There exists within the Islamic community a major fallacy which has been circulating amongst the public in regards to Muslim Scripture, al-Qur'an. The fallacy relates to the supposed textual preservation of the Qur'anic text, and the notion that the Qur'an remains virtually intact, without additions or deletions, without any variant readings which would call into question the integrity of the Muslim text.
This fallacious argument, unfortunately, has convinced many lay people to believe that whereas the Bible has suffered textual corruption, the Qur'an is free from such tampering. It is thus claimed that based on this fact the Qur'an is rendered superior and is a more reliable document than the Holy Bible.
However, a close examination of the historical references regarding the compilation of the Qur'an, demonstrates that the weight of the evidence does not support the Muslim claims. On the contrary, the evidence tends to support the fact that the Qur'an has suffered much in the way of transmission.
Let's examine the REAL TRUTH of the QUR'AN
The majority of our references will be taken directly from Islamic scholars and writings, in order to avoid the Muslim accusations of Western scholarly bias. Such accusations are often promoted in an attempt to side-track the obvious implications on Muslim claims.
The first issue that needs to be addressed is the claim that a complete Qur'anic Codex existed during the time of Muhammad. This claim finds no support, since the first complete text was compiled during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr:
Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari:
who was one of those who used to write the Divine Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the (heavy) casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra' were killed). 'Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said, 'Umar has come to me and said, The people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be more casualties among the Qurra' (those who know the Qur'an by heart) at other battle-fields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an MAY BE LOST, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur'an." Abu Bakr added, "I said to 'Umar, 'How can I do something WHICH ALLAH’S APOSTLE HAS NOT DONE?' 'Umar said (to me), 'By Allah, it is (really) a good thing.' So 'Umar kept on pressing, trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as 'Umar." (Zaid bin Thabit added:) Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. me). "You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness): and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur'an and collect it (in one manuscript). " By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur'an. I said to both of them, "How dare you do a thing WHICH THE PROPHET HAS NOT DONE?" Abu Bakr said, "By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and Umar. So I started locating Qur'anic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two Verses of Surat-at-Tauba WHICH I HAD NOT FOUND WITH ANYONE ELSE, (and they were):--
"Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious over you (to be rightly guided)" (9.128)
The manuscript on which the Qur'an was collected, remained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with 'Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, Umar's daughter. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 201)
The number of memorizers that died was 450:
During the battle of Yamama, 450 reciters of the Qur'an were killed.” (The True Guidance, An Introduction To Qur'anic Studies, part 4 [Light of Life - P.O. BOX 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], p. 47- citing Ibn Kathir’s Al-Bidaya wa al-Nibaya, chapter on Battle of Yamama)
According to another source, when these men died they took with them portions of the Qur'an that they alone had memorized:
Zuhri reports, 'We have heard that many Qur'an passages were revealed but that those who had memorised them fell in the Yemama fighting. Those passages had not been written down, and following the deaths of those who knew them, were no longer known; nor had Abu Bakr, nor `Umar nor `Uthman as yet collected the texts of the Qur'an. (Burton: The published text ought here to be amended: for "fa lamma jama`a Abu Bakr", I propose to read: "wa lamma yajma` Abu Bakr", to follow: "lam yuktab".) Those lost passages were not to be found with anyone after the deaths of those who had memorised them. This, I understand, was one of the considerations which impelled them to pursue the Qur'an during the reign of Abu Bakr, committing it to sheets for fear that there should perish in further theatres of war men who bore much of the Qur'an which they would take to the grave with them on their fall, and which, with their passing, would not be found with any other. (John Burton, The Collection of the Qur'an, pp. 126-127, Abu Bakr `Abdullah b. abi Da'ud, Kitab al-Masahif’, ed. A. Jeffery, Cairo, 1936/1355, p. 23; bold emphasis ours)
From these sources we realize that:
No text had been compiled during Muhammad’s time. This is further solidified by the following traditions:
[Zaid b. Thabit said:] “The Prophet died and the Qur’an had not been assembled into a single place.” (Ahmad b. Ali b. Muhammad al ’Asqalani, ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari [13 vol., Cairo 1939], vol. 9, p. 9; italic emphasis ours)
It is reported… from Ali who said: "May the mercy of Allah be upon Abu Bakr, the foremost of men to be rewarded with the collection of the manuscripts, for he was THE FIRST to collect (the text) between (two) covers". (John Gilchrist, Jam' Al-Qur'an - The Codification of the Qur'an Text A Comprehensive Study of the Original Collection of the Qur'an Text and the Early Surviving Qur'an Manuscripts, [MERCSA, P.O. Box 342 Mondeor, 2110 Republic of South Africa, 1989], p. 27- citing Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 5; bold emphasis ours)
Another tradition states that Abu Bakr wasn’t the first to collect the Qur'an:
It is reported from Ibn Buraidah who said: "The first of those to collect the Qur'an into a mushaf (codex) was Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifah". (Ibid., citing as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p. 135; bold emphasis ours)
Interestingly, Salim is one of the four men that Muhammad recommended learning the Qur'an from:
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, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521)
He also happened to be one of the Qurra (reciters) killed at the Battle of Yamama. It is evident that Salim’s compilation precedes that of Abu Bakr’s since the latter only collected the Qur'an after the death of the Qurra at Yamama. A great majority of the Qur'anic reciters had been killed at al-Yamama, forever taking with them portions of the Qur'an that only they knew.
Zaid Bin Thabit collected the Qur'an from palm leaves, stones and from the memories of men. Zaid was not the only person who had compiled the Qur'an in book form. Others such as Ubayy Bin Kab and Ibn Masud also compiled Qur'ans of their very own. In fact, both Ubayy and Masud had been singled out by Muhammad himself as two of the top four Qur'anic reciters:
Masruq reported: We used to go to Abdullah Bin Amr and talk to him. Ibn Numair said: One day we made a mention of Abdullah Bin Masud, whereupon he said: you have made mention of a person whom I love more than anything else. I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Learn Qur'an from four persons: Ibn Umm Abd (i.e., Abdullah Bin Masud - he started from him - then Muadh bin Jabal and Ubayy bin Kab, then Salim the ally of Ali Hudhaifa. (Sahih Muslim, Number 6024)
Another tradition confirms that besides Masud, Kab and Thabit, there were at least two others who had also collected the Qur'an:
Anas is reported to have said: Four persons collected the Qur'an during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and all of them were Ansar: Muadh Bin Jabal, Ubayy Bin Kab, Zaid Bin Thabit, Abu Zaid. Qatada said: Anas, who was Abu Zaid? He said: He was one of my uncles. (Sahih Muslim, Number 6029) Despite the fact that this tradition contradicts Zaid’s own testimony that no Qur'anic text had been compiled in Muhammad’s time it does confirm, however, that other Qur'ans were in circulation at the time of Zaid’s Codex. Owing to this fact, controversy evolved among the Muslims who began accusing each other of tampering with the Book of Allah, which eventually led to the third Caliph Uthman taking drastic measures.
'Hudaifa b. al Yeman came to `Uthman direct from the Aderbaijan and Armenian frontier where, uniting the forces from Iraq and those from Syria, he had had an opportunity to observe regional differences over the Qur'an. "Commander of the faithful," he advised, "take this umma in hand before they differ about the Book like Christians and Jews." `Uthman sent asking Hafsa to lend him the sheets [inherited by her father, `Umar, from Abu Bakr, and now in her possession] "so that we can copy them into other volumes and then return them." She sent her suhuf to `Uthman who summon Zaid, Sa`id b. al `As, `Abdul Rahman b. al Harith b. Hisham and `Abdullah b. al Zubair and commanded them to copy the sheets into several volumes. Addressing the group from Qurais, he added, "Wherever you differ from Zaid, write the word in the dialect of Qurais for it was revealed in that tongue."
When they had copied the sheets, `Uthman sent a copy to each of the main centers of the empire with the command that all other Qur'an materials, whether in single sheet form, or in whole volumes, WERE TO BE BURNED…' (Burton, pp. 141-142- citing Ahmad b. `Ali b. Muhammad al `Asqalani, ibn Hajar, "Fath al Bari", 13 vols, Cairo, 1939/1348, vol. 9, p. 18)
Hudaifa said, 'The Kufans say, "the text of `Abdullah"; the Basrans say, "the text of Abu Musa". By God! if I reach the Commander of the faithful, I WILL RECOMMEND THAT HE DROWN THESE READINGS." (var. Masahif) `Abdullah said, 'Do and God will drown you, but not in water!' (Burton, pp. 146-147- citing Abu Bakr `Abdullah b. abi Da'ud, "K. al Masahif", ed. A. Jeffery, Cairo, 1936/1355, p. 13)
Hudhaifa figures in a second Hadith series which reports textual differences, not only between Iraq and Syria, but also between rival groups of Iraqis.
We were sitting in the mosque and `Abdullah was reciting the Qur'an when Hudaifa came in and said, 'The reading of ibn Umm `Abd! [ie. `Abdullah] The reading of Abu Musa! By God! if I am spared to reach the Commander of the Faithful, I will recommend THAT HE IMPOSE A SINGLE QUR’AN READING!'‘Abdullah became very angry and spoke sharply to Hudaifa who fell silent. (Burton, p. 142, Abu Bakr `Abdullah b. abi Da'ud, "K. al Masahif", ed. A. Jeffery, Cairo, 1936/1355, p. 13)
'Yazid b. Ma`awiya was in the mosque in the time of al Walid b. `Uqba, sitting in a group among them was Hudaifa. An official called out, 'Those who follow the reading of Abu Musa, go to the corner nearest the Kinda door. Those who follow `Abdullah's reading, go the corner nearest `Abdullah's house.' Their reading of Q 2.196 did not agree. One group read, 'Perform the pilgrimage TO GOD' The others read it 'Perform the pilgrimage TO THE KA’BAH.' Hudaifa became very angry, his eyes reddened and he rose, parting his qamis at the waits, although in the mosque. This was during the reign of `Uthman. Hudaifa exclaimed, 'Will someone go the Command of the Faithful, or shall I go myself? This is what happened in the previous dispensations.' He came over and sat down, saying, 'God sent Muhammad who, with those who went forward, fought those who went back until God gave victory to His religion. God took Muhammad and Islam made strides. To succeed him, God chose Abu Bakr who reigned as long as God chose. God then took him and Islam made rapid strides. God appointed `Umar who sat in the midst of Islam. God then took him also. Islam spread rapidly. God next chose `Uthman. God's oath! Islam is on the point of such expansion that soon you will replace all other religions.' (Burton, p. 143, Abu Bakr `Abdullah b. abi Da'ud, "K. al Masahif", ed. A. Jeffery, Cairo, 1936/1355, p. 11)
It becomes obvious from these traditions that contrary to popular Islamic teaching, contradictions and variant readings existed between the different texts. It is interesting to note that these variances gave rise to charges of corruption and textual perversion amongst the Muslim Umma, causing Uthman to burn texts written by eye and ear witnesses of Muhammad.
Uthman then proceeded to make Zaid’s Codex the official text, forcing others to accept his decision. This decision wasn’t based on the wisdom of God but on one man’s choice. The question that begs to be asked is who gave Uthman the right to burn Qur'ans, standardizing Zaid’s text, when there were others who had more authority for receiving official standardization of their respective texts, such as Masud and Kabb?
Both Kabb and Masud were respected for their ability to memorize, with Kabb being referred to as “the Master of the Qur'anic Reciters” and Masud reciting 70 surahs without error:
Abdullah (bin Masud) reported that (he said to his companions to conceal their copies of the Qur'an) and further said: He who conceals anything shall have to bring that which he had concealed on the Day of Judgment, and they said: After whose mode of recitation do you command me to recite? I in fact recited before Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) more than seventy chapters of the Qur'an and the companions of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) know that I have better understanding of the Book of Allah (than they do), and if I were to know that someone had better understanding than I, I would have gone to him. Shaqiq said: I sat in the company of the companions of Muhammad (may peace be upon him) but I did not hear anyone having rejected that (that is, his recitation) or finding fault with it. (Sahih Muslim, Number 6022)
When informed that Zaid’s text was to receive official status, Masud reacted indifferently:
Abdullah Ibn Masud said, “I recited from the Messenger of Allah (saw) seventy surahs which I had perfected before Zaid Ibn Thabit had embraced Islam.” (Gilchrist, p. 66- citing Ibn Abi Dawud’s Kitab al-Masahif, p.17)
“I acquired directly from the Messenger of Allah (saw) seventy surahs when Zaid was still a childish youth - must I now forsake what I acquired directly from the Messenger of Allah?” (Ibid., p.15)
Masud during a religious sermon (khutba) declared:
“The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur'an. I like it to read according to the recitation of him (Prophet) whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit. By Him besides whom there is no god! I learnt more than seventy surahs from the lips of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, while Zayd Ibn Thabit was a youth, having two locks and playing with the youth. Then he said: By Him besides Whom there is no other god! If I know any one to be more conversant with the Book of Allah than me, and if the camels could carry me to him, I shall surely go to him. Then ‘Abd Allah went away. Shaqiq said: Subsequently I sat in the circles of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, and others BUT NONE contradicted his statement.” (Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, volume 2, p. 444, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi- 110 002 India]; bold emphasis ours)
Interestingly, the Muslim community at Iraq refused to receive Uthman’s text, preferring Masud’s instead. This led to a confrontation between Hudhaifah and Masud:
`Abdullah, Hudaifa and Abu Musa were on the roof of Abu Musa's house. `Abdullah said, 'I hear you say such-and-such.' Hudaifa said, 'Yes, I deplore folk talking about this one's reading and that one's reading. They are differing like non-Muslims.' Hudaifa continued, '`Abdullah b. Qais, you were sent to the Basrans as governor and teacher. THEY HAVE ADOPTED YOUR ADAB, YOUR DIALECT AND YOUR TEXT.'
To b. Mas`ud he said, 'You were sent to the Kufans as their teacher and THEY HAVE ADOPTED YOUR ADAB, YOUR DIALECT AND YOUR READING.'
'In that case,' retorted b. Mas`ud, 'I have not misled them. There is no verse in the Book of God but that I know where and in what connection it was revealed. Did I know of anyone more learned than myself on the subject I should go to him.' (Burton, p. 147, Abu Bakr `Abdullah b. abi Da'ud, "K. al Masahif", ed. A. Jeffery, Cairo, 1936/1355, p. 14; bold emphasis ours)
The matter becomes worse when we realize that Uthman’s text omitted chapters and verses that the other texts included:
According to Ibn Umar and Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, one chapter, Surah al-Ahzab  had 200 verses in Muhammad’s time. Yet, once Uthman was finished only 73 verses remained, eliminating nearly 140 verses. This tradition is also confirmed by Ubay b. Kabb. (True Guidance, p. 61- citing Al-Suyuti’s al-Itqan fii ulum al-Qur'an on nasikh wa mansukh; Darwaza’s al-Qur'an Al-Majid)
A verse on the stoning of men and women had been expunged from the Uthmanic text. It reads as follows:
“As for old men and women, stone them for the pleasure they have indulged in.” Umar al-Khattab stated, “But for people who may say that Umar adds to the Book of Allah, I would have written the verse on stoning.” (Ibid., p. 61)
Sahih Muslim’s hadith indicates that there are at least two surahs which are missing:
Abu Harb b. Abu al-Aswad reported on the authority of his father that Abu Musa al-Ashan sent for the reciters of Basra. They came to him and they were three hundred in number. They recited the Qur'an and he said: You are the best among the inhabitants of Basra, for you are the reciters among them. So continue to recite it. (But bear in mind) that your reciting for a long time may not harden your hearts as were hardened the hearts of those before you. We used to recite a surah, which resembled in length and severity to (surah) Bara`at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: ‘If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.’ And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it: ‘O people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practice’ and ‘that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection.’ Number 2286
Confirmation of the legitimacy of the verse on the son of Adam comes from Anas b. Malik:
Anas reported Allah’s messenger as saying: If the son of Adam were to possess two valleys of riches, he would long for the third one, and the stomach of the son of Adam is not filled but with dust. And Allah returns to him to repent. (Sahih Muslim Number 2282)
Anas goes on to say, “I heard the messenger of Allah as saying this, but I do not know whether this thing was revealed to him or not, but he said so.” (Sahih Muslim, Number 2283; cf. 2284, 2285)
Yet according to al-Aswad it was revealed as part of a surah which no longer exists.
According to Hamida bint Abi Yunus:
“When my father was eighty years of age, he recited the following verse from the codex of Aisha: ‘Verily, Allah and His angels pray for the Prophet. O ye who believe, pray for him and earnestly desire peace for him and for those who pray in the front rows.’”
“This verse had been there before the codices underwent change at the hands of Uthman.” (True Guidance, pp. 61-62- citing al-Suyut’s al-Itqan on nasikh wa mansukh [abrogating and the abrogated])
According to Hudhaifa, Muslims read “only a quarter of Sura al-Tawba (9) i.e., meaning a great number of its verses are missing. (Ibid., p. 64 citing al-Mustadrak)
Ubayy b. Kabb included two extra surahs, al-Hafd (the Haste) and al-Khal (the Separation) that were not included in the Uthmanic text. These surahs were also included in the texts of Ibn Abbas and Abu Musa. (Gilchrist, pp. 74-75- citing al-Suyuti’s al-Itqan, pp. 152-153)
Ibn Masud refused to include surahs 1, 113 and 114, stating that these chapters were revealed as prayers and incantations to ward off evil. This fact is confirmed by al-Razi, al-Tabari and Ibn Hajar. (True Guidance, p. 58- citing Ibn Hajar, al-Tabari, al-Suyuti’s Itqan chapter on compilation)
According to al-Hajjaj, “a sura as long as al-Tawba was revealed, and then it was lifted up,” i.e., lost. (Ibid., pp.62-63- citing Bukhari, Riqaq 10; Zuhd 27; al-Tirmidi, al-Darimi Riqaq 62; and Ahmad Bin Hanbal, 111, 122, 176; iv. 368; v. 117; vi. 55)
Aisha relates that, “Ten verses were revealed concerning a foster relationship. These were annulled and replaced by another five verses.” Yet both the abrogated and abrogating verses are nowhere to be found. She also stated: “The verses of stoning and fostering were revealed, and the sheet of paper on which they were written was under my pillow. But then the Prophet died. Overwhelmed with grief, a beast came in and ate the sheet of paper.” (Ibid., p. 112- citing Muslim Hudud 15 and also No.3421; Ibn Maja Hudud 9; italic emphasis ours)
This process of burning eyewitness writings on the part of Uthman did not go well with Muslims in general as they declared that he had “obliterated the Book of Allah” because “The Qur'an was in many books, and you have now discredited them all but one.” (Gilchrist, pp. 51, 58- citing Abi Dawud Kitab al-Masahif, p.36; al-Tabari, Bk.1, chpt. 6, 2952)
The late great Egyptian Professor, Dr. Taha Hussein, summarizes the atrocity of Uthman’s actions:
The Prophet Muhammad said: “The Koran was revealed in seven dialects, all of them are right and perfect.” When Uthman banned whichever he banned from the Koran, and burned whichever he burned, he banned passages Allah has revealed and burned parts of the Koran which were given to the Muslims by the Messenger of Allah. He appointed a small group of Sahaba (close friends of Muhammad) to rewrite the Koran and left out those who heard the Prophet and memorized what he said. This is why Ibn Massoud was angry, because he was one of the best men who memorized the Koran. He said that he took from the mouth of the Prophet seventy suras of the Koran while Zaid Ibn Sabit was yet a young lad. When Ibn Massoud objected to the burning of the other codices of the Koran, Uhman took him out of the mosque with violence, and struck him to the ground, and broke one of his ribs. (Husein, A-Fitnato Al-Kobra [The Great Sedition], pp. 160-161, 181-182; italic emphasis ours)
The problem does not end just yet. The traditions record that the governor of Medina, Marwan, confiscated Zaid’s text, which had been in Hafsah’s possession until her death, and proceeded to destroy it. In Kitab Al-Masahif, Ibn Abi Dawud quotes Salim bin Abdullah as saying:
We must ask who gave Marwan the authority to dare destroy an official, original copy of the Book of Allah, a copy written under the authority of Abu Bakr Siddiq, Muhammad’s personal friend and father-in-law? Further, if there was nothing missing in the transmission of the text then why was he afraid that the people would be suspicious of it?
On top of this great atrocity, the Qur'an underwent further revisions under Iraq’s governor al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (A.D. 660-714). Abi Dawud notes:
“Altogether al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf made eleven modifications in the reading of the Uthmanic text... In al-Baqarah (Surah 2:259) it originally read Lam yatasannah waandhur, but it was altered to lam yatasannah… In al-Maj. (sura 5:48) it read shari ya’aten wa minhaajan but it was altered to shir ‘atawwa minhaajan.” (Gilchrist: Jam Al-Qur'an- The Codification Of The Qur'an Text, p.109, citing Dawud’s Kitab al-Masahif, p.117)
It appears that Muslims felt free in adding and subtracting from the Qur'an as they saw fit, irrespective of whether it was God’s word or not. This fact is made clearer by Arthur Jeffrey’s conclusion on Hajjaj’s revisions:
According to Arthur Jeffrey:
“That the practice of pointing came generally accepted and consistently carried through the whole of the Codex is said to be due to activity of the famous official al-Hajjaj b. Yusif, who was perhaps the most remarkable figure in Islam during the Caliphate of ‘Abd al-Malik. When we come to examine the accounts of the activity of al-Hajjaj in this matter, however, we discover to our surprise that the evidence points strongly to the fact that his work was not confined to fixing more precisely the text of the Qur`an by a set of points showing how it was to be read, but he seems to have made an entirely new revision of the Qur`an, having copies of this new text sent to the great metropolitan centers, and ordering the destruction of earlier copies in existence there, much as Uthman had done earlier.” (The Qur'an as Scripture [New York: Books for Libraries, 1980], p.99)
Another issue which the Muslims had to deal with was variant readings. When the Qur'an was originally written, there were no vowel marks or diacritical points to differentiate the meanings of words. To help illustrate the kind of problems this style of writing can create in a text, we will write a sentence without vowels:
h gv hm bd
This sentence could be read in several possible ways depending on the context. For instance, it might mean “he gave him a bid” if he were a contractor, or “he gave him a bud” if he were in a florist’s shop, or “he gave him a bed” if in a furniture store. This textual style gave rise to thousands of variants between the codices which were available at that time.
Other variant readings stem from clauses that were either added or omitted from the text. A comparison of the texts of Uthman and Masud will illustrate this point:
S. 2:275 in Uthman’s copy begins with Allathiina yaq kuluunar - ribaa laa yaquumuuna - “those who devour usury will not stand.” Ibn Masud’s codex began in the same fashion but added “yawmal qiyamati,” The Day of Resurrection - i.e., “those who devour usury will not stand on the Day of Resurrection.”
S. 5:91 in Uthman’s text reads Fusiyaamu thaalaythati ayyammin - “Fast for three days.” Masud included after the last word the adjective mutataabi’aatin, meaning “successive days.”
S. 6:153 begins Wa anna haatha siraatii - “Verily this is my path.” Yet Masud’s version reads Wa haatha siraatu rabbakum - “This is the path of your Lord.”
S. 33:6, in regards to Muhammad’s wives, states, Wa azwaajuhu ummahaatuhuu - “and his wives are their (the believers’) mothers.” Yet Masud adds Wa huwa abuu laahum - “and he (Muhammad) is their father.” (Gilchrist, pp. 69-70- citing Arthur Jeffrey Materials; Abi Dawud’s Kitab al-Masahif)
It should be noted that in the four preceding examples, Ubayy b. Kabb, Ibn Abbas and Ibn Abi Dawud were in agreement with Masud’s reading. Other places where Masud’s reading found support with the other reciters include:
S. 3:127, the standard version read Wa saari’uu (“be quick”), whereas both Masud and Kabb’s readings were Wa saabiquu (“be ahead”)
Masud and Kabb both read Yusrifullaahu - “averted by Allah” - in replacement of Uthman’s Yusraf - “averted.” (S. 6:16) (Gilchrist, p. 71- citing Maki’s Kitab al-Kasf and Arthur Jeffrey’s Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Qur'an)
This makes the case against the Uthmanic text receiving official status even more strong, since the evidence points to Masud’s codex as being vastly superior.
To present a brief summary of our findings we note that:
The Qur'an was not compiled perfectly.
Much of the Qur'an’s contents are missing.
More than one Qur'an was in circulation.
Primary eyewitness codices were burned.
On the authority of one man an official text of the Qur'an was approved.
Even this official codex was eventually destroyed and eleven revisions were made of it.
Thousands of variants existed between these competing texts as documented by Arthur Jeffrey’s book, which in turn cites Abi Dawud’s own work.
Before concluding, two fallacies need to be addressed. There are those within the Islamic community, such as Dr. Jamal Badawi of Nova Scotia, Halifax, that claim that the memorization of the Qur'an insured its preservation and authority. It is claimed by these men that hundreds of individuals were alive that learned the Qur'an directly from Muhammad and had committed it to memory. This insured the proper enunciation and contents of the Qur'an. This logic is fallacious for two reasons:
The claim that memorization preserved the Qur'an is false due to the fact that a great number of the reciters (hafiz) were slain at the battle of al-Yamama, taking those parts of the Qur'an that they alone had memorized to the grave with them, never to be recited again.
It was these same reciters i.e., Masud, Kabb etc., who were writing down codices from memory which led to contradictions, additions, omissions and to thousands of variant readings among the competing texts. This demonstrates the faulty memories of the reciters.
Interestingly, we are told that even Muhammad himself forgot certain verses:
'The Messenger of God heard a man recite by night and said, "May God have mercy on that man! He has just reminded me of a verse so-and-so and I had forgotten from sura such-and-such." ' (Burton, p. 129, Bukhari, "K. Fad'il al Qur'an", bab nisyan al Qur'an)
The Prophet recited the Qur'an and omitted an aya. When he had finished the prayer, he asked, 'Is Ubayy in the mosque?' 'Here I am, Messenger of God.'
'Then why didn't you prompt me?'
'I thought the aya had been withdrawn.'
'It hasn't been withdrawn, I forgot it.' (Ibid., pp. 65-66, `Abdul Rahman al Tha`alibi, "al Jawahir al Hisan fi tafsir al Qur'an", 2 vols., Algiers, 1905, vol. 1, p. 95)
The second fallacy is that these variants were simply dialectal differences that existed between the different Arab tribes. It is further claimed that these dialectal differences do not affect the text, since Muhammad was allowed up to seven dialectal readings (Sab’at-l-Ahruf). On the contrary, the evidence points to much more than simple dialectal variation, but to gross omissions of entire surahs, verses and lengths of chapters. Those who expound this theory are basing it upon purely wishful thinking with no solid evidence to back up such assertions.
In fact, the seven readings compound the problem for the Muslims. The following Muslim response is an indication why:
Let us first take a brief look at the narrative in question. According to the reporting of Imaam Maalik ibn Anas, in his "Mu'atta", Umar ibn al-Khattaab (ra) says:
"I heard Hishaam ibn Hakeem ibn Hezaam reciting Surah Al-Furqaan [while leading prayers] in a manner different from the way I recited it, and the way the Prophet (pbuh) himself had taught me to recite it. I was about to grab him immediately, and then I decided to give him some time to complete his prayers. At that time I grabbed him by his stole/shawl and pulled him to the Prophet (pbuh). I said to the Prophet (pbuh): O Prophet I heard him recite Surah Al-Furqaan in a different manner than the one that you taught me. The Prophet (pbuh) directed me to let go of him, and then directed Hishaam to recite the Surah. Hishaam recited it in the same way he was reciting it during his prayers. The Prophet (pbuh) [, at the end of his recital,] said: This is how it was revealed. Then the Prophet (pbuh) directed me to recite the Surah. Then I recited the Surah [as I knew it]. The Prophet (pbuh) [, at the end of my recital,] said: This is how it was revealed. Then added: The Qur'an was revealed in 'sab`ah ahruf' you can read it according to the one which is suitable for you."
The above narrative has indeed been reported by the most accepted compilations of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), however the fact remains that its exact implication has always been a mystery for the Muslim scholars. Imaam Suyuti, in his "Al-Ittiqaan fi `uloom al-Qur'an" has narrated more or less forty different sayings trying to explain the implication of this narrative but has finally conceded in his commentary of the Mu'atta "Tanvir al-Hawaalik" that none of these (forty) explanations is completely acceptable and therefore the correct opinion seems to be of those who hold that the narrative is quite inexplicable and should therefore be considered a 'Mutashaabeh'.
An acceptable explanation might have been that the different recitations of Surah Al-Furqaan mentioned in the narrative actually refer to the different dialects of the various tribes of the Arabs. However, this explanation also becomes redundant in view of the fact that the two persons involved in this incident (Umar and Hishaam) are from the same tribe of Qureish, and no inter-tribe variation of dialect could have existed between these two persons. Moreover, the Qur'an has clearly stated that it was revealed in the dialect of the Qureish. Thus, even if the two persons had belonged to different tribes, the words "the Qur'an was revealed in 'sab`ah ahruf' would have remained in contradiction to the Qur'an.
Furthermore, it is well known that Hishaam ibn Hakeem ibn Hezaam accepted Islam after the conquest of Mekkah. Thus, accepting this narrative to be true would imply accepting that even till the time of the conquest of Mekkah, important companions of the Prophet (pbuh) - people like Umar ibn al-Khattaab (ra) - remained unaware of the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) was secretly teaching the Qur'an in a number of different ways than the one in which these companions were being taught.
Finally, a number of historical narratives tell us that the Prophet (pbuh) not only used to dictate the verses that were revealed to him to quite a few of his companions as a step toward the preservation of these revelations, but also used to explain the placement of the new revelations with reference to the written or memorized record that already existed. Nevertheless, there is not a single narrative that tells us that while informing about and dictating the new revelations, the Prophet (pbuh) told his scribes about the variation in the words of the new revelation.
In view of the above noted reservations, the narrative is absolutely unacceptable. This explanation should also clarify our stance regarding all three of your noted questions. (http://understanding-islam.org/related/text.asp?type=question&qid=492)
In light of the preceding considerations, we are forced to conclude that memorization failed to preserve the Qur'an. This is perhaps why Muslims were forced to admit that the Qur'an is an incomplete record:
`Abdullah b. `Umar reportedly said, 'Let none of you say, "I have got the whole of the Qur'an." How does he know what all of it is? MUCH OF THE QUR'AN HAS GONE [d h b]. Let him say instead, I HAVE GOT WHAT HAS SURVIVED."' (Burton. p. 117, Jalal al Din `Abdul Rahman b. abi Bakr al Suyuti, "al Itqan fi `ulum al Qur'an", Halabi, Cairo, 1935/1354, pt 2, p. 25)
Some of us met to exchange hadith reports. One fellow said, 'Enough of this! Refer to the Book of God.' Imran b. Husain said, 'You're a fool! Do you find in the Book of God the prayers explained in detail? Or the Fast? The Qur'an refers to them in general terms only. It is the Sunna which supplies the detailed explanation.' (Ibid., p. 21, al Hamdani, "I`tibar", pp. 24-5)
No madhab permits unbeliever-believer inheritance; slave-free man inheritance; homicide-victim inheritance. All madahib accept the testimony of two male witnesses in homicide cases. These and many other agreed principles and procedures are unmentioned in the Qur'an. (Ibid., p. 23)
Unlike the Bible which has over 25,000 manuscripts with copies dating over two thousand years (i.e., Dead Sea Scrolls), the Qur'an has no corroborating manuscript evidence dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries. The two oldest copies, Samarqand and Topkapi texts, date to approximately 160 years after the Uthmanic codex. The style of these writings is Kufic, which was not the dominant script during Uthman’s reign (Al-Mail script was used at that time). Additionally, many pages of the materials differ extensively from one another, thus exposing the penmanship of multiple authors.
Due to the lack of any evidence until the ninth century, many scholars have come to question the integrity of the Qur'an. One such scholar, Dr. Robert Morey, draws a timeline illustrating why scholars reject the authenticity of both the Qur'an and the Traditions: