In this post I wish to add another element to the discussion of the preservation of the Qur'an. I have searched around but cannot find this issue being discussed. It may well have been but I cannot find it. This issue is, are the chains of narration for the Qur'an reliable?
Normally when Christians and Muslims discuss the reliability of the Qur'an hadiths are quoted to show that the idea that there is one version of the Qur'an and that it has simply been memorised and passed down to us has no historical basis in Islamic history. Here is a summary of the references that are often used.
1. Muhammad did not collect the quran, forgot parts and had seven different versions.
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 556, Khan
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 513, Khan
Sunan Abu Dawud: bk. 3, no. 1015, Hasan
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 514, Khan
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 509, Khan
Sunan al-Tirmithi: 3103, Kreidly
2. The Qur'an was collected and memorised by his companions but they memorised it differently.
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 468, Khan
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 467, Khan
Sahih Muslim: bk. 4, no. 1799-1802, Siddique
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 527
The famous librarian, al-Nadim, in the year 375 A.H./987 A.D. listed a whole series of books dealing with these different collections and the differences between them. He records that Abdullah ibn Mas'ud's version of the Qur'an had 110-112 suras while Ubayy ibn Ka'b's collection had 116, that these collections had a different ordering of the suras and that there were variants in the verses. See, Al-Nadim, The Fihrist of al-Nadim - A Tenth Century survey of Muslim Culture, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. pp. 58-61 and 79.
And these different versions of the Qur'an were used by the early Islamic scholars. For example, when Al-Tabari (d. 310 AH/923 AD) quotes the Qur'an in his writings, he not only quotes from Uthman's version but also from Abdullah ibn Mas'ud's version. See, The History of Al-Tabari, SUNY, vol. I, p. 353, vol. II, pp. 68, 108, 109, vol. III, p. 174.
Arthur Jeffery (Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an) surveyed these Islamic scholars and identified 15 primary different collections of the Qur'an with a whole range of variants.
In the 1980's many ancient Qur'ans were discovered in San`a'. Some of these have the sura order that was credited to Abdullah ibn Masud and others. (Gerd-R Puin, Observations on the Early Qur'an Manuscripts in San`a'. In "The Qur'an as Text", ed. Stefan Wild, Leiden: Brill, 1996. pp. 110-111)
These different collections caused a major problem for early Islam and so,
3. Uthman made one version of the Qur'an and burned the other collections.
Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 61, no. 510, Khan
Sunan al-Tirmithi: 3104, Kreidly
4. Not all the companions accepted Uthman's version of the Qur'an. In particular Abdullah ibn Mas'ud did not accept it.
Sahih Muslim: bk. 31, no. 6022, Siddiqui
Sunan al-Tirmithi: 3104, Kreidly
Ibn sa'd vol. 2 p. 444, Haq
However, Uthman's version won the day.
I am sure many of us are familar with this story, but the reply I have been told by Muslims is that even if this is the case it does not matter because the version from Uthman is an authentic Qur'an from Muhammad. The existence of all these other versions does not take away from the fact that the Uthman version is true. This is based on the belief that this version of the Qur'an can be authenticated right back to Muhammad through its chain of narrators, and this is what I want to consider, is the chain of narrators for the Qur'an reliable?
The Qur'an is like the Hadith in that each Arabic version (qira'at) of the Qur'an has a chain of narrators which authenticates it. For a chain to be deemed reliable (saheeh) it must be complete, contain reliable narrators and be historically possible. Here are the chains for the two most common versions of the Qur'an.
THE QUR’AN ACCORDING TO IMAM HAFS (The most common Arabic version of the Qur'an used today.)
The reading of Aasim Ibn Abî an-Najûd (Aasim Ibn Bahdalah Ibn Abî an-Najûd): He died in the year 127 or 128 H.
He reported from Abû Abd ar-Rahmân as-Solammî and Zirr Ibn Hubaysh.
Abû Abd ar-Rahmân reported from Uthmân and Alî Ibn Abî Tâlib and 'Ubayy (Ibn Ka’b) and Zayd (Ibn Thâbit).
And Zirr reported from Ibn Mas’ud.
THE QUR’AN ACCORDING TO IMAM WARSH (The Arabic version used in North Africa.)
Nâfic died in the year 169 H.
He reported from Yazîd Ibn al-Qaqâc and Abd ar-Rahmân Ibn Hurmuz al-'Araj and Muslim Ibn Jundub al-Hudhalî and Yazîd Ibn Român and Shaybah Ibn Nisâ'.
All of them reported from Abû Hurayrah and Ibn Abbâs and Abdallâh Ibn 'Ayyâsh Ibn Abî Rabî'ah al-Makhzûmî and the last three reported from Ubayy Ibn Ka’b from the Prophet(P).
Notice who the final links in the chains are. For the Hafs Qur'an it includes Ubayy Ibn Ka'b and Abdullah Ibn Masud, and for the Warsh Qur'an it is Ubayy Ibn Ka’b. Now this is historically impossible according to Islamic sources because there is ample evidence to show that Ubayy Ibn Ka'b and Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud had quite different collections to Uthman's version and that Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud refused to accept Uthman's version. Thus Ubayy Ibn Ka'b and Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud should not be part of the chain for Uthman's Qur'an. Therefore on Islamic historical grounds the chain of narrators for the Hafs and Warsh versions are both weak/da'eef; they are certainly not authentic/saheeh as there are valid Islamic historical reasons to doubt them.
1. Surely we should expect the chain of narrators for the Qur'an to be the best example of an Islamic authentic/saheeh chain? But it is not.
2. I am not saying that the modern Qur'an is not Uthman's version, but I am saying that Muslims cannot use these chains of narrators to prove this.
3. What evidence do Muslims have to prove that these Qur'ans are Uthmans's versions?
4. One of the reasons that Muslim leaders reject the Bible is that Christians do not provide a comprehensive chain of narrators for it. They feel that the Qur'an is superior to the Bible because it has a better chain of narrators to authenticate it. But as we have seen this chain of narrators for the Qur'an is doubtful and so this attitude of superiority is not warranted.
5. How do we confirm that a book has been faithfully transmitted? Certainly chains of narrators are useful but they are only one aspect of history. All of history needs to be considered as well as examining the ancient manuscripts. This is what Christians do with the Bible. They consult all of the history, examine the ancient manuscripts and look at the scriptural quotes from the earlier Christian scholars. This is what Muslims need to do too if they wish to show that the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved.
What do people think?