Muslim Scholars Shatter the Myth of Quran Preservation

Standard narrative: A large number of Muhammad’s companions memorized and passed down the Quran, thus guaranteeing its accuracy

But on the contrary, we find in Muslim hadith books as highly regarded Al Bukhari presenting two narratives which which say that actually they were only four memorizers of the Qur’an who had memorized the Quran in the lifetime of the prophet. This is obviously in stark contrast with the claim that they were thousands of memorizers.

Standard Narrative: The order of surahs was revealed by Muhammad and not based on judgment of this companions who passed it on in exactly the way he taught them.

The order of the Quranic Surahs in  Ali Masoud’s codex and of Ubayy’s codex is being displayed before you. If the Quran had a different arrangement of the different companions, which is the correct arrangement?

Standard Narrative: The Quran was completely and perfectly transcribed by Muhammad’s companions and transmitted without scribal errors.

We have certain scribal errors in the Quran and this is something every single scholar acknowledges. Even the earliest versions of the Quran have these scribal errors.

Shabir Ally: Human scribes are human beings. As human beings, naturally they were prone to error and they made many different kinds of errors.

There are numerous examples in which you can see these scribal errors.

As you can see from the underlined word, the alif which succeeds the other alif would either have to be ignored as a scribal error or else it would make the word read in the opposite way. It will be a negative particle instead of a positive particle. 

Another example is Surah 3:58 where we find an additional alif. Either the second alif is a scribal error and ignored or else it will result in an opposite meaning.

Reading 1 (ignoring additional alif): “for sure the people shall be gathered before God Almighty”

Reading 2 (with additional alif): “you should not be gathered before God Almighty”

There are other numerous examples. Even the earliest versions of the Quran have these scribal errors.

There are hadiths that tell us that the Quran we have is incomplete with missing verses. Go here for more information.

There are also additional verses in the Quran that the early companions of the prophet never accepted as part of the Quran. According to them, they are only prayers of the believers.

Standard Narrative: There is only one version of the Quran

Shabir Ally: Many Muslims have this as a simplistic idea that there has only been one version of the Quran throughout history and that’s the version that we are holding now. When we read our history, we see that there are indeed variations and multiple readings. Today, most Muslims read the Koran it in a text that is referred to as the Egyptian edition of 1924. But this is not the only text of the Quran that is read throughout the world.

Currently there are five different versions of the complete set of the Quran with different words and word order. We are not referring to pronunciation differences. 

Standard Narrative: The different versions or recitations only pertain to different tribal accents or ways of saying the same thing.

The prophet taught those differences. Omar got upset when he heard a Quran-reciter reciting it one way and he said “That’s not the way.” That person said “That’s how he taught me.” They  both went to the prophet and the prophet said “Yes, I taught him that way and I taught you that way.” So he taught in different dialects.

The Quran came down in 7 dialects and some of these dialects differ in wording, synonyms are used by different tribes to express certain words in different ways and these synonyms were accommodated in the copy of Abu Bakr.

The differences in these versions are not just in matters of pronunciation or dialect or accent but it also relates to differences in word patterns, differences in nouns, differences in a singular and plural noun, differences in particle. 

Standard Narrative: The differences between the Qira’at (i.e. recitation) are few in number and they all complement one another.

Shabir Ally: The variations that we find between one recital and another are not such that it should change anything that Muslims believe. And they’re not such as to affect Muslim practice in any significant way. 

When I open up any page of the Quran, I will find on the side the other variant readings of a particular word that is mentioned in the main text, are mentioned in the margins. There’s hardly a page in this whole Quran which is devoid of any variation in this reading.

The Quran on average has 700 pages. In just one page, there are about 20 variations. If you multiply by 700 pages, you can imagine the number of variations. In many cases, it does change the meaning and although the change might be very minor and might not be of significance but it does change the meaning and in some cases there is a drastic change in meaning as well because when word changes, when the when you find that there is a difference in declensions in the word patterns and nouns, the meaning obviously changes. 

Standard Narrative: The different versions or readings  (Ahruf) go back to seven dialectsin which the Quran was revealed to Muhammad.

The evidence for this is a Hadith narrated in Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim in which the prophet said “Gabriel came to me and recited the Qur’an in one manner (Arabic “Ahruf”) and I recited it back to him but I asked him to increase the number of Ahrufs until he said “the Quran has been revealed in seven ways of reciting”. So all of them are the same in meaning, they do not change the meaning but they change in pronunciation and in the finer details. There are exactly seven Ahrufs that Allah allowed the Quran to be recited in based upon the famous 7 dialects of the Arabian Peninsula.