Has the Quran been ‘preserved perfectly’? Conclusive evidence shows its parts are lost
One of the most popular arguments for Islam is what we might call the “Argument from Perfect Preservation,” which claims that, since the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved for nearly fourteen centuries, God must have been miraculously preserving it. This argument is based on a verse of the Qur’an: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” (Quran 15:9).i
After quoting this verse, Muslim apologist Mazhar Kazi comments:
“Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an. The above prophecy for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well. . . . It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single [letter of the] alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries.“ii
Kazi’s claim is odd for two reasons. First, it’s certainly no miracle for a book to be preserved for fourteen centuries. The Dead Sea Scrolls, copies of the Bible, and other writings have survived longer than fourteen centuries, so Muslims can hardly appeal to preservation as proof of divine inspiration. Second, it’s simply false to say that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved. When we turn to the early Muslim sources, we find that entire chapters of the Qur’an have been lost, that large sections of chapters are missing, that individual verses were forgotten, and that words and phrases were changed. Indeed, we know from Muslim reports that Muhammad’s most trusted teachers couldn’t even agree on which chapters were to be included in the Qur’an!
I. A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE QUR’AN
The first Qur’anic revelation came to Muhammad around the year 610. Muhammad delivered many more verses to his scribes and companions for memorization and recording over the next two decades. These verses were written on stalks of palm leaves, bones of dead animals, flat stones, and whatever else Muslims could find. There was no complete manuscript of the Qur’an during this time. [Admin’s comment: This itself shows that Quran is not from God. A true God would have turned Muhammad into a scholar overnight and provided him with good stationery to record the Quran! And there are numerous other logical proofs too.]
Qur’anic revelation ceased when Muhammad died. Shortly after Muhammad’s death, Caliph Abu Bakr needed to suppress a rebellion, and he sent many huffaz (people who had memorized portions of the Qur’an) to fight at the Battle of Yamama. Many of these huffaz died, and Muslim sources tell us that portions of the Qur’an were lost. Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif says:
Many (of the passages) of the Qur’an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama . . . but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down, nor had Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman (by that time) collected the Qur’an, nor were they found with even one (person) after them.iii
“Umar bin al-Khattab asked about a verse of Allah’s book, they answered: ‘It was with a man who got killed on day of Yamama (battle)’. He (Umar) said: ‘We all shall return to Allah’. Then he ordered to collect the Quran, therefore he was the first one who collected it in one book.” (Kanz ul Ummal, Volume 2, p. 574)
“Umar was once looking for the text of a specific verse of the Qur’an he vaguely remembered. To his deep sorrow, he discovered that the only person who had any record of that verse had been killed in the battle of Yamama and that the verse was consequently lost.” (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 10 – see also as-Suyuti’s al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Quran, volume 1, p. 204)
Abu Bakr decided that it was time to gather what remained of the Qur’an in order to prevent more from being lost, and he appointed Zaid ibn Thabit to this task. After Zaid completed his codex around 634 AD, it remained in Abu Bakr’s possession until his death, when it was passed on to Caliph Umar. When Umar died, it was given to Hafsa, a widow of Muhammad.
During Caliph Uthman’s reign, approximately 19 years after the death of Muhammad, disputes arose concerning the correct recitation of the Qur’an. Uthman ordered that Hafsa’s copy of the Qur’an, along with all known textual materials, should be gathered together so that an official version might be compiled. Zaid ibn Thabit, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’id bin Al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith worked diligently to construct a revised text of the Qur’an. When it was finished, “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, Vol. 6, Book 61, Number 510)iv The Qur’an we have today is descended from this codex.
II. DISPUTES AMONG MUHAMMAD’S SCHOLARS
Not all Muslims approved of the new Qur’an. Indeed, some of Muhammad’s top teachers rejected Zaid’s version.
Muhammad once told his followers to “Learn the recitation of the Qur’an from four: from Abdullah bin Masud—he started with him—Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Mu’adh bin Jabal and Ubai bin Ka’b.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521] v Interestingly, Ibn Masud (first on Muhammad’s list) held that the Qur’an should only have 111 chapters (today’s version has 114 chapters), and that chapters 1, 113, and 114 shouldn’t have been included in the Qur’an.
Because of this (along with hundreds of other differences), Ibn Masud went so far as to call the final edition of the Qur’an a deception! He said, “The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him [i.e. Muhammad] whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit.”vi
Should Muslims submit to this “deceit”? Not surprisingly, Ibn Masud advised Muslims to reject Zaid’s Qur’an and to keep their own versions—even to hide them so that they wouldn’t be confiscated by the government! He said:
“O you Muslim people! Avoid copying the Mushaf and recitation of this man. By Allah! When I accepted Islam he was but in the loins of a disbelieving man”—meaning Zaid bin Thabit—and it was regarding this that Abdullah bin Mas’ud said: “O people of Al-Iraq! Keep the Musahif that are with you, and conceal them.”vii
But Ibn Masud wasn’t the only one of Muhammad’s trusted teachers who disagreed with Zaid’s Qur’an. Ubayy ibn Ka’b was Muhammad’s best reciter and one of the only Muslims to collect the materials of the Qur’an during Muhammad’s lifetime. Yet Ibn Ka’b believed that Zaid’s Qur’an was missing two chapters! Later Muslims were therefore forced to reject some of Ibn Ka’b’s recitation:
Umar said, “Ubayy was the best of us in the recitation (of the Qur’an), yet we leave some of what he recites.” Ubayy says, “I have taken it from the mouth of Allah’s Messenger and will not leave it for anything whatever.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 527] viii
Due to these disputes among Muhammad’s hand-picked reciters, Muslims are faced with a dilemma. If Muslims say that the Qur’an we have today has been perfectly preserved, they must say that Muhammad was horrible at choosing scholars, since he selected men who disagreed with today’s text. If, on the other hand, Muslims say that their prophet would know whom to pick when it comes to Islam’s holiest book, they must conclude that the Qur’an we have today is flawed!
III. MISSING CHAPTERS
Simply knowing the facts about such disputes is enough to dismiss the claim that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved. Nevertheless, we may go further by briefly considering certain other problems.
When Ibn Umar—son of the second Muslim caliph—heard people declaring that they knew the entire Qur’an, he said to them: “Let none of you say, ‘I have learned the whole of the Koran,’ for how does he know what the whole of it is, when much of it has disappeared? Let him rather say, ‘I have learned what is extant thereof.’”ix
One of Muhammad’s companions, Abu Musa, supported this claim when he said that the early Muslims forgot two surahs (chapters) due to laziness:
Abu Musa al-Ash’ari sent for the reciters of Basra. They came to him and they were three hundred in number. They recited the Qur’an and he said: You are the best among the inhabitants of Basra, for you are the reciters among them. So continue to recite it. (But bear in mind) that your reciting for a long time may not harden your hearts as were hardened the hearts of those before you. We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara’at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: “If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.” And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it…[Sahih Muslim, Book 5, Hadith 2286] x
This shows that entire chapters of the Qur’an were forgotten.
IV. MISSING PASSAGES
We know further that large sections of certain chapters came up missing. For instance, Muhammad’s wife Aisha said that roughly two-thirds of Surah 33 was lost:
A’isha . . . said, “Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses, but when Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today [i.e. 73 verses].”xi
According to Aisha, the collectors simply couldn’t find all of Surah 33. Why not? As we’ve seen, many huffaz were killed at the Battle of Yamamah. Apparently, no one who knew the entire chapter survived.
V. MISSING VERSES
Aisha also tells us that individual verses of the Qur’an disappeared, sometimes in quite comical ways:
It was narrated that Aisha said: “The Verse of stoning and of breastfeeding an adult ten times was revealed, and the paper was with me under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah died, we were preoccupied with his death, and a tame sheep came in and ate it. [Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1944]”xii
The verses on stoning and breastfeeding an adult ten times are not in the Qur’an today. Why? Aisha’s sheep ate them.
VI. MISSING PHRASES
Since entire chapters, large portions of chapters, and individual verses of the Qur’an were lost, it should come as no surprise that short phrases were forgotten as well. Let’s consider two examples.
First, Surah 33:6 declares that “The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers.” However, Ubayy ibn Ka’b and other early Muslims held that a phrase (“and he is a father of them”) is missing from this verse. Even the great translator Yusuf Ali admits this in his commentary. Ali writes: “In some Qira’ahs, like that of Ubayy ibn Ka’ab, occur also the words ‘and he is a father of them,’ which imply his spiritual relationship and connection with the words ‘and his wives are their mothers.’”xiii It seems that Muslims have been left with an incomplete verse.
Second, if we open a modern edition of the Qur’an, we find that Surah 2:238 commands Muslims to “Guard strictly your (habit) of prayers, especially the Middle Prayer; and stand before Allah in a devout (frame of mind).” According to Aisha, however, Muhammad recited this verse as follows: “Guard strictly (the five obligatory) prayers, and the middle Salat, and Salat Al-Asr. And stand before Allah with obedience.” Hence, the phrase “and Salat Al-Asr” is missing from modern editions.
Obviously, the Qur’an has changed significantly over the years. The evidence shows that entire chapters were lost, that large sections of chapters came up missing, that individual verses were forgotten, and that phrases have been left out. Muhammad’s best teachers and reciters couldn’t even agree on which chapters were supposed to be in the Qur’an.
This raises an obvious question. What’s the difference between a book that’s been perfectly preserved, and one that hasn’t been perfectly preserved? If Muslims are right, there’s no difference at all. The typical characteristics of a book that hasn’t been perfectly preserved are (1) missing phrases, (2) missing passages, (3) missing chapters, (4) disagreements about what goes back to the original, etc. But the Qur’an has all of these characteristics. Thus, Muslims who are aware of the evidence but who also want to maintain perfect perseveration of the Qur’an must say something like this: “Yes, the Qur’an has all the characteristics of a book that hasn’t been perfectly preserved, but it’s been perfectly preserved anyway.” Can anyone make sense of such a claim?
It’s clear, then, that the Argument from Perfect Preservation fails, and that Muslims who want evidence for their faith will have to look somewhere other than the preservation of the Qur’an.
Admin’s note: Despite hundreds of evidences that Islam is false, such as the numerous mistakes in the Quran, Muslims stick to Islam mainly for Fear of Hell and the hope (Mirage) of Paradise. It needs to be reminded that Paradise is a Mirage for Muslims, promised to the gullible, and if God throws people in Hell, then Muslims will go to Hell for attributing a man’s words (Quran) to God, and attributing insanity to God.
According to the authentic Hadith, after Muhammad’s death, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (ruled from 632 to 634 AD), appointed the former secretary and scribe of the Prophet, Zayd ibn Thabit, to undertake the task of collecting all available material and compile it together. He collected them ‘from pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men’. He compiled all the material in the amazingly short span of two years and handed it over to the Caliph.
The Suras or chapters in the Koran have been so arranged that the longest suras find place in the beginning and the shortest in the end. Thus there is no way of knowing when exactly the Prophet received a particular revelation. This becomes important since the message of a particular revelation, as we shall see later, is often contradicted by the message of a ‘later’ revelation. Scholars, both Muslim and Western have generally been able to separate the revelations received in Mecca and those in Medina since the message of Allah is conciliatory in the former and aggressive in the latter.
According to traditions (i.e. the authentic Hadith) many versions of the book began to be circulated and serious disputes arose. According to the traditions, the third Caliph, Uthman (644-656 AD) approached Zayd again to edit and prepare the official text. This was prepared and circulated widely and the other versions were destroyed.
It should be noted that during the reign of the third caliph Uthman word was brought from the out-lying provinces that the Muslims in these areas were reciting the Qur’an in different ways. The sequel is set out in the following authentic Hadith:
“Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sha’m and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to Uthman, ‘O Chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before’. So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Sa’id bin al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the – Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 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, Vol. 6, Book 61, Number 510).
This tradition informs us quite clearly that other manuscripts of the Qur’an, some in sections, others complete, had been written out and that they were in use elsewhere in the conquered territories. Uthman’s order that they should be burnt shows that there were serious textual differences between them and the manuscript in Hafsah’s possession.
“The traditional account of what led to the next step in the fixing of the form of the Qur’an implies that serious differences of reading existed in the copies of the Qur’an current in the various districts.” (Watt, “Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an”, p 42)
According to orthodoxy, this text has not undergone any change since then and is the standard version followed all over the world.
Historical research, however, indicates otherwise. Wansbrough showed that far from being fixed in the seventh century, the definitive text of the Koran had still not been achieved even as late as the later part of the ninth century [In fact, there is a strong opinion among many scholars that the Quran was actually finalized in AD 933]. Thus, a statement of Muslim creed, Fiqh Akbar I, dated to the middle of eighth century, does not refer to the Koran at all, which is quite surprising.
It is conclusively proven there are some missing verses in the Quran and there also appear to be some added verses. For example, there is an authentic Hadith from the Prophet’s wife, Aisha, that there once existed a ‘verse of stoning’ where stoning to death was prescribed as punishment for fornication. This is no longer to be found in the accepted texts of the Koran and instead the Koranic punishment for this crime only prescribes one hundred lashes. But the early prophets carried out stoning for adultery, and Islamic law still prescribes it. According to the above authentic Hadith, more than one hundred verses from the original are missing.
“God sent Muhammad and sent down the Scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning; we read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle stoned and we stoned them after him. I (Umar) fear that in time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God’s book and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery.”
See two passages in which Ubayy ibn Ka’b (one of Muhammad’s most trusted reciters of the Qur’an) and Aisha (the “Mother of the Faithful”) declare that approximately two-thirds of Surah 33 is missing. Both passages are taken from Abu Ubaid’s Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
Ibn Abi Maryam related to us from Ibn Luhai’a from Abu’l-Aswad from Urwa b. az-Zubair from A’isha who said, “Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii i.e. Surah 33) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses, but when Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today.”
Isma’il b. Ibrahim and Isma’i b. Ja’far related to us from al-Mubarak b. Fadala from Asim b. Abi’n-Nujud from Zirr b. Hubaish who said–Ubai b. Ka’b said to me, “O Zirr, how many verses did you count (or how many verses did you read) in Surat al-Ahzab?” “Seventy-two or seventy-three,” I answered. Said he, “Yet it used to be equal to Surat al-Baqara (ii) [Which is ‘The Cow’ with 286 verses], and we used to read in it the verse of Stoning.”
This shows that Surah 33 had at least 200 verses once, and only 73 are left now. When a scholar brought up Aisha’s claim in a debate with a Muslim, the Muslim proclaimed that the passage had been “fabricated” without providing any evidence that the Muslims in the chains presented were inventing false claims about the Qur’an. Abu Ubaid, who was called “the ocean of knowledge” by his fellow Muslims, could not have been ignorant and sloppy in his investigation of these passages.
About the “Verse of Stoning,” which was supposed to be part of the Qur’an but instead came up missing, Ubayy ibn Ka’b says above that it fell out with the other 100+ missing verses of Surah 33.
Shiites of course claim that Uthman left out a great many verses favourable to Ali, for political reasons. Muhammad himself, as we know, is said to have suppressed the now famous Satanic Verses. The authenticity of many verses has been called into question not only by modern Western scholars, but even by Muslims themselves. On the other hand, most scholars believe that there are many interpolations making the Koranic style uneven. Some of them are of a political and dogmatic character, such as 42:36-38, which seems to have been added to justify the elevation of Uthman as Caliph to the detriment of Ali. Of course, any interpolation, however trivial, is fatal to the Muslim dogma that the Koran is literally the eternal, uncreated word of God revealed to Muhammad and thereafter unalterable and unchanged.
This article gives more details of parts of the Quran being lost https://answeringislam.org/authors/shamoun/incomplete_imperfect.html
i All Qur’an quotations are taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an (Beltsville: Amana Publications, 1989).
iiMazhar Kazi, 130 Evident Miracles in the Qur’an (Richmond Hill: Crescent Publishing House, 1997), pp. 42-43.
iiiIbn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif.
ivSahih al-Bukhari 4987.
vSahih al-Bukhari 3808.
viIbn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 444.
viiJami At-Tirmidhi 3104.
viiiSahih al-Bukhari 5005.
ixAbu Ubaid, Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
xSahih Muslim 2286.
xiAbu Ubaid, Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
xiiSunan Ibn Majah 1944.
xiii Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, Note 3674.