I asked my friend this question last weekend, and his first response was that there have never been any changes in the text of the Qur'an. From an earlier post, we know that this claim is not verifiable: the earliest Quranic manuscripts were all systematically destroyed by Uthman. Beyond that, we know that this claim misses the point: there was plenty of controversy amongst the earliest Quranic scholars over what should even be considered "Quran". The Quran was not even a solid enough concept to be changable!
But there's more. When I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there were differences in the manuscripts that Uthman sent out to the provinces and that there were variations in word usage, my reference was made to the hadith in which Muhammad says that there were seven ahruf.
Narrated by Umar bin Al Khattab: I heard Hisham bin Hakim bin Hizam reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to that of mine. Allah's Apostle had taught it to me (in a different way). So, I was about to quarrel with him (during the prayer) but I waited till he finished, then I tied his garment round his neck and seized him by it and brought him to Allah's Apostle and said, "I have heard him reciting Surat-al-Furqan in a way different to the way you taught it to me." The Prophet ordered me to release him and asked Hisham to recite it. When he recited it, Allah's Apostle said, "It was revealed in this way." He then asked me to recite it. When I recited it, he said, "It was revealed in this way. The Qur'an has been revealed in seven ahruf, so recite it in the way that is easier for you."
Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith #3.601
Letting aside Umar's temperament, we see that he is shocked to find out that the Qur'an has been revealed in more ways than one. Indeed, the great Quran teacher Ubay b. Kaab had a similar response to this news, momentarily even doubting the Truth of Islam! (Until Muhammad punched him, that is):
Ubay: “…there occurred in my mind a sort of denial and doubt that did not exist even in the time of Jaahilliyah (before Islaam)! When the Messenger (PBUH) saw how I was affected, he struck my chest, whereupon I started sweating, and felt as though I were looking at Allaah in fear! Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘O Ubay! A message was sent to me to recite the Qur’aan in one harf, but I requested (Allaah) to make things easy on my nation. A second message came that I should recite the Qur’aan in two ahruf, but I again made the same request. I was then ordered to recite the Qur’aan in seven ahruf.’”
Narrated by Muslim.
But what exactly is meant by the term "ahruf"? Let's turn to Muhammad for an answer:
...unfortunately, Muhammad does not elaborate on what the ahruf exactly are. So let's turn to his companions for more details:
...it seems none of his companions shares details on this concept of ahruf, either. If we are to gain any valid, non-speculative information about the ahruf, we should turn to the first three generations of Muslims, known as the salaf:
...as it turns out, no one in the salaf era actually expounded upon the concept of ahruf. Muslim scholars have wrestled with the concept of the seven ahruf for centuries, often concluding that no one knows exactly what they are except Allah!
We must conclude, then, Muhammad essentially said the following: there are seven ways in which the Quran was revealed, and there's no explicit limit to these differences. I posit that this ahruf clause allows so much elasticity for Muslims that they would use it to justify 7 entirely different Qurans if they were to exist! Indeed, we do see Muslims trying to explain the variants in the earliest Quranic manuscripts with this concept.
To summarize some of the past 2 weeks' blogs on the Quran:
- There really is no actual difference between the "perfectly preserved" Quran and an un-preserved book from antiquity. Both have been through sifting, sorting, variations, missing passages, editions, etc.
- The Quranic text can never be shown to be "perfectly preserved" because the crucial evidence was systematically destroyed by Uthman.
- The scholars Muhammad chose to teach the Quran disagreed on the contents of the Quran, including which words, verses, and even chapters to include.
- The earliest manuscripts in our posession do not indicate "perfect preservation"; they have variants in each one of them.
- Some of the variants match the opinion of Quran teachers who stood against Zaid as he compiled the predecessor of today's Quran.
- Even if it can be proven that there were up to seven different readings of the Quran, Muhammad's concept of the seven ahruf will provide an escape clause for Muslims.
O Muslim friends! Do ye say "perfect preservation?" Then explain this claim if ye be of those who pursue truth! And if ye cannot do it, and ye will never be able to do it, then desist from your baseless assumptions. And Jesus is most forgiving, ever-merciful.