The Quran Questioned

The Quran that Muslims have today is a standardized Egyptian edition which was first published in 1924 in Cairo. It was a 20th century project.

“…the standard Egyptian edition of the Quran, first published on July 10, 1924…in Cairo [is] now widely seen as the official text of the Quran.

Gabriel Syed Reynold, The Quran in its Historical Context, p2

BEFORE 1924, THERE WAS NO OFFICIAL TEXT OF THE QURAN.

The Quran did not even exist in its current form in 1923. There were variations and errors in the many Quran texts prior to 1924.

The Egyptian government undertook the mammoth project of rectifying this, which eventually led to the birth of the authoritative Cairo edition of the Quran that is widely used today.

The resulting edition is what is acknowledged as the official text of the Quran and used in most Muslim countries. It is derived from the Hafs recitation. (Besides the Hafs text of the Quran, there are other variants of the Arabic Quran derived from other recitations like Warsh, Al-Doori, Al-Bazzi, etc. which are used in different parts of the world.)

“Today, most Muslims read the Quran in a text that is referred to as the Egyptian Edition of 1924. That’s how scholars refer to it. Most Muslims may not have realized that this is the designation for that manuscript, for that text. To Muslims, in general, this is just simply “The Quran.” But this is not the only text of the Quran that is read throughout the world. In North Africa, there is a slightly different text that is based on a slightly different reading, mostly corresponding to what we read in the rest of the world, but with some slight variations that do not affect anything that Muslims believe, and do not have any major impact on any Muslim practices. And then, too, in some parts of Africa, there is another reading of the Quran and a matching manuscript that is prevalent. And here, too, we find some slight variations…”

Dr Shabbir Ally, Readings and Manuscripts of The Quran, Let The Quran Speak

The majority of Muslims are not aware that variant Quran texts exist, or they have been told the lie that the Quran is preserved word-for-word, letter-for-letter, since the time of Muhammad.

Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed in seven recitations or dialects or readings. The Cairo edition preserves one recitation, known as Hafs.

There are thousands of differences between the variant Quranic texts, in words and meanings. Some Muslims claim the differences are only in pronunciation or dialects. This isn’t true at all. (See examples of some variants – Versions Of The Quran.)

WHAT WAS THE QURAN BEFORE 1924?

Is the Cairo Quran that we have today the same as the one ordered to be compiled by Uthman after the death of Muhammad?

There is no extant manuscript of the Quran that is identical to the 1924 edition produced in Cairo Egypt.

“Many manuscripts of the Quran written throughout Muslim history, when compared to one another, reveal ample differences, scribal errors, and obvious variants. Simply stated, what many call the unchanged, inerrant copy of the Quran is actually a twentieth century project. Not surprisingly, the editorial board responsible for the 1924 project stated in the final copy that the project was a result of significant concerns among Muslims regarding “errors” in copies previously used in Egypt’s local schools. Nonetheless, most Muslims do not recognize this history and consider the 1924 Royal Cairo Edition of the Quran textus receptus (received text) that existed throughout Islamic history since Uthman. This copy has become the official Quran. Still, there is a deeper problem with the 1924 Cairo edition: this copy was achieved not through a critical assessment of the many available readings of the Quran but rather through the selection of one–and only one–particular variant, which was then advanced as authoritative. While this is common knowledge among scholars, it is not so among the majority of Muslims.”

(Ayman S. Ibrahim, A Concise Guide to the Quran [BakerAcademic, Grand Rapids, MI 2020], Part 1: The History of the Text of the Quran, 13. What Do We Know about the 1924 Royal Cairo Edition of the Quran?, pp. 47-50)

  

Hadiths reveal that Muhammad had ordered that Muslims must learn the Quran from four prominent teachers. However, the Cairo Quran is not based on any of these 4 persons but on someone named Abu Amr Hafs ibn Sulaiman.

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr:
I heard the Prophet (ﷺ) saying, “Learn the recitation of Qur’an from four persons: Ibn Mas`ud, Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Ubai and Mu`adh bin Jabal.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 3806, Book 63, Hadith 31

This is a giant mine-field of disaster. Are Muslims obeying Muhammad’s command today? You have the Hafs Quran. Hafs lived in the 8th century. Where is Ibn Mas’ud’s Quran? Where is Ubayy bin Ka’b’s Quran? Where is Salim’s Quran?

Does the Cairo Quran match up with those of the four teachers Muhammad appointed? They were destroyed by Uthman! Does the Cairo Quran at least match up with Uthman’s Quran? Uthman’s Quran does not exist today!

The four recitations that Muhammad referred to has variants among themselves and with the 1924 Cairo edition Hafs Quran!

Let’s look at an example of a variant.

In Sura 33:6, the codices of the four companions state that Muhammad is the father of the believers. This does not exist in the present day Quran.

Abdullah Ibn Masud’s Quran only had 111 chapters. Ubayy had 116 chapters. The Cairo edition has 114. There is not one single manuscript that has 114 chapters. One of the oldest and most famous manuscript, the Sana’a manuscript, has 43 chapters, with evidence of tampering.

The Sana’a manuscript “…comprises two layers of text. The upper text largely conforms to the standard ‘Uthmanic’ Quran in text and in the standard order of chapters (suwar, singular sūrah); whereas the lower text (the original text that was erased and written over by the upper text, but can still be read with the help of ultraviolet light and computer processing) contains many variations from the standard text, and the sequence of its chapters corresponds to no known Quranic order.

WHAT WAS THE BASIS OF THE CAIRO QURAN PRODUCED BY THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT?

A committee was responsible to establish a uniform text.

“It was the work of a government-appointed committee led by Muhammad bin Ali al-Husayni al-Haddad that was meant to establish a uniform text for religious education in Egypt.”

Gabriel Syed Reynolds, The Quran in its Historical Context, p2

“Interestingly, the 1924 Cairo edition required corrections after its initial publication. In the same year, a second edition was printed to fix a few typographical errors; then in 1936 another set of corrections was applied. One may ask, What did the government do with the previously printed copies that contained errors? It is reported that, after later prints eliminated all errors, the Egyptian government gathered the erroneous Qurans and threw them into the Nile Did this end the confusion over the text? Not necessarily. Today in a globalized age with the internet offering access to material that was previously inaccessible, one can compare copies of different Qurans and multiple variants.”

Ayman S. Ibrahim, A Concise Guide to the Quran, ibid

“The text released in 1936 became known as the Faruq edition in honor of the Egyptian king, Faruq (r. 1936–52). Yet the influence of the Cairo text soon spread well beyond Egypt. It has been adopted almost universally by both Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims, and by critical scholars as well, who have long since given up Gustav Flugel’s 1834 edition. Writing in 1938, Otto Pretzl noted with amazement that in his day for the first time a de facto canonical text had emerged.”
Gabriel Syed Reynolds, The Quran in its Historical Context, ibid

Muslims claim that the Quran is perfectly and miraculously preserved because they assume that the 1924 Cairo edition is the same as the Uthmanic Quran. This is false. There isn’t a shred of manuscript evidence to support this claim.

“Yet the Egyptian project was never intended to be text-critical, at least as this term is commonly understood. The scholars who worked on that project did not seek to reconstruct the ancient form of the Qur’an, but rather to preserve one of the canonical qira’at “readings” (here meant in the specialized sense it has in Islamic tradition), that of Hafs (d. 180/796) ‘an ‘Asim (d. 127/745). But these qira’at are part of the history of the text, not its starting point…”

Gabriel Syed Reynolds, The Quran in its Historical Context, ibid

WHERE ARE THE MUSHAFS ATTRIBUTED TO UTHMAN?

There are none. Even if we go back to the 8th century, we have Malik bin Anas admission that the Uthmanic codex has disappeared.

If there are no Uthmanic manuscripts, Muslims cannot claim that the Cairo edition reflects Uthmanic manuscripts.

“The common belief that the Quran has a single unambiguous reading is due in part to the bravado of translators, who rarely express doubt about their choices.”

Gabriel Syed Reynolds, The Quran in its Historical Context, p2

Muslims claim that their Book has been preserved but fail to mention that manuscripts were destroyed after revisions were made. If you destroy all your variant manuscripts, of course you’d end up with a book with no variants.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:
`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.

Sahih al-Bukhari 4987 Book 66 Hadith 9

Uthman destroyed all of the Qurans after he made the changes. A couple of decades later Al-Hajjaj made changes to his Quran and guess what he did with all the old Qurans? He did what Uthman had done. He destroyed them.

“In response [to the variant Quranic texts], the [Egyptian] government destroyed a large number of such [variant] texts by sinking them in the Nile River and issued its own text. The Cairo project thus followed in the spirit of the caliph ‘Uthman, and the governor al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf (d. 95/714), who are reported to have destroyed competing versions and distributed their own text of the Qur’an in the first Islamic century.” 

Gabriel Syed Reynolds, The Quran in its Historical Context, p3

Uthman destroyed the Quran. Al-Hajjaj destroyed the Quran. In 1924, the Egyptian government destroyed the Quran.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE LEFT?

“The 1924 Quran is a purpose-designed and manipulated text built on one selected reading that ignored many other legitimate texts that existed throughout Islamic history. We CANNOT be confident in today’s Quran as a true representation of the text that initially appeared in a seventh-century Arabian desert.”

Ayman S. Ibrahim, A Concise Guide to the Quran, ibid

How to have a miraculously preserved Quran:

  1. Revise Quranic manuscript to produce new updated Quran
  2. Destroy all old manuscripts that contain variants
  3. Claim that your new updated Quran has been miraculously preserved!

with thanks to Colin of Islam Critiqued

Read more:
The 1924 Arabic Quran: An Uninspired Human Compilation
Does The Arabic Quran Perfectly Preserve What Muhammad Recited?
Why Did Uthman Burn Early Manuscripts?
Variants In Scriptures
What Version Is Your Quran?
Is The Quran Perfectly Preserved?
Who Says The Quran Is Incomplete & Imperfect?

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