Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Collection of the Quran, Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


In Part 1 and Part 2 in this series of articles, we have investigated the making of the Qur’an from the time of Prophet Muhammad to the times of Rightly Guided caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman. We talked about the Uthmanic version of the Qur’an, and compared that to what was available of other “Qur’ans”. We also discussed the development of Arabic language as per the introduction of dotting and vowelization. Throughout these stages, we found out that the Qur’an as “revealed” to the Prophet (PBUH) was not kept word for word and letter for letter. Changes to the Qur’an did in fact take place during Muhammad’s (PBUH) time, and also after his death. There were changes, additions, deletions happening to the Qur’an(s) throughout the early Islamic history. In addition to that, many Qur’anic codices ended up being developed in different cities and towns throughout the Middle East. Charles Adams notes:

It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even the ‘Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been.[9]

The situation for the Qur’an was messy. Some Muslim scholars tried to bring in some order to the situation. This is where Ibn Mujahid comes in with a vital role in providing some guidance as to the Qur’an.

The Role of Ibn Mujahid (d. 936)

This great scholar based in Baghdad canonized the Arabic language with one system of consonants and placing a limit on the vowel variations [this was a problem of astronomical proportions toward understanding the Qur’anic text. The reader is advised to read the second part of this study to understand the involved complexities]. With this canonization, seven Qur’anic systems were accepted. However, other scholars accepted ten reading, and others fourteen. Ibn Mujahid’s seven allowed, though, fourteen possible readings because each of the seven readings was traced through two transmitters. Here they are:

  1. Nafi of Medina according to Warsh and Qalun.

  2. Ibn Kathir of Mecca according to al-Bazzi and Qunbul.

  3. Ibn Amir of Damascus according to Hisham and Ibn Dhakwan.

  4. Abu Amr of Basra according to al-Duri and al-Susi.

  5. Asim of Kufa according to Hafs and abu Bakr.

  6. Hamza of Kuga according to Khalaf and Khallad.

  7. Al-Kisai of Kufa according to al-Duri and Abul-Harith.

At the present time, two versions seem to be in use. Asim of Kufa through Hafs was adopted by the Egyptian edition of 1924. Nafi of Medina through Warsh is used in parts of Africa, other than Egypt.

It is important to note here that those varied readings of the Qur’an refer to actual differences in the written and oral text. They are different “Qur’ans”, so to speak. Charles Adams notes that those seven versions refer to actual written and oral text, to distinct versions of Qur’anic verses, whose differences, though they may not be great, are nonetheless substantial. Since the very existence of variant readings and versions of the Qur’an goes against the doctrinal position toward the Holy Book held by many modern Muslims, it is not uncommon in an apologetic context to hear the seven (versions) explained as modes of recitation; in fact the manner and technique of recitation are an entirely different matter.[10]

So, in a sense, we do have many Qur’ans nowadays, literally. I hope that this matter has been proven in this three part study. I have no doubt that an honest reader who will read the three published parts of this research will reach this very same conclusion.

One last issue, which, I did not touch upon and raises eyebrows about the actual author or authors of the Qur’an is this: The available version of the Qur’an in our hands has multiple writing style problems. There is what you might call an “unevenness” in the style written. There are changes of rhyme, repetitions, abrupt changes, intrusion of passages, where otherwise you may have smooth sailing to the text, and in the meaning, and many other style difficulties that cannot be explained if the author of the Qur’an was one person. Bell and Watt succinctly note that

There are indeed many roughnesses (in the Qur’an) of this kind, and these, it is here claimed, are fundamental evidence for revision. Besides the points already noticed-hidden rhymes, and rhyme phrases not woven into the texture of the passagethere are the following: abrupt changes of rhyme; repetition of the same rhyme word or rhyme phrase in adjoining verses; the intrusion of an extraneous subject into a passage otherwise homogeneous; a differing treatment of the same subject in neighboring verses; breaks in grammatical construction which raise difficulties in exegesis; abrupt changes in length of verse; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on; the juxtaposition of apparently contrary statements; the juxtaposition of passages of different date, with intrusion of late phrases into early verses;...[11]

I think that the reader who has read this three-part study can appreciate what Bell and Watt are saying. The Qur’an(s) have gone through tremendous changes over many years starting from Muhammad's time himself. Many peoples from different places contributed to the development of the Quran that we have today. Hence, varied and conflicting styles and issues are expected to be found in the Qur’an.

Finally, I’d like to end this article with a quote about the Qur’an that sums up what happened to the original Qur’an through its history. It really sums up what we saw happening to the Qur’an in this study.

Al-Kindi, a 9th-century Christian scholar, noted:

The result of all this (the way the Qur’an came to be in existence) is patent to you who have read the scriptures and see how, in your book, histories are jumbled together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked. Are such, now, the conditions of a revelation sent down from heaven?[12]

Need I say more?


[9] C. J. Adams, “Quran: The Text and Its History,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, editor-in-chief (NY, London: Macmillan, 1987.), pp. 157-76

[10] Ibid

[11] R. Bell and W. M. Watt, Introduction to the Qur'an (Edinburg, 1970), p.93

[12] in : A. Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London, 1991), Vol. 1, p.26

Ibn Kamuna is an Arabic-speaking writer. He can be contacted at

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