Crit­i­cism of Arthur Jef­fer­y’s Mate­ri­als For The His­to­ry Of The Text Of The Qur’an : The Old Codices”

An Intro­duc­tion to the Sci­ences of the Qur’aan, pp. 384 – 388 (1999) , Al-Hidaayah Pub­lish­ing and Dis­tri­b­u­tion. Com­piled by Usman Sheikh

Jef­fer­y’s own work is an almost four hun­dred pages long com­pi­la­tion of the dif­fer­ent recita­tions of cer­tain Com­pan­ions and Suc­ces­sors who were known to have writ­ten mus-hafs. He com­piled infor­ma­tion regard­ing fif­teen codex­es from the Com­pan­ions, and thir­teen from the Suc­ces­sors. By a codex’ he meant mus-haf. He lists all the read­ings in these mus-hafs that do not con­form to the present day mus-haf (although in real­i­ty many of them do con­form with the mus-haf of Uth­maan ; they are mere­ly dif­fer­ent from the mus-haf writ­ten in the qiraa’a of Hafs).

Jef­fery divides the work based on each codex, and under each codex, he lists, in order, all the vers­es where a dif­fer­ent recita­tion occurs. The most impor­tant and longest of them are the codex­es of Ibn Mas’ood and Ubay ibn Ka’ab.

Jef­fery com­piled this infor­ma­tion from over thir­ty clas­si­cal Islaam­ic texts, some authen­tic and some not. The sources range from clas­si­cal lex­i­cons, to the famous works of tafseer, to the works on the qira’aat. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, for each vari­ant recita­tion, he did not list the exact ref­er­ence work that it was obtained from.

To give an exam­ple of what Jef­fery com­piled, we will quote from Ibn Mas’ood’s Soorah Faati­hah. He read, accord­ing to Jef­fery, with the fol­low­ing differences

1) malik’ as maa­lik

2) ihd­i­na as-sir­aat al-mus­taqeem’ as arshid­na as-sir­aat al-mus­taqeem

3) sir­aat allad­heena an’am­ta alay­him’ as sir­aat man an’am­ta alay­him

4) ghayril magh­doobi’ as ghayral magh­doobi

Jef­fery con­tin­ues in a sim­i­lar man­ner for the rest of the Qur’aan. Obvi­ous­ly, what Jef­fery is try­ing to prove is that there are vari­ant read­ings to the Qur’aan which were not pre­served. He writes, “…it is quite clear that the text which Uth­maan canon­ised was only one out of many rival texts…”; there­fore the pur­pose of Jef­fer­y’s book is to, “..inves­ti­gate what went before the canon­i­cal texts.” 813 His sup­po­si­tion is that the orig­i­nal’ text was tam­pered with by the Com­pan­ions, and only one chosen.

There are three points to be made con­cern­ing this.

1) On the sup­po­si­tion that Jef­fer­y’s the­o­ry is absolute­ly cor­rect — that the text of the Qur’aan as Uth­maan pre­served it was cho­sen by him from amongst many vari­ant texts — what are the impli­ca­tions of this from Jef­fer­y’s work ? Even if we allow for all these read­ings that Jef­fery com­piled to be authen­tic, and rep­re­sent­ing legit­i­mate vari­ants from the text of Uth­maan, not a sin­gle read­ing actu­al­ly con­tra­dicts anoth­er one in mean­ing. No verse is added, no rul­ing con­tra­dict­ed, no law repealed. There are lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of dif­fer­ences men­tioned in this book, each one of which mere­ly rephras­es a cer­tain verse of the Qur’aan. 814 There­fore, the ques­tion must be asked, what is gained by sub­stan­ti­at­ing these vari­ant’ texts ? Agreed, if what Jef­fery claims is true, this would imply that the actu­al text of the Qur’aan that is present is only one of a num­ber of authen­tic texts, but what pre­sump­tion or the­o­ry can be advanced based on this claim ? Of course, this is sup­pos­ing that Jef­fer­y’s basic premise is true, and to this we do not agree.

2) More impor­tant­ly — and this is the great­est flaw of the book — the authen­tic­i­ty of these recita­tions has to be estab­lished. In oth­er words, how can the read­er be assured that these recita­tions were actu­al­ly recit­ed ? Jef­fery him­self admits, The ques­tion aris­es, of course, as to the authen­tic­i­ty of the read­ings ascribed to these old Codices. In some cas­es it must be con­fessed that there is a sus­pi­cion of read­ings lat­er invent­ed by the gram­mar­i­ans and the­olo­gians being fathered on these ear­ly author­i­ties in order to gain pres­tige of their name. The sus­pi­cion is per­haps strongest in the case of dis­tinct­ly Shee’ite read­ings…” 815

From a Mus­lim stand­point, we have recourse to the isnaad. Jef­fery, how­ev­er, believes the isnaads to hold very lit­tle, if any, val­ue. Due to this opin­ion, he does not quote isnaads for each vari­ant read­ing. There­fore, in order to find out the authen­tic­i­ty of a cer­tain read­ing, it is nec­ces­sary to go back to the thir­ty works from which Jef­fery com­piled his work, ver­i­fy which one of them men­tions this read­ing, and then check its isnaad for authen­tic­i­ty. (This is sup­pos­ing that the orig­i­nal work even men­tions an isnaad, for some of these recita­tions are mere­ly ref­er­enced in lat­er works with­out any isnaad).

How­ev­er, from Jef­fer­y’s own posi­tion on the con­cept and reli­a­bil­i­ty of isnaad, he con­tra­dicts him­self. If he does not believe in the authen­tic­i­ty of the isnaad sys­tem, then from where are all these read­ings obtained ? After all, it is through isnaads that all of the read­ings of the Com­pan­ions and Suc­ces­sors has been hand­ed down to us. If Jef­fery were to apply his stan­dards and imple­ment his belief of the isnaad sys­tem, all of these read­ings should be doubt­ed, just like their hadeeth coun­ter­parts ! But, not sur­pris­ing­ly, Jef­fery con­cludes, On the whole, how­ev­er, one may feel con­fi­dent that the major­i­ty of read­ings quot­ed from any read­er real­ly go back to the ear­ly author­i­ty.” 816 This clear dou­ble stan­dard on Jef­fer­y’s part is not sur­pris­ing ; when­ev­er an ori­en­tal­ist finds some infor­ma­tion that he feels can be used to dis­cred­it Islaam and cast doubts on it, then he will use it, no mat­ter what the con­text, authen­tic­i­ty or actu­al impli­ca­tions of the texts may be. As Jef­fery so clear­ly and unabashed­ly states, Much of the mate­r­i­al giv­en by Ibn Abee Daa­wood regard­ing the his­to­ry of the text of the Qur’aan, though extreme­ly unortho­dox, yet agrees so close­ly with con­clu­sions one had reached from quite oth­er direc­tions that one feels con­fi­dent in mak­ing use of it, how­ev­er weak ortho­doxy may con­sid­er its isnaad to be.” 817 There­fore the rea­son that these nar­ra­tions are authen­tic, accord­ing to Jef­fery, is because they agree with pre­con­ceived con­clu­sions that were arrived at from quite oth­er direc­tions’; unnamed and unknown direc­tions, it should be point­ed out !

3) The ques­tion obvi­ous­ly aris­es as to the valid inter­pre­ta­tion of these vari­ant read­ings. After all, Jef­fery com­piled these read­ings from var­i­ous books of tafseer and qira’aat. How, then, are they to be explained ?

The expla­na­tion of these vari­ant read­ings is very sim­ple, and relies upon the under­stand­ing of the ahruf and qira’aat of the Qur’aan, as was explained pre­vi­ous­ly. It is noticed that many of these vari­ant read­ings are found in the qira’aat of today — the saheeh, da’eef and shaadh ones. If any­thing, this actu­al­ly fur­ther strenght­ens the belief of the Mus­lims regard­ing the qira’aat, since these dif­fer­ences have come down to this gen­er­a­tion from the Com­pan­ions, who all learnt from the Prophet(P). The exis­tence of the saheeh qir’aat at the time of the Com­pan­ions is some­thing that does not need to be proven, but in doing so, Jef­fery has con­firmed’ that the ten qira’aat orig­i­nat­ed from the Com­pan­ions (and hence the Prophet(P)) and not from the lat­ter author­i­ties. An exam­ple of this is Ibn Mas’ood’s recita­tion of mali­ki’ as maa­li­ki’. As was quot­ed ear­li­er, this dif­fer­ence is still exis­tent in the authen­tic qira’aat, thus mere­ly prov­ing their ori­gin. As for those vari­ants which are con­sid­ered da’eef qira’aat, they can­not be accept­ed as the Qur’aan, and as such there is no use in quot­ing such mate­r­i­al as vari­ant’ to the text of the Qur’aan, since the authen­tic­i­ty of these da’eef qira’aat is not estab­lished. As for the shaadh qira’aat, they used to be recit­ed by the Com­pan­ions before their recita­tion had been abro­gat­ed. These can­not be con­sid­ered as part of the Qur’aan any­more, as was men­tioned ear­li­er, and thus to quote them as hav­ing been left out of the Qur’aan is true, but they were left out at the com­mand of the Prophet(P). Like­wise, those recita­tions that are shown to be authen­tic but are not a part of the qira’aat, such as Ibn Mas’ood’s read­ing of ihd­i­na’ as arshid­na’, are only exam­ples of the ahruf of the Qur’aan that were not pre­served by the com­mand of the Prophet(P).

In con­clu­sion, from a Mus­lim’s pre­spec­tive, Jef­fer­y’s col­lec­tion is only use­ful inso­far as it lists many of the vari­ant read­ings — the authen­tic and the inau­then­tic ones. A crit­i­cal analy­sis of the authen­tic­i­ty of each and every vari­ant read­ing must be estab­lished before the book can be of any great val­ue. Also, the vari­ant read­ings quot­ed in Jef­fer­y’s book (at least the authen­tic ones) are all part of the ahruf of the Qur’aan, some of which still exist in the qira’aat, and some of which have been abro­gat­ed by the Prophet(P)). Obvi­ous­ly, Jef­fery absolute­ly ignores the con­cept of the ahruf and qira’aat, for if he were to take this into account, then these read­ings would be explained with­out recourse to the the­o­ry that the Qur’aan is incom­plete. In oth­er words, Jef­fer­y’s work is an exam­ple of an Ori­en­tal­ist tak­ing a con­cept (the con­cept of ahruf and qira’aat), dis­tort­ing it, and then pre­sent­ing it in a sin­is­ter light in order to cast doubts upon Islaam. Had he only under­stood the cor­rect inter­pre­ta­tion of this con­cept — an inter­pre­ta­tion that is claimed by him to be large­ly fic­ti­cious” 818 with­out any expla­na­tion why — it would have saved him the trou­ble of com­pil­ing his work.

The sec­ond book in Jef­fer­y’s col­lec­tion is his edit­ing of Abdul­laah Ibn Abee Daa­wood’s (d. 316 A.H.) Kitaab al-Masaahif. The author is none oth­er that the son of the famous col­lec­tor of the Sunan, Aboo Daa­wood as-Sijis­taani (d. 275 A.H.). How­ev­er, he did not enjoy the same pres­tige as his father, and he has mixed reviews from the schol­ars of hadeeth. Nonethe­less, the book is an excel­lent ref­er­ence, and it con­tains the nec­ces­sary isnaads for each nar­ra­tion, so the authen­tic­i­ty of each nar­ra­tion may be ascer­tained. It deals, as its title indi­cates, with the mus-haf ; it dis­cuss­es the writ­ing of the wahy, the var­i­ous mus-hafs of the Com­pan­ions and their dif­fer­ences ; the writ­ing of the mus-haf, and cer­tain aspects of fiqh relat­ed to the mus-haf.Endmark







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