Home

Chapter 6: DETAILED EXAMINATION OF SOME ALLEGED VARIANTS WITHOUT TEXTUAL SUPPORT

We discuss here in detail the following alleged variants of the Qur`an:

The reference to the ‘asr prayer in 2:238

Some variants attributed to ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud


(I)

The reference to the ‘asr prayer in 2:238


We earlier noted that traditions alleging variant readings of the Qur`an without textual evidence are not trustworthy. We illustrate this point by a detailed look at one such tradition that has relatively early attestation. This is the tradition where ‘Aishah allegedly dictated the addition of and ‘asr prayer in 2:238. This tradition is found in Muwatta and Muslim, both versions being almost identical. We quote from Muwatta:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam from al-Qa‘qa‘ ibn Hakim that Abu Yunus, the mawla of ‘Aishah, umm al-muminin said: ‘Aishah ordered me to write out a copy of the Qur`an for her. She said, “Let me know, when you reach this verse, ‘Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and stand obedient to God’ [2:238].” When I reached it I told her, and she dictated to me, “Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and the ‘asr prayer and stand obedient to God.” ‘Aishah said, “I heard it from the Messenger of God. "

Notice the words of ‘Aishah: “'Let me know, when you reach this verse …” These words admit that the verse in question was known without any reference to the ‘asr prayer and it was written without that reference in the manuscript from which copy was being made at the request of ‘Aishah. The basis on which ‘Aishah tells the scribe to make an addition is that she heard it from the Messenger of God. The question is why the existing manuscripts did not have these additional words. If they were part of the Qur`an, as this story implies, then the Messenger was duty bound to tell about the additional words to every one (2:159-160, 5:67). One may say that they were abrogated, as a tradition from Muslim suggests. But what is there to abrogate in an exhortation to guard one of the prayers that remains obligatory any way? And why would ‘Aishah want to add the abrogated words? Perhaps, she was ignorant of the fact of abrogation? But if we admit ‘Aishah’s ignorance about the Prophet’s intention about the additional words, the tradition looses much of its credibility. More importantly, the story is discredited above all by the fact that it is found in Muwatta in another version in which both the wife of the Prophet and the scribe have changed:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam that ‘Amr ibn Rafi‘ said: I was writing a copy of the Qur`an for Hafsah, umm al-muminin, and she said, “Let me know when you reach this verrse, ‘Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and stand obedient to God’.” When I reached it I told her and she dictated to me, “Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer and the ‘asr prayer and stand obedient to God.” (Muwatta; in some late versions Hafsah just like ‘Aishah in the previous tradition adds that she heard these additional words from the Prophet).

Here the wife of the Prophet who requests a copy of the Qur`an and dictates the verse with an addition is not ‘Aishah but Hafsah and the scribe is not Abu Yunus but ‘Amr ibn Rafi‘, probably two different persons. Malik hears both versions from the same source, Zayd bin Aslam, who does not seem to remember, which wife dictated the additional words and which scribe recorded them. The story therefore has little credibility and it seems that Bukhari who does not include it in his Sahih thought the same. Despite this a late tradition reports Nafi‘ as saying that he saw with his own eyes a copy of the Qur`an with the additional words.

Muslim gives another somewhat similar story in which the variant reading has changed:

Al-Bara' bin ‘Azib reported: “The following verse was revealed: ‘Guard the prayers and the 'asr prayer.’ We recited it (in this way) so long as God desired. Then God abrogated it and it was revealed: ‘Guard the prayers, and the middle prayer’." A person who was sitting with Shaqiq (one of the narrators in the chain of transmitters) said: Now this implies the ‘asr prayer. Upon this al-Bara' said: “I have already informed you how this (verse) was revealed and how God abrogated it, and God knows best.” Imam Muslim said: Ashja‘i narrated it from Sufyan al-Thawri, who narrated it from al-Aswad bin Qays, who narrated it from 'Uqbah, who narrated it from al-Bara' bin ‘Azib who said: “We recited with the Prophet for a certain period” as mentioned in the above hadith (Muslim).

Here we have a clearer admission that the reference to ‘asr prayer was never a part of the Qur`an in the form that the Prophet left it with the community, whether in writing or in recitation. We are told here that the words about `asr prayer were abrogated and replaced by those that we now find in our copies of the Qur`an. In other words, in the Qur`an as it was completed by the Prophet, 2:238 was exactly as it is today.

Notice that in this story the variant is simply

“Guard your prayers and the ‘asr prayer”

and this is replaced after abrogation by:

“Guard your prayers and the middle prayer”

This is different from what we read earlier in the ahadith about ‘Aishah and Hafsah. In those ahadith the variant is:

“Guard your prayers and the middle prayer and the ‘asr prayer”.

Also, the theory of abrogation invoked in the hadith attributed to al-Bara` bin ‘Azib to justify the variant reading is not present in the ahadith about ‘Aishah and Hafsah. There the phrase is added to the Qur`an as something that should be there. Clearly these contradictions do nothing to build any confidence in the trustworthiness of any of these ahadith.

Comparing the various versions and looking at the other traditions about the middle prayer, we can actually see how these stories came to be formed. To begin with we can clearly see that the “middle prayer” became at some point a subject of discussion. Some identified it with the zuhr (noon) prayer, some with the subh or fajr (morning) prayer, and some with the ‘asr (afternoon) prayer.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Da`ud ibn al-Husayn that Ibn Yarbu al-Makhzumi said, "I heard Zayd ibn Thabit say, 'The middle prayer is the prayer of zuhr.' " (Muwatta)

But in another tradition we read:

Two men sent by a group of people from Quraysh asked Zayd bin Thabit about the middle prayer. He answered that it was ‘asr. Then two other men asked him the same question and he answered that it was zuhr. Then the two asked Usamah who said it was zuhr.

Once, some people were sitting in the company of Zayd bin Thabit. The question of the middle prayer came under discussion. People sent a man to Usamah to find out. He answered that this is the zuhr prayer that the Messenger of God used to pray as soon as its time started (Tayalsi).

The earliest statement of the view that the middle prayer is the morning (subh) prayer is found in Muwatta:

Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that ‘Ali ibn abi Talib and ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas used to say, "The middle prayer is the prayer of subh." (Muwatta)

Malik himself preferred the same view:

Malik said, "Out of all that I have heard about the matter, I prefer what ‘Ali ibn abi Talib and ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas said."

But while according to Malik ‘Ali identified the middle prayer with the morning prayer, in a hadith narrated on the authority of ‘Ali in both Muslim and Bukhari the Holy Prophet identifies it with the ‘asr prayer:

Narrated 'Ali bin Abi Talib: We were in the company of the Prophet on the day (of the battle) of al-Khandaq (the Trench). The Prophet said, "May God fill their (the infidels') graves and houses with fire, as they have kept us so busy that we could not offer the middle prayer till the sun had set; and that prayer was the 'asr prayer" (Bukhari).

'Ali reported: The Messenger of God said on the day (of the battle) of al-Ahzab: They diverted us from saying the middle prayer. May God fill their houses and graves with fire; he then observed this prayer between the evening prayer and the night prayer (Muslim).

There are other versions of this hadith that conflict with the above version. Thus while in the above version the ‘asr prayer was delayed till after the sunset, the following version delays it to a time before the sunset:

'Abd Allah (bin Mas‘ud) reported that the polytheists detained the Messenger of God from observing the ‘asr prayer till the sun became red or it became yellow. Upon this the Messenger of God said: They have diverted us from (offering) the middle prayer. May God fill (mal`a) their bellies and their graves with fire, or he said: May God stuff (hasha) their bellies and their graves with fire (Muslim).

More importantly, both Muslim and Bukhari give a hadith in which it is ‘Umar who scolds the polytheists for causing through battle a delay in the `asr prayer and there is no mention of the middle prayer:

Jabir bin 'Abd Allah reported that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab had been cursing the pagans of the Quraysh on the day (of the battle) of al-Khandaq. (He came to the Holy Prophet) and said: “Messenger of God! By God, I could not perform the 'asr prayer till the sun set.” Upon this the Messenger said: “By God, I, too, have not performed it.” So we went to a valley. The Messenger of God performed ablution and we too performed ablution, and then the Messenger of God performed the 'asr prayer after the sun had set and then performed the maghrib prayer after it (Muslim).

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abd Allah: On the day of al-Khandaq 'Umar bin al-Khattab came cursing the disbelievers of Quraysh after the sun had set and said, "O God’s Messenger, I could not perform the ‘asr prayer till the sun had set." The Prophet said, "By God! I, too, have not prayed." So we turned towards Buthan, and the Prophet performed ablution and we too performed ablution and offered the ‘asr prayer after the sun had set, and then he offered the maghrib prayer (Bukhari).

Even more, Bukhari gives a version of this last tradition in which the Prophet is not explicitly involved:

Narrated Jabir: ‘Umar came cursing their disbelievers on the day of al-Khandaq and said, "I could not offer the ‘asr prayer till the sun had set. Then we went to Buthan and he offered the prayer after sunset and then he offered the maghrib prayer (Bukhari).

Here there is no talk of the Prophet also being unable to perform the ‘asr prayer in time due to engagement in battle. Thus it seems that the historical event underlying the above traditions may be nothing more than the simple fact that in about the battle of al-Khandaq some Muslims could not perform ‘asr prayer in time and had to perform it after its appointed time. This incident was used to make various points of fiqh and also to identify the ‘asr prayer with the middle prayer. This identification becomes much more explicit in some traditions found in relatively late or less reliable documents:

Abu Hurayrah was once asked about the middle prayer. He said: We also once differed about it. Abu Hashim bin ‘Utbah rose from the gathering and went to the house of the Messenger of God. After seeking permission, he entered and obtained the information. He came out and told us that it was ‘asr (al-Tabari, Tafsir).

Once in the company of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Marwan the question of the middle prayer came up. He said, “Go and ask such and such companion.” But one person in the gathering said: “Listen! When I was young I was sent by Abu Bakr and ‘Umar to the Prophet to ask the same question. The Prophet took my little finger and said: ‘Look, this is the fajr prayer.’ Then he took the finger next to it and said: ‘This is the zuhr prayer.’ He took the thumb and said: ‘This is the magrib prayer.’ He took the finger used for shahadah in prayer (the finger next to the thumb) and said: ‘This is the ‘isha prayer.’ He then asked: ‘Which finger remains.’ I said, ‘the middle finger.’ He asked: ‘Which prayer remains.’ I said: ‘‘Asr.’ He said: ‘Well, that is the middle prayer’.” (Al-Tabari, Tafsir).

The Prophet recited the verse [2:238] and said: This is the ‘asr prayer (Musnad Ahmad).

There are still more traditions in the literature attributing different views to different companions, sometimes opposite views to the same companions. Thus ‘Ali, Ibn Mas‘ud, Abu Ayyub, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri, and Abu Hurayrah are said to identify the middle prayer as the ‘asr prayer. Traditions attributed to ‘Ali, ‘Umar, Ma‘adh bin Jabal, Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, Jabir, ‘Ata, and  ‘Akramah identify the middle prayer as the subh or fajr prayer. Tradtiions attributed to Zayd bin Thabit, Usamah bin Zayd, Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri, and ‘Aishah identify it as zuhr prayer. Among the later generations, we again find contradictory views attributed to the same scholar. Iman Malik is known only to favor the subh prayer. Shafi‘i probably held the same view, but later scholars of the Shafi‘i school argued that since Shafi‘i was bound by every hadith, therefore had he known the ahadith identifying the middle prayer with the ‘asr prayer he would have revised his view. But if Shafi‘i (died 204) did not know these ahadith, then it is probable that they are relatively late. Hasan Basri, Ibrahim Nakh‘i, Qatadah, Dahhak, Kalbi, Maqatil, Abu Hanifah, Ahmad, Abu Da`ud, Ibn Mundhar were of the opinion that the middle prayer was the ‘asr prayer, although one tradition from Abu Hanifah identifies it as zuhr prayer. There are also other opinions, e.g. that the middle prayer is the maghrib prayer (attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas) or ‘isha` prayer, or jum‘ah prayer, or one of the ‘Id prayers or an unidentifiable prayer.

From this one should not get the impression that the middle prayer was never clearly understood. What this means is that in the early period the question was not discussed, probably because it was clear to the well-informed companions what prayer was the middle prayer. For, the companions who counted the start of the day from sunset the middle prayer was probably understood as the morning prayer and this is probably also how it is understood in the Qur`an. Its special mention can be explained because sleep can easily prevent people from praying the morning prayer on time. But outside Arabia people counted the start of the day in other ways and this gave rise to other interpretations of the middle prayer. Thus those who started the day from some point in the night (e.g., midnight) the middle prayer will be either zuhr prayer or the ‘asr prayer, depending on whether they counted the night prayer or the morning prayer as the first prayer of the day. If one started the day from sunrise the middle prayer will be the maghrib prayer. The identification with the maghrib prayer is also suggested by the fact that it divides 24-hour period into day and night, with two prayers before it during the day and two prayers after it during the night. But it is the identification with the ‘asr prayer that became a popular alternative to the earlier view that correctly identified the middle prayer with the subh prayer.

We earlier noted that often the variants of the Qur`an arose when some explanatory words were by mistake made part of the Qur`anic verses and then, out of enthusiasm for those explanations and willful clinging to the mistakes, stories were created to justify the mistakes. Thus the view that the middle prayer was the ‘asr prayer made some half-informed over-enthusiastic imam to read the verse with the “middle prayer” replaced by “‘asr prayer”. The wrong reading when confronted with the standard correct reading did not result in a correction of the mistake but in willful insistence on it. Stories were fabricated to show that the reading was indeed once a part of the Qur`an. The absence of the phrase from all the written copies of the Qur`an and from its recitation by everyone else is explained in two ways: by the theory of abrogation and by assuming that it somehow got omitted from all the copies of the Qur`an. The first approach gave rise to the story attributed to al-Bara` bin ‘Azib while the second approach led to the story of ‘Aishah/Hafsah.

These stories, though they were probably created to identify the middle prayer with the ‘asr prayer, inadvertently left a loophole. In the hadith of al-Bara` bin ‘Azib the abrogation of “guard your prayers and the ‘asr prayer” by “guard your prayers and the middle prayer” can suggest that the middle prayer is not the ‘asr prayer, for otherwise abrogation merely substitutes one name of the prayer by another, hardly a meaningful change. This explains the exchange in the hadith between Shaqiq and his companion, in which the question whether the middle prayer is the ‘asr prayer is not clearly resolved.

The same ambiguity characterizes the variant given in the story about ‘Aishah or Hafsah. In fact the variant has been used to argue that the middle prayer is not the ‘asr prayer. This is because the statement “guard … the middle prayer and the ‘asr prayer” can be understood in two ways. One way is that the middle prayer is identical to the ‘asr prayer. This is possible in Arabic as in English. For example, a person could say, “I saw my friend and my collegue,” referring to one and the same person. The second interpretation is that the middle prayer and the ‘asr prayer are not the same prayer. It is perhaps using this last interpretation that Malik can record this story and still prefer the view that the middle prayer is the subh prayer, although admittedly the earlier Muslim scholars often quoted traditions without necessarily fully accepting them. In any case, the ambiguity left by the earlier form of the alleged variant reading of the Qur`an was removed at some stage. Thus al-Tabari in his Tafsir gives the following variant reading:

Guard the prayers carefully and the middle prayer -- and this is the ‘asr prayer (wa hiya salat al-‘asr)--and stand obedient to God.

This variant leaves little doubt about which prayer was the middle prayer!

How some explanatory words could be made variants of the Qur`an by some ill-informed or over-enthusiastic people is illustrated by examples in the Hadith. We need not go further from the subject of the middle prayer for an example. The versions in Bukhari of the hadith about the delay in the ‘asr prayer on the day of al-Khandaq provide and example. We quote these versions again for the sake of convenience of the reader:

1) Narrated Jabir bin 'Abd Allah: On the day of al-Khandaq 'Umar bin al-Khattab came cursing the disbelievers of Quraysh after the sun had set and said, "O God’s Messenger, I could not perform the ‘asr prayer till the sun had set." The Prophet said, "By God! I, too, have not prayed." So we turned towards Buthan, and the Prophet performed ablution and we too performed ablution and offered the ‘asr prayer after the sun had set, and then he offered the maghrib prayer.

In this version there is no mention of the middle prayer; the delayed prayer is simply called the ‘asr prayer. The same is the case in the next version:

2) Narrated Jabir: ‘Umar came cursing the disbelievers on the day of al-Khandaq and said, "I could not offer the ‘asr prayer till the sun had set. Then we went to Buthan and he offered the prayer after sunset and then he offered the maghrib prayer (Bukhari).

But in the following version the delayed prayer is called the middle prayer:

3) Narrated 'Ali: On the day of al-Khandaq, the Prophet said “God fill their houses and graves with fire as they have prevented us from offering the middle prayer till the sun had set."

4) Narrated 'Ali bin abi Talib: We were in the company of the Prophet on the day (of the battle) of al-Khandaq. The Prophet said, "May God fill their (the infidels') graves and houses with fire, as they have kept us so busy (in battle) that we could not offer the middle prayer till the sun had set; and this (was) the 'asr prayer (wa hiya salat al-‘asr)"

In both versions attributed to ‘Ali (number 3 and 4) it is clear that the middle prayer is understood to be the afternoon (‘asr) prayer, since it is said to be delayed till sunset. But notice that in the version number 4 we have the words “and this (was) the 'asr prayer” that are not found in the version number 3. It is probable that these words were added to the more original version to further clarify the identification of the middle prayer with the ‘asr prayer. And in view of the ahadith attributed to Jabir in which the middle prayer is not even mentioned, it is likely that even in the version number 3 the reference to the middle prayer is secondary. We can thus see two developments: First ‘asr prayer was changed to middle prayer and then the identification between the two was made more explicit.

It seems fairly certain that something similar happened during the transmission of the Qur`an at some places at the hands of some careless people: First the middle prayer was explained as ‘asr prayer and then this explanation was made a variant reading of the Qur`an. Indeed, in Arabic the additional words (wa hiya salat al-‘asr) in the version number 4 are identical to the additional words in alleged variant of the Qur`anic verse as given in al-Tabari.

Regardless of whether one accepts the above explanation of how the traditions about an alleged variant of 2:238 referring to ‘asr prayer came to be formed, it is clear from the above review of the various traditions that we are not dealing here with a reliable set of reports. Muslim scholars in earlier times reached the same conclusion. Thus Ibn Kathir wrote in his Tafsir:

This khabar wahid [about the variant reading of 2:238] does not establish the reading in the absence of tawatur. This is why ‘Uthman did not accept it in his mushaf of the Qur`an. Nor are these additional words found in the recitation of any of the seven reciters or even any other trusted reciter. Moreover, another hadith establishes the abrogation of this reading


(II)

Some variants attributed to ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud



There are several variants, with no manuscript support, that are attributed to ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud, mostly in late traditions without strong isnads. These alleged variants are often pointed out by hostile missionary writers who use them to prove that the Qur`anic text has suffered changes. Below we discuss those variants that are most often mentioned by the missionaries.

In the following list, an addition allegedly made by Ibn Mas‘ud will be indicated by underlining while omission or change will be indicated by capital letters.

1) Surah 6:16 translates: “On that day if the penalty is averted from any, it is due to God's mercy”; Ibn Mas'ud's text allegedly read: “On that day if the penalty is averted by God from any, it is due to God's mercy.”

2) Surah 33:6 translates: “...and his (Prophet's) wives are their mothers”. Ibn Mas'ud's text allegedly read; “...and his (Prophet's) wives are their mothers and he is their father”.

3) Surah 2:275 translates: “those who devor usury will not stand except like the standing of a person touched by Satan". Ibn Mas‘ud allegedly read it as: “those who devor usury will not stand on the day of resurrection except as like a person touched by Satan";

4)  Surah 6:153 translates: "And that this is My path". Ibn Mas'ud’s text allegedly read: This is the path OF YOUR LORD.

5) Surah 3.133 translates: “Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord” Ibn Mas'ud's text allegedly read: "BE AHEAD in the race for forgiveness from your Lord...”.

6) Surah 5:89 translates: “expiation (for breaking an oath) is … fasting for three days …” Ibn Mas‘ud allegedly read “expiation (for breaking an oath) is … fasting for three days consecutively …”;

7) Surah 3:19 translates: “Indeed, the acceptable religion before God is al-islam”. Ibn Mas‘ud allegedly read HANIFIYAH in place of al-islam;

8)  The first and the last two surahs were absent from Ibn Mas‘ud’s copy.

Some of these variants clearly elaborate a meaning that is either implicit in the Qur`anic verse or can justifiably be read into it. Thus in the alleged variant 1 “by God” is implicit in the Qur`an. In the alleged variant 2 it is perfectly justifiable deduction from the statement that the Prophet’s wives were believers’ mothers that he himself was like their father. In the alleged variant 3 one can justifiably interpret standing as rising on the day of resurrection, since the Arabic word is used for the resurrection.

In other cases the words change but the meaning does not. This is the case with the alleged variants 4 and 5.

Only in the last three cases the variants are significant. But we now show that even in these cases the variants are not of the type that a vast majority of companions will conspire with ‘Uthman to change the original Qur`an and then impose their version on ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud.

In case of the alleged variant 6, perhaps the natural interpretation of 5:89 is that the expiation fast should be for three consecutive days rather than for three days that could be spread over an unspecified period. If so, Ibn Mas’ud’s alleged reading (also attributed to Ubayy bin Ka‘b) simply makes explicit what is implicit in the Qur`an. But it has been argued that the days of obligatory fasting missed in Ramadan due to traveling or illness are to be made up later (2:183-185) and they are not taken to be consecutive; hence 5:89 should be interpreted similarly. This argument, however, is not very compelling, since the language used in the two passages is different. In any case, even if one does not see the idea of consecutiveness of the days of fasting implicit in 5:89, there is little evidence that the Muslim world was so consumed in the controversy about this matter that the khalifah of the time felt compelled to take side and to change the Qur`an accordingly. The extant Qur`an allows a more lenient position than Ibn Mas’ud’s alleged reading, and this may be imagined as the reason why the Qur`an was changed. But the Qur`an often inclines towards flexibility and leniency. Also, it is not automatic that the majority of the Muslims took a more lenient position on the matter. People not only take the easier root; sometimes they become stricter than the original teachings demand.

Variant 7 is interesting. It is often cited by Christian writers who accept it despite its late documentation against the continuous and consistent testimony of the written and oral tradition of recitation. They imagine that this variant “is a reminder that early Madinan passages of the Qur`an may have been revised to bring them into line with the later nomenclature” (Watt, Muhammad at Medina). Here Watt seems to be saying that the revision was done by the Prophet himself. But this insinuation is seen to be baseless for the following reasons:

1)      The Qur`an does not use the word hanifiyah but it does use the word hanif and its plural hunafa`many times. Why was the hanif not changed to muslim wherever it occurred, if hanifiyah was so changed to islam, as a matter of deliberate policy.

2)      The usage of the word muslim in the Qur`an is earlier than the usage of the word hanif.  The uses of hanif are found in surahs 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 22, 30, and 98, all of which belong to either late Makkan or Madinan period. In contrast, the earliest use of the word muslim is found in surah 68 which is very early Makkan surah. Since the term muslim implies a concept of isalm, it is difficult to see how Christian writers can imagine that islam is a later nomenclature and the Qur`an was revised by the Prophet to bring it in line with this later nomenclature.

3)      In 22:78 it is explicitly stated: “it is He who has named you muslimin earlier and in this (Qur`an)”. If any doubt is left as to the very early use of the terms muslim and islam, it should be removed by the words “earlier and in this (Qur`an)”, which show that muslim and therefore the concept of islam is viewed in the Qur`an as pre-Islamic.

But for our purpose here, if we assume that the revision was done by the Prophet himself, then the extant text is proved to be faithful to the Qur`an as the Prophet handed it to the Muslim community. Some missionaries, however, insinuate that the revision was done after the Prophet, presumably by ‘Uthman. The question is: what was the necessity for this change? In this connection, note that the Qur`an uses the word hanif (2:135, 3:67, 95, 4:125, 6:79, 161, 10:105, 123, 30:30) and its plural hunafa` (22:31, 98:5) to describe desirable characteristics of people and the same characteristics are also present in the term muslim. The word hanif means “upright” or “pure or sincere” or “wholeheartedly committed” and refers to that upright way which is in accordance with the true, divinely shaped nature of man. This way is the universal religion centered round wholehearted worship of the one true God and a life of prayer and charity. These elements were also the essential content of the teaching of earlier true religions whose followers were commanded to be hunafa (98:5). Abraham was on this natural upright divine way and was not a Jew or Christian (3:67) who follow very specific doctrines that evolved in specific times and places. Therefore he is called hanif. The word muslim and islam are also understood the same way. Abraham could be described as both hanif and muslim in the same verse (3:67) and his religion can be described as “committing (aslama) oneself firmly to God” (4:125). A person need not be a Jew or Christian to be saved, but only commit (aslama) himself to God (2:111-112) and thus become a muslim. The din brought by the Prophet is the same that all the previous prophets have taught. There is clearly no conflict between the two terms. They are simply two ways to describe the same idea. Why would then anyone feel that they have to change hanifiyah to islam in 3:19? And why did the word hanifiyah occur only in one place in the Qur`an, as is alleged, if it was the very description of the religion that the Qur`an was calling people to? Why did it not appear more frequently like the word islam? If we say that the reason that the word islam occurs more frequently because in every place where we now find islam, there once stood hanifiyah, the question arises why there is no evidence for it?

Although the variant reading hanifiyah cannot be accepted, it may still be interesting to ask how it arose.

It seems that the term hanifiyah was more popular among Christians than among Muslims. Even about six centuries after the advent of Islam a Christian writing in Egypt speaks about the time when “the Hanifite nation appeared and humbled the Romans”. The fact that despite living with the Muslims for centuries the Christians continued to use the label hanifiyah or hanif they once learnt from somewhere is consistent with a great deal of other evidence showing that Christians were extremely slow to enhance their information about Islam and Muslims and even slower to revise their perceptions in the light of any fresh information that did manage to reach them. So despite the fact that the people living all around them were calling themselves “Muslims” and their religion “Islam”, some Christians kept repeating “hanifite” and “hanifiyah”.  It is possible that Ibn Mas‘ud or one of his students explained the verse to some such Christian using a more familiar expression, by saying, e.g., that islam is the hanifyah religion taught by Abraham. This explanatory term might have been made an alternative reading by some converts. It survived in a very limited circle and finally ended up in some late Muslim document. That is why we do not find it in any earlier and more reliable Muslim source.

The allegation of variant 8 is clearly very significant, but on closer examination it is found to be the result of some mistake. For, there is evidence both in the Qur`an and the Hadith proving that the three surahs allegedly missing from ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud’s copy are a part of the Qur`an. We discuss this evidence first for the last two surahs (surah al-falaq and surah al-nas) and then for the first surah (surah al-fatihah).

The last two surahs begin with the word qul (say) and this form of address is characteristic of the Qur`anic passages. This provide Qur`anic evidence that the two surahs are a part of the Qur`an. The word “say” means that the two surahs are the verbatim revelation brought by Jibra`il like the rest of the Qur`an. There are many prayers attributed to the Prophet in the Hadith but they do not begin with “say”, as do these two surahs.

Furthermore, there are several ahadith where the Prophet himself describes or assumes the last two surahs as revealed like some other well-known surahs. Thus we have the following hadith on the authority of none other than ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud:

Narrated ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud: The Prophet of God disliked ten things: Yellow coloring, …, dyeing grey hair, trailing the lower garment,…, using spells except with the mu‘awwidhatayn ….(Abu Da`ud 4210).

Here the only reason why in using spells an exception is made in favor of mu‘awwidhatayn (a term frequently used for the last two surahs of the Qur`an because they do ta‘awwudh, seeking God’s refuge) seems to be that they are a part of the Qur`an. But other traditions are far clearer in affirming the Qur`anic origin of the last two surahs:

'Uqbah bin 'Amir related: God's Messenger said: Look! Such verses have been sent down this night the like of which has not been seen! They are: "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of the dawn, …" (surah al-falaq) and "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of humanity" (surah al-nas) (Muslim).

‘Uqbah bin 'Amir related: The Messenger of God said to me: There have been sent down to me verses the like of which had not been seen before. They are the mu‘awwidhatayn (Muslim who adds: This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters directly from the companions of Muhammad (God bless him and raise him in honor ever more).

‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir reported the Messenger of God as telling him: “If possible do not omit recitation of these two surahs from your prayers (Ibn Hibban).

Umm Salamah related: The Messenger of God said: The two surahs that God loves most of all are: "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of the dawn, …" (surah al-falaq) and "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of humanity" (surah al-nas) (Ibn Marduyah)

‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir said: I was going with the rope of the she-camel of the Messenger of God in a journey. He said to me, “O ‘Uqbah! Shall I teach you the best two of the surahs that are recited?” He then taught me "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of the dawn, …" (surah al-falaq) and "Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of humanity" (surah al-nas). He did not find me very elated with them. When he stopped for the morning prayer he recited them for the people. And when he had completed the prayers he turned to me and said, “O ‘Uqbah! What do you now think (of the importance of these two surahs) (Ahmad, Abu Da`ud).

Mu‘adh bin Jabal narrated: The Messenger of God recited the mu’awwidhatayn in the morning prayer (Sa‘id bin Mansur).

The reference in the last two traditions is to the well-established recitation of the Qur`an during prayers. The implication is clearly that the two surahs are a part of the Qur`an. The question is why do the missionaries not accept these ahadith uncritically in the same way that they accept the traditions alleging variants? What basis do they have to reject the former and accept the latter?

However, our approach is to examine all traditions critically, so we now comment on the allegation in that spirit. To begin with, as noted by Bazzar in his Musnad, there is no companion other than Ibn Mas`ud who is said to question that the last two surahs were a part of the Qur`an and the same is true of the first surah. This alone makes it highly probable that either Ibn Mas‘ud was mistaken in his view or someone else committed a mistake in attributing the view to him during the time between the death of Ibn Mas‘ud in 32 H and the first recording of his view in the third century. Further examination shows the latter to be the case.

The omission of any mention of the view that the last two surahs were not a part of the Qur`an from the early books of hadith is very significant. This view affects the daily practice of Islam, since it raises the question whether the two surahs can be recited in prayer or not. Had a leading and early companion such as Ibn Mas‘ud expressed the view, the question would have generated debate and demanded some decision. Both the debate and any conclusion(s) about it are expected to find their way in books of Hadith and law such as Muwatta, Muslim, and Bukhari. But none of these books contains any mention of the view. This point can be fully appreciated by a comparison with the question of the identification of the middle prayer. This question does not even affect the daily practice of religion, since it has no bearing on the obligatory nature of the daily prayers and the method of performing them. Yet all the three books contain traditions concerning the question. In contrast, the question whether or not the last two chapters were a part of the Qur`an and whether or not they could be recited in prayers is not mentioned at all. The closest we come to the issue is what is said in the following hadith in Bukhari:

Narrated Zirr bin Hubaysh: I asked Ubayy bin Ka‘b, "O Abu al-Mundhir! Your brother, Ibn Mas'ud said so-and-so (about mu‘awwidhatayn)." Ubayy said, "I asked God's Messenger about them, and he said, '(They were thus) recited (qila) to me and I recited (similarly)" Ubayy added, "And we recite just as God’s Messenger recited." (Bukhari, also found in Musnad of Ahmad, Musnad of Hafiz Abu Bakr al-Humaydi, al-Mustakhraj of Abu Nu ‘aym, and Sunan of Nasa`i)

Here, however, it is not stated that ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud held that the two surahs were not a part of the Qur`an. The words “we recite just as God’s Messenger recited” suggest that the issue involved concerns the way the surahs are to be recited and now whether they were a part of the Qur`an.

The complete absence from early books of any discussion of the question of whether the last two surahs were a part of the Qur`an makes it almost certain that the view in question did not exist in the first two centuries and therefore could not be attributed to ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud or any other companion. We can even go further and date the view and explain how it arose. But first let us also consider the corresponding view about the first surah.

This view is even weaker than the one about the last two surahs, for while there are late traditions alleging that Ibn Mas‘ud thought that the last two surahs were not a part of the Qur`an, there are no such traditions about the first surah. We are only told in some late traditions that this surah was not found in the copy (mushaf) of ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud, for which there could be many other explanations. Also, as in the case of the last two surahs, there is evidence within the Qur`an showing that the first surah was a part of the Qur`an. Thus we read in the Qur`an:

And We have bestowed upon you (O Prophet) the seven oft-repeated ones and the grand Qur`an."  (15:87).

Although some have interpreted the seven “oft-repeated ones” (al-mathani) as seven long surahs in the first part of the Qur`an (surahs 2-7 and 10 or 8+9) or seven topics (commandments, prohibition, promise of reward, warning of punishment, parables, recounting of favors, and prophecy), it is much more probable that the phrase refers to the seven verses of the opening surah (al-fatihah), including bi ism allah al-rahman al-rahim. These seven verses probably form the most oft-repeated composition in whole of human history, as it is recited not only in the daily Muslim prayers at least 17 times a day but on other occasions as well. If this interpretation, which is also the view of the vast majority of Muslim scholars, is accepted, then it is established that this surah was part of the divine revelation similar to the Qur`an (which is also described as mathani (39:23)) or in some sense superior to the rest of the Qur`an, since it is mentioned specially as a favor upon the Prophet. Now by the very definition of the word “qur`an” (= recital) any words bestowed upon the Prophet from on high and faithfully recited word for word, first by the Prophet and then at his instructions by other believers is a part of the Qur`an. Its inclusion by the extant manuscript is therefore completely justified. This argument makes it doubtful that Ibn Mas‘ud removed surah al-fatihah from the Qur`an thinking that it was not a part of it. For, we can expect that Ibn Mas‘ud accepted 15: 87, since there is no evidence that this verse was absent from his copy of the Qur`an or that he read it in a different way. We can only admit as a remote possibility that Ibn Mas‘ud or someone else using his name thought that this surah should be kept separate from the Qur`an since the above verse seems to separate the two.

It should be noted that centuries ago Imam Nawawi, Imam Ibn Hazm and Imam Fakhr al-din al-Razi held that Ibn Mas‘ud did not say that these surahs were not part of the Qur`an.  How then this view or the one about the last two surahs got attributed to Ibn Mas‘ud? Here is my explanation.

Earlier it was noted that in Bukhari’s version of Ubayy’s hadith quoted above the issue seems to concern only how to recite the two surahs. In Bukhari the actual issue is obscured but in other versions it becomes much clearer. Thus in a version recorded by Abu Bakr Humaydi Ubayy’s answer is:

Ubayy said: “The Prophet said: ‘I was told qul (say), so I said that.’ And we recite as the Messenger of God recited” (quoted from Ibn Kathir).

Thus the issue seems to be whether the initial qul (say) in these surahs should be recited. To understand this question, suppose a child is asked, “say, thank you”. Normally, the child should simply say “thank you” and not “say, thank you”. Similarly, some people seem to have thought that when in the two surahs it is said, “say, I seek God’s refuge” the word “say” should not be repeated. The answer in Ubayy’s hadith is that what the Prophet heard (from the angel of revelation) he repeated and what we heard from the Prophet we repeat. It is in this light that we should read the version in Bukhari and also the following version in Musnad of Ahmad, where we read Ubayy as saying:

“I testify that the Prophet told me that Jibra`il said to him ‘say, I seek refuge in the Lord of falaq’ so he said that; then Jibra`il said, ‘say, I seek refuge in the Lord of humanity’ so he said that. And we say like the Prophet said.”

Thus, on the basis of the hadith of Ubayy we can attribute to Ibn Mas‘ud nothing more than the view that the initial qul should not be recited. But even the attribution of this view to Ibn Mas‘ud is doubtful, since the hadith of Ubayy is found in Bukhari in another version in which Ibn Mas‘ud is not even mentioned:

Narrated Zirr bin Hubaysh: I asked Ubayy bin Ka‘b regarding the mu‘awwidhatayn. He said, "I asked the Prophet (about them), and he replied, “(They were thus) recited (qila) to me and I recited (similarly)" (Ubayy added), "And we recite just as God’s Messenger recited.”

The absence of any mention of ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud suggests that the objection about the initial qul might have originated from someone other than him. But since Ibn Mas‘ud had acquired the image of one who held dissenting views regarding the Qur`an, it is ascribed to him. Looking at the isnads of the two ahadith in Bukhari we can get even an idea of when the objection to the word qul began to be attributed to Ibn Mas‘ud. In the isnads of the two traditions only the last informers of Bukhari are different:

‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah

Qutaybah bin Sa‘id.

The other transmitters are common:

Sufyan relates from ‘Abdah bin abi Lubabah and ‘Asim who relate from Zirr bin Hubaysh who relates from Ubayy bin Ka‘b.

Only in the hadith of ‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah is there any mention of Ibn Mas‘ud. Thus up to the time of Sufyan (bin ‘Uyaynah) who died in 198 H the view that the initial qul should not be recited was not connected with Ibn Mas‘ud in the hadith of Ubayy. It was presumably connected with him by ‘Ali bin ‘Abd Allah sometimes in the beginning of the third century.

Now notice that only the surahs at the beginning and end of the Qur`an are alleged to be missing from the copy of Ibn Mas‘ud. It is quite possible that due to extensive use of the copy the first and the last few pages were damaged. And since almost every Muslim using the mushaf  knew the three surahs, it was not felt necessary to write them again. At the same time for some people the use of qul was an issue. So when some careless people learnt that the last surahs were missing from the mushaf of ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud they drew the conclusion that he removed the surahs on the basis of the objection about reciting qul. Some people also got the impression that Ibn Mas‘ud thought that the two surahs were not a part of the Qur`an. Once the mistaken idea was created, it took, as often happens, a life of its own and underwent all kinds of elaborations. Thus now we have traditions recorded by, but not necessarily accepted by, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Bazzar, Tabarani, Ibn Marduyah, Abu Ya‘la, Humaydi, Abu Nu‘aym, and Ibn Hibban that not only tell us that Ibn Mas‘ud removed these surahs from the mushaf but also attribute such words to him as: “Do not mix with the Qur`an what is not a part of the Qur`an. These two surahs are not a part of the Qur`an. They are simply a command given by God to the Holy Prophet that he should seek God’s refuge in these words.” Notice the explanation given does not seem to apply to the complete surahs but only to the word qul. For, we cannot exclude from the Qur`an something simply because it is a command to the Prophet to pray in particular words. Thus in (20:114) it is said “Say, O my Lord, increase me in knowledge”. There is no difference between this prayer and the words, “Say, I seek refuge in the Lord of dawn”. Yet we do not hear that ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud removed this former prayer from his copy of the Qur`an. It thus seems clear that a certain objection to the recitation of the initial qul by Ibn Mas‘ud or, more probably, by someone else has been turned into an objection to the very presence of the last two surahs in the Qur`an, no doubt due to the carelessness that characterizes many transmitters of traditions in the early Islamic period. This is further supported by the fact that nowhere in any tradition the view is attributed to Ibn Mas‘ud that the first surah of the Qur`an was not a part of the Qur`an even though this surah is also said to be missing form his copy of the Qur`an. Clearly, there were no special issues connected with the first surah that led any one to interpret its alleged absence from the copy of Ibn Mas`ud to mean that it was not a part of the Qur`an.