقوا لهم أجر كبير فغيرها وأنفقوا وكانت في إذا الشمس كورت الشمس 24 وما هو على الغيب بظنين فغيرها بضنين

'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah says that al-H@ajjāj ibn Yūsuf changed the mus@h@afof 'Uthmān at eleven places. He changed لَمْ يَتَسََنَّ to لم لَمْ يَتَسَنَّه in (2:259); شَرِيْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجَا to شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجَا(5:48); هُوَ الذِّي ينُْشِرُكُمْ to هُوَ الذِّي يُسَيِّرُكُمْ (10:22) أَنَا آتِيْكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِهِ to أَنَا أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِه (12:45); سَيَقُوْلُوْنَ لِله لِله لِله to الله اللهسَيَقُوْلُوْنَ لِله (23:85, 87, 89); مِنَ المُخْرَجِيْنَ to مِنَ الْمَرجُوْمِيْن (26:116) in the tale of Noah; مِنَ الْمَرجُوْمِيْن to مِنَ المُخْرَجِيْنَ (26:167) in the tale of Lot .نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ مَعَايِشَهُمْ to نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا مَعِيْشَتَهُمْ (43:32); مِنْ مَاءٍ غَيْرِ يَاسِنٍ to مِنْ مَاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ (47:15); فَالذِّيْنَ آمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوْا لَهُمْ أَجْرٌ كَبِيْرٌ to فَالذِّيْنَ آمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ وَأَنْفَقُوْا ا لَهُمْ أَجْرٌ كَبِيْرٌ (57:7); وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الغَيْبِ to وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الغَيْبِ بِضَنِيْنَ (81:24).[2]

III. Existing Criticism

Scholars have pointed out the following flaws in the matn and isnād of this narrative:

A. Criticism on the Matn

Following is a summary of some weighty criticisms on the matn of this narrative:

1. A'z@amī[3]expresses the view that how can it can imagined that the Muslim community or those in power would have remained silent at these changes, had they actually been made.

Al-Imām[4]similarly asserts that al-H@ajjāj would have been opposed in his time or later, if he had made these alleged changes.

Mah@mūd Ziyādah[5]adds that if it is supposed that the companions and followers living in Iraq kept silent fearing the brutality of al-H@ajjāj, how can it be imagined that those living in other cities kept silent? And if it is somehow supposed that they too feared him, then after his death this fear would have vanished; why would they not have spoken out then? Furthermore, if it supposed that the companions and followers as well as the scholars kept silent for some reason, then what could have been the reason for the caliph of the Muslims to remain silent on a deed of one of his governors? Were not the Umayyads blessed with a single God-fearing caliph who could set right the change made by al-H@ajjāj?

Al-Khū'ī[6]asserts that al-H@ajjāj was too ineffective to accomplish such a monumental feat. How could he have the power to do such a thing given the pervasive nature of the Qur'ānic text in the Muslim empire? He also asks how could historians not have recorded this incident had it taken place and critics not criticized it. Moreover, no Muslim of the era of al-H@ajjāj has narrated this incident and how could later Muslims have overlooked this deed? Even if it is supposed that he had collected every single copy of the Qur'ān and changed it, how could he have erased what was in the hearts?

2. A'z@amī[7]is of the view that if these alterations really took place, would not the Abbassids have exploited them to defame the Umayyads?

3. According to Mah@mūd Ziyādah,[8]how could historians who have not spared al-H@ajjāj in criticizing some of his deeds about which there can be two opinions have spared him in this matter and not vehemently condemned him for this?

4. According to A'z@amī,[9]the use of diacritics had not become very common in the era of al-H@ajjāj. There are many words in the list which become identical to one another if these diacritics are removed. Examples include:

i. ينُْشِرُكُمْand يُسَيِّرُكُمْ(10:22)

ii. آتِيْكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِهِandأُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِه(12:45)

iii.مَعَايِشَهُمْand مَعِيْشَتَهُمْ(43:32)

5. According to A'z@amī[10]none of these alterations change the meaning of the respective verses and hence the "accusation itself seems baseless."

6. Al-Bāqillānī says that this is a big lie concocted against al-H@ajjāj about whom there are contrary reports recorded in history. In this regard, he reports that when al-H@ajjāj was deputed as the governor of Iraq, he took measures to preserve the original Qur'ānic text. He in fact launched a campaign to bring all mas@āh@ifof Iraq in accordance with the 'Uthmānic text. He goes on to record some incidents which show his resolve in this connection.

i. When al-H@ajjāj saw that the mas@āh@ifof Kufah had some spurious verses written in them he instituted a committee from the memorizers and scribes of Basrah which included al-H@asan al-Bas@rī (d. 110 AH) (who headed the committee), Abū al-'Āliyah (90 / 93 AH), Nas@r ibn 'Ās@im (d. 89 AH), 'Ās@im al-Jah@darī, Ali ibn 'As@ma', Mālik ibn Dīnār[11](d. 127 AH). They were ordered by al-H@ajjāj to write out new mas@āh@ifand then present them for comparison with the mus@h@afof 'Uthmān (rta) which was summoned from Madīnah from his descendents. If they mutually differed with one another they were told by al-H@ajjāj to elicit the opinion of al-H@asan al-Bas@rī and consider it as final. After matching with the mus@h@afof 'Uthmān, the memorizers and scribes who were called changed the current mas@āh@ifof Iraq at eleven places at the behest of al-H@asan and his committee.[12]

ii. Al-H@ajjāj deputed 'A@s@im al-Jahdarī (d. 128 AH), Nājiyāh ibn Rumh@and 'Alī ibn As@ma' to destroy all the mas@āh@ifwhich were not in conformity with the mus@h@afof 'Uthmān (rta) and pay their respective owners a compensation of sixty dirhams.[13]

iii. Once al-H@ajjāj asked Yah@yā ibn Ya'mur if he heard from him any mistake in reading the Qur'ān. When Yah@yā pointed out one,[14] al-H@ajjāj emphatically declared that in future this would never happen.

Al-Bāqillānī while defending al-H@ajjāj with regard to this allegation goes on to say that perhaps al-H@ajjāj had deleted verses which were not mutawātir or had deleted abrogated verses in the mas@āh@ifof Iraq.

8. Al-Bāqillānī askswhat good were these changes when none of them related to the affirmation of the Umayyad caliphate (of which al-H@ajjāj was an obedient servant) and the refutation of the Abbasid caliphate.[15]

B. Criticism on the Isnād

Following is a summary of some weighty criticism on the isnād of this narrative:

1. A'zamī,[16]while referring to Ibn H@ajar,[17]has pointed out that 'Awf had Shiite tendencies and was also anti-Umayyad; since al-H@ajjāj was a pillar of the Umayyad dynasty, he would have been a natural target for him.

2. Jamāl ibn Muh@ammad has pointed out that one of the narrators of the report 'Abbād ibn S@uhayb is matrūk al-h@adīth.[18]

IV. Further Criticism

In this section, I will attempt to present some criticisms on this narrative that come to my own mind.

Criticism on the Matn

In this regard, it needs to be appreciated that had this report been true, such is the nature of this incident that it would have been reported by many people. As per a permanent principle of authorities in judging reports, if an incident is of an important and pervasive nature, then it should be reported by many people and if it is reported by a few, then this casts doubt on the authenticity of the incident itself.[19]

The incident under discussion is one such happening. Had al-H@ajjāj done such a thing it would have been reported by a large number of people. There should have been some reference to it in the six canonical collections of H@adīth or even in secondary ones. On the contrary, we find only a single person reporting it. Not only that, the chain of narration is one person to the other in all its sections. In this chain too, at least two narrators 'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah and 'Abbād ibn S@uhaybare suspect.

It may also be noted that al-H@ajjāj seems to have launched an extensive campaign in Irāq to rid the mas@āh@ifof spurious and erroneous verses. As noted earlier, al-Ba@qillānī has already recorded some of these measures. It may further be kept in mind that al-H@ajjāj had appointed Rāshid al-H@immānī (also called Rāshid al-Qārī) to keep an eye on the mas@āh@if[20]and also to correct them.[21]In the presence of this data, this allegation on him seems even more baseless.

Criticism on the Isnād

Mus@t@afā A'z@mī and Jamāl ibn Muh@ammad have very briefly referred to the suspect nature of 'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah and 'Abbād ibn S@uh@ayb. Here are the details.

'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah

Though the muh@addithūnhave generally regarded 'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah to be a trustworthy person, here is some contrary evidence to his trustworthiness:

Abū Zur'ah and al-'Uqaylī have mentioned him in their respective books both titled al-D@u'afā'.[22]

Al-H@ākim records:

قلت فعوف بن أبي جميلة قال ليس بذاك

I asked: "[What about] 'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah?" He [al-Dāraqut@nī]replied: "laysa bi dhāka."[23]

Al-Juzjānī records:

عوف بن أبي جميلة الأعرابي يتناول بيمينه ويساره من رأي البصرة والكوفة

'Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah al-A'rābī would [carelessly] accept narratives from his right and left from the opinion of the [people of] Bas@rah and Kūfah.[24]

Al-Mizzī records:

قال بعضهم يرفع أمره إنه ليجيء عن الحسن بشيء ما يجيء به أحد

Some of them are of the opinion that he is not trustworthy. He narrates from al-H@asan what no one else ever has.[25]

'Abbād ibn S@uhayb

Ibn Abī H@atim says that Abū Bakr 'Abbād ibn S@uhayb al-Kulaybīis da'if al-h@adīth, munkar al-h@adīth, turika hadithuhū.[26]

Ibn 'Adī says that Ibn H@ammād told him that he is matrūk al-h@adīthand also records that 'Alī ibn 'Abdullāh abandoned a hundred thousand of his narratives out of which fifty thousand were from 'Abbād. Ibn 'Adī also says that in spite of his d@u'f, yuktabu hadīthuhū, and that there are narrators who call him by Abū Bakr al-Kulaybī and do not [fully] name him because of his d@u'f.[27]

Ibn Sa'd[28]and al-Bukhārī[29]have forsaken (tarkūhū.) him.

Al-Nasā'īsays that he is matrūk al-h@adīth.[30]

Ibn H@ibbānhas mentioned him in his al-Mujrūh@īnand said that he would narrate manākīr from mashāhīr which if heard even by a beginner of this field would be regarded by him to be fabricated.[31]

According to al-Haythamī, he is matrūk.[32]

According to Abū al-Fad@l al-Maqdisī, he is blamed of fabricating narratives.[33]

Al-Dhahabī says he is wāhin@.[34]

Shams al-Dīn al-H@anbalī records that according to Ibn al-Madīnī dhahaba h@adīthuhūand in the opinion of al-Dūlābī he is matrūk.[35]

Yah@yā ibn Mā'in says that he did not write any thing from 'Abbād.[36]

Abū Dā'ūd says that he is s@adūq.[37]

V Conclusion

In the light of the forgoing flaws in the matn and isnād of this narrative, it cannot be accepted in any way and stands rejected.

Articles by this author

Man with a Mission


Selections from Hadith



Your Questions Answered


Successful Parents

Colours of Life


The Responsibles!


The Art of Positive Thinking

Humanity Unplugged


A Purposeful Life


Winning Hearts


Your Questions Answered

Selections from Hadith

Overcoming Prejudice

Overcoming Greed

Overcoming Greed


Spiritual Advancement

To Young Adults

Fasting in Extreme Conditions

Humanity First

A Critical Analysis of The “First Revelation” Narratives (3/3)

A Critical Analysis of The “First Revelation” Narratives (2/3)

A Critical Analysis of The “First Revelation” Narratives (1/3)

Introduction to the Special Issue




The Hagar-Zam Zam Narrative

Introduction to the Qur’an

Overcoming Despair and Dejection


The Better Human

Poise and Balance

When the Tough get Going!

Surah Bani Isra’il (3/3)

Surah Bani Isra’il (2/3)

The Importance of the Word “Self”

Prayers can Move Mountains!

Animal Rights

Qualities of a Good Teacher

Let us Live for Others!

The Art of Positive Thinking

Virtues of Silence

The Person in the Mirror

Some Requests to Young Adults

Some Requests to Wives

Humanity burnt at the Stake*

A Summary of some Exegetical Views on Verses 16-19 of Surah Qiyamah (2/2)

A Summary of some Exegetical Views on Verses 16-19 of Surah Qiyamah (1/2)

Some Remedies for Jealousy

Four Steps to Selflessness

The Five Essentials of Constructive Criticism

An Introduction to Ghamidi’s Mizan

How to overcome Selfishness

Your Question Answered

Explanation of Some Qur’anic Words

Anger Management

Some Suggestions for Married Couples

God’s Domain

Let us Light up our Prayers!

Successful Parents

The “Successful Spouse” Test

Let us Value what We have

Dear Husbands … If I may say!

The “Blind Drill”

Life goes on all the same!

Prayers can Move Mountains!

Two types of “Junk Food”

Reforming Our Conduct

Supplications from the Hadith

Supplications from the Qur’an

A Small Act of Kindness

Respecting the Privacy of our Mature Children

Explanation of Some Jarh Terms

Selections from Hadith

Your Questions Answered

Two Tough Trials

Benefiting from Criticism

Your Questions Answered

The Cause of Truth

Your Questions Answered

Selections from Hadith

Restraining our Wounded Pride

Selections from Hadith

The Power of One

Preparing for the Inevitable!

Selections from Hadith

Let us Refuse to Lose!

The Sound of Silence

Selections from Hadith

Let us Enjoy every Moment of our Lives

Lets be Just, Come what May!

Selections from Hadith

Beware of the three C’s: Cynicism, Criticism and Complaint

Never Give Up!

Do We have a Spiritual Part of the Day?

Tears of Old Parents … for their Children

Life goes on all the same!

The Decorum of Criticizing Others

Tears that would not stop!

Selections from Hadith

Hobbies we must have!

Death in Innocence

“Thank you” Culture

Visit to an Old Home

We Owe it to Our Society

Experiencing God

Discovering our Inner Talent

The Battle for Honesty Continues!

Saintly Sinners

Secret to Inner Peace

Your Questions Answered

Small Acts of Kindness

Illness can be a Boon!

Philosophy of Animal Sacrifice on ‘Id

Tears of Gratitude!

Lookout to Leap for Others!


Turning Foes into Friends

Let us then Live for Others!


A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (1/4)

A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (2/4)

A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (3/4)

A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (4/4)

Abdus Sattar Ghauri (The Father Figure of Al-Mawrid!)

Brief Profile

Special Issue

Charity: Points to Ponder

Your Question Answered

“Dignity in Hard Labour Lies!”


Never Lose Hope!

The Trials of Life

Anger Management

Handling Mature Children

Let us Promise…

An Introduction to Ghāmidī’s Mīzān

Visit to a Graveyard

Are We Ready to Die?

A Shame to Humanity[1]!