The Holy Qur'an

The Purity of the text of the Holy Qur’an

52 The Review of Religions –February 2006 1. The Divine Promise of Protection. Verily, it is We Ourselves Who have sent down this Exhortation, and most surely We are its Guardian. (Ch.15: V.10) The fulfilment of the promise contained in the verse quoted above is such a clear fact in the history of the Holy Qur’an, that even a man like Sir William Muir who undertook the writing of his Life of Mahomet to assist the Christian Missionaries in their evangelical work among the Muslims has been compelled to admit that ‘there is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text,’1 and to endorse the verdict of another Christian writer, Von Hammer, ‘that we hold the Qur’an to be as surely Mahomet’s word, as the Mahometans hold it to be the Word of God.’2 T h e question naturally arises, what were the circumstances which helped in the transmission of the Qur’an to tell us exactly as it was revealed to the Holy Prophet(sa)? These circumstances relate to two different periods in the history of Islam, v i z ., the lifetime of the Founder who was the recipient of the Divine revelation, and the time of his early successors who with the utmost faithfulness handed down to posterity the Qur’an as it was left by the Holy Prophet(sa) at the time of his death. Before describing these circum- stances, however, it seems necessary to make a few remarks on the verse quoted in the beginning of this article as an answer to certain objections against its true interpretation by an anonymous Christian writer,3 who The Purity of the Text of the HOLY QUR’AN From the Review of Religions, 1907 53The Review of Religions – February 2006 makes the allegation that the word az-zikr in this verse does not mean the Qur’an, but every revelatian sent down to any prophet of God at any time. This misinterpretation of the word is due to an ignorance of the context. The word zikr no doubt means ‘any book of the prophets,’ but it especially means the Qur’an4 and the context shows clearly that it is the latter significance which az-zikr bears in the verse under discussion. It is the tenth verse of the fifteenth chapter which opens thus: ‘These are the signs of the Book, and of the lucid Qur’an.’ From the sixth to the ninth verse the chapter reads as follows: And they said, ‘O thou to whom this exhortation has been sent down, thou art surely a madman. Why dost thou not bring angels to us, if thou art of the truthful? We do not send down angels but with the re q u i rements of justice, and when We do send them, the disbelievers are not respited. (Ch.15: Vs.7-9) Now the promise of guarding in the last sentence is evidently regarding the same zikr that is spoken of in the first sentence as having been sent down to the Holy Prophet(sa), and thus there remains not the least doubt as to the truth of the fact that by the zikr in the verse under discussion is meant only the Holy Qur’an. This conclusion is borne out by many other verses of the Holy Q u r’an which contain similar promises regarding the Holy Book. Thus in the forty-first chapter of the Holy Qur’ a n entitled ‘Ha Mim, As-Sajdah’, we read: Surely, those who distort Our signs to seek deviation therein, are not hidden from Us. Is he, then who is cast into the Fire better, or he who comes to Us safe on the Day of R e s u rrection? Do what you will. Surely He sees all that you do. Those who disbelieve in the Reminder – the Qur’an – when it has come to them are the losers. And truly, it is a mighty Book. (Ch.41: Vs.41, 42) 53 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 54 The Review of Religions –February 2006 This and such other verses clearly show that the Holy Qur’ a n announced in the very beginning the Divine promise of its protection from all kinds of destruction, corruption or alteration. Hence from the earliest times, the Muslims have looked upon these verses as containing a promise that the Holy Qur’ a n shall be perfectly guarded against all attacks to destroy it or to alter its text. Thus both Mujahid and Qatada, the earliest authorities on c o m m e n t a r y, agree in this interpretation of both these verses, and state that by guarding the Qur’an in Ch.15: V.10, and by not allowing falsehood to approach the holy Book from before or behind in Ch.41: V.42, it is meant that no word shall be added to it which is not part of the Divine revelation and no word shall be omitted from it which is part of the Divine revelation, granted to the Holy Prophet, Muhammad (sa). Both these authorities and all the other authorities on the commentary of the Holy Qur’an, also agree that by az-zikr in both these verses is meant the Holy Q u r’ a n .6 Therefore, we have evidence here that the earliest authorities to whose opinion we can have access understood these verses in the same sense in which the Muslims understand them today, and any attempt to throw discredit upon that meaning or to attach any other significance to the words of the verses quoted above is fruitless. The author of the Tawil-ul Qur’an further contends that the existence of a promise does not prove its fulfilment and hence the promise itself is not an evidence. This is, no doubt, true, but there are other circumstances which, when considered in connection with the promise itself, afford a conclusive proof of its fulfilment. If the promise had not been fulfilled, and there had been any alteration in the text of the Holy Qur’an, one of two things must have happened, viz., either those who had witnessed these alterations would have lost their faith in the Holy Qur’an as the Word of God or they would have given some interpretation other than their apparent interpretation to the verses quoted above. But we know for certain, neither of these 54 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 55The Review of Religions – February 2006 things happened. The earliest authorities like Mujahid and Qatada, as we have already shown, consider these verses to contain a promise that the text of the Holy Qur’an shall never be tampered with, and no other meaning is mentioned by any of the earlier authorities. Therefore, we have clear proof that no other sense was ever attached to these words by the Companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) for if it had been, we should have had some report to that effect. To cite another instance of this from the earlier history of Islam, let me refer to a prophecy contained in Hadith [Tradition]. There is a tradition to the effect that the Holy Prophet(sa) said to his wives: The apparent significance of these words being ‘the quickest of you in joining me, (i.e., after death) will be she whose hands are the longest.’7 It was in this sense that the Holy Prophet’s(sa) wives took these words, for they immediately began to measure their hands to compare their lengths. But tradition tells us that they were wrong in attaching this significance to these words which, it afterwards turned out, really meant that ‘the quickest of you in joining me (after death) will be she who is the most extensive of you in giving,8 the most charitable. It was in accordance with the latter significance that the prophecy was fulfilled and tradition has not failed to give us the right interpretation, though the prophecy formed no part of the Qur’an. Therefore, we are right in concluding that if the prophecy regarding the protection of the text of the Qur’an from being tampered with had not been fulfilled in the apparent sense of the verses which contain that prophecy, the matter was of so overwhelming an importance that we would have had numerous Companions attaching a different significance to the words of the prophecy and telling posterity that the words were not to be taken in their apparent significance. But in the large collection of traditions, we do not meet with a single report to that effect, leaving aside the question of its credibility. It is impossible that if the prophecy 55 THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 56 The Review of Religions –February 2006 had not been fulfilled in the literal significance of the words, not only should thousands of Companions have passed over the occurrence in silence, but the earliest authorities who learned the Holy Q u r’an from the Companions themselves should have positively stated that the verses under discussion meant that no alteration would find its way into the Holy Book. It is clear from the above that the Companions of the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) understood the pro- phecy relating to the guardianship of the Holy Qur’an in the apparent sense of the words of the prophecy. Therefore, if the text of the Holy Qur’an had been tampered with before their eyes, they could not have believed in the prophecy or in the word which contained it as the Word of God. But history does not show that any such thing ever happened or that any party of the Companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) or any single Companion ever expressed any doubt as to the truth of the Holy Prophet(sa) on that ground. There is no such obscurity about the history of Islam that we should be justified in thinking that such an important occurrence, if it had happened, could have been left out or remained hidden from the knowledge of posterity. Nor could the Companions have kept silence on witnessing such an obvious failure at the prophecy, for we see them expressing their doubts freely even in the presence of the Holy Prophet(sa). This assertion is amply borne out by the circumstances of the famous truce of Hudaibiyya. The Holy Prophet(sa) saw in a vision that he and his Companions were performing a pilgrimage. As he was always certain of the truth of his visions and revelations and knew the present vision to be from God, he set out on a journey for Makkah to perform the pilgrimage with over fourteen hundred of his Companions. When he reached Hudaibiyya, the Quraish came out against him and told the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) that they would not allow the pilgrims to proceed further. Here a truce was arranged between the two parties by which not only the Holy Prophet( s a ) agreed to return to Madinah without performing the pilgrim- age, but the other terms also were THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 57The Review of Religions – February 2006 unfavourable to the Muslims. The acceptance of these conditions caused a murmur among the Companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) for by them they were to return without performing a pilgrimage. Umar gave expression to their views and coming in the presence of the Holy Prophet(sa), he asked him how it was that he agreed to go back without performing a pilgrimage while he had promised to them on the basis of his vision that the pilgrimage would be performed. His doubts were only removed when he was informed by the Holy Prophet(sa) that the vision did not promise a pilgrimage during that very year, but gave promise only of a pilgrimage and that therefore it could not be falsified by their mere inability to perform the pilgrimage on that occasion. It was on learning this explanation that the Companions of the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) were satisfied.9 T h i s tradition shows clearly that the Companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) expressed their doubts freely when they were not satisfied about anything. It is, therefore, certain that if there had been the least alteration in the text of Holy Qur’an, grave doubt would have been entertained as to the truth of the prophecy and reports of these doubts would no doubt have been transmitted to posterity. But the utter absence of all such reports shows clearly that no doubt was ever entertained and that accordingly no alteration had ever taken place in the text of the Holy Qur’an as it had been taught to the Companions by the Holy Prophet(sa) himself in his life-time. One tradition is cited by the author of the Tawil-ul-Qur’an in support of his assertion that by the guarding of the Holy Qur’an was not meant the guarding of its text from being tampered with. This tradition he takes from the Ibn-i- Maja, a second class authority on Tradition. The tradition says that a time will come when the Holy Book, i.e., the Qur’an, will be entirely taken away and not a single verse of it will be left. From this tradition, he concludes that if the Holy Qur’an can be entirely taken away without doing any harm to the promise contained in the words, ‘Verily We sent down the Qur’an, and verily We shall be its guardian,’ this promise could THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 58 The Review of Religions –February 2006 not be inconsistent with the loss of any portion of the Divine revelation or any alteration in its text. The fallacy of this argument lies in this that by the taking away of the Holy Qur’an is not meant the taking away of its words but the taking away of the spirit. That this is the true purport of the words of the tradition is clear from other and more authentic traditions. Thus both Bukhari and Muslim relate a tradition which expressly says that the knowledge of the Qur’an shall be taken away not by the disappearance of its words, but by the death of the learned men. Another report mentioned by Baihaqi says that a time will come when nothing will remain of Islam but its name and nothing will remain of the Qur’an but its letter11. A third tradition which is related by Ti r m a d h i , Ahmad and Darimi besides lbn-i- Maja, (the latter being the sole authority on which the author of the Ta w i l – u l – Q u r’an relies) supports the same conclusion in equally clear words. When the Holy Prophet( s a ) spoke of the disappearance of knowledge, one of the Companions asked him how the knowledge of the Qur’ a n would disappear when they were reciting it constantly and teaching it to their children who in their turn would teach to their c h i l d r e n .1 2 The Holy Prophet ( s a ) told him that what he meant by the disappearance of the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an was that people would no more act upon its injunctions or make it the guiding rule of their lives. All these traditions clearly show that the the Holy Prophet( s a ) never meant when he spoke of the disap- pearance of the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, that the Holy Book would itself disappear from the earth. What he meant was that people would not act upon it. All these considerations point to but one conclusion, viz., that the Companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) clearly understood the promise contained in the Holy Qur’an as to its being guarded by Almighty God in the apparent sense of the words of the promise, and as no one ever expressed any doubt as to the fulfilment of this important promise, it also follows that no alteration whatever took place in the text of the Holy Qur’an after the death of the Holy THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 59The Review of Religions – February 2006 Prophet(sa). Hence it is that the Muslims of all generations have laid great stress upon this promise. Its existence combined with a few other historical circumstances of unquestionable truth affords the strongest proof that the text of the Holy Book has never been tampered with. There is another consideration which aff o r d s indirect evidence of the fulfilment of this promise. At one and the same time two important promises of protection were made to the Holy Prophet(sa) – a promise of protecting the person of the Prophet(sa) against the evil designs and the attacks of his enemies, and the other a promise of protecting the text of the Holy Qur’an from being tampered with. The fulfilment of the first promise related to the life-time of the Holy Prophet(sa) and that of the second to the time which followed his death. The mission of the Holy Prophet(sa) was confronted with two great dangers, viz., that the Holy Prophet(sa) should be killed by his enemies and thus the work which he had begun and the Divine revelation which was granted to him should remain incomplete, or that after his death the Holy Book should be changed and altered as had been the case with the previous books. Some of the prophets before him were murdered and the books which others had left after them for the guidance of their followers had been tampered with. But the mission of the Holy Prophet(sa) was safeguarded against both these dangers by the two promises referred to above.13 Now it is easy to see that the fulfilment of the first promise was far more difficult than that of the second, but no one can deny that it was clearly fulfilled. Various attempts were made upon the life of the Holy Prophet(sa) both at Makkah and at Madinah but they were all brought to naught. The fulfilment of this promise in the life-time of the Holy Prophet( s a ) was an assurance to his Companions that the second promise would also be fulfilled, for the Mighty God Who could frustrate all the designs of powerful enemies against a helpless and solitary man to fulfil the promise concerning the safety of the Holy Prophet(sa) could not fail to bring to fulfilment the equally important promise of guarding the Holy Qur’an against THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 60 The Review of Religions –February 2006 any alteration. The fulfilment of these two promises clearly establishes the Divine origin of the world which contains them. References 1. The Life of Mahomet, by Sir William Muir, 3rd Edition, Introduction page xxi. 2. Ibid, page xxvi. 3. The author of the Tawil-ul-Qur’an or Interpretation of the Qur’an, an Urdu writing published in 1905 by the Punjab Religious Book Society, Lahore. 4. See Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon under the word zikr. 5. The word Sihr is again used here for the H o l y Q u r’an as the context shows clearly the translation from Rodwell. 6. See Commentary of Ibn-i-Jareer, Vol. XIV, page 6 and Vol. XXIV, page 71, 72. 7. The tradition is thus stated in Sahih Muslim: ‘It is reported by Ayesha, the mother of the faithful that the Messenger of God(sa), said that “the quickest of you to join me will be she whose hands are the longest,” She said that the wives of the Prophet began thereupon to measure their hands in order to find out who had the longest hands. She also said that Zainab proved to be the one with the longest hands for she used to give away with her hands and was charitable.’ The following interpretation of this tradition is given by Nawawi: ‘The meaning of this tradition is as, follows: The wives of the Holy Prophet(sa) thought that the length of hands in the prophecy was to be taken literally and therefore, they began to measure the length of their hands. Sauda was the one who had the longest hands literally while Zainab had the longest hands in giving alms and doing charitable deeds, and Zainab was the first who died after the Holy Prophet(sa). Then they understood that the length of hands signified extensiveness in giving and charity. The lexicographers explain such phrases as ‘such a one has lengthy hands’ as meaning that such a one is very generous and charitable.’ (Nawawi on Muslim) . Bukhari and its well- known commentary Fath-ul-Bari also agree that the prophecy was first taken in a literal sense, but that it afterwards appeared that the words conveyed a different significance. (Bukhari, chapter of sadaqat or charities). 8. For this significance of the words of the tradition, see Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, under the root ‘t-w-l’page 1897, 3rd column. 9. The pilgrimage as promised by the vision was performed by the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) a year afterwards. The episode relating to the expression of doubts by Omar is thus given in the Sahih Bukhari: ‘Then Umar, son of Khattub said: “So I came to the prophet of God, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, and said to him, art thou not the prophet of God truly? He said, Yes, I am. Again I said, are we not in the right and our opponents in the wrong? He said, THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN 61The Review of Religions – February 2006 yes.Then I asked him, why should we then accept such unfavourable terms in our religion? He said: Verily, I am the Messenger of God and I do not disobey Him and He is my Helper. I said, Didst thou not speak to us that we would go to the Temple and make circuits round it? He said, Yes, but did I tell you that we would reach it this year? I said, No! Then He said, thou shouldst no doubt reach the Temple and make circuits round it”’ (Bukhari Kitab ul Shuroot or the Book of Conditions) 10. The tradition runs as follows: ‘Abdullah, son of Amru, reported that the Messenger of God(sa) said that God would not take away knowledge by its actual removal from among men, but He would take away knowledge by taking away learned men’. (Mishkat. Kitab-ul-Ilm.) 11. This tradition is also given in Mishkat Kitabul Ilm and is also follows: ‘It is reported by Ali that the Messenger of God(sa), said that a time would come over men when there would remain naught of Islam but its name and naught of Qur’an but its words; their mosques would be well stocked with people but they would be waste because of the absence of guidance; their learned men would be the most mischievous of those under the canopy of heaven; from among them would come forth the great tribulation and into them would it return.’ 12. The original tradition is as follows: ‘Ziyad, son of Labid, reported that the Messenger of God( s a ), spoke of something which he said would happen at the time of the disappearance of knowledge. I said, O Messenger of God, how would knowledge disappear when we read the Qur’an and teach it to our children and our children would teach it to their children, so on till the Judgment day. The Prophet said, ‘May thy mother be bereft of thee, O Ziyad! I thought that thou wast one of the most wise men in Madinah. Do not these Jews and Christians read the Torah and the Injil, but they do not act upon anything contained in these books.’ (Mishkat Kitabul-Ilm) 13. The Divine promise to protect the person of the Holy Prophet(sa) against the evil designs of his enemies is expressly contained in the following verse:: O Messenger! convey to the people what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; and if thou do it not, thou hast not conveyed His Message at all. (Ch.5: V.68) The same promise is contained in various other verses of the Holy Qur’an. THE PURITY OF THE TEXT OF THE HOLY QUR’AN