JAM' AL-QUR'AN - 2:
CHAPTER 2: THE UTHMANIC RECENSION OF THE QUR'AN
1. DID ABU BAKR'S CODEX HAVE OFFICIAL STATUS?
What, ultimately, was the status of the Qur'an text codified by Zaid ibn Thabit for Abu Bakr? Was it merely a private text assembled for the convenience of the Caliph or was it intended to be an official recension for the growing Muslim community? To answer these questions one has to enquire into what happened to this manuscript after it had been compiled and the information furnished to us reads as follows:
Then the complete manuscripts (copy) of the Qur'an remained with Abu Bakr till he died, then with Umar, till the end of his life, and then with Hafsa, the daughter of Umar (ra). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.478).
Each one of the three possessors of this codex was a person of considerable prominence. Abu Bakr and Umar were Muhammad's immediate successors, the first and second caliphs of the Muslim world respectively. Hafsah, likewise, was a leading figure, being specifically described in the Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud as both bint Umar (the daughter of Umar, p.7) and zauj an-nabi (the wife of the Prophet, p.85). The codex was, therefore, certainly retained as the official copy of the first two Muslim rulers and was thereafter committed to an obviously distinctive caretaker of the text. It is another question, however, whether this copy became the official standardised collection of the Qur'an for the whole Muslim community.
Any collection made for Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam, must nonetheless have had some special status especially as its nominated compiler Zaid ibn Thabit was widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities on the Qur'an text. His effort to compile as authentic a record as he could of the original Qur'an as it was handed down by Muhammad can only be highly commended and the overall authenticity of the resultant codex cannot be seriously challenged. It can fairly be concluded that Zaid's text was one of great importance and its retention in official custody during the caliphates respectively of Abu Bakr and Umar testify to its key significance during the time of the Qur'an's initial codification. There can be little doubt, however, that this codex was at no time publicised during those first two caliphates or declared to be the official text for the whole Muslim world. Desai argues that there was no need to "standardize and promulgate this collection as the only official text" at that time as the Qur'an was, according to him, still perfectly retained in the memories of the huffaz among the companions of Muhammad who remained alive (Desai, The Quraan unimpeachable p.31). We have already seen that claims for the perfect knowledge of the Qur'an in the memories of the sahaba are based on assumptions and we cannot accept that Abu Bakr's codex was not given any public impact after its compilation because there was no need for this while Muhammad's companions still had it in their memories. It was precisely because Abu Bakr and Umar perceived the need for a carefully codified written text of the Qur'an as against reliance on the memories of men alone that it was put together in the first place.
It is more likely that Abu Bakr and Umar recognised that there were other masters of the text of the Qur'an, such as Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Ubayy ibn Ka'b, Mu'adh ibn Jabal and others we have already mentioned alongside Zaid ibn Thabit, who were authorities of equal standing with him and who were qualified to produce authentic codices of the Qur'an in written form.
The manuscript compiled by Zaid, highly prized as it was, nevertheless was not regarded with any greater authority than the others once these began to be put together and it was for this reason, therefore, that Zaid's codex was not publicly imposed on the whole community as the officially sanctioned text of the Qur'an.
Zaid's text was, in fact, virtually concealed after its compilation. Upon the death of Umar it passed into the private keeping of Hafsah, very much a recluse after Muhammad's death. Far from being given official publicity, it was virtually set aside and given no publicity at all. Desai suggests that it was "guarded" during those years "for future use" when the qurra among Muhammad's companions had finally passed away (The Quraan Unimpeachable, p.31), but there is nothing in the earliest records to suggest that Zaid's text was compiled purely through foresight as to future conditions. Rather it was a perceived immediate need for a single written text that occasioned its compilation.
At the time of its codification Zaid knew that his text could not be regarded as an absolutely perfect record as some passages were acknowledged as having been lost and the redactor himself overlooked at least two verses until he was reminded of them by Abu Khuzaima. If Zaid and Abu Bakr were persuaded that his text was unquestionably authentic to the last word and letter, it would almost certainly have been given immediate public prominence.
On the other hand, if Zaid knew that it was only relatively authentic and no more accurate than the many other codices simultaneously being compiled by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and others, we can understand why it quickly disappeared into relative obscurity. By the time Uthman became caliph, although the other codices were gaining prominence in the various provinces, this codex had in fact receded into the private custody of one of the widows of the Prophet of Islam who simply kept it indefinitely in her personal care. It may have been compiled under official supervision, but it was never regarded as the actual official and solely authentic text of the Qur'an. It had become just one of many codices of equal authority that had been put together at roughly the same time.
2. UTHMAN'S ORDER TO BURN THE OTHER CODICES.
About nineteen years after the death of Muhammad, when Uthman had succeeded Abu Bakr and Umar as the third Caliph of Islam, a major new development took place in the standardising of the Qur'an text. The Muslim general Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman led an expedition into northern Syria, drawing his troops partly from Syria and partly from Iraq. It was not long before disputes arose between them as to the correct reading of the Qur'an. They had come from Damascus and Hems, from Kufa and Basra, and in each centre the local Muslims had their own codex of the Qur'an. The codex of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud became the standard text for the Muslims at Kufa in Iraq while the codex of Ubayy ibn Ka'b became revered in Syria. Hudhayfah was disturbed at this and, after consulting Salid ibn al-As, he reported the matter to Uthman. What followed is described in the following hadith:
Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sha'm and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to Uthman, 'O Chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur'an) as Jews and the Christians did before'. So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, 'Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you'. Hafsa sent It to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid ibn Thabit, Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Sa'id bin al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, 'In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of the Quraish as the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue'. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.479).
For the first time in the official works of the Hadith literature we read of other codices that were being compiled, in addition to the one done by Zaid for Abu Bakr, and that these were widely accepted and well-known, certainly far more so than the codex of Zaid which by this time was in the private possession of Hafsah. While some of those texts consisted only of a selection of portions, it is clearly stated that others were complete codices of the whole Qur'an.
What was the motive for Uthman's order that these other codices should be destroyed and that the codex of Zaid alone should be preserved and copied out to be sent in replacement of the other texts to the various provinces? Was it because there were serious errors in these texts and that Zaid's alone could be considered a perfect redaction of the original text? There is nothing in the original records to suggest that this was the motive. The following tradition gives a more balanced picture of the circumstances and causes which prompted Uthman's action and why he chose Zaid's codex as the basis on which the Qur'an text was to be standardised for the Muslim community. Ali is reported to have said of Uthman:
By Allah, he did not act or do anything in respect of the manuscripts (masahif) except in full consultation with us, for he said, 'What is your opinion in this matter of qira'at (reading)? It has been reported to me that some are saying 'My reading is superior to your reading'. That is a perversion of the truth. We asked him, 'What is your view (on this)?' He answered, 'My view is that we should unite the people on a single text (mushaf waahid), then there will be no further division or disagreement'. We replied, 'What a wonderful idea!' Someone from the gathering there asked, 'Whose is the purest (Arabic) among the people and whose reading (is the best)?' They said the purest (Arabic) among the people was that of Sa'id ibn al-'As and the (best) reader among them was Zaid ibn Thabit. He (Uthman) said, 'Let the one write and the other dictate'. Thereafter they performed their task and he united the people on a (single) text. (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.22).
The motive is twice stated in this extract to simply be the desire to bring consensus among the Muslims on the basis of a single Qur'an text. It was not to destroy the other manuscripts because they were considered unreliable but rather to prevent future dissension among the inhabitants of the different provinces. Desai, who agrees that these other codices were authentic texts of the Qur'an, states that they were destroyed purely to obtain uniformity in the text. He reasons that Zaid's codex was the "official" text and that the others were unofficially transcribed, but does not regard the variant readings in them as evidence of corruption of the text but rather as illustrative of the fact that, according to a hadith text, the Qur'an was revealed in seven different ways (cf. chapter 5). He says:
The simplest and safest way to ensure the prevalence of the standardized copy was to eliminate all other copies. (Desai, op.cit., p.33).
It was this objective alone - the "prevalence of a standardized copy", the unity of the Muslims on the basis of a single text - that motivated Uthman's action. After all, this was the reason why Hudhayfah had approached him the first place. "It was Hudhayfah who impressed upon Uthman (ra) the need to assemble the texts into a single text" (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.35), Thus Desai adds that "The gathering and elimination of all other copies besides the standardized text was merely to ensure uniformity" (op.cit., p.33). Just as Abu Bakr, at the time of the first recension of the Qur'an, had sought to obtain a complete record of the text from all the diverse sources whence it could be obtained, so now Uthman sought to standardise the text as against the varying codices that were gaining authority in the different centres.
Why, then, did he choose Zaid's codex as the basis for this purpose? The tradition quoted above once again underlines the authority that Zaid enjoyed in respect of the text of the Qur'an and the overall authenticity of his codex could not be disputed, It was also done, as we have seen, under official supervision but cannot be regarded as having become the official text, the other codices having been "compiled unofficially" (Desai, op.cit., p.32). Its almost immediate concealment from public view and the lack of publicity given to it are proofs that it was never intended to be regarded as the standard text of the Qur'an.
Unlike the codices which were gaining fame and widespread acceptance in the provinces, Zaid's text was conveniently close at hand and, not being known among the Muslims in those provinces, it was not regarded as a rival text. The standardising of a Medinan text at the seat of Uthman's government also enabled him to suppress the popularity and authority of other reciters in areas where Uthman's rule had become unpopular because he was placing members of his own family, the descendants of Umayya who had opposed Muhammad for many years, in positions of authority over and above many more well-known companions who had been faithful to him throughout his mission. Zaid's text was, therefore, not chosen because it was believed to be superior to the others but because it conveniently suited Uthman's purposes in standardising the text of the Qur'an.
Uthman called for this text and it became promptly transformed from a private text shielded for many years in almost complete public obscurity into the official codex of the Qur'an for the whole Muslim community. It was Uthman who standardised Zaid's codex as the official text and gave it widespread prominence, not Abu Bakr. While Zaid was clearly one of the foremost authorities on the Qur'an his text as compiled under Abu Bakr cannot be regarded as having been more authentic than the others. The "official" supervision of its compilation was only that of the elected successor to Muhammad. Had it been the Prophet of Islam himself who had authorised and supervised the codification of the text, it could well have laid claim to being the official text of the Qur'an, but it was only the product of a well-meaning successor compiled by but one of the most approved authorities on the text. (We are not dealing here with a compilation ordered and supervised by the Prophet of Islam with a divine guarantee of its absolutely perfect preservation but rather with an honest attempt by a young man, ultimately at his own discretion as to what should be included or excluded, and that only under the eye of a subsequent leader, to produce as accurate a text as he possibly could).
Once again it must be borne in mind that, once compiled, Abu Bakr did not impose it upon the Muslim community as Uthman later did, so it cannot be regarded as having become the official codex of the Qur'an before Uthman's time as Desai and others wish to believe.
Uthman's action was drastic, to say the least. Not one of the other codices was exempted from the order that they be destroyed. It can only be assumed that the differences in reading between the various texts was so vast that the Caliph saw no alternative to an order for the standardising of one of the texts and the annihilation of the rest. The fact that none of the other texts was spared shows that none of the codices, Zaid's included, agreed with any of the others in its entirety. There must have been serious textual variants between the texts to warrant such action. One cannot assume that Zaid's text, hidden from public view, just happened to be the perfect text and that, wherever it differed from the others, they must have been in error. Such a convenient shielding of this codex from the disputes about the reading of the Qur'an is unacceptable when the matter is considered objectively.
Zaid's text was simply one of a number of codices done by the companions of Muhammad after his death and shared in the variant readings found between them all. In its favour is the consideration that it had been compiled under Abu Bakr by one of the foremost authorities of the Qur'an. Its preference also depended, however, on the fact that, not being widely known, it had been sheltered from the disputes surrounding the others and it was, of course, conveniently close at hand.
Furthermore, it was not an official text as we have seen but a compilation done by just one man, Zaid ibn Thabit, in the same way as those of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and the others had been compiled. It was not the authorised text of Muhammad himself but simply one form of it among many then in existence and uncorroborated in every single point by the others in circulation. It was compiled under the discretion of only one man and came to official prominence purely because Uthman chose it as the appropriate one to represent the single codex he wanted to establish for the whole Muslim community.
Modern Muslim writers who make bold claims for the absolute perfection of the Qur'an text as it stands today are aware that evidences of a host of different readings in the earliest manuscripts will make such claims sound hollow indeed, so they argue that the differences were not in the texts themselves but only in the pronunciation of the Qur'an as it was recited.
Siddique states this argument in the following way: "'Usman was not standardising one out of several texts. There never was more than one text. 'Usman was standardizing the recitation of the Qur'an and making sure that it would remain in the dialect of the Quraish in which it was originally revealed. He was concerned at points of difference in intonation between Iraqi and Syrian troops in the Islamic army" (Al-Balaagh, op.cit., p.2). The claim is that, if there were any differences in reading, they were only in pronunciation, in "the recitation" and "intonation" of the text. This argument is based entirely on faulty premises. Pronunciation, recitation and intonation relate only to a verbal recital of the text and such differences would never have appeared in the written texts. Yet it was the destruction of these written texts that Uthman ordered.
We need to consider further that, in the earliest days of the codification of the Qur'an in writing, there were no vowel points in the texts. Thus differences in recitation would never have appeared in the written codices. Why, then, did Uthman burn them? There can only be one conclusion the differences must have existed in the texts themselves and, in the following three chapters, we shall see just how extensive those differences were. Uthman was standardising one text at the expense of the others and it was not little niceties in the finer points of recitation that occasioned his extreme action against the other codices but the prevalence of a vast number of variant readings in the text itself.
Muslims need to consider and ponder Uthman's action seriously. The Qur'an was believed to be the revealed Word of God and the codices then in existence were written out by the very closest companions of Muhammad himself. What value would be placed on those Qur'an manuscripts if they were still in existence today? These were hand-written codices carefully copied out, some as complete records of the whole Qur'an text, by the most prominent of Muhammad's companions who were regarded as authorities on the text. It was these codices that Uthman eliminated. Uthman burnt and destroyed complete manuscripts of the whole Qur'an copied out by Muhammad's immediate companions.
If there had not been serious differences between them, why would he thus have destroyed such cherished copies of what all Muslims believe to be the revealed Word of God? One cannot understand the casualness with which modern Muslim writers justify his action especially if, as Siddique claims, there had never been any differences in the texts. What would Muslims think if anyone had a ceremony today such as Uthman had then, and consigned a number of Qur'ans to the flames, especially if these were cherished hand-written texts of great antiquity? Uthman burnt such Qur'an texts and destroyed them. Only one explanation can account for this - there must have been so many serious variant readings between the texts themselves that the Caliph saw only one solution - the establishment of one of these as the official text for the whole Muslim community and the elimination of the others.
While Siddique emphatically declares "One Text, No Variants" and states that "there was never more than one text" (this clause is in bold letters in his article), Desai contradicts him by admitting that there were differences in the earliest texts, such differences including "textual variation" (op.cit., p.22), and by acknowledging that other codices were not necessarily identical to the one compiled by Zaid (p.23). Desai, however, also seeks to maintain the hypothesis that the Qur'an is word-perfect to this day, so he argues that all the variants that existed were part of the divinely authorised seven different readings of the Qur'an and states that, as these readings were not known to all the Muslims, Uthman wisely decided to destroy the evidences in the interests of obtaining a single text. He says:
Hadhrat Uthmaan's measure of eliminating all other authorized and true versions of the Qur'aan Majeed was necessitated by the disputes which arose in the conquered territories - disputes among new Muslims ignorant of the other forms of authorized Qira'at. Since a particular Ustaad imparted only a specific Qira'at, they remained unaware of the other authorized versions. . . . Scrutinizing each and every copy would have proven too laborious and difficult a task. The simplest and safest way to ensure the prevalence of the standardized copy was to eliminate all other copies. (Desai, The Quraan Unimpeachable, p.32,33).
So it became expedient to eliminate six authorised forms of Qira'at and retain just one and, although the most meticulous effort must have gone into writing and completing the other codices of the Qur'an, the reading of these texts would have been too much like hard work for the Caliph. One can only marvel at the manner in which such Muslims can unemotionally reason favourably about the wholesale destruction of what are said to have been authentic codices of the book they cherish so dearly. It would be interesting to see what the maulana's reaction would be if someone today ordered a similar destruction of such highly-prized hand-written texts of the Qur'an for such expedient reasons as he gives in these quotes, or if someone decided to make a film of the events surrounding Uthman's decree.
The order to consign all but one of the Qur'ans in existence to the flames at such a crucial time cannot be explained away so lightly. Muslim writers are not seriously assessing the gravity of Uthman's decree. As we shall see, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud reacted very strongly to Uthman's order and we are also informed that when Uthman enquired into the grievances among the Muslims who were rising in opposition to him, one of their complaints against him was his destruction of the other Qur'an codices, that he had "obliterated the Book of Allah" (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.36). They significantly did not just say it was the masahif (manuscripts), the usual word used for the Qur'an codices compiled before Uthman's decree, but the kitabullah, the "Scripture of Allah", to emphasise their severe antagonism to his wanton extermination of such important manuscripts of the Qur'an.
In the coming chapters we shall see just how extensive the variant readings were and how strongly the texts of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Ubayy ibn Ka'b, Zaid ibn Thabit, Abu Musa and others differed from each other. Let us here, however, briefly consider certain important developments in the standardising of Zaid's text as the preferred text of the Qur'an.
3. THE REVISION OF ZAID'S CODEX OF THE QUR'AN.
One would think, in the light of the bold claims that Zaid's text was always absolutely perfect, that even if it could not have been written out originally without a wide search for its contents, its reproduction at this stage would have been a simple matter of copying it out just as it stood. Yet we find even here further evidence that it was not previously looked on with any special favour or regarded as the official text of the Qur'an, for Uthman immediately ordered that a recension of his codex take place and that it be corrected where necessary. The record of what duly transpired reads as follows:
Narrated Anas (ra): 'Uthman called Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Sa'id bin Al-'As and 'Abdur-Rahman bin Al-Harith bin Hisham, and then they wrote the manuscripts (of the Qur'an). 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi persons, "If you differ with Zaid bin Thabit on any point of the Qur'an, then write it in the language of Quraish, as the Qur'an was revealed in their language". So they acted accordingly. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, p.466).
We have already seen that Sa'id ibn al-As was regarded as an expert in the Arabic language and he and the other two redactors were chosen because they came from the Quraysh tribe of Mecca from which Muhammad too had come, whereas Zaid was from Medina. Uthman wanted the standardised Qur'an to be preserved in the Quraysh dialect in which Muhammad had originally delivered it. Accordingly, if these three found themselves differing with Zaid's text at any point, it was to be corrected and rewritten in the original dialect. Once again we cannot possibly be dealing purely with fine points of recitation or pronunciation, for any differences here would not have been reflected in the written text. Uthman clearly had actual amendments to the written text in mind when he summoned the four redactors together.
There is even evidence that Uthman went further than just requiring a committee of four to oversee the recension of Zaid's codex in that he became involved in a general consultation with a number of other prominent Muslims in Medina on the recension of the Qur'an and a more general revision may well have taken place (As-Suyuti, Al-ltqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.139).
Not only this but we find yet again that Zaid was to recall yet another verse that had been missing from the text. The record of this incident reads:
Zaid said 'I missed a verse from al-Ahzab (Surah 33) when we transcribed the mushaf (the written text of the Qur'an under Uthman's supervision). I used to hear the messenger of Allah (saw) reciting it. We searched for it and found it with Khuzaimah ibn Thabit al-Ansari: "From among the believers are men who are faithful in their covenant with Allah" (33.23). So we inserted it in the (relevant) surah in the text. (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.138).
A similar record of the omission of what is now Surah 33.23 from the recension done under Uthman is recorded in the Sahih al-Bukhari (Vol. 6, p.479). At first sight the story is very similar to the omission of the last two verses of Surat Bara'a in the compilation of the Qur'an text done by Zaid for Abu Bakr. A recension was done, a short passage was found to be omitted, and it was discovered with Khuzaima ibn Thabit. Added to this, as we have seen (page 35), is the hadith that traces the omission of the last two verses of Surat Bara'a (9. 127-128) to the time of Uthman's reign. Siddique, in consequence, states that the story of the missing verse from Surat al-Ahzab really refers to the verses from Surat Bara'a and that the hadith about these verses has a better authority than the tradition about the other verse (Al-Balaagh, op.cit., p.2).
It is not possible at this time in history to make any conclusive deductions in this respect, save and except to say that it does appear to be strange that it was only nineteen years after Muhammad's death that Zaid suddenly remembered, for the first time, another verse that was missing from the Qur'an and coincidentally found it with the same companion as the other two verses. We also saw that it was Khuzaimah himself who at that time brought the redactor's attention to the omission of the two verses from Surat Bara'a and, if yet another text was also omitted and known to him alone, it needs to be explained why he remained silent about it.
Desai, however, accepts the authority of the hadith at face value and explains the phenomenon by suggesting that Surah 33.23 was indeed included in Zaid's original codex but was overlooked when the copying of the texts took place under Uthman's recension and says, once again, that it was well known to "the numerous other Huffaaz" (The Quraan Unimpeachable, p.38). This argument just cannot stand the test of critical analysis.
The mushaf from which Zaid and his assistants copied the manuscripts was not destroyed along with the other codices but was returned to Hafsah after the work was complete, so if the relevant verse had been included in it, there would hardly have been any need for a search for it till it was found with Khuzaima. Likewise one cannot believe that, if it was included in the original codex, it suddenly became overlooked every time a copy was made for one of the provinces. To the extent that the hadith reflects a true development in the text of the Qur'an, Desai's argument about the meaning of its omission in the transcribed copies is quite simply untenable and does not hold water.
At face value the hadith can only mean that it was only after Zaid's second recension of the Qur'an text that he recalled the verse for the first time - a not too improbable occurrence if he had not been required to give detailed and exact attention to the actual authenticity of the text of the Qur'an in the years between his completion of the codex for Abu Bakr and Uthman's order for a second redaction.
Siddique argues, on the face value of the hadith, that it once again means that Zaid could not find it in writing with anyone else, implying that it was well-known in the memories of the sahaba. He argues against the translation of the hadith as we have given it in Zaid's words, namely "I missed a verse from al-Ahzab.." and says this is "slightly inaccurate" and that it should read "I could not find a verse.." (op.cit., p.2). In other words, Zaid did not entirely overlook the verse but, being well aware of it, merely struggled to find it in writing. The key word here in the hadith is faqada which means "to have lost, to be deprived of, to have mislaid", and is used in the context of the bereavement of someone who is deceased. Clearly therefore it means, in the context of this hadith, not that Zaid was trying to find a text in writing that was already well-known to everybody, but rather that he was seeking to recover a verse which had indeed been lost entirely from the text and could only be found with Khuzaima.
To the extent that this tradition is historically true it shows that even Zaid's original attempt to produce a codex as complete as it could be was not entirely successful and it was only after the other manuscripts had been copied out that the relevant verse was hastily included. More and more the arguments for a perfect Qur'an, nothing added or lost with no variants in the text, become untenable and are shown to be the fruits of pious sentiment alone.
4. THE QUR'AN TEXT AS STANDARDISED BY UTHMAN.
Uthman succeeded in his immediate objective, namely to impose a single text of the Qur'an on the Muslim world with the simultaneous destruction of all the other codices in existence. To the extent that the Muslim world today indeed has a single text of its revered scripture, it cannot be said that this text is a precise record of the Qur'an as Muhammad delivered it or that its claim to be inerrant was unchallenged by others which were brought to codification at the same time. It was not Allah who arranged the text exactly in the form in which it has come down but rather the young man Zaid and that only to the best of his ability and according to his own discretion, nor was it Muhammad who codified it for the Muslim ummah (community) but Uthman ibn Affan, and that only after a complete revision had taken place with the simultaneous destruction of the other codices which differed from it and which, nevertheless, were compiled by other companions of Muhammad whose knowledge of the Qur'an was in no degree inferior to that of Zaid ibn Thabit.
Even after the final recension of the Qur'an during Uthman's reign disputes still came to the fore in respect of the authenticity of the text. A very good example concerns a variant reading of Surah 2.238 which, in the Qur'an as standardised by Uthman, that is, the Qur'an as it stands today, reads: "Maintain your prayers, particularly the middle prayer (as-salaatil wustaa), and stand before Allah in devoutness". The variant reading of this Verse is given in this hadith:
Abu Yunus, freedman of Aishah, Mother of Believers, reported: Aishah ordered me to transcribe the Holy Qur'an and asked me to let her know when I should arrive at the verse Hafidhuu alaas-salaati waas-salaatiil-wustaa wa quumuu lillaahi qaanitiin (2.238). When I arrived at the verse I informed her and she ordered: Write it in this way, Hafidhuu alaas-salaati waas-salaatiil-wustaa wa salaatiil 'asri wa quumuu lillaahi qaanitiin. She added that she had heard it so from the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him). (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.64).
Aishah, a widow of the Prophet of Islam, stated that after the words wa salatil wusta ("the middle prayer") the scribe was to insert wa salatil asr ("and the afternoon prayer"), giving Muhammad himself as the direct authority for this reading. On the same page there is a very similar tradition wherein Hafsah, the daughter of Umar and another of Muhammad's wives, likewise ordered her scribe Amr ibn Rafi to make the same amendment to her text.
This could not have been the codex of Zaid in Hafsah's possession but was most probably a text written out for her before her father Umar died, whereupon she inherited Zaid's codex. Ibn Rafi made it plain he was writing the text at her express command and it is specifically referred to as a separate codex by Ibn Abi Dawud. Under the heading Mushaf Hafsah Zauj an-Nabi (saw) ("The Codex of Hafsah, the widow of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him") he gives a number of authorities for the tradition we are considering, showing that it was widely known, yet he records no other variant readings in her text. One of these traditions reads as follows:
It is reported by Abdullah on the authority of Muhammad ibn Abdul Malik who reported from Yazid (etc.) ... It is written in the codex of Hafsah, the widow of the Prophet (saw): "Observe your prayers, especially the middle prayer and the afternoon prayer". (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.87).
We are told that this variant, the addition of the words wa salatil asr after the words wa salatil wusta was also recorded by Ubayy ibn Ka'b as well as being found in the codex of Umm Salama, another of Muhammad's wives who survived him (Ibn Abi Dawud, op. cit., p.87). It was also recorded by Ibn Abbas.
This variant reading must have been recorded by Ubayy ibn Ka'b before the recension of the Qur'an under Uthman as his codex is definitely stated to have been one of those destroyed by Uthman and it is probable that it was so inscribed in the others as well. It did cause some discussion and concern after Uthman's recension, however, and the knowledge of its existence could not be suppressed. Some said it was an exhortation to particularly observe the afternoon prayer in addition to the middle prayer, whereas others said it was merely an elucidation of the standard text (that is, that the salatil-wusta was in fact the salatil-asr). An example of the latter interpretation reads as follows:
It is said by Abu Ubaid in his Fadhail al-Qur'an ("The Excellences of the Qur'an") that the purpose of a variant reading (al-qira'atash-shaathat) is to explain the standard reading (al-qira'atal-mash'huurat) and to illustrate its meaning, as in the (variant) reading of Aishah and Hafsah, waas-salaatiil wustaa salaatiil 'asr. (as-Suyuti, Al-ltqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an, p.193).
It was the inability of Uthman to entirely suppress the evidences of such variant readings that led to the destruction of Hafsah's codex during the time when Marwan ibn al-Hakam was governor of Medina (by which time the seat of government in the Muslim world had passed to Damascus in Syria under Mu'awiya, the son of Muhammad's long-standing enemy Abu Sufyan who only became a Muslim upon the conquest of Mecca). While Hafsah was still alive she refused to give her codex up to him although he anxiously sought to destroy it (Ibn Abi Dawud, op.cit., p.24), and he only succeeded in obtaining it upon her death from her brother Abdullah ibn Umar, whereupon he destroyed it fearing, he said, that if it became well-known the variant readings Uthman sought to suppress would again recommence in the recitation of the Qur'an. (There are sources other than Ibn Abi Dawud which attribute other variant readings to Hafsah's codex, for example she read fii thikrillaah with Ibn Mas'ud for fii janbilaah in Surah 39.56).
The Uthmanic recension of the Qur'an may well have established only one text as the authorised text for the whole Muslim world, but it simultaneously eliminated a wealth of codices which were widely accepted in the various provinces and which had as much right as Zaid's to be recognised as authentic copies. At-Tabari records (1.6.2952) that the people said to Uthman "The Qur'an was in many books, and you have now discredited them all but one", indicating that Zaid's text was not considered to enjoy any preference over them in authenticity or authority. Nevertheless, even though the codices were eliminated, the variant readings between them were recorded and well-known and in the next chapter we shall consider some of these and the codices in which they appeared, in particular those of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy ibn Ka'b.
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