Lecture 8 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Thursday 24 May 2018 (8 Ramadaan 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
In the current phase of our discussion, we discussed that the compilation of the Holy Quran occurred during the lifetime of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), which we discussed in the previous lecture, in the form of:
a. Firstly memorization,
b. Followed by inscription; and
c. Then we spoke about writers of Wahi as well
In the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA), the method of inscription was also conducted. This was detailed in our earlier discussion. Ayaat (verses) and Surahs (chapters) were decided by Rasulullah (SAWA) directly. He decided where an Ayah should be placed. He also determined which compilation of Ayah completes a particular Surah.
There is no debate about this matter, nor is there any debate about the fact that there are 114 Surahs in the Holy Quran, with each Surah starting with Bismillah…the only exception of course is Surah Tauba.
WAS THE QURAN COMPILED IN BOOK FORM BY PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA)?
During the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA), the job of the compilation of the Holy Quran was conducted. This is what everyone agrees. The order of Ayah, Surahs and the number of Surahs are all crystal clear. However, did Rasulullah (SAWA) compile it in the form of a Book, between 2 covers? This is a point of dispute and disagreement.
Among Shia Ulama, there are 2 opinions which we explained:
1. People like Ayatollah Khoei, Allama Jafar Murtada al-Amili and others believe that indeed, the Holy Quran was compiled in book form during the time of Rasulullah (SAWA).
2. Allama Tabataba’I and a number of other scholars believe the opposite ie. the compilation of the Holy Quran in book form did not occur during the time of Rasulullah (SAWA). They believe that this compilation of the Holy Quran in book form took a long period of time and occurred much later. In my very humble understanding, this opinion appears to be more heavily consistent with historical records.
There are some notable Sunni scholars who also share the same view as Ayatollah Khoei and Allama Amili ie. that the Holy Quran was compiled in book form during the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA). However, almost all Sunni scholars (except these few) believe that the compilation in book form occurred much later.
I would like to once again explain the meaning of compilation in this context, because Ayah (verses) and Surahs (chapters) were already compiled during the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA).
IMAM ALI (A.S) WAS THE FIRST TO COMPILE THE QURAN IN BOOK FORM
The next chapter is based upon the view that the compilation of the Holy Quran in book form did not take place during the lifetime of Rasulullah (SAWA). In terms of the Shia approach, we believe that the person who assumed this responsibility to compile the Holy Quran in book form was none other than Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (a.s).
The 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), narrates that Rasulullah (SAWA) said the following to Imam Ali (a.s) before departing this world:
“O Ali, behind me is the book and papers. Please take them and compile it and do not let it be wasted like the Jews wasted the Torah.”
So, based upon this narration of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), as narrated by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), the responsibility of compiling the Holy Quran in book form was bestowed upon Imam Ali (a.s). Many Sunni narrators have also recorded similarly, that Imam Ali (a.s) was very much dedicated and focused on the compilation of the Holy Quran in book form.
According to the ibn Abbas, Imam Ali (a.s) dedicated himself to this project for 6 months after the demise of Rasulullah (SAWA). This following narration is directly from Imam Ali (a.s):
“When Rasulullah (SAWA) passed away, I took an oath not to leave home, except for Jumuah, until I complete the compilation of the Holy Quran.”
Now, there is of course the historical and political background to this. Imam Ali (a.s) was sidelined during this early period of Islam after Rasulullah (SAWA). He was concealed from the social and political matters of the Muslim nation (Ummah).
Imam Ali (a.s) explains in Nahjul Balagha that he also decided upon himself to make sabr (persevere) for the greater interest of Islam and at the same time, he took benefit of this period to complete this crucial project of compiling the Holy Quran in book form, and thereby protect it from fizzling away.
Therefore, even when people came to him complaining about why they no longer see him, he would make excuses by saying there is nothing better than this crucial job. So, the first person to have compiled the Holy Quran in book form, after collecting all the pieces, was Imam Ali ibn abu Talib (a.s). This position is shared by a number of renowned Sunni scholars.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COMPILATION OF THE QURAN BY IMAM ALI (A.S)?
So what happened with his compilation?
History narrates that after he completed his compilation, he presented it to the people, saying the well-known Hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA):
“I leave behind 2 precious things, the book of Allah and my Ahlul Bait (a.s)”
Imam Ali (a.s) explained this is the book of Allah ie. the Holy Quran which he put together, and he is the itrah. This explains that nobody can be a greater authority on the Holy Quran than the itrah, who are regarded in this Prophetic Hadith as 2 parts which are deeply connected entities left by Rasulullah (SAWA) as his legacy.
Unfortunately, this compilation of the Holy Quran which Imam Ali (a.s) presented was not entertained, and quite frankly ignored. So he went back home with his compilation.
According to the history of Islam from a Shia perspective, this compilation of Imam Ali (a.s) became one of the special trusts which is connected with the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s). This particular compilation got transferred from Imam Ali (a.s) down the chain of Imamate, and is currently in the custody of our living Imam Mahdi (atfs).
SPECIAL HALLMARKS OF THE QURANIC COMPILATION OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
What was special about the compilation of Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)?
1. A number of early Sahabah (companions) explained that the compilation of Imam Ali (a.s) was in the ORDER OF REVELATION. In other words, Imam Ali (a.s) placed the Surahs in the same sequence in which they were revealed, starting from Surah Alaq, Surah Qalam, Surah Muzzammil, Surah Muddathir, and so on. This was the special hallmark of this compilation of Imam Ali (a.s).
2. The second special feature of that compilation from Imam Ali (a.s) is that he also compiled the BACKGROUND of these Surahs and Ayah, in addition to the actual compilation of the verses and chapters. This is called Asbabun Nuzul, which we will discuss in subsequent lectures in this series. We will cover this in our discussions about the historical background of revelation.
So, Imam Ali (a.s) recorded Asbabun Nuzul as well. Some of the early Sahabah (companions) noted that Imam Ali (a.s) even included the PLACE OF REVELATION of the verses, in his compilation.
3. Some of the other Sahabah (companions) say that Imam Ali (a.s) also added to his compilation the DIFFERENT EXPLANATIONS which Rasulullah (SAWA) gave at that particular time along with the verses of the Quran.
4. The NAMES of the people for whom the verses were revealed, in their praise or in their condemnation, was also mentioned in the compilation of Imam Ali (a.s).
Anyway, Imam Ali (a.s) retreated, and basically did not make his compilation of the Quran to be public, after it was ignored when he presented it. Instead, this became a very special and private version for himself and his descendants as the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This is a brief story about the compilation of the Holy Quran done by Imam Ali (a.s).
THE BATTLE OF YAMAMA RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT NOT HAVING A QURAN IN BOOK FORM
The Battle of Yamama took place in the second year of the Caliphate of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. This battle was against Musaylimah, who falsely claimed that he was a Prophet. This first Caliph, Abu Bakr, sent a large army of circa 4,000 to fight this battle and extinguish this deception, and it was quite a serious battle, which resulted in a large number of Sahabah (companions of Rasulullah (SAWA)) being killed.
When they came back from this war, this issue pertaining to the compilation of the Holy Quran was brought to the forefront. The concern that was raised was that the generation which was present at the time of revelation were gradually departing from this world. These were the people who were in contact with Rasulullah (SAWA), recorded Wahi, memorized the Quran, and wrote the Quran. The Battle of Yamama took a big number of them away, as they were killed.
So, the risk that was raised was regarding the future of the Quran as these people were gradually expiring from this world. Something therefore needed to be done to protect the Quran. This is where this project was formally launched, to compile the Quran in book form.
HOW WAS THE QURAN COMPILED IN THE TIME OF THE FIRST CALIPH?
What was the method of compilation in this process? Different historians have recorded differently. The narrator of this story is the prominent Sahabi, Zaid ibn Thabit, who was commanded by Caliph Abu Bakr to assemble all the pieces of the Quran, which was scattered all over, into a book form. Zaid wanted to back out due to the huge magnitude of this highly sensitive responsibility. However, Abu Bakr insisted that Zaid fulfil this role.
Zaid started this process, and quite a number of people participated in this process, which was as follows:
1. These people would collate all the pieces of the Quran from wherever they could find them;
2. They would read the verse of the Quran in the mosque and ask 2 people to testify as witness to having heard it from Rasulullah (SAWA) as being part of the Holy Quran;
3. If both accept, then they would keep this validated verse separately, and this is how the verses of the Quran were accumulated.
There is an interesting story, relating to verse 23 of Surah Ahzaab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran):
مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ قَضَىٰ نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَنْتَظِرُ ۖ وَمَا بَدَّلُوا تَبْدِيلًا
“Of the believers are men who are true to the covenant which they made with Allah: so of them is he who accomplished his vow, and of them is he who yet waits, and they have not changed in the least”
There were not 2 witnesses to certify this verse of the Quran. This is when the prominent Sahabi, Khuzaima al-Ansari came forward declaring he is a witness to this verse being read by Rasulullah (SAWA), but they said he is only 1 witness to this verse and they need 2 witnesses to authenticate. However, they said that Rasulullah (SAWA) narrated that the Shahadah (witnessing ) of Khuzaima will be the equivalent of 2 Shahadah! This is why he is known as Khuzaima Dhush-Shahadatain! Anyway, this is how this verse was accepted as part of the Quran, by virtue of this status of Khuzaima in the eyes of Rasulullah (SAWA).
So this is how one formal and legitimate version of the compiled Quran came into existence in the time of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. At the same time, Abu Bakr DID NOT ENFORCE that this version should be the only one in circulation. He did not insist on this version being retained at all costs as the one protected version.
DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE QURAN IN EARLY HISTORY OF ISLAM
The Sahabah (companions of Rasulullah (SAWA)) continued to have their own versions. Among them were the versions of Ubay ibn Ka’b, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, and others. These different versions were spread across the Islamic Peninsula. Again, what I am trying to say is that what is evident from these different versions floating around at the time, is that Abu Bakr did not enforce his compilation from Zaid.
The very well-known Sunni scholar from Egypt, Jalaluddin Suyuti speaks about the version of Ubay ibn Ka’b, which starts with Surah Fatiha, followed by the longer Surahs, and ending with Surah Nas. From this narration, it appears that the version of Ubay ibn Ka’b was more or less the same as the version we have.
The version of Ubay ibn Ka’b had all 114 Surahs, but also included some Duas in addition. This resulted in some confusion where people claimed that 116 Surahs existed in the version of Ubay ibn Ka’b. This obviously was not the case.
The version of Abdullah ibn Mas’ud was very well-known in Kufa and so on. The difference between the version of Ubay ibn Ka’b and Abdullah ibn Mas’ud was the order. Not much more than that…
There was not much to report on this topic during the time of the second Caliph. During the time of the third Caliph, Uthmaan, we see things going a bit haywire. These different versions of the Quran spread across the Islamic empire which became very big as a result of the lands which were conquered. This presented a very serious challenge in the time of the third Caliph.
HOW DID DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE QURAN OCCUR?
People gradually started reciting the Quran differently. Note that this is a different discussion to the 7 different modes of Qira’ah, which developed much later. What we are referring to here is the different manner of recitation during the early period of Islam after the demise of Rasulullah (SAWA). So, there were variations in the reading of the Quran, in addition to the variations in the compilation of the Quran.
1. In the Arabic language, the meaning can change completely with one change in Fatha, Dhamma, or Kasra (vowels)! Until that time, and in fact further down, the Quran was not written with these vowels. In other words, even after the compilation during the time of the first Caliph, Fatha, Dhamma and Kasra was not part of the Quran. Not even a dot on Noon, Baa, etc. The result of this absence was that people started to read the Quran differently! This came about due to the vast expansion of the Islamic empire!
This is how the difference in Qira’ah initiated. As I mentioned, further down the line we see the 7 modes of Qira’ah being established in an institutionalized manner.
2. Another factor which influenced how the Quran was read differently was the different Arab accents. Arabs have one common language known as Fus’ha, however they all speak with a different accent based upon their geographical location. Even their vocabulary changes, resulting in differences in interpretation or implication of the same word, depending on which part of the Arab region you are. This difference of Arab accents also played an important role in the difference of Qira’ah.
3. The third reason influencing how the Quran was read differently was Ijtihad of Qurrah! This means that they would deliberately disagree, saying that this verse must be read this way, while the other person would argue that the verse should be read his way. So, this is unrelated to the problems of inscription and accents noted earlier. This was Ijtihad.
All these reasons contributed to the multiple differences on how to read the Quran. So there were different versions and different reading approaches, and this problem escalated until the time of the third Caliph, Uthmaan.
HOW WAS THE QURAN COMPILED IN THE TIME OF THE THIRD CALIPH?
During the time of the third Caliph, there was a really great, very devoted companion of Rasulullah (SAWA). His name was Huzaifa ibn Yaman and on his way to a war, where he had the support of a huge army from every part of the Islamic Peninsula, he started realizing that everybody is reading the Quran differently for the reasons mentioned above. He was deeply affected by this, fearing that a tragedy is imminent with all these versions!
When he returned to Medina, he reported back to the third Caliph, about this big problem and he suggested that something must be done to unify the Quran. Unification of the Quran from the different versions of reading and compilation is required. On this point, the third Caliph assembled a task team to start this process. Not everyone agreed to this initiative. One of those who opposed this movement of unification of the Quran was Abdullah ibn Mas’ud.
THIRD CALIPH ESTABLISHES A TASK TEAM TO COMPILE THE QURAN
The third Caliph established a task team of 4 people to conduct this very important project. They were:
– Zaid ibn Thabit;
– Abdullah ibn Zubayr;
– Sa’id ibn al-As;
– Abdurrahman ibn Harith
Before establishing this task team, the third Caliph (through his power as the Caliph) ordered that all the copies of the Quran, across the different versions, which are spread all across the Islamic state, must be brought back to the capital. Nobody had a right to retain any copy of the Quran. Every copy MUST be returned to Medina.
The third Caliph, Uthmaan, then went to Hafsa, who was the daughter of the second Caliph (Umar ibn Khataab). He asked Hafsa to hand him the Quran which she received from her father, as that is the one which he would have received from the first Caliph, which was compiled as the principle version in the time of the first Caliph.
Hafsa refused to give this original version to Uthmaan for fear of it not being returned. Uthmaan made a covenant with her, guaranteeing that he will return it to her due to its highly precious nature. She then agreed to lend it to Uthmaan.
This task team then used this principle version from the time of Abu Bakr to start compiling the Quran once again. This project started around the year 25AH. Once the unified Quran was established, Uthmaan ordered that ALL other versions of the Quran MUST be burnt. Therefore, Uthmaan is also known as the “burner of Quran”. The motive of Uthman for this decree was that there should not be different versions of the Holy Quran, and the official version should be adopted.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE UTHMAANI COMPILATION OF THE QURAN
The difference between the version of the first Caliph and the third Caliph was that it was never enforced by the first Caliph, whereas the third Caliph enforced it by burning down all other copies and making one official version. He made copies from this official version, which he sent to the main Islamic cities, namely Basra, Damascus and Kufa, and others. He also sent an official Qari (reciter) with each copy to these respective cities.
What was the special feature of the version of Uthmaan? Firstly, the order of Surahs – where longer Surahs were first and the shorter Surahs came at the end.
Another challenge is there that even in this version of Uthmaan, there is no vowels ie. no dot on the Baa, Noon, etc. This is despite the Quran being sent to the different cities, together with a Qari.
Anyway, this version became the final version of the compilation of the Holy Quran which is practiced, printed and used upto today. This means that we are all using the same version of the Quran, being the version of Uthmaan.
WHAT WAS THE POSITION OF SHIA TOWARDS THE UTHMAANI VERSION OF THE QURAN?
How did Imam Ali (a.s) and other Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) react to this version of the Holy Quran, especially since none of the 4 people on the task team that Uthmaan appointed are in any form close to the Ahlul Bait (a.s)? Their reservations towards Imam Ali (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) were well-known, but how did Ahlul Bait (a.s) react to this final version?
Imam Ali (a.s) was neither involved in the compilation of the Quran during the era of the first Caliph, nor was he given any opportunity to take part in this important project during the time of the third Caliph. Despite this, for the sake of the unity of the Muslim nation (Ummah), and for the sake of this highly crucial and very sensitive state of keeping the Quran as non-negotiable, non-disputable entity, we see that Imam Ali (a.s) declared that this is the Quran which we agree, read, follow and practice. He further said that whenever we make reference to the Holy Quran, it will be the reference to this particular version.
Talha requested from Imam Ali (a.s) for his compilation, so that it can be contrasted with that of Uthmaan. Imam Ali (a.s) refused, despite Talha’s continued insistence. Imam Ali (a.s) instead turned the matter to Talha, asking him whether the Quran that has now been compiled is complete or not, and whether there is anything in that compilation which is not part of the Quran.
Talha replied positively, saying that everything in this compilation of Uthmaan is definitely the Quran and nothing extra has been added. Imam Ali (a.s) replied to Talha saying that if he holds fast onto that Quran, then he has freed himself from the anger of Allah (SWT) and will enter His Paradise, because this version of the Quran contains proof and explanation of rights of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the obligation of our obedience!
This is the Shia approach to the Uthmaani version of the Quran. How sad it is, that we are innocently accused of believing in a different Quran, despite us following this same Quran.
Further down the line, we see the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) continued this position. This is despite the emphasis from the people requesting to see the version of Imam Ali (a.s), which they refused to share, insisting that this Uthmaani version of the Quran is what Almighty Allah (SWT) revealed and is the Quran of Rasulullah’s (SAWA) time.
Take it, obey it, accept it, learn it, understand it, because salvation is in this Quran. This was the non-negotiable position of the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), all the way.
To be continued….
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