The Quran - Both Altered And Changed
A few days ago we made a statement defending the right of Islamic evangelists to exhibit posters at various London railway stations in the face of what appeared to be a decision to remove them from some sites.
As far as we are aware the billboards are still in situ now.
As ex-Muslims, we believe freedom of conscience and expression of that conscience to be the most important principle of our secular and free society – and we wish for Muslims to understand this principle too.
That is why we supported the Quran Project when it seemed their posters may have been removed.
In that spirit we will now repudiate a claim made by the Quran Project in one of their billboards. In reference to the Quran, the billboard declares that it has ‘Never Changed, Never Altered’
This is a central claim of Islamic apologia. This is understandable, because without this assertion the most basic claim of Islam as to its uniqueness and superiority is undermined and worthless.
Stressing the perfection, flawlessness and unchanged, unaltered nature of the Quran is perhaps the single most important assertion for those engaging in ‘Da’wah’, or Islamic prosletysation.The problem is, it’s simply untrue.
Of course if you are a believing Muslim you have to believe that the Angel Gabriel recited words directly from Allah into Muhammad’s ear and that the current form of the Quran is word for word the same as each word recited by Allah through the Angel Gabriel into Muhammad’s ear.
The facts, of course, are different.The Quran has been altered. The Quran has been changed.
There are multiple ways of demonstrating this, even through using primary Islamic religious texts:
(1) Firstly it is important to remember that the Quran was never actually written down into any single book during Muhammad's life.
It was always recited.
(2) Even during the period before it was written down, there is some evidence that the Quran was changed by Muhammad himself.
According to Ibn Ishaq, the earliest source on the life of Muhammad, there was an additional verse in Surah an-Najm that Muhammad later removed, saying that Satan had tricked him into believing it was from God. The verse is commonly referred to as verse 20.5, because it was supposed to fit between 20 and 21. It is also knowns as the "Satanic Verse" The verse went like this:
19: Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzzá
20: and Manāt, the third, the other?
20.5: These are the exalted gharāniq, whose intercession is hoped for.
Later Islamic scholars came to deny that this ever happened.
But it seems to me that the reasoning behind denying the veracity of this event has nothing to do with scholarly skepticism and everything to do with the dangers of the theological repercussions of accepting the veracity of this.
After all, if Satan had tricked Muhammad into believing that this verse was from God, then how can we be certain that all the other verses of the Quran are from God and not from Satan?
Also the idea that Muhammad could be tricked by Satan, even for a short time, flies in the face of the notion that Muhammad is the perfect man.
From a non-religious perspective, the acceptance of the three traditional Pagan Goddesses into Islam makes sense when Muhammad was weak and needed reconciliation with the Pagans, and the removal of this verse later when he was stronger and no longer needed their support makes a lot of sense, for that reason I do not doubt the veracity of the event so much.
Of course when you bring this up in a discussion, it is likely to cause anger and outrage among some Muslims, who will often deny that this event occurred, and will even assert that Ibn Ishaq was a liar or something along those lines.
This is often one of the major problems of trying to debate with some Muslims over the veracity of the Quran. Many will assert that the Quran has never been altered, and when proof from the earliest Islamic sources themselves is shown that plainly states that Muhammad himself altered parts of the Quran, those Muslims will often become outraged and refuse to discuss any further.
(3) There are some Hadiths that claim that portions of the Quran are lost because the only written parts of it were eaten by a sheep or a goat
(depending on translation):
Reported ‘Aisha (RA):
‘the verse of stoning and of suckling an adult ten times was revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) expired and we were occupied by his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper.’ (Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith 1944) (Hasan)
(4) There is a whole doctrine of Naskh, or "abrogation" in Islam. This is the notion that many verses in the Quran are lost and many others have been abrogated by later verses and should no longer be considered.
According to Burton in the Encyclopaedia of Islam and the book "Islamic Theories of Abrogation", 564 verses were alleged to have been expunged from the mushaf (Quran), or 1/11th of its total content.
(5) According to the traditional Islamic narrative, the Quran was standardized into a single, authorative text for the first time by Caliph Uthman about 30 years after Muhammad died.
The way this was done was that Uthman collected all manuscripts of the Quran that had been written down by various people across the Empire, he then selected the "authentic" ones and burned all variant readings.
Here is the Hadith in Bukhari that describes this:
Bukhari: vol. 6, hadith 510, pp. 478-479; book 61
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham 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 (Quran) 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 bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman 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 Quraish, 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. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.' (33.23)
In total there were seven different versions of the Quran according to this Hadith:
Al-Muwatta Hadith Hadith 15.5 About the Qur'an
Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab from Urwa ibn az-Zubayr that Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abd al-Qari said that he had heard Umar ibn al-Khattab say, "I heard Hisham ibn Hakim ibn Hizam reciting Surat al-Furqan (Sura 25) differently from me, and it was the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who had recited it to me. I was about to rush up to him but I granted him a respite until he had finished his prayer. Then I grabbed him by his cloak and took him to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Messenger of Allah, I heard this man reciting Surat al-Furqan differently from the way you recited it to me.' The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Let him go.' Then he said, 'Recite, Hisham,' and Hisham recited as I had heard him recite. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'It was sent down like that.' Then he said to me, 'Recite' and I recited the sura, and he said, 'It was sent down like that. This Qur'an was sent down in seven (different) ways, so recite from it whatever is easy for you .' "
6) Klingschor touches on (5) in this excellent video
He then goes on to describe how the Quran was edited further in later periods.
These are all proofs that according to Islamic sources themselves, the Quran we have today may not be a flawless, unaltered copy of what was supposedly recited by the angel Gabriel into Muhammad's ear.In fact, they demonstrate how the Quran has been subject to considerable editing, change and altering.That these evidences arise from within the corpus of Islamic primary sources itself is devastating enough.
The work of many academics who have studied the Quran, especially in the light of the discovery of the Sanaa fragments in 1972, points to the manifold ways in which the Quran was altered and changed.
An excellent primer on this issue is an essay from The Atlantic magazine from 1999 called "What is the Koran?
It points out:
In 1996 the Koranic scholar Günter Lüling wrote in The Journal of Higher Criticism about "the wide extent to which both the text of the Koran and the learned Islamic account of Islamic origins have been distorted, a deformation unsuspectingly accepted by Western Islamicists until now."
In 1994 the journal Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam published a posthumous study by Yehuda D. Nevo, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, detailing seventh- and eighth-century religious inscriptions on stones in the Negev Desert which, Nevo suggested, pose "considerable problems for the traditional Muslim account of the history of Islam."
And since 1991 James Bellamy, of the University of Michigan, has proposed in the Journal of the American Oriental Society a series of "emendations to the text of the Koran"—changes that from the orthodox Muslim perspective amount to copyediting God.
GERD-R. Puin speaks with disdain about the traditional willingness, on the part of Muslim and Western scholars, to accept the conventional understanding of the Koran. "The Koran claims for itself that it is 'mubeen,' or 'clear,'" he says. "But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn't make sense. Many Muslims—and Orientalists—will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can't even be understood in Arabic—then it's not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not—as even speakers of Arabic will tell you—there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on."
We can see how the truth claims made about the Quran never having been altered and never having been changed are incorrect.
The implications of this are immense - it demonstrates how the single most important foundation for Islam's uniqueness and exceptionalism is an illusion
, propounded by religious propagandists.The beauty of free conscience and free expression is that organisations like The Quran Project can express their beliefs openly - and in return, they can be shown up as being false too.
It is in this way that truth prevails. It is through Muslims openly making truth claims for the Quran and Islam that they can be examined and found to be false.
That is why free conscience and free expression of that conscience is so sacred a principle.
Ex-Muslims have the entire world to gain by the simple elevation of the most powerful and subversive and truth-enhancing principle we have - freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.
The Quran Project brings false claims for the Quran into the public domain through billboards and posters - and free conscience exposes them as untrue.It is when we contemplate this that we can grasp just how empowering freedom of conscience and expression can be.(with special thanks to Tony)