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Narrative on the Changes made in the Qur’an by al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf
Hadith & Sunnah
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

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-Hajjāj 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-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf changed the mushaf of ‘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 الله سَيَقُوْلُوْنَ 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‘zamī3 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-Imām4 similarly asserts that al-Hajjāj would have been opposed in his time or later, if he had made these alleged changes.

Mahmūd Ziyādah5 adds that if it is supposed that the companions and followers living in Iraq kept silent fearing the brutality of al-Hajjāj, 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-Hajjāj?

Al-Khū’ī6 asserts that al-Hajjāj 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-Hajjāj 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‘zamī7 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 Mahmūd Ziyādah,8 how could historians who have not spared al-Hajjāj 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‘zamī,9 the use of diacritics had not become very common in the era of al-Hajjāj. There are many words in the list which become identical to one another if these diacritics are removed. Examples include:

i. ينُْشِرُكُمْ and  يُسَيِّرُكُمْ(10:22)

ii.  آتِيْكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِهِand أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأوِيْلِه (12:45)

iii. مَعَايِشَهُمْ and  مَعِيْشَتَهُمْ (43:32)

5. According to A‘zamī10 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-Hajjāj about whom there are contrary reports recorded in history. In this regard, he reports that when al-Hajjāj 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 masāhif of Iraq in accordance with the ‘Uthmānic text. He goes on to record some incidents which show his resolve in this connection.

i. When al-Hajjāj saw that the masāhif of Kufah had some spurious verses written in them he instituted a committee from the memorizers and scribes of Basrah which included al-Hasan al-Basrī (d. 110 AH) (who headed the committee), Abū al-Āliyah (90 / 93 AH), Nasr ibn Āsim (d. 89 AH), ‘Āsim al-Jahdarī, Ali ibn Asma‘, Mālik ibn Dīnār11 (d. 127 AH). They were ordered by al-Hajjāj to write out new masāhif and then present them for comparison with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān (rta) which was summoned from Madīnah from his descendents. If they mutually differed with one another they were told by al-Hajjāj to elicit the opinion of al-Hasan al-Basrī and consider it as final. After matching with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān, the memorizers and scribes who were called changed the current masāhif of Iraq at eleven places at the behest of al-Hasan and his committee.12

ii. Al-Hajjāj deputed ‘Asim al-Jahdarī (d. 128 AH), Nājiyāh ibn Rumh and ‘Alī ibn Asma‘ to destroy all the masāhif which were not in conformity with the mushaf of ‘Uthmān (rta) and pay their respective owners a compensation of sixty dirhams.13

iii. Once al-Hajjāj asked Yahyā ibn Ya‘mur if he heard from him any mistake in reading the Qur’ān. When Yahyā pointed out one,14 al-Hajjāj emphatically declared that in future this would never happen.

Al-Bāqillānī while defending al-Hajjāj with regard to this allegation goes on to say that perhaps al-Hajjāj had deleted verses which were not mutawātir or had deleted abrogated verses in the masāhif of Iraq.

8. Al-Bāqillānī asks what good were these changes when none of them related to the affirmation of the Umayyad caliphate (of which al-Hajjāj 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 Hajar,17 has pointed out that ‘Awf had Shiite tendencies and was also anti-Umayyad; since al-Hajjāj was a pillar of the Umayyad dynasty, he would have been a natural target for him.

2. Jamāl ibn Muhammad has pointed out that one of the narrators of the report ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb is matrūk al-hadīth.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-Hajjāj 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 Hadīth 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 Suhayb are suspect.

It may also be noted that al-Hajjāj seems to have launched an extensive campaign in Irāq to rid the masāhif of spurious and erroneous verses. As noted earlier, al-Baqillānī has already recorded some of these measures. It may further be kept in mind that al-Hajjāj had appointed Rāshid al-Himmānī (also called Rāshid al-Qārī) to keep an eye on the masāhif20 and also to correct them.21 In the presence of this data, this allegation on him seems even more baseless.



Criticism on the isnād


Mustafā A‘zmī and Jamāl ibn Muhammad have very briefly referred to the suspect nature of ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah and ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb. Here are the details.


‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah

Though the muhaddithūn have 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-Du‘afā’.22

Al-Hākim records:


قلت فعوف بن أبي جميلة قال ليس بذاك

I asked: “[What about] ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah?” He [al-Dāraqutnī] 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] Basrah 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-Hasan what no one else ever has.25


 ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb

Ibn Abī Hatim says that Abū Bakr ‘Abbād ibn Suhayb al-Kulaybī is da‘if al-hadīth, munkar al-hadīth, turika hadithuhū.26

Ibn ‘Adī says that Ibn Hammād told him that he is matrūk al-hadīth and 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 du‘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 du‘f.27

Ibn Sa‘d28 and al-Bukhārī29 have forsaken (tarkūhū.) him.

Al-Nasā’ī says that he is matrūk al-hadīth.30

Ibn Hibbān has mentioned him in his al-Mujrūhīn and 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-Fadl al-Maqdisī, he is blamed of fabricating narratives.33

Al-Dhahabī says he is wāhin.34

Shams al-Dīn al-Hanbalī records that according to Ibn al-Madīnī dhahaba hadīthuhū and in the opinion of al-Dūlābī he is matrūk.35

Yahyā ibn Mā‘in says that he did not write any thing from ‘Abbād.36

Abū Dā’ūd says that he is sadūq.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.










1. See, for example: AFL Beeston, TM Johnstone, RB Serjeant and GR Smith (Ed.), Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 243; John Gilchrist, Jam‘ al-Qur’ān - The Codification of the Qur’ān Text (Mondeor: MERCSA, 1989), 107-108.

2. Abū Bakr ‘Abdullāh ibn Abī Dā’ūd Sulaymān ibn al-Ash‘ath, Kitāb al-masāhif, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1985), 59. See also: Ibid., 130.

3. Muhammad Mustafā al-‘Āzamī, The History of the Qur’ānic Text from Revelation to Compilation, 1st ed. (Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003), 103.

4. Ahmad ‘Alī al-Imām, Variant Readings of the Qur’ān: A Critical Study Of Their Historical And Linguistic Origins (Virginia: The International Institute Of Islamic Thought, 1998), 71.

5. Mahmūd Ziyādah, Al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf al-muftarā ‘alayh, 7th ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Salām, 2010), 100-102.

6. Muhammad Abū Al-Qāsim al-Khū’ī, Al-Bayān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, 5th ed. (Qum: al-Matba‘ah al-‘ilmiyyah, 1974), 238-239.

7. ‘Azamī, The History of the Quranic Text, 103.

8. Mahmūd Ziyādah, Al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf al-muftarā ‘alayh, 101.

9. ‘Azamī, The History of the Quranic Text, 103.

10. Ibid., 103.

11. He is known for writing masāhif. See, for example: Ibn Abī Dā’ūd, Kitāb al-masāhif, 147; Abū ‘Abdullāh Shams al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Qāyamaz ibn ‘Abdullāh al-Dhahabī, Siyar a‘alām al-nubalā’, 9th ed., vol, 5 (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1413 AH.), 362.

12. Qādī Abū Bakr ibn Tayyib al-Bāqillānī, Nukat al-intisār li naql al-Qur’ān (Alexandria: Munsha’ah al-ma‘ārif, n.d.), 396. It may be noted that this incident recorded by al-Bāqillānī is also mentioned by al-San‘ānī although in a very short form. The words are: kunnā na‘rid al-masāhif. The members mentions are all the same except that the name of ‘Alī ibn Asma‘ is not mentioned. See: ‘Abd al-Razzāq ibn Hammām al-San‘ānī, Tafsīr, 1st ed., vol. 3 (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1999), 400.

13. Al-Bāqillānī, Nukat al-intisār, 397. It may be noted that this incident recorded by al-Bāqillānī has already been recorded by Ibn Qutaybah (d. 286 AH) and Abū Tayyib ‘Abd al-Wāhid (d. 351 AH). See: Abū Muhammad ‘Abdullāh ibn Muslim ibn Qutaybah, Tā’wīl mushkil al-Qur’ān, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 2002), 37; Abū Tayyib ‘Abd al-Wāhid, Marātib al-nahwiyyīn, 65.

14. It is said that he read the word أَحَبُّ in the nominative instead of the correct accusative أَحَبَّ in verse twenty four of Sūrah Tawbah. See: Al-Bāqillānī, Nukat al-intisār, 398.

15. Al-Bāqillānī, Nukat al-intisār, 399.

16. Ibid., 103. For details, see the next section: “Further Criticism”.

17. Abū al-Fadl Ahmad ibn ‘Alī ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalānī, Taqrīb al-tahdhīb, 1st ed. (Syria: Dār al-rashīd, 1986.), 433.

18. Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān Jamāl ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmūd, Sīrah al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf al-Thaqafī mā lahū wa mā ‘alayh, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 2004), 55. For details, see the next section: “Further Criticism”.

19. See, for example: Ahmad ibn ‘Alī ibn Thābit al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī, Al-Faqīh wa al-mutafaqqih, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Sa‘ūdia: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, 1421 AH), 354.

20. The words recorded by Ibn Khālawayh (d. 370 AH) are: alladhī nazara fī al-masāhif li al-Hajjāj. See: Abū ‘Abdullāh al-Husayn ibn Ahmad ibn Khālawayh Mukhtasar fi shawādhdh al-Qur’ān min kitāb al-badī‘ (Cairo: Maktabah al-matanbī, n.d.), 123.

21. The words recorded by al-Halabī (d. 756 AH) are: alladhī kāna yusahhihu al-masāhifa ayyāma al-Hajjāj bi amrihī. See: Abū al-‘Abbās Ahmad ibn Yūsuf al-Samīn al-Halbī, Al-Durr al-masūn fī ‘ulūm al-kitāb al-maknūn, vol. 9 (Cairo: Dār al-Qalam, n.d.), 191.

22. Abū Zur‘ah ‘Ubaydullāh ibn ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-du‘afā’, 1st ed. (Madīnah: Al-Jami‘ah al-islāmiyyah, 1982), 659; ‘Uqaylī, Al-Du‘afā’, vol. 3, 429.

23. Abū al-Hasan ‘Alī ibn ‘Umar al-Dāraqutanī, Su’ālāt al-Hākim, 1st ed. (Riyād: Maktabah al-ma‘ārif, 1984), 261.

24. Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm ibn Ya‘qūb al-Juzjānī, Ahwāl al-rijāl. 1st ed. (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1405 AH), 114.

25. Abū al-Hajjāj Yūsuf ibn al-Zakī al-Mizzī, Tahdhīb al-kamāl fī asmā’ al-rijāl, 1st ed., vol. 22 (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-risālah, 1980), 240.

26. ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Abī Hatim, Al-Jarh wa al-ta‘dīl, 1st ed., vol. 6 (Beirut: Dār al-ihyā’ al-turāth al-‘arabī, 1952), 81.  

27. Abū Muhammad ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Adī, Al-Kāmil fī al-du‘afā’, 3rd ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: Dār al-fikr, 1998), 346-347.  

28. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Sa‘d al-Zuhrī, Al-Tabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 6 (Beirut: Dār sādir, n.d), 43.

29. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī, Al-Du‘afā’ al-saghīr, 1st ed. (Halab: Dār al-wa‘y, 1396 AH), 75.

30. Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān Ahmad ibn Shu‘ayb al-Nasā’ī, Al-Du‘afā’ wa al-matrūkīn (Halab: Dār al-wa‘y, 1396 AH), 75.

31. Abū Hātim Muhammad ibn Hibbān al-Bustī, Al-Majrūhīn min al-muhaddithin wa al-du‘afā’ wa al-matrūkīn, 1st ed. vol. 2 (Halab: Dār al-wa‘y, 1396 AH), 164.

32. ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Haythamī, Majma‘ al-zawā‘īd wa man ba ‘ al-fawā’id, vol. 3 (Beirut: Dār al-kitāb, 1407), 166; Ibid., vol. 7, 196.

33. Abū al-Fadl Muhammad ibn Tāhir al-Maqdisī, Ma‘rifah al-tadhkirah fī ahādīth al-mawdū‘ah, 1st ed. (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-kutub thaqāfiyyah, 1985), 149.

34. Abū ‘Abdullāh Shams al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Qāyamaz ibn ‘Abdullāh al-Dhahabī, Al-Muqtanā fī sard al-kunā, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Madinah: Al-Jāmi‘ah al-islāmiyyah, 1408 AH), 117.

35. Shams al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Hadī al-Hanbalī, Tanqīh tahqīq ahādīth al-taghlīq, 1st ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1998), 388.

36. ‘Abbās ibn Muhammad ibn Hātim al-Durī, Tarīkh Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn, 1st ed., vol. 4 (Makkah: Markaz al-bahth ‘ilmī wa ihyā’ al-turāth al-islāmī, 1979), 139.

37. Abū ‘Abdullāh Shams al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Uthmān ibn Qāyamaz ibn ‘Abdullāh al-Dhahabī, Mīzān al-i‘tidal fī naqd al-rijāl, 1st ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1995), 29.

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