Lecture 15 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Saturday 2 June 2018 (17 Ramadaan 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
In our discussions about Tahrif (distortion) in the Quran, we have discussed in detail all the arguments which prove beyond the smallest shadow of doubt, that there is no possibility of distortion, alteration or omission and addition of any kind in the Holy Quran.
We covered a variety of proofs in the previous lectures, using the following important tools:
1. Verses of the Holy Quran
3. Historical reasons
5. Miraculous nature of the Quran
6. Quran as a zikr (reminder) for all the times
We are now going to focus this discussion on some of the doubts and issues which are raised by certain elements regarding the distortion of the Holy Quran. As I mentioned earlier, this issue of the distortion of the Holy Quran is unfortunately one of the tools in the hands of our enemies with a sectarian agenda, where they wrongly accuse us Shia of believing in a different Quran.
To prove this point, and to provide some evidence for this baseless accusation against us followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s), we see that they bring lots of different issues which we will dissect in this discussion.
Before we discuss those Hadith which they reference as evidence for their accusations against us pertaining to distortion, I would like to make some very important points to clarify the issues.
The point which we are making is that the absolute majority of Sunni and Shia religious clergy believe that there is no distortion in the Holy Quran. The Quran which is in our hands and everywhere is exactly the Quran which was revealed on our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). We reached to a point where we agreed that not a single word is missing, nor was anything added.
However, the accusation is still there despite this. Before we analyse this accusation, we need to accept that unfortunately, there are certain things present in Islamic classical literature, meaning Sunni and Shia, where one can conclude if you do not analyse properly, that there is distortion which took place in the Quran.
So, this problem is not only in Shia resources, but in fact is a more so in Sunni resources. I am not saying this out of contempt, but rather from an academic assessment. Indeed, it is there, but by simply being there does not mean that this is Sunni belief!
FIRST POINT OF DISPUTE AMONGST SUNNIS IS ON THE NUMBER OF VERSES IN QURAN
There are a few points I wish to discuss in this regard. First of all, there is a big debate amongst Sunni scholars about the number of verses of the Holy Quran. What does this mean? What will be the result if someone is saying 6000 verses and someone else is claiming 6600 verses? It means that there are a few hundred verses missing, according to some.
Allama Jalaluddin Suyuti is a highly revered Sunni scholar and he wrote a very well-known book titled al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Quran (The perfect guide to the Sciences of the Quran). In this book he narrates from other scholars that “they agreed that the number of verses of the Holy Quran are 6000 but they disagreed in what has been added further to the Quran, some of them did not add more whilst others said it was 204. Some said 214, others said 219. Some said 225, others said 236.”
Now, how are we going to respond to this?
Ibn Kathir is of course a very highly respected Sunni scholar and a great commentator of the Holy Quran. In his Tafsir, he says:
“The total number of Quranic verses is 6000. Disagreement remains about the remainder of the verses. There are various views and statements about them. One statement is that there are 6204 verses”.
DO SUNNIS BELIEVE THAT ALL 114 SURAHS ARE PART OF THE QURAN?
Let us simplify this discussion even more. Is “Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim” part of the Quran or not? Again, there is a big number of scholars that say it is not part of the Quran, saying that it is only a sign to distinguish between 2 Surahs.
Then, another very important and interesting discussion is in regards to Surah Fatiha (chapter 1) and Surah Falaq (chapter 113) and Surah Nas (chapter 114) ie. the first and last 2 Surahs of the Quran. A big number of Sunni scholars claim that these 3 Surahs are not part of the Quran.
The Sahabi, Ibn Masud, was truly a great companion of Rasulullah (SAWA). He was one of those who played a crucial role in the compilation of the Quran and its collection and protection. There are overwhelming reports that he did not believe these 3 Surahs to be part of the Quran. The narration says that these 3 Surahs were not included in his compilation of the Holy Quran. Are we now prepared to conclude that the great Sahabi, ibn Masud, believed in Tahrif (distortion) of the Quran?
Again, there are plenty of examples to cite on this topic from Sunni resources, but I am only presenting a few examples. Surah Lail is another example where it is overwhelmingly recorded in Sunni resources that a big number of companions (Sahaba) believed that words have been added to this Surah. This report has been endorsed in Sahih Bukhari by Imam Bukhari himself.
There is something very interesting I want to share on this point pertaining to the verse of Tabligh (propagation). Verse 67 of Surah Ma’ida refers:
يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ ۖ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ يَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ
“O Messenger! deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people”.
A vast number of narrators from Sunni resources claim that this verse use to read:
“O Prophet, convey what you were supposed to convey, about the message about Ali ibni abi Talib, and if you have not, then you have not conveyed the message.”
Again, the list of references is available if you want, purely from Sunni resources. So, the name of Ali is missing from this verse of the Holy Quran according to them!
WHAT IS THE AYAH OF RAJM
Another very big discussion is in regards to the Ayah of Rajm, meaning the stoning of adulterers (male or female). Now, the second Caliph, Umar, says that this verse was read differently in the time of Rasulullah (SAWA), saying that this verse in the form that they use to read it, also disappeared when Rasulullah (SAWA) left this world! So, according to him, this verse has changed!
Does this mean that the second Caliph, Umar, believed in the distortion of the Quran and that it has been changed? Did people miss certain words during the compilation of the Holy Quran?
This discussion can go on and on and on. What I am trying to say is that the presence of all of these issues in Sunni resources does not mean that this is Sunni opinion! One cannot say that Sunnis believe that the Quran has been distorted, despite the evidence cited above from Sunni resources. The reason is because distortion of the Quran is not part of the Sunni belief system.
DO SHIA BELIEVE THAT THE QURAN WAS DISTORTED?
We will now analyse some of the Hadith which are present in Shia resources relating to the distortion of the Holy Quran. Against the earlier analysis of evidence from Sunni resources, we concluded that it is not part of Sunni belief system. In fairness, the same logic needs to be applied to evidence of distortion of the Quran in Shia resources. If those Hadith, directly or indirectly, somehow indicates that the Quran has been distorted or something is missing from the Quran, then it cannot be a proof that Shia believe in a different Quran.
I always have one question when people bring up this topic to serve their sinister motives of sowing discord amongst Muslims. My question to these people is that I am still waiting all my life for this Shia version of the Quran!!!
If we backtrack to our discussions about the differences in Qira’ah (styles of reading the Quran) we mentioned in lecture 12 how orientalists tried to exploit this by arguing that this is evidence of distortion in the Quran.
We will have an interesting discussion in the coming nights about abrogated and abrogating verses. This discussion is about verses which are cancelling compared with verses which are cancelled. This is very much inter-connected with this discussion on Tahrif.
There is plenty to discuss on this topic on abrogated and abrogating verses, which is a discussion relevant to Sunni and Shia. There are verses which are abrogated and we need to understand the link with this discussion on the distortion of the Quran.
Unfortunately, this type of propaganda only promotes hate, disunity and mistrust amongst Muslims.
If I can share a small experience of a few weeks ago, when the respected and most senior leadership of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) came to Durban to visit us at the Imam Husain Mosque after that horrific tragedy, the eldest brother of our martyr Shaheed Abbas Essop was there together with his dear father.
The eldest brother became a bit emotional at this visit and truly appreciated the MJC’s leadership for coming to personally offer their condolences and support, which was a very beautiful gesture indeed. In doing so, he asked the MJC’s leadership a question ie. whether the verses of the Quran which decorate the prayer chamber (Mihrab), dome, entrance gates and walls of the mosque is any different to the Quran which they have?
He further challenged by asking don’t we read the same Quran and worship the same Allah (SWT)? There was a deafening silence to these questions, and this highlights the challenge to this Ummah.
SHIA BOOKS OF HADITH INCLUDE REFERENCES TO DISTORTION OF THE QURAN
Moving ahead, yes indeed, we cannot deny that similar to what we find in Sunni resources, there is a good number of references in Shia Hadith resources and classical text and literature, which directly or indirectly indicate that something went wrong in the compilation of the Holy Quran and something is missing from the Holy Quran.
These references exist in Shia resources and we cannot deny, but let us quickly analyse them. Hadith narrations in Shia resources relating to Tahrif are either authentic or not authentic.
Allama Murtaza Askari was a highly reputable historian and Shia scholar of the 20th century. He took all these Hadith and studied its chain of narrators all the way up to the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s). He then proves that more than 90% of those Hadith which refer to Tahrif in Shia resources are not authentic. The chain of narrators is weak and includes people with wrong beliefs and even enemies of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). So we have no regard for these narrations and do not even consider them to be Hadith!
The remaining circa 10% of Hadith is from the technical scientific standpoint regarded by him as authentic. This means that they are transmitted through a reliable chain of narrators from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) to us. They are authentic from this starting point.
Then, these authentic Hadith can be subdivided into 2 categories.
Firsty, those Hadith which appears to be referring to distortion, but if you scratch beneath the surface you will notice that they are in fact not talking about distortion.
In reference to our earlier discussions about the compilation of the Holy Quran, we noted that Shia and Sunni believe that there were variations in the different versions of the Quran floating around in the early stages after the passing away of Rasulullah (SAWA), which prompted the third Caliph, Uthmaan, to burn down all other versions except his version, which became the standard version of the Quran to be circulated.
The third Caliph, Uthmaan, took this decisive action of burning down all other versions as there was a high risk of mass confusion developing from the different versions of the Quran floating around.
DIFFERENCES IN THE QURAN IS SEMANTICAL AND NOT TEXTUAL
Allama Askari concludes that these circa 10% of authentic Hadith on Tahrif DO NOT refer to the differences in the text of the Quran, and this applies to the different versions of the Quran from the Sahaba too ie. the differences between the versions were not textual.
The difference was that these companions and Qurrah from the first generation of Islam, who recorded the Quran directly from Rasulullah (SAWA), also recorded the explanation of the verses, meaning they recorded Tafsir of these verses. This is similar in concept to when you sit with a pencil and your textbook in a lecture and make notes at various points based on what the lecturer is explaining, to facilitate your understanding.
Gradually people started to think that their explanatory notes were part of the Quran. This is obviously not correct, as it was explanatory notes, which is not part of revelation. So, these Hadith are referring to these explanations and not about the text of the Quran.
Many of these Hadith are saying that a particular verse was revealed in praise of Ahlul Bait (a.s) for example. So it says that the names of Ali (a.s) or Fatima (s.a) were mentioned. These Hadith are not referring to the names of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) being specifically mentioned. Instead, they are referring to these verses being revealed in praise of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). They are not saying that the names of Ahlul Bait (a.s) were there, but rather refer to these verses being in praise of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Some of these Hadith which are used to prove that we believe in the distortion of the Quran are not talking about textual distortion. Instead, they are referring to semantical distortion.
It is the 5th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) who said that people have taken great care of the text of the Quran, which proves that there is no distortion in the text of the Quran. However, he goes further to say that people have deviated and distorted the MEANING of the Quran, of which we see plenty of differences and disputes in interpretation. This has nothing to do with the distortion of the TEXT of the Quran.
ACADEMIC DISHONESTY HAS LEFT RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS WITH BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS
Again, the Hadith which are authentic fall into this category and are in no way evidence of the Quran ever being distorted. How can these Hadith be used to say that we Shia believe in a different Quran while there are similar Hadith present in Sunni resources?
Yes, there are some Hadith which we simply cannot justify. The wording is totally unambiguous which makes it easy to refute. For example, the Hadith will say that there was a word in the Quran which is no longer there. This is pretty simple to reject and they are extremely few, and a very far distance away from the Mutawatir requirement for a verse to be included in the Quran.
Before we started the discussion about Tahrif, we established the key principle, namely, the Quran is based upon Mutawatir. We do not use one or two Hadith to prove whether a verse belongs in the Quran or not. We require that mass transmission to the level where the possibility of error is nil. Therefore, these weak Hadith have absolutely no credibility to even consider if they have any semblance of factual merit.
In addition, we have highly authentic Hadith from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) where they advise us to accept what is in conformity with the Quran and reject whatever is not.
Based upon this analysis, we conclude that there is absolutely no reliable evidence to prove that the Quran is distorted, according to Shia resources. There are Hadith in Sunni and Shia resources which may allude to distortion, but requires a proper review to understand that its context does not refer to distortion at all.
POSITION OF GRAND SHIA ULAMA ACROSS THE AGES IS UNANIMOUS
To make this point more clear, we shall now go through the opinion of Shia scholars regarding this issue of Tahrif. We will however, first understand the position of Ahlul Bait (a.s) in this regard. First of all, the position of Imam Ali (a.s) was that he accepted, practiced and promoted the same Quran which was compiled in the era of the third Caliph, Uthmaan.
The Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), who are naturally the offspring of Imam Ali (a.s), have all held a similar position. They made reference to the same Quran whenever they spoke. So, it is very important to understand the position of the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Then, when we reflect on the position of the Shia Ulama we see the same position very clearly. Normally, scholars are divided into 2 categories, namely Muhadditheen and Fuqha’a. Muhadditheen are those who narrate Hadith, but do not delve into a great deal of research, whereas Fuqha’a are those who embroil themselves in deep research and analysis of Hadith.
The list which we will work through now, makes it very clear, that from Muhadditheen to Fuqha’a, from the early centuries up until our present time, we find that the great scholars of Shia have a consistent opinion all the way.
Starting from the era of our Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), such as Fazl ibn Shazan who passed away in the year 260AH, we read in his work that he presented an aggressive attack academically on those who believed that there is a possibility of distortion of the Quran.
Moving further along to the grand Sheikh of the fourth century, namely Sheikh Saduq, who was the giant of Shia Hadith, we see that he very strongly denounces any possibility of distortion in the Quran.
Syed Murtada Alum ul-Huda was one of the greatest Shia scholars of the fifth century and further refuted any possibility of Tahrif of Quran. Also in the fifth century we have Sheikh Tusi, who is regarded as the head of the Shia school, adopt the same position.
Moving along through the ages, we see the most prominent Shia scholars continuing the consistent position of refuting any distortion in the Quran. Shaykh Tabrisi (died 548AH), Allamah ibn al-Mutahar al-Hilli (died 726AH) and Allamah Mohsin Faiz Kashani (died 1091AH) are important to note in this regard. Allamah Kashani narrated about people who believed in distortion, but then was wrongly labelled as believing in distortion himself! From this we see that academic dishonesty is an age-old problem!
ALLAMA BAQAR MAJLISI: THE GRAND SHIA ALIM INNOCENTLY ACCUSED
Allama Baqar Majlisi (died 1111AH) is the great Alim and author of Biharul Anwar. He is also wrongly accused of believing in the distortion of the Quran, which is far from the truth. His job was to compile Hadith. His concern was to preserve the Hadith and through his work a huge number of Hadith has been protected. He was a compiler of Hadith, across various levels of authenticity. Many of them do not match Shia ideology at all too, in this issue of Tahrif and many other issues!
Allama Baqar Majlisi makes his opinion very clear, that he does not believe that distortion of the Holy Quran took place. However, he does reference Hadith in his compilation which suggests that Tahrif occurred. Now, based upon the fact that he has recorded such Hadith, it automatically makes people draw conclusions that he believed in Tahrif, despite him clarifying his position on the matter. Once again, we see academic dishonesty and prejudice towards Shia coming to the fore!
We now come to the academic giants of our time, starting with the greatest commentator of the Quran in our time, Allamah Syed Mohammad Hussein Tabatabai, the author of al-Mizan. We need to also recognize the supreme authority of Syed Abul Qasim al-Khoei. He wrote an amazingly beautiful piece of work on The Prologemena to the Quran.
Then, who can forget our beloved Imam Khomeini who speaks about this matter in great detail, together with other luminaries like Shaheed Ayatollah Syed Muhammad Baqir Sadr, Ayatollah Sistani and others.
MUHADDIS NOORI – A SHIA SCHOLAR WHO BELIEVED IN THE DISTORTION OF THE QURAN
Now, with this long chain of people who have made it abundantly clear over and over again, through the ages, that we believe in exactly the same Quran and there is no possibility of distortion in Quran, we still see Shia being killed repeatedly on the pretext that Shia believe in a different Quran! How sad is this…
As I said, there are Hadith in Shia and Sunni resources which allude to distortion, but we have given a thorough analysis of these in this lecture to hopefully put the matter to bed. Yes, there are Ulama who somehow developed the opinion that the Quran is distorted.
As we discussed in the previous lecture, that among them is 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 brought 12 proofs that the Quran is distorted, of which only 2 are from Shia resources and 10 are from Sunni resources.
Muhaddis Noori no doubt made a huge mistake, which proved to be a disaster, and Imam Khomeini (r.a) very strongly rebuked his work, saying that he may have been a pious person, but had no understanding from Hadith or Fiqh for that matter. This tone of condemnation is most unusual from Imam Khomeini (r.a), who never spoke like this about another Aalim. Instead, the etiquette between Ulama is they generally show the highest level of respect amongst each other, even if they have serious differences.
Imam Khomeini goes further to say that this book of Muhaddis Noori is a collection of jokes with no academic value. Then, Imam Khomeini goes further to say that if you look at this book deeply, then it proves more about non-distortion than distortion!
It is reported that in the last part of Muhaddis Noori’s life, he regretted writing this book, and he was influenced by a number of factors and elements when he wrote this book.
Let us for a moment say that Muhaddis Noori believed that the Quran was distorted. It is most unfair to sensationalise his view and present it to be mainstream Shia view, when there is a chain of Ulama across the centuries who held firmly to the position that there is no distortion in the Quran.
This level of dishonesty and prejudice by our enemies has resulted in so many people being killed, purely for being Shia, because they are indoctrinated with believing that Shia believe in a different Quran. We see the dangerous results from this devious plan of creating hate amongst Muslims.
WHY DO SHIA NOT DECLARE OTHERS KAAFIR?
People speak without responsibility from the pulpit, not realising the impact that these words from the pulpit actually have on the congregation they are addressing, particularly those who are a bit unhinged, who become emotionally worked up and commit heinous crimes in the name of his Islamic ideology which tells him that he will go to heaven by killing innocent people. This problem is alive for the past 1400 years.
Sometimes this question is asked, that 99.99% of Shia Ulama believe that there is no distortion in the Quran and we all follow the same Quran. But that distinct minority like Muhaddis Noori who believed in the distortion of the Quran are not declared Kaafir by us, and the question is why not?
Our response is simple. We do not believe in automatically declaring Kufr on anybody for having the incorrect view on the Quran. Similarly, Sunnis share the same approach, otherwise they would need to declare many people as Kaafir. For example, there are Sahaba (companions of Rasulullah (SAWA)) who believe that Surah Ahzab use to be almost as long as Surah Baqarah!
Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier in this lecture, ibn Masud said that Surah Fatiha and the last 2 Surahs of the Quran are not part of the Quran. Nobody declares Kufr on ibn Masud and on the Sahaba who believe that Surah Ahzab has been shortened!
The reality is that both Sunni and Shia do not believe in declaring anybody Kaafir so easily. We condemn those who make these academic mistakes and strongly caution against their academic opinion, but it does not mean that we must attack them on their personal level. Their academic mistakes are unrelated to their personal life, and we cannot label them as transgressors or make up a stigma for them.
There is plenty to discuss in this chapter on Tahrif, which has consumed us for 3 lectures now. To conclude with a simple and straightforward message – the Quran which is in our hands today is pristine, and the one which was revealed upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). It is not missing anything, nor has anything been added.
To be continued…..
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