Lecture 14 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Thursday 31 May 2018 (15 Ramadaan 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
In lecture 13 we started a very important and at the same time highly controversial discussion about distortion in the Holy Quran. Distortions can me textual or semantical. Semantical distortion of the Quran refers to distortion in the interpretation, meaning, explanation and understanding took place and is still taking place 1400 years later. Nobody disagrees with this.
There are 2 possibilities when it comes to textual distortion, namely, addition or omission. Everybody agrees that nothing was added to the Holy Quran. The subject of our discussion is on the removal of text from the Quran.
Thus far we have covered 2 opinions which can be referred to the earlier lecture.
QURANIC EVIDENCE AGAINST ITS DISTORTION
What is our proof that the Holy Quran is not distorted? In fact the Holy Quran does not accept distortion. The NATURE of the Holy Quran is that there is no room for distortion. It is not at all vulnerable or flexible. It’s not as if you can take away something and it will stay the same. Not at all!
Anyway, our religious scholars have established numerous academic arguments with robust evidence to prove that there is no distortion possible in the Quran, even in the form of omission.
The Quranic challenge and proclamation is the first proof. A number of verses can be presented here, but there are mainly 2 verses which are consistently referred to. Verse 9 of Surah Hijr (chapter 15 of the Holy Quran) reads as follows:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”
This is the claim of the Quran, that Allah (SWT) has promised, that He will protect it Himself and He will not allow any distortion. This is a very strong argument for which there is no need of any further detail.
Another verse of the Holy Quran which is commonly used to prove that no distortion of the Quran is possible, is the end of verse 41 of Surah Fussilat (chapter 41) and verse 42:
وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ
“And indeed it is a Book of exalted power.”
لَا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ ۖ تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ حَكِيمٍ حَمِيدٍ
“No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, Worthy of all Praise.”
This verse is also very clear, and if you recall, we already explained the meaning of Aziz ie. something very tough, not permeable at all. So, in this context, anything other than Allah (SWT) is falsehood, and it impossible for any of it to enter the Quran from any direction, as it is revelation which has been sent down from the Most Powerful, Most Wise and Most Praiseworthy. Hence, there is no possibility of alteration, fabrication, falsification, distortion, omission or addition. None of this is possible.
These are the 2 main verses which are used to prove the point.
HADITH EVIDENCE AGAINST DISTORTION OF THE QURAN
The second argument is based on Hadith. There are plenty of Hadith which prove, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the Quran is protected, and therefore there is no possibility of distortion.
The first Hadith to reference here is the Hadith of Thaqalain, which is a Mutawatir Hadith, meaning its authenticity is beyond question. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) said in this Hadith, which is his legacy, and it covers 3 very important things:
1. “I am leaving behind 2 weighty things, the Quran and my Ahlul Bait (a.s).
2. If you hold fast onto both of them, you will never go astray.
3. They will not separate from each other until the day of Judgement”
Now, the argument here is also very simple and straightforward. The Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s) are the source of guidance and avoiding them is misguidance. So, the Quran is the heavier weight, and if it is vulnerable and open to distortion, then how can we take it as a source of guidance? It is not possible to accept.
Furthermore, the Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s) cannot be separated. If distortion will take place, then separation will take place. They will no longer be together! So, the Quran stays as it is and therefore stays united with the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Hence, no distortion is possible in the Holy Quran.
Moving ahead, there are a huge number of Hadith directly from Rasulullah (SAWA) and his Ahlul Bait (a.s), which is further convincing proof that the Holy Quran cannot be distorted. These Hadith say that when fitna (mischief and deception) and confusion overtake you like a pitch dark night, then it is our responsibility to refer to the Quran.
So, if during these confusing times of fitna and vagueness, it is not possible to have the Quran as shelter if it is distorted. Hence, distortion of the Quran is impossible to accept. The Quran is our point of reference, so it is not possible for the Quran to cause confusion.
The list of Hadith to defend the Quran from distortion is overwhelming. We recall the will which Imam Ali (a.s) made at his bed of departure from this world, where he said: “I remind you about the Quran. Nobody should go ahead of you in reading, understanding and following the Quran.”
So, if the Quran is vulnerable and has the possibility of distortion, then what is the point of going back to the Quran and regard it as a shelter?
RELATIONSHIP OF AHLUL BAIT (A.S) WITH QURAN PROVES THAT DISTORTION IS NOT POSSIBLE
Thirdly, let us go back to the first lecture where we discussed that the Quran is the ultimate criterion. This means that the Quran is the criterion in whatever you want to check, be it a particular way of thinking, ideology, philosophy, theory, AND even Hadith.
Especially when we reflect on the Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA) recorded in Shia resources, where he says that “the Quran is the truth of every truth and the light of every righteous thing. Take whatever agrees with the Book of Allah (SWT) and abandon whatever does not agree with the Book of Allah (SWT).” It is pretty clear cut, and one cannot ask for a more clear reference on the exalted, pristine status of the Holy Quran.
Now, again, it does not make sense to say that the Quran is the criterion if there is even the smallest doubt or question about the Quran. We have 2 resources to understand Islam. The first is the Quran and the second is Hadith. Hadith is prone to vulnerability. Nobody disputes this reality. We have good Hadith, weak Hadith, authentic Hadith, fabricated Hadith, Mutawatir Hadith…Hadith has different levels.
Now, if the Quran is also prone to vulnerability of errors and distortion, then what will we depend on and what will be the criteria? Therefore, for Hadith as well, our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) repeatedly said that we should accept from them whatever is in conformity with the Holy Quran, and if something is contrary to the Quran then we should believe that it is not from the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This explains the unity of the Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s) which will never separate from each other in its meaning and contents. It is not possible that Ahlul Bait (a.s) says something which conflicts with the Quran. So the Quran is the criterion for checking if whatever has been recorded from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is in fact genuine or not. This is the Shia approach! If it matches the Quran, accept it. If it opposes the Quran then reject it.
LOGICAL AND RATIONAL EVIDENCE AGAINST DISTORTION OF THE QURAN
Again, there are plenty of Hadith available on this and the list is endless. In Shia fiqh (jurisprudence), we are required to read 1 full Surah (chapter) of the Holy Quran in our Salaah, else our Salaah is invalid. This requirement is not in Sunni fiqh though, where Surah Fatiha and a few verses from any Surah is sufficient.
We may sometimes be wondering why Shia tend to not read other parts of the Quran except the short Surahs, and this is the reason, which is one of the properties of Shia fiqh when it comes to Salaah ie. must read a full Surah.
Even those Surahs of the Quran which are not regarded full, namely Surah Fil and Surah Quraysh (chapters 105 and 106 respectively), and Surah Dhuha and Surah Inshira (chapters 93 and 94). Salaah is not valid according to Shia Fiqh if you read one Surah without the other one, meaning if you read Surah Fil in your Salaah then you are required to read Surah Quraysh as well, and similarly with Surah Dhuha and Surah Inshira. This is a unique aspect regarding these 4 Surahs.
What I am trying to say is that the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) taught us that the condition for validity of Salaah is one full Surah, and they also suggested recommended Surahs. If these Surahs were possibly distorted or missing anything, then it is impossible to comprehend that the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) would recommend Surahs for us to read in Salaah, because it would make our Salaah invalid.
This further proves that it is impossible to accept that the Quran is in any way distorted. Again, there is no shortage of evidence in Hadith to prove the completeness of the Quran.
This means that we can present intellectual proofs as well, that it is impossible to accept any distortion being possible in the Quran. The reason is that you will find unique order in the verses of the Holy Quran. Rationally, it is not possible to accept that distortion took place.
The Quran is the final message of Almighty Allah (SWT) and is the ultimate constitution and foundation of our religion. The whole religion of Islam comes under question if the Quran can be distorted. It contradicts its purpose of revelation.
In logic, we have an established principle that a wise man does not do anything for a purpose and then contradicts that same purpose. The purpose of the Quran is guidance (Hidayah), as explained in verse 185 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2), that it is “hudan lin nas” (as a guide to mankind).
If Almighty Allah (SWT) is saying in this verse that the Quran was revealed as guidance to people; and if there is a possibility of distortion in that Quran, then there is a contradiction in its purpose, because it cannot be guidance any longer. Again, a wise man does not do anything to contradict its purpose.
HISTORICAL REASONING TO PROVE COMPLETENESS OF THE HOLY QURAN
The great deal of emphasis and sensitivity by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) towards the protection of the Holy Quran has been discussed repeatedly in this series of lectures. Furthermore, we discussed how focussed the pious companions (Sahaba) of Rasulullah (SAWA) were towards the memorisation of the Holy Quran and to compile the Quran too. Their main stress was about the protection the sacredness of the Holy Quran.
This again shows, that it is impossible historically for the Quran to be distorted since it was so carefully protected. We recall from the earlier discussions about Qira’ah, how much of disagreement ensued simply due to Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra, not forgetting the dots! These disagreements sometimes reach boiling point where some would declare others to be out of the fold of Islam on this basis!
So, generation after generation have consistently been hyper-sensitive about the Quran and its hyper-sensitive about the accuracy of the Holy Quran and protecting its original, pristine state.
I would like to repeat the example from lecture 10, that the unified version of the Quran by the third caliph, Uthmaan, was written by human beings with the skills of being scribes. We also discussed in lecture 10 that this version of the Holy Quran, which we use until today, has dictation mistakes ie. spelling errors. However, the great experts of Arabic grammar and vocabulary knew that this was not written the way it was supposed to. That being said, they did not change it, saying that the Quran is the exception.
The same word is written differently on 2 different pages of the Quran. We also see that different versions of the Uthmaani script of the Holy Quran will have similar discrepancies in spelling which resulted in differences in recitation. Again, these were left untouched to protect the pristine heritage of the Holy Quran, as this is how it was written by the first generation of Sahaba (companions) who witnessed the revelation to Rasulullah (SAWA).
Again, this highlights from a historical viewpoint that it is impossible for there to be any distortion in the Holy Quran.
QURAN IS A ZIKR (REMINDER) FOR EVERYONE ACROSS ALL TIMES
The great commentator of the Holy Quran, Allama Tabataba’i, has a very interesting theory, whereby he explains that Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to the Holy Quran as a zikr (reminder). Verse 9 of Surah Hijr (chapter 15 of the Holy Quran), which we cited at the beginning of this discussion, reads as follows:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”
Allama Tabataba’i argues that it is not possible for zikr to be a reminder for one particular era. It is a reminder for the whole world, and every nation, for all the times. He therefore concludes that it can only be a zikr for all the times, for every nation, and everywhere, if it is protected and not distorted over the time. Otherwise it cannot be a zikr (reminder).
These are our major bases and foundation to prove that distortion in the Quran is simply impossible to fathom.
SUNNI AND SHIA HADITH RESOURCES DO CLAIM POSSIBILITY OF DISTORTION OF QURAN
Despite all the proofs presented above, without any doubt, there are various Hadith which apparently speaks about the distortion of the Holy Quran. From here we see the debate unfolds! This means that there are Hadith which claim that for various verses, there was something written, which has been omitted. There are enough dangerous Hadith like this!
Such Hadith are present in Shia resources AND Sunni resources, perhaps more than Shia!!! Unfortunately, only we Shia are innocently accused of distortion of the Quran to further a devious sectarian agenda, by propaganda that we believe in a different Quran. These claims are completely baseless, which has been overwhelmingly proved in this series of lectures so far.
The absolute majority of Shia scholars, as early as the Ulama of the time of the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) until today have categorically denied and denounced any possibility of distortion in the Quran.
IMAM ALI (A.S) WOULD HAVE INTERVENED IF DISTORTION EVER TOOK PLACE
I would like to make one principle point in this regard. It is argued that Imam Ali (a.s) would not have remained silent if distortion of the Quran occurred. This was no trivial matter. It was a direct attack and danger to Islam and its longevity. Therefore, Imam Ali (a.s) would surely have addressed this if it was taking place. However, what we see in history is that Imam Ali (a.s) had his compilation of the Holy Quran, but he accepted the Quran which was standardised by the third caliph.
Imam Ali (a.s) ruled after the third Caliph. He also appointed governors across the huge Islamic region, and Imams of Jumuah, as well as judges and scholars. Did they use the compilation of the Quran by Imam Ali (a.s) or did they use the Uthmaani version of the Quran? Quite clearly, they used the Uthmaani version.
It is impossible to conceive the notion that Imam Ali (a.s) would have compromised if there was distortion in the Quran. How could Imam Ali (a.s) have accepted, promoted and practiced that standard Quran (the Uthmaani version) as the point of reference when he was in power as the fourth Caliph?
This clearly shows that there was no distortion and that Imam Ali (a.s) believed in the same Quran which is in our hands up until today.
There is a research scholar who did a wonderful study, saying that from the first day after occultation of Imam Mahdi (atfs) until today, we see that in the list of thousands of scholars and religious experts, that he was only able to identify 7 people from the Shia perspective, who apparently believed in the distortion of the Quran.
One of the 7 is more well-known, namely Muhaddis Noori who wrote a book Fasl Al-Khitab Fi Tahrif Kitab Rabb Al-Arbbab. This was in the 19th century in Najaf, Iraq. He presented some arguments, but it is reported that in the latter stages of his life, he regretted writing this book, stating further that he should have written a book with the following title instead:
THE FINAL DECISIVE WORD TO PROVE THAT DISTORTION NEVER OCCURRED IN THE BOOK OF ALLAH (SWT)
Anyway, it is his book which is referenced for all the lame accusations against us pertaining to distortion of the Quran. Our beloved Imam Khomeini (r.a) heavily attacks Muhaddis Noori, denouncing his book as a collection of jokes with no academic value.
Amongst the other 6, it is unclear whether they believed in the distortion of the Holy Quran or whether they claimed that there may be the possibility of distortion in the Quran.
It is important for us to assess the reasoning of this handful of Shia Ulama, which we said amount to 7 at the most, and what the argument of the enemies of Shia, who exploited some of their material as a basis to conclude that Shia believe in a different Quran.
We will conclude this very important discussion in our next lecture.
To be continued…..
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