How many Qur’ans?

by Lizzie Schofield and Hatun Tash

When is a Qur’an not a Qur’an? When it’s the ahruf? Or a harf? (harf sing; ahruf pl.) Or one of the qiraat? Or when it refers to one of those suras Uthman decided shouldn’t make the cut? Doesn’t matter, Muslims tell us, the Qur’an is still one perfectly preserved book, in perfect Arabic, and not so much as a dot of it has been changed!

Confused? Join a club that has billions of members. So before we get into the detail of how many Qur’ans there are (and we still say there are 26), let’s clarify what Muslims mean by these terms.

What are the ahruf?

The ahruf refer to the 7 different ‘variant’ recitations that Muhammad received from the angel Gabriel. Muslim scholars debate whether the seven ahruf are different dialects, different word orders or different synonymous readings; but according to Yasir Qadhi in his book, ‘An introduction to the Science of the Qur’an,’ ‘only ‘Allah knows what they are’(p175). Whatever Allah knows or not, the following hadith suggests that the differences in the recitations were a big deal – big enough for Muhammad’s companion Umar to want to strangle his friend:

“Narrated by ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab. I heard Hisham bin Hakim reciting Surat Al-Furqan during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle and I listened to his recitation and noticed that he recited in several different ways which Allah’s Apostle had not taught me. I was about to jump over him during his prayer, but I controlled my temper, and when he had completed his prayer, I put his upper garment around his neck and seized him by it and said, “Who taught you this Sura which I heard you reciting?” He replied, “Allah’s Apostle taught it to me.” I said, “You have told a lie, for Allah’s Apostle has taught it to me in a different way from yours.” So I dragged him to Allah’s Apostle and said (to Allah’s Apostle): “I heard this person reciting Surat Al-Furqan in a way which you haven’t taught me!” On that Allah’s Apostle said, “Release him, (O ‘Umar!) Recite, O Hisham!” Then he recited in the same way as I heard him reciting. Then Allah’s Apostle said, “It was revealed in this way,” and added, “Recite, O ‘Umar!” I recited it as he had taught me. Allah’s Apostle then said, “It was revealed in this way. This Qur’an has been revealed to be recited in seven different ways, so recite of it whichever (way) is easier for you (or read as much of it as may be easy for you).” (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:514, Sahih Bukhari 6:61:561, Malik’s Muwatta 15:005)

Did having seven different ahruf really make life easy for Muhammad’s followers – by inciting them to violence? Umar and Hisham were both Qurayshi, and spoke the same dialect anyway – so why was it necessary for the Suras to be revealed in different ways?

Notice the effect of the different recitations on Ubayy ibn Kaab in Sahih Muslim 4:1787:

“… the Apostle of Allah expressed approval of their affairs (their modes of recitation). and there occurred in my mind a sort of denial which did not occur even during the Days of Ignorance. When the Messenger of Allah saw how I was affected (by a wrong idea), he struck my chest, whereupon I broke into sweating  … “

Interesting how Muhammad restores his friend’s spiritual composure – by hitting him. Would mere differences in pronunciation lead to such a crisis of faith? Or was it more likely that Muhammad had forgotten which version was correct and used the ahruf story to cover his tracks? The ahadith tells how Muhammad used to forget verses sometimes (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:556,  Sahih Muslim 4:1720)

In the end only one harf survived, the Qur’an of Uthman, after he ordered all variants be burnt (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:510). Why? Did he have prophetic authority to do this? How was he or his scribes able to tell what was Allah’s speech and what wasn’t, especially if there were 7 ahruf knocking around? And why were there non-canonical variants in the first place if the oral transmission of the Qur’an is as failsafe as Muslims claim?

What are the qiraat? 

The qiraat are the different ways in which the Qur’an is recited according to Islamic tradition. So for example the Hafs Qur’an (which most of the Muslim world recites) and the Warsh Qur’an (the prevalent reading in West and North Africa) are examples of two different qiraat.

Muslims maintain the qiraat differ in pronunciation only, so it’s (again!) not a big deal. Except this is not what the text tells us; we know there are over 1354 textual variants  in the Arabic text just between the hafs and the warsh which affect the meaning. For example in Sura 2:251 hafs has daf’u meaning ‘repelling’ and warsh has difaa’u, meaning ‘he defends’. So in the hafs Qur’an the sentence reads:

“And were it not Allah’s repelling some men with others, the earth would certainly be in a state of disorder”

and in the warsh:

And were it not for Allah’s defending some men with others, the earth would certainly be in a state of disorder”

Is Allah involved in an offensive (‘repelling’) or defensive (‘defending’) conflict? We will write more on these variations in further blogs.

So how many qiraat are there? The number of qiraat have varied down the centuries. Islamic tradition tell us in 839AD there were 25 different Arabic qiraat; in 912AD there were 50 different Arabic qiraat;  by 935AD this was reduced to 7 qiraat but this increased again in 1397 to 10 different qiraat and further still in 1705 to 14 qiraat. Notice the dates. Are any of these changes made during the time of Muhammad or the rightly-guided Caliphs? In which case, who decided which qiraat were legitimate or not and on what authority? Allah’s? The angel Gabriel’s? Who did they use for a messenger given that Muhammad had been dead for at least 2 centuries?

Let’s do the maths. 7 ahruf – 1 harf + 25 qiraat +50 qirat – 7 qirat + 10 qirat  +26 different Arabic Qur’ans = 1 perfectly preserved Qur’an without so much as a dot changed, right? Right?

This issue is so important because unique preservation is a claim the Qur’an makes for itself in Sura 85:22, and therefore (according to Muslims) proves it must be divine in origin.

Christians have never claimed  the Bible has been miraculously preserved.  Let’s thank our Lord that our faith doesn’t stand or fall on an eternal book, but a Person, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God (John 1:1). Muslims, stop May He be forever praised.

When is a Sahih Hadith no longer Sahih?

by Hatun Tash and Lizzie Schofield
Don't throw Bukhari under the bus

Last week in a discussion about how many Qur’ans there are (we still say 26 Arabic versions, maybe more), one of our dear Muslim missionary friends said that Bukhari was “only 95 per cent correct.” Apologies if you are a Muslim and you just spat out your tea.

Islam teaches that in order to be a Muslim, you must follow the Qur’an and Muhammad. The Qur’an says you must “obey Allah and obey his messenger (Muhammad)’ (Sura 4:59), because he is a ‘good example’ to follow (Sura 33:21). However the Qur’an itself is surprisingly sketchy on the details of Muhammad’s life and practices. For example the Shahada and the ritual of the five daily prayers – the first two pillars of Islam – are not in there. To fill in the gaps, Muslims go to the supporting literature known as Ahadith (sayings plural- Hadith singular) and the Sira (biography of Muhammad.)

The problem is, both the Ahadith and the Sira contain very embarrassing stories about Muhammad, and when you bring them up, Muslims only have three responses. 1: You don’t know Arabic (except the translations we use are the same ones used by Muslims) 2: That hadith is weak (more on this later) or 3: The Ahadith are all fabrications, I’m going to ditch them and become a ‘Quran Only’ Muslim therefore rejecting Islam’s most basic practices. Interestingly, Qur’an Only Muslims reject the Shahada as shirk because it contains Muhammad’s name.

So when Muslims reject the ahadith, theologically it’s a big deal. But who are these ahadith collectors? Let’s look at Bukhari, the daddy of them all, traditionally given the title ‘Sahih’ – ‘reliable.’

Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ismaeel bin al-Mughirah al-Bukhari was born in 810 AD, 178 years after Muhammad died in 632. He lived in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, approximately 4000km from Mecca. Arabic was not his mother tongue. He compiled the customs of Muhammad – what he ate, drank, wore, when he smiled, when he was silent etc –not from Muhammad’s eyewitnesses or eyewitness witnesses, but where exactly? From this person who got it from that person; that person got it from this person etc down two centuries. Why did nobody bother to write these things down before Bukhari? Why would any objective historian accept hearsay as truth without any means of externally verifying it? Yet Bukhari is considered one of Islam’s most reliable sources.

Bukhari collected around 600 000 ahadith which he edited down to the 7275 found in today’s collection, although if you account for the fact some are repeated, that leaves only 2230. In other words, he slashed 98% of his material and kept around 2% of it (not including repeats. If Bukhari had edited a magazine I wouldn’t want to be one of his contributors.) What criteria did he use to determine what passed and what didn’t? The point is this: whatever Muslims say about ahadith being weak or strong, those that made the cut must have been authoritative to some degree in order to have survived such a brutal edit in the first place.

Sadly, even Muslim missionaries with long beards (like Muhammad, according to the hadith not the Qur’an) and short trousers (like Muhammad, according to the hadith not the Qur’an) decided that Bukhari didn’t do a good enough job and that only 95% of his material is correct. So which 5% of Bukhari’s ahadith are dodgy ones? What criteria have our missionary friends used to determine which are dodgy and which are not? What makes them think they know better than Imam Bukhari who lived 1,207 years before they did?

Let’s give the mic to Hamza Yusuf, a Muslim scholar,  to comment on reliability of the ahadith:

We’re so grateful that as a Christians, we don’t have this problem. We have everything we need to know about Jesus from the Bible; it is historically reliable as well as theologically sufficient so we don’t need to scrabble through endless secondary literature to find the message of salvation – to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, our only Saviour (Isaiah 43:10John 3:16.) We pray Muslims wake up to this wonderful truth before it’s too late.