Lecture 7 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Wednesday 23 May 2018 (7 Ramadaan 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
Our previous discussions on the nature of “wahi” (Divine Revelation) and “nuzul” (descent / sending down) of the Quran and its meanings, can be classified as part 1 of the History of the Quran.
We now move our discussion to part 2 of History of the Quran which relates to the “protection and compilation” of the Quran.
So the issue thus is that now that “wahi” was actually brought by Angel Jibreel (a.s) and received by Prophet Muhammad (sawa), he had to ensure that the “wahi” was actually protected.
We thus see in history that as soon as Prophet Muhammad (sawa) received “wahi”, he used to read it to his followers and companions – this is thus the stage of the Quran being delivered from Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to the people (who are the ultimate intended recipients of the Quran).
The Quran that we recite went through various eras and phases before reaching us in the state that we have it.
The first phase was during the very lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
The second phase was the compilation of the Quran by Imam Ali (a.s).
The third phase was the compilation of the Quran by the 1st khalif, Abu Bakr.
The fourth phase was the compilation of the Quran by the third khalif Uthmaan.
And the fifth phase was the period when “inflections or vowels” (dots, kasra, fat-ha, etc) was introduced into the written script of the Quran to facilitate its reading particularly by non-Arabic speakers.
QURAN DURING THE LIFETIME OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) – MEMORIZATION STAGE
During the very lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), as soon as he received “wahi”, his first and immediate goal was to protect the “wahi” he received.
The Quran was revealed in most eloquent and beautiful Arabic with its own natural attraction and charm which itself is a miracle of the Quran (more on this topic in future lectures). The compilation of sentences and the use of words is extraordinary. The Arab society was extremely ignorant and uneducated and could not read or write.
However, this same extremely ignorant society had one or two qualities that they were well known for – one was that they were eloquent in the Arabic language and in the expression of poetry. As a whole, Arabic literature was their pride and thus they had a natural inclination towards the Quran.
The second quality that this extremely ignorant society was known for was their extraordinary ability to memorize something. Their inability to read or write was compensated by their extraordinary ability to memorize something AND to do so quickly. It is even narrated that sometimes a poet would read a long piece of poetry and after listening to it only once, the Arabs would already have memorized it.
Now when the Quran was revealed with its unique eloquence, this ignorant society was literally shaken and awakened by it and loved to at least listen to the Quran. Then those who accepted Islam, for them it was their first priority to memorize it – and this was naturally easy for them.
Besides that, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself used to emphasize and insist that they should memorize the Quran. Thus the first place the Quran was saved was in hearts of people. A surprising fact is that even non Muslims who were impressed by the Quran used to memorize it!
The early surahs that were revealed were short and more rhythmic in nature and used to capture their attention and even caused them to surrender to the Quran.
QURAN DURING THE LIFETIME OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) – INSCRIPTION STAGE
Prophet Muhammad (sawa) did not stop at the stage of memorization as a strategy to protect the Quran eternally from any addition or omission.
There were a small number of people in that same ignorant society who actually could read and write and Prophet Muhammad (sawa) instructed certain of these writers to actually write/record the “wahi”. It is said that there were only 17 people in Makka who were known to have been able to write and not all were Muslim.
So how many writers of “wahi” were there in Makka and Madina combined? There is difference of opinion in this regard which ranges from 23 to 43 writers.
The first people to write the “wahi” was Imam Ali (a.s) and certain other companions.
WRITER OF “WAHI” WHO BECAME APOSTATE (MURTAD)
Among the early writers of the script of the Quran was a person known as Abdullah ibn sa’d ibn Abi Sarh. He is a controversial figure in Islamic history and this controversy is exacerbated by orientalists who call him the first writer of the “wahi” – but that is not true as he was not the first writer but among the early writers. One of the reasons that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) asked him to write the “wahi” was because his calligraphy was of a very good quality.
However, when writing the verses of the Quran, he sometimes wrote a different Arabic word with a similar meaning and Prophet Muhammad (sawa) used to immediately stop him from that practise and insisted that he writes what Prophet Muhammad (sawa) said he should write. He even inquired why Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was so sensitive about every word even though the alternative words he wrote had the same meaning. To this the Prophet (sawa) would respond that the words of the Quran are Allah’s words and should be exactly recorded as they were revealed.
This answer did not sit well with ibn Abi Sarh and most unfortunately it even led him to become an apostate (murtad) – he was the first apostate in Islam, though he was a writer of wahi. This is an important point to note when analyzing history as being a “writer” for Prophet Muhammad (sawa) became an honourable title in that society.
However, there was lot of writing work that needed to be completed in the office of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). This ranged from writing letters, agreements, treaties, contracts, invitations, etc. and different people used to perform this general role of writing for Prophet Muhammad (sawa). Since they were all broadly considered to be writers for Prophet Muhammad (sawa), historically some got confused regarding their writing role and recorded them to have been writers of “wahi”.
Ibn Abi Sarh was a foster brother of the 3rd khalif Uthmaan. After the conquest of Makka, ibn Abi Sarh repented and returned to being Muslim. However, during his period of apostasy, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was so angered by him that he even said that if ibn Abi Sarh hangs onto the Ka’ba for protection that he should still be killed – this was all due to the fact that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) considered him to be a very dangerous person. When ibn Abi Sarh initially repented, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) did not want to accept him back but he eventually forgave him but was NEVER among the close circle of companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). Interestingly, during the time of the third khalif Uthmaan, he even became a governor of Egypt.
THE MOST FAMOUS, AGREED UPON WRITERS OF “WAHI”
Among companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), the most capable person after Imam Ali (a.s) to write “wahi” was Ubay Ibn Kab
From the range of “general writers” for Prophet Muhammad (sawa) which spans from 23 to 43 people, historians agree that the five main writers of “wahi” were:
– Imam Ali ibn Abi Atalib (a.s)
– Ubay ibn Ka’b
– Abdullah ibn Mas’ud
– Zaid ibn Thabit
– Ma’az ibn Jabal
METHOD OF INSCRIPTION DURING THE LIFETIME OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA)
Writing materials were not easily available at the time. Thus the writers of Quran wrote the “wahi” on literally anything that was available to write on which included leaves, pieces of wood, skin, rock, bones, material and even paper, though paper was very expensive at the time.
Originally the Quran was divided in Ayahs (verses) and Surahs (chapters) and Prophet Muhammad (sawa) used to dictate how to write.
Firstly as “wahi” was received by him, he instructed the writers to write it down. He did this every time “wahi” was received.
Thereafter, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) instructed how the written verses should be placed in order.
So even though the written verses were initially filed in terms of the chronological order in which they were revealed, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) would instruct that the filing of the verses should be in different places. Thus the final ordering of ALL verses was done by Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself and there is absolutely no debate or disagreement on this point.
Similarly, the Surahs compilation was also done under direct instruction of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as he would inform them where a Surah ended and where a new Surah started.
Another way of knowing that a Surah ended and a new Surah started was when the verse “In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” was revealed which indicates the start of all Surahs expect Surah Taubah.
It is also narrated that sometimes Prophet Muhammad (sawa) used to instruct that a verse should be moved from one surah to another. The positioning of each individual verse in a particular Surah has its own critical significance (which we may discuss in future lectures)
WAS THE ORDER OF THE SURAHS IN THE MODERN QURAN DONE BY PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA)?
Do note that until this point we are saying that the writing of the Quran was supervised by Prophet Muhammad (sawa), the placing of the verses in each Surah AND the positioning of the verses WITHIN the actual Surah.
However, when now taking this collection of 114 Surahs and placing it in the form of a book “between two covers”, there is a difference of opinion among scholars regarding who arranged the ordering of the actual 114 Surahs. In other words, who said Surah Fatiha is Surah number 1 and Surah Baqarah is Surah number 2, etc.
Sunni and Shia scholars both differ on this.
There are two opinions.
Among Shia scholars, one opinion is that of Ayatullah Khui and other scholars like him who say that the arrangement of the 114 Surahs was done by Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself.
Then other great scholars including Allamah Tabatabai believe that it was not done in life of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) but after him by his companions.
To be continued……………
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