It is the general opinion and testimony of Muslims that (unlike the Bible as they assert) the Quran is clear and uniform. There are no differing versions and documents. There is but one Quran and all Muslims everywhere use the identical text, given word for word by Gabriel to Mohammed who, in turn, recited it to his scribes and companions for recording or memorization. These pieces were collected under the Khalifships of Abu Bakr and Umar by Zaid-ibn-Thabith. When a little later contentions arose between believers because of differing recitations (in prayer), Uthman ordered the text to be edited according to the dialect of the Quraish, and this text is the one before us today.

As we shall see, this is not correct - or it is, to say the least, a very romantic concept.

We must say here, however, that by "different versions" of the Bible is generally meant various translations, which do indeed have differences in phrasing as any one translation of a certain text has when compared to another translation of the same text - translations of the Quran not excepted.

Muslims interpret the honesty Christians display about some variant readings of the Bible MSS as weakness and claim that the Quran never had more than one version. Any differences, they say, concerned variant dialects only and never affected the meaning of the text. This is definitely incorrect as the following paragraphs will prove.

Omitted passages.

After the sudden death of Mohammed, Zaid-ibn-Thabith was ordered to compile and write down the Quran (Mishkat'ul Masabih). It is attested that at least three revelations were left out. One of these, according to Mohammed's wife, Aysha, with whom he resided at this death, was kept under their bed at the time of Mohammed's death, but was eaten by a domestic animal (related by ibn-Mayah in "Kitabu'l Sunan" with Sahih Muslim, page 740.)

According to the biographer and Hadis compiler Muslim (page 501):

The latter quotations may be from Suras 61:2 and 17:13, but the first, the same length as Sura 9(129 verses) is missing in the Quran! In this case the possible explanation, namely that of abrogation, is unacceptable, for it would render God very human indeed. We conclude that the statement about the completeness of the Quran cannot be maintained - and with that the argument of "nazil" i.e. that it came from heaven and complete as it is.

Another tradition states (Sahih Muslim, page 912, Mishkat II, page 534 and others):

This passage too, is not in the Quran.

At a later date when Uthman was Khalif, he sent for the existing manuscripts in Hafsah's possession and others, had them revised to one text, and copied several times by Zaid-ibn-Thabith and three men of the Quraish tribe.

Uthman sent out one copy of this newly established original to every country and issued orders that every differing compilation or script of the Quran should be burnt. (Mishkat vol.III p.708).

Hafsah's copy of the Quran was burnt by Marrah. Why? Muslims as a rule explain this Hadis (Tradition) as meaning a revision to conform to the language (Quraish) of the original. But we hold that "the difference in the Quran reading" does not only refer to this. Why then burn other codices? Others will reason that the burnt scripts were really corrupt texts. Who was the judge? They were also in writing! Zaid-ibn-Thabith could just as well have used these in his collection.

Much of this chapter is really no more than a compilation of quotations from eminent scholars, linked only by some of my own sentences. Where not mentioned otherwise (and apart from the connecting sentences), the quotations are from "the book The Collection of the Quran" by Dr. J. Burton (University of Cambridge)

Strange as it may sound, Muslim theologians converted this rather embarrassing account of interpolation or abrogation (however one looks at it) into a story of the victory of light over darkness. A summary of other contentions about the reliability of the Quranic texts will give us more clarity on the subject.

"The canonical traditionists report that Sura 4:95 was dictated by the prophet to his amanuensis Zayd thus: 'Those believers who sit at home are not equal to those who fight in the way of God with their goods and their persons.' A blind man was present and heard the words. He immediately interjected that were he as other men he would certainly fight; whereupon the prophet interposed the words 'except those who suffer from a grave impediment' which stand in the text today." ("Islam" by A. Guillaume, p.191).

We can see from this that even before the collection of the Quran, the assumed scrutiny and exactness of the revelations was violated.

There were differing texts

It has been clearly documented that at the time of the collection of the Quran there were a number of differing texts. Four main versions became apparent, which co-existed for a considerable time, though they were not always tolerated.

Alfred Guillaume, perhaps the best-known and accepted Western scholar on Islam from the non-Islamic world, sketched this situation in his book "Islam", thus:

It is clear from these statements that Islam has taken up a strange position: It is totally reluctant, not to say opposed, to subject the Quran, the Hadis and other related manuscripts to a critical scrutiny and evaluation; but at the same time uses the materials collected by Western researchers to declare the Bible corrupt. The relatively superficial critical research on Islam by Western scholars is largely unknown to Muslims and frowned upon, but research, particularly critical research, is bound to be document and fact-orientated, and not romantic.

That the differences in the texts caused much concern, even antagonism, can be clearly seen in the fact that:

How did the differences occur?

The variant readings were not copied from one another in a faulty manner:

There are signs of liberty in arranging the order of the text, at least to some degree:

Variant readings were generally accepted and explained.

But it was not only variant readings based on differing interpretation of vowelling and diacritical marks that caused differences. In certain instances we find words interpolated (or forgotten - depending on the standpoint from which one looks at it):

The above statements are acknowledged by the teaching of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who in his work "Towzihol-Masael" accepts temporary 'marriage':

If the Ayatollah knows no reasons, we do! But that is besides the point here. In another instances the meaning of Sura 5:92 has been altered by the insertion (or omission) of a word. Ghazali relates:

Sarakhsi (A.H. 490) a Hanafi, argued,

Variant readings were common during the life-time of Mohammed.

We would be eager to know what is meant by 'form'. The whole context of this subject seems to leave no doubt, however, that it is not just a matter of dialect or pronounciation, though partly so.

Tradition speaks of a "final review" of all the given revelation by Gabriel. This does not agree with many of the previous quotations, however.

A very interesting development can be observed. At first the authenticity of a statement would be measured by the seniority of the man in question. This is apparent from the above texts. There came a shift to giving preference to the younger - the one who was aware of the abrogations and the withdrawn texts.

This is the obvious reason why Zaid ibn Thabith was considered more trustworthy to edit Uthman's version than any of the older companions of the Prophet, like ibn Mas'ud, Ubayy or Abu Musa. And that was also the reason for the intended destruction of their versions.

And yet he differs in content from the Uthmanic version.

All this proves beyond any doubt that the very accusation levelled by Muslims against the Bible, can be reversed and applied far more effectively against the Quran. When a Muslim refers to the Quran as "nazil" he is flying in the teeth of the facts recorded above. Therefore, considering the absence of external and internal evidence that should effectively verify the revelatory character of the Quran, we find it very hard, if not impossible, to accept the Quran as a Message sent by God. This is particularly so, because the Quran contradicts earlier revelation, the evidence for the origin of which is given above. (See pp.3 ff.).

QUESTION: Why do Muslims continually discredit the Bible on grounds that the Quran, though 600 years younger, shows in a very much exaggerated way? Why is the unity of the Quran so strongly taught, when historical records prove the contrary? Were you, dear reader, made aware of the basic facts outlined above?

Christians Ask Muslims: Table of Contents
Answering Islam Home Page