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Collection and Transmission of the Qur’an
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Collection and Transmission of the Qur’an

The Qur’ān we have with us today is the very one – word for word -- which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (sws). It was collected both in the form of a book and learnt by heart by many companions of the Prophet (sws) during his own life time and then transferred verbally as well as in the written form to the next generations. Such is the monumental nature of this transmission that the inerrancy of the Qur’ānic text is an incontestable reality.

In the following paragraphs, this claim shall be corroborated through the Qur’ān itself and through the norms of established history.


The Qur’ān, as well as many Ahādīth, records the fact that the Qur’ān was compiled in the form of a book before the Prophet (sws) left for his heavenly abode.

The verses which record this testimony of the Qur’ān1 must be understood in the context and background of the whole Qur’ān: The Prophet (sws), it is evident from the Qur’ān, was desirous of the fact that his addressees accept faith. During the course of his hectic struggle to achieve this end, he encountered stiff opposition from People of the Book and from the Quraysh. However, if this hostility impelled him to increase his efforts on the one hand, it also created in him the yearning to receive the whole of the Qur’ān as soon as possible because he thought that the whole and completed message might answer all the questions and doubts raised by his opponents and induce them to accept faith. Furthermore, the piecemeal revelation of the Qur’ān was objected to by the Quraysh2. They tauntingly commented on this in the following words: 

Why is not the Qur’ān revealed to him all at once? Thus [is it revealed] that We may strengthen your heart thereby, and We have revealed it gradually and painstakingly. (25:32)

As is evident from the later part of the verse, the Prophet (sws) is solaced by the Almighty that for his proper education and instruction and for that of the people, a gradual process of revealing divine decrees has been employed. Consequently, at various places in the Qur’ān, he is told to exercise resolve and patience until the whole of the Qur’ān is revealed to him:

Be not in haste with the Qur’ān before its revelation is completed to you and pray: O Lord advance me in knowledge. (20:113-4)

The initial verses of Sūrah A‘lā portray another instance where the Prophet (sws) is told to exercise patience about receiving the whole of the Qur’ān. He is cited two distinct examples which shed light on a common law of nature: there exists the principle of gradual progression and development in all the phenomena of nature. Everything reaches its culmination after passing through various stages. Consequently, he need not worry. The revelation of the Qur’ān will also be gradually completed after passing through various stages:

Glorify the name of your Lord, Most High [O Prophet], Who created [all things], then perfected [them], and Who set their destinies [for them], then [accordingly] showed them the way [to follow], and Who brought forth vegetation, then made it lush green. [In a similar manner, this divine revelation will also gradually reach its end, then] soon We shall [finally] recite it to you; then you will not forget except what Allah pleases. (87:1-18)

With this background, consider now the following verses of the Qur’ān which are in fact similar to the above quoted verses ((20:113-4) and (87:1-19)) in their purport. They also direct the Prophet (sws) to exercise patience until all the Qur’ān is revealed. Only here, the assurance provided to the Prophet (sws) is through a forceful declaration of the whole scheme of the Almighty about the revelation of the Qur’ān. He is assured that it is the responsibility of the Almighty to collect and compile the Qur’ān as well as to recite it to him in a certain sequence. It is the Almighty Himself who will preserve the text of the Qur’ān as well as the mode of its recital:  

[To reveal to them, as soon as possible, the whole of the Qur’ān O Prophet!] do not move your tongue swiftly to acquire this [Qur’ān]. Verily, upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it, follow this recital [of Ours]. Then upon Us is to explain it [wherever need be].3 (75:16-19)

Let us now reflect simultaneously on these verses and on the following verse of Sūrah A‘lā   already quoted before:

Soon We shall [finally] recite it [ -- the Qur’ān –] to you; then you will not forget it except what Allah pleases. (87:18)

As a result, we arrive at the following conclusions about the whole Qur’ānic scheme of its own collection and compilation:

1. The Qur’ān was given piecemeal to the Prophet (sws) according to the circumstances which arose and which required divine guidance.

2. Its chronological revelation is of no significance. It was arranged in a new sequence by the Almighty. Once its initial revelation was over, the Almighty through archangel Gabriel read it out to the Prophet (sws) a second time. In this second recital, temporary directives were revised or deleted permanently.

3. This final arrangement and recital was done once the Qur’ān had been collected and compiled in the form of a book. It was read out to Prophet (sws) in a manner that it was rendered absolutely secure from any loss or doubt.

4. After this final recital, the Prophet (sws) was bound by the Almighty to follow this recital only. He was not allowed to read it according to the previous recital.

5. In this final recital, if any directive needed further explanation, it was furnished by the Almighty Himself at this time of compilation4.

Consequently, it is clear from the Qur’ān that its collection was completed in the very life of the Prophet (sws) by the Almighty. The final recital of the Qur’ān, which has been termed as the Arda-i-akhīrah (the final presentation)5 by our scholars, constitutes the whole of the Qur’ān as revealed to Muhammad (sws).

Many Ahādith also record the compilation of the Qur’ānic text in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws). The Prophet (sws) had appointed many amanuenses for this purpose. Zayd (rta) is reported to have said:

We used to compile the Qur’ān from small scraps in the presence of the Messenger. (Hākim, Mustadrak)

The following account also bears witness to the fact that the Qur’ān existed as a written document in the time of the Prophet (sws):

Mālik said that no one should carry the Mushaf by its strap, nor on a pillow, unless he is clean… (Mu’attā, Kitāb Al-Nidā’ Li’l-Salāh)

Another Hadīth informs us about some of the companions who had memorised the Qur’ān in its entirety and gone over it with the Prophet before his death:

Narrated Qatādah: I asked Anas Ibn Mālik: ‘Who collected the Qur’ān at the time of Prophet?’ He replied: ‘Four, all of whom were from the Ansār: Ubay Ibn Ka‘ab, Mu‘ādh Ibn Jabal, Zayd Ibn Thābit and Abū Zayd.’(Bukhārī, Kitāb Fadā’ilu’l-Qur’ān)

One copy of the Qur’ān was placed in the Masjid-i-Nabawī so that people could make their own copies from it or learn from it. The pillar of the mosque near which the Mushaf was placed was called the Ustuwānah-i-Mushaf (The Pillar of the Mushaf), and is referred to in various Ahādīth; (See for example: Sahīh Muslim: Kitābu’l-Salāh; Sahīh Bukhārī: Kitābu’l-Salāh).

The completed Book was referred to by the Prophet (sws) in his last sermon in the following words:

I have left you something, which if you hold steadfast to, you will never fall into error: the Book of Allah and my established practice…. (Ibn Hishām, Sīrah, vol. 4, [Cairo: Maktabah Al-Kulliyyāt al-Azhariyyah], p. 186)

In the light of this evidence, it can be safely concluded that Qur’ān was collected and compiled in the form of a book in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws). Consequently, isolate reports which, contrary to this evidence, mention that this collection actually took place after the Prophet (sws) by his companions can in no way be accepted. The narratives, which describe that it was Abū Bakr (sws) who collected the Qur’ān in one Mushaf and it was ‘Uthmān (rta) who fearing differences in reading the Qur’ān ordered to make official copies of it, contradict the Qur’ān and the norms of established history, and therefore cannot be accepted.6 To any one who objectively examines the material reported in history on this subject, it becomes evident that in spite of the painstaking efforts of the Prophet’s companions, some portions of the Qur’ān were lost forever before it could be compiled in book form7 while some others were found by a sheer stroke of luck at the initiative of a person who had them8. Notwithstanding these details, the mere contradiction of such reports with the Qur’ān is proof enough of their spurious nature. Moreover, the Isnād (chain of narrators) of the narratives which mention this collection has also been challenged quite convincingly in recent times9.

It is by disregarding the testimony of the Qur’ān and by insisting on accepting such spurious reports that the collection of the Qur’ān has become a subject of worthy and weighty criticism from the Orientalists10 . In the opinion of this writer, Muslim scholarship must cling to the Qur’ān for its own testimony on its collection for something decisive and certain as well as consistent in this regard. It is this testimony which they should present to their non-Muslim brethren since the authenticity of the words of the Qur’ān is beyond doubt; all other sources like Sīrat Literature , the Hadīth Literature and the Tafsīr Literature are subservient to it. The nature of all these three sources obviously is such that they cannot be termed as error free by any Muslim. Whilst their promiscuous heap may contain pearls of wisdom, yet the presence of unauthentic material in them can in no way be denied. Their ‘credit stands on slippery grounds’, and contradictory details about the same event may simultaneously exist in their corpus. Therefore, conclusions drawn on their bases cannot be termed as absolutely true. At best, they can be regarded as possibly true.

The situation becomes very grave if one considers the fact that in reality it is the authenticity of scripture that actually draws the dividing line between Muslims and the followers of other divinely revealed faiths. For it is the Muslims who claim that all previous divine scriptures have been interpolated and corrupted and that it is they who have with them a complete authentic script from the Almighty. If the data from which they prove the authenticity of their scripture provides dubious results, then they really have a very heavy task at their hands to reckon with since the sincere seekers of truth in their non-Muslim counterparts are provided with a possible legitimate excuse to reject the Qur’ān as the unadulterated word of God.

Consequently, only material from these sources which is in consonance with the view of the Qur’ān should be accepted and that which contradicts this view should be rejected.


Once the Qur’ān was collected in the lifetime of the Prophet (sws) and memorised by many of his companions, it was transmitted to the next generations both verbally and in script form. In fact, the verbal transmission superseded the written one. For it is this transmission that has actually safeguarded the Qur’ānic text which can be read variously if the actual vocalization is not known. Hundreds and thousands of the Prophet’s companions learnt it by heart and then passed it on verbally to the next generation, which in turn memorised the text in great numbers and this process is still continuing. This generation to generation transmission is so overwhelming and all-embracing that the transmitted text has been rendered safe and secure from any alteration. Consequently, such is the prodigious nature of this transmission that solitary reports which convey even a slight difference are of no value. In other words, like established historical events which are also conveyed through such generation to generation transfer and which as result cannot be challenged, the text of the Qur’ān we have with us, on similar grounds, is also established beyond any doubt. For example, the facts that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington or that Genghiz Khan ravaged Baghdad are reports that have been transmitted from the generations that saw and witnessed these events to the next to the extent that no one can challenge the established nature of these reports. Similar is the case of the mechanism of the transmission of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān we have with us today has been transferred by thousands of the companions of the Prophet (sws) with a consensus on the report that this was the very Qur’ān revealed to Muhammad (sws). In turn, this generation transferred this Qur’ān and this report to the next generation. So, just as the contentions that Napolean never met his fate at Waterloo or that Baghdad was never devastated by Genghis Khan cannot be entertained in the world of reason and rationality since they belie established history, the contention  that the Qur’ān we have today is not the same as what was revealed to Muhammad can in no way be accepted.11

Also, in this regard, the following points need to be appreciated:

(i) All written texts of the Qur’ān are actually compiled and written on the basis of the oral transmission. In other words, written texts are not the real source of the transmission of the Qur’ān. They are totally dependent on the oral tradition of transmission, which is the real mode of transmission of the Qur’ānic text. Even today, each written text must be attested by the oral tradition of transmission through a Hāfiz who has learnt the Qur’ān.

(ii) It is the oral transmission which was used later on by the Ummah to write the vowel sounds on the Qur’ānic text for the benefit of non-Arab readers.

(iii) The often undertook quest for the oldest written codex of the Qur’ān has academic importance only since this has no role in determining the original text of the Qur’ān, which, as pointed out, is not dependent on written texts.12

In the light of this discussion, it can be safely concluded that the promise of the Almighty mentioned in the Qur’ān13 regarding its protection and safety has stood fulfilled ever since the Qur’ān was revealed and will continue to stand the test of time until the end of this world is heralded.


This article has thus far ventured forth to explain the collection and transmission of the Qur’ān. However, owing to certain prevailing concepts, three questions may spring in the mind of the readers:

1. What about the verses of the Qur’ān which are thought to be operational yet are not found within the Qur’ān?

2. What were the seven readings of the Qur’ān on which it was supposed to have been revealed?

3. What are the extant variant readings of the Qur’ān?

This article ends with an attempt to answer these questions.

The Extraneous Verses

There exists a consensus among Muslim scholars that there are some verses of the Qur’ān which do not exist in it yet are operational. In technical parlance, they are called ‘Mansūkhu’l Tilāwah Dūn Al-Hukm’ (whose reading has been withdrawn but whose ruling still exists). Writes Āmidī:

Scholars unanimously concede that there are verses which do not exist in the Qur’ān whose directive still remains. (Āmidī, Al-Ahkām Fī Usūli’l-Ahkām, vol. 2, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1980], p. 201)

In this regard, the most striking example is the verse of stoning found in some of the major books of Hadīth literature. One of its texts is reported as follows:

‘Umar said: ‘Refrain from destroying yourself by denying the verse of stoning. Matters should not reach the stage that people should begin to say: “We do not find mention of two punishments (stripes and stoning) in the Book of Allah.” No doubt the Prophet did Rajam (stoning to death) and so did we. I swear by Him in whose hands is my life that if I were not fearful of the fact that people would say that ‘Umar has made an addition in the Book of Allah, I would have written the verse: “Stone to death the old man guilty of fornication and the old woman guilty of fornication” in the Qur’ān. The reason is that we ourselves have recited this verse [from the Qur’ān]’. (Mu’attā, Kitābu’l-Hudūd)

While Muslim scholarship14 try to explain this by saying that the directive of Rajam found in such Ahādīth abrogates the directive of punishing fornicators found in the Qur’ān (24:2), some of the critics of the Qur’ān by citing this and other similar examples of such verses found in the Hadīth literature say:

It is far more reasonable to conclude that most of the various passages said to have been omitted from the Qur’ān were either overlooked, or not known to all the companions, or quite simply forgotten (such as the passage said by Abū Mūsā to have contained the verse about the insatiable greed of man. cf Sahīh Muslim).15

This opinion of our scholars cannot be accepted and requires serious reconsideration. No verse which is thought to exist outside the Qur’ān can be considered as still operational in any way. How can a part of the Qur’ān be extraneous to it? The Qur’ān we have today is itself a proof on the fact that everything outside it is not its part in any way.

Also, since the doctrine of abrogation16 is used by both Muslims and non-Muslims to justify or refute such verses, it seems appropriate here to allude to some important statutes of this doctrine:

(i) Only a Qur’ānic verse can abrogate another verse. Consequently, both the abrogating and the abrogated verses exist in the Qur’ān. For example: 58:13 abrogates 58:12; similarly 4:11 abrogates 2:180-2. In other words, no abrogated verse of the Qur’ān is found outside the Qur’ān, and no Hadīth can abrogate a Qur’ānic directive.

(ii) The word Naskh (abrogation) is not used in the Qur’ān as a term, as is generally understood. It was centuries later that ‘Naskh’ became a term coined by the scholars of Usūl. In 2:106, where it occurs, it refers to abrogation of certain directives of previous divine scriptures by the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān itself does not comment on whether any verse of its verses has been abrogated or not.

(iii) The abrogation found in the Qur’ān concerns only laws and directives; it does not in any way relate to beliefs, morality or historical accounts.

The Seven Readings

The following Hadīth is generally presented to contend that the Qur’ān was actually revealed on seven different readings:

Yahyā narrates from Mālik who narrates from Ibn Shahāb Zuhrī who narrates from ‘Urwah Ibn Zubayr who narrates from ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn ‘Abdu’l-Qarī that ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb said before me: ‘I heard Hishām Ibn Hakīm Ibn Hizām reading Sūrah Furqān in a different way from the one I read it, and the Prophet (sws) himself had read out this sūrah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet (sws). I said to him: “I have heard Hishām Ibn Hakīm Ibn Hizām reading Sūrah Furqān in a different way from the one you had read it out to me”. The Prophet (sws) said: “Leave him alone [O ‘Umar]”. Then he said to Hishām: “Read [it]”. [‘Umar says:] He read it out in the same way as he had done before me. [At this,] the Prophet said: “It was revealed thus”. Then the Prophet (sws) asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: “It was revealed thus. This Qur’ān has been revealed on seven Ahruf. You can read it in any way you find easy from among them”’. (Mu’attā, Mā Jā’ Fi’l-Qur’ān)

On the following grounds, this Hadīth cannot be accepted:

Firstly, the very meaning of this Hadīth has baffled everyone, and no one has ever been able to present a convincing explanation of it. Suyūtī has cited forty different interpretations of it in his treatise Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūmi’l-Qur’ān and after realizing their weakness has admitted in Tanwīru’l-Hawālik, a commentary on the Mu’attā of Imam Mālik, that this Hadīth should be regarded among the Mutashābihāt (ie something whose meaning is not known):

To me the best opinion in this regard is that of the people who say that this Hadīth is from among matters of Mutashābihāt, the meaning of which cannot be understood. (Suyūtī, Tanwīru’l-Hawālik, 2nd ed., [Beirut: Dāru’l-Jayl, 1993], p. 199)

Secondly, even if the most plausible meaning that the word Ahruf means the various accents and pronunciations which existed in the various tribes of Arabia is taken, the text of the Hadīth itself negates this meaning. It is known that both ‘Umar (rta) and Hishām (rta) belonged to the same tribe: the Quraysh.

Thirdly, even if it is accepted that this difference was of accent and pronunciation between various tribes, the verb unzila (was revealed) is certainly very inappropriate. The Qur’ān has specified that it was revealed in the language of the Prophet’s tribe: the Quraysh (See for example: 19:97, 44:58). How can it be accepted that the Almighty Himself revealed the various accents and pronunciations?

Fourthly, it is known that Hishām had accepted Islam on the day Makkah was conquered. If this Hadīth is accepted, it would mean that for almost twenty years even the closest companions of the Prophet (sws) like ‘Umar (rta) was unaware of the Qur’ān being revealed in some other reading. This clandestine teaching of course directly contradicts many verses of the Qur’ān which direct the Prophet (sws) to convey and communicate each and every verse of the Qur’ān. See for example 5:67.

The Variant Readings

It is alleged that there exist several variant readings of the Qur’ān. In this regard, it is said that their amount cannot be fixed and every reading which fulfils the following criteria is acceptable:

Any reading which is grammatically correct by any means17, is according to the script of the Uthmānic codices in any way18 and whose chain of narration is Sahīh cannot be rejected. In fact, it is from among the seven Ahruf on which the Qur’ān was revealed whether the reading be narrated from the seven great readers or the ten or anyone of acknowledged status besides these. (Ibn al-Jazarī, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], p. 9)

It is further understood that:

When any of these three criteria is not fulfilled for a reading then such a reading shall be considered weak, or unknown (Shāzah), or unacceptable whether it be from the seven readers or the ten or from those who are even greater than these. This is the correct opinion according to the researchers of the past and recent times19. (Ibn al-Jazarī, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], p. 9)

It is said that the first person to record these readings in the form of a book was Abū ‘Ubayd Qāsim Ibn Salām (d:224 AH). He recorded twenty five readings; Abū Ja‘far Tabarī (d:310 AH) recorded over twenty readings, while it was Abū Bakr Ibn Mujāhid (d: 324 AH) who selected the seven famous ones20 . The number selected by Ibn Mujāhid (seven) has been objected to by many scholars since this number has led people to think that these seven were the same as the seven Ahruf on which the Qur’ān was supposed to have been revealed:

Abū Shāmah has said: A group of people say that the seven readings found today are the ones implied by the seven Ahruf mentioned in the Ahādīth. However, this is totally against the consensus of the scholars of Islam. This view has arisen only among certain ignorant people. Abū ‘Abbās Ibn ‘Ammār has said: The compiler of the seven readings has done an inappropriate thing. As a result, the masses are faced with a complex situation. People with little knowledge think that the seven Ahruf mean the seven readings. Ibn Mujāhid should have either selected a number greater than seven or a number less than seven to avoid this confusion. (Suyūtī, Itqān Fī ‘Ulūmi’l-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydār: Manshurāt al-Radī, 1313 AH], p. 274)

In the opinion of this writer, none of these readings can be accepted in any way owing to the following reasons:

(i) The following verses of the Qur’ān explicitly tell us that the whole of the Qur’ān was recited on ONE READING in a particular way by the Almighty Himself after its revelation was completed:

Verily, Upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it follow this recital [of Ours]. (75:17-18)

It is clear from these verses that the Almighty recited the Qur’ān in a single reading. The words leave no room for multiple readings of the same word/verses. Furthermore, the verse emphatically instructs the Prophet (sws) to follow ONLY this particular recital.

(ii) The whole of the Muslim Ummah today, except for a few North African countries, is united in reading the Qur’ān in just one way. The variation is so insignificant that it cannot be accepted in any way. These areas of the African continent did not even fall into the mainstream of the Muslim Ummah conquered by the Companions of the Prophet (sws) during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. The only complete reading of the Qur’ān which is in vogue in all the mainstream areas from the time of the Prophet (sws) is the Qir‘āt al-‘Āmmah (the universal reading) – the very reading read out to the Prophet (sws) once the revelation of the Qur’ān had been completed. It was this very reading which existed among the companions of the Prophet (sws). Abū ‘Abdu’l Rahman Sullamī (d:105 AH21 ) narrates:

The reading of Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān and Zayd Ibn Thābit and that of all the Muhājirūn and the Ansār was one. They would read the Qur’ān according to the Qir‘āt al-‘Ammah. This is the same reading which was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death by Gabriel. Zayd Ibn Thābit22 was also present in this reading [called] the ‘Ardah-i-Akhīrah23. It was in this very reading that he taught the Qur’ān to people till his death. (Zarkashī, Burhān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Fikr, 1980] p. 237)

This reading is generally known today as the Reading of Hafs (Qir’āt-i-Hafs). However, its correct name is the Qir‘āt al-‘Āmmah. In the words of Ibn Sīrīn (d:110 AH24):

The reading on which the Qur’ān was read out to the Prophet (sws) in the year of his death is the same according to which people are reading the Qur’ān today. (Suyūtī, Itqān Fī Ulūmi’l-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydār: Manshūrāt al-Radī, 1343 AH], p. 177)

This is the testimony of a famous person who died more than seventy years after the Prophet (sws).

(iii) If the variant readings which actually change the meaning of a verse are incorporated in the text and reflected upon in light of the coherence of the Divine Book and its sublime language, it becomes evident that the text of the Qur’ān totally rejects them on grounds contained within the text.

An example would help in understanding this point:

According to the readings of Hamzah, Abū Amr, and Ibn Kathīr we find arjulikum in place of the standard reading of arjulakum in the fifth verse of Sūrah Mā’idah. This changes the meaning quite drastically. The reading arjulikum would mean that in wudu feet are to be wiped (the Arabic verb for wiping is Masah) as against arjulakum, the standard reading according to which feet are to be washed. An indication within the verse rejects the reading of arjulikum. If read thus (ie in the genitive), the mention of the words ilā al-ka‘bayn (up to the ankles) after arjulikum means that feet are to be wiped up to the ankles. We know that Masah is basically a symbolic expression signifying the attainment of purity and has been allowed to produce ease. Whereas in case of water, it is necessary that the extent to which the feet are to be washed be known, in case of Masah a mention of this extent is an obvious redundancy. In other words, the words ilā al-ka‘bayn in this case are superfluous. They only become meaningful if feet are to be washed. Consequently, another verse of the Qur’ān, which actually describes Tayammum (dry ablution), mentions the Masah of the face and the hands without specifying the extent to which this Masah is to be done:

 … And if you find no water then take for yourselves clean sand or earth and rub therewith your hands and faces. (4:43)

Redundant words, of course, do not exist in the elegant diction of the Qur’ān. Therefore, on the basis of this internal testimony provided within the verse, the reading arjulikum stands rejected as well.

This analysis should serve as a pointer at all the variant readings and brings out their fallacy.

(iv) It has already been shown that  the Qur’ān is Mutawātir (ie such a large number of people have transmitted the Qur’ān that the existence of any error in the transmitted text is impossible). There exists a consensus of opinion among the scholars of our Ummah on this as well.25 Consequently, Suyūtī asserts:

There is no difference of opinion about the fact that whatever is contained in the Qur’ān is Mutawātir both in totality and in part. To the Ahlu’l-Sunnah, the placements therein and its arrangement are all Mutawātir so that it [the Qur’ān] becomes indisputable. This is because it is an acknowledged fact that the Qur’ān is a document whose details desire Tawātur …. Consequently, whatever part of the Qur’ān has been transmitted through the Ahād (isolate reports) and is not Mutawātir is unquestionably not the Qur’ān by any means. (Suyūtī, Itqān Fī ‘Ulūmi’l-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Baydār: Manshūrāt al-Radī, 1343 AH], p. 266)

Now, if the chains of narrators of these variant readings are examined, none of them can be claimed as Mutawātir. They may be Mutawātir from their famous originators but they are certainly not Mutawātir all the way from these originators up to the Prophet (sws). At best, they can be classified as Ahād (isolate reports). An example would suffice to illustrate this. Following are the three ways26 in which one of the Qurrā’, ‘Āsim Ibn Abī Najwad Al-Bahdlah (d: 127 AH27) has narrated his reading from the Prophet (sws):




  Muhammad (sws)  
  ‘Abdu’llāh Ibn Mas‘ūd  
Zirr Ibn Hubaysh  Abū ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān  Sullamī Abū ‘Amr Shāybānī

‘Āsim Ibn Abī Najwad


Hafs Ibn Sulaymān


Abū Bakr ‘Ayyāsh




Muhammad (sws )


Zayd Ibn Thābit

  Ubayyi Ibn Ka‘ab

Abū ‘Abdu’l-Rahman Sullamī


‘Āsim Ibn Abī Najwad


Hafs Ibn Sulaymān

  Abū Bakr ‘Ayyāsh



Muhammad (sws)




Zirr Ibn Hubaysh

  Abū ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Sullamī

‘Āsim Ibn Abī Najwad


Hafs Ibn Sulaymān

  Abū Bakr ‘Ayyash

Muslim scholars recognize this very fact, but quite inexplicably most of them still insist on accepting these variant readings:

The opinion of the majority is that these readings are Mutawātir. However, one opinion is that they are Mashhūr28 …. The truth in this regard is that they are Mutawātir from these seven [Qurr’ā]. As far as their Tawātur  from the Prophet (sws) is concerned, this is debatable. For the chain of narrators of these seven are found in the books of Qirā‘āt. These chains are transmission from a single person to another and do not fulfil the condition of Tawātur neither from the first narrator to the last nor in between. (Zarkashī, Burhān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Beirut: Dāru’l-Fikr, 1980] p. 319)

(v) Not only are these readings isolate reports (Ahād), but also many of the narrators of these readings are not regarded as trustworthy by the scholars of ‘Ilmu’l-Rijāl as far as accepting Ahādīth from them is concerned. As an example, this is what is written about Hafs Ibn Sulaymān, perhaps the most famous and most widely acclaimed of all the disciples of the major Qurrā’:

‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn Abī Hātim, ‘Umar Ibn Shu‘ayb Sābūnī, Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Bukhārī, Muslim and Nasā‘ī call him Matrūku’l-Hadīth (From whom Ahādīth are not accepted) .… In the opinion of Yahyā Ibn Mu‘īn as quoted by Abū Qudāmah Sarakhsī and ‘Uthmān Ibn Sa‘īd he is not trustworthy …. ‘Alī Ibn Madīnī says: he is weak in matters of Hadīth and I have forsaken him voluntarily.  …. Abū Zur‘ah also says that he is weak in matters of Hadīth ….. Sālih Muhammad Al-Baghdādī says the Ahādīth narrated by him are not worth writing and all of them mention unfamiliar things in religion. Zakariyyah Ibn Yahyā Al-Sājī narrates from Sammāk and ‘Alqamah Ibn Marthad and Qays Ibn Muslim that his Ahādīth are not reliable …. ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn Abī Hātim says that he asked his father about Hafs. His father said that his Ahādīth are not even worth writing. He is weak in matters of Hadīth, cannot be attested to and his Ahādīth are not acceptable. Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn Yūsuf says that he is a great liar, worthy of being forsaken and forges Ahādīth. Hākim Abū Ahmad says: He wastes Ahādīth. Yahyā Ibn Sa‘īd says that he took a book from him but never returned it. He would take books from people and copy them. Abū Ahmad Ibn ‘Addī narrates from Al-Sājī and Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Al-Baghdādī and Yahyā Ibn Mu‘īn that Hafs Ibn Sulaymān and Abū Bakr Ibn ‘Ayyāsh are the most competent of all who know the reading of ‘Āsim. Hafs is even more competent than Abū Bakr. However, Hafs is a great liar while Abū Bakr is reliable.29

It seems quite strange that a person so widely regarded as unreliable (even called a liar) in accepting Hadīth from be regarded as a very dependable person as far the Qur’ān is concerned.

It is clear from this analysis that these extant readings which are found in books of Tafsīr and read and taught in religious schools can in no way be accepted. Whether they originated from insistence by some to cling to the first recital of the Qur’ān30, or were mere explanations of the actual verses written down by the companions in their own codices or, like the extraneous verses, were concocted to disparage the Qur’ān is a mystery which perhaps may never be solved. However, this much is certain that they have nothing to do with the text of the Qur’ān.











1. In recent times, Farāhī (d:1930), a scholar from the subcontinent, has vehemently presented this testimony of the Qur’ān. Though he was not the first one to direct the attention of Muslim scholarship towards it, yet the way in which he has presented it entitles him to be placed among the pioneers of this view. In later years, Ghāmidī (b:1951), a pupil of Farāhī’s distinguished student Islāhī (d:1997) has lent precision to the seminal work done by Farāhī in this regard. This article draws heavily from the works of both these writers. (For details see (i) Farāhī, Majmū‘ah Tafāsīr, 1st ed., [Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991], pp. 206-214, (ii) Ghāmīdī, Usūl-u-Mubādī, Ishrāq, VI (October 1998), 18-25).

2. They did this in order to lend credibility to their contention that some others were also involved in the preparation of the Qur’ān and that whenever a section was completed, it was presented:

And the disbelievers say: This is but a lie that he has forged, and others have helped him in it. (25:4)

3. These verses are generally interpreted by most commentators in a different way. Technically speaking, the antecedent of the genitive pronoun hī in the construction li ta‘jala bihī, in their opinion, refers to the part of the Qur’ān which was revealed on one occasion. Consequently, according to them the verse means that the haste shown by the Prophet (sws) concerned receiving part of the Qur’ān which was meant to be revealed on a particular occasion. The reason for this haste was that the Prophet (sws) feared that the part of the Qur’ān being revealed to him on an occasion might get lost. This view is actually based on a Hadīth narrated by Ibn Abbās and recorded in most books of Hadīth. It says that the Prophet (sws), due to the above mentioned reason, would start repeating the words of the revelation rapidly as soon as Gabriel recited them to him. Thereupon, he was instructed by the Almighty to refrain from moving his tongue rapidly since the Almighty Himself had taken the responsibility of safely collecting it in his heart. In contrast to this, Farāhī argues that in the light of the context of the Qur’ān and other parallel verses (25:32, 20:113-4), the reason the Prophet (sws) showed haste was that he wanted to receive the whole of the Qur’ān (and not the part revealed on one occasion) in order to silence the questions and objections raised by his opponents. The second thing which is to be noted in these verses is that the verb jama‘a does not mean that the Qur’ān was collected in the heart of the Prophet (sws) as most commentators contend; such figurative use of the word requires some textual indication. On the contrary, it refers to the collection of the Qur’ān in the form of a book by the Almighty.

4. Consequently, according to Farāhī, verses which generally begin with the words Kadhālika Yubiyyinu’l Allāh (See for example: 2:187, 2:219. 2:266, 3:103, 24:58, 24:61) were placed in this final stage of compilation to explain and elucidate a previously sent down verse.

5. It is evident from the Ahādīth literature that each year in the month of Ramadān, archangel Gabriel would recite to the Prophet (sws) the portion of the Qur’ān revealed until then. In the last Ramadān of the Prophet’s life, he twice recited the whole of the Qur’ān to the Prophet (sws). Abū Hurayrah narrates:

The Prophet (sws) was read out the Qur’ān each year. However, in the year he died, it was read out to him twice. (Bukhārī, Kitāb Fadā’ilu’l-Qur’ān)

6. See appendix A.

7. Many (of the passages) of the Qur’ān that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamāmah ... but they were not known [by those who] survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abū Bakr, ‘Umar or Uthmān [by that time] collected the Qur’ān, nor were they found with even one [person] after them. (Ibn Abī Dawūd, Kitābu’l-Masāhif, 1st ed., [Egypt: Al-Matba‘ah al-Rahmāniyyah, 1936], p. 23).

8. John Gilchrist quotes the following account:

Khuzaymah Ibn Thābit said: ‘I see you have overlooked (two) verses and have not written them’. They said: ‘And which are they?’ He replied: ‘I had it directly (tilqiyya - ‘automatically, spontaneously’) from the messenger of Allah (Sūrah 9, verse 128): There has come to you a messenger from yourselves. It grieves him that you should perish, he is very concerned about you: to the believers he is kind and merciful’, to the end of the sūrah’. ‘Uthmān said: ‘I bear witness that these verses are from Allah’. (Ibn Abī Dawūd, Kitābu’l-Masāhif, 1st ed., [Egypt: Al-Matba‘ah al-Rahmāniyyah, 1936], p. 11).

(John Gilchrist, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān – The Codification of the Qur’ān Text, Internet Version:

He then concludes by saying:

The significant feature of this narrative is that Zayd and the others are said to have missed these verses completely when transcribing the Qur’ān. In fact, the statement that Zayd only found them with Abū Khuzaymah is here stated to mean that it was only at the latter’s initiative that the verse was recorded at all. He found it necessary to draw the compiler’s attention to them -- it was not Zayd’s search for two verses he already knew that occasioned their inclusion. In fact, the text goes on to say that Abū Khuzaymah was asked where they should be inserted in the Qur’ān and he suggested they be added to the last part of the Qur’ān to be revealed, namely the close of Sūrah al-Tawbah. (Ibid).

9. See

Tamannā ‘Imādī, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān, Karachi, Rahman Publishing Trust, 1994. See also Appendix A and Appendix B.

10. See for example (i) Theodore Noldeke, Geschichte des Qorans, Leipzig, 1909-38 in 3 parts, (ii) Arthur Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’ān, Leiden, 1937 and (iii) John Gilchrist, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān, South Africa: MERCSA, 1989. See also Appendix C.

11. There is, therefore, no need to comment on such spurious reports as Hajjāj Ibn Yūsuf changing the Qur’ān at eleven places. (See Ibn Abī Dawūd, Kitābu’l-Masāhif, 1st ed., [Egypt: Al-Matba‘ah al-Rahmāniyyah, 1936], p. 117)

12. This ongoing search has as yet located two hitherto oldest versions written in the Kūfic script dated round 100 AH. One of them is preserved today in the Soviet State Library at Tashkent in Uzbekistan in southern Russia, and the other is kept on public display in the Topkapi museum in Istanbul.

13. It is We who have revealed the Qur’ān and verily We shall preserve it. (15:9)

14. They maintain that whilst the Qur’ān says that a man and a woman guilty of fornication are to be flogged a hundred times, the Ahādith amend this directive by saying that if a married man and a married woman are guilty of fornication, then they shall be stoned to death. In other words, in their opinion, the directive of the Qur’ān is only meant for unmarried men and women.

15. John Gilchrist, Jam‘u’l-Qur’ān -- The Codification of the Qur’ān Text, Internet Version:

16. For details see Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 5th ed., vol. 1, [Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1993], pp. 308-317

17. That is even if its construction is not Fasīh (eloquent). See Ibn al-Jazarī, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], p. 10.

18. An example to illustrate this condition is the word Malik and Mālik. Since Arabic word (mīm) when written between two letters is without an alif (the elongated vowel sound) in these scripts, both these readings, it is alleged, are possible. See Ibn al-Jazarī, al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], p. 11.

19. One can estimate this period considering that  Ibn al-Jazarī died in 833 AH.

20. For further details see Ibn al-Jazarī, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], pp. 33-35.

21. See Abu’l Hajjāj Mizzī, Tahdhību’l-Kamāl, 2nd ed., vol. 14, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risālah, 1413 AH], p. 410.

22. This of course does not mean that only Zayd was present during the ‘Ardah-i-Akhīrah. Other companions would certainly have been present as well. Consequently, the following Hādith tells us that Ibn Mas‘ūd was also present:

The Prophet (sws) was read out the Qur’ān each year. However, the year he died it was read out to him twice. Ibn Mas‘ūd was present in this last recital, and [as a result] came to know what was abrogated and what was changed. (Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Musnad, vol. 1, pp. 362-3)

23. ie the final presentation.

24. See Abu’l Hajjāj Mizzī, Tahdhību’l-Kamāl, 2nd ed., vol. 25, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risālah, 1413 AH], p. 354.

25. See Appendix D

26. See Ibn al-Jazarī, Al-Nashr Fi’l-Qirā’āt al-‘ahsr, vol. 1, [Egypt: Maktabah al-Tujjāriyyah], p. 155.

27. See Abu’l Hajjāj Mizzī, Tahdhību’l-Kamāl, 2nd ed., vol. 13, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risālah, 1413 AH], p. 478.

28. ie widely attested.

29. See Abu’l Hajjaj Mizzī, Tahdhību’l-Kamāl, 2nd ed., vol. 7, [Beirut: Mu’assasah Al-Risālah, 1413 AH], pp. 13-15.

30. As pointed out earlier with reference to 75:16-19, this initial recital of the Qur’ān was replaced by a final one by the Almighty Himself.

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