Summary of All 3 Sections
The Qur’an Part I The Qur’an Part II The Qur’an Part III
G. The Collation, or Collection of the Qur'anic Text
The Periods of Revelation
The Method of Collection
The Standardisation of One Text
The Missing Verses
The Verse on Stoning
The Variations Between the Codices
Abdullah ibn Mas'ud's Codex
Ubayy Ka'b's Codex
Conclusions on the Collation of the Qur'anic Text
G: The Collation, or Collection, of the Qur'anic Text
We now take the discussion concerning the authority for the Qur'an away from its makeup and ask the question of how it came to us. We will give special emphasis on the problems which we find with its collation. We will also ask why, if it is the Word of God, so much of its content is not only self-contradictory, but is in error with the facts as we know them? From there we will then consider where the Qur'an received much of its material, or from where many of its stories were derived. Let's then begin with the alleged collection of the Qur'anic text.
Muslims claim that the Qur'an is perfect in its textual history, that there are no textual defects (as they say we have in our Bible). They maintain that it is perfect not only in its content and style, but the order and script as we have it today is an exact parallel of the preserved tablets in heaven. This, they contend, is so because Allah has preserved it.
Therefore, the Qur'an, they feel, must be the Word of God. While we have already looked at the content and style of the Qur'an and found it wanting, the claim to its textual purity is an assertion which we need to examine in greater detail. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
G1: The Periods of Revelation
According to Muslim Tradition the "revelations" of the suras (or books) were received by the prophet Muhammad, via the angel Jibril (Gabriel) within three periods. The first is referred to as the 1st Meccan period, and lasted between 611-615 C.E. During this time the suras contain many of the warnings, and much of the leading ideas concerning who Allah is, and what He expected of His creation (i.e. suras 1, 51-53, 55-56, 68-70, 73-75, 77-97, 99-104, 111- 114).
The 2nd period, referred to as the 2nd Meccan period (between 616-622 C.E.) had longer suras, dealing with doctrines, many of which echoed Biblical material. It was during this time that Islam makes the claim of being the one true religion (i.e. suras 6-7, 10-21, 23, 25-32, 34-46, 50, 54, 67, 71-72, 76).
The third period, referred to as the Medinan period (between 623-632 C.E.) centered in Medina and lasted roughly ten years, until Muhammad's death in 632 C.E. There is a distinct shift in content during this period. Divine approval is given for Muhammad's leadership, and much of the material deals with local historical events. There is a change from the preaching of divine matters, to that of governing. Consequently, the suras are much more political and social in their makeup (suras 2-5, 8-9, 22-24, 33, 37, 47-49, 57-59, 60-66, 98, 110). [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
G2: The Method of Collection
While there is ongoing discussion concerning whether Muhammad ever received any revelations, there is considerably more skepticism concerning whether or not the Qur'an which we have today is indeed made up entirely of those revelations which he did supposedly receive.
Many Muslims ardently contend that the Qur'an which is in our hands today was in its completed form even before the death of Muhammad, and that the collation of the texts after his death was simply an exercise in amassing that which had already existed. There are even those who believe that many of the companions of the prophet had memorized the text, and it is they who could have been used to corroborate the final collation by Muhammad's secretary, Zaid ibn Thabit. If these assertions are true, then indeed we do have a revelation which is well worth studying. History, however, points to quite a different scenario, one which most Muslims find it difficult to maintain.
Muslim Tradition tells us that Muhammad had not foreseen his death, and so had made no preparations for the gathering of his revelations, in order to place them into one document. Thus, according to tradition, it was left up to Muhammad's followers to write down what had been said.
Al Bukhari, a Muslim scholar of the 9th-10th century, and the most authoritative of the Muslim tradition compilers, writes that whenever Muhammad fell into one of his unpredictable trances his revelations were written on whatever was handy at the time. The leg or thigh bones of dead animals were used, as well as palm leaves, parchments, papers, skins, mats, stones, and bark. And when there was nothing at hand the attempt was made by his disciples to memorize it as closely as possible.
The principle disciples at that time were: Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Abu Musa, and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, all of whom were close companions of Muhammad.
According to Sahih Bukhari, during the years following Muhammad's death, passages of the Qur'an were lost irretrievably when a number of reciters died at the Battle of Yamama. This incident together with the Qur'an's automatic completion as a revelation, now that its mediator had passed away, compelled a companion of the prophet named Hazrat Omar to suggest to the current caliph, Abu Bakr, that the existing revelations be collected.
Initially the aging caliph demurred, as he was not willing to do what the prophet had not done. However, he later changed his mind, due to the crisis caused by the death of the reciters at Yamama. The secretary of Muhammad, Zaid ibn Thabit was commissioned by Abu Bakr to collect the sayings of the prophet and put them into a document.
G2i: Zaid's Collection
Zaid's reply, according to Bukhari, is interesting. He is purported to have said that it would have been easier if they had demanded that he shift a mountain then collect the suras of the Qur'an. The reason for this rather odd statement becomes obvious when we find that, in his search for the passages of the Qur'an he was forced to use as his sources the leg or thigh bones of dead animals, as well as palm leaves, parchments, papers, skins, mats, stones, bark, and the memories of the prophet's companions (Bukhari, vol.6, pg.477).
This shows that there were no Muslims at that time who had memorized the entire Qur'an by heart, otherwise the collection would have been a simple task. Had there been individuals who knew the Qur'an by heart, Zaid would only have had to go to any one of the companions and write down what they dictated. Instead, Zaid was overwhelmed by the assignment, and was forced to "search" for the passages from these men who had memorized certain segments. He also had to refer to rather strange objects to find the ayas he needed. These are hardly reliable sources for a supposed "perfect" copy of the eternal tablets which exist in heaven.
What evidence, we ask, is there that his final copy was complete? It is immediately apparent that the official copy of the Qur'an rested on very fragile sources. There is no way that anyone can maintain with certainty that Zaid collected all the sayings of the prophet. Had some of the objects been lost, or thrown away? Did some of the ayas die with the companions who were killed at the battle of Yamama? We are left with more questions then answers.
In Sahih Bukhari (volume 6, page 478) Zaid is quoted as saying that he found the last verses of sura 9 (verses 128 and 129) from a certain individual. Then he continues by saying that he found this verse from no-one else. In other words there was no-one else who knew this verse. Thus had he not traced it from this one man, he would not have traced it at all!
This leads us to only one possible conclusion: that we can never be sure that the Qur'an which was finally compiled was, in fact, complete! Zaid concedes that he had to find this one verse from this one man. This underlines the fact that there was no-one who knew the Qur'an by heart, and thus could corroborate that Zaid's copy was complete.
Consequently the final composition of the Qur'an depended on the discretion of one man; not on the revelation of God, but on an ordinary fallible man, who put together, with the resources which he had available, what he believed to be a complete Qur'an. This flies in the face of the bold claim by Muslims that the book is now, and was then, complete.
Zaid's text was given to Hafsah, one of the wives of Muhammad, and the daughter of Umar, the 2nd Caliph. We then pick up the story with the reign of Uthman, the 3rd Caliph.
G2ii: Competing Collections
In Sahih Bukhari, (vol. 6, pg.479) we read that there were at this time different readings of the Qur'an in the different provinces of the Muslim world. A number of the companions of Muhammad had compiled their own codices of the text. In other words, though Zaid had collated the official text under Abu Bakr, there were other texts which were circulating which were considered authoritative as well.
The two most popular codices were those of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, whose manuscript became the standard for the area of Iraq, and Ubayy ibn Ka'b, whose manuscript became standard in Syria.
These and other extant codices were basically consistent with each other in their general content, but a large number of variant readings, many seriously affecting the text, existed in all the manuscripts such that no two codices were entirely the same (which we'll talk about later).
In addition, the texts were being recited in varying dialects in the different provinces of the Muslim world. During the 7th century, Arabic was composed in a so-called scriptio defectiva in which only the consonants were written. Since there was no vowels, the vocalization was left to the reader. Some verbs could be read as active or passive, while some nouns could be read with different case endings, and some forms could be read as either nouns or verbs.[TABLE OF CONTENTS]
G3: The Standardization of One Text
Consequently, during the reign of Uthman, the third Caliph, a deliberate attempt was made to standardize the Qur'an and impose a single text upon the whole Muslim community.
The codex of Zaid ibn Thabit, taken from the manuscript of Hafsah, was chosen by Uthman for this purpose, to the consternation of both Mas'ud and Ibn Ka'b. Zaid ibn Thabit was a much younger man, who had not yet been born at the time Mas'ud had recited 70 suras by heart before Muhammad.
According to Muslim tradition Zaid's codice was chosen by Uthman because the language used, the 'Quraishi dialect,' was local to Mecca, and so had become the standard Arabic. Tradition maintains that Zaid, along with three scholars of the Quraishi tribe of Mecca, had written the codice in this Quraishi dialect, as it had been revealed to Muhammad in this dialect. Linguists today, however, are still at a quandary to know what exactly this Quraishi dialect was, as it doesn't exist today and therefore cannot be identified. Furthermore, the dialect which we find in the present Qur'an does not differ from the language which was current in other parts of the Hijaz at that time. While it makes for a good theory, it has little historical evidence with which to back it up.
A further reason for the choice of Zaid's codice, according to tradition, was that it had been kept in virtual seclusion for many years, and so had not attracted the publicity as one of the varying texts, as had the codices of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b. Ironically, by virtue of their popularity, Mas'ud's and Ka'b's codices were rejected as sources for the final Qur'an and supplanted by the codice of an individual who neither had the notoriety, nor the experience, and whose text (as we shall soon discover) had never been selected as authoritative by the prophet, as had the other two.
Consequently, copies of Zaid's codice were then sent out and dispersed throughout every Muslim province, while all the other manuscripts were summarily destroyed.
It is evident from this discussion that the final choice for an authoritative text had little to do with its authenticity, but had more to do with the fact that it was not a controversial manuscript. It is also evident that there were no two Qur'ans which existed at that time which were exactly alike. This tradition tells us that other whole copies did exist, yet not one of the other texts were spared the order for their destruction. We must conclude that the destruction of the other manuscripts was a drastic effort to standardize the Qur'anic text. While we may have one standard text today, there is no proof that it corresponds with the original. We can only say that it may possibly be similar to the Uthmanic recension, a recension which was one of many. Yet, what evidence is there that in all instances it was the correct one? We don't know as we have no others with which to compare. (See The Reliability of The Gospels)
[TABLE OF CONTENTS]
G4: The Missing Verses
This then brings up another difficult problem: how can we be sure that what Zaid ibn Thabit included in his codice (or manuscript) contained the full revelation of Muhammad's revelation? The fact is we simply cannot. We are forced to rely on Muslim tradition to tell us. Yet, interestingly, it is Muslim tradition which informs us that Zaid himself initially cast doubt on his own codice.
G4i: Sura 33:23
According to Sahih Bukhari (volume 6, pg.79), despite the fact that Zaid's text had been copied out and sent to the seven different cities, Zaid suddenly remembered that a verse which the prophet had quoted earlier was missing from his text. Zaid is quoted as saying that this missing verse was verse 23 of sura 33, which says, "Among the believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah." So he searched for the verse until he found it with Hussaima ibn al Ansari.
Thus, we find that after the copies had been sent out claiming to be the only authentic and complete copies of the Qur'an available, Zaid, and he alone, recorded a verse which was missing; a verse which, once again, was only found with one man. This resembles the previous occasion where a verse was only found with one man.
The conclusion is obvious: initially all of those seven copies which were sent out to the provinces were imperfect. But even more concerning is the fact that it was due to the recollection of one man, and the memory of another that the Qur'an was finally completed. Once again it is obvious that there simply could not have been any man at that time who knew the whole Qur'an by heart. This is yet another instance which contradicts the argument posed by Muslims that the Qur'an had been memorized by certain men during the early days of Islam.
But of more importance is the troubling question of whether there were perhaps other verses which were overlooked or were left out. The answer to this question can be found in another of the authoritative traditions, that of Sahih Muslim.
G4ii: The Verse on Stoning
Muslim maintains that key passages were missing from Zaid's text. The most famous is the verse of stoning. All the major traditions speak of this missing verse. According to Ibn Ishaq's version (pg. 684) we read:
"God sent Muhammad, and sent down the scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning. Umar says, 'We read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle [Muhammad] stoned, and we stoned after him. I fear that in the time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God's book, and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily, stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery."
Therefore, according to Umar, the stoning verse was part of the original Qur'an, the revelation which Allah sent down. But now it is missing. In many of the traditions we find numerous reports of adulterous men and women who were stoned by the prophet and his companions. Yet today we read in the Qur'an, sura 24:32 that the penalty for adultery is 100 lashes. Umar said adultery was not only a capital offence, but one which demanded stoning. That verse is now missing from the Qur'an, and that is why Umar raised this issue.
Muslims will need to ask themselves whether indeed their Qur'an can claim to be the same as that passed down by Muhammad to his companions? With evidence such as this the Qur'an in our possession today becomes all the more suspect.
G5: The Variations Between the Codices
Yet that is not all. Another glaring problem with Zaid's text is that it differed from the other codices which coexisted with his.
Arthur Jeffery has done the classic work on the variants of the early codices in his book Materials for the history of the Text of the Qur'an, printed in 1937. The three main codices which he lists are those which we have referred to earlier, and include:
Ibn Mas'ud ('Abd Allah b. Mas'ud) (died 653), from Kufa, in Iraq. It is he who is reported to have learned 70 suras directly from Muhammad, and was appointed by Muhammad as one of the first teachers of Qur'anic recitation (according to Ibn Sa'd). Mas'ud became a leading authority on the Qur'an and hadith in Kufa, Iraq. He refused to destroy his copy of the Qur'an or stop teaching it when the Uthmanic recension was made official.
Ubayy b. Ka'b (died 649) a Medinan Muslim who was associated with Damascus, Syria. Prior to that he was a secretary for the prophet, and was considered by some to be more prominent than Mas'ud in Qur'anic understanding, during the prophet's lifetime. Ubayy's codice had two extra suras. He destroyed his codice after the Uthmanic recension.
Abu Musa (died 662), a Yemenite, though his codice was accepted in Basra, where he served as governor under Umar. His codex was large and it contained the two extra suras of Ubayy's codex, and other verses not found in other codices (Jeffery, pp.209-211).
In addition to these three Jeffery classifies 12 other codices belonging to the companions of the prophet, which were considered as primary.
One of these Ali b. Abi Talib (d.661) a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, is said to have been the first to collect the Qur'an after the prophet's death, and to have arranged the suras in some sort of chronological order.
According to Jeffery, there were thousands of variations between the different codices.
G5i: Abdullah ibn Mas'ud's Codex
Take for instance the codice of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, a very close companion of the prophet, according to the traditions. As we know it was he who refused to hand over his manuscript after the order went out from Uthman for all existing copies to be burned.
There is much evidence today to show that, in fact, his text is far more reliable than Hafsah's manuscript, which we know to be the one collated by Zaid ibn Thabit. Ibn Mas'ud alone was present with Muhammad when he reviewed the content of the Qur'an every year during the month of Rammadan.
In the well-known collection of traditions by Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.441), we read these words:
"Ibn Abbas asked, 'Which of the two readings of the Qur'an do you prefer?' [The prophet] answered, 'The reading of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud.' Verily the Qur'an was recited before the apostle of Allah, once in every Rammadan, except the last year when it was recited twice. Then Abdullah ibn Mas'ud came to him, and he learned what was altered and abrogated."
Thus no-one knew the Qur'an better then he did. In the same tradition by Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.442) it says:
"No sura was revealed but I [Mas'ud] knew about it and what was revealed. If I had known anyone knowing more of the book of Allah than me, I would have gone to him."
Ibn Mas'ud lays claim here to be the foremost authority of the text of the Qur'an. In fact, it is Sahih Muslim (vol. 4, pg.1312) who informs us that Mas'ud knew seventy suras by heart, and was considered to have a better understanding of the Qur'an then the other companions of the prophet. He recited these seventy passages before the prophet and the companions, and no-one disputed with him.
In Sahih Bukhari (vol. 5, pgs.96-97) we read that Muhammad himself singled out Abdullah ibn Mas'ud as the first and foremost authority on the Qur'an.
According to Ibn Sa'd (vol. 2, pg.444) Mas'ud learned his seventy suras while Zaid was still a youth. Thus his authority should have been greater as he knew so much of the Qur'an long before Zaid became a man.
Arthur Jeffery in his book points out several thousand variants taken from over thirty "main sources." Of special note are those which he found between the codex of Ibn Mas'ud and that of Zaid ibn Thabit. He also found that Mas'ud's codex agreed with the other codices which existed at the expense of Zaid's text (while we don't have the time to go into all the variations, it might be helpful if you could obtain a copy of Arthur Jeffrey's book: Materials for the history of the Text of the Qur'an).
According to Jeffery, Abu Mas'ud's Codex was different from the Uthmanic text in several different ways:
It did not contain the Fatiha (the opening sura, sura 1), nor the two charm suras (suras 113 and 114).
It contained different vowels within the same consonantal text (Jeffery 25-113).
It contained Shi'ite readings (i.e. suras 5:67; 24:35; 26:215; 33:25,33,56; 42:23; 47:29; 56:10; 59:7; 60:3; 75:17-19) (Jeffery 40,65,68).
Entire phrases were different, such as:
sura 3:19: Mas'ud has "The way of the Hanifs" instead of "Behold, the [true] religion (din) of God is Islam."
sura 3:39: Mas'ud has "Then Gabriel called to him, 'O Zachariah'", instead of the Uthmanic reading: "Then the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary."
Only his codice begins sura 9 with the Bismilah, while the Uthmanic text does not ("bismi 'llahi 'l-rahmani 'l-rahim" meaning, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate").
Finally, the order of the suras in Ibn Mas'ud's codex is different from the Uthmanic text in that Mas'ud's list arranges the suras more closely in order of descending length.
G5ii: Ubayy Ka'b's Codex
Ubayy Ka'b's codex also had variations. Though there are those who disagree, it seems to have been less important than Ibn Mas'ud's, as it was not the source of any secondary codices.
It included two suras not found in the Uthmanic or Ibn Mas'ud's texts: the surat al-Khal', with three verses, and surat al-Hafd, with six verses (Jeffery pg. 180ff). Al-Fadl b. Shadhan is said to have seen a copy of Ubayy's 116 suras (rather than the 114 of Uthman's) in a village near Basra in the middle of the 3rd century A.H. (10th century C.E.).
The order of suras in Ubayy's codex is said to have differed from that of Uthman's. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
G6: Conclusions on the Collation of the Qur'anic Text
These variations in the codices show that the original text of the Qur'an cannot have been perfect. The fact that a little known secretary (Zaid ibn Thabit) was chosen as the final arbiter of the Qur'anic text points to possible political interference. The admission by this secretary that the task of collating the verses was unduly daunting and his consequent pronouncement that one verse was initially missing from his finished text (sura 33:23) while another verse, according to authoritative sources, is still missing (the stoning verse) puts even more suspicion on its authenticity.
On top of that, the many variations which exist between Zaid's text and those of supposedly more authoritative collators (Mas'ud and Ka'b) can only add to the perception of many today that the Uthmanic Qur'an which we supposedly have today leaves us with more doubt than assurance for its authority as the perfect word of God.
Yet that is not all. We also know from Muslim tradition that the Uthmanic Qur'an had to be reviewed and amended to meet the Caliph's standard for a single approved text even after Uthman's death. This was carried out by al-Hajjaj, the governor of Kufa, who made eleven distinct amendments and corrections to the text, which were later reduced to seven readings.
If the other codices were in existence today, one could compare the one with the other to ascertain which could claim to be closest to the original. Even Hafsah's copy, the original from which the final text was taken, was later destroyed by Mirwan, the governor of Medina. But for what reason???
Does this act not intimate that there were problems between the other copies, possibly glaring contradictions, which needed to be thrown out? Can we really believe that the rest were destroyed simply because Uthman wished to have only one manuscript which conformed to the Quraishi dialect (if indeed such a dialect existed)? Why then burn the other codices? If, as some contend today, the other codices were only personal reminisces of the writers, then why did the prophet give those codices so much authority during his lifetime? Furthermore, how could Uthman claim to judge one from the other now that Muhammad was no longer around?
There are certain scholars today who believe that Zaid ibn Thabit and his co-workers could have reworked the Arabic, so as to make the text literately sophisticated and thus seemingly superior to other Arabic works of its time; and thus create the claim that this was indeed the illiterate Muhammad's one miracle.
There are others, such as John Wansbrough from SOAS, who go even further, contending that all of the accounts about companion codices and individual variants were fabricated by later Muslim jurists and philologers. He asserts that the collection stories and the accounts of the companion codices arose in order to give an ancient authority to a text that was not even compiled until the 9th century or later.
He feels that the text of the Qur'an was so fluid that the multiple accounts (i.e. of the punishment stories) represent "variant traditions" of different metropolitan centres (such as Kufa, Basra, Medina etc.), and that as late as the 9th century a consonantal textus receptus ne varietur still had not been achieved. Today, his work is taking on greater authority within scholarly circles.
Unfortunately we will never know the real story, because the originals (if indeed they ever existed) which could have told us so much were destroyed. All we have are the copies written years after the originals by those who were then ordered to destroy their originals. There are, therefore, no manuscripts to compare with to give the current Qur'an authenticity, as we have with the Bible.
(See The Reliability of The Gospels)
For those who may wonder why this is so important, let me provide an example: If after I had read this paper out-loud, everyone was to then write down all I had said from memory when they returned home, there would certainly be a number of variations. But we could find out these variations by putting them all together and comparing the many copies one against the other, as the same errors would not be written at the same place by everyone. The final result would be a rendering which is pretty close to what I had said originally. But if we destroyed all of the copies except one, there would be no means of comparing, and all precision would be lost. Our only hope would be that the one which remained was as close to what I had said as possible. Yet we would have no other rendering or example to really know for sure.
Consequently, the greater number of copies preserved, the more certitude we would have of the original text. The Qur'an has only one doctored manuscript to go on, while the New Testament has over 24,000 manuscripts in existence, from a variety of backgrounds, from which to compare!!! Can you see the difference?!
It is therefore quite clear that that which is known as the Textus Receptus of the Qur'an (the text considered authoritative in the Muslim world today) cannot lay claim to be the Textus Originalis (the genuine original text).
The current Qur'anic text which is read throughout the Muslim world is merely Zaid's version, duly corrected where necessary, and later amended by al-Hajjaj. Consequently, the 'official' text as it currently stands was only arrived at through an extended process of amendments, recensions, eliminations and an imposed standardization of a preferred text at the initiative of one caliph, and not by a prophetic direction of divine decree.
In conclusion one can safely say that there is relative authenticity of the text in the sense that it adequately retains the gist and content of what was originally there. There is, however, no evidence to support the cherished Muslim hypothesis that the Qur'an has been preserved absolutely intact to the last dot and letter, as so many Muslims claim (For further reading see Jam' al-Qur'an, by Gilchrist).
Yet, even if we were to let the issue rest, concerning whether or not the Qur'an which we have now is the same as that which Muhammad related to his followers, we would still need to ask whether its authority might not be impinged upon due to the numerous errors and contradictions which can be found within its pages. It is to that question that we now proceed. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
H: The Abrogation of Qur'anic Verses
The abrogation of Qur'anic verses presents a problem for Muslims today. As we all know, a man can make mistakes and correct them, but this is not the case with God. God has infinite wisdom and cannot contradict himself. Abrogation flies is the face of sura 6:34 (and 10:65) which state:
"...There is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah." An even more damaging pronouncement is made in sura 4:82 which reads, "Do they not consider the Qur'an? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancies."
Muslim authorities try to explain the internal contradictions in the Qur'an by stating that certain passages of the Qur'an are annulled (Mansukh) by verses revealed chronologically later than themselves. The verses which replace them are referred to as Nasikh. Yet, there is by no means any certainty as to which disagreeing verses are mansukh and which are nasikh, since the order in which the Qur'an was written down was not done chronologically but according to the length of the suras.
From the preceding section we have found that even the text at our disposal was found and collated piecemeal, leaving us little hope of delineating which suras were the more authentic. Furthermore, Muslim tradition admits that many of the suras were not even given to Muhammad in one piece. According to tradition, some portions were added to other suras under the direction of Muhammad, with further additions to the former suras. Therefore, within a given sura there may be found ayas which were early, and others which were quite late. How then could we know which were the more authoritative?
The law of abrogation is taught by the Qur'an in sura 2:106,108, stating: "We substitute one revelation for another..." This is echoed in sura 17:86, which reads, "If it were Our Will, We could take away that which We have sent thee by inspiration." In sura 16:101 the law of abrogation is clearly defined as one verse being substituted by a better verse. Verse 101 read, "None of our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar- Knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?"
Jalalu'd-Din estimated the number of abrogations at between 5 to 500. Others say it stands closer to 225. What this shows us is that the science of abrogation is an inexact science indeed, as no-one really knows how many of the verses are to be abrogated. Underlying this claim of abrogation is another concern: How can a divine revelation be improved upon? Would it not have been perfect from the start?
Yusuf Ali in his defense of abrogation claims that there is a need for progressive revelation within scripture, saying: "its form may differ according to the needs and exigencies of the time". Christians believe in progressive revelation as well, as God reveals and changes His will for a people as they change culturally over a period of generations. The problem with suras 2:106, 17:86 and 16:101 is that they do not refer to revelations given prior to Muhammad, but refer uniquely to the Qur'anic verses themselves. One cannot claim progressive revelation within a space of only 20 years (this was the time in which the Qur'an was written). The period found in the previous scriptures spans 1,500 years! People and cultures change in that amount of time. Thus the revelations would reflect those changes. To demand the same for a revelation of a mere 20 years suggests that God is not all-knowing. The only other option can be that the recorder made corrections, and then came up with a revelation to authenticate those corrections. While you decide, let's look at some of these abrogations.
Some examples of these abrogations are:
1. In sura 2:142-144, we find the change of the Qibla, the direction of prayer from Mecca to Jerusalem, and back to Mecca.
2. The inheritance laws in suras 4:7; & 2:180, provides an equal share for women and men, and then is doubled for men in sura 4:11.
3. The change of night prayers from a full night in sura 73:2-4, to a half or less, or whatever was easy to do in sura 73:20.
4. The change of punishment for adulteresses, beginning with life imprisonment, found in sura 4:15, and then changed to 100 strokes by flogging, according to sura 24:2. Remember that these two examples make no mention of the previous 'missing' aya which prescribes the stoning for those who commit adultery. It is also interesting to note that Homosexuals were let off if they repented, according to sura 4:16, though this same allowance was not given for heterosexuals.
5. The change of the retaliation laws where retaliation for the crime (murder) was confined to people of equal rank (i.e. slave for slave) in sura 2:178, then it was to be carried out only against the murderer by the heir, sura 17:33 (note: Ali adds Qisas and forgiving to the Arabic).
6. The change of the days of creation from 6 (7:54; 25:59) to 8 (41:9- 12).
7. The change of the hierarchy of prophets, where they were initially equal (suras 3:84;2:285;2:136) and then some are elevated above the others, sura 2;253 (see Ali's note:289).
8. The changes in intercession; at first done by angels and Muhammad (suras 42:5; 24:62), and then were not acceptable to Allah (suras 74:48; 63:5; 34:23).
9. The Sword verses: the Call to "fight and slay the pagan (idolaters) wherever you find them" (sura 9:5); or "strike off their heads in battle" (sura 47:5); or "make war on the unbeliever in Allah, until they pay tribute" (sura 9:29); or "Fight then... until the religion be all of it Allah's" (sura 8:39); or "a grievous penalty against those who reject faith" (sura 9:3). These all contradict "There is no compulsion in religion" (sura 2:256).
10. Sura 2:184 first allows a rich man to buy himself out of the fast by feeding an indigent. The following verse (185) allows no compensation.
11. Widows were to keep themselves apart for 4 months and 10 days after their husband's death (sura 2:234), which is then changed to one year (2:240).
12. Sura 2:106 contradicts sweeping changes which follow: in the Qibla (vss.115,177,124-151), pilgrimage rites (vs.158), dietary laws (vss.168-174) law of talio (vss.178-179), in bequests (vss.180-182), the fast (vss.182-187), and the pilgrimage again (vss.196-203).
13. Sura 16:101 contradicts changes which follow in dietary laws (vss.114-119), and in the Sabbath laws (vs.124).
14. Muhammad will not forget the revelations which Allah gives him (sura 87:6-7), is then changed to withdrawing that which Allahs wills to withdraw (i.e. revelations) (17:86).
15. Allah commits himself as law to act mercifully, which implies cause and effect (sura 6:12), yet later in the same sura we find that "If Allah willed, he could have brought them all together to the guidance... Whom Allah will he sendeth astray, and whom he will he placeth on a straight path" (vss. 35 & 39).
16. Concerning predestination, in sura 57:22 we find the words, "No evil befalls on the earth, nor on your own souls but it is in a book before We bring into existence." And in sura 76:29-31 it says, "..whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord, Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth... He maketh whom He will to enter His mercy..." Both of these contradict sura 42:30, which states, "Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your right hands have earned."
17. In sura 5:82, Pagans and Jews are considered the furthest from Muslims, while Christians are the nearest, yet in sura 5:51 & 57 Muslims are told not to have Christians as friends. Interestingly, in the same verse (51) it comments that Jews and Christians are friends, yet the only thing they have in common is their agreement on the authenticity of the Old Testament.
18. Muhammad was the first to bow down to Allah (i.e. the first Muslim) (sura 6:14,164; 39:12). Yet these passages forget that Abraham, his sons and Jacob were former Muslims (sura 2:132) as were all the earlier prophets (sura 28:52-53), and Jesus' disciples (3:52).
19. Allah curses all liars, yet permits Muhammad to break an oath (sura 66:1-2), and though Allah alone may be worshipped, he demands Satan and the angels to worship Adam, with the result that Satan is eternally punished because he refused to do so (sura 2:32).
20. An abrogation evidenced by Muslims today is the claim that the Bible (which they admit is a revealed book) has been altered and corrupted. Yet sura 10:65 reads, "There is no changing in the Words of Allah," and sura 6:33,34 reads, "There is none that can alter the decisions (revelations) of Allah."
21. In sura 17:101 we find 9 plagues (or signs), whereas in sura 7:133 only 5 are listed (note Ali's footnote no.1091 which adds the rod and leprous hand from verses 107 and 108, as well as the drought and short crops of verse 130 as plagues, to make up the nine).
22. In sura 51:57 we find that Jinn were created to worship Allah, yet in sura 7:176 we find that the Jinn were created for Hell.
23. In sura 17:103 we are told that Pharaoh was drowned with his army, yet in sura 10:90-92, upon admitting to the power of God, he is rescued as a sign to others.
24. Angels are commanded by Allah to bow down to Adam in suras 15:29-30; 20:116, which they do, yet Allah prohibits anyone worshipping any but him (suras 4:116; 18:110).
25. Lust is condemned in sura 79:40-41, yet in sura 4:24-25 Allah permits polygamy, divorce, and the use of female slaves as concubines (one needs to ask why a man needs a concubine if not to satisfy his lust). Furthermore, for those who are faithful lust is the primary, and unlimited reward in heaven (suras 55:46-78; 56:11-39). Surely if lust is wrong on earth and hateful to a Holy God, it cannot be pleasing to him in paradise.
26. On that same note, wine is forbidden while on earth (sura 5:91), yet rivers of wine await the faithful in paradise (suras 47:15; 76:5; 83:25)
27. Muslims Jews, Christians, and Sabians are all considered saved in sura 2:62, yet in sura 3:85 only Muslims are considered saved.
28. In sura 4:157 we read that Jesus did not die, yet in sura 19:33 we read that not only did he die, but he arose again! (note: Yusuf Ali has no rebuttal here, but in his footnote no.2485 refers to sura 19:15, which repeats the same words for Yahya, and then refers the reader to sura 4:157-a vivid example of using a Nasikh verse to abrogate one which is Mansukh in order to get out of a "jam").
Some of these may not be serious contradictions, were it not for the claim that the Qur'an is "nazil" which means "brought down" from heaven without the touch of human hand. This implies that the original "un-created" preserved tablets in heaven, from which the Qur'an proceeds (sura 85:22), also contains these abrogations. How can they then claim to be Allah's eternal word?
Equally disturbing is what this implies concerning the character of God. For, if Allah in the Qur'an manifests himself as the arbitrary God who acts as he pleases without any ties even to his own sayings, he adds a thought totally foreign to the former revelation which Muhammad claimed to confirm. Indeed, these abrogations degrade the integrity of the former revelations which were universally applicable to all peoples, for all time. The Qur'anic abrogations on the other hand fit the requirements of one specific man and his friends, for one specific place, and one specific time. [TABLE OF CONTENTS]
Continued in Part III