Q&A: Qur'an Textual Transmission Problems

Qur'an Textual Transmission Problems

Question

Is it true that some early versions of the Qur’an were destroyed by Muslims themselves? If it was the word of their God why would they do this?

Answer

Allah is the god of Islam and Muhammad its founder. For the most part, the Qur’an is said to contain the very words of Allah speaking through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. However, the Hadith reveals that Muhammad taught various versions of the Qur'an: “This Qur'an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever is easier for you." [1] So, there were at least seven different versions of the Qur'an. And each differed somewhat in the number of surahs, surah order, and even their wording.

According to the Hadith, Muhammad never ordered that the Qur’an be collected into one authorized book for distribution. [2] The editing of the different versions of the Qur'an into one book happened only after the death of Muhammad on June 8, 632 AD. Today what’s left is only 6,236 verses, 114 surahs and about 323,000 letters in the Qur’an.

What happened to the undesired copies? What surahs and verses were kept and which were discarded? Who had the authority to edit out existing words of Muhammad and Allah, the very god of Islam himself? Which teachings of Muhammad and Allah can no longer be recited? Who decided what was sacred and what was not? Who could alter the Qur’an and thus the teachings of the religion of Islam forever?

From my examination of history, Muhammad's revelations which took place between 610 and his death in 632 AD were written down by numerous scribes during the reign of his successor and first caliph, Abu Bakr. But problems arose when the growing Islamic empire had many differing recitations. So, some editing was done. The seven were organized into one standardized copy by the third caliph, Uthman, in approximately 650 AD. [3] All other copies are said to have been destroyed. [4] The Qur’an would subsequently appear to be one organized book.

This is very strange as even disposing of worn copies of the Qur’an is of concern for most all Muslims. It is to be done in a respectful manner. [5] And desecration of the Qur’an is considered very serious – blasphemous. Intentionally desecrating a copy of the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment (Pakistan) and even death (Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.). So, some questions will always remain before the reader of the Qur’an: Which surahs and verses are missing? Why can’t I read all of Allah’s words in today’s Qur’an? What has been lost and never to be recited again?

So yes, different copies of the Qur’an were destroyed. Accordingly, the Qur’an can’t be said to be complete today. [6] Therefore what remains today is a human invention and intervention, and thus the Qur'an's very inspiration will forever remain questionable.

I humbly appeal to Muslims to question the veracity of their Qur’an. Shouldn't they desire a more sure word of prophecy? (2 Pet. 1:19). I respectfully ask that they read and listen to a part of their Injil (Gospels) where another one of their prophets, Isa (Jesus) says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). Jesus is referring to the Bible! Because Muslims consider the Injil inspired, they should recognize that in him, Isa, is the truth and that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).”

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In him alone is the only salvation the prophets foretold, searched and inquired carefully (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10).

References

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 514, entitled, “Virtues of the Qur’an.” (http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_6_61.php). Last Accessed 13 May 2020.
[2] “Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Qur'an by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. "Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized." Then Abu Bakr said (to me). 'You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book)." Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 509, entitled, “Virtues of the Qur’an.” (http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_6_61.php). Last Accessed 13 May 2020.
[3] Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba`I (2016). The Qur’an in Islam: Its Impact & Influence on the Life of Muslims. Zahra Publications (Kindle).
[4] (a) Cook, Michael (2000). The Koran: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 117-124; (b) Yusuff, Mohamad K. "Zayd ibn Thabit and the Glorious Qur'an"; and (c) Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba`I (2016). The Qur’an in Islam: Its Impact & Influence on the Life of Muslims. Zahra Publications (Kindle).
[5] Myrvold, Kristina (2010). The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World. Farnham Surrey England: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 31-57.
[6] Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the Verse of the Rajam (the stoning of married person (male & female) who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him. I am afraid that after a long time has passed, somebody will say, 'By Allah, we do not find the Verse of the Rajam in Allah's Book,' and thus they will go astray by leaving an obligation which Allah has revealed. Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 8, bk. 82, no. 817, entitled, “Virtues of the Qur’an.” (http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_8_82.php). Last Accessed 16 May 2020.

... We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it:" If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust." And we used so recite a slirah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it:" Oh people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise" (lxi 2.) and" that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection" (xvii. 13). Sahih Muslim: bk. 5, no. 2286. (https://muflihun.com/muslim/5/2286). Last Accessed 16 May 2020.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).