Lecture 13 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Tuesday 29 May 2018 (13 Ramadaan 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
After having completed the discussion on the compilation of the Quran and the questions related thereto, we now enter the discussion of “tahrif” or alteration/distortion of the Quran which is a very controversial topic.
THE FATE OF PREVIOUS REVEALED BOOKS
Almighty Allah says in Quran in Surah Ma’ida Verse 48 we read:
وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ
“And We have sent down unto you the Book with the truth, confirming that which was before it of the Book and as a guardian over it.”
If we look at the history of previous Prophets (a.s), then we see they came and received revelation / wahi from God. Books like Zabur (Psalms), Tawrah, Injeel, and other Books were revealed to them.
But unfortunately these books got distorted, lost and wasted and hardly anything from the original text of the revealed Book is available today.
“People of Book” who are the Christians and Jews don’t even claim that their Old and New Testament of the Bible are exactly the Words of God. Rather, they say that it is the Disciples who narrated it.
When examining the contents of the current Bible and Tawrah, we easily see certain fiction stories narrated in it and confusion which shows that these words are not the original text.
This was as a result of the disobedience of Children of Israel and other reasons why the Holy Books got distorted.
But the QURAN as the final book came with a claim which is made in the above mentioned verse which at least has 3 components to it:
– It’s the truth;
– It confirms what was revealed before to previous Prophets (a.s);
– It is the dominant/superior one in control/guardian overlooking all other books
HOW IS THE QURAN DOMINANT OVER PREVIOUS REVEALED BOOKS?
The dominance of the Quran over previous Revealed Books is at least in two ways:
– The miraculous nature of the Quran (more on this in a separate future lecture); and
– The inflexibility of the Quran to possible distortion – this means the Quran is revealed in a manner that does not make it flexible or vulnerable to distortion
It’s structure is in a manner that makes it INFLEXIBE and thus does not allow distortion.
But the question of whether the Quran was distorted in history is still a subject of debate, even though the above mentioned verse exists.
DEFINING THE ISSUE IN QUESTION
In history, tahrif of Quran was a big discussion and it continues to this very day – did distortion or alteration in Quran occur?
It’s a critical discussion as we depend on the Quran as the ultimate criteria for everything – so if it’s possible for distortion of Quran to occur, then Quran cannot be the ultimate criteria any longer. So this issue puts everything at stake in Islam.
So what exactly do we mean when we discussing “tahrif” of Quran.
Tahrif or distortion in Quran can conceptually firstly be considered with respect to the actual text. Did textual distortion occur? This in itself can be thought of in two further ways:
– Did texual distortion occur whereby a word or verse was “added” to the Quran?? There is absolute consensus that this did NOT happen. That is there is NOTHING in the Quran that we have in our possession today that does not belong there.
This is because the structure and style of the Quran is unique and it thus not possible to add ANYTHING to it without it being noticed. Historically people certainly tried to do this but failed.
There is the well known story in the early days of Islam, when Prophet Muhammad (sawa) placed the 3 verses of Surah Kauthar on walls of Ka’ba and challenged the Arabs to write the fourth verse. In response, the top poet of the time said it is not possible to write a fourth verse as the three verses are a discourse from other than a human being!
– Did textual distortion occur whereby a verse or word of the Quran was omitted?? THIS IS THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSION AND DEBATE. And I will elaborate on this in a moment.
DISTORTION OF QURAN THAT IS AGREED UPON
Besides the issue of whether textual distortion of Quran actually occurred, there is a discussion on whether “semantical” distortion occurred i.e. “Tahrif ma’nawi”, in other words whether distortion of the meanings of the actual verses/words of Quran actually occurred.
And the answer to this is yes, beyond any doubt or debate, tahrif in meaning DID occur.
We even see that when the Quran makes reference to the issue of tahrif with respect to previous nations before Islam, that it mainly refers to distortion in terms of the meanings / semantics of the revelation.
For example in Surah Ma-ida Verse 13, Almighty Allah refers to this type of tahrif of previous nations, in this case the Jews as follows:
يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُواْ حَظًّا مِّمَّا ذُكِّرُواْ بِهِ
“They alter the words (of Allah) from their places and they have neglected a part of what they were admonished with”.
This is how the Jews changed the meanings of what was revealed to them.
In terms of the dictionary meaning of the word “distortion”, it is if a word has two or more meanings and the speaker only refers to one meaning of the word though you can understand more that one meaning from the words that the speaker used. So if the listener distorts the word to what he wants to understand, it’s referred to as tahrif.
For example the word “ayn” in Arabic means “eye”, it also means “spring which is usually on a farm”, it also means “spy” and has various other meanings.
So if you say “I saw your “ayn”, it could mean I saw your farm or I saw your spy, etc!!….quite a variation in meaning!
That is distortion in meaning.
According to the Quran, the people who do this have sick hearts. In Surah Aali Imran Verse 7 we read:
هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ
“He it is Who has sent down to you the Book; in it are decisive verses which are the basis of the Book, while others are allegorical. But for those in whose hearts there is perversity, they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking it (their own) interpretation”.
While most of the verses of the Quran are decisive, there are people who have sick hearts that hang on to those verses that have multiple meanings with the purpose of creating dissension by following a possible, yet distorted meaning!
So these people who do tahrif of the meanings of the verses of the Quran DO exist.
If everyone understood the Quran in the same manner, then we would not have 73 sects….or even more than that!! There would be no fight, no war, no difference of opinion.
There is an issue of tafseer “through opinion” which caused a major problem in Islamic History – this is where someone imposes his personal opinion on the meaning of verses of the Quran.
A good example in modern times is wanting to prove the truth of the QURAN through science – this is sometimes valid and sometimes it certainly looks like a scientific view is being forced onto the Quran.
ISIS is your most perfect example causing anarchy due to tafseer through opinion. They will take a part of a verse of the Quran that says “Kill all Kuffar” or infidels/non-believers and then kill whoever they decide fits the definition of “kaafir”.
And this phenomenon is witnessed over the centuries
DID TEXTUAL DISTORTION OF QURAN OCCUR
As I alluded to early, the real debate goes around whether textual distortion actually occurred, and in this regard, since textual distortion via addition of a word or verse DID NOT occur, did textual distortion (tahrif) via OMISSION of a word or verse actually occur?
UNFORTUNATELY, two opinions exist in this regard.
The absolute majority of Sunni and Shia believe that this DID NOT occur.
Then there is an extremely small minority from BOTH SIDES (Sunni and Shia) who have reported occurrence of omission of verses from the Quran – this makes it a dangerous dispute!
Shia are wrongfully accused of this and the matter is blown out of proportion and exploited to promote hate and sectarianism . It is one of the strongest tool of enemies of Shia to destroy Shia and then to attack them.
The opinion of Shia ulama from as early as Fazl ibn Shazan (died 260 AH – and thus lived in the time of the Imams) to present day is that they are adamant that this type of tahrif DID NOT occur.
In other words, whatever is “between two covers” is THEE QURAN – nothing is added, nothing is missing.
However, the detailed further arguments to prove this will be in the next lecture.
To be continued…….
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