Sabaan Mina Al-Mathani - The Seven Which Are Often Repeated

Another Example of the Quran's Incompleteness and Incoherence

The Quran plainly says that it is a complete record, lacking nothing:

This Quran could not possibly be authored by other than GOD. It confirms all previous messages, and provides a fully detailed scripture. It is infallible, for it comes from the Lord of the universe. S. 10:37 R. Khalifa

And there is no animal that walks upon the earth nor a bird that flies with its two wings but (they are) genera like yourselves; We have not neglected anything in the Book, then to their Lord shall they be gathered. S. 6:38 Shakir

The following online commentary says of 6:38:

In our pride we may exclude animals (living in air, sea and land), but they all live a life, social and individual, like ourselves, and all life is subject to the plan and will of Allah. They are all answerable to His will and plan ("shall be gathered to their Lord in the end"). Everything is registered in the book of creation (nothing is left out or misplaced) of which the Quran is the condensed demonstration .

The religion, in detail, has been explained in the Quran, and knowledge of everything (in the universe) has been given to the Holy Prophet; therefore, the people have been commanded to carry out the orders of the Holy Prophet (Ali Imran : 32, 132; Ma-idah : 92; Hashr : 7) because "nor does he speak of his own desire, it is not but revelation revealed" (Najm : 3, 4); and the Quran contains everything (An-am: 59). On this basis the Holy Prophet declared that he is the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate. So the Holy Prophet, and after him, Ali and the holy Imams among the Ahl ul Bayt (Nisa : 59; Ma-idah : 55 and 67) are authorised to deal with and make known details pertaining to nature and all that which has been created by Allah. (Pooya/M.A. Ali English Commentary, source; underline emphasis ours)

For a detailed discussion of the Quran’s claim to be complete and detailed, see this article. However, as a number of previous publications have already shown, the Quran is anything but complete.

In this paper, we provide another example to demonstrate that the Quran is not a fully detailed or intelligible book. For example, the Quran refers to seven of something which are repeated often:

And certainly We have given you seven of the oft-repeated (sabaan mina al-mathani ) AND the grand Quran. S. 15:87

We invite our Muslim readers to answer the following series of questions by consulting the Quran alone in order to show that the Quran is in fact a fully detailed record. To begin with, what exactly does the phrase seven oft-repeated refer to? Seven oft-repeated what ? Seven verses? Seven chapters? Seven practices? Seven sayings? Seven praises? Seven curses? Or perhaps the seven most often repeated logical mistakes committed by Muslims when they seek to convince others of the divine origin of the Quran?

And if they refer to verses or chapters, are they part of the Quran or not? If they are part of the Quran why are they listed separately (i.e. seven of the oft-repeated AND the Quran)? Doesn't this imply that these seven are not found within the Quran? In fact, how does one know that these seven are not found in the Holy Bible? For instance, the following passages are exactly seven verses in length:

"In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: 'Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?' The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face." Psalm 11:1-7

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Will evildoers never learn-those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!'" Psalm 14:1-7

"Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life-men without regard for God. Selah Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them. I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes." Psalm 54:1-7

"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, Selah that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. Selah May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him." Psalm 67:1-7

"He has set his foundation on the holy mountain; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: Selah 'I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me-Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush-and will say, "This one was born in Zion."' Indeed, of Zion it will be said, 'This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.' The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: 'This one was born in Zion.' Selah As they make music they will sing, 'All my fountains are in you.'" Psalm 87:1-7

"The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.' The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.' The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head." Psalm 110:1-7

"I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O LORD , from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior's sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree. Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war." Psalm 120:1-7

"I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.' Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me." Psalm 142:1-7

Can a Muslim demonstrate from the text of the Quran alone that the seven that are often repeated do not refer to the preceding biblical passages?

And if they are part of the Quran to what do they refer? If they are verses, in what surah are they located? How does one know whether they are found in a surah like al-Baqarah (Surah 2) or do they refer to a complete surah containing seven verses? If it refers to a surah containing only seven verses, then which exact surah would it be, seeing that there are several that have only seven verses? And again, how does one know for certain?

If a Muslim claims that the passage is referring to the Opening Surah (al-Fatihah), how does he/she know for certain? Where does the Quran say this exactly? As we just mentioned, there is more than one surah which has seven verses. Compare:

Surah 1
1. In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
2. All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Universe,
3. the Beneficent, the Merciful
4. and Master of the Day of Judgment.
5. (Lord), You alone We do worship and from You alone we do seek assistance
6. (Lord), guide us to the right path,
7. the path of those to whom You have granted blessings, those who are neither subject to Your anger nor have gone astray.

Surah 109
1. In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
2. (Muhammad), tell the disbelievers,
3. "I do not worship what you worship,
4. nor do you worship what I worship
5. I have not been worshipping what you worshipped,
6. nor will you worship what I shall worship.
7. You follow your religion and I follow mine.

Surah 114
1. In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
2. Say, "I seek protection from the Cherisher of mankind,
3. the King of mankind,
4. the Lord of mankind
5. against the evil of the temptations of the satans,
6. of jinn and human beings
7. who induce temptation into the hearts of mankind.

The late Maulana Muhammad Ali did not count the Bismillah as one of the seven verses of al-Fatihah, but he still made sure to keep the number of verses at seven by breaking down the chapter differently:

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds,
2. The Beneficient, the Merciful.
3. Master of the day of Requital.
4. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help.
5. Guide us on the right path.
6. The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favours,
7. Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.

But even without counting the Bismillah as one of the verses, this still doesn't conclusively prove that surah 15:87 is referring to the Fatihah since there just happens to be a surah which contains seven verses without counting the Bismillah:

Surah 107
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
1. Have you seen the one who calls the religion a lie?
2. It is he who turns down the orphans
3. and never encourages the feeding of the destitute.
4. Woe to the worshippers
5. who become confused during their prayers,
6. who show off (his good deeds)
7. and refuse to help the needy.

Therefore, how does a Muslim know which surah S. 15:87 is referring to (if, in fact, it is referring to a surah containing seven verses)?

A Muslim may wish to argue that the seven that are often repeated must refer to al-Fatihah on the basis that every Muslim prayer must begin with this surah, otherwise the prayer will not be accepted by God. But this only compounds the problem since there is not a single Quranic verse stating that it is obligatory for Muslims to recite al-Fatihah in every prayer. So we ask, where does the Quran say that one must recite al-Fatihah in every prayer? In fact, where does the Quran explicitly outline the number of prayers a Muslim must perform and how to perform them?

Trying to turn to sources outside the Quran doesn't solve the problem either since there were conflicting opinions amongst the Muslims, as noted by Yusuf Ali:

2008. The Seven Oft-repeated Verses ARE USUALLY understood to be the Opening Sura, the Fatiha. They sum up the whole teaching of the Qur-an. What can be a more precious gift to a Muslim than the glorious Our-an or any Sura of it? Worldly wealth, honour, possessions, or anything else, sinks into insignificance in comparison with it. (Source)

Muhammad Asad says:

62 With these words, the discourse returns to the theme enunciated at the beginning of this surah and indirectly alluded to in verse 85 as well: namely, the revelation of the divine writ, destined to serve as a moral guidance to man, who cannot, as yet, discern the meaning and purpose of God's creation. - According to most of the authorities, including some of the foremost Companions of the Prophet, "The Seven Oft-Repeated [Verses]" is a designation given by Muhammad himself to the first surah of the Qur'an, which has also been described by him as "The Essence of the Divine Writ" (Umm al-Kitab ) inasmuch as it alludes to all the ethical and metaphysical principles set forth in the Qur'an (Bukhari, Kitab at-Tafsir ). See also my introductory note to Al-Fatihah ("The Opening"). (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur'an, p. 391; online edition)

Yusuf Ali's and Asad's comments imply that there were Muslims who didn't believe that surah 15:87 referred to Surah al-Fatihah, a point reiterated by renowned Muslim exegete Ibn Kathir:

There were some differences among the scholars over the meaning of "seven of the Mathani ". Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Umar, Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Ad-Dahhak and others said that they are the seven long (Surahs), meaning Al-Baqarah, Al-`Imran, An-Nisa', Al-Ma'idah, Al-An`am, Al-A`raf and Yunus. There are texts to this effect reported from Ibn `Abbas and Sa`id bin Jubayr. Sa`id said: "In them, Allah explains the obligations, the Hudud (legal limits), stories and rulings." Ibn `Abbas said, "He explains the parables, stories and lessons." The second opinion is that they (the seven of the Mathani ) are Al-Fatihah , which is composed of seven Ayat . This was reported from `Ali, `Umar, Ibn Mas`ud and Ibn `Abbas. Ibn `Abbas said: "The Bismillah , is completing seven Ayah , which Allah has given exclusively to you (Muslims)." This is also the opinion of Ibrahim An-Nakha`i, `Abdullah bin `Umayr, Ibn Abi Mulaykah, Shahr bin Hawshab, Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Mujahid. Al-Bukhari, may Allah have mercy on him, recorded two Hadiths on this topic. (The first) was recorded from Abu Sa`id bin Al-Mu`alla, who said: "The Prophet passed by me while I was praying. He called out for me but I did not come until I finished my prayer. Then I came to him, and He asked ...

<What stopped you from coming to me?> I said, `I was praying'. He said, `Did not Allah say...

<O you who believe! Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and (His) Messenger when he calls you...> ? [8:24]...

<Shall I not teach you the most magnificent Surah before I leave the Masjid> Then the Prophet went to leave the Masjid , and I reminded him, so he said...

<"Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil-'Alamin [All praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists]> (1:2)...

<"This is the seven of the Mathani and the Qur'an which I have been given.">' (The second Hadith) was reported from Abu Hurayrah who said that the Messenger of Allah said...

<Umm Al-Qur'an (the Mother or the Essence of the Qur'an,) is the seven Mathani, and the Grand Qur'an.> This means that Al-Fatihah is the seven Mathani and the Grand Qur'an, but this does not contradict the statement that the seven Mathani are the seven long Surahs, because they also share these attributes, as does the whole Qur'an. As Allah says...

<Allah has sent down the best statement, a Book (this Qur'an), its parts resembling each other in goodness and truth, oft-recited> (39:23). So it is oft-recited in one way, and its parts resemble one another in another way, and this is also the Grand Qur'an. (Ibn Kathir on 15:87; online edition)

Notice that Ibn Abbas allegedly said that the Bismillah completes the seven, i.e. that it should be included as one of the seven verses of al-Faithah. The following online Shia Quran commentary agrees:

There is no prayer (salat) without al Fatihah, and bismillahir rahmanir rahim is one of its verses. The Ahl ul Bayt (the thoroughly purified members of the family of the Holy Prophet), and the scholars, who follow their teachings, time and again, had verified this saying of the Holy Prophet. So according to Muhammad and ali Muhammad bismillahir rahmanir rahim is a verse by itself, which, if not recited as a part of al Fatihah, the prayer is rendered null and void. It is not only the component of al Fatihah but also of every surah except al Bara-at.

In the light of the clear decisions and evidences of the practical acts of the Holy Prophet and his Ahl ul Bayt, the arguments of the dissenting scholars carry no weight. According to the Holy Prophet and his divinely chosen Ahl ul Bayt bismillahir rahmanir rahim is the first of the seven verses of al Fatihah. And when Muhammad and ali Muhammad have said so, there remains no doubt whatsoever. Any opinion contrary to the verdict of Muhammad and ali Muhammad is pure conjecture.

Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafi school, gave permission to his followers to recite bismillahir rahmanir rahim quietly, with al Fatihah, in prayers, because the Holy Prophet used to recite al Fatihah with bismillahir rahmanir rahim in his prayers, yet in his (Abu Hanifa's) opinion it was not a part of the surah. (Tafsir Kabir - Abdul Hayy) There are some scholars who admit that al Fatihah consists of seven verses but to insist on their misconceived notion that bismillahir rahmanir rahim is not included in it they split the last verse into two separate verses, although the meaning and the construction of the verse does not justify it.

According to the Holy Prophet any deed begun without reciting bismillah goes bad and lacks effectiveness. As al salat is known as the best deed (khayrul amal) and al Fatihah is the inaugurator of the book it is logical that bismillahir rahmanir rahim is the first verse of al Fatihah.

Once a man offered prayers in presence of the Holy Prophet without saying bismillahir rahmanir rahim in his recitation of al Fatihah. The Holy Prophet told him:

You have rendered your prayer null and void by omitting bismillah from Fatihah. Do you not know that bismillah is the part of al Fatihah? (Durrul Manthur by Suyuti)

On one occasion, Mu-awiyah, while leading a prayer in Madina, recited al Fatihah without bismillah. At the end the participating pray-ers, made a hue and cry. To pacify the protestations he prayed the same prayer again and recited al Fatihah with bismillah. This event bears out the fact that those who saw and heard the Holy Prophet, prior to the influx of alterations, knew that if in any prayer al Fatihah is recited without bismillah, it is rendered null and void. (Fakhruddin Razi and Kanzul Ummal)

Bismillahir rahmanir rahim, in addition to al Fatihah, is also the part of al Naml:

Verily, it is from Sulayman; and it is 'In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful'. This is the beginning of the letter prophet Sulayman wrote to the queen of Shiba.

Whatever be the point of view of the dissenting scholars, it has been decisively established that the Holy Prophet always recited bismillahir rahmanir rahim as the part of al Fatihah, therefore, we all should follow him. (Pooya/M.A. Ali English Commentary, online edition)

Ibn Kathir, in his commentary on the first surah, mentions that Muhammad's Companions accepted the Bismillah as a verse of al-Fatihah:

Bismillah is the First Ayah of Al-Fatihah

The Companions started the Book of Allah with Bismillah...

<1. In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.>

The scholars also agree that Bismillah is a part of an Ayah in Surat An-Naml (chapter 27). They disagree over whether it is a separate Ayah before every Surah , or if it is an Ayah , or a part of an Ayah , included in every Surah where the Bismillah appears in its beginning. Ad-Daraqutni also recorded a Hadith from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet that supports this Hadith by Ibn Khuzaymah. Also, similar statements were attributed to `Ali, Ibn `Abbas and others.

The opinion that Bismillah is an Ayah of every Surah, except Al-Bara'ah (chapter 9), was attributed to (the Companions) Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, Ibn Az-Zubayr, Abu Hurayrah and `Ali. This opinion was also attributed to the Tabi`in: `Ata', Tawus, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Makhul and Az-Zuhri. This is also the view of `Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad bin Hanbal, (in one report from him) Ishaq bin Rahwayh and Abu `Ubayd Al-Qasim bin Salam. On the other hand, Malik, Abu Hanifah and their followers said that Bismillah is not an Ayah in Al-Fatihah or any other Surah. Dawud said that it is a separate Ayah in the beginning of every Surah, not part of the Surah itself, and this opinion was also attributed to Ahmad bin Hanbal. (Source; underline emphasis ours)

And yet M. Muhammad Ali clearly went against this tradition of Muhammad's Companions since he didn't include the Bismillah as one of the seven verses.

We are further told in the Sunan Nasai:

Ibn 'Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was given seven repeated LONG SURAHS.

Ibn 'Abbas said: Sab' al-Mathani means seven Surahs which are long Surahs. (Sunan Nasa'i: English translation with Arabic Text, compiled by Imam Abu Abd-ur-Rahman Ahmad Nasa'i, rendered into English by Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqui [Kazi Publication, 121-Zulqarnain Chambers, Gampat Road, Lahore, Pakistan], Volume 2, Numbers 918-919, p. 21; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Even as late as the twelfth century A.D., we find renowned scholar Qadi 'Iyad Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, in his monumental work titled Kitab Ash-shifa bi ta'rif huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One), confused about the exact nature of the seven mathani:

It is said that the Seven Mathani are the first long suras and that the Immense Qur'an refers to the Mother of the Qur'an. [Umm al-Qur'an, Suratu'l-Fatiha] It is also said that the Seven Mathani are themselves the Qur'an. It is also said that the Seven Mathani refers to the commands and prohibitions, the good news and warnings, the metaphors and the enumerations of blessings in the Qur'an. In other words, "We have given you news of the Immense Qur'an." It is said that the Mother of the Qur'an is called "mathani" because it is said at least twice in every prayer. It is said that Allah set it aside for Muhammad and stored it up for him rather than other prophets. He called the Qur'an mathani because the stories are repeated in it. It is said that the Seven Mathani means, "We have honored you with seven marks of honour: guidance, prophecy, mercy, intercession, friendship, esteem and tranquility." (Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad), Qadi 'Iyad, translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], p. 29; bold emphasis ours)

Another problem with appealing to sources outside the Quran is that there were Muslims such as Abdullah ibn Masud who refused to include al-Fatihah within his codex. Ibn Masud believed that Fatihah wasn't part of the Quran, but a prayer that Muslims were to offer:

"Imam Fakhruddin said that the reports in some of the ancient books that Ibn Mas’ud denied that Suratul-Fatiha and the Mu'awwithatayni are part of the Qur’an are embarrassing in their implications... But the Qadi Abu Bakr said "It is not soundly reported from him that they are not part of the Qur’an and there is no record of such a statement from him. He omitted them from his manuscript as he did not approve of their being written. This does not mean he denied they were part of the Qur’an. In his view the Sunnah was that nothing should be inscribed in the text (mushaf ) unless so commanded by the Prophet (saw)... and he had not heard that it had been so commanded". (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur'an , p.186).

"... Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani however, in his commentary on the Sahih of al-Bukhari (his famous Fath al-Baari ), accepted these reports as sound, quoting authorities who stated that Ibn Mas’ud would not include the two ‘charm’ surahs in his manuscript as Muhammad had, to his knowledge, only commanded that they be used as incantations against evil forces. He regarded the isnad (the chain of transmitters) for this record as totally sound and attempted to harmonise the conflicting records instead, suggesting that Ibn Mas’ud accepted the Fatiha and ‘charm’ surahs as genuinely revealed but was reluctant to inscribe them in his written text." (John Gilchrist, Jam' Al-Qur'an: The Codification of the Qur'an Text, p. 68; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, if the seven oft-repeated (verses) do refer to al-Fatihah then Ibn Masud's view provides support for our contention that Surah 15:87 distinguishes between it and the Quran. In other words, al-Fatihah (according to S. 15:87 and Ibn Masud) is not part of the Quran and should be removed.

Finally, appealing to extra-Quranic sources only serves to prove our contention that the Quran is incorrect regarding its assertion of being a fully detailed record. Going to outside sources falsifies the Quran's statement that it is an exhaustively detailed book, lacking nothing.

Sam Shamoun

The Incompleteness and Incoherence of the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page