Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Has the Text of the Qur'an Ever Been Changed? The Manuscripts of the Qur'an Say Yes

For many years since I can remember, I would hear many Muslim apologists say that unlike the Bible, the Qur'an has been perfectly transmitted and preserved. They would repeatedly affirm that the Qur'an that we have in our hands today is the very same Qur'an that existed in the time of Muhammad and that not a letter, not a word, not even a sentence has gone missing or has been changed. Many academics and Christian scholars / apologists have always recognized and argued that this claim was false and merely Islamic propaganda. The very fact that the third Caliph Uthman had to standardize the text of the Qur'an demonstrated that about 20 years after Muhammad's death in 632 A.D. there were competing readings in the various copies of the Qur'an throughout centers of the Islamic Empire. Our Muslim friends like to say that this has to do with the 7 different recitations or ways of reading the Qur'an in various dialects, but if this was the case this would not explain Uthman's order of the wholesale destruction of the actual manuscripts of the Qur'an. Many Muslims are upset when the Qur'an is disrespected by being torn or burned, yet Uthman had copies of the Qur'an burned, and therefore destroyed! In this sense, the first to burn the Qur'an was the Caliph Uthman! Uthman ordered that all surviving copies of the Qur'an in the Empire be collected and burned and that a standardized version of the Qur'an authorized by him become the "authorized version" for the whole Islamic world.

One of the major problems is that we have none of these Qur'anic manuscripts that come from the Caliph Uthman. One would think that with the Islamic view of preservation and guarding sacred texts that at least some of these manuscripts from Uthman's time would survive to this day, but alas, there are none. Where is the actual standardized Qur'an of Uthman's day? Why has not  even one survived? The only manuscript copies of the Qur'an that have survived are post-Uthmanic, i.e., they come after Uthman and they are filled with different readings called textual variants. In Dr. Daniel Brubaker's new book Corrections in Early Qur'an Manuscripts: Twenty Examples, he demonstrates that the surviving copies of the manuscripts of the Qur'an are riddled with textual variants. In some cases, new words like "Allah" are added in 9 different manuscripts in places where Allah's name does not appear in the original text.. This is strange indeed for how can a Muslim scribe forget to add what is considered the holiest name of all in Islam, namely, Allah? In other cases Dr. Brubaker shows how entire sentences are taped over and written over with a new script. In other cases we see manuscripts of the Qur'an that have been erased called palimpsests and a new script is written on top of the erased script. With ultraviolet lighting scholars are now able to read the underlying text and Brubaker has found that the reading that was erased differs from the reading that was written over it. In some cases, pronouns are changed from "he" to "they". This work by Brubaker includes photographs of the various manuscripts. The subtitle of the book suggests there are 20 examples, but there are 2 extra examples which brings the number up to 22. This book is only a starter as Brubaker will be writings a more extensive book on this subject. According to Dr. Jay Smith, Brubaker has found more than 4000 variants in the manuscripts of the Qur'an.

Manuscripts don't lie. The transmission of the Qur'an has suffered the same textual corruption as all handwritten texts including the manuscripts of the Bible. Christians have always been open and honest about the textual variants in the biblical manuscripts unlike our Muslim friends who continue to repeat the same mantra over and over "the Qur'an has never been changed!" and "we have the exact same Qur'an today that was given to Muhammad".  They have been forced to say this because the Qur'an makes some lofty claims about itself such as this verse, "We have, without doubt sent down the Message [the Qur'an]; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)" (Qur'an 15:9; Yusuf Ali). These claims have been shown to be false by scholarship and the witness of the manuscripts of the Qur'an demonstrate this, that there has indeed been textual corruption. It's time our Muslim friends put this mythological claim of an unchanged Qur'an to bed. I would highly recommend Dr. Brubaker's book to all interested in outreach to our Muslim friends. I would also invite our Muslim friends to read this book and to be consistent by following the truth wherever it leads them.


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