Thursday, January 1, 2009

Quranically Confused: Muhammad's Chosen Teachers Against Zaid's Text

When I was still a Muslim, I had no doubt about one thing: the Qur'an was incontrovertibly perfectly preserved. I told any who asked me that there were plenty of huffaz who had memorized the Qur'an as Muhammad had revealed it. When it came time to collect the Qur'an in one codex, the verses were all well-known in the memories of the Muslims. Zaid bin Thabit just had to verify them and record them in his codex. Even the order of the surahs was known by command of the Prophet! This was a clean process, no room for error, and indisputably accurate.

Or so I thought. Having outgrown much of my chidlish naivete, I later realized that one thing must be true: if the accounts regarding the compilation of the Qur'an are much later than the compilation itself, then there is plenty of room for embellishment and sterilization of the accounts. Conversely, if an early account reports some snare in the compilation of the Qur'an or some disagreement, then this is very likely to be a true account, for three reasons: It fits the historical method's principle of early testimony, it fits the historical method's principle of embarassing admission (for what Muslim would want to invent a story which makes the transmission of the Qur'an appear sloppy?), and it would be the only logical explanation of such an account. Thus, when I read early Muslim accounts of the Quran's compilation and find that they disagreed with perfect preservation, my interest was piqued:

Many (of the passages) of the Qur'an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama ... but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down … nor were they found with even one (person) after them.
-Ibn Abi Daud Kitab al-Masahif

After investigating the issue further, I was shocked by the preponderance of early evidence against Zaid's text. In fact, it would be accurate to believe that Muhammad himself would not consider Zaid's text to be 100% accurate! According to Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad's chosen teachers were four:

Narrated Masruq: 'Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned 'Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, 'Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: 'Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu'adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.' "
- Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 61

First among Muhammad's chosen teachers of the Qur'an was ibn Masud. Yet Ibn Masud is well known to have disagreed with Zaid's text of the Qur'an. The disagreements were not limited to qirrat or minor word variations, but even the number of surahs was not something they agreed on! Ibn Masud, Muhammad's preferred teacher of the Qur'an, did not include al-Faatihah, al-Falaq, or al-Naas in his text! Ibn Masud's text contained only 111 surahs. About Zaid's text (the modern Qur'an), Ibn Masud is reported to have said the following:

The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Quran. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him (Muhammad) whom I love more than that of Zaid Ibn Thabit. By Him besides Whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah while Zaid was still a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth.
- Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, p.444

To settle this dispute between Zaid and ibn Masud, why not turn to someone else who Muhammad chose as an excellent teacher of the Qur'an? One of the other four Muhammad hand-picked was Ubay bin Ka'b. But when we turn to Ubay, we find out that he disagreed with both Zaid and ibn Masud, and he included 116 chapters in his Qur'an! However, we do find agreement between his text and ibn Masud's text against Zaid's text (such as the ordering of the surahs) and between his text and ibn Abbas's text (such as verses that Zaid did not include). Beyond this, we find in Ubay's Qur'an verses that Umar considered part of the Qur'an (the Verses of Rajm, or Stoning) which Zaid left out, much to Umar's chagrin.

So what of the modern text of the Qur'an? Without having to make any conclusion myself, I can simply recount the data and say the following:

- Muhammad's chosen teachers disagreed with it
- They disagreed with the number of chapters
- They disagreed with the order of the chapters
- They disagreed with the content of the verses
- Even Umar agreed with Muhammad's teachers against Zaid's Qur'an

The evidence is strong, and the conclusions are overwhelming. It seems that those who gloss over these facts or deny them will remain Quranically confused.


El-Cid said...

Very good issues you have addressed here Nabeel.

In addition to the codex variations you mention, there is also the issues of missing content:

Missing verses in Surat al-Ahzab-
Zirr ibn Hubaish reported: "Ubayy ibn Ka'b said to me, 'What is the extent of Suratul-Ahzab?' I said, 'Seventy, or seventy-three verses'. He said, 'Yet it used to be equal to Suratul-Baqarah and in it we recited the verse of stoning'. I said, 'And what is the verse of stoning'? He replied, 'The fornicators among the married men (ash-shaikh) and married women (ash-shaikhah), stone them as an exemplary punishment from Allah, and Allah is Mighty and Wise."' (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.524).

Ibn Abi Maryam related to us from Ibn Luhai'a from Abu'l-Aswad from Urwa b. az-Zubair from A'isha who said, "Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses, but when Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today." (Abu Ubaid's Kitab Fada'il-al-Qur'an)

Isma'il b. Ibrahim and Isma'i b. Ja'far related to us from al-Mubarak b. Fadala from Asim b. Abi'n-Nujud from Zirr b. Hubaish who said--Ubai b. Ka'b said to me, "O Zirr, how many verses did you count (or how many verses did you read) in Surat al-Ahzab?" "Seventy-two or seventy-three," I answered. Said he, "Yet it used to be equal to Surat al-Baqara (ii), and we used to read in it the verse of Stoning." (Abu Ubaid's Kitab Fada'il-al-Qur'an)

Missing verse of Rajm (which it seems was in al-Ahzab)-
Allah sent Muhammad (saw) 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 persons, male and female, who commit adultery) and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah's Apostle (saw) 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, p.539).

Missing verses of "suckling the adult"-
A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that it had been revealed in the Qur'an that ten clear sucklings make the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated by five sucklings and Allah's Apostle (saw) died and before that time it was found in the Qur'an. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, p.740).

Then we find recorded the incident that caused the disappearance of the Rajm ayah, suckling ayah, (and perhaps the rest of al-Ahzab?):

Narrated Aisha: "The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were written on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper."
(References: Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. page 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, page 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi 'l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) page 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru 'l-Manthur, vol. 2. page 13)

Yet somehow Muslims keep convincing themselves, and trying to convince others of the "perfect preservation" of the Qur'an.

Also Nabeel, I would really like to see more posts on the topic of the differences in Qur'an codices of Ubay ibn Ka'b, Zaid ibn Thabit, and ibn Masud. Keep up the good work.

Nabeel Qureshi said...


Thanks for posting that additional information. I never had heard of the tradition regarding the goat. If Allah ever asks her about why she did not complete that section of the Qur'an, I guess she can say her goat ate it :-)

Out of respect for Muslim predilections, I kept my case grounded in Bukhari. Not to say that this was the only source I used, but the authority of Abdullah bin Masud and Ubay bin Ka'b is clearly established in this source. Thus, the argument that these two stood against Zaid bin Thabit speaks volumes. Some of the evidence I use comes from other sources, but I figured having the premise of the argument based off Bukhari would be strong.

Thanks for letting us know what you want us to talk about - I will certainly post more about the differences in the texts of these Quranic teachers in the near future. God bless you, brother.

DAN12345 said...

I think it would be good also to write about the quran they currently have in a museum in istanbul turkey.It is housed in Topkapi or the blue Mosque i cant remember wwhich it is located in but i did visit there,but it would be good to list the differences between that quran and say todays quran.Also the quran found in yemen is said to have many differences,it would be good if they investigated properly and the truth was revealed.Intrestingly the same museum in istanbul also houses the hand of John the Baptist and claims to have the rod of Moses(musa they wrote)!it is an old piece of wood,if it was the real rod it would be the most amazing discovery ever.But same as with the Kaaba if they let archeologists in the truth would be revealed it is a hoax.Investiagtion is not wanted in the islamic world...

Matthew said...

That's more disagreement than I would have expected.
James once claimed that Ibn Masud was beaten to death because he did not want to give up his version. That still sounds bizarre to me, but in light of all this conflict, it makes much more sense.

Matthew said...

Also the quran found in yemen is said to have many differences,it would be good if they investigated properly and the truth was revealed.

Here is an old article on this:

They have a different version in a museum? And still lcaim it has been perfectly preserved? This is madness! (This is Sparta!)

David Wood said...


Allah wanted to abrogate the Verse of Suckling; thus, he sent an inspired goat to eat the evidence. We now have a new category of abrogation. Shall we call it "Abrogation by Eating" or "Goat Abrogation"? How about "abro-goat-ion"?

P.S. What's the difference between (1) a perfectly preserved book whose pages get eaten, and (2) a corruptible book whose pages get eaten?

Alforreca said...

«Also the quran found in yemen is said to have many difference»... will the "love" muslims have (cof, cof...) for the truth be sufficient to prevent them to destroy this evidences? Stay tuned for the nest episodes in a “accident” near you!!! Bye the way… thanks brother Matthew for the link you provided…

Nabeel Qureshi said...


I have never read the tradition that said Ibn Masud was killed for his codex. I think that was probably a mistaken claim - it is recorded that he was defiant in giving up his codex, and I have read in a few places that he was beaten before he gave it up, but I have yet to see any evidence that he was killed.

If you find out any more about this, please let me know!

Nabeel Qureshi said...


The Yemeni manuscripts are available for purchase; I know of some people who have them. Thankfully, I don't think they can be lost since we now have microfilms and other reproductions :-)

That being said, I doubt Muslims would destroy an old Qur'an. They might hide them or prohibit scholarly access, but I doubt they'd be destroyed. Do you know of any ancient Qur'ans that were destroyed by Muslims?

ben malik said...

I know of a Muslim whop destroyed ancient Quranic codices. His name was Uthman ibn Affan.

Alforreca said...

ben malik said:

«I know of a Muslim whop destroyed ancient Quranic codices. His name was Uthman ibn Affan»

yes... I was immediately thinking the same when I made my previous post... even though it happened because I read something in a quite recent – at least in my hands – number of the “The Islamic Review” that, in the 18 hundreds, in Mauritania, someone called Oulde T’wayr al-Janna (that I know for sure… I still have the book in which I took my handwritten notes…) tried to prevent that practice to continue...

Nabeel Qureshi said...

Ben Malik--

I mean modern Muslims destroying ancient Qurans. We all know Uthman burnt many old manuscripts; I am not convinced that he did so as an attempt to deceive others. I think he was being sincere. Academically foolish, yes, but sincere.

My question has more to do with whether or not Muslims (specifically Muslims in the post-salaf era) have been known or alleged to destroy their holy writ for purposes of deceit. Do you know of any?

Nakdimon said...

Hey all,

Nabeel nice article. I can't help but feeling as though the net is closing in on muslims very fast. I am rather engaged in Paltalk rooms and I get dotted many a times for bringing up these things.

Good job. Can't wait for the acts 17 project to pop off.

btw. My debate with Yahya19 (not Seymour) is online. you can check it here:

I am working on an assessment of that debate and hope to finish it this weekend to put it online.

El-Cid said...


God bless you as well! I'm keeping you in my prayers, for protection and strengthening of your apologetic efforts.

Bassam said...

Many (of the passages) of the Qur'an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama ... but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down … nor were they found with even one (person) after them.
-Ibn Abi Daud Kitab al-Masahif

This narration is weak because it contains Yunus ibn Yazeed who has been criticized for making mistakes. In Saheeh Al Bukhari we see that Umar ibn Al Khattab said that he was worried about the Qur’an becoming lost with the deaths that occurred in Yamama. So the narrator Yazeed by mistake probably said that those who uniquely memorized some of the Qur’an died in Yamama while he should have said that there was a fear of this happening.

Please read the articles at Qur'anic Variants