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Do Shia believe that the Quran has been changed?

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Islamic Researcher based in Pakistan. Masters Graduate in Islamic Studies.
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In a Nutshell: Shi'a do not believe the Qur'an has been changed rather they believe the Qur’an is (the same as) the one between the two covers (دفعتین) and it is the one which is in the hands of the people. There is no letter added to it nor a letter omitted from it, no word of it or letter of it has been changed with any other word or letter. Every letter of it is reported through tawatur bearing certitude since the era of revelation and prophethood. Therefore whoever attributes the Shi'a with the belief of the distortion of the Qur’an has fabricated such interpretations and has been unfair to them.

Introduction

This answer will discuss the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an from the perspective of the Shi’a Ithna’ashari Imami tradition henceforth referred to as Shi'a. First, verses from Qur’an would be quoted against any form of distortion (tahrif) within the Qur’an.

This will then be further accentuated by citing reports (ahadith) from the Prophet (saw) which will then be followed by stating Shi'a’s imams and notable scholar’s opinion of Qur’an to demonstrate that this is the only and complete Qur’an among the Shi’a. All of the arguments will focus on the thought of two renowned contemporary authorities within the Shi'a school of thought: Ayatulla Abu al-Qasim al-Khui’ (1992 AD) and Ayatulla Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat (2007 AD), both represent the views of the school and its scholars from the time of the grand Shaykh al-Saduq (991 AD) upto the present.

Evidences

Qur’an:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it (from corruption). (Qur’an 15:9)

إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ۔ فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ۔ ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ
It is for us to collect it and to promulgate it: But when we have promulgated it, follow thou its recital-(as promulgated): Nay more, it is for us to explain it (and make it clear):” (Qur’an 75:17-19)

إنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِالذِّكْرِ لَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ ۖ وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ۔ لَّا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ تَنزِيلٌ مِّنْ حَكِيمٍ حَمِيدٍ
Those who reject the Message when it comes to them (are not hidden from us). And indeed it is a Book of exalted power. No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, worthy of all Praise." (Qur’an 41:41-42)

Sunnah:

The Prophet (saw) said:

اذالتبست الامور علیکم کقطع الیل المظلم علیکم بالقرآن فانہ شافع
matters become unclear to you like the dark night, adhere to the Qur’an for it is an intercessor and an admonisher.” (Usul al-Kafi, v.2, p. 599)

Another hadith narrated the words of the Prophet (saw):

اشراف امتی حملۃ القرآن
“The most noble of my people are the bearers of the Qur’an.” (Mishkat al-Masabih, p.110)

Imam Ali advised:

تعلمواالقرآن فانہ احسن الحدیث و ابلغ الموعظۃ و تفقھوا فیہ فانہ ربیع القلوب
“Learn the Qur’an, it is the best of speech and the most eloquent advice. Understand it for it is the spring of the hearts.” (Wasayil al-Shi’a, v.6, p.167)

Imam Sadiq stated:

الحافظ للقرآن العامل بہ مع السفرۃ الکرام البررۃ
“The retainer of the Qur’an and one who acts by it is with the noble righteous envoys.” (Mizan al-Hikma)


Tahrif al-Qur’an (Distortion of Qur’an)

The literal-meaning of tahrif is to turn something away from its place.

Technically tahrif can mean any of the following:

1. Tahrif bi madlul al-kalam: To explain something contrary to its meaning, this is a form of al-ta’wil al-baṭil (sinful distortion).

2. Tahrif mawḍi’i: To place something in another place such as a verse or a chapter in other then the place of its revelation. In relation to the verses this happened with the instruction of the Prophet. The majority of the chapters are not in chronological order but the present order, as ordained by the Prophet.

3. Tahrif fi lahjat al-ta’bir: To mispronounce words, this is allowed so long as the meaning doesn’t change.

4. Tahrif al-qira’i: To read a word not according to majority. This was witnessed and common at the time of the different qira’at.

5. Tahrif bi tabdil al-kalim: To change a word with another. Ibn Mas’ud allowed this in case of synonyms.

6. Tahrif bi al-ziyada: To add something to the Qur’an.

7. Tah rif bi al-naqṣ: To remove something from the Qur’an

The problematic forms of tahrif are the last three but most accurately the last two, i.e. addition and deletion are forms of problematic tahrif.

Reports implying distortion of Qur’an

Al-Kulayni (939 or 940 AD) has both sets of reports: those that clearly talk of the Qur’an having no addition or deletion and those that say otherwise. The reports that talk of forms of tahrif can be placed in the five following categories:

1. Reports in which the word Tahrif has appeared

Report from the seventh Imam in which he said:

بالاسناد علی بن سوید، قال: کتبت الی ابی الحسن موسی (علیہ السلام) و ھو فی الجلس کتابا۔ و ذکر جوابہ (علیہ السلام) ، الی ان قال: آُؤتمنو علی کتاب اللہ، فحرفوہ و بدلوہ
“They were given the custody of the Book of Allah, they distorted it and changed it.” (Usul al-kafi, v.8, p.120)

This claim has been rejected as there is a consensus among Shi’a scholars that the last three above mention distortion i.e., modification, addition and omission (of the Qur’anic text) has not occurred within the Qur'an.

2. Reports stating certain verses consisted of the names of the Imams:

It is reported by sixth Imam:

عن منخل، عن ابی عبداللہ (علیہ السلام)، قال: نزل جبرءیل علی محمد ﷺ بہذہ الآیۃ ھکذا: یا ايُّاھا الذین اوتو الکتاب آمنوا بما انزلنا۔ فی علِی نورإً مبینا

“Jibra’il came to the Prophet with this verse: O people who have been given the Book, bring faith in what we have revealed- regarding Ali - the evident light.” (Usul al-Kafi, v.1, p.424)

Such reports are refuted by the statements of the likes of Allama al-Majlisi who states that they are weak (ḍa’if) in his Mira’at al-Uqul. Similarly, Muhaddith al-Kashani has categorized them as weak. Shaykh al-Baha’i states: “The assertions of common people that the names of the Imams have been deleted from certain places is unacceptable among the Shi’a scholars.” Al-Khui’ states:

“Certain portion of the revelation were not the Qur’an but explaining the meanings of the Qur’an. If this satisfies as an explanation then we can accept such reports otherwise these sort of reports will have to be rejected outright due to their conflict with the Qur’an, the Sunna and all the other evidences on the lack of tahrif within the Qur’an.”

In addition, the above category of reports are in direct conflict with an authoritative report from the sixth Imam quoted in al-Kafi:

Abu Basir states:

“I asked the sixth Imam of the verse: ‘O you who believe, obey Allah, His Messenger and those vested with authority among you’ the Imam said, “It was revealed for Ali ibn Abi Talib, al-Hasan and al-Husayn!” I said, the people are saying why aren’t Ali and his children mentioned in the Book of Allah? The Imam replied: “Tell them the Messenger was instructed by the revelation to command prayers (salah) [only] without clarifying three or four units; it was the Messenger who clarified it to the people”” (Usul al-Kafi, v.1, p.414)

Such narrations aptly clarify that the names of the Imams were not mentioned in the Qur’an.

3. Reports suggesting forms of addition and omission

It is narrated from the sixth imam:

عن جابر، قال سمعت ابا جعفر( علیہ السلام) یقول: "ما ادعی احد من الناس انہ جمع القرآن کلہ کما انزل الا کذاب و ما جمعہ و حفظہ کما انزلہ اللہ تعالی الا علیِ بن ابی طالب والائمۃ من بعدہ(علیہ السلام)
No one can make a claim that he has compiled the entire Qur’an as revealed except a liar; no one has compiled it or retained it as Allah has revealed it except Ali ibn Abi Talib and the Imams after him.”

The scholars have undermined this report due to one of its reporters, Umr ibn Abi Miqdam, who has been deemed as weak.

Is Imam Ali’s(ra) Qur’an different than the present version of Qur’an?

The notion of the Shi'a having another Qur’an often stems from the whole issue of the Qur'an compiled by Imam Ali (ra).

According to Shi‘a Imami, based on historical-sources, Imam ‘Ali was the most notable scribe of the revelation (wahi) from Makkah till the end of the Prophet's life in Medina and therefore the most qualified in being given the task of arranging its compilation as per the instructions of the Prophet (saw).

The compilation was performed by Imam Ali (ra) by the instruction (waṣiyya) of the Prophet (saw). He compiled the Qur’an in accordance with the Prophet's (saw) instructions. He compiled the chapters (sura/suwar) according to chronological sequence of revelation and recited them in accordance with the recitation (qira’at) of the Prophet (saw) adding commentary, cause and occasion of revelation (asbab al-nuzul), the abrogating and the abrogated verses (nasikh wa mansukh).

Imam Ali (ra) said:

“The Prophet made me read and write every verse and taught me its real-interpretation (ta’wil), its exegesis (tafsir), the abrogating and the abrogated verses (nasikh wa mansūkh), the decisive and ambiguous (muhkam wa mutashabih). I wrote everything the Prophet taught me.”

It is worth mentioning here Ali (ra) was not the only one who scribed and compiled Qur’an during the era of Prophet (saw). Zayd bin Thabit (ra) was the personal scribe of the Prophet (saw).

He narrates a spiritual state he witnessed while writing the revelation as follows:

"I was sitting next to the Messenger of Allah when some revelation was being sent down. Some heaviness fell on him. When the heaviness fell on him, his knees were on my knees. I swear by Allah that I had never seen anything heavier than the knees of the Messenger of Allah at that time. Then, this heaviness disappeared. He said to me, "Write O Zayd! I picked a scapula. I wrote verse 95 of the chapter of an-Nisa fully. When Ibn Umm Makhtum, who was blind, heard the virtues of mujahids, he stood up and said, "O Messenger of Allah! What is the situation of those who are blind, etc and cannot fight in the way of Allah?" I swear by Allah that heaviness fell on the Messenger of Allah again as soon as Ibn Umm Makhtum finished his sentence. This time his knees were heavier. Then, the heaviness disappeared. He said to me, "Read what you have written." When I read what I had written, he added the phrase "without any excuse". Then, I added that phrase to the verse. (Al-Isaba fi Tamiyz al-Sahaba, v.1, p.561)

Other than Zayd bin Thabit there was a group of companions who used to scribe the revelation in the era of Prophet (saw). The number of such companions who performed the duty of scribing Qur’an are reported up to 40. (Uloom al-Qur’an, p.101)

It is narrated by Imam Baqir:

Imam Ali took the Qur’an after it was compiled to Caliph Abu Bakr but Caliph Umar opened it looked inside then said: “O Ali take it back we already have a Qur’an!”

During the time of Caliph Uthman when there was a lot of confusion about the Qur’an, Talha went to Imam Ali and said:

Why didn’t you give your Qur’an to ‘Uthman?” The Imam said to Talha: “Tell me have the people written the whole Qur’an, is there addition in there?” Talha said: “They have written the whole Qur’an and no addition.” Imam Ali said: “If you take that Qur’an you will be saved from fire and enter paradise.” Talha said: “Hasbi” “Thus the Qur’an is enough for us.” (Al-Ihtijaj, p.225)

The point here is that the transcript of the Qur’an Imam Ali wrote contained commentary and hermeneutic interpretation (Tafsir and Ta’wil) from the Prophet (saw) which were not part of the text of Qur’an. The only possible difference between Imam Ali’s compilation and that of Zayd is the chronological-order of the chapters however the Shi’a scholars are of differing opinions: some say the order may be different whilst others say otherwise, however all unanimously maintain the Qur’an in its content is exactly the same.

The order of chapters being different was not considered a problem during the time of the companions. It should also be noted here Imam Imam Ali was not the only one who had a Qur’an with different chronological order of the chapters. According to the authentic reports, many companions had different arrangements (chronological order of the chapters) of Qur’an. For instance, Ibn Mas’ud had a compilation which was in order of: Sab’a tiwal, Ma’in, Mathani, Hawamim, Mumtahanat and Mufaṣṣalat. His compilation has 111 chapters with the exclusion of al-Fatiha and Ma’ūḍatayn.

Ubay ibn Ka’ab, his compilation was like Ibn Mas’ud except for the position of the chapter of Anfal-which was after the chapter of Yunus and before the chapter of Bara’a.

In conclusion here, according to Hadi Ma’rifat, at most the only historical-discrepancy is within the order of the chapters but the verses, the arrangement of the verses in [within the] chapters and the names of the chapters are as they were in the time of Prophet without addition or omission.

4. Reports stating that the Qur’an consisted of names of people that have been omitted

عن البزنطی، قال : دفع الی ابوالحسن الرضا (علیہ السلام) مصحفا، فقال: "لا تنظر فیہ" ففتحتہ و قرات فیہ (لم یکن الذین کفروا۔۔۔۔) فوجدت فیہا اسم سبعین رجلا من قریش باسمائہم و اسماء آبائہم ۔ قال : فبعث الی: "ابعث إلی بالمصحف"
Bazanti states: “The eight Imam gave me a Qur’an and said, “Do not look inside it!” I opened it and read the first verse of al-Bayyina and found in it names of 70 people and their fathers among the Quraysh thereafter the Imam sent message to me, “Return the Qur’an to me.”” (Usul al-Kafi, v.2, p.631)

Such reports are either weak, hurried or elevated. In addition, such reports can also be considered a clarification (tafsir) of certain verses.

5. Reports citing certain recitations of the Imams

عن ابی بصیر، عن الصادق(علیہ السلام) انہ قرء: ھذا کتاب ینطق علیکم بالحق" ببناء الفعل للمفعول، والقراءۃ المشھورۃ (یَنطِقُ) بالبناء للفاعل
The sixth Imam read: “This book has been recited (yunṭaq) upon you with Truth (al-Jathiya 45:29) in a passive participle case as opposed to the popular recitation which is in the active participle (yanṭiq).” (Usul al-Kafi, v.8, p.50)

Such reports do not amount to tahrif: The Qur’an is other than its recitation. The Qur’an is reported through continuity (tawatur) whilst the recitation is through solitary narrations. In addition, the sixth Imam himself exhorted the people to read the Qur’an in accordance with popular recitation. He advised:

إقراءُوا کما یقراء الناس
Recite as people recite


Scholar’s views

Shi’a do not believe Qur’an is missing something. There are few weak traditions which “might “imply to the contrary however such reports are rejected and unacceptable.The completeness of Qur’an is indisputable among Shi’a. Shaykh Saduq (d.991 AD), the greatest scholar of Hadith among the Imami Shi’a who was given the title of Shaykh al-Muhaddithin (i.e., the most eminent of the scholars of Hadith) in his book “The beliefs of the Imami Shi’a” stated:

"Our belief is the Qur’an which Allah revealed to His Prophet Muhammad is (the same as) the one between the two covers (دفعتین). And it is the one which is in the hands of the people, and is not greater in extent than that. The number of chapters (surahs) as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen ... And he who asserts we say it is greater in extent than that, is a liar." (English version, p.77)

He also stated:

We believe the Qur’an is revealed by Allah through the Holy Prophet of Islam dealing with everything which is necessary for the guidance of mankind. It is an everlasting miracle of the Prophet, the like of which cannot be produced by human mind. It excels in its eloquence, clarity, truth and knowledge. This Divine Book has not been tampered with by any one. This Holy Book which we recite today is the same Qur’an which was revealed to the Prophet. Anyone who claims it to be otherwise is an evil-doer, a mere sophist, or else he is sadly mistaken. All of those who have this line of thinking have gone astray as Allah in Qur’an said: "Falsehood cannot reach the Qur’an from any direction (Qur’an 41:42)"(The Beliefs of Shi’ite School, pp.50-51)

Another prominent Shi’ite Scholar Sayyid al- Murtadha (d.460 AH) said:

"Our certainty of the completeness of the Qur’an is like our certainty of the existence of countries or major events that are self-evident. Motives and reasons for recording and guarding the Qur’an are numerous. Because the Qur’an is a miracle of the Prophethood and the source of Islamic Knowledge and religious edicts and regulations, their concern with the Qur’an made the Muslim Scholars highly efficient concerning grammar, its reading, and its verses." (Tafseer Majma’ al-Bayan, p.15)

The scholar Sheikh Abu Jafar Tusi (d.460 AH) in his book al-Tibyaan says:

that raising questions about the tahrif of the Qur’an is inappropriate, because as far as the question of anything being added to Qur’an is concerned, there is a complete consensus that no such thing has happened, and about anything being subtracted from it, apparently the belief of all the Muslims is also that it hasn’t occurred. The same is the ‘Sahih’ statement especially in our religion and it has been backed by Sayyid Murtadha and the same is proven from Ahadith. No doubt both Shi’a and Sunni have some single chain narrations that appear which can neither suffice for knowledge, nor can they be acted upon, therefore it is better to discard those.” (Tibyaan, v1, p.3)

Another prominent Shi’a scholar Shaykh Tabrisi (d.548 AH) in his tafseer Majma’ al-Bayan says:

Anything about the alleged additions made to the Qur’an are wrong and void anyway. With regards to the reduction from the Qur’an, some people from the Hashwia sect have narrated that changes and lapses have occurred in the Holy Qur’an, but we Shi’a are opposed to this belief, that is we believe that no reduction has been made to the Qur’an, Ilm ul Huda Sayyid Muratdha has said the same too, and this is a simple and clear statement, hopefully you people have come to know that the Shi’a belief is against any reduction or addition to the Qur’an.” (Tafseer Majma’ al-Bayan, p.5)

By all the above elucidation it is clear as crystal-that all grand scholars of Shi’a are in agreement that the Qur’an which is at present among the Muslims is the very same Qur’an that was sent down to the Prophet (saw) and it has not been altered.

Conclusion

In conclusion according to Shi’a this is the Qur’an revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw) in its complete form without addition or deletion. There is no other Qur’an and no form of tahrif has occurred in the Qur’an. In addition, there is a strong opinion as with al-Khui’ that Khalifa Uthman merely brought unity in terms of the qira’at in his time.

At the most the only issues are:

  • The order of the compilation of the chapters; this has been a matter of historical dispute among the companions.
  • The qira’at, again the historical existence of the variety of recitations is something the Shi’a and Sunni agree on.

Both above are not considered forms of tahrif by the Muslims.

References

Abu Jafar Tusi, Al-Tibbyan fi Tafseer ul Qur’an
Abu Qasim Khui’, Al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an
Abu Qasim Khui’, The Prolegomena to the Qur’an
Ali Asghar Nasehiyan, Ulum Qur’ani dar Maktab Ahle Bayt
Arif Abdulhussain, Do shi’a believe the Qur’an has been changed
Fazal-Bin Hassan Al-Tabrisi, Tafseer Majma’ul Bayan
Hashim Bahrani- Al-Burhan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an
​​​​​​​Hurr Al-Amili, Wasail Al-Shi’a
Ibn e Hajr Asqalani, Al-Isaba fi Tamiyz al-Sahaba
Mansur Ahmad Tabrisi, Al-Ihtijaj
Muhammad Baqir, Ulum al-Qur’an
Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, Al-Tamhid fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an
Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, Tarikh Qur’an
Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, Mukhtasar al-Tamhid
Muhammad Hadi Ma’rifat, Tahrif na paziri Qur’an
Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i, Al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an
Muhammad Ridha Mudhaffar, the Beliefs of Shi’ite School
​​​​​​​Murtaza Turabi- Qur’an Karim az manzur Ahle Bayt
​​​​​​​Nasir Makarim shirazi , Al-Amthal-fi Tafsir Kitab Allah al-Munzal
​​​​​​​Subhi Salih, Uloom al-Qur’an
Yaqoob Kulayni, Usool al-kafi


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